Over rolling, even hilly country, through many villages; one with a winding stream, old stone mill with foaming sluice, and a tall brick church – charming.
The only place name I am sure of is Verlaine-sur-Sambre.
Got a great hearing in some of the villages: bunting and loyal notices everywhere in evidence. In one of them groups of children cheered us lustily as we passed, and sang songs of welcome.
Here in Belgium, as in all countries I have seen, modern architecture in dwelling houses is almost always grim and inartistic as compared with the old, which seem to have grown out of the earth itself, walls blending into the ground and roofs into the walls: chimneys appearing at unexpected yet appropriate corners; additions, deletions, projections, dilapidations and all, appear right and natural and proportionate, just as the most fantastic of tree-shapes – so long as nature has not been meddled with – will never look wrong.
Finished up by obtaining mashed spuds, brown bread and lard, and coffee, from a family at supper. The children obliged us by singing rather discordantly the Brabanconne,* and the old man, sitting hatted before the stove, concluded the performance by trolling a long, spirited “Soldier’s Song.” They flatly refused money. The dame told me that before the war she was fat, and she is now thin and drawn – when asked if it was the result of hunger, she replied, “non; peur”. [“no; fear”]
* La Brabanconne – the national anthem of Belgium.
In the saddle from 9.30 a.m. till 6 p.m. – a trek of about 30 kilos, and very interesting. Almost the whole route has lain through endless streets of conjoining industrial towns, coal mines and iron mines lying on all sides, their towering machinery reminding one of Brangwyn’s etchings and the mountainous slag-heaps looking like miniature Ngauruhoes, the more distant heaps suggesting the Pyramids. The names of some of the towns were Manceau-au-pont, Charleroi, Anderloe, Dampremy, and the village we now inhabit is Lambusart.
Being Sunday, the people were in their best clothes and great gatherings watched us pass along. We are billeted in a large school-room in charge of a most obliging and friendly little nun. They have bountifully supplied us with straw and with coal for the stove. After our evening meal I became the joyous recipient of a batch of N.Z. letters. I read them all in a Cafe, to the great interest of an intelligent Belgian and his wife with whom I passed the whole evening, exchanging an amazing conversation of broken French, and gesticulations, cigarettes, and various vin rouge.
It was here that mine host of the Cafe distinguished himself. His wife left her little girl for a moment, and the child of course meddled with the glasses and broke a small tumbler. Mine host, his eyes blazing, his teeth clenched, strode across the room and soundly boxed his wife’s ears before the whole company!
From the accounts of the men who got to Charleroi, it appears to be a large, gay and giddy town. A country like this has its old and picturesque aspect, but it also has its dirty, immoral, lazy and insanitary aspect.
Sitting in a cafe in the little town of Lobbes, having just consumed a tasty, if tough steak, with potatoes, followed by a glass of quite good beer, and a fairish cigar.
Last night visited a suburban cafe, obtaining watery beer and a strange plate of potatoes and beans with a piece of bread; charge is 15 centimes – about 7d. This morning, a half-holiday, most of the men have gone off in the hopes of reaching Charleroi, clambering all over and on top of the electric trams, like flies in a jam pot. I chose the nearer place. Spent the afternoon visiting the strangely designed, austerely embellished church, built of irregular fragments of reddish and grey stone, and having one sharp pointed spire almost in the middle of the roof, and a square tower at one end, as you will see from the crayon sketch.
I should say, from the old effigies of Knights etc. in the crypt, that it is of pretty early date. Near to the doors were, to us, amusing notices in French importuning the ladies not to wear garments too short or too tight to church.
[Image: Sketch in crayon by Lincoln Lee, Lobbes, likely 6 December 1918]
[Image: Photograph of Lobbes today, showing church from a different angle]
Before leaving the marble works had a hurried glance at the blocks of stone lying about cut in slabs, in some of which the “colouring” and grain was wonderful. The people told us that this was the most important marble works in the world; no doubt, local pride. Encountered more picturesque country, more hilly; rushing streams in deep gullies; interesting buildings among leafless woods. Under the dull winter’s sky with a red-tinted opening towards the horizon, the medieval aspect of this little country found its proper tones of dull purples and greys and coppers.
The old world town of Lobbes, in a suburb of which we are billeted, is picturesquely situated amongst hills and surrounded by a high loop-holed wall. Billeted in an upstairs room of an occupied house – we actually have to cut across the corner of M. And Madame’s bedroom to get into it, but in this country people don’t seem to mind that sort of thing. En route, the Belgian flag has been much in evidence, and the people seem really pleased to see us. Everywhere are placards in honour of Notre Roi Albert, and welcome to “The Brave British Soldiers”. Communal kitchens and food distributing centres are also noticeable in each town and village, showing how the people have been kept fed.
It will give you an idea of the length of column made by the whole N.Z.E.F.–A. to know that on trek (where everything is done to timetable) the first battery to move starts some 4 hours before the last. A wetting drizzle has fallen all the time. Passed thro’ several manufacturing towns, including Jeumont and Marpent, and are now billeted in a huge marble works on the village of La Boussiere. The elusive Belgium frontier, which we have been hugging for several days, crossed at last. The last house in France was a very quaint one, designed to represent rustic timbers, even to its chimneys. A few yards past it the Belgium flag was flying. We also passed through Recquignies, heavily damaged at the beginning of the war. Grass and weeds now growing on the shattered wall tops.
Our destination was reached an hour after dark and an awful scramble ensued, dragging horses into impromptu stables, lugging harness about in the dark and generally groping around. This business must be interesting for officers and “duds” who don’t have to do all the dirty work and can eat with clean hands.
As was predicted; with the obliging addition of a shower of rain. As I slept under the only considerable hole in the roof, I was rudely awakened by a streamlet pattering on the blankets. We have had a cold, moist drive through villages, small towns (one, Longueville, a very pretty one) and large town, Haut-Mont. Now quartered in an ugly village; some, like myself, in barns. The rain drifts miserably on our shivering steeds and fast rusts our harnesses. J’ai froid; vive les grenouilles!
In the towns passed today the civil population seems to be rapidly re-establishing itself: ex-manufacturing places; the population must be dense in normal times. Little damage from shell-fire, though all the main railway and river bridges have been blown up and replaced temporarily.
Have started reading Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. Too many Parades and distractions in this life for regular reading.
Leave here at 7am. tomorrow, which means that reveille will be about 4.30. and everything will be one infernal floundering about in the dark: unwashed, wrathful beings clambering up and falling down rungless, swallowing scalding half-cooked stew, washing up with our fingers, dropping harnesses in the mud, booting ill-tempered and unwilling animals and then “stopping an awful blast” for being behind time. By the way, the animals have been “brain-illy” resorted according to colour (not worth). I am now blessed with one vile kicking nipping and scratching old mare, “Chum”, and as strangely contrasted, docile, but brainless gelding, “Dick”, in place of Tom and Toby.
Belgium frontier only a couple of miles distant.
A stone and brick house across the road from our barn (we ascend and descend by a long rickety ladder) is dated 1699. They have a good idea of working the date into the front of a building by letting in bricks, and in churches by designing the bolts and brass stays to form figures.
Took a stroll through the village (Hon-Hergies) looking inside the church, which is roomy and boasts of some fine stain glass and old oil paintings. It is quite undamaged, and dates back about a century and a half.