Long and strenuous day. Up at 3.30. with a party of about 18 men up to the front to salvage ammunition and a blown-up gun. We rode in the ghostly moonlight through the well-remembered ruined city (Ypres) which in that dim light and encrusted with frost looked like an old ruin. From the town we then made off towards the lines through three or four miles of country more topsy turvy with shell holes than ever. There isn’t a blade of grass nor any kind of verdure; every tree is dead and blasted and not more than 5 yards spare between shell-holes. This, mind you, prevails over a track of country I don’t know how wide, but several miles deep; as if some misguided giant with a broken shovel had dug up the whole country-side haphazard and kicked over everything standing during the process. There wasn’t much firing but in the air things were very merry. During most of the day the sky was filled with planes and there were plenty of scraps. A hardish day’s work carrying shells over a tract of rough country.
Near where I was working is the remains of a wood, looking not unlike a patch of charred-out bush in the backblocks of N.Z. All water is now frozen 5 or 6 inches thick and would easily support a horse. The wooden roads that are made all over the place are frighteningly slippery and we had to wrap up the feet of one mule in socks, making him look like a cross between a donkey and an elephant. I saw a remarkable instance of the accuracy of Fritz’s shooting in the case of a sector of a road which had been destroyed, the shell holes being planted evenly and accurately, alternating from one side of the road to the other.
Cold weather renders gas shells innocuous, as the liquid chlorine etc. will not vaporise, but when it grows warmer again becomes active and dangerous. Everywhere are traces of bitter fighting – twisted barb-wire, smashed dugouts, trenches, ‘pill-boxes’ etc. and dotted here and there over the devastation a sprinkling of disabled tanks, one of them cocked at an impossible angle gazing disconsolately at the sky.
[Image: Aerial oblique view of Ypres showing the ruins of the city, sourced from Imperial War Museum, Catalogue Number Q 29795]
[Image: German Blockhouses, sourced from Canadian War Museum]