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Friday, 12 July 2013

The destruction of Ypres

Monday, July 12th., Ypres.

When we drew near Ypres we met a civilian wagon laden with furniture of a lower middle-class house, and also with lengths of gilt picture-frame moulding. The noise of artillery persisted. As a fact the wagon was hurrying away with furniture and picture-frame mouldings under fire. It seemed odd - to an absurdly sensitive, non-Teutonic mind it seemed somehow to lack justice - that the picture framer, after having been ruined, must risk his life in order to snatch from the catastrophe the debris of his career.

I had not been in Ypres for nearly twenty years, and when I was last there the work of restoring the historic buildings of the city was not started. The restorations were just about finished in time for the opening of hostilities, and they give yet another proof of the German contention that Belgium, in conspiracy with Britain, had deliberately prepared for the war - and, indeed, wanted it!

As late as the third week in April this year the Grande Place was a regular scene of commerce, and on market days it was dotted with stalls upon which were offered for sale such frivolous things as postcards displaying the damage done to the railway-station quarter in November 1914. Then came the major bombardment which is not yet over.

A just idea of the effects of this bombardment may be obtained by adventuring into the Cathedral of St. Martin. In the centre of the Cathedral, where the transepts meet, is a vast heap of bricks, stone, and powdery dirt. It overspreads most of the immense interior.

The Cloth Hall was a more wonderful thing than the cathedral, which, after all, was no better than dozens of other cathedrals. There was only one Cloth Hall of the rank of this one. It is not easy to say whether or not the Cloth Hall still exists. Broken walls, a few bits of arched masonry and heaps of refuse alone indicate where the nearby Niewwerk and Town Hall stood in April last.

"I want to make a rough sketch of all this," I said to my companions in the middle of the Grande Place. The spectacle was indeed majestic in the extreme. My companions left me to myself. I sat down on the edge of a small shell-hole some distance in front of the Hospital which I had been informed might be in danger of collapse. The paved floor of the Place stretched out around me like a tremendous plain, seeming the vaster because my eyes were now so much nearer to the level of it. I was the only living thing in the Square. The loud sound of guns never ceased. I said to myself: "A shell might quite well fall here any moment." I was afraid. But I was less afraid of a shell than of the intense loneliness. Then I heard echoing sounds of voices and footsteps. two British soldiers appeared round a corner and passed slowly along the Square. I had a wish to accost them, but Englishmen do not do these things, even in Ypres. They glanced casually at me; I glanced casually at them, carefully pretending that the circumstances of my situation were entirely ordinary. I made the sketch simply because I had said that I would make it. As soon as it was done I jumped up out of the hole and walked about, peering down the streets for the reappearance of my friends.

When you are walking through that which was Ypres, nothing arouses a stronger feeling - half contempt, half anger - than the thought of the mean, miserable, silly, childish, and grotesque excuses which the wit of Germany has invented for her deliberately planned crime. Despite all vauntings, all facile chatterings about the alleged co-operation of an unknowable and awful God, all shriekings of unity and power, all bellowings about the perfect assurance of victory, all loud countings of the fruit of victory - the savage leaders of the deluded are shaking in their shoes before the anticipated sequel of an outrage ineffable alike in its barbarism and in its idiocy.

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