Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"One wondered how they could have looked on the Medusa face of war and lived."

The above quotation from Fighting France seems apt as we prepare to celebrate the 111th birthday tomorrow of the last surviving Tommy, Harry Patch, of Somerset in England. The Mount wishes Mr. Patch a very happy birthday and thanks him for his service. Here at The Mount we have been studying Mrs. Wharton's work in the First World War, both her charitable work and her literary efforts. Mr. Patch was involved in the Battle of Passchendaele (the 3rd Battle of Ypres). Mrs. Wharton had visited Ypres after the Second Battle and wrote the following in Fighting France:

"We had seen other ruined towns, but none like this. The towns of Lorraine were blown up, burnt down, deliberately erased from the earth. At worst they are like stone-yards, at best like Pompeii. But Ypres has been bombarded to death, and the outer walls of its houses are still standing, so that it presents the distant semblance of a living city, while near by it is seen to be a disembowelled corpse. Every window-pane is smashed, nearly every building unroofed, and some house-fronts are sliced clean off, with the different stories exposed, as if for the stage-setting of a farce. In these exposed interiors the poor little household gods shiver and blink like owls surprised in a hollow tree. A hundred signs of intimate and humble tastes, of humdrum pursuits, of family association, cling to the unmasked walls. Whiskered photographs fade on morning-glory wallpapers, plaster saints pine under glass bells, antimacassars droop from plush sofas, yellowing diplomas display their seals on office walls. It was all so still and familiar that it seemed as if the people for whom these things had a meaning might at any moment come back and take up their daily business. And then--crash! the guns began, slamming out volley after volley all along the English lines, and the poor frail web of things that had made up the lives of a vanished city-full hung dangling before us in that deathly blast."