Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Boreham on Bridge Building

In his essay, ‘The Building of Bridges’, F W Boreham writes of the human instinct to desire a bridge to traverse the chasm of distance, time or spiritual void. He concludes his essay by illustrating the cost of this engineering feat:

In his Legend of the Eagles, George d'Espartes says that the most heroic piece of self-sacrifice known to history occurred in the building of a bridge exactly a century ago.

‘It was in the depth of winter, and the French Army, pressed on all sides by the Cossacks, had to cross a river. The enemy had destroyed all the bridges, and Napoleon was almost at his wits’ end. Suddenly came the order that a bridge of some sort must be thrown across the river, and the men nearest the water, of course, were the first to carry out the almost impossible task. Several were swept away by the furious tide. Others, after a few minutes, sank through cold and exhaustion; but more came, and the work proceeded as fast as possible.

At last the bridge was completed, and the army reached the opposite bank in safety. Then followed a dramatic scene, one of the most horrible recorded in the annals of any nation. When the men who had built the bridge were called out of the water, not one moved. Clinging to the pillars, there they stood silent and motionless. It was soon found that they had been frozen to death, their arms rigidly fixed against the woodwork in the attitude of Caryatides—the Caryatid of death. Napoleon, who witnessed the awful scene, could not, in spite of his impassive temperament, restrain his tears.’

Many bridges have been built by sacrifice.

F W Boreham, ‘The Building of the Bridge’, Mountains in the Mist (London: Charles H Kelly, 1914), 117-118.

Image: A bridge collapse. In 1975 a ship crashed into the supports of this bridge that crosses the Derwent River in Hobart, Tasmania. The disaster claimed 12 lives. Note the two cars balancing precariously above the 110 foot drop.