Here is the first eye-witness battle story from the Western Front written by Hester Marsden-Smedley, “Sunday Express” reporter. She stood under fire in a sandbagged sap at Schengen, just inside the Luxembourg frontier, and watched the French advance towards the Siegfried line.
Standing amid the near-ripe vines which make the famous Moselle wine, I have been watching fierce fighting in this three-cornered country where Germany, France and Luxembourg meet. French tanks left the German village of Perl and clambered up the hill. The bombardment was two kilometres away from where I was standing, the objective being an observation tower in a fortified wood. There were great puffs of black smoke over the wood, and the sound following seconds later, echoing shaking through the valleys.
After each ten minutes of heavy firing there followed quick, fierce, machine gun fire. The ground a few yards beyond the river was suddenly rent by shells. A house in the German village of Salmdorf blew sky-high, probably an ammunition store.
Judging by the position of the firing the French are advancing. I watch intently as I lean comfortably against “neutral” sandbags, which block the frontier bridge across the Moselle. Behind me lies Luxembourg, the “Pocket State”, with it’s army of 300 volunteers, it’s fairy-tale towns perched up in the hills and it’s fruitful vineyards. A few yards to the south east is France and immediately across the bridge, Germany. The Luxembourg customs officer, out of a job for the moment, for there is a little frontier traffic, tell me that he watched the French, a few days before, penetrating along the railways line opposite. There had been hand to hand fighting. Then the French had gone back “not retreated”, he emphasised, just gone back. As he spoke he gripped my collar and pushed me down. I swallowed a mouthful of sand as the world burst about my ears. I peeped cautiously round the sandbags. A mine had exploded in the middle of the permanent way across the river. Whether one of their own or a present left by the French I could not say. We all thought it was a present. In a few minutes I saw the guard across the river doubled, and a machine gun mounted upon the bridge with it’s squad of grey-uniformed, tin-hatted men. I turned across the peaceful Luxembourg roads to the southern edge of the Grand Duchy. My ears still humming from the Schengen explosion grew worse. A peasant driving his cattle in said tersely: “C’est le canon.”
Away over there lies the Maginot Line. Beyond it the Siegfried. Beyond that the Saar Valley and it’s rich coalfields. In good time we will be told exactly what is happening. But I know that there is fierce activity. I know, too, from what the people who cross over tell me, the story of the tenacity and power of the French.