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FLOWERS FOR SOLDIERS' GRATES., Press, Volume LI, Issue 15166, 2 January 1915
FLOWERS FOR SOLDIERS' GRATES.
FEAST OP TOUSSAINT IN FBANCE.
TOUCHING OFFERINGS OF FRENCH WOMEN.
I have recently returned from a journey through part of the eaetern frontier district (writes a woman correspondent of the "Standard"). The way back lay across those marvellous battlefields of the Aisne and the Marne, whose towns and villages have in the course of the last few weeks become a scene of desolation and ruin. It was the Fea-st of Toussaint—the fete of the Dead—and all along the line the fields of beetroot or of wheal were riddled and ploughed by the heavy obus, or shell, of the two armies, and, here and . there, wero freshly-made mounds, some large, some small, marked .by a switch with a soldier's cap swinging from the end, to show that here was buried some soldier. Nameless tombs for the most part, for these burials had taken place in many, if not most, instances, some da3 - s after the fighting, and identification had become impossible. But that day, under the brilliant sunshine, it is Toussaint, and women's reverent and faithful hands have laid flowers everywhere. | The difficulty in the way of tho j women who have without collusion organised this delicate and touching tribute to our dead soldiers is so great that their- action is worthy of the highest praise. Remember that here all trains are in the hands of the military authorities, and they are few and far between—6ix houre to be exact, four trains in each direction running at these intervals in every twenty-tour hours. Remember also that the bridges over the Marne and Mouse have been blowu up, and these endless trains, chiefly third-class, and made of coaches of wonderful and ancient patterns, combining every inconvenience known to the history of railways, arc very heavy, and consequently havo to bo carried at foot pace over the new and still unfinished constructions. Then there is a ' stop at overy station to be.reckoned on, j a stop sometimes of a quarter of an I hour, sometimes of an hour, or two, or even three, according to the movement of troops, of the Army Service Corps, and the like, which require a clear field for their operations. Thus women going out from Paris to lay flowers* on the tombs of members of their family who havo diod in a military hospital at, say, Epernay, would leave Paris at night, arrive at their destination with tho dawn, and leave again at noon, reaching home at eight o'clock at night. . Thus twentyfour or more hours slow fatiguing travelling are required to accomplish' a journey which in ordinary times takes an hour and a half. Out in-the country districts tho soldiers' graves do not lio in the cemetery. They are dug near the wood, or at a corner of a field, or perhaps in a row along a side path leading across the farms. To reach them there is no mode of conveyance; you have to go on foot, and probably tho nearest villages are. jn ruins, without a single inhabitant. All the wretched folk— viomen and old men and children—had been hastily sent southwards, as far as possible from tho line of march of enemy and defenders. Thus, failing *tho villagers, tho duty of laying flowers-- on these graves devolved on tho women the least far xemoved, and in come way or other rihd work was done. The train passed along before files of mounds that wero nearly hidden- in whito chrysanthemums. ■ , Not very close .together are the stations in this wide, lovely "department." We stop at each, and pick up . women and more . women, all bearing wreaths or bouquets of flowers. Here is one who had com© down frdm Paris, travelling all night, to ask for the remains of her brother, who had died of his wounds in the military hospital. , "After the war," sho had been told, and had laid her flowers on tho mound in the corner of tho cemetery that temporarily covers his remains. Sho had her grandfathor with her, a little shrivelled veteran of seventy-five, who had served in 1870, '.'and would again if they'd let mo." he said in a thin, piping voice. She had also a baby with her, and the trio were on their way back to Paris. She told mc she worked in a big-, laundry, and that her husband was at the front, and I could not but admire the spirit that led her to epend so much hard-earned money on so unselfish an errand. The traiu was approaching a bridge, one of the newly-repaired bridges, where the engineers were still at work. We had slowed down to tho gentlest crawl, and this enabled mo to see, close I beside the embankment, a single tomb marked by a switch. To the switch was fastened a morsel of grey-green cloth with a number on it. It was the ehoulder-strap of a Prussian uniform, and showed, a German soldier had been buried here. Some humane and generous hand had laid three purple chryi santhemums upon the mound, and one reflected how grateful his relatives would have been could they have known that the French had included a fallen enemy in their Toueeaint offerings. . Here in Paris, Toussaint began a week before, and continues several days after the Feast of All Saints.' In'addition to the annual visit to the family tombs, the women have poured-out of the fortification in thousands to visit the tombs of soldiers who have died in Paris hospitals. Tho French and English mounds were entirely hidden in heaps of beautiful flowers piled high. ■ Every woman had laid at least- one blossom there, and tho municipality had sent very handsome wreaths, and the results were Close beside these graves'wero those of dead Germans and here, too, tho women had laid a few bouquets. Not one was bare. The procession that began early in the morning and lasted till sunset was curiously impressive. Tho flower stalls set up'at the gates had been lavishly furnished, but by the end of tlie day most had been emptied and closed, and on the rost very little remained of the harvest of autumn flowers that represent the loving homage of thousands of women who are bravely sharing the sacrifices imposed by the war For -very many of th«se present all personal interest in the war had died out. and their long black yejle and *rape-trimmed gowns were numerous in the throng. ;
FLOWERS FOR SOLDIERS' GRATES., Press, Volume LI, Issue 15166, 2 January 1915
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