from 'the War Illustrated', 7th October, 1916
'Glimpses of the Soul of France'
by Percy Hurd
Editor of the " Canadian Gazette," London,


the Moral Strength of a Nation

two allegorical cover pages from French magazine


Percy Hurd, who has specially written this article for 'The War Illustrated', is an eminent journalist, author, and economist who has had exceptional opportunities of studying France in war time. As editor of the "Canadian Gazette" and London editor of the "Montreal Star" and associated journals in Canada, Mr. Hurd has had the privilege of making various visits to the battle-front in order to study and record the work of the Canadian Contingent, and as a member of the executive committee of the Agricultural Relief of Allies Fund, of which the Duke of Portland, Earl Northbrook, and Mr. Adeane are the heads, he has twice reported on the needs of the farmers in the ravaged provinces of France from which the Germans have been pushed back. An apostle of Empire, Mr. Hurd, jointly with his brother Archibald, the eminent naval critic, has written since the war "The New Empire Partnership : Defence, Commerce, Policy," which has been widely reviewed, and accepted as a valuable contribution to the Imperial idea. Our contributor is one of the many who have suffered personal loss in the war. His eldest son, Captain Douglas Hurd, of the Middlesex Regiment, gave his life for the cause of freedom on September 12th last.


You look in vain for the soul of France if you seek it in Paris. Who would dream of finding the soul of England in London? Each is a small world in itself, moved by cosmopolitan rather than national impulses. Nor can you expect to find the soul of France in the northern departments which stretch from Calais, Boulogne, and Havre eastwards, for in these war months they have become for the time a bit of England—or rather of the British Empire. Instead, would I turn to the homes of Champagne and Lorraine which the German invader has reduced to ruins ; or to the barracks of Nancy, where emigrés of the ravaged villages—women of all ages and children—shelter from the blasts of war under the care of M. Mirman, the indomitable prefect of the sorely-tried Department of Meurthe-et-Moselle. In their bitter suffering, robbed of husbands and fathers and their all, these homeless people have plumbed afresh the depths of patriotism, and through their tears they smile the smile of the unconquerable.

The Faithful Father of Triaucourt

Listen first to the poignant tale of Father Paul Viller, the Curé-doyen of Triaucourt, in the Meuse Valley. As we passed along he showed us on each side scars of the German occupation of his once happy and prosperous pastorate, and others tell of his heroism during those days of horror. In his narrative the scene lives again before our eyes.' It is just what would occur in any English village if Germany had her way.

First the hurried flight of country folk along the road from the Forest of Argonne. The Boche is near. General X. and his Staff left Triaucourt the night before; the French troops now follow; military engineers even take away the field telephone from the Town Hall; it is the calm before the storm. "Come what God ordains, I will not quit my post." So the curé declares, and his people trust him.

Soon after mid-day the first German shell; it falls close to the church, sending a column of smoke and dust high up into the air. Everyone rushes home and to the cellars. Zim- boum—a deluge of shells; the church is the enemy's especial target, but many houses are hit, and in the shell-holes made in the gardens two or three men can lie down with ease.

There being no reply to the bombardment, Uhlans appear. "Two of them give me the military salute. At this moment Mme. B., in tears, rushes up to me to say that her mother has been killed in the notary's cellar by a piece of shell; she leads her child, all covered with blood, and crying 'My arm is gone! My arm is gone!' In the greater calamity the child's wounding had gone unnoticed. 'C'est la guerre!' said the commandant roughly, as he turned the child over to a doctor, while he made himself quite at home in the large house before which he had stopped his horse.

"I go down into the notary's cellar. Horror ! On the stepslie the brains of poor Madame, the mother of the curé of Soussainecourt, her shell-torn body in a sea of blood. The first Triaucourt victim of the war. We wrap the body in a shroud and place it on the bed. In the evening Germans find the mutilated body and destroy the image of Christ which we had placed on the little table beside it.

"German lancers everywhere. They seem young, neat, even stylish. 'Cikares! Tabaque!' is their one cry. One would think they had not smoked a pipe for years. I offer my packet of tobacco from which to replenish their pipes. They pocket it wholesale, without so much as a 'Thank you!' Soon they will be in Paris, they say. To see Paris is the dream of them all, and Russia is a negligible quantity. But the impression they leave is rather favourable. They pay for what they want; not they but the foot soldiery are the thieves."

