Part 1 out of 7
Produced by A. Langley
My Year Of The War
Including An Account Of Experiences
With The Troops In France, And The
Record Of A Visit To The Grand
Fleet, Which Is Here Given
For The First Time In
Its Complete Form
By Frederick Palmer
(Accredited American Correspondent at the British Front)
To The Reader
I. "Le Brave Belge!"
II. Mons And Paris
III. Paris Waits
IV. On The Heels Of Von Kluck
V. And Calais Waits
VI. In Germany
VII. How The Kaiser Leads
VIII. In Belgium Under The Germans
IX. Christmas In Belgium
X. The Future Of Belgium
XI. Winter In Lorraine
XII. Smiles Among Ruins
XIII. A Road Of War I Know
XIV. Trenches In Winter
XV. In Neuve Chapelle
XVI. Nearer The Germans
XVII. With The Guns
XVIII. Archibald The Archer
XIX. Trenches In Summer
XX. A School In Bombing
XXI. My Best Day At The Front
XXII. More Best Day
XXIII. Winning And Losing
XXIV. The Maple Leaf Folk
XXV. Many Pictures
XXVI. Finding The Grand Fleet
XXVII. On A Destroyer
XXVIII. Ships That Have Fought
XXIX. On The Inflexible
XXX. On The Fleet Flagship
XXXI. Simply Hard Work
XXII. Hunting The Submarine
XXXIII. The Fleet Puts To Sea
XXIV. British Problems
To the Reader
In 'The Last Shot', which appeared only a few months before the
Great War began, drawing from my experience in many wars, I
attempted to describe the character of a conflict between two great
European land-powers, such as France and Germany.
"You were wrong in some ways," a friend writes to me, "but in other
ways it is almost as if you had written a play and they were following
your script and stage business."
Wrong as to the duration of the struggle and its bitterness and the
atrocious disregard of treaties and the laws of war by one side; right
about the part which artillery would play; right in suggesting the
stalemate of intrenchments when vast masses of troops occupied the
length of a frontier. Had the Germans not gone through Belgium and
attacked on the shorter line of the Franco-German boundary, the
parallel of fact with that of prediction would have been more
complete. As for the ideal of 'The Last Shot', we must await the
outcome to see how far it shall be fulfilled by a lasting peace.
Then my friend asks, "How does it make you feel?" Not as a prophet;
only as an eager observer, who finds that imagination pales beside
reality. If sometimes an incident seemed a page out of my novel, I
was reminded how much better I might have done that page from life;
and from life I am writing now.
I have seen too much of the war and yet not enough to assume the
pose of a military expert; which is easy when seated in a chair at
home before maps and news dispatches, but becomes fantastic after
one has lived at the front. One waits on more information before he
forms conclusions about campaigns. He is certain only that the Marne
was a decisive battle for civilization; that if England had not gone into
the war the Germanic Powers would have won in three months.
No words can exaggerate the heroism and sacrifice of the French or
the importance of the part which the British have played, which we
shall not realize till the war is over. In England no newspapers were
suppressed; casualty lists were published; she gave publicity to
dissensions and mistakes which others concealed, in keeping with
her ancient birthright of free institutions which work out conclusions
through discussion rather than take them ready-made from any ruler
Whatever value this book has is the reflection of personal
observation and the thoughts which have occurred to me when I
have walked around my experiences and measured them and found
what was worth while and what was not. Such as they are, they are
Most vital of all in sheer expression of military power was the visit to
the British Grand Fleet; most humanly appealing, the time spent in
Belgium under German rule; most dramatic, the French victory on the
Marne; most precious, my long stay at the British front.
A traveller's view I had of Germany in the early period of the war; but I
was never with the German army, which made Americans particularly
welcome for obvious reasons. Between right and wrong one cannot
be a neutral. In foregoing the diversion of shaking hands and passing
the time of day on the Germanic fronts, I escaped any bargain with
my conscience by accepting the hospitality of those warring for a
cause and in a manner obnoxious to me. I was among friends, living
the life of one army and seeing war in all its aspects from day to day,
instead of having tourist glimpses.
