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Sunday, 7 July 2013

In Arras

Wednesday, July 7th., Near Arras.

When you actually reach Arras you cannot be deceived for an instant as to what has happened to the place. The first street you see is a desolation, empty and sinister. Everywhere the damage of shells is visible. In the brief intervals of the deafening cannonade can be heard one sound - blinds and curtains fluttering against empty window frames. As we went further into the city we saw sights still stranger. Of one house nothing but the roof was left, the roof made a triumphal arch. All the streets were covered with powdered glass.

In one street we saw a postman in the regulation costume of the French postman, with the regulation black, shiny wallet-box hanging over his stomach, and the regulation pen behind his ear, smartly delivering letters from house to house. He did not knock at the doors; he just stuck the letters through the empty window frames. He was a truly remarkable sight.

Then we arrived by a curved street at the Cathedral of St. Vaast. It is the most majestic and striking ruin at the Front. It is superlatively well placed on an eminence by itself, and its dimensions are tremendous. It towers over the city.. The pale simplicity of its enormous lines and surfaces renders it better suited for the martyrdom of bombardment than any Gothic building could possibly be. Photographs and pictures of Arras Cathedral ought to be cherished by German commanders, for they have accomplished nothing more austerely picturesque, more idiotically sacrilegious, more exquisitely futile than their achievement here. And they are adding to it weekly.

To the right of the Town Hall, looking at it from the rear, we saw a curving double row of mounds of brick, stone and refuse. Understand, these had no resemblance to houses; they had no resemblance to anything whatever except mounds of brick, stone and refuse. The sight of them acutely tickled my curiosity. "What is this?" "It is the principal street in Arras." German gunnery has brought that street to an end past all resuscitation. It may be rebuilt - it will never be the same street.

Arras is not in Germany. It is in France. I mention this fact because it is notorious that Germany is engaged in a defensive war, and in a war for the upholding of the highest civilisation. The Germans came all the way across Belgium, and thus far into France, in order to defend themselves against attack. They defaced and destroyed all the beauties of Arras, and transformed it into a scene of desolation so that the highest civilisation might remain secure and their own hearths intact. Having seen Arras, I would honestly give a year's income to see Cologne in the same condition. And to the end of my life I shall feel cheated if Cologne or some similar German town is not in fact ultimately reduced to the same condition. This state of mind comes of seeing things with your own eyes.

The defence of German soil is a mighty and far-reaching affair!

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