A few civilians had crept back into the town. As in other places, they had come back because they had no place else to go. At any time a shell might destroy the fragment of the building in which they were trying to reestablish themselves. There were no shops open, because there were no shops to open. Supplies had to be brought from long distances. As all the horses and automobiles had been commandeered by the government, they had no way to get anything. Their situation was pitiable, tragic. And over them was the daily, hourly fear that the German Army would concentrate for its onward drive at some near-by point.
LADY DECIES’ STORY
It was growing dark; the chauffeur was preparing to light the lamps of the car. Shells were fewer. With the approach of night the activity behind the lines increased; more ammunition trains made their way over the debris; regiments prepared for the trenches marched through the square on their way to the front.
They were laden, as usual, with extra food and jars of water. Almost every man had an additional loaf of bread strapped to the knapsack at his back. They were laughing and talking among themselves, for they had had a sleep and hot food; for the time at least they were dry and fed and warm.
On the way out of the town we passed a small restaurant, one of a row of houses. It was the only undestroyed building I saw in Ypres.
“It is the only house,” said the General, “where the inhabitants remained during the entire bombardment. They made coffee for the soldiers and served meals to officers. Shells hit the pavement and broke the windows; but the house itself is intact. It is extraordinary.”
We stopped at the one-time lunatic asylum on our way back. It had been converted into a hospital for injured civilians, and its long wards were full of women and children. An English doctor was in charge.
Some of the buildings had been destroyed, but in the main it had escaped serious injury. By a curious fatality that seems to have followed the chapels and churches of Flanders, the chapel was the only part that was entirely gone. One great shell struck it while it was housing soldiers, as usual, and all of them were killed. As an example of the work of one shell the destruction of that building was enormous. There was little or nothing left.
“The shell was four feet high,” said the Doctor, and presented me with the nose of it.
“You may get more at any moment,” I said.
He shrugged his shoulders. “What must be, must be,” he said quietly.
When the bombardment was at its height, he said, they took their patients to the cellar and continued operating there. They had only a candle or two. But it was impossible to stop, for the wards were full of injured women and children.
I walked through some of the wards. It was the first time I had seen together so many of the innocent victims of this war—children blind and forever cut off from the light of day, little girls with arms gone, women who will never walk again.