ON the way from Doullens to Montreuil-sur-Mer, on a shining summer afternoon. A road between dusty hedges, choked, literally strangled, by a torrent of westward-streaming troops of all arms. Every few minutes there would come a break in the flow, and our motor would wriggle through, advance a few yards and be stopped again by a widening of the torrent that jammed us into the ditch and splashed a dazzle of dust into our eyes. The dust was stifling – but through it, what a sight!
Standing up in the car and looking back, we watched the river of war wind toward us. Cavalry, artillery, lancers, infantry, sappers and miners, trench-diggers, road-makers, stretcher-bearers, they swept on as smoothly as if in holiday order. Through the dust, the sun picked out the flash of lances and the gloss of chargers’ flanks, flushed rows and rows of determined faces, found the least touch of gold on faded uniforms, silvered the sad grey of mitrailleuses and munition waggons. Close as the men were, they seemed allegorically splendid: as if, under the arch of the sunset, we had been watching the whole French army ride straight into glory…
Finally we left the last detachment behind, and had the country to ourselves. The disfigurement of war has not touched the fields of Artois. The thatched farmhouses dozed in gardens full of roses and hollyhocks, and the hedges above the duck-ponds were weighed down with layers of elder-blossom. On all sides wheat-fields skirted with woodland went billowing away under the breezy light that seemed to carry a breath of the Atlantic on its beams. The road ran up and down as if our motor were a ship on a deep-sea swell; and such a sense of space and light was in the distances, such a veil of beauty over the whole world, that the vision of that army on the move grew more and more fabulous and epic.
The sun had set and the sea-twilight was rolling in when we dipped down from the town of Montreuil to the valley below, where the towers of an ancient abbey-church rise above terraced orchards. The gates at the end of the avenue were thrown open, and the motor drove into a monastery court full of box and roses.