THE GREEN COUNTRY
France, August 28th.
For a mile the country had been flayed. The red ribs of it lay open to the sky. The whole flank of the ridge had been torn open—it lies there bleeding, gaping open to the callous skies with scarcely so much as a blade of grass or a thistle to clothe its nakedness—covered with the wreckage of men and of their works as the relics of a shipwreck cover the uneasy sea.
As we dodged over the last undulations of an unused trench, the crest of each crater brought us for an instant into view of something beyond—something green and fresh and brilliant, like new land after a long sea journey. Then we were out of view of it again, for a time; until we came to a point where it seemed good to climb and peep over the low parapet.
It was a peep into paradise. Before us lay a green country. There was a rich verdure on the opposite hills. Beyond them ran a valley filled with the warm haze of summer, out of which the round tree-tops stood dark against the still higher hills beyond. The wheat was ripe upon the far hill slopes. The sun bathed the lap of the land with his midday summer warmth. Along the crest of the distant hills ran the line of tall, regular trees which in this country invariably means a road. A church spire rose from a tree clump on a nearer crest. Some of the foreground was pitted with the ugly red splashes which have become for us, in this horrible area, the normal feature of the countryside. But, beyond it, was the green country spread out like a picture, sleeping under the heat of a summer’s sun.
It was the promised land—the country behind the German lines—the valley about Bapaume where the Germans have been for two years undisturbed in French territory, until our troops for the first time peeped over the ridge the other day at the flashes of the very German guns which were firing at them.
Quite close at hand was a wood. The trees were not more than half a mile away, if that. It was a growing wood—with the green still on the branches, very different from the charred posts and tree stumps which are all that now remain of the gardens and orchards of Pozieres. I remember a little over a month ago, when some of us first went up near to Pozieres village—on the day when the bombardment before our first attack was tearing branches from off the trees a hundred yards away—Pozieres had a fairly decent covering then. There was enough dead brushwood and twigs, at any rate, to hide the buildings of the place. A few pink walls could then be half seen behind the branches, or topping the gaps in the scrub.