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.
We came to a stately little town of Napoleonic memories and started for a journey through the regions devastated by the Germans in their retreat. It was the first of crowded days. Crossing the Aisne River, at Choisy-au-Bac, where our Old Contemptibles once broke down the bridge, we travelled through the long deep forests of the Aigue. The army which had swarmed in it for two and half years had flitted onwards. At Sempigny we crossed the Oise and the canal where the locks are down. Quaint old Noyon, Charlemagne's and Calvin's Noyon, is little hurt. But at Guiscard the road turns. We are soon driving for thirty miles through the incredible evidence of things for which the Boche never can be forgiven while there is conscience in mankind, still less by the peasant nation whose toil from dawn to eve in field and orchard had made all this land as bountiful as fair. It is the methodical murder of Nature as well as the dwellings and monuments of man.
The careful devil has been abroad here. For mile after mile the fruit trees lie dead. Either they are prone, all laid out queerly in the same direction, or the Boche has hacked and sawn them nearly through, a yard from the ground, until the rest of the tree fell backward to earth, though still attached to the stump by one ghastly strip of bark. He has sawn with two-handed saws on both sides of the road. He has hacked far out in the fields. Apple and pear and cherry they lie in thousands on thousands. The infernal work is hideously precise and regular. It puts a kink into the brain. Now How the lark sings this shining day, and there is no thunder of God. Yet do you thank God for all the munition workers of the Allies and for the fibre of their peoples. Prince Eifel Fritz, the fattest Philistine of the Kaiser's common brood, revelled in the rustic pavilion on the mound of Bois l'Abbé, surrounded by its moat. On the slopes, beside the ramp, across the moss the apple trees are all down, and are bristling, withered. From the top you look afar towards the misty shape of St. Quentin Cathedral or another way towards the woody bastion of St. Gobain rising between this spot and Laon. Wide, wide round this little pavilioned hill the countryside is strewn with slain orchards.
That Herod's massacre of the earth's innocents is only a beginning. You pass through Flavy-le-Martel, Jussy, other villages smashed or abolished. It is all surpassed by the horror of Chauny. Near the Oise it was a stirring industrial town of some 12,000 inhabitants. The Boche led away many of its women and girls and able-bodied men into slavery, packed the rest of the population into one small portion the rest of the population into one small portion of the town, and then burned and bombed the rest, street by street and house by house. Fronts of houses standing up with nothing behind, backs of houses with nothing in front but the débris of fallen walls and floors. In front, sides of houses with nothing to support, gutted interiors, gaping façades, hanging lath and plaster, vistas of tottering brick, bristling timber, sloping rubbish. The roof of the Town Hall gags over two walls, and in the yawning vacancy the birds fly and twitter. Remember gentle pacifists, that there are soldiers fighting in the French army who had wives, daughters, sisters in places like Chauny, and know not what is become of them. Again, as in the ease of every other day, I must leave out enough to fill one of those pages with things worth while. But we came to Couer-le-Chateau. What was it? Dismantled long ago. It was yet amongst all castles what our towered Durham on its rock is amongst all cathedrals. The barons built here in a tall and solid spirit, as the priests built at Leon over there, behind that near thick-forested massif which the Germans still hold. The round crenellated keep that topped the rest was a hundred feet wide. "This is the king of all towers," wrote once a proud antiquary, "others are spindles beside it." In profile the Castle of Coucy, with its donjon and avenues, looked like Windsor. You will never see it. Its giant fall has thrown a mountain of stones down the hill. Above the sky shows through the vacant windows of one mighty wall. The Boche makes war on the works of ages and on the soul within us all.
For what of the day, tragic and fantastic, in this compressed diary of the unbelievable - the day of Rheins. Thousands of soldiers, sleeping yet grim, packed into hundreds of motor lorries were moving through the interminable avenue of the road along the Aisne. In Soissons the venerable cathedral stood rent and shaken and may fall. That was an introduction. Later in the morning we walked through rising fields of barley. On the mild crest of the ground something distant, small, distinct, familiar, came in view. It was Rheims. It stands out from all this lovely rolling landscape like something apart, as though it had been framed above and floaded down like the ark. We heard the steady booking of the German guns.
On the hill with the obelisk, where Napoleon watched the battle of 1814, we launched. Through the trees and airy screens of dried leaves we saw and heard Rheims being pounded from the sombre heights on either side. The cathedral was now much close and stood clear over the wide-ranging houses. We saw the shell-bursts falling round it Two miles away, and it seemed less, this was going on under our eyes, and we could not stop it. The bombardment is sullen, obstinate, malign. It is an attempt to shake France by a sabotage of her soul. It rolls a hollow thunder. From a thousand to two thousand shells had been falling into the city every day for the last six weeks. Another crash comes while you are being asked if you will have some galantine. Most tragedy is necessarily punctuated by regular meals. We have permission to go into the city. We drive rapidly through the streets. In the deserted Boulevard Gerbert, our motor chooses this moment to break a tyre. It would. This happens just when a recent shell has caught a lamp-post and knocked it silly. For us, the street is quiet. It is the first of the incorrigibly diverting contrasts with which the world at its worst is crossed. We must go to Pommery's if
BC Archives, MS-0055 Box 15 File 2 / CREASE FAMILY / Letters from Arthur Douglas Crease to his brother, Lindley Crease, 1917.