By Will BIRD
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The unique point-of-view of Thirteen Years After makes it a classic of the Great War. Will Bird, who in the Fall of 1931, travelled to France and Belgium to write the story of the old Great War battlefields, knew the ground he was to travel. He had served in the trenches from December 1916 to February 1919. He was with the 42nd Battalion, 5th Royal Highlanders in the Vimy sector. Later he was at Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras, Cambrai, and Mons. He was a corporal, specialized in scouting, and was awarded the military medal at Mons.
Will Bird’s witty and insightful account of his journey back to the Old Front revived many memories among the more than 500,000 surviving Canadian Corps veterans. Little had been written about the glorious achievement or great battles of the Canadian Corps. Their grand victories at Vimy, Amiens, and Arras were lost in a past no one had any time for. Their sacrifices had been quickly forgotten. But like Will, the veterans had not forgotten the 60,000 of their comrades who rested so far from home in the beautiful cemeteries along the Western Front. Nor had they forgotten the memorable nights spent with the closest friends a man could have in the estaminets or on leave in London or Paris.
It is a long way from Ypres to Mons, and when the trip is done your memories and thoughts are so commingled that you hardly know the war is history. You see again the long shadowy files on the duck boards of the Salient, a silhouette of steel helmets and rifle fire muzzles. You see long strings of mules taking up ammunition, see the flicker of the Verey lights as you leave Mont St. Eloi for the trenches at the crater line. You see, in fancy, the lorries and traffic of the back areas, sausage balloons, battery positions, trenches at stand to, the gutted, wired, rat-ridden spaces between the lines, seeing most, of course, that which most impressed you, seared deepest in your brain, whether it was the sleet and shrapnel of Vimy, the bloodbath of the Somme, or the terrible diarrhea of war that we knew as Passchendaele. And now you see only greens and browns and vivid new cement and brick farms that glare their newness.