Defenders of Democracy; Contributions from Representative Other Arts from Our Allies and Our Own Country, Ed. By the Gift Book Committee of the Militia of Mercy

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Author: Militia of Mercy

Somewhere in France

"Somewhere in France"—the day is tranquil, the sky unvexed, the green earth without a wound as I write; yet "somewhere in France" the day is torn with clamors, the sky is soiled with man’s mounting hatred of man, and long, open wounds lie cruelly across the disputed earth. "Somewhere in France"—my mind goes back to remembered scenes: the crowd blocking the approach to a depot; white faces and staring eyes, eyes that alternately fear and hope, and in the crush a tickling gray line of returning PERMISSIONAIRES. "Somewhere in France"—on such a perfect day as this I see a little village street nestled among the trees, and hear the sound of the postman’s reluctant feet tapping over the cobblestones—the postman that comes with the relentlessness of Fate—and at every house the horror of the black envelope. "Somewhere in France" the great immemorial cathedrals and the dotted, cool, moss-covered churches are filled with supplicating women and the black-framed, golden locks of children lifting their eyes before the Great Consoler as the sun breaks through the paling candle-flames. "Somewhere in France"—in its crowded stations I remember a proud womanhood, gray in the knowledge of sorrow, speeding its young sons and speaking the Spartan words. "Somewhere in France," in its thousand hospitals, the ministering white-clad angels are moving in their long vigils, calm, smiling, inspired. "Somewhere in France"—I see again imperishable fragments of remembered emotions; the women working in the vineyards of Champagne, careless of fate or the passing shells; the orphan children playing in the ruins of Rheims; a laughing child in bombarded Arras running out to pick up an exploded shell, a child in whom daily habits has brought fear into contempt; a skeleton of a church in far-flung Bethany, that still lives in a sea of fire, where a black-coated priest of the unflinching faith was holding his mass among kneeling men before an altar hidden in the last standing corner from which the shredded ruins had been swept.

"Somewhere in France"—I remember the volcanic earth, the strewn ruin of all things, the prostrate handiwork of man mingled with the indignant bowels of the earth, and from a burrowed hole a POILU laughing out at us in impertinent greeting, with a gaiety which is more difficult than courage.

"Somewhere in France"—in bombarded Arras, was it not?—I remember an old woman, a very old woman, leaning on her cane as she peered from her cellar door within a hundred yards of the smoldering cathedral. I wonder if she still lives, for Arras will be struggling back to life now.

"Somewhere in France"—what thronged memories troop at these liberating words! And yet, through all the passing drama of remembered little things, what I see always before my eyes is the spiritual rise of Verdun. Verdun, heroic sister of the Marne; Verdun, the battling heart of France—whose stained slopes are anointed by the blood of a million men. Verdun! The very name has the upward fury and descending shock of an attacking wave dying against an immemorial shore. To have seen it as I was privileged to see it in that historic first week of August, 1915, at the turning of the tide, at the moment of the retaking of Fleury and Thiaumont, was to have stood between two great spectacles: the written page of a defense such as history has never seen, and the future, glowing with the unquenchable fire of undying France. When I think of the flaming courage of that heroic race, my imagination returns always to the vision of that defense—not the patient fortitude before famine of Paris, Sebastopol or Mafeking, but that miracle of patience and calm in the face of torrential rains of steel which for months swept the human earth in such a deluge as never before had been sent in punishment upon the world. This was no adventure such as that gambling with fate which in all times and in all forms has stirred the spirit of man. Regiment after regiment marched down into the maw of hell, into the certainty of death. They went forward, not to dare, but to die, in that sublimest spirit of exultation and sacrifice of which humanity is capable, that the children of France might live free and unafraid, Frenchmen in a French land. They went in regiment after regiment, division after division—living armies to replace the ghostly armies that had held until they died. Days without nights, weeks without a breathing spell—five months and more. They lie there now, the human wall of France, that no artillery has ever mastered or ever will, to prove that greater than all the imagined horror of man’s instinct of destruction, undaunted before the new death that rocks the earth beneath him and pollutes the fair vision of the sky above, the spirit of man abides superior. Death is but a material horror; the will to live free is the immortal thing.

[signed] Owen Johnson

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Chicago: Militia of Mercy, "Somewhere in France," Defenders of Democracy; Contributions from Representative Other Arts from Our Allies and Our Own Country, Ed. By the Gift Book Committee of the Militia of Mercy, ed. Iles, George, 1852-1942 and trans. Colt, Oliver C. in Defenders of Democracy; Contributions from Representative Other Arts from Our Allies and Our Own Country, Ed. By the Gift Book Committee of the Militia of Mercy (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95LRJA1PVB4NP4P.

MLA: Militia of Mercy. "Somewhere in France." Defenders of Democracy; Contributions from Representative Other Arts from Our Allies and Our Own Country, Ed. By the Gift Book Committee of the Militia of Mercy, edited by Iles, George, 1852-1942, and translated by Colt, Oliver C., in Defenders of Democracy; Contributions from Representative Other Arts from Our Allies and Our Own Country, Ed. By the Gift Book Committee of the Militia of Mercy, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95LRJA1PVB4NP4P.

Harvard: Militia of Mercy, 'Somewhere in France' in Defenders of Democracy; Contributions from Representative Other Arts from Our Allies and Our Own Country, Ed. By the Gift Book Committee of the Militia of Mercy, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Defenders of Democracy; Contributions from Representative Other Arts from Our Allies and Our Own Country, Ed. By the Gift Book Committee of the Militia of Mercy, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95LRJA1PVB4NP4P.