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Fighting in Flanders by E. Alexander Powell

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Fighting In Flanders

By E. Alexander Powell

Special Correspondent Of The New York World With The Belgian
Forces In The Field

Author of "The Last Frontier" "Gentlemen Ravers," "The End of the
Trail," "The Road to Glory," etc.

With Illustrations From Photographs By Mr. Donald Thompson

My Friends
The Belgians

"I have eaten your bread and salt;
I have drunk your water and wine;
The deaths you died I have sat beside
And the lives that you led were mine."




I. The War Correspondents

II. The City Of Gloom

III. The Death In The Air

IV. Under The German Eagle

V. With The Spiked Helmets

VI. On The Belgian Battle-Line

VII. The Coming Of The British

VIII. The Fall Of Antwerp



Nothing is more unwise, on general principles, than to attempt to
write about a war before that war is finished and before history has
given it the justice of perspective. The campaign which began with
the flight of the Belgian Government from Brussels and which
culminated in the fall of Antwerp formed, however, a separate and
distinct phase of the Greatest of Wars, and I feel that I should write
of that campaign while its events are still sharp and clear in my
memory and before the impressions it produced have begun to
fade. I hope that those in search of a detailed or technical account
of the campaign in Flanders will not read this book, because they
are certain to be disappointed. It contains nothing about strategy or
tactics and few military lessons can be drawn from it. It is merely the
story, in simple words, of what I, a professional onlooker, who was
accorded rather exceptional facilities for observation, saw in
Belgium during that nation's hour of trial.

An American, I went to Belgium at the beginning of the war with an open
mind. I had few, if any, prejudices. I knew the English, the French,
the Belgians, the Germans equally well. I had friends in all four
countries and many happy recollections of days I had spent in each.
When I left Antwerp after the German occupation I was as pro-Belgian
as though I had been born under the red-black-and-yellow banner. I had
seen a country, one of the loveliest and most peaceable in Europe,
invaded by a ruthless and brutal soldiery; I had seen its towns and
cities blackened by fire and broken by shell; I had seen its churches
and its historic monuments destroyed; I had seen its highways crowded
with hunted, homeless fugitives; I had seen its fertile fields strewn
with the corpses of what had once been the manhood of the nation; I
had seen its women left husbandless and its children left fatherless;
I had seen what was once a Garden of the Lord turned into a land of
desolation; and I had seen its people--a people whom I, like the rest
of the world, had always thought of as pleasure-loving, inefficient,
easy-going--I had seen this people, I say, aroused, resourceful,
unafraid, and fighting, fighting, fighting. Do you wonder that they
captured my imagination, that they won my admiration? I am pro-Belgian;
I admit it frankly. I should be ashamed to be anything else.

E. Alexander Powell

London, November 1, 1914.

I. The War Correspondents

War correspondents regard war very much as a doctor regards
sickness. I don't suppose that a doctor is actually glad that people
are sick, but so long as sickness exists in the world he feels that he
might as well get the benefit of it. It is the same with war
correspondents. They do not wish anyone to be killed on their
account, but so long as men are going to be killed anyway, they
want to be on hand to witness the killing and, through the
newspapers, to tell the world about it. The moment that the war
broke out, therefore, a veritable army of British and American
correspondents descended upon the Continent. Some of them were
men of experience and discretion who had seen many wars and
had a right to wear on their jackets more campaign ribbons than
most generals. These men took the war seriously. They were there
to get the news and, at no matter what expenditure of effort and
money, to get that news to the end of a telegraph-wire so that the
people in England and America might read it over their coffee-cups
the next morning. These men had unlimited funds at their disposal;
they had the united influence of thousands of newspapers and of
millions of newspaper-readers solidly behind them; and they carried
in their pockets letters of introduction from editors and ex-presidents
and ambassadors and prime ministers.

Then there was an army corps of special writers, many of them with
well-known names, sent out by various newspapers and magazines
to write "mail stuff," as dispatches which are sent by mail instead of
telegraph are termed, and "human interest" stories. Their
qualifications for reporting the greatest war in history consisted, for
the most part, in having successfully "covered" labour troubles and
murder trials and coronations and presidential conventions, and, in
a few cases, Central American revolutions. Most of the stories which
they sent home were written in comfortable hotel rooms in London
or Paris or Rotterdam or Ostend. One of these correspondents,
however, was not content with a hotel window viewpoint. He wanted
to see some German soldiers--preferably Uhlans. So he obtained a
letter of introduction to some people living in the neighbourhood of
Courtrai, on the Franco-Belgian frontier. He made his way there with
considerable difficulty and received a cordial welcome. The very first
night that he was there a squadron of Uhlans galloped into the town,
there was a slight skirmish, and they galloped out again. The
correspondent, who was a sound sleeper, did not wake up until it
was all over. Then he learned that the Uhlans had ridden under his
very window.

Crossing on the same steamer with me from New York was a well-known
novelist who in his spare time edits a Chicago newspaper. He was
provided with a sheaf of introductions from exalted personages
and a bag containing a thousand pounds in gold coin. It was so
heavy that he had brought a man along to help him carry it, and
at night they took turns in sitting up and guarding it. He confided
to me that he had spent most of his life in trying to see wars, but
though on four occasions he had travelled many thousands of miles
to countries where wars were in progress, each time he had arrived
just after the last shot was fired. He assured me very earnestly that
he would go back to Michigan Boulevard quite contentedly if he
could see just one battle. I am glad to say that his perseverance
was finally rewarded and that he saw his battle. He never told me
just how much of the thousand pounds he took back to Chicago
with him, but from some remarks he let drop I gathered that he had
found battle-hunting an expensive pastime.

One of the great London dailies was represented in Belgium by a
young and slender and very beautiful English girl whose name, as a
novelist and playwright, is known on both sides of the Atlantic. I
met her in the American Consulate at Ghent, where she was pleading
with Vice-Consul Van Hee to assist her in getting through the
German lines to Brussels. She had heard a rumour that Brussels
was shortly going to be burned or sacked or something of the sort,
and she wanted to be on hand for the burning and sacking. She had
arrived in Belgium wearing a London tailor's idea of what constituted
a suitable costume for a war correspondent--perhaps I should say
war correspondentess. Her luggage was a model of compactness: it
consisted of a sleeping-bag, a notebook, half a dozen pencils--and
a powder-puff. She explained that she brought the sleeping-bag
because she understood that war correspondents always slept in
the field. As most of the fields in that part of Flanders were just
then under several inches of water as a result of the autumn rains,
a folding canoe would have been more useful. She was as insistent
on being taken to see a battle as a child is on being taken to the
pantomime. Eventually her pleadings got the better of my judgment
and I took her out in the car towards Alost to see, from a safe
distance, what promised to be a small cavalry engagement. But the
Belgian cavalry unexpectedly ran into a heavy force of Germans,
and before we realized what was happening we were in a very warm
corner indeed. Bullets were kicking up little spurts of dust about us;
bullets were tang-tanging through the trees and clipping off twigs,
which fell down upon our heads; the rat-tat-tat of the German
musketry was answered by the angry snarl of the Belgian machine-guns;
in a field near by the bodies of two recently killed cuirassiers
lay sprawled grotesquely. The Belgian troopers were stretched flat
upon the ground, a veteran English correspondent was giving a
remarkable imitation of the bark on a tree, and my driver, my
photographer and I were peering cautiously from behind the corner
of a brick farmhouse. I supposed that Miss War Correspondent was
there too, but when I turned to speak to her she was gone. She was
standing beside the car, which we had left in the middle of the road
because the bullets were flying too thickly to turn it around, dabbing
at her nose with a powder-puff which she had left in the tonneau
and then critically examining the effect in a pocket-mirror.

"For the love of God!" said I, running out and dragging her back to
shelter, "don't you know that you'll be killed if you stay out here?"

"Will I?" said she, sweetly. "Well, you surely don't expect me to be
killed with my nose unpowdered, do you?"

That evening I asked her for her impressions of her first battle.

"Well," she answered, after a meditative pause, "it certainly was
very chic."

The third and largest division of this journalistic army consisted of
free lances who went to the Continent at their own expense on the
chance of "stumbling into something." About the only thing that any
of them stumbled into was trouble. Some of them bore the most
extraordinary credentials ever carried by a correspondent; some of
them had no credentials at all. One gentleman, who was halted
while endeavouring to reach the firing line in a decrepit cab,
informed the officer before whom he was taken that he represented
the Ladies' Home Journal of Philadelphia. Another displayed a letter
from the editor of a well-known magazine saying that he "would be
pleased to consider any articles which you care to submit." A third,
upon being questioned, said naively that he represented his literary
agent. Then--I almost forgot him--there was a Methodist clergyman
from Boston who explained to the Provost-Marshal that he was
gathering material for a series of sermons on the horrors of war.
Add to this army of writers another army of photographers and
war-artists and cinematograph-operators and you will have some idea of
the problem with which the military authorities of the warring nations
were confronted. It finally got down to the question of which should
be permitted to remain in the field--the war correspondents or the
soldiers. There wasn't room for them both. It was decided to retain
the soldiers.

The general staffs of the various armies handled the war
correspondent problem in different ways. The British War Office
at first announced that under no considerations would any
correspondents be permitted in the areas where British troops were
operating, but such a howl went up from Press and public alike that
this order was modified and it was announced that a limited number
of correspondents, representing the great newspaper syndicates
and press associations, would, after fulfilling certain rigorous
requirements, be permitted to accompany his Majesty's forces in the
field. These fortunate few having been chosen after much heart-burning,
they proceeded to provide themselves with the prescribed uniforms
and field-kits, and some of them even purchased horses. After the
war had been in progress for three months they were still in
London. The French General Staff likewise announced that no
correspondents would be permitted with the armies, and when any
were caught they were unceremoniously shipped to the nearest port
between two unsympathetic gendarmes with a warning that they
would be shot if they were caught again.

The Belgian General Staff made no announcement at all. The police
merely told those correspondents who succeeded in getting into the
fortified position of Antwerp that their room was preferable to their
company and informed them at what hour the next train for the
Dutch frontier was leaving. Now the correspondents knew perfectly
well that neither the British nor the French nor the Belgians would
actually shoot them, if for no other reason than the unfavourable
impression which would be produced by such a proceeding; but
they did know that if they tried the patience of the military authorities
too far they would spend the rest of the war in a military prison. So,
as an imprisoned correspondent is as valueless to the newspaper
which employs him as a prisoner of war is to the nation whose
uniform he wears, they compromised by picking up such information
as they could along the edge of things. Which accounts for most of
the dispatches being dated from Ostend or Ghent or Dunkirk or
Boulogne or from "the back of the front," as one correspondent
ingeniously put it.

As for the Germans, they said bluntly that any correspondents found
within their lines would be treated as spies--which meant being
blindfolded and placed between a stone wall and a firing party. And
every correspondent knew that they would do exactly what they
said. They have no proper respect for the Press, these Germans.

