Thirteen Years After
XVI—Arras to Cambrai—A vivid reminder—“Desolation, wreckage, disaster—YVar!”
WILL R. BIRD
EVERY old battle area has its distinctions. Up Ypres way your landmarks are pillboxes, and Vimy has its dugouts and old trenches. On the Somme you find sunken roads and craters, and down in the Amiens territory old house ruins tell their own story. But on the slopes and in the hollows that form the wide path we made from Arras to Cambrai you find more signs of war than in any other part of France or Belgium. 1 do not speak of preserved grounds, such as Vimy or Hill 60, Sanctuary Wood or the grounds at Beaumont I lamel, but of an entire countryside. This whole Arras-Cambrai stretch is "war ground."
Even the people seem different in this war region. They are a duller lot, almost stupid, it seems, from the effects of their struggle with war debris. One old man told me of losing a fine colt down an old dugout shaft, of his son being killed by the exploding of a shell in the garden, and how another of his family died from bkx>d poisoning, a scratch from old barbed wire. They hate the war, loathe it; don’t want to talk about it at all.
Tilloy and Tilloy Wood
TEAVING Arras by the Cambrai Road, once clear of the new brick buildings on the outskirts, the coal carts, bicycles and children, you veer to the right and take the Waneourt Road through Tilloy. Here is ground that was tunnelled extensively. In this neighborhood there are many stories of cave-ins, of deep cavities appearing overnight in backyards or on new footpaths, until time and again working parties have had to come and fill in sections of the underground. In the bank of the road, as you go through a sunken portion, old bits of iron ix»sts, a rail, and corrugated iron stick out, and there are three bashed-in entrances to old dugouts.
At the entrance to the village a wooden hut is the first building on the left, and about it is corrugated iron, on edge to serve as a fence for the dooryard. The street is muddy and dirty with no walks, and the houses are not pretty. On the right there is one with walls of dirty grey; rough concrete spread over the bricks. Then a little store thrusts out; simply another drab brick edifice with a big window in one comer and a litter of articles, soap, pipes, caps and china ornaments, jumbled in the wexxien ledge. There are five houses in a row on the right, seemingly a mass of crude red walls. Then an estaminet thrusts forth to border the street, and it flaunts an impressive Byrrh advertisement.
Step inside, order un café, and scan the occupants. A motor bike is parked outside and the rider—a pale youth wearing a leather coat, check cap, tan shoes and a cigarette is trying to make love to the mademoiselle who acts as barmaid. She is
pretty in a small way, with good complexion, but has a gaping hole in her stocking just above her shoe. An old man sits at one table sipping beer. He wears a limp blue cap and corduroy, and has a walrus mustache; he has spilled some of his beer as his hands shake all the time. Two men in shining black suits and rusty bowler hats have leaned their enormous stomachs against the counter and are tossing dice in a leather mug to see who pays for the drinks. They have a set of rings which they place on a post, one or two according to the luck of the toss, and he who first gets rid of his twelve rings is the winner.
In the corner, on a long wooden seat against the wall, a young chap with a flashy tie and spats is flirting valiantly with a painted girl. She is probably from Arras, out to see what may be found in the suburbs. The old man mutters that it is dull weather, and you agree with him. He looks up sharply as you speak, and the two with bowler hats put the dice down.
"Canada!” they say. ‘‘Ah, I knew some from there. Two of them used to come to our farm at Mingoval to buy bread. And some of your men stole a dog I had, a young one with good blood in him. I would not have lost him for two hundred francs ...”
So it goes, as long as you wish to stay.
Straight ahead, at the end of the street, which branches
right and left, is Tilloy Wood—young growth with plenty of gnarled old stubs among it.
Back to the Cambrai Road again, and we come to a walled water hole. There is always one or two in every village, usually swarming with ducks and geese which make a great commotion as the farmers water their horses. Over to the left is a great barn built of corrugated iron and unpainted. Hundreds of sheets are used to make one wall. On the left skyline is Summit Trench Cemetery, and in a field I see an old dugout entrance. Two more are farther over, and both have a circle of barbed wire about them to prevent sheep or cattle getting trapped.
