Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Quotes: France at War (1940) by W. Somerset Maugham


[In conversation with the mayor or Strasbourg:]
Trying to reassure him, I suggested that the Germans were unlikely to bomb what they still regarded as a German city. ''They shelled it in 1870,'' he answered. ''They run excursion trains from towns on the other side of the Rhine so that sightseers might see Strasbourg burn.''

[In a powder-factory:]
For the moment you enter you are made aware that danger is close; at the gateway your matches and lighter are taken from you; and so that you may be preserved from temptation you are asked to give up your cigarettes. The workmen wear wooden sabots in case a nail in a leather sole should strike a spark on the concrete floor. They wear black overalls which are fire-proofed, and this uniform somberness gives them a kind of mystery. The director who showed me round told me that his immediate predecessor was the victim of an explosion. Not a trace of him, not even trouser button, was ever found; he simply disappeared. [...] In another factory I saw, where they made explosives, the last part of the process takes place in little cubicles so made that the roof and front will blow out if there is an explosion, and each man works alone, so that he alone may be killed. Grim! And yet so true is it that familiarity breeds contempt, that these workmen - and there are 12 000 of them at the powder-factory - go about their business with as little concern as the women I had seen at the front making shirts and sweaters.

When I was on the front I would have said that the whole nation is under arms, but after a week spent in visiting the armament works I was almost inclined to say that the whole country is one huge factory.

I cannot finish without mentioning a circumstance which has not a little excited my curiosity. Since the beginning of the war the hair of many of the ladies in France has been grown rapidly darker at the roots, but whether this is due to the anxiety natural to the times, or to some more obscure cause, I am not competent to say. I will, however, hazard the surmise that if the war continues much longer there will be few blondes in France for gentlemen to prefer.

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