That I was officially recognized by the Belgian Government and
given a laisser-passer by the military Governor of Antwerp
permitting me to pass at will through both the outer and inner lines
of fortifications, that a motor-car and a military driver were placed at
my disposal, and that throughout the campaign in Flanders I was
permitted to accompany the Belgian forces, was not due to any
peculiar merits or qualifications of my own, or even to the influence
exerted by the powerful paper which I represented, but to a series of
unusual and fortunate circumstances which there is no need to
detail here. There were many correspondents who merited from
sheer hard work what I received as a result of extraordinary good

The civilians who were wandering, foot-loose and free, about
the theatre of operations were by no means confined to the
representatives of the Press; there was an amazing number of
young Englishmen and Americans who described themselves as
"attaches" and "consular couriers" and "diplomatic messengers,"
and who intimated that they were engaged in all sorts of dangerous
and important missions. Many of these were adventurous young
men of means who had "come over to see the fun" and who had
induced the American diplomatic representatives in London and
The Hague to give them dispatches of more or less importance--
usually less than more--to carry through to Antwerp and Brussels. In
at least one instance the official envelopes with the big red seals
which they so ostentatiously displayed contained nothing but sheets
of blank paper. Their sole motive was in nearly all cases curiosity.
They had no more business wandering about the war-zone than
they would have had wandering about a hospital where men were
dying. Belgium was being slowly strangled; her villages had been
burned, her fields laid waste, her capital was in the hands of the
enemy, her people were battling for their national existence; yet
these young men came in and demanded first-row seats, precisely
as though the war was a spectacle which was being staged for their
special benefit.

One youth, who in his busy moments practised law in Boston,
though quite frankly admitting that he was only actuated by curiosity,
was exceedingly angry with me because I declined to take him to
the firing-line. He seemed to regard the desperate battle which was
then in progress for the possession of Antwerp very much as
though it was a football game in the Harvard stadium; he seemed
to think that he had a right to see it. He said that he had come all the
way from Boston to see a battle, and when I remained firm in my
refusal to take him to the front he intimated quite plainly that I was
no gentleman and that nothing would give him greater pleasure than
to have a shell explode in my immediate vicinity.

For all its grimness, the war was productive of more than one
amusing episode. I remember a mysterious stranger who called one
morning on the American Consul at Ostend to ask for assistance in
getting through to Brussels. When the Consul asked him to be
seated he bowed stiffly and declined, and when a seat was again
urged upon him he explained, in a hoarse whisper, that sewn in his
trousers were two thousand pounds in bank-notes which he was
taking through to Brussels for the relief of stranded English and
Americans--hence he couldn't very well sit down.

Of all the horde of adventurous characters who were drawn to the
Continent on the outbreak of war as iron-filings are attracted by a
magnet, I doubt if there was a more picturesque figure than a little
photographer from Kansas named Donald Thompson. I met him
first while paying a flying visit to Ostend. He blew into the Consulate
there wearing an American army shirt, a pair of British officer's
riding-breeches, French puttees and a Highlander's forage-cap, and
carrying a camera the size of a parlour-phonograph. No one but an
American could have accomplished what he had, and no American
but one from Kansas. He had not only seen war, all military
prohibitions to the contrary, but he had actually photographed it.

Thompson is a little man, built like Harry Lauder; hard as nails,
tough as raw hide, his skin tanned to the colour of a well-smoked
meerschaum, and his face perpetually wreathed in what he called
his "sunflower smile." He affects riding-breeches and leather
leggings and looks, physically as well as sartorially, as though he
had been born on horseback. He has more chilled steel nerve than
any man I know, and before he had been in Belgium a month his
name became a synonym throughout the army for coolness and
daring. He reached Europe on a tramp-steamer with an overcoat, a
toothbrush, two clean handkerchiefs, and three large cameras. He
expected to have some of them confiscated or broken, he
explained, so he brought along three as a measure of precaution.
His cameras were the largest size made. "By using a big camera no
one can possibly accuse me of being a spy," he explained
ingenuously. His papers consisted of an American passport, a
certificate of membership in the Benevolent and Protective Order of
Elks, and a letter from Colonel Sam Hughes, Canadian Minister of
Militia, authorizing him to take pictures of Canadian troops wherever

Thompson made nine attempts to get from Paris to the front. He
was arrested eight times and spent eight nights in guard-houses.
Each time he was taken before a military tribunal. Utterly ignoring
the subordinates, he would insist on seeing the officer in command.
He would grasp the astonished Frenchman by the hand and inquire
solicitously after his health and that of his family.

"How many languages do you speak?" I asked him.

"Three," said he. "English, American, and Yankee."

On one occasion he commandeered a motorcycle standing outside
a cafe and rode it until the petrol ran out, whereupon he abandoned
it by the roadside and pushed on afoot. On another occasion he
explained to the French officer who arrested him that he was
endeavouring to rescue his wife and children, who were in the
hands of the Germans somewhere on the Belgian frontier. The
officer was so affected by the pathos of the story that he gave
Thompson a lift in his car. As a matter of fact, Thompson's wife and
family were quite safe in Topeka, Kansas. Whenever he was
stopped by patrols he would display his letter from the Minister of
Militia and explain that he was trying to overtake the Canadian
troops. "Vive le Canada!" the French would shout enthusiastically.
"Hurrah for our brave allies, les Canadiens! They are doubtless with
the British at the front"--and permit him to proceed. Thompson did
not think it necessary to inform them that the nearest Canadian
troops were still at Quebec.

When within sound of the German guns he was arrested for the
eighth time and sent to Amiens escorted by two gendarmes, who
were ordered to see him aboard the first train for Boulogne. They
evidently considered that they had followed instructions when they
saw him buy a through ticket for London. Shortly after midnight a
train loaded with wounded pulled into the station. Assisted by some
British soldiers, Thompson scrambled to the top of a train standing
at the next platform and made a flashlight picture. A wild panic
ensued in the crowded station. It was thought that a German bomb
had exploded. Thompson was pulled down by the police and would
have been roughly handled had it not been for the interference of
his British friends, who said that he belonged to their regiment.
Shortly afterwards a train loaded with artillery which was being
rushed to the front came in. Thompson, once more aided and
abetted by the British Tommies, slipped under the tarpaulin covering
a field-gun and promptly fell asleep. When he awoke the next
morning he was at Mons. A regiment of Highlanders was passing.
He exchanged a cake of chocolate for a fatigue-cap and fell in with
them. After marching for two hours the regiment was ordered into
the trenches. Thompson went into the trenches too. All through that
terrible day Thompson plied his trade as the soldiers plied theirs.
They used their rifles and he used his camera. Men were shot dead
on either side of him. A storm of shrapnel shrieked and howled
overhead. He said that the fire of the German artillery was
amazingly accurate and rapid. They would concentrate their entire
fire on a single regiment or battery and when that regiment or
battery was out of action they would turn to another and do the
same thing over again. When the British fell back before the
German onset Thompson remained in the trenches long enough to
get pictures of the charging Germans. Then he ran for his life.

That night he bivouacked with a French line regiment, the men
giving him food and a blanket. The next morning he set out for
Amiens en route for England. As the train for Boulogne, packed to
the doors with refugees, was pulling out of the Amiens station, he
noticed a first-class compartment marked "Reserved," the only
occupant being a smartly gowned young woman. Thompson said
that she was very good-looking. The train was moving, but
Thompson took a running jump and dived head-foremost through
the window, landing in the lady's lap. She was considerably startled
until he said that he was an American. That seemed to explain
everything. The young woman proved to be a Russian countesss
who had been living in Paris and who was returning, via England, to
Petrograd. The French Government had placed a compartment at
her disposal, but in the jam at the Paris station she had become
separated from her maid, who had the bag containing her money.
Thompson recounted his adventures at Mons and asked her if she
would smuggle his films into England concealed on her person, as
he knew from previous experience that he would be stopped and
searched by Scotland Yard detectives when the train reached
Boulogne and that, in all probability, the films would be confiscated
or else held up so long that they would be valueless. The countess
finally consented, but suggested, in return for the danger she was
incurring, that Thompson lend her a thousand francs, which she
would return as soon as she reached London. As he had with him
only two hundred and fifty francs, he paid her the balance in United
Cigar Stores coupons, some of which he chanced to have in his
pocket-book, and which, he explained, was American war currency.
He told me that he gave her almost enough to get a briar-pipe. At
Boulogne he was arrested, as he had foreseen, was stripped,
searched and his camera opened, but as nothing was found he was
permitted to continue to London, where he went to the countess's
hotel and received his films--and, I might add, his money and cigar
coupons. Two hours later, having posted his films to America, he
was on his way to Belgium.

Landing at Ostend, he managed to get by train as far as Malines.
He then started to walk the twenty-odd miles into Brussels, carrying
his huge camera, his overcoat, field-glasses, and three hundred
films. When ten miles down the highway a patrol of Uhlans suddenly
spurred out from behind a hedge and covered him with their pistols.
Thompson promptly pulled a little silk American flag out of his
pocket and shouted "Hoch der Kaiser!" and "Auf wiedersehn" which
constituted his entire stock of German. Upon being examined by the
officer in command of the German outpost, he explained that his
Canadian credentials were merely a blind to get through the lines of
the Allies and that he really represented a syndicate of German
newspapers in America, whereupon he was released with apologies
and given a seat in an ambulance which was going into Brussels.
As his funds were by this time running low, he started out to look for
inexpensive lodgings. As he remarked to me, "I thought we had
some pretty big house-agents out in Kansas, but this Mr. 'A. Louer'
has them beaten a mile. Why, that fellow has his card on every
house that's for rent in Brussels!"

The next morning, while chatting with a pretty English girl in front of
a cafe, a German officer who was passing ordered his arrest as a
spy. "All right," said Thompson, "I'm used to being arrested, but
would you mind waiting just a minute until I get your picture?" The
German, who had no sense of humour, promptly smashed the
camera with his sword. Despite Thompson's protestations that he
was an inoffensive American, the Germans destroyed all his films
and ordered him to be out of the city before six that evening. He
walked the thirty miles to Ghent and there caught a train for Ostend
to get one of his reserve cameras, which he had cached there.
When I met him in Ostend he said that he had been there overnight,
that he was tired of a quiet life and was looking for action, so I took
him back with me to Antwerp. The Belgians had made an inflexible
rule that no photographers would be permitted with the army, but
before Thompson had been in Antwerp twenty-four hours he had
obtained permission from the Chief of the General Staff himself to
take pictures when and where he pleased. Thompson remained
with me until the fall of Antwerp and the German occupation, and no
man could have had a more loyal or devoted companion. It is no
exaggeration to say that he saw more of the campaign in Flanders
than any individual, military or civilian--"le Capitaine Thompson," as
he came to be known, being a familiar and popular figure on the
Belgian battle-line.

There is one other person of whom passing mention should be
made, if for no other reason than because his name will appear
from time to time in this narrative. I take pleasure, therefore, in
introducing you to M. Marcel Roos, the young Belgian gentleman
who drove my motor-car. When war was declared, Roos, who
belonged to the jeunesse doree of Brussels, gave his own ninety
horse-power car to the Government and enlisted in a regiment of
grenadiers. Because he was as familiar with the highways and
byways of Belgium as a housewife is with her kitchen, and because
he spoke English, French, Flemish and German, he was detailed to
drive the car which the Belgian Government placed at my disposal.
He was as big and loyal and good-natured as a St. Bernard dog and
he was as cool in danger as Thompson--which is the highest
compliment I can pay him. Incidentally, he was the most successful
forager that I have ever seen; more than once, in villages which had
apparently been swept clean of everything edible by the Belgians or
the Germans, he produced quite an excellent dinner as mysteriously
as a conjuror produces rabbits from a hat.