We pass four big farms, squares of brick buildings, house and stable joining, sheds and all, with the midden in the centre, crowded with fowl and pigs. On the left, on high ground, is an old quarry, and there are more dugout entrances and old brick ruins and cellars. Feuchy Chapelle Cemetery is left behind, then a memorial to some British troops, and a demarcation stone is just beyond. You see more remnants of brick walls, and cellars, stray bits of barbed wire, old dugouts, rough ground that once was a trench or strong point, filled in mostly but never levelled.
Old Dugouts and Souvenirs
ROSS a space with wide fields on either side and you are at the Monchy Windmill Cemetery, a small plot beside the mill, which is now run by electricity. Go past the crossroads where the Monchy-Waneourt Road crosses the main one, and turn right down the Guemappe trail. A windmill is on your right, distinct among a regular hedge of steel posts with drooped, curved arms, decorated with numberless wires, telegraph and telephone lines. In front, on the far slopes, white train smoke rolls back like cotton batting, and a road stretches like a dirty grey ribbon. You cross an old army light railway used by the French to haul sugar beets to their factories, and reach the outskirts of the village, with its allotment of wooden huts and corrugated iron.
There are the usual estaminets, big gardens with high brick walls about them, enormous long bams with great doors opening on the street and a litter of straw and manure for people to pass over. Farm implements are parked just clear of traffic and seemingly will winter there. There is another water hole, and the usual ducks, more green iron fences, the regular French village memorial, and the few village pumps are padded with straw as a protection against frost. Down below7 the village there is low, wet, flat ground with rank rushes, and old barbed ware tufted in one or two spots, and wire stakes protruding.
If you leave Arras by Ron ville way you
see much the same sort of country. Here and there are covered-in places where the old tunnels have caved in. and you see many ruins, cellars and old dugout entrances, also a few traces of trenches. There is much use of corrugated iron, many huts and concrete walls, the Mairie and the memorial. The old war road that used to cross the hollow and emerge at a farmyard is closed, however, and the farm is walled in. Telegraph Hill is on the left. It is a long walk up there over rough ground, but you can still find a few signs of the network of trenches about it.
Pass Neuville Vitasse Cemetery, a café and a sunken road, and you are in the village. You will remember that in war days there used to be a sign stuck in a rubble of brick and debris: “This is Neuville Vitasse.” It was needed then to make you sure of the location. There is no such need today. It is one of the usual towns, Mairie, memorial, church and all, with its farms, huts and corrugated iron. In one of the estaminets I met a French veteran—of Verdun, of course—who had explored the few dugouts that still survive at Telegraph Hill, and he offered to show them to me.
We went back up the long trail, and did find two foul holes. One has to be careful in exploring such places. I have been down several, and each time I got out I decided that it was a crazy stunt and I would not go down another. The French who first returned to the land removed all the timber supports from the entrance, working inward instead of first getting those in the dugout proper. As a result many of the places have caved in and are but well-like cavities about fifteen feet deep.
An Unusual Scarecrow
"DEAURAINS is but another of the same sort as Tilloy -l-' and Neuville Vitasse. Its estaminets were barren of information, and I found nothing in the place of special interest.
Wancourt is different. Some men were making an excavation on the site of ruins. They shovelled up old brick and splintered timbers, and showed me two bayonets and a flattened helmet they had unearthed.
In one of the fields near by they found two German dogs that had been killed by bullets. This was in 1920, when the first efforts at farming were made, and one of the dogs had a message carrier still attached to his neck. They had handed it in without looking inside the case. All around Wancourt you can find sunken roads with dugout entrances and funk holes in the banks, and old concrete emplacements. I went just outside the village, along a small stream, and found four in succession. The villagers have tried to blow up —or down—two of them, but the remaining pair are unharmed great squares of concrete and steel, massive reminders of the past.
It was in an estaminet at Wancourt that I was told of a balky mule which, left where it stood to change its mind, began kicking and directly went aloft, having kicked a buried five nine. And in a field near by I saw a scarecrow dressed in an unusual fashion. A German pot helmet crowned the effort, and a German tunic was on the body. Where they came from I never learned, but along the old grass
above the emplacements you may see at least three halfburied German steel lids.
