List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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in a narrow ravine, and he had seen limbs hanging in the thicket,
a savage dispersal of human bodies. The men had held their ground,
and then had fought. ...

A quarter of an hour after his arrival D----, refreshed and
strengthened, was contemplating the big wound in his arm on the
operating table, and talking calmly of his ruined future. ...

Towards the evening of this day, we were able to go out of the
building, and breathe the unpolluted air for a few minutes.

The noise reigned supreme, as silence reigns elsewhere. We were
impregnated, almost intoxicated with it....

A dozen of those captive balloons which the soldiers call
"sausages" formed an aerial semi-circle and kept watch.

On the other side of the hills the German balloons also watched in
the purple mist to the East.

Night came, and the balloons remained faithfully at their posts.
We were in the centre of a circus of fire, woven by all the
lightnings of the cannonade. To the south-west, however, a black
breach opened, and one divined a free passage there towards the
interior of the country and towards silence. A few hundred feet
from us, a cross-road continually shelled by the enemy echoed to
the shock of projectiles battering the ground like hammers on an
anvil. We often found at our feet fragments of steel still hot,
which in the gloom seemed slightly phosphorescent.

From this day forth, a skilful combination of our hours and our
means enabled us to take short spells of rest in turn. However,
for a hundred reasons sleep was impossible to me, and for several
weeks I forgot what it was to slumber.

I used to retire, then, from time to time to the room set apart
for my friend V----and myself, and lie down on a bed, overcome by
a fatigue that verged on stupefaction; but the perpetual clatter
of sabots and shoes in the passage kept the mind alert and the
eyes open. The chorus of the wounded rose in gusts; there were
always in the adjoining wards some dozen men wounded in the head,
and suffering from meningitis, which provoked a kind of monotonous
howling; there were men wounded in the abdomen, and crying out for
the drink that was denied them; there were the men wounded in the
chest, and racked by a low cough choked with blood ... and all the
rest who lay moaning, hoping for an impossible repose. ...

Then I would get up and go back to work, haunted by the terrible
fear that excess of fatigue might have made my eye less keen, my
hand less steady than imperious duty required.

At night more especially, the bombardment was renewed, in
hurricane gusts.

The air, rent by projectiles, mewed like a furious cat; the
detonations came closer, then retired methodically, like the
footsteps of a giant on guard around us, above us, upon us.

Every morning the orderlies took advantage of a moment of respite
to run and inspect the new craters, and unearth the fuses of
shells. ... I thought of the delightful phrase of assistant-
surgeon M----whom we had attended for a wound on the head, and
who said to me as I was taking him back to bed, and we heard the
explosions close by:

"Oh, the marmites (big shells) always fall short of one."

But to a great many of the wounded, the perpetual uproar was
intolerable. They implored us with tears to send them somewhere
else; those we kept were, as a fact, unable to bear removal; we
had to soothe them and keep them, in spite of everything. Some,
overcome by fatigue, slept all day; others showed extraordinary
indifference, perhaps due to a touch of delirium, like the man
with a wound in the abdomen which I was dressing one morning, and
who when he saw me turn my head at the sound of an explosion which
ploughed up a neighbouring field, assured me quietly that "those
things weren't dangerous."

One night a policeman ran in with his face covered with blood.

He was waving a lantern which he used to regulate the wheeled
traffic, and he maintained that the enemy had spotted his lamp and
had peppered him with bullets. As a fact, he had only some slight
scratches. He went off, washed and bandaged, but only to come back
to us the next day dead. A large fragment of iron had penetrated
his eye.

There was an entrance ward, where we sorted the cases. Ten times a
day we thought we had emptied this reservoir of misery; but we
always found it full again, paved with muddy stretchers on which
men lay, panting and waiting.

Opposite to this ante-room was a clearing ward; it seemed less
dismal than the other, though it was just as bare, and not any
lighter; but the wounded there were clean; they had been operated
on, they wore white bandages, they had been comforted with hot
drinks and with all sorts of hopes, for they had already escaped
the first summons of Death.

Between these two rooms, a clerk lived in the draught, the victim
of an accumulation of indispensable and stupefying documents.