Now you must bear in mind that although one could get into
Antwerp with comparative ease, it by no means followed that one
could get out to the firing-line. A long procession of correspondents
came to Antwerp and remained a day or so and then went away
again without once getting beyond the city gates. Even if one
succeeded in obtaining the necessary laisser-passer from the
military Government, there was no way of reaching the front, as all
the automobiles and all except the most decrepit horses had been
requisitioned for the use of the army. There was, you understand,
no such thing as hiring an automobile, or even buying one. Even the
few people who had influence enough to retain their cars found
them useless, as one of the very first acts of the military authorities
was to commandeer the entire supply of petrol. The bulk of the cars
were used in the ambulance service or for purposes of transport,
the army train consisting entirely of motor vehicles. Staff officers,
certain Government officials, and members of the diplomatic and
consular corps were provided by the Government with automobiles
and military drivers. Every one else walked or used the trams. Thus
it frequently happened that a young staff officer, who had never
before known the joys of motoring, would tear madly down the street
in a luxurious limousine, his spurred boots resting on the broadcloth
cushions, while the ci-devant owner of the car, who might be a
banker or a merchant prince, would jump for the side-walk to
escape being run down. With the declaration of war and the taking
over of all automobiles by the military, all speed laws were flung to
the winds.

No matter how unimportant his business, every one tore through the
city streets as though the devil (or the Germans) were behind him.
The staid citizens of Antwerp quickly developed a remarkably agility
in getting out of the way of furiously driven cars. They had to.
Otherwise they would have been killed.

Because, from the middle of August to the middle of October,
Antwerp was the capital of Belgium and the seat of the King,
Cabinet, and diplomatic corps; because from it any point on the
battle-front could easily be reached by motor-car; and because,
above all else, it was at the end of the cable and the one place in
Belgium where there was any certainty of dispatches getting
through to England, I made it my headquarters during the
operations in Flanders, going out to the front in the morning and
returning to the Hotel St. Antoine at night. I doubt if war
correspondence has ever been carried on under such comfortable,
even luxurious, conditions. "Going out to the front" became as
commonplace a proceeding as for a business man to take the
morning train to the city. For one whose previous campaigning had
been done in Persia, Mexico and North Africa and the Balkans, it
was a novel experience to leave a large and fashionable hotel after
breakfast, take a run of twenty or thirty miles over stone-paved
roads in a powerful and comfortable car, witness a battle--provided,
of course, that there happened to be a battle on that day's list of
events--and get back to the hotel in time to dress for dinner.
Imagine it, if you please! Imagine leaving a line of battle, where
shells were shrieking overhead and musketry was crackling along
the trenches, and moaning, blood-smeared figures were being
placed in ambulances, and other blood-smeared figures who no
longer moaned were sprawled in strange attitudes upon the ground
--imagine leaving such a scene, I say, and in an hour, or even less,
finding oneself in a hotel where men and women in evening dress
were dining by the light of pink-shaded candles, or in the marble-
paved palm court were sipping coffee and liqueurs to the sound of
water splashing gently in a fountain.

II. The City Of Gloom

In order to grasp the true significance of the events which preceded
and led up to the fall of Antwerp, it is necessary to understand the
extraordinary conditions which existed in and around that city when I
reached there in the middle of August. At that time all that was left to
the Belgians of Belgium were the provinces of Limbourg, Antwerp,
and East and West Flanders. Everything else was in the possession
of the Germans. Suppose, for the sake of, having things quite clear,
that you unfold the map of Belgium. Now, with your pencil, draw a
line across the country from east to west, starting at the Dutch city
of Maastricht and passing through Hasselt, Diest, Aerschot, Malines,
Alost, and Courtrai to the French frontier. This line was, roughly
speaking, "the front," and for upwards of two months fighting of a
more or less serious character took place along its entire length.
During August and the early part of September this fighting
consisted, for the most part, of attempts by the Belgian field army to
harass the enemy and to threaten his lines of communication and of
counter-attacks by the Germans, during which Aerschot, Malines,
Sempst, and Termonde repeatedly changed hands. Some twenty
miles or so behind this line was the great fortified position of
Antwerp, its outer chain of forts enclosing an area with a radius of
nearly fifteen miles.

Antwerp, with its population of four hundred thousand souls, its
labyrinth of dim and winding streets lined by mediaeval houses, and
its splendid modern boulevards, lies on the east bank of the
Scheldt, about fifteen miles from Dutch territorial waters, at a
hairpin-turn in the river. The defences of the city were modern,
extensive, and generally believed, even by military experts, to be
little short of impregnable. In fact, Antwerp was almost universally
considered one of the three or four strongest fortified positions in
Europe. In order to capture the city it would be necessary for an
enemy to break through four distinct lines of defence, any one of
which, it was believed, was strong enough to oppose successfully
any force which could be brought against it. The outermost line of
forts began at Lierre, a dozen miles to the south-east of the city,
and swept in a great quarter-circle, through Wavre-St. Catherine,
Waelhem, Heyndonck and Willebroeck, to the Scheldt at Ruppelmonde.

Two or three miles behind this outer line of forts a
second line of defence was formed by the Ruppel and the Nethe,
which, together with the Scheldt, make a great natural waterway
around three sides of the city. Back of these rivers, again, was a
second chain of forts completely encircling the city on a five-mile
radius. The moment that the first German soldier set his foot on
Belgian soil the military authorities began the herculean task of
clearing of trees and buildings a great zone lying between this inner
circle of forts and the city ramparts in order that an investing force
might have no cover. It is estimated that within a fortnight the
Belgian sappers and engineers destroyed property to the value of
L16,000,000. Not San Francisco after the earthquake, nor Dayton
after the flood, nor Salem after the fire presented scenes of more
complete desolation than did the suburbs of Antwerp after the
soldiers had finished with them.

On August 1, 1914, no city in all Europe could boast of more
beautiful suburbs than Antwerp. Hidden amid the foliage of great
wooded parks were stately chateaux; splendid country-houses rose
from amid acres of green plush lawns and blazing gardens; the
network of roads and avenues and bridle-paths were lined with
venerable trees, whose branches, meeting overhead, formed leafy
tunnels; scattered here and there were quaint old-world villages,
with plaster walls and pottery roofs and lichen-covered church
spires. By the last day of August all this had disappeared. The
loveliest suburbs in Europe had been wiped from the earth as a
sponge wipes figures from a slate. Every house and church and
windmill, every tree and hedge and wall, in a zone some two or
three miles wide by twenty long, was literally levelled to the ground.
For mile after mile the splendid trees which lined the highroads were
ruthlessly cut down; mansions which could fittingly have housed a
king were dynamited; churches whose walls had echoed to the
tramp of the Duke of Alba's mail-clad men-at-arms were levelled;
villages whose picturesqueness was the joy of artists and travellers
were given over to the flames. Certainly not since the burning of
Moscow has there been witnessed such a scene of self-inflicted
desolation. When the work of the engineers was finished a jack-rabbit
could not have approached the forts without being seen. When the
work of levelling had been completed, acres upon acres of
barbed-wire entanglements were constructed, the wires being
grounded and connected with the city lighting system so that a
voltage could instantly be turned on which would prove as deadly as
the electric chair at Sing Sing. Thousands of men were set to work
sharpening stakes and driving these stakes, point upward, in the
ground, so as to impale any soldiers who fell upon them. In front of
the stakes were "man-traps," thousands of barrels with their heads
knocked out being set in the ground and then covered with a thin
layer of laths and earth, which would suddenly give way if a man
walked upon it and drop him into the hole below. And beyond the
zones of entanglements and chevaux de frise and man-traps the
beet and potato-fields were sown with mines which were to be
exploded by electricity when the enemy was fairly over them, and
blow that enemy, whole regiments at a time, into eternity. Stretching
across the fields and meadows were what looked at first glance like
enormous red-brown serpents but which proved, upon closer
inspection, to be trenches for infantry. The region to the south of
Antwerp is a network of canals, and on the bank of every canal
rose, as though by magic, parapets of sandbags. Charges of
dynamite were placed under every bridge and viaduct and tunnel.
Barricades of paving-stones and mattresses and sometimes farm
carts were built across the highways. At certain points wires were
stretched across the roads at the height of a man's head for the
purpose of preventing sudden dashes by armoured motor-cars. The
walls of such buildings as were left standing were loopholed
for musketry. Machine-guns and quick-firers were mounted
everywhere. At night the white beams of the searchlights swept this
zone of desolation and turned it into day. Now the pitiable thing
about it was that all this enormous destruction proved to have been
wrought for nothing, for the Germans, instead of throwing huge
masses of infantry against the forts, as it was anticipated that they
would do, and thus giving the entanglements and the mine-fields
and the machine-guns a chance to get in their work, methodically
pounded the forts to pieces with siege-guns stationed a dozen miles
away. In fact, when the Germans entered Antwerp not a strand of
barbed wire had been cut, not a barricade defended, not a mine
exploded. This, mind you, was not due to any lack of bravery on the
part of the Belgians--Heaven knows, they did not lack for that!--but
to the fact that the Germans never gave them a chance to make
use of these elaborate and ingenious devices. It was like a man
letting a child painstakingly construct an edifice of building-blocks
and then, when it was completed, suddenly sweeping it aside with
his hand.

As a result of these elaborate precautions, it was as difficult to go
in or out of Antwerp as it is popularly supposed to be for a millionaire
to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Sentries were as thick as policemen
in Piccadilly. You could not proceed a quarter of a mile along any
road, in any direction, without being halted by a harsh "Qui vive?"
and having the business end of a rifle turned in your direction. If
your papers were not in order you were promptly turned back--or
arrested as a suspicious character and taken before an officer for
examination--though if you were sufficiently in the confidence of the
military authorities to be given the password, you were usually
permitted to pass without further question. It was some time before
I lost the thrill of novelty and excitement produced by this
halt-who-goes-there-advance-friend-and-give-the-countersign business.
It was so exactly the sort of thing that, as a boy, I used to read
about in books by George A. Henty that it seemed improbable and unreal.
When we were motoring at night and a peremptory challenge would
come from out the darkness and the lamps of the car would pick out
the cloaked figure of the sentry as the spotlight picks out the figure
of an actor on the stage, and I would lean forward and whisper the
magic mot d'ordre, I always had the feeling that I was taking part in
a play-which was not so very far from the truth, for, though I did not
appreciate it at the time, we were all actors, more or less important,
in the greatest drama ever staged.

In the immediate vicinity of Antwerp the sentries were soldiers of the
regular army and understood a sentry's duties, but in the outlying
districts, particularly between Ostend and Ghent, the roads were
patrolled by members of the Garde civique, all of whom seemed
imbued with the idea that the safety of the nation depended upon
their vigilance, which was a very commendable and proper attitude
indeed. When I was challenged by a Garde civique I was always a
little nervous, and wasted no time whatever in jamming on the
brakes, because the poor fellows were nearly always excited and
handled their rifles in a fashion which was far from being reassuring.
More than once, while travelling in the outlying districts, we were
challenged by civil guards who evidently had not been entrusted
with the password, but who, when it was whispered to them, would
nod their heads importantly and tell us to pass on.

"The next sentry that we meet," I said to Roos on one of these
occasions, "probably has no idea of the password. I'll bet you a box
of cigars that I can give him any word that comes into my head and
that he won't know the difference."

As we rolled over the ancient drawbridge which gives admittance to
sleepy Bruges, a bespectacled sentry, who looked as though he
had suddenly been called from an accountant's desk to perform the
duties of a soldier, held up his hand, palm outward, which is the
signal to stop the world over.

"Halt!" he commanded quaveringly. "Advance slowly and give the

I leaned out as the car came opposite him. "Kalamazoo," I whispered.
The next instant I was looking into the muzzle of his rifle.

"Hands up!" he shouted, and there was no longer any quaver in his
voice. "That is not the word. I shouldn't be surprised if you were
German spies. Get out of the car!"

