Thirteen Years After

WILL R. BIRD August 1 1932

Thirteen Years After

WILL R. BIRD August 1 1932

Thirteen Years After

XV—Unforgettable sights down Amiens way—War scars remain—Story of a goose thief


THE driver gives his Lizzie an aperitif of essence and we leave Albert by the Bray Road. We are headed Amiens way, but are minus the expectancy that rode with us when we went along that route in '18 to the great attack of August the eighth.

We pass a French cemetery and dip down into a valley, and soon are passing a large airplane factory. A huge 6hed is filled with bicycle racks, all the cycles hung on hooks in a long row out of the mud and weather. There are long green slopes on either side, and then brick works on a hill.

Magpies float slowly across the road ahead of the car, and on a long, high ridge on the left are men silhouetted against the skyline as they spread manure. There are a few old trees in the low ground, and then we are into Bray Valley, with many cemeteries in view. There are five in sight—

Bray Vale, Bray Hill, Bray, Bray Communal, and a small (me beyond.

There are many large trees and it is a pretty valley, with far banks sheltering the small houses.

A few old ruins and we are entering Bray itself.

The streets are very rough, and the way twists and turns amazingly as we go down grade, past old white walls and comers and high archways. There are new buildings sandwiched here and there among the old, and many marks that show where ruins were restored. Painted concrete flashes red and green and yellow. There are many flowers in a few cottage windows just as we go over the bridge, and there we find ourselves alongside tall trees that are reflected in placid pools on the left side of the road. It is all swampy ground, and we see the canal with a horse patiently towing a huge barge.

Proyart and Harbotinferes

YILTK PASS a suburb of Bray, with a quaint old church ™ and a very small and ancient Mairie. There are more ruins—pitiful old walls and tileless rafters—more open country, and soon we are in Proyart, a small village with one of the finest French memorials I have seen. We see it soon after passing a German cemetery, and both sides of the road attract the eye. A passer-by told me that the memorial, which is an Arch of Triumph like the one in Paris, was built and the site prepared by a rich wine merchant.

As we proceed we see many shrines in the field, small iron crosses in the most unexpected places, larger ones with three trees guarding them, and some small wooden ones on buildings. A farmer who had three huge horses hitched tandem fashion as he hauled turnips from his field, said that the iron ones in the fields were for the protection of the crops, and the small one on the bam protected it from lightning.

We went across the Peronne-Amiens Road, down which traffic travels at seventy kilometers per hour, and passed by much pressed straw in fields, most of it piled in the shape of houses. Thousands of crows were everywhere, lining some piles as if they were painted with pitch. There are many crab and apple trees beside the roads, and small orchards are in sight. Dugouts show darkly on a distant bank and there are two old battery positions in view, then we are into Harbonnières.

We pass along 200 yards of concrete wall and reach a boulevard. There are two or three squares of trees, tall ones, well spaced so as to form pleasant promenades beneath them and lend beauty to the village. There is much corrugated iron around the smaller houses, but no other signs of war. Flocks of ducks keep traffic from speeding and take turns at the town water hole. The old church is rather grand, and on the whole you remember that it is a pleasant and quaint village.

After passing many stacks and flocks of pigeons, we go past many more old dugout entrances and emplacements and along a wood. A man with a cart piled high behind a very small donkey stops and tells us, as we explore old war ground, that the wood on our right often has wild pigs as visitors, and that he has seen two killed there on one Sunday. He spits and swears as we ask about dugouts. and soon we learn that he has lost one of his donkeys through its tumbling into some old hole. More shrines in the fields, more crows, more stacks, and more partridge, and we are in Caix.

If ever a tourist wants to visit scenes he will remember, he should go down over the old Somme territory. He will not be tired by an endless glare of red brick and painted concrete, or disgusted by eternal wooden huts and corrugated iron, but will see war ruins that are more poignant than anything powdered and smashed about the Salient. In among those quaint Picardy villages he can see gaping walls and skeleton house ends, old shops and bakeries and homes partly demolished, gaunt spectres beside their low-roofed, white-walled picturesque cronies.