When you get uphill again so that the cock on Guemappe Church steeple is striding the skyline, you are on the Cambrai Road and close to Vis en Artois. The site of the old sugar factory is littered with holes and old brick, but every vestige of wall has gone. You can see, however, all along that entire slope, where many dugouts and trenches have been. Vis en Artois is a most colorful place. That “colorful" is a correct word. Nowhere else in the district can you find so many shades of concrete, painted, of course, though I think that pink and blue predominate. The garage is a flare of modern hues, and some of the villas, spick and span, have at least six tints. There are tans and yellows, orange and green, and many salmon pinks. The memorial has a fine position in front of a modem bungalow, and farther down the street are many fancy homes, some in stucco, all nicely painted, with imposing fences and gates in front. Concrete rules supreme. In the heart of the village stands a unique church built with an up-and-down futurist effect, a large school, the Mairie and the Hôtel de Ville. It is a regular centre of concrete.
In the Café Pont Olivier we found pleasant company, and were exceedingly entertained by a grizzled farmer and a touring Englishman who was a member of the Army Service Corps during the war.
The A. S. C. man had one good story. It was in some hut back of the lines, and the night was cold and wet. The place was quite crowded in the vicinity of the one stove, and the topic under discussion was dreams. A mud-weary front-liner stumbled in, pack and all. He was Blighty bound on leave, and had come in to get thawed out. No one made a move to let him get beside the fire. Came a lull in the tales, and he spoke up. “I had a queer dream myself,” said the front-liner. “I thought I’d got mine and went to hell.” He paused, and voices chorused: “What was it like?” "Just like here,” shot back the answer. “I couldn’t get near the fire for blinkin’ A. S. C. chaps.”
There’s a gendarmerie headquarters at Vis en Artois, so we didn’t go probing about the few ruins behind wooden huts at the outskirts. There was a big farm near by, and a threshing machine filled the air with dust. Beer was being passed around to thirsty workers, of whom one-third were women. And down near a crossroad at another farm, two red-faced, bony women were laboriously loading manure into a cart. We turned into the road at the right and went along an open space, and saw many old war spots along a sunken road.
Soon we were in Cherisy, and it is a dirty town. The Mairie, post office and majority of the homes are ugly buildings. Brick and concrete dominate, but the concrete is unpainted and the whole is decorated at all angles with sheets of corrugated iron. The street is vile and there are no walks, so one treads past bam d(x>rs in otherwise blank walls, through duck puddles and manure drainage, seeing as you go along a peasant type that seems only fitted to serve as beasts of burden. The cown has its feature— pigeons. They are there in hundreds instead of dozens, settling on barns and sheds in groups and rows, and Hying in great Hocks in the fields, vying with the clouds of crows and fewer magpies.
A Wartime Balloon Trap
TN ESTAMINET DUMONT we talked with the madame, straining her intelligence with questions of the German occupation. Yes, she remembered them well as they stole boots if one left them about. She did not like them and never would. On and on she rambled, muttering to herself some of the time, and I gathered that the civilians of Cherisy had a pretty thin time with jolly old Otto and Fritz. Then, overnight, the invaders had got word to move, and all were ousted the next day. She showed a picture, a long, framed one, showing Cherisy in the days before the war when it was a quaint village with trees and white-walled houses, low-roofed and comfortable-looking.
We left her to her muttering and went up hill to the caves in which we sheltered in ’18. It was easy to find the quarry, but a man there told us that the cave entrances had been closed and we could not see them. He said that after the war two soldiers were found down there after they had been lost two days. Tltey had taken refreshments and fixxl and hidden theie. and could not get out again. There I found the same sunken road we used in going to the canteen at Cherisy, and it was there that I sat on a fallen tree and watched a German airman explode one of our balloons that had been made up for his benefit. There was a dummy in the basket, and powerful explosives at the top of the balloon. The trap worked, but not well enough. The airplane dived and fell, fluttering like a moth, but the German regained control before it hit the ground and streaked for home.
