Read A Gun Carriage An Altar of The White Road to Verdun, free online book, by Kathleen Burke, on

I have seen the Mass celebrated on a gun carriage. Vases made of shell cases were filled with flowers that the men had risked their lives to gather in order to deck the improvised altar. A Red Cross ambulance drove up and stopped near by. The wounded begged to be taken out on their stretchers and laid at the foot of the altar in order that “they might receive the blessing of the good God” before starting on the long journey to the hospital behind the lines.

Outside the prison camp of Cannantre stood a circle of French soldiers learning the bugle calls for the French Army. I wondered how the Germans cared to listen to the martial music of the men of France, one and all so sure of the ultimate victory of their country. Half a kilometre further on, a series of mock trenches had been made where the men were practising the throwing of hand grenades. Every available inch of space behind the French lines is made to serve some useful purpose.

I never see a hand grenade without thinking how difficult it is just now to be a hero in France. Every man is really a hero, and the men who have medals are almost ashamed since they know that nearly all their comrades merit them. It is especially difficult to be a hero in one’s own family. One of the men in our hospital at Royaumont had been in the trenches during an attack. A grenade thrown by one of the French soldiers struck the parapet and rebounded amongst the men. With that rapidity of thought which is part of the French character, Jules sat on the grenade and extinguished it. For this act of bravery he was decorated by the French Government and wrote home to tell his wife. I found him sitting up in bed, gloomily reading her reply, and I enquired why he looked so glum. “Well, Mademoiselle,” he replied, “I wrote to my wife to tell her of my new honour and see what she says: ’My dear Jules, We are not surprised you got a medal for sitting on a hand grenade; we have never known you to do anything else but sit down at home!!!’”

It was at Fere Champenoise that we passed through the first village which had been entirely destroyed by the retreating Germans. Only half the church was standing, but services are still held there every Sunday. Very little attempt has been made to rebuild the ruined houses. Were I one of the villagers I would prefer to raze to the ground all that remained of the desecrated homesteads and build afresh new dwellings; happy in the knowledge that with the victory of the Allies would start a period of absolute security, prosperity and peace.