Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 1920

To-day for the battle fields. Our usual early hour for rising and off in charabancs at 7-30. We left Paris by the Patin gate over the old Roman road leading from Paris to Metz. These Roman roads have lasted through the centuries because of their massive construction. The Romans built four successive layers, on an earth sub grade, carefully prepared and drained. The foundation and upper surface consisted of large flat stones, while the two intervening layers were built of smaller stone laid in a lime mortar or cement.

Beautiful trees, covered with mistletoe line the avenues. Many were cut down by the Germans for spite. At Manx we were shown the old cathedral that at one time had been the scene of a conflict between Protestants and Catholics where the former broke the heads off all statuary on the outside.

Passed a cemetery of English graves where no care had been taken and Lucy - Lo - Bogage, shelled by American army to get Germans out. A crucifix in a church stood unharmed while everything else was destroyed.

With great interest we approached Belleau Wood. The name has since been changed by the French government to Bois de Marine in honor of the American soldiers. We passed a German and French cemetery and at the latter our driver got out and went to it and stood with uncovered head.

At Belleau Wood 2800 Americans rest in a beautiful grassy plot on a sunny hillside with graveled walks, regular rows of white crosses, each carefully marked. Jewish boys had a star added to their cross.

We had such an indescribable sense of depression as we looked about and saw what a small section of country had been the scene of such a great conflict. A huge boulder just above the cemetery on the hillside, inscribed - “Second Division American, June 26 - 1918” marked the last stand of the Germans.

Below and around is a peaceful scene of field, forest and shadow leading down to the valley of the Aisne. The French caretaker, in his little hut near by had an alphabetical list of every grave, so that any one is easily located. Our party had no difficulty in finding any grave they knew to be here.

A little white cottage near was marked Hostess House and occupied by two bright faced American girls, one from Maine and one from Mass. The cottage was built last December by German prisoners and they came in, a month later. They will spend the summer and they know not how much longer. “Come in and look us over - was their greeting - we heard you were coming.” Everything was neat and carefully arranged and gave a suggestion of home.

There was barbed wire in every place and we crept in among some of it to pluck a poppy. Belleau Wood was all destroyed, although we do not see such wholesale destruction as we saw in Belgium a short time ago. We drove on to Chateau Thiery, which made a drive of 75 miles for the day.

Chateau Thiery was named from a royal chateau just above the town, on a height which was a very strategic position and one of immense importance. There were underground passages coming out under the river 10 kilometers away. It was a splendid site to repel attack and the Germans were in possession and it required hand to hand fighting to dislodge them. The German machine gun was planted in the tower of the town hall. We had luncheon in a wing (that had not been destroyed) of the Swan hotel, on the Main St., in what had been “No man’s Land.”

We entered the town on one side of the river, where the town hall stood and crossed to the other side on a temporary bridge to our hotel. This bridge was destroyed and a group of Americans cut off. They crept along the river to another bridge and just got over, when it too, was destroyed.

Not the least interesting was the Marne river. It looked very narrow to us. We remembered reading “A Hill top on the Marne” written by an American woman who but a short time before the war broke out, had taken a chateau to pursue her literary work, and refused to vacate. The story has new interest now, and I’ll read it again when I get home.

Great fields of yellow mustard and sweet wild roses on the hill-sides gave little evidence of the great conflict waged here so recently. Along the roads, French women were gathering brush-wood for fuel and to make brushes to sell.

Our Charabanc had double tires - that is 8 wheels instead of 4.

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