And this is how they got to work, as the old men and women of the village told us in varying detail—the younger men arc all in the fighting-line. Arrived at the village, they take the horses, carriages, and harness ; their plunder must be carried away. Nothing is left intact—wine and provisions of all kinds, tobacco, jam—oh, the jam! They love it as pigs love acorns ; they lick it up out of the pot dirtily, ravenously." What they cannot eat or drink they destroy, and theirs is also the pillage of the brute who ransacks, breaks to bits, tramples on, befouls—that is, a pillage of nameless horrors.

Go into a room thus ravaged and the chaos is indescribable ; men's clothing, women's underwear, petticoats, dresses, marriage wreaths, sacred robes of the communicants— all lie in a horrible mess. The peasant farmer sees his choicest pigs and oxen shot before his eyes, the best portions taken, and the remains left for the robbed owner to clear away, unless he prefers to be poisoned by them. Outside the better class of house the German officer stays in his carriage, and there he sits until the carriage is completely full with the treasures of that French home or the house completely empty. Sometimes the pillager gets his deserts. One Boche, lover of honey, was unable to open his mouth or eyes for two days after trying to rob one of the Triaucourt beehives.

Gallic Cock and the Dawn of Victory

We had abundant evidence that, under the lying pretext that German soldiery had been fired on, the Boches put the houses to flames and poured shot into the people as though they were game. And the poor victims were left as they fell without taper, with no one to watch over their bodies or pray for their souls. But close to them that night the Boches played the piano. Their courage is the courage of the barbarian! It was the army of the Crown Prince!

At last they disappeared. French and British successes elsewhere warned them of the peril of remaining. No more Boches at Triaucourt. They leave an infected village in ruins, misery, mourning—it is so wherever they have passed. They hoped, in the words of the cure, to see the Gallic Cock with twisted neck on the rubbish-heaps of France; but "the Gallic Cock stands there proudly still. He will yet bring down the Black Eagle of Prussia. Already he sings of victory."

The tale of Triaucourt is the tale of many another ravaged commune of Champagne and Lorraine right down to the Vosges Mountains. Our courteous French official guides took us from village to village and from ruin to ruin until there seemed no end to the desolation and no limit to the calculated destructiveness and brutality of the Hun invaders. To-day, by the grace of Heaven and the strong arm of soldier and munition worker alike, the sun is penetrating the gloom of these desolated homes.

When I passed through them again a few days ago (September, 1916), there were signs of a repairing of the shell-shattered churches and homes. The French military and departmental authorities had provided temporary hut-homes, schoolhouses, and "mairies" of wood and asbestos material. The beneficent work of the English Society of Friends among the peasant women and children was evident; and the deepest gratitude was also expressed for the most timely gifts of agricultural machines, seed, poultry, and pedigree stock made through the Agricultural Relief of Allies Fund, of which the Duke of Portland, Lord Northbrook, and Mr. Adeane are the heads. There was hesitation at first in receiving these gifts, so deep-rooted is the independence of these French peasant proprietors. But fraternal spirit prevailed—was it not from the brother-farmers of England that these things came—and nothing could better the tactful manner in which a new bond of amity has thus been created by men and women of the English country-side. It is a token of their gratitude to France. She stands also between the German marauder and the still unharmed English homestead. . The soul of France is seen at its best among these village folk. They have passed through the valley of death and destruction while the townsfolk of France have for the most part been spared. But their spirit remains unconquered and unconquerable. And now they see signs of the coming dawn.

One last glimpse. It was in the spacious barracks of the now bombarded city of Nancy. Hundreds of the women and children of the department sought refuge here when their village homes were pillaged and reduced to heaps of rubble. Passing through the rooms and halls with M. Mirman, the fatherly prefect, we stopped before one woman surrounded by six children. She told us of her little home at Noneny. She had had twelve children. Her three eldest sons were in the Army, leaving nine at home. The Germans had their own way in the village for several days; they took the best of everything, and there was no one to say them nay. The day of the enemy's hurried departure came, but it would never do to leave these French villagers their means of livelihood. Rural France must feel the Prussian and Bavarian heel. So the firing of houses began, and this poor woman's among them. Her elderly husband, working in the field near by, saw his place in flames and rushing home hastened to get out his little market-cart to take his wife and children to a place of safety. He had just managed to get the wife and six of the children packed away in the cart when the German soldiery saw their efforts to escape. They fired, and the three children still standing beside the cart were shot as they stood;

"And what of your husband, madame?"

"Ah, sir," was the reply amid a burst of tears, "they shot him, too."