Chapters which deal with the British army in France and with the
British fleet have been submitted to the censor. Though the censor
may delete military secrets, he may not prompt opinions. Whatever
notes of praise and of affection which you may read between the
lines or in them spring from the mind and heart. Undemonstratively,
cheerily as they would go for a walk, with something of old-fashioned
chivalry, the British went to death.
Their national weaknesses and strength, revealed under external
differences by association, are more akin to ours than we shall realize
until we face our own inevitable crisis. Though one's ancestors had
been in America for nearly three centuries, he was continually finding
how much of custom, of law, of habit, and of instinct he had in
common with them; and how Americans who were not of British blood
also shared these as an applied inheritance that has been the most
formative element in the American crucible.
My grateful acknowledgments are due to the American press
associations who considered me worthy to be the accredited
American correspondent at the British front, and to Collier's and
Everybody's; and may an author who has not had the opportunity to
read proofs request the reader's indulgence.
FREDERICK PALMER. British Headquarters, France.
My Year Of The War
"Le Brave Belge!"
The rush from Monterey, in Mexico, when a telegram said that
general European war was inevitable; the run and jump on board the
Lusitania at New York the night that war was declared by England
against Germany; the Atlantic passage on the liner of ineffaceable
memory, a suspense broken by fragments of war news by wireless;
the arrival in England before the war was a week old; the journey to
Belgium in the hope of reaching the scene of action!--as I write, all
seem to have the perspective of history, so final are the processes of
war, so swift their execution, and so eager is everyone for each day's
developments. As one grows older the years seem shorter; but the
first year of the Great War is the longest year most of us have ever
Le brave Belge! One must be honest about him. The man who lets
his heart run away with his judgment does his mind an injustice. A
fellow-countryman who was in London and fresh from home in the
eighth month of the war, asked me for my views of the relative
efficiency of the different armies engaged.
"Do you mean that I am to speak without regard to personal
sympathies?" I asked.
"Certainly," he replied.
When he had my opinion he exclaimed:
"You have mentioned them all except the Belgian army. I thought it
was the best of all."
"Is that what they think at home?" I asked.
"Yes, of course."
"The Atlantic is broad," I suggested.
This man of affairs, an exponent of the efficiency of business, was a
sentimentalist when it came to war, as Anglo-Saxons usually are. The
side which they favour--that is the efficient side. When I ventured to
suggest that the Belgian army, in a professional sense, was hardly to
be considered as an army, it was clear that he had ceased to
associate my experience with any real knowledge.
In business he was one who saw his rivals, their abilities, the
organization of their concerns, and their resources of competition with
a clear eye. He could say of his best personal friend: "I like him, but
he has a poor head for affairs." Yet he was the type who, if he had
been a trained soldier, would have been a business man of war who
would have wanted a sharp, ready sword in a well-trained hand and
to leave nothing to chance in a battle for the right. In Germany, where
some of the best brains of the country are given to making war a
business, he might have been a soldier who would rise to a position
on the staff. In America he was the employer of three thousand men--
a general of civil life.
"But look how the Belgians have fought!" he exclaimed. "They
stopped the whole German army for two weeks!"
The best army was best because it had his sympathy. His view was
the popular view in America: the view of the heart. America saw the
pigmy fighting the giant rather than let him pass over Belgian soil.
On that day when a gallant young king cried, "To arms!" all his
people became gallant to the imagination.
When I think of Belgium's part in the war I always think of the little
Belgian dog, the schipperke who lives on the canal boats. He is a
home-staying dog, loyal, affectionate, domestic, who never goes out
on the tow-path to pick quarrels with other dogs; but let anything on
two or four feet try to go on board when his master is away and he will
fight with every ounce of strength in him. The King had the
schipperke spirit. All the Belgians who had the schipperke spirit
tried to sink their teeth in the calves of the invader.
One's heart was with the Belgians on that eighteenth day of August,
1914, when one set out toward the front in a motor-car from a
Brussels rejoicing over bulletins of victory, its streets walled with
bunting; but there was something brewing in one's mind which was as
treason to one's desires. Let Brussels enjoy its flags and its capture
of German cavalry patrols while it might!
On the hills back of Louvain we came upon some Belgian troops in
their long, cumbersome coats, dark silhouettes against the field,
digging shallow trenches in an uncertain sort of way. Whether it was
due to the troops or to Belgian staff officers hurrying by in their cars, I
had the impression of the will and not the way and a parallel of raw
militia in uniforms taken from grandfather's trunk facing the trained
antagonists of an Austerlitz, or a Waterloo, or a Gettysburg.