It took half an hour of explanations to convince him that we were not
German spies, that we really did know the password, and that we
were merely having a joke--though not, as we had planned, at his

The force of citizen soldiery known as the Garde civique has, so far
as I am aware, no exact counterpart in any other country. It is
composed of business and professional men whose chief duties,
prior to the war, had been to show themselves on occasions of
ceremony arrayed in gorgeous uniforms, which varied according to
the province. The mounted division of the Antwerp Garde civique
wore a green and scarlet uniform which resembled as closely as
possible that of the Guides, the crack cavalry corps of the Belgian
army. In the Flemish towns the civil guards wore a blue coat, so
long in the skirts that it had to be buttoned back to permit of their
walking, and a hat of stiff black felt, resembling a bowler, with a
feather stuck rakishly in the band. Early in the war the Germans
announced that they would not recognize the Gardes civique as
combatants, and that any of them who were captured while fighting
would meet with the same fate as armed civilians. This drastic ruling
resulted in many amusing episodes. When it was learned that
the Germans were approaching Ghent, sixteen hundred civil
guardsmen threw their rifles into the canal and, stripping off their
uniforms, ran about in the pink and light-blue under-garments which
the Belgians affect, frantically begging the townspeople to lend them
civilian clothing. As a whole, however, these citizen-soldiers did
admirable service, guarding the roads, tunnels and bridges,
assisting the refugees, preserving order in the towns, and, in
Antwerp, taking entire charge of provisioning the army.

No account of Antwerp in war time would be complete without at
least passing mention of the boy scouts, who were one of the city's
most picturesque and interesting features. I don't quite know how
the city could have got along without them. They were always on the
job; they were to be seen everywhere and they did everything.
They acted as messengers, as doorkeepers, as guides, as orderlies
for staff officers, and as couriers for the various ministries; they ran
the elevators in the hotels, they worked in the hospitals, they
assisted the refugees to find food and lodgings. The boy scouts
stationed at the various ministries were on duty twenty-four hours at
a stretch. They slept rolled up in blankets on the floors; they
obtained their meals where and when they could and paid for them
themselves, and made themselves extremely useful. If you
possessed sufficient influence to obtain a motor-car, a boy scout
was generally detailed to sit beside the driver and open the door
and act as a sort of orderly. I had one. His name was Joseph. He
was most picturesque. He wore a sombrero with a cherry-coloured
puggaree and a bottle-green cape, and his green stockings turned
over at the top so as to show knees as white and shapely as those
of a woman. To tell the truth, however, I had nothing for him to do.
So when I was not out in the car he occupied himself in running the
lift at the Hotel St. Antoine. Joseph was with me during the German
attack on Waelhem. We were caught in a much hotter place than
we intended and for half an hour were under heavy shrapnel fire. I
was curious to see how the youngster--for he was only fourteen--
would act. Finally he turned to me, his black eyes snapping with
excitement. "Have I your permission to go a little nearer, monsieur?"
he asked eagerly. "I won't be gone long. I only want to get a
German helmet." It may have been the valour of ignorance which
these broad-hatted, bare-kneed boys displayed, but it was the sort
of valour which characterized every Belgian soldier. There was one
youngster of thirteen who was attached to an officer of the staff and
who was present at every battle of importance from the evacuation
of Brussels to the fall of Antwerp. I remember seeing him during the
retreat of the Belgians from Wesemael, curled up in the tonneau of
a car and sleeping through all the turmoil and confusion. I felt like
waking him up and saying sternly, "Look here, sonny, you'd better
trot on home. Your mother will be worried to death about you." I
believe that four Belgian boy scouts gave up their lives in the
service of their country. Two were run down and killed by
automobiles while on duty in Antwerp. Two others were, I
understand, shot by German troops near Brussels while attempting
to carry dispatches through the lines. One boy scout became so
adept at this sort of work that he was regularly employed by the
Government to carry messages through to its agents in Brussels.
His exploits would provide material for a boy's book of adventure
and, as a fitting conclusion, he was decorated by the King.

Anyone who went to Belgium with hard-and-fast ideas as to social
distinctions quickly had them shattered. The fact that a man wore a
private's uniform and sat behind the steering-wheel of your car and
respectfully touched his cap when you gave him an order did not
imply that he had always been a chauffeur. Roos, who drove my car
throughout my stay in Belgium, was the son of a Brussels
millionaire, and at the beginning of hostilities had, as I think I have
mentioned elsewhere, promptly presented his own powerful car to
the Government. The aristocracy of Belgium did not hang around
the Ministry of War trying to obtain commissions. They simply
donned privates' uniforms, and went into the firing-line. As a result
of this wholehearted patriotism the ranks of the Belgian army were
filled with men who were members of the most exclusive clubs and
were welcome guests in the highest social circles in Europe. Almost
any evening during the earlier part of the war a smooth-faced youth
in the uniform of a private soldier could have been seen sitting amid
a group of friends at dinner in the Hotel St. Antoine. When an officer
entered the room he stood up and clicked his heels together and
saluted. He was Prince Henri de Ligne, a member of one of the
oldest and most distinguished families in Belgium and related to half
the aristocracy of Europe. He, poor boy, was destined never again
to follow the hounds or to lead a cotillion; he was killed near
Herenthals with young Count de Villemont and Philippe de Zualart
while engaged in a daring raid in an armoured motorcar into the
German lines for the purpose of blowing up a bridge.

When, upon the occupation of Brussels by the Germans, the capital
of Belgium was hastily transferred to Antwerp, considerable difficulty
was experienced in finding suitable accommodation for the staffs of
the various ministries, which were housed in any buildings which
happened to be available at the time. Thus, the foreign relations of
the nation were directed from a school-building in the Avenue du
Commerce--the Foreign Minister, Monsieur Davignon, using as his
Cabinet the room formerly used for lectures on physiology, the walls
of which were still covered with blackboards and anatomical charts.
The Grand Hotel was taken over by the Government for the
accommodation of the Cabinet Ministers and their staffs, while the
ministers of State and the members of the diplomatic corps were
quartered at the St. Antoine. In fact, it used to be said in fun that if
you got into difficulties with the police all you had to do was to get
within the doors of the hotel, where you would be safe, for half of the
ground floor was technically British soil, being occupied by the
British Legation; a portion of the second floor was used by the
Russian Legation; if you dashed into a certain bedroom you could claim
Roumanian protection, and in another you were, theoretically, in Greece;
while on the upper floor extra-territoriality was exercised by the
Republic of China. Every evening all the ministers and diplomats met
in the big rose-and-ivory dining-room--the white shirt-fronts of the
men and the white shoulders of the women, with the uniforms of the
Belgian officers and of the British, French and Russian military
attaches, combining to form a wonderfully brilliant picture. Looking
on that scene, it was hard to believe that by ascending to the roof
of the hotel you could see the glare of burning villages and hear the
boom of German cannon.

As the siege progressed and the German lines were drawn tighter,
the military regulations governing life in Antwerp increased in
severity. The local papers were not permitted to print any accounts
of Belgian checks or reverses, and at one time the importation of
English newspapers was suspended. Sealed letters were not
accepted by the post office for any foreign countries save England,
Russia and France, and even these were held four days before
being forwarded. Telegrams were, of course, rigidly censored. The
telephone service was suspended save for governmental purposes.
At eight o'clock the trams stopped running. Save for a few
ramshackle vehicles, drawn by decrepit horses, the cabs had
disappeared from the streets. The city went spy-mad. If a man
ordered Sauerkraut and sausage for lunch he instantly fell under
suspicion. Scarcely a day passed without houses being raided and
their occupants arrested on the charge of espionage. It was
reported and generally believed that those whose guilt was proved
were promptly executed outside the ramparts, but of this I have my
doubts. The Belgians are too good-natured, too easy-going. It is
probable, of course, that some spies were executed, but certainly
not many.

One never stirred out of doors in Antwerp without one's papers,
which had to be shown before one could gain admission to the post
office, the telegraph bureau, the banks, the railway stations, or any
other public buildings. There were several varieties of "papers."
There was the plain passport which, beyond establishing your
nationality, was not worth the paper it was written on. There was
the permis de sejour, which was issued by the police to those who
were able to prove that they had business which necessitated their
remaining in the city. And finally, there was the much-prized
laisser-passer which was issued by the military government and
usually bore the photograph of the person to whom it was given,
which proved an open sesame wherever shown, and which, I might add,
was exceedingly difficult to obtain.

Only once did my laisser-passer fail me. During the final days of the
siege, when the temper and endurance of the Belgian defenders
were strained almost to the breaking-point, I motored out to witness
the German assault on the forts near Willebroeck. With me were
Captain Raymond Briggs of the United States army and Thompson.
Before continuing to the front we took the precaution of stopping at
division headquarters in Boom and asking if there was any objection
to our proceeding; we were informed that there was none. We had
not been on the firing-line half an hour, however, before two
gendarmes came tearing up in a motor-car and informed us that we
were under arrest and must return with them to Boom. At division
headquarters we were interrogated by a staff major whose temper
was as fiery as his hair. Thompson, as was his invariable custom,
was smoking a very large and very black cigar.

"Take that cigar out of your mouth!" snapped the major in French.
"How dare you smoke in my presence?"

"Sorry, major," said Thompson, grinning broadly, "but you'll have to
talk American. I don't understand French."

"Stop smiling!" roared the now infuriated officer. "How dare you
smile when I address you? This is no time for smiling, sir! This is a
time of war!"

Though the major was reluctantly forced to admit that our papers
were in order, we were nevertheless sent to staff headquarters in
Antwerp guarded by two gendarmes, one of whom was the bearer
of a dossier in which it was gravely recited that Captain Briggs and I
had been arrested while in the company of a person calling himself
Donald Thompson, who was charged by the chief of staff with
having smiled and smoked a cigar in his presence. Needless to say,
the whole opera-bouffe affair was promptly disavowed by the higher
authorities. I have mentioned the incident because it was the sole
occasion on which I met with so much as a shadow of discourtesy
from any Belgian, either soldier or civilian. I doubt if in any other
country in the world in time of war, a foreigner would have been
permitted to go where and when he pleased, as I was, and would
have met with hospitality and kindness from every one.

The citizens of Antwerp hated the Germans with a deeper and more
bitter hatred, if such a thing were possible, than the people of any
other part of Belgium. This was due to the fact that in no foreign city
where Germans dwelt and did business were they treated with such
marked hospitality and consideration as in Antwerp. They had been
given franchises and concessions and privileges of every
description; they had been showered with honours and decorations;
they were welcome guests on every occasion; city streets had
been named after leading German residents; time and time again,
both at private dinners and public banquets, they had asserted,
wineglass in hand, their loyalty and devotion to the city which was
their home. Yet, the moment opportunity offered, they did not scruple
to betray it. In the cellar of the house belonging to one of the most
prominent German residents the police found large stores
of ammunition and hundreds of rifles and German uniforms. A
German company had, as a result of criminal stupidity, been
awarded the contract for wiring the forts defending the city--and
when the need arose it was found that the wiring was all but
worthless. A wealthy German had a magnificent country estate the
gardens of which ran down to the moat of one of the outlying forts.
One day he suggested to the military authorities that if they would
permit him to obtain the necessary water from the moat, he would
build a swimming-pool in his garden for the use of the soldiers.
What appeared to be a generous offer was gladly accepted--but
when the day of action came it was found that the moat had been
drained dry. In the grounds of another country place were
discovered concrete emplacements for the use of the German
siege-guns. Thus the German residents repaid the hospitality of
their adopted city.

