Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 1920

Rising early - that was always the way we began the day - Mrs. Patterson, Miss Mead and I took a before breakfast trip of exploration toward the canal. Such funny little houses, narrow streets, shop windows filled with a mixture of things - soap, wooden shoes and eatables maybe - all put in together. Women and children were clattering over the cobble stones with their wooden shoes, here and there a door would open a little ways and curious eyes would peer out at the strange American visitors walking in the middle of the street. There were carts drawn by dogs, milk maids with wooden yokes about their neck and two large cans of milk, one on each side. The children as well as the women were dressed in black. Hundreds of people, like long funeral processions, were going to early mass, each counting beads and saying prayers for the dead. It was most depressing and we pitied the children that were growing up in that atmosphere. Surely they were entitled to some brightness in their little lives. Little shops were opening up and putting out tables and chairs for early shoppers to drink their beer and sip their wine.

We found a young soldier lad, guarding a bridge, who was friendly and smiled and pointed to some good scenery as we were taking pictures.

Returned to breakfast and we are soon off for a trip to the battle fields by charabanc. The roads leading into or leaving the cities of Belgium are lined with stately, tall trees. Our drive in leaving Bruges, was one of the finest I ever saw. For miles and miles we had the long lane of beautiful trees. Occasionally a wind-mill made us think of Holland. Large German cattle were here and there, and the hogs had such long legs and high backs, more the shape of a horse. Once in a while we saw a goat tied in a yard and a very few chickens that looked starved.

Suddenly we came upon, what our guide called the German pill boxes, which were the cement and stone foundations for the long range guns. Then we came upon the destruction and desolation that had been wrought. Fields full of shell holes, houses and churches demolished, trees killed and the remaining trunks filled with shrapnel. Long lines of German trenches built above ground on account of the water. Whole fields of barbed wire entanglements, enough it seemed to reach round the universe and prison fields, where the wires were formerly charged with electricity.

We stop and eat our lunch of sandwiches and oranges and then on to Dixmude, where everything was destroyed. We got out and climbed over and examined some of the German entrenchments and fortifications and gathered innocent little daisies, cowslips, and buttercups that were blooming as if no sorrow existed all around. We dared not move around much here. Unexploded shells and debris everywhere with only a wagon road clear. As a matter of safety we were urged not to pick up anything.

This section was the scene of much severe fighting. The Yser river, that flowed near by, we were told, ran red with blood. Lonely graves everywhere and every field a burial ground.

On over miles and miles of desolation, till we reach Ypres - a large city without a single building standing. The once famous Cloth Hall, with its tall ruins, is where we gathered to hold a service in memory of the boys who had given their lives in the struggle, and I was asked to speak in behalf of the boys who went out from our Middle-West.

Ypres is never to be rebuilt but will remain a dead city and its ruins are always to stand as a memorial to what they have suffered. A large sign put up as you entered the ruins, said that not one stone must be taken away, that it was holy ground etc., etc.

Many took pictures and the Belgian women crowded around eager to sell souvenirs, post cards, etc.

We returned to Dixmude over another route, where there was even worse destruction than we saw before. It was during the second battle at Ypres, in April 1915 that a physician from Montreal, who was assigned to the medical corps, was so deeply moved, that he wrote the poem, “In Flanders Field the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row etc.” that attracted the attention of the world and made the author’s name immortal. He died in Flanders Jan. 28 - 1918.

Returning to Bruges, was delighted to find mail waiting, among the collection a letter from sister.

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