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.
you please. The tower is broken, but girls are packing champagne as coolly as the stout old white-bearded Mayor and the Town Council transact their civic affairs in a champagne-cellar. My brave French people! We have to go down into the catacombs amongst millions of bottles and come up to pledge the Allies in an estimable vintage of 1904. You cannot buy it. I do not believe this scene is real, but nevertheless keep the cork. Who could have expected this preliminary?
Word comes that the cathedral is opened for us. Through streets knocked to pieces we pass to the Place du Parvis. We are there. More than twelve years ago I last stood in that square - now grass-grown, shell-pitted - and looked up to that marvellous precipice of beauty and sculptured prayer - huge as rock, delicate as lace, all imagined and shaped, carven, fretted, with an endless grace and creativeness of joy and faith. Now the portals are barricaded with sand-bags. But, aloft, many of the little suave statues are limbless or headless, the niches and chipped, the rose-window has lost half the ancient glass that glowed like gems. Above and below its wheeling tracery the arcade and the exquisite light parapet show broken stretches. High up to the gallery of the kings and to the twin-turrets, mouldings are blunted, surfaces flayed. And yet austere and immense, gracious though stricken, it is more majestic in its desolation than when I last saw it on a feast-day in its old glory, and it stands the most knee-compelling thing on earth. The apse and the southern side are still more battered. Pinnacles, statues, little arches under the flying buttresses have fallen. There is worse within. The great vault and roof are widely open to the sky. Around apse and choir the windows are skeletons. Glass and fragments fall and fall each day, and each day are piously collected. There are shell holes in the nave. Three shells pitched in that morning, a few hours before our visit; there were eight the day before. Just now, as we look about, and grieve with little speaking, the Boche is quiet, but even when he is quiet he is damned.
From the road to Epernay we turned aside to Rilly. On one side of the road a little child hung on to its mother's apron. On the other side we looked across leagues and leagues of vineyards flourishing. On the right a bombardment raged over grim Mont Cornillet, now peeled bare against the horizon of this fertile scene, laughing in fruitfulness and peace. And on the left Rheims Cathedral, lit by the evening sun, gleamed small, but gave its whole shape. It was the parting view.
From Epernay we went by train to Bar-le-Due, known to the shades of the Great Guise and the Old Pretender. We got there at three in the morning, rested less than three hours, and started again. It was worth it, for here we are on the edge of the heights of the Upper Meuse, and less than forty miles by road from Verdun. And what road. Salute it as you drive. It is the via sacra. It saved France. The route from Chalons was under fire. Through Bar along this very road to the battlefield poured on day and night the improvised flood of motor transport which conquered the German railways. The lorries tumbled their loads and rushed back for more. The drivers worked until they dropped like stones when released. Welcome to a turning, "à Verdun"; to another, "à Glorieux Verdun" - surely the proudest signpost in the world. In a few minutes we were within the Egyptian mass of Vauban's old ramparts, and knew feelings akin to those of the older Crusaders when they reached Jerusalem. For here, too, let us dare reverently to say it, there has been a passion and a calvary, and a resurrection of a nation's soul.
The military governor did us the distinguished honour to conduct us in person. For once a grey, showery day. Better so, for it suited the starkness of this place, and, besides, conditions of low visibility for the Boche enabled us to walk more openly on old battle-tops than would have been possible in finer weather. By mauled and lacerated streets, through the grand mediæval gateway by the Meuse; over the bridge, we come to a road that swings up the Belleville heights. We follow the ridge. We are on Souville, the key of the defence when fate came to the last pinch. Here as late in the struggle as July 12 last year the Boches made their last desperate throw. They surged up to the very spot where we are standing beside the broken gun-carriage. Could they have won here and held their footing nothing could have saved Verdun. Its high-set cathedral with twin towers rises pyramid-wise and crowns the city with conspicuous boldness. We cannot see it from here. But on the left of us the German guns swept down one long valley from Douamont, and on the right of us down another long valley from Vaux. The fall of Souville would have been the end not, indeed, of the conflict, but of that part of it which covered Verdun itself. We see how "Pétain of Verdun" was an iron economist in war, but terrible in onslaught at the right our and not before. Nivelle, his lieutenant, mustered heavy reserves, flung them on the Germans, and hurled them down from Souville never to reach it again.
BC Archives, MS-0055 Box 15 File 2 / CREASE FAMILY / Letters from Arthur Douglas Crease to his brother, Lindley Crease, 1917.