Caix, a Dream Town

AIX is a dream; it hardly seems real. The street winds down to the old church, grey and venerable as it stands beside a ragged ruin. Trees in the valley, quaint passages and alleys, with women in clogs and with kerchiefs round their necks, peering and craning as you go prowling about. Old white walls with soldiers’ names inscribed, tiny comers where you can reach the roof, with huge-tiled floors and a cheerful old madame like a granny at home to wait on you. They love to have you linger with them at Caix, to tell about the losses they and their friends endured through the war.

There are more ruins on the way as we leave the village on our way to Rosières, and we go by a winding uphill road that takes us past three huge water towers. A woman with a handcart pauses long enough to tell me that the towers are used to assist the Amiens water supply, though it seems a long way from Amiens. It was a spot somewhere near Caix which the 7th and 10th battalions reached during that August drive, and where they paused to let the 2nd Division pass through them. They will all remember Caix.

Rosières was captured by the 2nd Division. It is not as quaint as Caix, but is not an eyesore to a traveller. It, too, has ruins and small old houses, with many new ones sporting concrete. Quite a few yellows and blues mingle, and some streets look modern. The church and memorial are not ugly, and the town distinction is a life-size cow with a woman beside her. The memorial has an inscription stating something about a fund for devastated villages. A delightful little train wanders in the haphazard manner that troop trains acquired, and we learn that the natives call it the “San Fairy Ann.” The villages are closer together in this area, and there is no wide open space until you pass another café and several big trees and are in Meharicourt. Fourteen years ago this August it was stormed by the 22nd and 25th battalions after terrific fighting.

A cemetery is on the left, and as you enter the village you see many old war signs painted on the walls, billet numbers, and shrapnel marks. There are a few nice villas, one with three separate shades of yellow, and then ruins. Let no man think that all wreckage is at Caix. There is

one side of the street in Meharicourt that seems to have more ruins than good buildings, and at the finish you see a memorial with a queer foundation. It rests on a concrete \ater tank, from which the people get pails of water without using a pump. Down under is a unique trough for dogs, and the whole is very unusual. An inscription says that it was erected by a man of Providence, Rhode Island, and the name of his son is given, but it does not name the unit with which the soldier served. There are ruins on other streets, and army huts with people living in them, and corrugated ■ron kennels and pens, and a big tree with wooden steps Still nailed in place leading up to an observation post. More Nissen huts and ruins, a few dashes of painted concrete, some nice homes, and you are out among hedges and trees, a copse on the right, and into Maucourt.

The Poisoned Officer

'T'HIS VILLAGE sports bright concrete and new brick, a shrine, a bright red villa, another villa with a huge black cat decorating the walls, more ruins and shrines, ducks, a memorial, village square, church, and a comfortable café. There we sat and heard the story of an officer who was poisoned while drinking one evening. He was taken very ill and rushed away to hospital. Enquiries and investigations were made, but the blame could not be fastened on any one, though many were suspected. After the war, however, one of his brother officers came back to the village and made love to a certain mademoiselle who had been a favorite of the poisoned man, and the g(x>d madame who told us the story is sure that this man was the culprit.

Outside the village a rough concrete emplacement stands at a corner near a lone black Nissen hut. There are ruins farther on, old wall ends and cellars, then a bare rough stretch and a British cemetery on the left as you enter Foquescourt.

Great barns seem to hem the latter village into a cramped space, and Nissen huts, new homes and two shrines are all squeezed together. Two roads lead out, but one is impassable, and the driver gets angry as his query at the last house brings him in contact with the village idiot. There is rough'ground on the right and remnants of old trenches, and a wood on the left, then we are in Rouvroy.

It has many wooden huts and war signs on the walls. There are new concrete walls and old, low-roofed houses that survived the war.

In a café we find an English paper dated November 16th, 1931, telling of a presentation, at Neath, Glamorganshire, of a cheque for £5,000 to Lieutenant E. J. Rollings, M.C., iow a police officer. The gift was from Lady Houston, in appreciation of his remarkable work in connection with a raid made from Amiens in T8.

