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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

Nothing more than the aftermath of an earthquake


We

walked on with the toy whip cracking at every other step and "departs" and "arrivees" inviting guesswork as to which was which. We passed soldiers in shirt-sleeves, deepening and widening a communication trench. It was rather difficult to squeeze past them, but this very definitely emphasized the wonderful terms of discipline, yet the democratic friendliness, existing between the French officers and the men. The officers talked to the men intimately and placed their hands on the men's shoulders affectionately in squeezing by. The men answered the officers easily, without restraint, but all stood at attention and smartly gave the salute, which they regarded as a dignity and not a degradation--a marvellous combination of discipline and democracy.

We finally climbed out of the trench at the first house of the little village, or rather of what had been a little village, for it was, on close view, nothing more than the aftermath of an earthquake. In actual fact it reminded me vividly of the walk I had taken through the remains of Messina after the last great earthquake.

Before entering the village I stood in the road looking through my field-glasses at a German war-balloon to my left. "Come along, come along," shouted one of the officers. "If you stand there you'll start the Germans shelling. You're in plain sight of them." Needless to say I came along.

We walked through the shattered

village, which the Germans shelled religiously every day, until we came to the remains of a church. Climbing in over the ruins we saw that there was one corner where miraculously enough a few yards of floor and a few yards of roof had escaped being shelled to pieces. There the altar had been set with about ten chairs crowded in front of it. There mass is still held every Sunday for the benefit of the sixteen inhabitants who still persisted in staying in the village.

[Illustration: Page 49

"THERE MASS IS STILL HELD EVERY SUNDAY FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE SIXTEEN INHABITANTS WHO STILL PERSISTED IN STAYING IN THE VILLAGE"]

These must indeed be solemn little services, for the Germans are far from being Sabbatarians when it comes to shelling this particular church.

Going on, we stopped in front of what was a house for one story and a skeleton from there up. It looked as if nothing less than a squirrel could get up to its rooftree, and nothing larger than a cat could conceal itself behind any of the shreds and tatters of its roof. Nevertheless, up there was the observation-post which I was about to visit. We entered and found some soldiers cooking meat and potatoes on a smokeless stove. One of them was amusing himself prancing around the place on a pair of child's stilts.

Following instructions, I climbed up a long ladder, which led to two rafters--the sole survivors of the second floor. A few planks had been stretched between these. From them another ladder ran up to a small patch of attic floor which, marvellously intact, nestled around three sides of a brick chimney under the fragment of the roof. Arrived there, I carefully lifted a little leather curtain, hung over a hole in the roof, and squinted cautiously down upon the German lines.


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