When the war-cloud burst every German was promptly expelled
from Antwerp. In a few cases the mob got out of hand and smashed
the windows of some German saloons along the water-front, but no
Germans were injured or mistreated. They were merely shipped,
bag and baggage, across the frontier. That, in my opinion at least, is
what should have been done with the entire civil population of
Antwerp--provided, of course, that the Government intended to hold
the city at all costs. The civilians seriously hampered the
movements of the troops and thereby interfered with the defence;
the presence of large numbers of women and children in the city
during the bombardment unquestionably caused grave anxiety to
the defenders and was probably one of the chief reasons for the
evacuation taking place when it did; the masses of civilian fugitives
who choked the roads in their mad flight from Antwerp were in large
measure responsible for the capture of a considerable portion of the
retreating Belgian army and for the fact that other bodies of troops
were driven across the frontier and interned in Holland. So strongly
was the belief that Antwerp was impregnable implanted in every
Belgian's mind, however, that up to the very last not one citizen in a
thousand would admit that there was a possibility that it could be
taken. The army did not believe that it could be taken. The General
Staff did not believe that it could be taken. They were destined to
have a rude and sad awakening.

III. The Death In The Air

At eleven minutes past one o'clock on the morning of August 25
death came to Antwerp out of the air. Some one had sent a bundle
of English and American newspapers to my room in the Hotel St.
Antoine and I had spent the evening reading them, so that the bells
of the cathedral had already chimed one o'clock when I switched off
my light and opened the window. As I did so my attention was
attracted by a curious humming overhead, like a million
bumblebees. I leaned far out of the window, and as I did so an
indistinct mass, which gradually resolved itself into something
resembling a gigantic black cigar, became plainly apparent against
the purple-velvet sky. I am not good at estimating altitudes, but I
should say that when I first caught sight of it it was not more than a
thousand feet above my head--and my room was on the top floor of
the hotel, remember. As it drew nearer the noise, which had at first
reminded me of a swarm of angry bees, grew louder, until it
sounded like an automobile with the muffler open. Despite the
darkness there was no doubting what it was. It was a German

Even as I looked something resembling a falling star curved across
the sky. An instant later came a rending, shattering crash that shook
the hotel to its foundations, the walls of my room rocked and reeled,
about me, and for a breathless moment I thought that the building
was going to collapse. Perhaps thirty seconds later came another
splitting explosion, and another, and then another--ten in all--each,
thank Heaven, a little farther removed. It was all so sudden, so
utterly unexpected, that it must have been quite a minute before I
realized that the monstrous thing hovering in the darkness overhead
was one of the dirigibles of which we had read and talked so much,
and that it was actually raining death upon the sleeping city from the
sky. I suppose it was blind instinct that caused me to run to the door
and down the corridor with the idea of getting into the street, never
stopping to reason, of course, that there was no protection in the
street from Zeppelins. But before I had gone a dozen paces I had
my nerves once more in hand. "Perhaps it isn't a Zeppelin, after all,"
I argued to myself. "I may have been dreaming. And how perfectly
ridiculous I should look if I were to dash downstairs in my pyjamas
and find that nothing had happened. At least I'll go back and put
some clothes on." And I did. No fireman, responding to a night
alarm, ever dressed quicker. As I ran through the corridors the
doors of bedrooms opened and sleepy-eyed, tousle-headed
diplomatists and Government officials called after me to ask if the
Germans were bombarding the city.

"They are," I answered, without stopping. There was no time to
explain that for the first time in history a city was being bombarded
from the air.

I found the lobby rapidly filling with scantily clad guests, whose teeth
were visibly chattering. Guided by the hotel manager and
accompanied by half a dozen members of the diplomatic corps in
pyjamas, I raced upstairs to a sort of observatory on the hotel roof. I
remember that one attache of the British Legation, ordinarily a most
dignified person, had on some sort of a night-robe of purple silk and
that when he started to climb the iron ladder of the fire-escape he
looked for all the world like a burglarious suffragette.

By the time we reached the roof of the hotel Belgian high-angle and
machine-guns were stabbing the darkness with spurts of flame, the
troops of the garrison were blazing away with rifles, and the
gendarmes in the streets were shooting wildly with their revolvers:
the noise was deafening. Oblivious of the consternation and
confusion it had caused, the Zeppelin, after letting fall a final bomb,
slowly rose and disappeared in the upper darkness.

The destruction wrought by the German projectiles was almost
incredible. The first shell, which I had seen fall, struck a building in
the Rue de la Bourse, barely two hundred yards in a straight line
from my window. A hole was not merely blown through the roof, as
would have been the case with a shell from a field-gun, but the three
upper stories simply crumbled, disintegrated, came crashing down
in an avalanche of brick and stone and plaster, as though a Titan
had hit it with a sledge-hammer. Another shell struck in the middle of
the Poids Public, or public weighing-place, which is about the size of
Russell Square in London. It blew a hole in the cobblestone-
pavement large enough to bury a horse in; one policeman on duty
at the far end of the square was instantly killed and another had
both legs blown off. But this was not all nor nearly all. Six people
sleeping in houses fronting on the square were killed in their beds
and a dozen others were more or less seriously wounded. Every
building facing on the square was either wholly or partially
demolished, the steel splinters of the projectile tearing their way
through the thick brick-walls as easily as a lead-pencil is jabbed
through a sheet of paper. And, as a result of the terrific concussion,
every house within a hundred yards of the square in every direction
had its windows broken. On no battlefield have I ever seen so
horrible a sight as that which turned me weak and nauseated when I
entered one of the shattered houses and made my way, over heaps
of fallen debris, to a room where a young woman had been
sleeping. She had literally been blown to fragments. The floor, the
walls, the ceiling, were splotched with--well, it's enough to say that
that woman's remains could only have been collected with a shovel.
In saying this, I am not speaking flippantly either. I have dwelt upon
these details, revolting as they are, because I wish to drive home
the fact that the only victims of this air-raid on Antwerp were
innocent non-combatants.

Another shell struck the roof of a physician's house in the
fashionable Rue des Escrimeurs, killing two maids who were
sleeping in a room on the upper floor. A shell fell in a garden in the
Rue von Bary, terribly wounding a man and his wife. A little child
was mangled by a shell which struck a house in the Rue de la
Justice. Another shell fell in the barracks in the Rue Falcon, killing
one inmate and wounding two others. By a fortunate coincidence
the regiment which had been quartered in the barracks had left for
the front on the previous day. A woman who was awakened by the
first explosion and leaned from her window to see what was
happening had her head blown off. In all ten people were killed, six
of whom were women, and upwards of forty wounded, two of them
so terribly that they afterwards died. There is very little doubt that a
deliberate attempt was made to kill the royal family, the General
Staff and the members of the Government, one shell bursting within
a hundred yards of the royal palace, where the King and Queen
were sleeping, and another within two hundred yards of staff
headquarters and the Hotel St. Antoine.

As a result of this night of horror, Antwerp, to use an inelegant but
descriptive expression, developed a violent case of the jim-jams.
The next night and every night thereafter until the Germans came in
and took the city, she thought she saw things; not green rats and
pink snakes, but large, sausage-shaped balloons with bombs
dropping from them. The military authorities--for the city was under
martial law--screwed down the lid so tight that even the most rabid
prohibitionists and social reformers murmured. As a result of the
precautionary measures which were taken, Antwerp, with its four
hundred thousand inhabitants, became about as cheerful a place of
residence as a country cemetery on a rainy evening. At eight o'clock
every street light was turned off, every shop and restaurant and cafe
closed, every window darkened. If a light was seen in a window after
eight o'clock the person who occupied that room was in grave
danger of being arrested for signalling to the enemy. My room,
which was on the third floor of the hotel, was so situated that its
windows could not be seen from the street, and hence I was not as
particular about lowering the shades as I should have been. The
second night after the Zeppelin raid the manager came bursting into
my room. "Quick, Mr. Powell," he called, excitedly, "pull down your
shade. The observers in the cathedral tower have just sent word
that your windows are lighted and the police are downstairs to find
out what it means."

The darkness of London and Paris was a joke beside the darkness
of Antwerp. It was so dark in the narrow, winding streets, bordered
by ancient houses, that when, as was my custom, I went to the
telegraph office with my dispatches after dinner, I had to feel my
way with a cane, like a blind man. To make conditions more
intolerable, if such a thing were possible, cordons of sentries were
thrown around those buildings under whose roofs the members of
the Government slept, so that if one returned after nightfall he was
greeted by a harsh command to halt, and a sentry held a rifle-muzzle
against his breast while another sentry, by means of a dark lantern,
scrutinized his papers. Save for the sentries, the streets were
deserted, for, as the places of amusement and the eating-places and
drinking-places were closed, there was no place for the people to
go except to bed. I was reminded of the man who told his wife that
he came home because all the other places were closed.

I have heard it said that Antwerp was indifferent to its fate, but it
made no such impression on me. Never have I lived in such an
atmosphere of gloom and depression. Except around the St.
Antoine at the lunch and dinner-hours and in the cafes just before
nightfall did one see anything which was even a second cousin to
jollity. The people did not smile. They went about with grave and
anxious faces. In fact, outside of the places I have mentioned, one
rarely heard a laugh. The people who sat at the round iron tables on
the sidewalks in front of the cafes drinking their light wines and beer
--no spirits were permitted to be sold--sat in silence and with solemn
faces. God knows, there was little enough for them to smile about.
Their nation was being slowly strangled. Three-quarters of its soil
was under the heel of the invader. An alien flag, a hated flag, flew
over their capital. Their King and their Government were fugitives,
moving from place to place as a vagrant moves on at the approach
of a policeman. Men who, a month before, were prosperous
shopkeepers and tradesmen were virtual bankrupts, not knowing
where the next hundred-franc note was coming from. Other men
had seen their little flower-surrounded homes in the suburbs razed
to the ground that an approaching enemy might find no cover.
Though the shops were open, they had no customers for the people
had no money, or, if they had money they were hoarding it against
the days when they might be homeless fugitives. No, there was not
very much to smile about in Antwerp.

There were amusing incidents, of course. If one recognizes humour
when he sees it he can find it in almost any situation. After the first
Zeppelin attack the management of the St. Antoine fitted up
bedrooms in the cellars.

A century or more ago the St. Antoine was not a hotel but a
monastery, and its cellars are all that the cellars of a monastery
ought to be--thick-walled and damp and musty. Yet these
subterranean suites were in as great demand among the
diplomatists as are tables in the palm-room of the Savoy during the
season. From my bedroom window, which overlooked the court, I
could see apprehensive guests cautiously emerging from their cellar
chambers in the early morning. It reminded me of woodchucks
coming out of their holes.

As the siege progressed and the German guns were pushed nearer
to the city, those who lived in what might be termed "conspicuous"
localities began to seek other quarters.

"I'm going to change hotels to-day," I heard a man remark to a

"Why?" inquired the other.

"Because I am within thirty yards of the cathedral," was the answer.
The towering spire of the famous cathedral is, you must understand,
the most conspicuous thing in Antwerp--on clear days you can see it
from twenty miles away--and to live in its immediate vicinity during a
bombardment of the city was equivalent to taking shelter under the
only tree in a field during a heavy thunderstorm.

Two days before the bombardment began there was a meeting of
the American residents--such of them as still remained in the city--at
the leading club. About a dozen of us in all sat down to dinner. The
purpose of the gathering was to discuss the attitude which the
Americans should adopt towards the German officers, for it was
known that the fall of the city was imminent. I remember that the
sense of the meeting was that we should treat the helmeted
intruders with frigid politeness--I think that was the term--which,
translated, meant that we were not to offer them cigars and buy
them drinks. Of the twelve of us who sat around the table that night,
there are only two--Mr. Manly Whedbee and myself--who remained
to witness the German occupation.