Lieutenant Rollings was with the 17th Armored Car Battalion, and raided the German headquarters at Framerville, nine miles behind the German lines, securing there valuable documents which gave a full account and plans of the Hindenburg line. He and a Lieutenant "Yeoman, with two cars, carried out the stunt after the Australians had smashed the front fine and made it possible for them to get through. The armored cars were towed by tanks for two miles over the shell-pounded area and then placed on good roads. At Framerville,

Rollings took the right road and Yeoman the left. He says:

‘‘I had not gone far before I came upon the German headquarters, which were in an old building and to reach which we had to mount some steps. I found the place without any one in it, and was able to make a hurried search and secure a number of papers, which I crammed into a sandbag. As I left, my men and I came face to face with two German staff officers, who were talking, about forty yards from headquarters. We shot them dead before they had time to realize what was happening. I left immediately after securing their revolvers and searching their clothing, from which I secured more papers, and with these I immediately returned, without harm, to headquarters.”

Strange to say, Lieutenant Rollings was never told of the value of the booty he secured, knew nothing about it until he was called upon last month by a newspaper reporter.

On the street in front of the café are geese, ducks, hens, dogs, children, more donkeys, and several pigeons. They all seem of one family. Natives who pass to and fro on various errands will walk abreast and suddenly begin talking as if just continuing a conversation. The French of Picardy are like one huge family.

Bouchoir is next, with a few war ruins, an old monument and a sporty Maine. A woman on crutches is a victim of the war, having lost her foot during a long-range bombardment of the village. There are many big trees about, and on every side you can see the small copse or larger wcxxl that makes the Picardy district so different. And there are many apple orchards. As we stop to prowl about some rough old trench area outside, an old man comes with a basket of apples and satchel for money. He sells to any stranger he sees, knowing his poor chances to sell to local customers.

On the main Amiens-Rove Road we pass Bouchoir Cemetery, and soon find that Le Quesnoy is another typical village. It has old ruins and new concrete, more geese and ducks, and its Mairie. In a house there we are shown the

helmet of a Prussian major who got drunk and fell off his horse and broke an arm. His helmet was hidden in the cellar and now serves as a parlor ornament, if the dining room and sitting room and nursery combined could also be called the parlor.

The Toy Violin Maker

^\N THE STEPS sits a funny, bent old man with a woollen cap, and he is surrounded by youngsters. All wear the same kind of pinafores, and sex is not noticeable. He is making small violins, whittling the frames from soft wood and stringing the instruments with fine wire, really clever work. Some old madame appears now and then, after an insistent urging by the young fry, and purchases the toy as a New Year’s gift. Christmas does not mean much when you speak with the children about Noel. New Year’s Day is their big day, and this year it will be bigger still, for Saturday will be but another holiday, and, joined with Sunday, affords a real celebration.

We see a cart stopped at a house, and pause as we watch the café owner argue with a seller of wines. Nothing but the best, is the argument, will do for New Year’s. Ah, says the seller, but give them the best only until they are along in their cups. Then—pouf —make money.

Back on the main road again, we see Andechy on the right, a place of big barns and small houses and a sharp church steeple. We turn left, going past a small wood and crab trees, and reach Damery. There is much new brick crudely used on many houses, concrete that is not painted, corrugated iron and Nissen huts. Damery is a very rough village and seems out of place in such an area. There is no hint of pride or old world tranquillity, and even the geese are dirty and noisy.

Damery has a grim history. During the fighting of August, 1918, it was captured by the 52nd Battalion with relatively so little opposition that the officer commanding that unit. Colonel Foster, grew suspicious and evacuated the place shortly after entering it. He was just in time. The Germans put down a terrific high explosive and gas barrage that lasted for three hours. Then they attacked with four battalions, exjxxrting no opposition. What followed was one of the most terrible slaughters of the war. Our artillery, assisted by the French, caught the Germans in a barrage that centred on the massed men, and swept the entire line. The front waves were caught between the barrage and the village, and had no chance of escape. The 52nd poured in a deadly hail of rifle bullets and machine gun bullets, and used the bayonet on all who reached them. One Lewis gun fired thirty-four pans. Two hundred and fifty of the Germans surrendered. The dead were piled, in places, four feet high, and over one thousand were killed outright in the death trap.

