|Stage 3 TDF & WWI Battlefields: Bon Soir Mes Enfants||AllisonHayes|
Jul 9, 2002 6:00 AM
|This stage - like many races in the north, covers a route that brings up some of the less happy bits of the country's |
past; the riders pass the battlefields of Gravelotte and Mars-le-Tour from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, they then head for what is almost sacred ground to the French, Verdun, and then on through the Argonne where the American army saw action in 1918 and into Reims the heart of Champange that was laid to ruins by the Germans.
Battle of Verdun Feb 16-Dec 1916 with over a million casualties and the most costly battle in WWI: trench foot caused soldier's feet to literally rot away; buried soldiers bodies would resurface again in the relentless bombing; rats overran the trenches and preyed on victims alive or dead; soldiers blinded by chlorine gas.
b "The Soul of the Assault" by George Eustace Pearson
i The rain was pitiless and so constant. We looked in vain for a sun that never shone. The mist that forever closed in on us like a cloak nervously multiplied our foes. The situation contained elements of a great danger, one that struck deeper than the mere losing of lives. The place had become a nightmare; so foul an ulcer that it was daily sapping away the foundations upon which our usefulness as a fighting unit depended. it required, above all, the surgeon's knife in strong hands that would strike deep and spare not at the spurt of blood or the wince of pain.
i The flares streaked up in the paraboly of a Safety-First Fourth of July rocket, which broke into a fizzing sputter on its graceful downward turn. It was merely decorative if it broke in front, but highly illuminative if it burst in the rear, where it threw the ragged outline of our surroundings in strong silhouette for those unfriendly German eyes; so that their machine gunfire sliced like a sword at the top of our abortion of a parapet., combing it, and so further weakening it that reports became doubly dangerous. Under such conditions all but the most desperate breaches went unheeded. The sound of a sack stealthily flopped into such a
place drew forth showers of bombs that invariably left a cruel aftermath of wounded.
i With the bombs there came out of the night derisive laughter, taunts and gibes. our men looked at one another and growled, deep from their empty stomachs, strange oaths that were flung out in so cautious a growl as to render them
the more terrible in their unspoken threat; while we crawled in Indian caution, our bellies dragging in the mud; rifle
and bayonet in one hand, first-aid package in the other to give succor.
i And under our breath we damned them heartily as we twisted the button and counted slowly - "One - Two - Three - Four" - and heaved together; so that at the stroke of "Five" we hoped Fritz would not have time to wonder what had happened to him. But those pots were made for jam and not for this; our hopes were vain, particularly if, as happened here, someone found his bomb too heavy and so let go too soon, in which case it came back and exploded among us where we huddled, while the rotten parapet shook.
i The trench mortar was very bad. it came so silently and sprang by so closely from its medieval catapult that we could sometimes dimly see the unwieldily missile as it hurtled clumsily through the air, before it burst with all the ardor of a small mine and sent up the greasy column of an oil well, which rose inkily for five score feet before it recoiled on us in a shower of trench debris and odd limbs of men. Always, of course, there was the desultory fire of hidden batteries, which was answered in part by the snap of our seventy-fives in the wood beyond Kruistraat Hulk.
i Under these circumstances the tale of our casualties grew day by day, and steadily held, each twenty-four hours, to
sixty per cent of the men we took over at the dusk of each night from a huddled group of half delirious and wholly
sodden, stupid, staring men, who clutched feebly at their rifles and cried loudly, in the na
|re: Stage 3 TDF & WWI Battlefields (continued)||AllisonHayes|
Jul 9, 2002 6:03 AM
|i Under these circumstances the tale of our casualties grew day by day, and steadily held, each twenty-four hours, to sixty per cent of the men we took over at the dusk of each night from a huddled group of half delirious and wholly sodden, stupid, staring men, who clutched feebly at their rifles and cried loudly, in the name of God, for rum and rest. |
i And each night, at each fresh alarm, that gallant gentleman of the strained and haggard face came among his men to inspire them with the freshness of his own high courage. Like all others, he had aged years in weeks. His ever-ready smile bespoke the girl heart, which thrived despite a lifetime of soldier training; and in the last analysis he was a man of parts. It was at those worst moments that he came, the quickest at the bidding of an orderly's appeal, crashing through the gap, half blind from old wounds, falling into stinking water holes and out again, to fling his slender length among his men, radiating such a store of cheer and artful badinage, combined with the most tender solicitude, as to uplift the dullest of them and feed anew the fighting fire of each. So not once but many times men swore mightily and registered this oath: That Francis Farquhar could have his heart's best blood!
i Each wound tore freshly at the raw wound in his heart. At each blasting burst that tore its way through flesh and blood, he muttered through his teeth: "The swine!" And so he stayed until perhaps some other breathless runner stormed in with a tale of worse than this befalling down the line. It was then that the maternal quality of the perfect officer welled up in the great heart of the man: "Good night, my children!" He faded off amid the graves and mist.