And on the wall of the room in which I stood, someone had proudly written his regiment’s name, The 156th Wurtemburgers. It was written in chalk; and another man had come and had written two words before it and had recorded the name of his own regiment too. And the writing remains after these two men are gone, and the lonely house is silent but for the wind and the things that creak as it blows, the only message of this deserted house, is this mighty record, this rare line of history, ill-written: “Lost by the 156th Wurtemburgers, retaken by the Bermondsey Butterflies.”
Two men wrote that sentence between them. And, as with Homer, no one knows who they were. And; like Homer, their words were epic.
I entered an old battle-field through a garden gate, a pale green gate by the. Bapaume-Arras road. The cheerful green attracted me in the deeps of the desolation as an emerald might in a dust-bin. I entered through that homely garden gate, it had no hinges, no pillars, it lolled on a heap of stone: I came to it from the road; this alone was not battle-field; the road alone was made and tended and kept; all the rest was battle-field, as far as the eye could see. Over a large whitish heap lay a Virginia creeper, turning a dull crimson. And the presence of this creeper mourning there in the waste showed unmistakably that the heap had been a house. All the living things were gone that had called this white heap Home: the father would be fighting, somewhere; the children would have fled, if there had been time; the dog would have gone with them, or perhaps, if there was not time, he served other masters; the cat would have made a lair for herself and stalked mice at night through the trenches. All the live things that we ever consider were gone; the creeper alone remained, the only mourner, clinging to fallen stones that had supported it once.
And I knew by its presence here there had been a house. And by the texture or composition of the ruin all round I saw that a village had stood there. There are calamities one does not contemplate, when one thinks of time and change. Death, passing away, even ruin, are all the human lot; but one contemplates ruin as brought by kindly ages, coming slowly at last, with lichen and ivy and moss, its harsher aspects all hidden with green, coming with dignity and in due season. Thus our works should pass away; our worst fears contemplated no more than this.