Arthur Douglas Crease Letters, Diaries and Scrapbooks
Letters from Arthur Douglas Crease of Victoria to his brother Lindley Crease and his mother Sarah Crease; instructions for the offensive of July 26, 1917; a regimental notebook, diaries and scrapbook. Learn more.
*All transcriptions are provided by volunteers, and the accuracy of the transcriptions is not guaranteed. Please be sure to verify the information by viewing the image record, or visiting the BC Archives in person.
THE OBSERVER, SUNDAY, JULY 22, 1917. 79
THINGS SEEN: FROM FLANDERS TO ALSACE.
From that lonely, fatal valley between Bazentin, Martinpuich, and what once High Wood, we drove through the fragments of Combles and the strewings of other places to the husk of Péronne. It was an ancient and comfortable little city with more private motor-cars per head of the population than any other provincial town in France. But the Boche before his retreat plundered, burned, and wrecked. The noble midæval church has reeled and collapsed upon its own lower arches; within its roofless walls and aisles half-standing you climb heaps of tumbled stones. The thread-bare fabric of the upper part of the Hotel de Ville topples [illegible] over its colonnade. Catherine de Poix's pedestal - she was the local Jeanne d'Arc - has lost its statue. The houses even of the streets that seem to remain fairly intact are methodically gutted row on row. Let us apologise to Attila and his original Huns, and remember what this war means. No tourist will ever see the Péronne that was. We returned by other villages that merely have been; and yet the sky had cleared, and in the full light of a summer afternoon the reaches of the Somme shone blue.
How different was the next day, charged with the living sense of power and action. In a high-perched town - with neat windmills and clipped round trees out of a toy-box - a vigorous soldier explained the battle of Messines. The successive barrages, halts, advances were placed and timed precisely precisely as determined fully a fortnight before. On this occasion events in every detail answered to thorough forethought. It was thunder and earthquake according to Bradshaw - probably the best-planned and most smoothly executed the battle in British history. We went to the very scene. First from a hill quite near we saw the long tawny ridge which had been upheaved by our mines. battered by our guns with a fire six times as heavy as the Somme bombardments and stormed by our men. It was a brilliant day, with chasing shadows. In front, where Messines once embraced a large community, only a blur, a smudge, is left. Away on the left the ghostly fragments of Ypres glimmered clear above the lake and copses of Dickebusch.
A couple of miles further brought us right on to the field of the battle a fortnight after it had been fought. Elsewhere the craters are lip to lip or they run into each other. Here the thick tempest of shells threshing every yard over and over again has made holes and then unmade them, has so smashed down the ribs between the pits, has so churned and whirled and mined the clods and wads of earth that the ravage makes a more even compost. Destruction here obliterates its own first processes. The ground is just disfigured, contorted, kneaded and dead. The beaten surface yawns here there with mine-gulfs, large and deep as old quarries with a livid blue heart to them. At Spanbroek Molen the gulf is a hundred yards across. It was made by the biggest mine that ever went up in war. The ground is full of war-eggs, big and little, that may hatch horribly at a touch of your foot. Barb wired writhes and squirms on the ground. Shell-cases, cartridges, all the shabby rags and jetsam of war are kicking about. Out of the desert bristle the sticks and stumps of Wytschaete and other woods. The guns are clanging and the shells screech over our heads. The working parties push on with the new roads, though a German crump sends the dust and smoke spouting up hardly fifty yards from a crossing we have just passed and repassed.
And then a drama, quick as lightning, priceless as a spectacle. Two German aeroplanes swoop out over our lines like hawks towards where our contemplative "sausages" are in upper air. Our anti-aircraft guns crash from all sides and rake the sky. The mid-blue is dotted with shrapnel puffs like stars at noonday. It is as enchanting as exciting. A piece of shrapnel pitches a yard away and swishes through the dust. The German airmen sweep and, for once, escape. It passed as swiftly as thought, but life and death have played at touch-and-go. It is something to have stood under a little bit of the veritable way. There was much else in the day. It would deserve a whole page to its own self.
BC Archives, MS-0055 Box 15 File 2 / CREASE FAMILY / Letters from Arthur Douglas Crease to his brother, Lindley Crease, 1917.