The Daily Telegraph
TRAIL OF THE HUN
DESTRUCTION OF ORCHARDS
From G. H. PERRIS. HAM, Thursday. From our former rear you pass first through the double line of terribly familiar trenches and barbed wire, in the shattered area of No Man’s Land, where gangs of men are engaged in picking up unexploded shells – a redoubtable danger of the future, for there are millions of them – and in clearing up generally. Then, after clambering over the ruins of a village or other kind of specially fortified centre, you tumble suddenly into a very different scene.
It was before the village of Roiglise that I first came upon the beastly iniquity of the ruined orchards. This is the crossways of the main roads from Rove to Noyon and to St. Quentin, and it was not very surprising to find that a score of fine poplars and elms in succession had been cut down so as to fall across our track, while a little farther on the road had been blown up, leaving a hole 100ft across. While these obstructions were being negotiated my eye was caught by a little regiment of fruit trees lying prostrate, with a curious regularity and neatness, on the short grass hard by.
A moment’s examination sufficed even for one uneducated in these things to show first, that these trees were not past bearing, and secondly, that they had been brought down skilfully by men used to wood-cutting, and therefore perfectly well understanding what they were about. What did it mean? If there were any military use for naked fruit trees, it would be furthered by their being cut down. What then? It must be a punishment, and my thoughts went back to Belgium at the beginning of the war and the villages of Champagne systematically filed with incendiary pastilles during the battle of the Marne, as was pretended, for some act of treachery. Step by step, through hour after hour of my slow journey here, I was driven to the conclusion that Herr Boche has now not even the loincloth of this wretched excuse to cover his moral nakedness. Everything was of a piece, and seemed to echo in our faces the howl of a savage revenge.
A BARBAROUS CULT
The village of Carrepuis, with its great barns, homesteads, and orchards, is wiped out. Around the rubbish heap that was Ritonvillers hundreds of large apple and pear trees are stretched upon the fields, generally not quite severed, showing in mute protest the yellow gash of well-placed axe strokes. At Champien just outside a German cemetery, admirable in its piety though grievous enough in its art, a large orchard had been destroyed, while nearly the whole of the village has been blown up or set on fire. Billancourt is completely destroyed, its large church being gutted. Near Moyencourt, which shows the same ruins, the charred outer walls of what was a great country house stand against the gloomy sunset. Esmery Hallon was a considerable farming centre, its two streets being more than a mile long. At its western end a mine had been exploded and the neighbouring roofs brought sprawling to the ground under the very eyes, as it were, of the village Calvary. On a farm wall I saw posted the report of a recent speech of the German Chancellor, and the smell and smoke of burning homes arose like the incense of some cult of devil-worshippers around this smooth spoken proclamation.
Perhaps this distinction may prove to be justified, that the towns have been regarded as capable of yielding the maximum of money and general resources, while the villages have been treated as a reservoir of labour. Whereas in the towns a little consideration was shown, in the country the women between 15 and 60 years of age, not encumbered with young children, have been carried off without exception, and, as a rule, their whereabouts is not known. In the country the conduct of the soldiery is said to have been more violent than in the towns. And I cannot but regard the wanton, systematic destruction of orchards as typical and oven more significant of a deep depravity than some larger kinds of devastation.
The motive is here plain beyond any shadow of doubt, and the general adoption of this measure shows that it was not due to the accident of local malevolence, but to a plan ripely considered and precisely carried out under higher orders.
Many of the German soldiers are peasants, and their officers often call themselves country gentlemen. They knew, therefore, as the advancing French soldiers know by an immediate instinct, what such a barbarism as this means. If I laboriously explain, it is because we British are mostly townsfolk to whom the long labours and processes of the countryside are less familiar.
If my memory does not blunder on an old lesson by Professor Gilbert. Murray, the protection of crops was the object of the very first experiments in international law far away back in pre-Christian times, and by the ancient Greeks and their Asiatic adversaries alike the cutting down of olive trees was accounted and punished as an abominable aggravation of the methods of regular warfare. So low has Lucifer fallen!
If this is to continue till the frontier, to say nothing of the Rhine is reached, with what wounds are France and Belgium to face the future! All the conceivable millions of American charity would not suffice to heal them.
Would it not be more practical than allowing the question to drift, that the Allies should now unitedly and formally notify to the enemy States that all damages proved to have been part of a general policy of devastation without military excuse will be saddled upon them and their constituent cities, provinces, and kingdoms until every penny is paid?