Parvillers is next, and it is easy to remember happenings there. That sector was honeycombed by underground passages and a maze of old trenches, and there, one blazing hot afternoon with no breeze stirring, the 42nd fought old Heinie weird trench duels. Read about “D” G;mpany in Livesay’s Canada's Hundred Days, and see the results of the afternoon when Dineson won his Victoria Cross and a dozen more crosses were as well deserved.

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Thirteen Years After

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The old shrine is as it was, its blocks shell shocked, and one huge concrete emplacement frowns from under the trees. But the old trenches are gone, as the other pillboxes appear to be, until you talk with the farmers. One led me to a field and thrust down a long bar, and inside fifteen I minutes had shown me the location of five ■ more concrete strongholds. They are covered with three feet of earth, and will likely ; be there for years to come.

Barvillers looks as if it had not recovered ¡ from the war. The church is repaired and I the homes are rebuilt, but in the rough ; style of Damery, and the place is off the main highway and reached by muddy roads. In a field comer 1 found old trench heads, quite deep bays, and much rusting old wire.

The Canadian Goose Thief

V\ BARVILLERS was our next stop, and it belongs to the genuine Picardy group. There are old apple trees, old houses, old shrines, an old church, old roofs. All remind you of the best parts of Caix. and the ruins seem as pathetic. It is a timid, retiring little town, with the most hospitable peopie. We were invited into a home and served hot coffee, then had rosy j red Canadian apples passed to us, a real Treat. They enjoyed giving them. They

told us they are able to buy them very cheaply this winter, and they taste much better than their home-grown ones. Three little girls came in shyly and were all introduced as Marie.

Beaufort is another very quaint old place. Trees hover and shield it, and the old lowhouses support each other. The first home 1 on the left had three layers of tiles and moss on it, and three windows and a door in its long plain wall, each heavily shuttered. Then a big door opened into a cow stable, and on the grass in front sat harrows and other implements. The other homes were the same—very old and primitive, built sideways on to the street, which curved gently, with every other door a stable, blocked by carts and plows. On the right, an old j building had holes in the wall like worn ! clothing, and a big new brick bam seemed | an intruder. Paths lead through the trees tliat seem part of the village, and it is a curious old spot.

Folies shows more ruins and more signs of war than Beaufort, but it is a pretty | spot. A funeral was in progress, the priest ; acting as director. All the people were j walking, and boys dressed in white gowns carried crosses and banners. The horses that drew the hearse had embroidered blankets on them. It was a beautiful sight j as they went under the trees and into the 1

churchyard. Later we saw the mourners come back into the village, and soon they ♦ere in the cafés, as thirsty as if they had endured a hard day. In no time they were having as enjoyable a time as guests at an Irish wake.

We went on toward Le Quesnel. There ¡s a big wood and an old château, most picturesque, old mud walls to some buildings, ancient brick and stone, whitewashed *nd venerable. A sign points to Manitoba Cemetery; then there are more hedges and gardens, and apple trees and copses, geese and ducks. There is good hunting in the wooded parts; and the rest is hoary with ape and moss, as romantic as Picardy can be.

Le Quesnel station is surrounded by »tacks and manure heaps, and there are perfect concrete machine-gun posts. You ran see in the village many old billeting signs, another château, the old church, the memorial, and the main square with many trees spaced like a big boulevard. It is a lovely spot in the sunshine.

In the café at which we stopped we were told of the Canadian soldier who stole a goose and bought one. The searchers could do nothing as he could prove he had paid for the one they saw, and madame, who was cooking it, did not reveal the secret. He was Scotch, that soldier. He took care, first, to find out that madame and the goose owner were bad friends, and so he was quite safe. But now they are friends again, madame has told what really happened, and, as the loser was paid for her loss, all is well.

: We were shown the marks on a comer where a drunken staff officer piled his big car as he came through the village at breakneck speed. He hurdled a wheelbarrow and fcruck the comer at an angle instead of direct or he would have been killed.