Le brave Beige! The question on that day was not, Are you brave?
but, Do you know how to fight? Also, Would the French and the
British arrive in time to help you? Of a thousand rumours about the
positions of the French and the British armies, one was as good as
another. All the observer knew was that he was an atom in a motor-
car and all he saw for the defence of Belgium was a regiment of
Belgians digging trenches. He need not have been in Belgium before
to realize that here was an unwarlike people, living by intensive thrift
and caution--a most domesticated civilization in the most thickly-
populated workshop in Europe, counting every blade of grass and
every kernel of wheat and making its pleasures go a long way at
small cost; a hothouse of a land, with the door about to be opened to
the withering blast of war.
Out of the Hotel de Ville at Louvain, as our car halted by the cathedral
door, came an elderly French officer, walking with a light, quick step,
his cloak thrown back over his shoulders, and hurriedly entered a car;
and after him came a tall British officer, walking more slowly,
imperturbably, as a man who meant to let nothing disturb him or beat
him--both characteristic types of race. This was the break-up of the
last military conference held at Louvain, which had now ceased to be
How little you knew and how much they knew! The sight of them was
helpful. One was the representative of a force of millions of
Frenchman; of the army. I had always believed in the French army,
and have more reason now than ever to believe in it. There was no
doubt that if a French corps and a German corps were set the task of
marching a hundred miles to a strategic position, the French would
arrive first and win the day in a pitched battle. But no one knew this
better than that German Staff whose superiority, as von Moltke said,
would always ensure victory. Was the French army ready? Could it
bring the fullness of its strength into the first and perhaps the deciding
shock of arms? Where was the French army?
The other officer who came out of the Hotel de Ville was the
representative of a little army--a handful of regulars--hard as nails and
ready to the last button. Where was the British army? The restaurant
keeper where we had luncheon at Louvain--he knew. He whispered
his military secret to me. The British army was toward Antwerp,
waiting to crush the Germans in the flank should they advance on
Brussels. We were "drawing them on!" Most cheerful, most confident,
mine host! When I went back to Louvain under German rule his
restaurant was in ruins.
We were on our way to as near the front as we would go, with a pass
which was written for us by a Belgian reservist in Brussels between
sips of beer brought him by a boy scout. It was a unique, a most
accommodating pass; the only one I have received from the Allies'
side which would have taken me into the German lines.
The front which we saw was in the square of the little town of Haelen,
where some dogs of a dog machine-gun battery lay panting in their
traces. A Belgian officer in command there I recollect for his
passionate repetition of, "Assassins! The barbarians!" which seemed
to choke out any other words whenever he spoke of the Germans.
His was a fresh, livid hate, born of recent fighting. We could go where
we pleased, he said; and the Germans were "out there," not far away.
Very tired he was, except for the flash of hate in his eyes; as tired as
the dogs of the machine-gun battery.
We went outside to see the scene of "the battle," as it was called in
the dispatches; a field in the first flush of the war, where the headless
lances of Belgian and German cavalrymen were still scattered about.
The peasants had broken off the lance-heads for the steel, which was
something to pay for the grain smouldering in the barn which had
been shelled and burned.
A battle! It was a battle because the reporters could get some
account of it, and the fighting in Alsace was hidden under the cloud of
secrecy. A superficial survey was enough to show that it had been
only a reconnaissance by the Germans with some infantry and guns
as well as cavalry. Their defeat had been an incident to the thrust of a
tiny feeling finger of the German octopus for information. The
scouting of the German cavalry patrols here and there had the same
object. Waiting behind hedges or sweeping around in the rear of a
patrol with their own cavalry when the word came by telephone, the
Belgians bagged many a German, man and horse, dead and alive.
Brussels and London and New York, too, thrilled over these exploits
supplied to eager readers. It was the Uhlan week of the war; for every
German cavalryman was a Uhlan, according to popular conception.
