It was again fine, though not bright, and the distances far less clear. This time we struck northeast, passing first the sacred region of G.H.Q. itself, where we showed our passes. Then after making our way through roads lined interminably, as on the previous day, with the splendid motor-lorries laden with food and ammunition, which have made such a new thing of the transport of this war, interspersed with rows of ambulances and limbered wagons, with flying-stations and horse lines, we climbed a hill to one of the finest positions in this northern land; an old town, where Gaul and Roman, Frank and Fleming, English and French have clashed, which looks out northward towards the Yser and Dunkirk, and east towards Ypres. Now, if the mists will only clear, we shall see Ypres! But, alas, they lie heavy over the plain, and we descend the hill again without that vision. Now we are bound for Poperinghe, and must go warily, because there is a lively artillery action going on beyond Poperinghe, and it is necessary to find out what roads are being shelled.
On the way we stop at an air-station, to watch the aeroplanes rising and coming down, and at a point near Poperinghe we go over a casualty-clearing station—a collection of hospital huts, with storehouses and staff quarters—with the medical officer in charge. Here were women nurses who are not allowed in the field dressing-stations nearer the line. There were not many wounded, though they were coming in, and the Doctor was not for the moment very busy.
We stood on the threshold of a large ward, where we could not, I think, be seen. At the farther end a serious case was being attended by nurses and surgeons. Everything was passing in silence; and to me it was as if there came from the distant group a tragic message of suffering, possibly death. Then, as we passed lingeringly away, we saw three young officers, all wounded, running up from the ambulance at the gate, which had just brought them, and disappearing into one of the wards. The first—a splendid kilted figure—had his head bound up; the others were apparently wounded in the arm. But they seemed to walk on air, and to be quite unconscious that anything was wrong with them. It had been a success, a great success, and they had been in it!
The ambulances were now arriving fast from the field dressing-stations close to the line, and we hurried away, and were soon driving through Poperinghe. Here and there there was a house wrecked with shell-fire. The little town indeed with its picturesque place is constantly shelled. But, all the same, life seems to go on as usual. The Poperinghe boy, like his London brother, hangs on the back of carts; his father and mother come to their door to watch what is going on, or to ask eagerly for news of the counter-attack; and his little brothers and sisters go tripping to school, in short cloaks with the hoods drawn over their heads, as though no war existed. Here and in the country round, poor robbed Belgium is still at home on her own soil, and on the best of terms with the English Army, by which, indeed, this remnant of her prospers greatly. As I have already insisted, the relations everywhere between the British soldier and the French and Belgian populations are among the British—or shall I say the Allied?—triumphs of the war.