The cemetery at Cherisy is still in ruins, an example of the spirit of the place. There was a wocxl on our right as we went on to Fontaine lez Croiselles, another ugly village with huts and corrugated iron standing as eyesores everywhere. The Mairie is ugly, and the church is built of drab concrete blocks. The town water Continued on page .15
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hole is not fit to bathe a mule in, so filthy does it smell. On the right are many traces of trenches and old posts and battery positions. You follow a deep sunken road past a communal cemetery into an open with more woods on the right, and see the church of Remy on the skyline.
Hendecourt is another spiritless village, dirty and ill-favored, with more corrugated iron, more bony, apathetic women, drab estaminets, and ducks.
Cagincourt showed more stir, seemed more awake, but it has its own share of old shell holes, trench ruins, broken walls, cellars and corrugated iron. One huge farm is new, but the gate posts are battered war relics and very conspicuous. We went on, after a fruitless quest of the estaminets, past a shrine, more huts and ruins, and by Quarry Road Cemetery. More huts and ruins, and old war ground, gullied and gouged and cratered, and you are in Queant.
A big sugar factory is the main feature of this place. Go by the old cellars, new church and Hôtel Resturant, and you are on the site of the old field hospital, with the cemetery close by to assure you you are right.
Pronville came next, a village of small houses and dogs and dirty women. We stopped a while at the Café de la Place, and were told an amazing story of a German there who had two wives. One came and visited him for a few weeks and then the other came, and the soldiers told the people of Pronville that neither of the wives suspected the existence of the other. One vitriolic old dame got the address of one and promptly wrote to her, telling all, as soon as Pronville was freed of all German menace.
As we left the village on our way to Inchy en Artois we saw a woman working in an excited fashion about a hole in a ditch bank. We stopped to investigate. It was an old dugout entrance. It had been filled in in the usual manner of the Poles who cleared and levelled the war areas at so much per acre, and now had swallowed the surface stoppage and yawned like an evil pit. Down this hole her dog had fallen. He had scrambled to a sort of ledge but could not get higher, so we got a ladder from the nearest bam and lowered it. The dog came up the rungs like a circus performer, and madame fell on his neck and wept over him. Far down, by light of a flashlight, we could see a steel helmet; that was all. A man who came past told us that there were at least five similar holes within a mile of his home.
Blaming the British for Everything
TNCHY EN ARTOIS will tell anybody that it suffered war. Go around it in any direction and you will see old cavities and trench gullies, and in the village are ruins and cellars and shrapnel-scarred walls. Two villas are rather pretty homes in such a setting, and there are the usual estaminets and water hole and memorial. On you go, and the ruins increase. I counted thirtytwo cellars and ruins from where I stood on a high bank, and there are many, many more. Broken walls and shattered concrete show everywhere, and when you get to the Canal du Nord itself you see it as you saw it in T8. There does not seem to be a thing changed or repaired. Broken and shattered brick and upheaved concrete are everywhere, and old posts and shelters and dugouts are as they were left when the battle passed on. I visited over twenty old pits and shelters within two hundred yards. Any one who wants to see what the war did to the canal should visit it by way of Inchy.
Sains lez Marquion is a continued story. More ruins, more old cellars, more gaps in the line of houses. At one place only the gate-posts remain, huge sentinels of a site where only the foundations of some grand home remain. There are many wooden huts, painted in gay blues and browns and
yellows, and there is one bam so long that it has three sets of doors opening into the street. We stopped by a ruin, looking about, and saw a rat clambering over the bricks. In the estaminet we told of what we had seen, and were informed that Sains and Inchy had plenty of rats, that they came from the canal. After the war, so we were told, rats came as if called by a piper, and there had been a long battle with them.
Past the church, down a narrow street, and then we came to some very modemlooking houses in painted concrete and in stucco, then a huge farm with a third of its front still in ruins but with the remainder of the great square of brick walls and buildings restored. Six Nissen huts in a row and we are in the open, with big trees on the left and a huge open space on the right. Soon we pass a cemetery, and then are entering Marquion.