These Uhlans seemed to have more temerity than sense from the
accounts that you read. But if one out of a dozen of these mounted
youths, with horses fresh and a trooper's zest in the first flush of war,
returned to say that he had ridden to such and such points without
finding any signs of British or French forces, he had paid for the loss
of the others. The Germans had plenty of cavalry. They used it as the
eyes of the army, in co-operation with the aerial eyes of the planes.
A peasant woman came out of the house beside the battlefield with
her children around her; a flat-chested, thin woman, prematurely old
with toil. "Les Anglais!" she cried at sight of us. Seeing that we had
some lances in the car, she rushed into her house and brought out
half a dozen more. If the English wanted lances they should have
them. She knew only a few words of French, not enough to express
the question which she made understood by gestures. Her eyes were
burning with appeal to us and flashing with hate as she shook her fist
toward the Germans.
When were the English coming? All her trust was in the English, the
invincible English, to save her country. Probably the average
European would have passed her by as an excited peasant woman.
But pitiful she was to me, more pitiful than the raging officer and his
dog battery, or the infantry awkwardly intrenching back of Louvain, or
flag-bedecked Brussels believing in victory: one of the Belgians with
the true schipperke spirit. She was shaking her fist at a dam which
was about to burst in a flood.
It was strange to an American, who comes from a land where
everyone learns a single language, English, that she and her
ancestors, through centuries of living neighbour in a thickly-populated
country to people who speak French and to French civilization,
should never have learned to express themselves in any but their
own tongue--singular, almost incredible, tenacity in the age of popular
education! She would save the lance-heads and garner every grain
of wheat; she economized in all but racial animosity. This racial
stubbornness of Europe--perhaps it keeps Europe powerful in jealous
competition of race with race.
The thought that went home was that she did not want the Germans
to come; no Belgian wanted them; and this was the fact decisive in
the scales of justice. She said, as the officer had said, that the
Germans were "out there." Across the fields one saw nothing on that
still August day; no sign of war unless a Taube overhead, the first
enemy aeroplane I had seen in war. For the last two days the
German patrols had ceased to come. Liege, we knew, had fallen.
Looking at the map, we prayed that Namur would hold.
"Out there" beyond the quiet fields, that mighty force which was to
swing through Belgium in flank was massed and ready to move when
the German Staff opened the throttle. A mile or so away a patrol of
Belgian cyclists stopped us as we turned toward Brussels. They were
dust-covered and weary; the voice of their captain was faint with
fatigue. For over two weeks he had been on the hunt of Uhlan
patrols. Another schipperke he, who could not only hate but fight
as best he knew how.
"We had an alarm," he said. "Have you heard anything?"
When we told him no, he pedalled on more slowly, and oh, how
wearily! to the front. Rather pitiful that, too, when you thought of what
was "out there."
One had learned enough to know, without the confidential information
that he received, that the Germans could take Brussels if they chose.
But the people of Brussels still thronged the streets under the
blankets of bunting. If bunting could save Brussels, it was in no
There was a mockery about my dinner that night. The waiter who laid
the white cloth on a marble table was unctuously suggestive as to
menu. Luscious grapes and crisp salad, which Belgian gardeners
grow with meticulous care, I remember of it. You might linger over
your coffee, knowing the truth, and look out at the people who did not
know it. When they were not buying more buttons with the allied
colours, or more flags, or dropping nickel pieces in Red Cross boxes,
they were thronging to the kiosks for the latest edition of the evening
papers, which told them nothing.
A man had to make up his mind. Clearly, he had only to keep in his
room in his hotel in order to have a great experience. He might see
the German troops enter Belgium. His American passport would
protect him as a neutral. He could depend upon the legation to get
him out of trouble.
"Stick to the army you are with!" an eminent American had told me.
"Yes, but I prefer to choose my army," I had replied.
The army I chose was not about to enter Brussels. It was that of
"mine own people" on the side of the schipperke dog machine-gun
battery which I had seen in the streets of Haelen, and the peasant
woman who shook her fist at the invader, and all who had the
My empty appointment as the representative of the American Press
with the British army was, at least, taken seriously by the policeman
at the War Office in London when I returned from trips to Paris. The
day came when it was good for British trenches and gun-positions;
when it was worth all the waiting, because it was the army of my race
Mons And Paris
Back from Belgium to England; then across the Channel again to
Boulogne, where I saw the last of the French garrison march away,
their red trousers a throbbing target along the road. From Boulogne
the British had advanced into Belgium. Now their base was moved on
to Havre. Boulogne, which two weeks before had been cheering
the advent of "Tommee Atkeens" singing "Why should we be
downhearted?" was ominously lifeless. It was a town without soldiers;
a town of brick and mortar and pavements whose very defencelessness
was its best security should the Germans come.
