Press Cutting from Lady Bathhurst’s Collection, Leeds University Library (Special Collection)

Patience in Adversity

How to help France’s wrecked villages

Report of Lady Bathurst’s visit:

“The things that impressed me most are the patience, industry and cheerfulness of the French folk in these parts…

“The French Government are giving grants for rebuilding but they cannot do it all. They are helping the people to buy furniture, cattle, etc. and are running dispensaries and even providing midwives, who sometimes have as many as 17 villages in their district, but when all is said and done these measures constitute only a tithe of the relief and help necessary. When a town or village asks the Government for a grant, it usually gets it at once. It the proceeds to build, but the money is soon swallowed up, because the masons’ wages are very high, to meet high prices for the necessities of life. The town then asks for a second grant, which they only get after great delay and difficulty. When it comes to a third grant, they have scarcely any chance of getting that at all, so building operations have to cease. The rain comes down on the half finished houses amd matters are soon in a worse state than if building had never been begun.

Nothing but huts

“There are a large number of huts available, and the villagesapparently can get these without trouble. At Lassigny, for instance, there is nothing but huts. There is not a stone left upon any of the permanent buildings. Not one of the original houses remains in many of the villages. Many of the peasants hesitate to ask for huts, although they would be more comfortable living in these than in their half ruined houses, but their love for their old houses is so great that they are afraid that, if they accept a hut, they will not get their house rebuilt. They cling, in sheer misery, to one tiny habitable room, in the hope that sooner or later their house will be put right.

“I went into 3 or 4 of their houses, and it is difficult to describe the conditions of them. The best house I saw in Passel was the Mayor’s house. That had only one room, but everything that could possibly be made use of had been utilised. There were all sorts of odds and ends which had been picked out of the ruins, and it was pathetic to see how much use had been made of apparently worthless objects. This room was the Mairie. In the room was a partition and behind this partition was the bedroom.

Crowded rooms

“I asked to be shown the worst house, and they showed me one where there lived an old grandfather, a mother and father, and a young man of 18. One room did duty as their bedroom, sitting room and kitchen. I went to another house where there was a man and his wife and 2 young men all living in 1 room. The man looked very ill and was just recovering from tetanus. The place was unspeakably dirty. Just round the corner of the house was a cow which was kept in a kind of wooden cupboard. I should think it would speedily die.

“In another place I came across an old woman of 80 in sabots. She was busily working and very cheerful. She was living in a room one side of which had been demolished and was open to the air; she was busy doing needlework. A tiny room opened into this open-air kitchen, and there she slept, but her bedroom was not watertight, and the rain often poured through the ceiling in winter, but the plucky old lady made the best of it all, though she told me that she did not expect to see the village restored in her lifetime.

“The thing that goes most of all to the hearts of the people is the loss of their linen. They can bear almost anything but that. It is linen and cotton for clothes that we should send them chiefly, and sewing machines to enable them to make it up. They also want thick, serviceable boots…

She continues with a tirade about making the Germans pay, and provide free labour to rebuild, instead of paying high wages to the Polish, Italian and Spanish masons. It was, in fact, Belgian builders who rebuilt Gouzeaucourt!


Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Standard Sat 6 Nov 1920