From the Archive — From the October 2014 issue

My Two Visits to Verdun

Download Pdf
Read Online

A clear, gusty sky and a golden early morning glow over the deserted streets sped me out of Paris on my second visit to Verdun. I was going to a town that has risen above its peaceful, commonplace existence of a few years ago and become a symbol for all that is heroic and self-sacrificing in the greatest disaster that has befallen mankind. Our expedition on this occasion comprised the private motor of the director-general of the American Relief Clearing-House in Paris and a second car carrying Lieutenant C — of the section cinéma of the French Army and his assistants. With the approval of the general staff, our object was to make certain motion pictures of the devastated district of Verdun, to be used in furthering relief work in America.

A cold mid-October wind swept us across the wide-open spaces of the Champagne district. It gave way to a drizzle as we left behind one by one the battlefields of the Marne — Sézanne, Fère-Champenoise, Vitry-le-François. The blanket of mist enveloped us completely as we drove on toward Bar-le-Duc, and held us in its embrace until we reached our journey’s end. The filmy curtain lifted from time to time long enough to disclose evidences of unusual military activity in the small towns through which we passed. Long trains were pulling into small stations, battalions and regiments of reserves were piling out of the carriages or were being herded into enclosures or were loading themselves into mud-stained camions pulled up in long lines close to the depot platforms. Heavy equipment of all kinds — knapsacks, mitrailleuses, metal gun-screens, cookstoves — was being thrown into other trucks. Ammunition-carts and Red Cross ambulances were receiving supplies at a distributing station. Again, we overtook commissary-carts on the road, or batteries of artillery, or soldiers in motortrucks, and occasionally reserves on a practice hike who sloshed through the mud at the roadside. All seemed to be headed in the same direction. On this rainy Sunday evening someone appeared to have touched a button that had set into motion all the complicated machinery that is the mainstay of an army in the field. No one worked feverishly; it was all done with the quiet, efficient haste of long experience.

I went out into the streets of Bar-le-Duc before dinner. There is no blackness so uncompromising as the blackness of the French towns in the war zone after nightfall. Out of the inky pall figures in uniform appeared, took shape, and then faded away. On a siding near the railway station a few lights concealed from above by shades showed through the mist. I stood near the siding in the rain. Artillerymen were preparing the runways for a battery of “75s” that had just arrived on flatcars. The nose of each gun leaned over the breech of the one ahead like the bristling quills of a porcupine.

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 2

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $23.99/year.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share

More from Walter Hale:

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2019

Men at Work

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To Serve Is to Rule

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Bird Angle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The K-12 Takeover

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The $68,000 Fish

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

Close

You’ve read your free article from Harper’s Magazine this month.

*Click “Unsubscribe” in the Weekly Review to stop receiving emails from Harper’s Magazine.