The only British there were a few stray wounded officers and men
who had found their way back from Mons. They had no idea where
the British army was. All they realized were sleepless nights, the
shock of combat, overpowering artillery fire, and resisting the
onslaught of outnumbering masses.
An officer of Lancers, who had ridden through the German cavalry
with his squadron, dwelt on the glory of that moment. What did his
wound matter? It had come with the burst of a shell in a village street
which killed his horse after the charge. He had hobbled away,
reached a railroad train, and got on board. That was all he knew.
A Scotch private had been lying with his battalion in a trench when a
German aeroplane was sighted. It had hardly passed by when
showers of shrapnel descended, and the Germans, in that grey-
green so hard to see, were coming on as thick as locusts. Then the
orders came to fall back, and he was hit as his battalion made
another stand. He had crawled a mile across the fields in the night
with a bullet in his arm. A medical corps officer told him to find any
transportation he could; and he, too, was able to get aboard a train.
That was all he knew.
These wounded had been tossed aside into eddies by the maelstrom
of action. They were interesting because they were the first British
wounded that I had seen; because the war was young.
Back to London again to catch the steamer with an article. One was
to take a season ticket to the war from London as home. It was a
base whence one sallied forth to get peeps through the curtain of
military secrecy at the mighty spectacle. You soaked in England at
intervals and the war at intervals. Whenever you stepped on the pier
at Folkestone it was with a breath of relief, born of a sense of freedom
long associated with fields and hedges on the other side of the chalk
cliffs which seemed to make the sequestering barrier of the sea
Those days of late August and early September, 10.14, were gripping
days to the memory. Eager armies were pressing forward to a
cataclysm no longer of dread imagination but of reality. That ever-
deepening and spreading stain from Switzerland to the North Sea
was as yet only a splash of fresh blood. You still wondered if you
might not wake up in the morning and find the war a nightmare.
Pictures that grow clearer with time, which the personal memory
chooses for its own, dissociate themselves from a background of
They were very quiet, this pair that sat at the next table in the dining-
room of a London hotel. I never spoke to them, but only stole discreet
glances, as we all will in irresistible temptation at any newly-wedded
couple. Neither was of the worldly type. One knew that to this young
girl London was strange; one knew the type of country home which
had given her that simple charm which cities cannot breed; one
knew, too, that this young officer, her husband, waited for word to go
to the front.
Unconsciously she would play with her wedding-ring. She stole covert
glances at it and at him, of the kind that bring a catch in the throat,
when he was not looking at her--which he was most of the time, for
reasons which were good and sufficient to others besides himself.
Apprehended in "wool-gathering," she mustered a smile which was
so exclusively for him that the neighbour felt that he ought to be
forgiven his peeps from the tail of his eye at it because it was so
They attempted little flights of talk about everything except the war.
He was most solicitous that she should have something which she
liked to eat, whilst she was equally solicitous about him. Wasn't he
going "out there?" And out there he would have to live on army fare. It
was all appealing to the old traveller. And then the next morning--she
was alone, after she had given him that precious smile in parting. The
incident was one of the thousands before the war had become an
institution, death a matter of routine, and it was a commonplace for
young wives to see young husbands away to the front with a smile.
One such incident does for all, whether the war be young or old.
There is nothing else to tell, even when you know wife and husband. I
was rather glad that I did not know this pair. If I had known them I
should be looking at the casualty list for his name and I might not
enjoy my faith that he will return alive. These two seemed to me the
best of England. I used to think of them when gossip sought the latest
turn of intrigue under the mantle of censorship, when Parliament
poured out its oral floods and the newspapers their volumes of words.
The man went off to fight; the woman returned to her country home. It
was the hour of war, not of talk.
On that Sunday in London when the truth about Mons appeared stark
to all England, another young man happened to buy a special edition
at a street corner at the same time as myself. By all criteria, the world
and his tailor had treated him well and he deserved well of the world.