\ You see many mins about the village yet, and shrapnel scars on houses. The Canadian Memorial is nearer the main road. It is a grey stone with lettering, but the grounds are well kept and beautiful with holly and sumach.

Memories of Hangard

"DEAUCOURT is another small place with nothing distinctive. There are a (ew mins and new houses, and the usual l'.hurch and Mairie and memorial. There lire many apple trees about, and a few lid walls that bear both German and British names. There are some big barns and many stacks, and it seems a prosperous village. But we heard no tales of war and S) went on to Maison Blanche, past a few fissen huts and into a wooded stretch.

There are war mins in sight on both sides, and many battery positions can be located in the woods. I found one place that had a olid concrete foundation, and logs crossed :ver it as if to let some weight go over.

] he logs were rotted and the cormgated iron was bent and crumpled. We wandered tfxnit and found several pits and places where some guns had been, and signs of an )ld road once leading to the positions. It s a most interesting place in which to )robe.

Domart has a lumber mill and many lew homes. There are shrapnel scars on ne walls of the old ones, and Nissen huts dong the route.

Hangard brought back many memories. :it is difficult to realize that the valley once held trenches and battery positions, pangard is where the C. M. R’s took 375 |>nsoners with a total of only sixty-three lasualties. We crossed over by the old »ridge, and I remembered the pontoon one Y which we swayed that morning of August 8. Up among the big trees behind, Jou can still see stubs that were killed by tnrapnel.

r W e went over the hills toward the valley vhere our company captured a German r*ttery. There is an immense stretch of buddy grain field, wild when we crossed it, *nd then we were at the place, which is rasily located. All along, the old dugout Entrances have caved in as the farmers have removed the timbers, but each one can be found; and the hollow's where the guns ''ere, and where the dump was, are only

weed-filled and grassed over. It is easy to locate the spot where the 49th captured an entire German battery before the gunners could remove the breech blocks or damage the guns in any wray.

Back at the village we saw many postcards of the Somme on sale, and were told that many Canadians return each year and visualize that crossing at Hangard.

Gentelles Wood seems as big and dense as ever, but I could find no trace of the trenches that were in front. It is easy to go through the thickets and scare rabbits from your path. Kick around the tree roots and old leaf mold and you will find, here and there, old bully tins, a mess tin cover or a petrol tin. Outside, headed toward Amiens, I saw a few concrete emplacements. There is a cemetery on the right, and then you are in Boves.

Boves is a big towm and a busy place, with clean sidewalks and attractive shop window's and ail the bustle befitting a place so near to Amiens. There are gendarmes’ headquarters, a new Hôtel de Ville, and a fine villa to see before you go on. Beside the road was a trio of gipsy vans occupied by Bohemians, w'ith naked children in view. The men had slouched off to the town, but the women—black-haired and with jewelled earrings—w'ere cooking something in pans over a fire. We paused and they came eagerly to tell our fortunes, but we were shy as there are many stories of the way these nomads make their living.

Soon we w'ere within sight of Amiens. The city seems just as big as w'hen it was so empty and echoing in ’18. Captain Stuart Osw'ald has an office where you can hire cars with English drivers, and he sells a splendid map of all the Somme territory. In addition he is a most pleasant person, very eager to help whether there be profit or not. Any one wishing to go over the old areas should consult him. An Australian runs a hotel that has a good name, and there are many in the city who speak English. It is a harum-scarum place in the evenings, with shouting and singing and much merriment and wild women.

The cathedral is, of course, the main feature to see, but the old streets with the canal running between the houses and the street, crossed by bridges and affording the housewife a most convenient place in which to throw waste, is most interesting to those tired of buildings. In the place where we spent the hour before supper, we were told of three American deserters who hid in Amiens for three months until the end of the war, then posed as police for a time. Finally they put on French civvies and for two years remained in the city, both employed as taxi drivers, in which employment they were very entertaining as they drove tourists over the battlefields.

Editor's Note—This is the fifteenth of Mr. Bird’s series of articles. In his next article he will take his readers to the scene of the battles leading up to the capture of Cambrai, including the Hindenburg line, the Canal du Nord and Bourlon Wood.