That the precautions taken against Zeppelins were by no means
overdone was proved by the total failure of the second aerial raid on
Antwerp, in the latter part of September, when a dirigible again
sailed over the city under cover of darkness. Owing to the total
absence of street-lights, however, the dirigible's crew were evidently
unable to get their bearings, for the half-dozen bombs that they
discharged fell in the outskirts of the city without causing any loss of
life or doing any serious damage. This time, moreover, the Belgians
were quite prepared--the fire of their "sky artillery," guided by
searchlights, making things exceedingly uncomfortable for the

I have heard it stated by Belgian officers and others that the bombs
were dropped from the dirigibles by an ingenious arrangement
which made the airship itself comparatively safe from harm and at
the same time rendered the aim of its bombmen much more
accurate. According to them, the dirigible comes to a stop--or as
near a stop as possible--above the city or fortification which it wishes
to attack, at a height out of range of either artillery or rifle-fire.
Then, by means of a steel cable a thousand feet or more in length,
it lowers a small wire cage just large enough to contain a man and a
supply of bombs, this cage being sufficiently armoured so that it is
proof against rifle-bullets. At the same time it affords so tiny a mark
that the chances of its being hit by artillery-fire are insignificant. If
it should be struck, moreover, the airship itself would still be
unharmed and only one man would be lost, and when he fell his
supply of bombs would fall with him. The Zeppelin, presumably
equipped with at least two cages and cables, might at once lower
another bomb-thrower. I do not pretend to say whether this
ingenious contrivance is used by the Germans. Certainly the
Zeppelin which I saw in action had nothing of the kind, nor did it drop
its projectiles promiscuously, as one would drop a stone, but
apparently discharged them from a bomb-tube.

Though the Zeppelin raids proved wholly ineffective, so far as their
effect on troops and fortifications were concerned, the German
aviators introduced some novel tricks in aerial warfare which were
as practical as they were ingenious. During the battle of Vilvorde, for
example, and throughout the attacks on the Antwerp forts, German
dirigibles hovered at a safe height over the Belgian positions and
directed the fire of the German gunners with remarkable success.
The aerial observers watched, through powerful glasses, the effect
of the German shells and then, by means of a large disc which was
swung at the end of a line and could be raised or lowered at will,
signalled as need be in code "higher--lower--right--left" and thus
guided the gunners--who were, of course, unable to see their mark
or the effect of their fire--until almost every shot was a hit. At
Vilvorde, as a result of this aerial fire-control system, I saw the
German artillery, posted out of sight behind a railway embankment,
get the range of a retreating column of Belgian infantry and with a
dozen well-placed shots practically wipe it out of existence. So
perfect was the German system of observation and fire control
during the final attack on the Antwerp defences that whenever the
Belgians or British moved a regiment or a battery the aerial
observers instantly detected it and a perfect storm of shells was
directed against the new position.

Throughout the operations around Antwerp, the Taubes, as
the German aeroplanes are called because of their fancied
resemblance to a dove, repeatedly performed daring feats of
reconnaissance. On one occasion, while I was with the General
Staff at Lierre, one of these German Taubes sailed directly over the
Hotel de Ville, which was being used as staff headquarters. It so
happened that King Albert was standing in the street, smoking one
of the seven-for-a-franc Belgian cigars to which he was partial.

"The Germans call it a dove, eh?" remarked the King, as he looked
up at the passing aircraft. "Well, it looks to me more like a hawk."

A few days before the fall of Antwerp a Taube flew over the city in
the early afternoon, dropping thousands of proclamations printed in
both French and Flemish and signed by the commander of the
investing forces, pointing out to the inhabitants the futility of
resistance, asserting that in fighting Germany they were playing
Russia's game, and urging them to lay down their arms. The
aeroplane was greeted by a storm of shrapnel from the high-angle
guns mounted on the fortifications, the only effect of which,
however, was to kill two unoffending citizens who were standing in
the streets and were struck by the fragments of the falling shells.

Most people seem to have the impression that it is as easy for an
aviator to see what is happening on the ground beneath him as
though he were looking down from the roof of a high building. Under
ordinary conditions, when one can skim above the surface of the
earth at a height of a few hundred feet, this is quite true, but it is
quite a different matter when one is flying above hostile troops who
are blazing away at him with rifles and machine-guns. During
reconnaissance work the airmen generally are compelled to ascend
to an altitude of a mile or a mile and a quarter, which makes
observation extremely difficult, as small objects, even with the aid of
the strongest glasses, assume unfamiliar shapes and become fore-
shortened. If, in order to obtain a better view, they venture to fly at a
lower height, they are likely to be greeted by a hail of rifle fire from
soldiers in the trenches. The Belgian aviators with whom I talked
assured me that they feared rifle fire more than bursting shrapnel,
as the fire of a regiment, when concentrated even on so elusive an
object as an aeroplane, proves far more deadly than shells.

The Belgians made more use than any other nation of motor-cars.
When war was declared one of the first steps taken by the military
authorities was to commandeer every motor-car, every motor-cycle
and every litre of petrol in the kingdom. As a result they depended
almost entirely upon motor-driven vehicles for their military
transport, which was, I might add, extremely efficient. In fact, we
could always tell when we were approaching the front by the
amazing number of motor-cars which lined the roads for miles in the
rear of each division.

Anything that had four wheels and a motor to drive them--diminutive
American run-abouts, slim, low-hung racing cars, luxurious
limousines with coronets painted on the panels, delivery-cars
bearing the names of shops in Antwerp and Ghent and Brussels,
lumbering motor-trucks, hotel omnibuses--all met the same fate,
which consisted in being daubed with elephant-grey paint, labelled
"S.M." (Service Militaire) in staring white letters, and started for the
front, usually in charge of a wholly inexperienced driver. It made an
automobile lover groan to see the way some of those cars were
treated. But they did the business. They averaged something like
twelve miles an hour--which is remarkable time for army transport--
and, strangely enough, very few of them broke down. If they did
there was always an automobile des reparations promptly on hand
to repair the damage. Before the war began the Belgian army had
no army transport worthy of the name; before the forts at Liege had
been silenced it had as efficient a one as any nation in Europe.

The headquarters of the motor-car branch of the army was at the
Pare des Automobiles Militaires, on the Red Star quays in Antwerp.
Here several hundred cars were always kept in reserve, and here
was collected an enormous store of automobile supplies and
sundries. The scene under the long, low sheds, with their
corrugated-iron roofs, always reminded me of the Automobile Show
at Olympia. After a car had once been placed at your disposal by
the Government, getting supplies for it was merely a question of
signing bons. Obtaining extra equipment for my car was Roos' chief
amusement. Tyres, tools, spare parts, horns, lamps, trunks--all you
had to do was to scrawl your name at the foot of a printed form and
they were promptly handed over. When I first went to Belgium I was
given a sixty horse-power touring car, and when the weather turned
unpleasant I asked for and was given a limousine that was big
enough to sleep in, and when I found this too clumsy, the
commandant of the Parc des Automobiles obligingly exchanged it
for a ninety horse-power berline. They were most accommodating,
those Belgians. I am sorry to say that my berline, which was the
envy of every one in Antwerp, was eventually captured by the

Though both the French and the Germans had for a number of
years been experimenting with armoured cars of various patterns,
the Belgians, who had never before given the subject serious
consideration, were the first to evolve and to send into action a
really practical vehicle of this description. The earlier armoured cars
used by the Belgians were built at the great Minerva factory in
Antwerp and consisted of a circular turret, high enough so that only
the head and shoulders of the man operating the machine-gun
were exposed, covered with half-inch steel plates and mounted on
an ordinary chassis. After the disastrous affair near Herenthals, in
which Prince Henri de Ligne was mortally wounded while engaged
in a raid into the German lines for the purpose of blowing up
bridges, it was seen that the crew of the auto-mitrailleuses, as the
armoured cars were called, was insufficiently protected, and, to
remedy this, a movable steel dome, with an opening for the muzzle
of the machine-gun, was superimposed on the turret. These grim
vehicles, which jeered at bullets, and were proof even against
shrapnel, quickly became a nightmare to the Germans. Driven by
the most reckless racing drivers in Belgium, manned by crews of
dare-devil youngsters, and armed with machine-guns which poured
out lead at the rate of a thousand shots a minute, these wheeled
fortresses would tear at will into the German lines, cut up an outpost
or wipe out a cavalry patrol, dynamite a bridge or a tunnel or a
culvert, and be back in the Belgian lines again almost before the
enemy realized what had happened.

I witnessed an example of the cool daring of these mitrailleuse
drivers during the fighting around Malines. Standing on a railway
embankment, I was watching the withdrawal under heavy fire of the
last Belgian troops, when an armoured car, the lean muzzle of its
machine-gun peering from its turret, tore past me at fifty miles an
hour, spitting a murderous spray of lead as it bore down on the
advancing Germans. But when within a few hundred yards of the
German line the car slackened speed and stopped. Its petrol was
exhausted. Instantly one of the crew was out in the road and, under
cover of the fire from the machine-gun, began to refill the tank.
Though bullets were kicking up spurts of dust in the road or
ping-pinging against the steel turret he would not be hurried. I,
who was watching the scene through my field-glasses, was much more
excited than he was. Then, when the tank was filled, the car refused
to back! It was a big machine and the narrow road was bordered on
either side by deep ditches, but by a miracle the driver was able--
and just able--to turn the car round. Though by this time the German
gunners had the range and shrapnel was bursting all about him, he
was as cool as though he were turning a limousine in the width of
Piccadilly. As the car straightened out for its retreat, the Belgians
gave the Germans a jeering screech from their horn, and a parting
blast of lead from their machine-gun and went racing Antwerpwards.

It is, by the way, a curious and interesting fact that the machine-gun
used in both the Belgian and Russian armoured cars, and which is
one of the most effective weapons produced by the war, was
repeatedly offered to the American War Department by its inventor,
Major Isaac Newton Lewis, of the United States army, and was as
repeatedly rejected by the officials at Washington. At last, in despair
of receiving recognition in his own country, he sold it to Russia and
Belgium. The Lewis gun, which is air-cooled and weighs only
twenty-nine pounds--less than half the weight of a soldier's
equipment--fires a thousand shots a minute. In the fighting around
Sempst I saw trees as large round as a man's thigh literally cut
down by the stream of lead from these weapons.

The inventor of the Lewis gun was not the only American who
played an inconspicuous but none the less important part in the War
of Nations. A certain American corporation doing business in
Belgium placed its huge Antwerp plant and the services of its corps
of skilled engineers at the service of the Government, though I
might add that this fact was kept carefully concealed, being known
to only a handful of the higher Belgian officials. This concern made
shells and other ammunition for the Belgian army; it furnished
aeroplanes and machine-guns; it constructed miles of barbed-wire
entanglements and connected those entanglements with the city
lighting system; one of its officers went on a secret mission to
England and brought back with him a supply of cordite, not to
mention six large-calibre guns which he smuggled through Dutch
territorial waters hidden in the steamer's coal bunkers. And, as
though all this were not enough, the Belgian Government confided
to this foreign corporation the minting of the national currency. For
obvious reasons I am not at liberty to mention the name of this
concern, though it is known to practically every person in the United
States, each month cheques being sent to the parent concern by
eight hundred thousand people in New York alone.