Marquion is a big town filled with flaring signs and advertisements. There are nice villas, two châteaus and many yellow and pink concrete homes, but the old flour mill is still a wreck and the mill wheel is gone. Down by the old mill stream you can meet pretty girls for the first time or as many times as you like. We saw a bevy of them there, and a worn path near big trees proved that it was a regular meeting place. On the wall near by was the old familiar black and white lettering that Heinie used. “Minenwerfer Jetzt Werkstatt,” and a bit farther on another sign said, “Minenwerfer Park.” Many of the old houses have German billet signs on them. These have been painted over but are coming to light again. The signs remind me of one I saw on the other side of Cambrai, where Fritz had made use of a culvert as a shelter during air raids. On it was the inscription, "Understan.” Next it was the lettering. “Zum EX),” and a wag had painted after it in scrawling letters, “Some Don’t.” The old army R. E. bridge served at Marquion until eighteen months ago, but is now replaced by a French one.
We went to the left on our way back to Arras and saw Baralle quite near, its white steeple and red roofs making it seem a pretty village. Then a new brewery blocks the view, an immense place with many trucks in front. It was now wide open country, with long slopes and hills. After two long dips and rises we were at Villers lez Cagincourt, with plenty of wet ground about, and a sugar factory.
In an estaminet there we heard the British blamed for something new. During my wanderings I have heard them get full credit for the present depression, the fall of the French franc, the length of the Great War, for anything and everything except this one. They were talking of somebody who had been poisoned by mushrooms, which are very plentiful in France at all places where we had our horse lines. You can find any old horse lines you wish by such indications. “The English, I am sure,” said a very stout madame, “put poison on the ground, as they knew they would never get the mushrooms themselves.”
Desolation and Wreckage
"V\7E LEFT her and her pleasantness and Y V went up another long grade to the Dury Canadian Memorial, a very simple site beside the road, quite suitable I suppose, but making one feel that Canada had got it and similar sites at Hill 62, Passchendaele, Le Quesnel and Courcelette at bargain prices. They are all the same, like a hub on a wheel, and the one at Dury has not got even the saving grace of a good situation.
We went up past Windmill Cemetery, where a windmill stood in those awful autumn days, peopled with German machine gunners who slaughtered the 12th Brigade as they rushed up the long Dury slopes. The only building on the main road is the Café of Hope, known as a landmark for miles around. A big farm and two cemeteries meet you as you enter Dury, and there is a
I brick home covered completely with vines. ; like an English house. There are many w(xxlen huts, a nice memorial, the usual water hole, a Café de Ut Mairie, the Mairie, two villas, ruins, a concrete house painted a light tan shade, a huge barn, and more ruins. At its farther comer Dury looks as it did in 1919—ruins and a few new buildings.
And now you are entering a district redolent of T8. 1 have not seen another
village in France or Belgium with as many ruins as there are in Eterpigny. You can count fifty on two streets, and some of these have walls yet standing. There are far more ruins than rebuilt homes in the village and, to make the wreckage more distinct, one of the rebuilt places is a large and grand château. A very long brick building in the centre, and, aside from the ruins, you have seen Eterpigny. I set up the camera to take a picture and an old woman came hobbling to me. “Take care,” she said, “you may drop in a hole. There are old tunnels and cellars everywhere. See.” She showed me a spot I had not suspected, a straw pile covering a tunnel entrance that her husband was using as a turnip cellar. Ruins, ruins, ruins! They rear on all sides, surround the few homes and leer. Walls with windowless holes, walls with doorways intact, and squares without roofs. Desolation, wreckage, disaster—war !
At the Estaminet kt Bellevue it was startling to find an English veteran, apparently a down-an-outer. He told me he lived in Bethune but was visiting this village.
This devastated area includes Remy. At the road comer there is a concrete emplacement of immense thickness, and all across the little brook valley are ruins without end—jagged walls, peeping pillboxes, old craters, bits of trenches, wreckage. Go over the bridge and the wall mins rise in long points and arches. The church has a nice white steeple, but the building itself is partly hidden behind another brick house. In the centre, surrounded by many more mins, you find the memorial in front of a newly painted concrete house that is both the Mairie and the village school.
