CEF Traffic Men
Story of Death in Village on Western Front
The Pittsburgh Press, 14 April 1918
With the Canadian Army in the Field, April 13.—If you should happen to wander into this village—either on duty or on pleasure—you will notice that many of its houses are roofless, that what were shops are in some instances nothing but demolished wall and broken beams, that numerous cottages are closed, and that many dwellings are marred by broken windows and lesser damage. If you are unlucky you will hear the warning whine of a shell, and you may be deafened by an explosion and smothered in dust while flying debris plays havoc around you. If not, you may meet the cure, and he will tell you the history of the slow demolition of a town which the enemy is slowly reducing to a ruin and a memory. It is a long story, covering a period of nearly two years. It was penetrated by shells and by death, and it is the history of many such a town and many a village throughout the war area in France and Belgium. It was in the middle of May, 1915, that the first four shells fell into the town. Then week by week bombardment followed bombardment, sometimes two and three a day. Some of the townspeople left, but courage runs high in France, and most of them stayed. Their homes were laid waste in a day. As the air war developed other homes were destroyed in the night, the horror of blackness adding to the horror of bombs and shells. Fathers lost daughter—mothers sons—the cure grew old because of broken hearts and the cemetery of the little church and filled before its time. But the day's work went on as it is going on now. And the fields were tilled as they are being tilled today, with the women working while the men fight. Such is the ordeal which is part of the tragedy of France, such is the spirit of her people which is her glory.
The Traffic Man
The cure will finish his story. You will leave on your way to the front or back to the base and, as you go, you will ask for directions at the first cross roads. You will be sent five miles out of your way and be bogged in a hopeless road, but you will swear respectively, for he who directed you wore the red arm band of the traffic control. His kind were at Vimy and on the Somme, at Ypres and Passchendaele. "Her Majesty's Jollies," you will remember, "stood still to the Birkenhead drill—a damn tough bullet to chew." From the middle of October to the middle of November when the Canadian corps was fighting the battle of Bellevue Farm, the Passchendaele spur, the Village and the Ridge—the traffic men stood at corners of roads that led in and out of Ypres. They stood there—that was their business. By day, enemy airmen bombed those roads, sometimes coming over in squadrons of 10, 15 and 20 machines. "Parti Tout Suite" was the popular pastime under such conditions and muddy, shell-torn fields were green and pleasant. The traffic men stood to their posts. Some of them died. You could count the shells—one by one they would creep up a road. The traffic men counted them and counting, stayed where they were, Horses were killed. Lorries were blown into bits of torn machinery and kindling wood. All who could made for less public places. The traffic men could not. At night the enemy bombed and shelled. Men hastened up the roads, hurriedly fixing their gas masks. It was black and dreary and desperately lonely on the highways. The traffic men stood on their corners. Many were wounded. Others died. At times when they are heavily shelling the village you just left you will find the extra traffic patrols on duty. They will tell you where not to go. They know where the worst shelling is. They can count the shells and see the damage. They cannot leave their posts. Some of them are wounded. Some of them died. Their work is called "bomb proof" save when there is hell around. Then their drill is not less than the Birkenhead drill.