4th August 1942, midday
Memories of the first war
—Ypres and Lübeck.
When we went into the line in 1916, to the south of Bapaume, the heat was intolerable. As we marched through the streets, there was not a house, not a tree to be seen; everything had been destroyed, and even the grass had been burnt. It was a veritable wilderness.
In the present campaign I got my greatest surprise when I revisited Arras. In the old days it was just a mound of earth. And now—! Fields filled with blossom and waving corn, while on Vimy Ridge the scars are much as they were, shell-holes and all. I believe it is much the same in the Champagne.
The soldier has a boundless affection for the ground on which he has shed his blood. If we could arrange the transport, we should have a million people pouring into France to revisit the scenes of their former struggle.
Marching along the roads was a misery for us poor old infantrymen; again and again we were driven off the road by the bloody gunners, and again and again we had to dive into the swamps to save our skins! All the thanks we got was a torrent of curses. “Bloody So-and-Sos” was the mildest expression hurled at us.
My first impression of Ypres was—towers, so near that I could all but touch them. But the little infantryman in his hole in the ground has a very small field of vision.
I shall send our people who have been given the task of rebuilding Lübeck to Ypres before they start work. Fifty different shades of tiles, from salmon-pink, through gold to deep violet! The new Ypres is a city out of fairyland! In those days the girls making lace always sat working outside the houses, surrounded, of course, by a horde of soldiery.
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