Incidentally it publishes the most widely read volume in the world. I
wish that I might tell you the name of this concern. Upon second
thought, I think I will. It is the American Bell Telephone Company.

IV. Under The German Eagle

When, upon the approach of the Germans to Brussels, the
Government and the members of the Diplomatic Corps fled to
Antwerp, the American Minister, Mr. Brand Whitlock, did not
accompany them. In view of the peculiar position occupied by the
United States as the only Great Power not involved in hostilities, he
felt, and, as it proved, quite rightly, that he could be of more service
to Belgium and to Brussels and to the cause of humanity in general
by remaining behind. There remained with him the secretary of
legation, Mr. Hugh S. Gibson. Mr. Whitlock's reasons for remaining
in Brussels were twofold. In the first place, there were a large
number of English and Americans, both residents and tourists, who
had been either unable or unwilling to leave the city, and who, he
felt, were entitled to diplomatic protection. Secondly, the behaviour
of the German troops in other Belgian cities had aroused grave
fears of what would happen when they entered Brussels, and it was
generally felt that the presence of the American Minister might deter
them from committing the excesses and outrages which up to that
time had characterized their advance. It was no secret that
Germany was desperately anxious to curry favour with the United
States, and it was scarcely likely, therefore, that houses would be
sacked and burnt, civilians executed and women violated under the
disapproving eyes of the American representative. This surmise
proved to be well founded. The Germans did not want Mr. Whitlock
in Brussels, and nothing would have pleased them better than to
have had him depart and leave them to their own devices, but, so
long as he blandly ignored their hints that his room was preferable to
his company and persisted in sitting tight, they submitted to his
surveillance with the best grace possible and behaved themselves
as punctiliously as a dog that has been permitted to come into a
parlour. After the civil administration had been established,
however, and Belgium had become, in theory at least, a German
province, Mr. Whitlock was told quite plainly that the kingdom to
which he was accredited had ceased to exist as an independent
nation, and that Anglo-American affairs in Belgium could
henceforward be entrusted to the American Ambassador at Berlin.
But Mr. .Whitlock, who had received his training in shirt-sleeve
diplomacy as Socialist Mayor of Toledo, Ohio, was as impervious to
German suggestions as he had been to the threats and pleadings
of party politicians, and told Baron von der Golz, the German
Governor, politely but quite firmly, that he did not take his orders
from Berlin but from Washington. "Gott in Himmel!" exclaimed the
Germans, shrugging their shoulders despairingly, "what is to be
done with such a man?"

Before the Germans had been in occupation of Brussels a fortnight
the question of food for the poorer classes became a serious and
pressing problem. The German armies, in their onset toward the
west, had swept the Belgian country-side bare; the products of the
farms and gardens in the immediate vicinity of the city had been
commandeered for the use of the garrison, and the spectre of
starvation was already beginning to cast its dread shadow over
Brussels. Mr. Whitlock acted with promptness and decision. He sent
Americans, who had volunteered their services, to Holland to
purchase food-stuffs, and at the same time informed the German
commander that he expected these food-stuffs to be admitted
without hindrance. The German replied that he could not comply
with this request without first communicating with his Imperial
master, whereupon he was told, in effect, that the American Government
would consider him personally responsible if the food-stuffs were
delayed or diverted for military use and a famine ensued in
consequence. The firmness of Mr. Whitlock's attitude had its
effect, for at seven o'clock the next morning he received word
that his wishes would be complied with. As a result of the German
occupation, Brussels, with its six hundred thousand inhabitants, was
as completely cut off from communication with the outside world as
though it were on an island in the South Pacific. The postal,
telegraph and telephone services were suspended; the railways
were blocked with troop trains moving westward; the roads were
filled from ditch to ditch with troops and transport wagons; and so
tightly were the lines drawn between that portion of Belgium
occupied by the Germans and that still held by the Belgians, that
those daring souls who attempted to slip through the cordons of
sentries did so at peril of their lives. It sounds almost incredible
that a great city could be so effectually isolated, yet so it was.
Even the Cabinet Ministers and other officials who had accompanied the
Government in its flight to Antwerp were unable to learn what had
befallen the families which they had in many cases left behind them.

After nearly three weeks had passed without word from the American
Legation, the Department of State cabled the American Consul-General
at Antwerp that some means of communicating with Mr. Whitlock must be
found. Happening to be in the Consulate when the message was received,
I placed my services and my car at the disposal of the Consul-General,
who promptly accepted them. Upon learning of my proposed jaunt into
the enemy's lines, a friend, Mr. M. Manly Whedbee, the director of the
Belgian branch of the British-American Tobacco Company, offered to
accompany me, and as he is as cool-headed and courageous and
companionable as anyone I know, and as he knew as much about driving
the car as I did--for it was obviously impossible to take my Belgian
driver--I was only too glad to have him with me. It was, indeed, due
to Mr. Whedbee's foresight in taking along a huge quantity of
cigarettes for distribution among the soldiers, that we were able to
escape from Brussels. But more of that episode hereafter.

When the Consul-General asked General Dufour, the military
governor of Antwerp, to issue us a safe conduct through the Belgian
lines, that gruff old soldier at first refused flatly, asserting that as
the German outposts had been firing on cars bearing the Red
Cross flag, there was no assurance that they would respect one
bearing the Stars and Stripes. The urgency of the matter being
explained to him, however, he reluctantly issued the necessary
laisser-passer, though intimating quite plainly that our mission
would probably end in providing "more work for the undertaker,
another little job for the casket-maker," and that he washed his
hands of all responsibility for our fate. But by two American
flags mounted on the windshield, and the explanatory legends
"Service Consulaire des Etats-Unis d'Amerique" and "Amerikanischer
Consular dienst" painted in staring letters on the hood, we
hoped to make it quite clear to Germans and Belgians alike
that we were protected by the international game-laws so far
as shooting us was concerned.

Now the disappointing thing about our trip was that we didn't
encounter any Uhlans. Every one had warned us so repeatedly
about Uhlans that we fully expected to find them, with their
pennoned lances and their square-topped schapskas, lurking
behind every hedge, and when they did not come spurring out to
intercept us we were greatly disappointed. It was like making a
journey to the polar regions and seeing no Esquimaux. The smart
young cavalry officer who bade us good-bye at the Belgian
outposts, warned us to keep our eyes open for them and said,
rather mournfully, I thought, that he only hoped they would give us
time to explain who we were before they opened fire on us. "They
are such hasty fellows, these Uhlans," said he, "always shooting first
and making inquiries afterward." As a matter of fact, the only Uhlan
we saw on the entire trip was riding about Brussels in a cab,
smoking a large porcelain pipe and with his spurred boots resting
comfortably on the cushions.

Though we crept along as circumspectly as a motorist who knows
that he is being trailed by a motor-cycle policeman, peering behind
farmhouses and hedges and into the depths of thickets and
expecting any moment to hear a gruff command, emphasized by
the bang of a carbine, it was not until we were at the very outskirts
of Aerschot that we encountered the Germans. There were a
hundred of them, so cleverly ambushed behind a hedge that we
would never have suspected their presence had we not caught the
glint of sunlight on their rifle-barrels. We should not have gotten
much nearer, in any event, for they had a wire neatly strung across
the road at just the right height to take us under the chins. When we
were within a hundred yards of the hedge an officer in a trailing grey
cloak stepped into the middle of the road and held up his hand.


I jammed on the brakes so suddenly that we nearly went through
the windshield.

"Get out of the automobile and stand well away from it," the officer
commanded in German. We got out very promptly.

"One of you advance alone, with his hands up."

I advanced alone, but not with my hands up. It is such an
undignified position. I had that shivery feeling chasing up and down
my spine which came from knowing that I was covered by a
hundred rifles, and that if I made a move which seemed suspicious
to the men behind those rifles, they would instantly transform me
into a sieve.

"Are you English?" the officer demanded, none too pleasantly.

"No, American," said I.

"Oh, that's all right," said he, his manner instantly thawing. "I know
America well," he continued, "Atlantic City and Asbury Park and
Niagara Falls and Coney Island. I have seen all of your famous

Imagine, if you please, standing in the middle of a Belgian highway,
surrounded by German soldiers who looked as though they would
rather shoot you than not, discussing the relative merits of the hotels
at Atlantic City and which had the best dining-car service, the
Pennsylvania or the New York Central!

I learned from the officer, who proved to be an exceedingly
agreeable fellow, that had we advanced ten feet further after the
command to halt was given, we should probably have been planted
in graves dug in a nearby potato field, as only an hour before our
arrival a Belgian mitrailleuse car had torn down the road with its
machine-gun squirting a stream of lead, and had smashed straight
through the German line, killing three men and wounding a dozen
others. They were burying them when we appeared. When our big
grey machine hove in sight they not unnaturally took us for another
armoured car and prepared to give us a warm reception. It was a
lucky thing for us that our brakes worked quickly.

We were the first foreigners to see Aerschot, or rather what was left
of Aerschot after it had been sacked and burned by the Germans. A
few days before Aerschot had been a prosperous and happy town
of ten thousand people. When we saw it it was but a heap of
smoking ruins, garrisoned by a battalion of German soldiers, and
with its population consisting of half a hundred white-faced women.
In many parts of the world I have seen many terrible and revolting
things, but nothing so ghastly, so horrifying as Aerschot. Quite
two-thirds of the houses had been burned and showed unmistakable
signs of having been sacked by a maddened soldiery before they
were burned. Everywhere were the ghastly evidences. Doors had
been smashed in with rifle-butts and boot-heels; windows had been
broken; furniture had been wantonly destroyed; pictures had been
torn from the walls; mattresses had been ripped open with bayonets in
search of valuables; drawers had been emptied upon the floors; the
outer walls of the houses were spattered with blood and pock-marked
with bullets; the sidewalks were slippery with broken wine-bottles;
the streets were strewn with women's clothing. It needed no one to
tell us the details of that orgy of blood and lust. The story was
so plainly written that anyone could read it.

For a mile we drove the car slowly between the blackened walls of
fire-gutted buildings. This was no accidental conflagration, mind you,
for scattered here and there were houses which stood undamaged
and in every such case there was scrawled with chalk upon their
doors "Gute Leute. Nicht zu plundern." (Good people. Do not

The Germans went about the work of house-burning as
systematically as they did everything else. They had various devices
for starting conflagrations, all of them effective. At Aerschot and
Louvain they broke the windows of the houses and threw in sticks
which had been soaked in oil and dipped in sulphur. Elsewhere they
used tiny, black tablets, about the size of cough lozenges, made of
some highly inflammable composition, to which they touched a
match. At Termonde, which they destroyed in spite of the fact that
the inhabitants had evacuated the city before their arrival, they used
a motor-car equipped with a large tank for petrol, a pump, a hose,
and a spraying-nozzle. The car was run slowly through the streets,
one soldier working the pump and another spraying the fronts of the
houses. Then they set fire to them. Oh, yes, they were very
methodical about it all, those Germans.

Despite the scowls of the soldiers, I attempted to talk with some of
the women huddled in front of a bakery waiting for a distribution of
bread, but the poor creatures were too terror-stricken to do more
than stare at us with wide, beseeching eyes. Those eyes will always
haunt me. I wonder if they do not sometimes haunt the Germans.
But a little episode that occurred as we were leaving the city did
more than anything else to bring home the horror of it all. We
passed a little girl of nine or ten and I stopped the car to ask the
way. Instantly she held both hands above her head and began to
scream for mercy. When we had given her some chocolate and
money, and had assured her that we were not Germans, but
Americans and friends, she ran like a frightened deer. That little
child, with her fright-wide eyes and her hands raised in supplication,
was in herself a terrible indictment of the Germans.