Haucourt blends with the other villages, makes a trio one will not easily forget. There are not so many mins as at Remy and Eterpigny, but more craters and old trenches and shelters. You can get into several of them if you wish to risk cave-ins, and there are numberless jumbles of old brick and wood that have been soldiers’ homes in the past. At one place you can find the old front line almost as it was. The ground is so pitted and gouged in places that it may be years before any effort is made to restore it as farms and gardens.
The Newfoundland Memorial
HAUCOURT is another specialist in concrete. The memorial, its fence and the church are fine examples, and many homes boast concrete fronts. Near the church there is a shrine of concrete made in imitation of a cave or grotto, a most unusual feature in such surroundings. You pass Nissen huts, mins and wooden huts around a crooked street with many new brick buildings, long walls and a crucifix, and are in Vis en Artois again, dazed by its flaring colors.
Turn right again as you leave the village and you are soon in Boiry Nôtre Dame. It is another village you will not quickly forget, as its huts are legion. Wooden ones and Nissen ones are mingled in a regular village of huts and corrugated iron. A wooden one sports a Café Tabac sign and several are now in use as homes. There is a stone church, huge farms, a memorial, many mins, and stony, hilly ground with a windmill at the crest and a min beside it, probably the former mill.
In the estaminet of the village square we heard a Frenchman tell of one fat German there who had Hoch der Kaiser tattooed on his fat tummy. Whether he was awarded an extra Iron Cross or not for his achieve-
More ruins, sunken roads and woods. Bois du Vert, Bois du Sart on the map, but one long stretch up a slope is what I’ve always called Jigsaw Wood. I roamed around until at last I was on the location of our exploits in T8. I found the sunken road by which we came to the trenches we stayed in during the night, relieving the 58th Battalion. Up the bank you can still find many of the old gullies that were German trenches and old dugout entrances. Up over the long rise you can trace the two trenches we rushed, and the big crater there is but the old emplacement of the big gun we captured, with a major and his crew.
We went up a long sunken road and into Pelves. There were many more concrete houses, and houses with concrete fronts and corrugated iron elsewhere, and wooden huts as well. It is a cheerless little village, with many traces of the war meeting one’s gaze. Out in the fields a quartette of women were spreading manure, working without talking, looking like pictures of the peasant women of Russia.
Over on the right and very near is the village of Rouex, where such fierce fighting took place at the chemical works, but we keep on and go up into Monchy le Preux. In Monchy you have a wonderful view of all the countryside, and, standing there, you are unable to fathom how we ever captured the hill. Fritz could see every move made on any side for a distance of over two miles, and there is no natural cover for an attacking party. It is an ideal location for a strong point. And he had many. After seeing all the regular village features, I prowled into the backyard of a creamery, a big yard between it and a large building with a flaring advertisement painted across its entire end. There, facing me, was a huge concrete emplacement, walls four feet thick in places, braced by steel rails, a place that looked as if it could withstand any shell made. I went down into it, down good steps, and found three chambers inside. It is a roomy place and commands the entire slope up which our men had to advance. In that place, one wonders more and more how it was possible to make such captures.
Going out, I found at a comer of mins a memorial to the 37th British Division. Farther on, standing on a concrete post that the Germans constructed in the min, is a life-size caribou, a memorial to the Newfoundland regiment. It has a splendid location, and the steel slit of the emplacement is in full view.
Monchy has many things to show one— old battle posts and cellars. Down on the right, in rank weeds under some bushes, I found a steel helmet and mess tin, just as they had been tossed at some time in battle. All the way down to the main road again, to Tilloy, one keeps looking back at Monchy. It is a most imposing mark on the skyline. I’ve been days and days trying to get pictures of the caribou, but the sun will not shine. At the moment my feelings remind me of a story: A unit in the east had a semi-educated native sworn in as interpreter, but while they were at a distant point he disappeared. A letter to the colonel explained things. “To the Manager the British Army: Sir: My
absence is impossible. Some one has removed my wife. Golly! I am annoyed.”
Editor’s Note—This is the sixteenth of Mr. Bird’s series of articles. In his next article he will take his readers to Cambrai and to the towns and villages of the adjacent territory.
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