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 walk on. It is like a hundred Vimys in the range and violence of chaos. Hell-storms of explosives and fury of hand-to-hand battle have wrung and racked and riven and scooped this ground. The depths of the dry fosses that were part of the standing fortifications seem to mingle with the shell craters dinging at all the crest and slopes to make a more infernal convulsion of earth-troughs and earth-billows. We toss up and down like cockboats on this crumbling sea. What makes Verdun appalling is the extend of this upheaval and its nakedness. Unlike the Somme wilderness, not a herb grows. Yet all these hills and ridges which rise and sink and heave away waved when the war began with forests like those that cover the crests southward. Enough that we see around us Froideterre, Thiaumont, Douaumont, and more legendary Vaux, Tavannes - all the heights of immortal meaning where France at bay conquered at last in the battle of all her battles through the two thousand years since Caesar gave her a new destiny. We had dejeuner below Vauban's citadel, in the official tunnel hung with flags. It was like nothing so much as lunching in the Twopenny Tube with the trains. Carrying away mingled impressions that will never fade - neither the awful nor the heroic - I left with unwillingness. To leave Verdun seemed like moral loss. There, as nowhere else I know, everyone seems in personal touch with the soul of great things.
us go across the plateau of Langres, whence rivers of France flow every way towards all her seas; and let us travel till we come to Belfort. It is absurd to try to indicate in a few lines what happened afterwards. My guides were French officers, all of whom had left Alsace more than twenty years ago rather than brook military service in Germany. More than any other men in the world, these Alsatians have had to make fine steel of life. To one of them I owe an especial debt. He is an accomplished critic of English literature, an Oxonian, an author of many books. For nearly three years the lines which have most cheered his long waiting for the day deferred have been those of "Land, kindly light." I am afraid much of our talk was an exchange of quotations about things that were before the war and will be after it, but perhaps bearing on it better than we knew.
The first evening we went from Belfort straight into the mountains. By one of the fine military roads which the French have made since their recapture of the southern neck of Alsace we reached a secluded valley where the patois was as German as the gables, but temperament and happy manners were French. There was a fine lake reservoir made by the enemy, but captured from them, despite a solemn inscription in the name of Prince Hohenlohe, who afterwards became Chancellor. We stayed at another village where the descendant of a French statesman, famous in the days of our grandfathers, is carrying on the whole various administration of a distinctive little domain. More dinners with generals and commandants; more fraternal tossing of all the Allies and of American intervention.
The fullest and strangest of all the days on the two fronts was when we went up a doubled-headed mountain which bastions the plain of the Rhine. The French hold the slightly higher summit, the Boches the slightly lower. The whole top has been soaked in heroic blood. The war has known no more deadly fighting-pitch than this mountain which lifts above the hanging forests a rocky brow covered with thousands of thick, short, bleached tree-stumps like dying gate-posts. The shelling was warm that morning. The crashes were coming steadily nearer. "The next will fall just about where we are standing," said Captain X. May I remind you that it did. But we were first snugly ensconced in a dug-out, while Moet-Chandon, as I hinted, seemed to pop up out of a rat-hole and presented itself in tin tumblers. After about forty minutes the Boche began to think about his lunch and slacked. We went then through communication-trenches like sunk pergolas, sun-dappled, with vegetation twining round the open rafters above, and so came to a certain place where we wriggled crouching through low-browed passages and peeped through slits and chinks in the rock-face, and skipped up observation ladders for a snap-view over the sharp edge of things. The Boche below was as near as your top window is to your neighbour's doorstep across the street, but he was well earthed and ambushed.
BC Archives, MS-0055 Box 15 File 2 / CREASE FAMILY / Letters from Arthur Douglas Crease to his brother, Lindley Crease, 1917.