blàr anam [37]

“I often condemn fellows who write lurid descriptions of misery and violence which they are forced to bear at times or at least to witness. Still I recall that you like a few notes now and then on what I have seen. This is what the aftermath of winter war looks like to a rear-echeloner rolling along the roads in pursuit of his duties. First – this is different from the sights to be seen in the wake of battle in summer – as in Normandy for instance so long, long ago. Over everything is a thick mantle of merciful snow. It smooths over the jagged edges. It hides the details – leaves mounded outlines in mounds of white, keeps secrets which are better kept. The violence of splintered forests of evergreens is subdued by the covering of snow. The tangles of fallen trees are smoothed by snow. The charred farmhouses and barns seem more like long ruined castles of the ancients rather than recently lived-in homes. Dead men and animals are white frozen mounds. You know what lies underneath, but the gentle snow takes away the grim violence and jar. The debris of war is ugly: wrecked tanks, charred trucks, burned buildings, discarded equipment, the dead. The snow hides it all. Somehow it brings peace. It is a melancholy business – rolling along the slippery icy roads – steep grades, sharp turns, convoys, huge tank retrievers, jeeps, guns and tractors, tanks, T.D’s, half-tracks, scout cars, GMC’s, etc. crawling slowly along through the snow, covered with snow, dirt, camouflage. Past trucks, tanks, slid off the icy roads in accidents before meeting the enemy, around a bend a knocked out Jerry and a knocked out Yank tank – a battle that ended in a draw. Rough spots in the road – bomb and shell holes filled by the engineers’ signs: ‘Mines Cleared to the Hedges’, ‘Danger: Mines’, ‘Route X’, ‘Route Y’, ‘Bridge Out’, ‘Icy Road’, ‘Sharp Turn’, ‘Keep Moving or Get off the Road’, ‘Class 70 Bridge’, ‘Outfit Identification’ – more and even more bewildering signs than on the roads in the States. Refugees on bikes, with bundles on their backs, dogs pulling carts, men pulling carts, burned buildings, a dead horse still harnessed to a shattered cart, Jerry helmets, Yank helmets, gasmasks, blankets, ration boxes, tin cans, a grotesque leaning Calvary at a crossroads – one arm of the cross shot away, one arm of the Christ gone, a field telephone wire fastened around his neck, a long dried bouquet of flowers tied to his feet by some pious Belgian.”
–Arthur Freeman, from a letter to his wife: 16 January 1945

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