DECEMBER 1, 1948
PARIS, Tuesday —United Nations delegates were invited last Sunday to Amiens to view the extent of damage caused by the war and to see the reconstruction work that has been going on. The old capital city of the old province of Picardy was in the path of the fighting in both World Wars. I had been in Amiens before—in January 1919, when I came over here with my husband. After going over the battlefields during the day, we spent the night in Amiens and the following morning visited its cathedral and damaged areas.
Sunday's visit furnished me with a very vivid comparison between our ability to destroy in World War I and World War II. This time the cathedral was not damaged, but blocks and blocks of the old city itself is in rubble. The housing shortage is still very bad, but one can see what a tremendous amount of work has been done.
Sunday was our first really cold day and we left Paris in a dense fog. But that cleared up as we got out into the country. The fields and trees and roofs of houses were covered with a heavy frost that did not disappear all day. By the time we reached Amiens we were very cold and were grateful to find the tent that was set up for us and for the tea that was served.
Then we started out, in a long procession, to drive around the outskirts of the city first. Here many of the workers' houses had been destroyed, but are being rebuilt as the areas are cleared. The walls of the new houses looked very thick, although not quite as solid as the old stone houses but nevertheless thoroughly good permanent homes.
Back in the heart of the city we got out of our cars and walked along one of the main shopping streets where everything had been destroyed and where big buildings are now going up on both sides. Then we went to see some of the city's first apartment houses, for which the government furnished money immediately after the war in order to create work and ease the housing shortage.
The apartment we visited contained a big living room, a large bedroom, a smaller bedroom with two beds for children, a good bathroom with plenty of closet space, and a nice small kitchen well equipped with cupboards and extra shelves all along the little passageway leading to it. In the basement were washtubs and a space for washing, but none of the conveniences one would find in an apartment of this kind at home—no electric washing machine, no ironer, no ice box or outlet for a vacuum cleaner, They do, however, have hot and cold water and electricity and either an electric or gas stove.
These conveniences are not always obtainable in France. In fact, the young man who is Minister for Reconstruction told me he could remember the day when he carried water for his mother's wash. His deputy in this section of France, I was told, is responsible for the extraordinary amount of work that has been done.
From the outside, the apartment houses looked a little like those that one sees in pictures of Sweden, with little rounded balconies and large windows.
Our entire party of several hundred soon gathered in front of the City Hall, where a local band played the "Marseillaise" and we were received by the mayor, Monsieur Vast. Then we went into the building and the mayor made a very charming speech of welcome, which was answered very well in French by Dr. Evatt of Australia.
After that we went for lunch to what we were told was the only big room left in the whole city—an old restaurant that always had very good food. We were given a very delicious luncheon, more, really, than anyone should eat. The mayor said that, having showed us so much devastation, he wanted us to realize that they were at least able to eat well in Amiens.
The townspeople turned out everywhere to wave and seemed much interested in the procession. This response caused one of the government ministers to turn to me and say:
"This is an occasion for them. They can forget their sorrows today, but most days they are sad."