Ghostly Cavalry

At last, in that grey winter of 1918, the guns in France and Flanders fell silent and an eerie stillness dwelt on the battlefields where the dead lay unburied in sodden trenches…

Together with a Corporal Barr, James Wentworth Day – who later would become a writer and broadcaster – went picking up post and rations. They started back to the camp at about three-thirty. It was far from dark. On his right, Wentworth Day saw a fantastic wood of larch and birch, with thin trees, torn and twisted into grotesque shapes by shell blast: “It was a Hans Andersen wood of Arthur Rackham trees through whose sun-reddened trunks we could see cloud-masses lit with a Cuyp-like glow.”

Suddenly, as they splashed through the sunset pools of that deserted road, German cavalry swept out of that “spectral wood”. A dozen or more German Uhlans “in those queer high-topped hats which they had worn in the dead days of 1914” charged and up the slope to meet them, Wentworth Day saw some French dragoons in their brass cuirasses, sabres upswung, plumes dancing from their helmets. They also charged to meet the Germans with their slender lances… but then the vision passed and there was no clash of mounted men, only the empty land and a thin wood of silver in the setting sun.

“Did you see anything?” Wentworth Day glanced at Corporal Barr, who looked white and uneasy.

“Aye… something mighty queer,” the Corporal said.

They reached camp, oddly shy of talking too much. The next day, at Neuve Eglise, “that skeleton of a village on the spine of the Ravelsberg”, Wentworth Day asked a peasant about the wood.

“Ah! M’sieu, that wood is a very sad wood, you know! It is on the frontier… a wood of dead men! In the wars of Napoleon, in the war of 1870, in this Great War… the cavalry of France and Germany have always met each other by that wood…”

And the man showed Wentworth Day the graves of the cavalry of all these wars in the tiny churchyard…

More Phantoms of the Great War here!

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