The aeroplane here affords so big a part of the hourly spectacle of warfare, and makes so great a difference in the obvious conditions of the fight, that he deserves a letter to himself. But of all the differences, by far the greatest is that our troops here have a beautiful country and a civilised, enlightened population at the back of them, which they are defending against the invading enemy whom they have always hoped to meet. They are amongst a people like their own, living in villages and cottages and paddocks not so different from those of their own childhood. Right up into the very zone of the trenches there are houses still inhabited by their owners. As we were entering a communication trench a few days ago we noticed four or five British soldiers walking across the open from a cottage. The officer with me asked them what they were doing. “We’ve just been to the inn there,” they said.
The people of that house were still living in it, with our trenches wandering through their orchard.
In Gallipoli there were brigade headquarters in the actual fire trenches. From the headquarters of the division or the corps you could reach the line by ten minutes’ hard walking, any time. It is a Sabbath day’s journey here—indeed, the only possible way of covering the longer distances regularly is by motor-car or motor-cycle, and no one dreams of using any other means. Nearly the whole army, except the troops in the actual firing-line, lives in a country which is populated by its normal inhabitants.
And—wherein lies the greatest change of all—the troops in the trenches themselves can be brought back every few days into more or less normal country, and have always the prospect before them at the end of a few months of a stay in surroundings that are completely free from shell or rifle fire, and within reach of village shops and the normal comforts of civilisation. And throwing the weather and wet trenches and the rest all in, that difference more than makes up for all of them.
“You see, a fellow must look after himself a bit,” one of them said to me the other day. “A man didn’t take any care how he looked in Gallipoli; but here with these young ladies about, you can’t go around like what we used to there.”
Through one’s mind there flashed well-remembered figures, mostly old slouch hat and sunburnt muscle—the lightest uniform I can recollect was an arrangement of a shirt secured by safety pins. Here they go more carefully dressed than if they were on leave in Melbourne or Sydney.
Yesterday the country was en fete, the roads swarming with young and old, and the fields with children picking flowers. The guns were bumping a few miles away—mostly at aeroplanes. I went to the trenches with a friend. Our last sight, as we came away from the region of them, was of a group of French boys and girls and a few elders around a haystack; and half a dozen big Australians, with rolled shirtsleeves, up on the farming machinery helping them to do the work of the year.