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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

So we rolled through the streets of Rheims


I

was thus simultaneously accompanied by Captain d'A----, the staff-officer from the Paris War Office, by Captain F----, the staff-officer from the 5th Army, and by the staff-officer of the Army Corps.

Having explained to us the "lay of the land" and incidentally pointed out to us the sizable crater of a shell which a few days earlier had come within twenty yards of putting a definite end to this particular observation point, the last officer bade us good-bye. We climbed back into our motors, and made the steep, winding descent from the plateau, and raced over the long, straight road so well known to motor tourists of peaceful days, which leads to where in the distance the low roofs of Rheims can be seen, like some muddy tide washing the foot of the craglike cathedral. In Rheims, which the enemy had considerately stopped shelling an hour or so before our arrival, we had to go to the headquarters of the Colonel in Command. He was out, but had left a Major with instructions to show us to X----, a village about a kilometre from the outskirts of Rheims and immediately touching on the front trenches. We left our motors near the edge of the city and walked to where down the street ran a deep narrow ditch lying open, waiting for its sewer-pipes. "Climb in," said the Major. "Here's where the communicating trench begins." In we climbed and were led by the Major along a zigzag kilometre of trench until, fifteen minutes later, we climbed out again in the

main street of X----. There the Major introduced us to the Captain at the moment in command of the battalion occupying the village. He became our guide through the rest of the afternoon, which we spent in the front trenches, and which is described in the following chapter.

Thus the War Department from Paris had notified the General Staff of the 5th Army that I was to make a three-day visit to that army. That General Staff had arranged a complete programme and had notified the staffs of the various Army Corps which I was to visit. The first of these Army Corps Staffs had decided that I was to visit the front before Rheims, and had so notified the Colonel. The Colonel had decided which particular portion of the front I was to visit before Rheims and had so notified the Captain. And the Captain in turn had made up his mind which specific trenches I was to visit, and conducted me through them.

Thus far my programme had been more interesting but just as rigid as that of any of the correspondents' tours.

At the end of the afternoon in the trenches a minor example arose of the advantages which my special trip conferred.

As we returned to our motors in the outskirts of Rheims, I told d'A---- how keenly I wished to see the Rheims Cathedral.

"It is not on the programme," he answered; "but if you want to see it you certainly shall. It will get you back to Epernay pretty late, instead of at the hour arranged for, but that will not matter."

So we rolled through the streets of Rheims, where of the 110,000 original population 20,000 still live and carry on their daily life. The greater part of the city showed no signs whatever of the constantly repeated bombardments which it has sustained, save for the blocks on blocks of houses closed and with windows boarded up. But when we entered that portion lying to the east of the cathedral and toward the enemy, we passed through the fleshless skeleton of a city. The house walls generally stood intact, but through the gaping windows one could see the nothingness that lay behind, where great shells had plunged downward through the roof, sweeping the whole interior, floor by floor, down into the cellar; or where smaller shells had gutted the interior by fire. Every now and then we would see a street completely blocked by a great barrier of rubble, where a whole house had been plucked out bodily from between its neighbors by some monstrous explosion and smashed to pieces on the pavement as you would smash an egg on the ground.


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