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
Only as much might be said of the following day and every other. I must not dwell on nine-tenths of the things that tempt the pen. On a bright Sunday morning, when little French girls were all in white and our Catholic soldiers were marching to attend Mass in French churches, we set out for scenes as renowned as any in the war. A valley with grassy downs like Box Hill, only barer. The lofty blanched ruin of a great church with tall stiff fragments of wall perilously balanced like crude and aimless pinnacles. Around the dumps of rubbish and lowly shells of brick that were houses. This was Ablain St. Nazaire. The height above is no less a place than Notre Dame de Lorette. We climb. The breezy top is seamed with trenches amongst the overgrowth. Mouldering equipment lies all about and here and there the bones of men. Below, the industrial plain spreads away beyond the horizon. We see Lens, only four miles off. Near by we feel rather than see Loos of desperate memory. A hundred colliery villages with their tail pitgear and slag pyramids dot these faint green levels stretching like a still sea into the distant mist and smoke which hold Lille. For we are on the very rim of Flanders, looking over now into what our foreheads called simply the Low Countries. No wonder that when Foch's army more than two years ago stormed this crest and saw the view they shouted with exultation and thought that they would end the war in their next stride.
These thumb-nail drawings I begin to perceive would take more room if continued than this one article can give. Let us sketch smaller and, as it were, on the nail of the little finger. The dun height over there is Vimy of resounding name. Even from here it looks rough, scarred, full of holes and burrows. It is slightly lower than where we are standing, but was a wicked barrier across the straight road to Lille and Ghent. Our big batteries are flashing and slamming in the hollow. British shells are skying their heavy traffic over Vimy and roaring like railway trains. They will dump into the Hindenburg line. We can now go a bit of the way with them and see where they fall. We pass what was Slouehez. Slab, smooth destruction - they have cleared up much bricky rubbish and are still shovelling - with jags of broken timbers, wheels, gates, while the wrecked boilers and girders of the sugar refinery sprawl lonely. Long familiar with the large maps of all this, you had imagined the Souche river to be a stream of respectable width. You find it a busy brook which you could almost jump.
Then, leaving the green ground for the battered, while the guns are louder and louder, you scramble up the Vimy Ridge itself, from trench to trench, from ledge, into the mid-nightmare of this livid, stiffened, gouged, and tortured [illegible] the spectral at high noon. You clamber over illegible] scaly hummocks. By paths like ribs you you wind amongst innumerable pits, greenish, or red, or iridescent, most witch-like and foul. The hard knobs and funnels of the cold moon cannot be so strange. When you see what has happened here to the obliterated Boche Canada’s triumph lives again. It is very hot and sunny. From the summit you see the plain again. Lens is much nearer now. The guns of both sides are at work out there, with fountains of dust springing like little dark geysers round a steaming cloud of white smoke. Behind the German line peeps Douai steeple. The British Army will get there.
Next day into Arras betimes. Shells still drop into it and smash another house or two. Our guide was shaving the other morning when a twelve-inch shell landed outside the window while neighbourhood walls disappeared. Another shell blew a man into a tree. On the day of our visit, however, nothing tested our iron helmets. The old quarter is even more shattered than one had feared. The cathedral was modern, massive, and banal, but even that ruin has grandeur, towering about the broad, grass-grown steps of its front terraces. The Hotel de Ville - alas! that was a rarer treasure, a happy masterpiece of rich and soaring Gothic. It is gone. Over the crushed walls the belfry that survived centuries of other wars, has tumbled down, and the air knows it no more nor the chimes that rang for generations. On one half-wall a sculptured frieze of comic masks has escaped and grins irony. The once jolly little square, with its stepped gables, is defaced and sad. Let us go. We disappear into the bowels of the earth. If I could only say more about that. When we come up we walk eastward over more old trenches and more old wire and see where the shells are bursting near Monchy. Afterwards troops, horses, mules, lorries crowd on every side. This is a focus of strong war.
Another journey took a whole day amongst our cemeteries along the shore. A dancing, green-blue, foam-flecked sea sent breezes over the strange Land of Wooden Crosses. On one white shoulder of the dunes a small windy God’s acre looks straight over the Channel towards home. At Etaples there were nearly 6,000 crosses steeped in the tranquil light of early evening, and every cross was doubled by its shadow. Here, folded together as you walk down the rows, are officers and men from all parts of our land, from all the Dominions. This will be a sacred place always for the whole English-speaking world. The main railway to Paris runs past it. The genius of men like Mr. John Sargent and Mr. Lutyens should see to it that the memorial which must some day rise here shall be great and worthy. This is going to become a big question, and there must be no mistake.
BC Archives, MS-0055 Box 15 File 2 / CREASE FAMILY / Letters from Arthur Douglas Crease to his brother, Lindley Crease, 1917.