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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

We climbed rapidly out of Epernay


Having

eaten a sample of the good bread and most excellent Irish stew which constitutes the soldiers' lunch, we returned to the hotel for our own early lunch. Then I climbed into one military motor with Captain F----, while Eyre installed himself in another with Captain d'A----, and at about 12.30 we started off for the front of "the front."

We climbed rapidly out of Epernay, up a long very steep grade, flanked as far as the eye could reach by vineyards, in which peasant women, old men and boys were busily harvesting the raw material for future "Secs," "Extra drys," and "Bruts." Our bellowing military motor-siren drove most of the heavy two-wheeled peasant's carts hastily toward the gutter to give us passage. Every now and then some cart's fantastic creakings would drown our clamor, and then as we finally forced our way past, the soldier-chauffeur would launch some terse but terrific imprecations at the driver. At the end of the ascent we cut loose along the broad turnpike which ran through a forest across the top of a wide plateau. Sprinkled all along the highway were uniformed "territorials" working at road repair.

[Illustration: Page 30

"THERE WERE AUTOS WITH ... RAZOR-EDGED KNIFE-BLADES ATTACHED"]

[Illustration: Page 32

CAPTAIN D'A---- AND THE AUTHOR. (STARTING FOR THE FRONT FROM THE FRONT OF THE HOTEL AT EPERNAY)]

style="text-align: justify;">"It is of extreme military importance to keep all these lines of communication in first-class condition," explained Captain F----. "It is not so romantic to mend a road as to mend a trench, but it is just as necessary."

By rights we ought now to have started our routine of courtesies by calling on General Franchet d'Esperey, commanding the 5th Army, the first of whose five army corps we were about to visit. For the amenities of a trip to the front require that in theory the stranger should pay his prearranged respects to all those in command from the General of the Army, through the General of the Army Corps, down through the General of Division, to the Colonel of the Regiment he happens to be visiting. And practise in this matter sticks uncommonly close to theory. Charming though it is to meet these courteous, highly intelligent and often illustrious men, it is impossible not to feel that the amount of time devoted to such visits of ceremony is quite out of proportion to the very limited time allowed the average visitor to the front. It is not the actual ten or fifteen minutes spent in conversation with these hospitable gentlemen which eats up the time, but the fact that meetings with some of the busiest men in the world are necessarily definite appointments which must be very punctually kept. And four or five such appointments in the course of a day at places scores of miles apart necessarily tear that day to pieces.

However, General Franchet d'Esperey had suddenly been called out to an inspection of a certain part of the front, so we skipped the engagement which had been made with him, and motored on to call on the General in command of the Army Corps with which we found ourselves. In the _salon_ of a small chateau we were introduced, and conversed pleasantly for a few minutes. Then he assigned one of his staff-officers to accompany us to an observation point on the edge of the plateau from which he could give us a sweeping view of many miles of the front, and point out the interesting topographical features and the course of the trenches.


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