Farther on the road a company from a famous regiment, picked men all of them, comes swinging along, fresh from their baths!—life and force in every movement—young Harrys with their beavers on. Then, a house where men have their gas-helmets tested—a very strict and necessary business; and another, where an ex-Balliol tutor and Army Chaplain keeps open doors for the soldier in his hours of rest or amusement. But we go in search of a safe road to a neighbouring village, where some fresh passes have to be got. Each foot now of the way is crowded with the incidents and appurtenances of war, and war close at hand. An Australian transport base is pointed out, with a wholly Australian staff. “Some of the men,” says our guide, “are millionaires.” Close by is an aeroplane descending unexpectedly in a field, and a crowd of men rushing to help; and we turn away relieved to see the two aviators walking off unhurt. Meanwhile, I notice a regular game of football going on at a distance, and some carefully written names of bypaths—“Hyde Park Corner,” “Piccadilly,” “Queen Mary’s Road,” and the like. The animation, the life of the scene are indescribable.
At the next village the road was crowded both with natives and soldiers to see the German prisoners brought in. Alack! we did not see them. Ambulances were passing and re-passing, the slightly wounded men in cars open at the back, the more serious cases in closed cars, and everywhere the same va et vient of lorries and wagons, of staff-cars and motor-cyclists. It was not right for us to add to the congestion in the road. Moreover, the hours were drawing on, and the great sight was still to come. But to have watched those prisoners come in would have somehow rounded off the day!
Our new passes took us to the top of a hill well known to the few onlookers of which this war admits. The motor stopped at a point on the road where a picket was stationed, who examined our papers. Then came a stiff and muddy climb, past a dugout for protection in case of shelling, Captain —— carrying the three gas-helmets. At the top was a flat green space—three or four soldiers playing football on it!—and an old windmill, and farm-buildings.
We sheltered behind the great beams supporting the windmill, and looked out through them, north and east, over a wide landscape; a plain bordered eastward by low hills, every mile of it, almost, watered by British blood, and consecrate to British dead. As we reached the windmill, as though in sombre greeting, the floating mists on the near horizon seemed to part, and there rose from them a dark, jagged tower, one side of it torn away. It was the tower of Ypres—mute victim!—mute witness to a crime, that, beyond the reparations of our own day, history will avenge through years to come.