Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, December 29, 2018

12 Views of No Man's Land: Some Fictional, Some Poetic, Some Firsthand

No Man's Land, Flanders, 1919 Photo

No man's land is a surprisingly old term, dating back to the 1300s.
The Grammarist

[No Man’s Land is] like the face of the moon, chaotic, crater-ridden, uninhabitable, awful, the abode of madness. . . It is pock-marked like a body of foulest disease and its odour is the breath of cancer.
Wilfred Owen

Men drowning in shell-holes already filled with decaying flesh, wounded men, beyond help from behind the wire, dying over a number of days, their cries audible, and often unbearable to those in the trenches; sappers buried alive beneath its surface.
Fran Brearton

No Man's Land is an eerie sight
At early dawn in the pale gray light. . .
But  No Man's Land is a goblin sight
When patrols crawl over at dead o'night
Grantland Rice

Out in No Man’s Land there was no sign of any German activity. The only remarkable thing was the unbroken silence. I was in a sort of twilight, for there was a moony glimmer in the low‑clouded sky; but the unknown territory in front was dark, and I stared out at it like a man looking from the side of a ship.
Siegfried Sassoon

"No Man's Land," by French Illustrator Lucien Jonas

An exhalation arose, drawn up by the moon, from an old battlefield after the passing of years. It came out of very old craters and gathered from trenches, smoked up from No Man’s Land, and the ruins of farms; it rose from the rottenness of dead brigades, and lay for half the night over two armies; but at midnight the moon drew it up all into one phantom and it rose and trailed away eastwards.
Lord Dunsany

No man’s land is of fixed length but of varying width. There are places where it is very narrow, so narrow that it is possible to throw across a hand grenade or a box of cigarettes, depending on the nearness of an officer whose business is war. Again it is wide, that friendly relations are impossible, and sniping becomes a pleasure as well as an art
Mary Roberts Rinehart

The dead who waited in No Man's Land didn't look like dead, as the men who came to them now had thought of death.  From a distance of a few yards, the bodies, lying in queer huddled attitudes, appeared to have something monstrously amiss with them. . . their skins had the bursting blackness of grapes.  It was impossible to recognize features or expression in that hideously puffed and contorted blackness.
Robin Hyde

[It's] pocked, diseased, ripe with rot" 
Bernard [?]

Creep and crawl, follow me, that's all
What do you hear? Nothing near
Don't fear, all is clear
That's the life of a stroll
When you take a patrol
Out in No Man's Land
Ain't it grand?
Out in No Man's Land
James Reese Europe


  1. Powerful material re No Man's Land. I would like to add the following:

    Lt. Francis Wolle of Boulder, Colorado, had just led patrols into No Man’s Land, scrambling through barbed wire barriers to escape enemy fire, and participating in the capture of several German soldiers. As he was sitting “in my shed on the hillside,” he and other doughboys were thinking of home and loved ones:

    “While those in the trenches near Boche-land

    “To the westland let their thoughts to roam,

    “We are here for the sake of you dear ones,

    “And while bullets whiz by or shells bark,

    “We think of you there, where we wish that we were

    “And our hearts smile, tho prospects seem dark.”

    From Paul Albright