There are, as might be expected, two versions of the happenings
which precipitated that night of horrors in Aerschot. The German
version--I had it from the German commander himself--is to the
effect that after the German troops had entered Aerschot, the Chief
of Staff and some of the officers were asked to dinner by the
burgomaster. While they were seated at the table the son of the
burgomaster, a boy of fifteen, entered the room with a revolver and
killed the Chief of Staff, whereupon, as though at a prearranged
signal, the townspeople opened fire from their windows upon the
troops. What followed--the execution of the burgomaster, his son,
and several score of the leading townsmen, the giving over of the
women to a lust-mad soldiery, the sacking of the houses, and the
final burning of the town--was the punishment which would always
be meted out to towns whose inhabitants attacked German soldiers.

Now, up to a certain point the Belgian version agrees with the
German. It is admitted that the Germans entered the town
peaceably enough, that the German Chief of Staff and other officers
accepted the hospitality of the burgomaster, and that, while they
were at dinner, the burgomaster's son entered the room and shot
the Chief of Staff dead with a revolver. But--and this is the point to
which the German story makes no allusion--the boy killed the Chief
of Staff in defence of his sister's honour. It is claimed that toward the
end of the meal the German officer, inflamed with wine, informed
the burgomaster that he intended to pass the night with his young
and beautiful daughter, whereupon the girl's brother quietly slipped
from the room and, returning a moment later, put a sudden end to
the German's career with an automatic. What the real truth is I do
not know. Perhaps no one knows. The Germans did not leave many
eye-witnesses to tell the story of what happened. Piecing together
the stories told by those who did survive that night of horror, we
know that scores of the townspeople were shot down in cold blood
and that, when the firing squads could not do the work of slaughter
fast enough, the victims were lined up and a machine-gun was
turned upon them. We know that young girls were dragged from
their homes and stripped naked and violated by soldiers--many
soldiers--in the public square in the presence of officers. We know
that both men and women were unspeakably mutilated, that
children were bayoneted, that dwellings were ransacked and looted,
and that finally, as though to destroy the evidences of their horrid
work, soldiers went from house to house with torches, methodically
setting fire to them.

It was with a feeling of repulsion amounting almost to nausea that
we left what had once been Aerschot behind us. The road leading to
Louvain was alive with soldiery, and we were halted every few
minutes by German patrols. Had not the commanding officer in
Aerschot detailed two bicyclists to accompany us I doubt if we
should have gotten through. Whedbee had had the happy idea of
bringing along a thousand packets of cigarettes--the tonneau of the
car was literally filled with them--and we tossed a packet to every
German soldier that we saw. You could have followed our trail for
thirty miles by the cigarettes we left behind us. As it turned out,
they were the means of saving us from being detained within the
German lines.

Thanks to our American flags, to the nature of our mission, and to
our wholesale distribution of cigarettes, we were passed from
outpost to outpost and from regimental headquarters to regimental
headquarters until we reached Louvain. Here we came upon
another scene of destruction and desolation. Nearly half the city was
in ashes. Most of the principal streets were impassable from fallen
masonry. The splendid avenues and boulevards were lined on
either side by the charred skeletons of what had once been
handsome buildings. The fronts of many of the houses were
smeared with crimson stains. In comparison to its size, the
Germans had wrought more widespread destruction in Louvain than
did the earthquake and fire combined in San Francisco. The looting
had evidently been unrestrained. The roads for miles in either
direction were littered with furniture and bedding and clothing. Such
articles as the soldiers could not carry away they wantonly
destroyed. Hangings had been torn down, pictures on the walls had
been smashed, the contents of drawers and trunks had been
emptied into the streets, literally everything breakable had been
broken. This is not from hearsay, remember; I saw it with my own
eyes. And the amazing feature of it all was that among the Germans
there seemed to be no feeling of regret, no sense of shame.
Officers in immaculate uniforms strolled about among the ruins,
chatting and laughing and smoking. At one place a magnificent
mahogany dining-table had been dragged into the middle of the
road and about it, sprawled in carved and tapestry-covered chairs, a
dozen German infantrymen were drinking beer.

Just as there are two versions of the destruction of Aerschot, so
there are two versions, though in this case widely different, of the
events which led up to the destruction of Louvain. It should be borne
in mind, to begin with, that Louvain was not destroyed by
bombardment or in the heat of battle, for the Germans had entered
it unopposed, and had been in undisputed possession for several
days. The Germans assert that a conspiracy, fomented by the
burgomaster, the priests and many of the leading citizens, existed
among the townspeople, who planned to suddenly fall upon and
exterminate the garrison. They claim that, in pursuance of this plan,
on the night of August 26, the inhabitants opened a murderous fire
upon the unsuspecting troops from house-tops, doors and windows;
that a fierce street battle ensued, in which a number of women and
children were unfortunately killed by stray bullets; and that, in
retaliation for this act of treachery, a number of the inhabitants were
executed and a portion of the city was burned. Notwithstanding the
fact that, as soon as the Germans entered the city, they searched it
thoroughly for concealed weapons, they claim that the townspeople
were not only well supplied with rifles and ammunition, but that they
even opened on them from their windows with machine-guns.
Though it seems scarcely probable that the inhabitants of Louvain
would attempt so mad an enterprise as to attack an overwhelming
force of Germans--particularly with the terrible lesson of Aerschot
still fresh in their minds--I do not care to express any opinion as to
the truth of the German assertions.

The Belgians tell quite a different story. They say that, as the result
of a successful Belgian offensive movement to the south of Malines,
the German troops retreated in something closely akin to panic, one
division falling back, after nightfall, upon Louvain. In the inky
blackness the garrison, mistaking the approaching troops for
Belgians, opened a deadly fire upon them. When the mistake was
discovered the Germans, partly in order to cover up their disastrous
blunder and partly to vent their rage and chagrin, turned upon the
townspeople in a paroxysm of fury. A scene of indescribable terror
ensued, the soldiers, who had broken into the wine-shops and
drunk themselves into a state of frenzy, practically running amuck,
breaking in doors and shooting at every one they saw. That some of
the citizens snatched up such weapons as came to hand and
defended their homes and their women no one attempts to deny--
but this scattered and pitifully ineffectual resistance gave the
Germans the very excuse they were seeking. The citizens had
attacked them and they would teach the citizens, both of Louvain
and of other cities which they might enter, a lasting lesson. They did.
No Belgian will ever forget--or forgive--that lesson. The orgy of blood
and lust and destruction lasted for two days. Several American
correspondents, among them Mr. Richard Harding Davis, who were
being taken by train from Brussels to Germany, and who were held
for some hours in the station at Louvain during the first night's
massacre, have vividly described the horrors which they witnessed
from their car window. On the second day, Mr. Hugh S. Gibson,
secretary of the American Legation in Brussels, accompanied by the
Swedish and Mexican charges, drove over to Louvain in a taxi-cab.
Mr. Gibson told me that the Germans had dragged chairs and a
dining-table from a nearby house into the middle of the square in
front of the station and that some officers, already considerably the
worse for drink, insisted that the three diplomatists join them in a
bottle of wine. And this while the city was burning and rifles were
cracking, and the dead bodies of men and women lay sprawled in
the streets! From the windows of plundered and fire-blackened
houses in both Aerschot and Louvain and along the road between,
hung white flags made from sheets and tablecloths and pillow-
cases--pathetic appeals for the mercy which was not granted.

If Belgium wishes to keep alive in the minds of her people the
recollection of German military barbarism, if she desires to inculcate
the coming generations with the horrors and miseries of war, if she
would perpetuate the memories of the innocent townspeople who
were slaughtered because they were Belgians, then she can
effectually do it by preserving the ruins of Aerschot and Louvain,
just as the ruins of Pompeii are preserved. Fence in these
desolated cities; leave the shattered doors and the broken furniture
as they are; let the bullet marks and the bloodstains remain, and it
will do more than all the sermons that can be preached, than all the
pictures that can be painted, than all the books that can be written,
to drive home a realization of what is meant by that dreadful thing
called War.

The distance from Louvain to Brussels is in the neighbourhood of
twenty miles, and our car with its fluttering flags sped between lines
of cheering people all the way. Men stood by the roadside with
uncovered heads as they saw the Stars and Stripes whirl by;
women waved their handkerchiefs while tears coursed down their
cheeks. As we neared Brussels news of our coming spread, and
soon we were passing between solid walls of Belgians who waved
hats and canes and handkerchiefs and screamed, "Vive l'Amerique!
Vive l'Amerique!" I am not ashamed to say that a lump came in my
throat and tears dimmed my eyes. To these helpless, homeless,
hopeless people, the red-white-and-blue banner that streamed from
our windshield really was a flag of the free.

Brussels we found as quiet and orderly as London on a Sunday
morning. So far as streets scenes went we might have been in
Berlin. German officers and soldiers were scattered everywhere,
lounging at the little iron tables in front of the cafes, or dining
in the restaurants or strolling along the tree-shaded boulevards as
unconcernedly as though they were in the Fatherland. Many of the
officers had brought high, red-wheeled dogcarts with them, and
were pleasure-driving in the outskirts of the city; others,
accompanied by women who may or may not have been their
wives, were picnicking in the Bois. Brussels had become, to all
outward appearances at least, a German city. German flags
flaunted defiantly from the roofs of the public buildings, several of
which, including the Hotel de Ville, the Palais de Justice and the
Cathedral, were reported to have been mined. In the whole of the
great city not a single Belgian flag was to be seen. The Belgian
police were still performing their routine duties under German
direction. The royal palace had been converted into a hospital for
German wounded. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was occupied by
the German General Staff. The walls and hoardings were plastered
with proclamations signed by the military governor warning the
inhabitants of the penalties which they would incur should they
molest the German troops. The great square in front of the Gare du
Nord, which was being used as a barracks, was guarded by a line of
sentries, and no one but Germans in uniform were permitted to
cross it. One other person did cross it, however, German
regulations and sentries notwithstanding. Whedbee and I were
lunching on Sunday noon in the front of the Palace Hotel, when a
big limousine flying the American flag drew up on the other side of
the square and Mr. Julius Van Hee, the American Vice-Consul at
Ghent, jumped out. He caught sight of us at the same moment that
we saw him and started across the square toward us. He had not
gone a dozen paces before a sentry levelled his rifle and gruffly
commanded him to halt.

"Go back!" shouted the sentry. "To walk across the square
forbidden is."

"Go to the devil!" shouted back Van Hee. "And stop pointing that
gun at me, or I'll come over and knock that spiked helmet of yours
off. I'm American, and I've more right here than you have."

This latter argument being obviously unanswerable, the befuddled
sentry saw nothing for it but to let him pass.

Van Hee had come to Brussels, he told us, for the purpose of
obtaining some vaccine, as the supply in Ghent was running short,
and the authorities were fearful of an epidemic. He also brought with
him a package of letters from the German officers, many of them of
distinguished families, who had been captured by the Belgians and
were imprisoned at Bruges. When Van Hee had obtained his
vaccine, he called on General von Ludewitz and requested a safe
conduct back to Ghent.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Van Hee," said the general, who had married an
American and spoke English like a New Yorker, "but there's nothing
doing. We can't permit anyone to leave Brussels at present.
Perhaps in a few days--"

"A few days won't do, General," Van Hee interrupted, "I must go
back to-day, at once."

"I regret to say that for the time being it is quite impossible,"
said the general firmly.

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