In the beginning, the same man sat for three days and three nights
chained to this ungrateful task until at last we saw him, his face
convulsed, almost mad after unremittingly labelling all this
suffering with names and figures.

The first days of March were chilly, with alternations of snow and
sunshine. When the air was pure, we heard it vibrate with the life
of aeroplanes and echo to their contests. The dry throb of
machine-guns, the incessant scream of shrapnel formed a kind of
crackling dome over our heads. The German aeroplanes overwhelmed
the environs with bombs which gave a prolonged whistle before
tearing up the soil or gutting a house. One fell a few paces from
the ward where I was operating on a man who had been wounded in
the head. I remember the brief glance I cast outwards and the
screams and headlong flight of the men standing under the windows.

One morning I saw an airship which was cruising over the hills of
the Meuse suddenly begin to trail after it, comet-wise, a thick
tail of black smoke, and then rush to the earth, irradiated by a
burst of flame, brilliant even in the daylight. And I thought of
the two men who were experiencing this fall.

The military situation improved daily, but the battle was no less
strenuous. The guns used by the enemy for the destruction of men
produced horrible wounds, certainly more severe on the whole than
those we had tended during the first twenty months of a war that
has been pitiless from its inception. All doctors must have noted
the hideous success achieved in a very short time, in perfecting
means of laceration. And we marvelled bitterly that man could
adventure his frail organism through the deflagrations of a
chemistry hardly disciplined as yet, which attains and surpasses
the brutality of the blind forces of Nature. We marvelled more
especially that flesh so delicate, the product and the producer of
harmony, could endure such shocks and such dilapidations without
instant disintegration.

Many men came to us with one or several limbs torn off completely,
yet they came still living .... Some had thirty or forty wounds,
and even more. We examined each body systematically, passing from
one sad discovery to another. They reminded us of those derelict
vessels which let in the water everywhere. And just because these
wrecks seemed irredeemably condemned to disaster, we clung to them
in the obstinate hope of bringing them into port and perhaps
floating them again.

When the pressure was greatest, it was impossible to undress the
men and get them washed properly before bringing them into the
operating-ward. The problem was in these cases to isolate the work
of the knife as far as possible from the surrounding mud, dirt and
vermin: I have seen soldiers so covered with lice that the
different parts of the dressings were invaded by them, and even
the wounds. The poor creatures apologised, as if they were in some
way to blame....

At such moments patients succeeded each other so rapidly that we
knew nothing of them beyond their wounds: the man was carried
away, still plunged in sleep; we had made all the necessary
decisions for him without having heard his voice or considered his

We avoided overcrowding by at once evacuating all those on whom we
had operated as soon as they were no longer in danger of
complications. We loaded them up on the ambulances which followed
one upon the other before the door. Some of the patients came back
a few minutes later, riddled with fragments of shell; the driver
had not succeeded in dodging the shells, and he was often wounded
himself. In like manner the stretcher-bearers as they passed along
the road were often hit themselves, and were brought in on their
own hand-carts.

One evening there was a "gas warning." Some gusts of wind arrived,
bearing along an acrid odour. All the wounded were given masks and
spectacles as a precaution. We hung them even on the heads of the
beds where dying men lay ... and then we waited. Happily, the wave
spent itself before it reached us.

A wounded man was brought in that evening with several injuries
caused by a gas-shell. His eyes had quite disappeared under his
swollen lids. His clothing was so impregnated with the poison that
we all began to cough and weep, and a penetrating odour of garlic
and citric acid hung about the ward for some time.

Many things we had perforce to leave to chance, and I thought,
during this alarm, of men just operated on, and plunged in the
stupor of the chloroform, whom we should have to allow to wake,
and then mask them immediately, or ...

 Ah, well! ... in the midst of all this unimaginable tragedy,
laughter was not quite quenched. This phenomenon is perhaps one of
the characteristics, one of the greatnesses of our race--and in a
more general way, no doubt, it is an imperative need of humanity
at large.

Certain of the wounded took a pride in cracking jokes, and they
did so in words to which circumstances lent a poignant
picturesqueness. These jests drew a laugh from us which was often
closely akin to tears.

One morning, in the sorting room, I noticed a big, curly-haired
fellow who had lost a foot, and had all sorts of wounds and
fractures in both legs. All these had been hastily bound up,

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