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

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Flies of the Somme

Body of a Dead German Soldier Covered by Flies

From Civilization by Georges Duhamel

My task as stretcher-bearer was finished. I could return to my carpentering. I set to work shaping heavy pieces of green wood, while I thought of many things, such things as rise in the mind when it is deprived of slumber and steeped
in bitterness.

About eight o'clock in the morning the whole population of flies saluted the sun, which was slowly disengaging itself from the mists; and these creatures began to give themselves up to their great daily orgy.

All those who were on the Somme during 1916 will retain forever the memory of the flies. The disorder of the battlefield,its richness in carrion, the abnormal accumulation of men, animals, spoiled food " all these causes brought about thatyear a formidable hatching of flies. They seemed to have assembled from all points of the globe to be present at an exceptional and solemn occasion.

They were of all species,and the world of men, delivered over to their hatred, remained without defense against this loathsome invasion. During a whole summer they were the mistresses, the queens, and they did not have to bargain for their food.

At Hill 80 I saw wounds swarming with larvae, a sight one had almost forgotten since the Battle of the Marne. I saw the flies hurl themselves upon the blood and pus of the wounds and gorge themselves with such drunken frenzy that you could seize them with your fingers or with a pair of pincers before they would consent to fly away and leave their feast. They spread all sorts of infections and gangrene. The army suffered cruelly from them, and it is really astonishing that
the victory did not remain definitely with them.