We spoke together about the news. Already the new democracy
which the war has developed was in evidence. Everybody had
common thoughts and a common thing at stake, with values
reckoned in lives, and this makes for equality.
"It's clear that we have had a bad knock. Why deny it?" he said. Then
he added quietly, after a pause: "This is a personal call for me. I'm
going to enlist."
England's answer to that "bad knock" was out of her experience. She
had never won at first, but she had always won in the end; she had
won the last battle. The next day's news was worse and the next
day's still worse. The Germans seemed to be approaching Paris by
forced marches. Paris might fall--no matter! Though the French army
were shattered, one heard Englishmen say that the British would
create an army to wrest victory from defeat. The spirit of this was fine,
but one realized the enormity of the task; should the mighty German
machine crush the French machine, the Allies had lost. To say so
then was heresy, when the world was inclined to think poorly of the
French army and saw Russian numbers as irresistible.
The personal call was to Paris before the fate of Paris was to be
decided. My first crossing of the Channel had been to Ostend; the
second, farther south to Boulogne; the third was still farther south, to
Dieppe. Where next? To Havre! Events were moving with the speed
which had been foreseen with myriads of soldiers ready to be thrown
into battle by the quick march of the railroad trains.
Every event was hidden under the "fog of war," then a current
expression--meagre official bulletins which read like hope in their brief
lines, while the imagination might read as it chose between the lines.
The marvel was that any but troop trains should run. All night in that
third-class coach from Dieppe to Paris! Tired and preoccupied
passengers; everyone's heart heavy; everyone's soul wrenched;
everyone prepared for the worst! You cared for no other man's views;
the one thing you wanted was no bad news. France had known that
when the war came it would be to the death. From the first no
Frenchman could have had any illusions. England had not realized
yet that her fate was with the soldiers of France, or France that her
fate and all the world's was with the British fleet.
An Italian in our compartment would talk, however, and he would
keep the topic down to red trousers, and to the red trousers of a
French Territorial opposite, with an index finger when his gesticulatory
knowledge of the French language, which was excellent, came to the
rescue of his verbal knowledge, which was poor. The Frenchman
agreed that red trousers were a mistake, but pointed to the blue
covering which he had for his cap--which made it all right. The Italian
insisted on keeping to the trousers. He talked red trousers till the
Frenchman got out at his station, and then turned to me to confirm
his views on this fatal strategic and tactical error of the French. After
all, he was more pertinent than most of the military experts trying to
write on the basis of the military bulletins. It was droll to listen to
this sartorial discourse, when at least two hundred thousand men
lay dead and wounded from that day's fight on the soil of France.
Red trousers were responsible for the death of a lot of those men.
Dawn, early September dawn, on dew-moist fields, where the harvest
lay unfinished as the workers, hastening to the call of war, had left the
work. Across Paris, which seemed as silent as the fields, to an hotel
with empty rooms! Five hundred empty rooms, with a clock ticking
busily in every room! War or no war, that old man who wound the
clocks was making his rounds softly through the halls from door to
door. He was a good soldier, who had heeded Joffre's request that
everyone should go on with his day's work.
"They're done!" said an American in the foyer. "The French cannot
stand up against the Germans--anybody could see that! It's too bad,
but the French are licked. The Germans will be here to-morrow or the
I could not and would not believe it. Such a disaster was against all
one's belief in the French army and in the real character of the
French people. It meant that autocracy was making sport of
democracy; it meant disaster to all one's precepts; a personal
"Look at that interior line which the French now hold. Think of the
power of the defensive with modern arms. No! The French have not
had their battle yet!" I said.
And the British Expeditionary Force was still intact; still an army, with
lots of fight left in it.
It was then that people were speaking of Paris as a dead city--a Paris
without theatres, without young men, without omnibuses, with the
shutters of its shops down and its cafes and restaurants in gloomy
The Paris the host of the idler and the traveller; the Paris of the
boulevards and the night life provided for the tourist; the Paris that
sparkled and smiled in entertainment; the Paris exploited to
the average American through Sunday supplements and the
reminiscences of smoking-rooms of transatlantic liners, was dead.
Those who knew no other Paris and conjectured no other Paris
departed as from the tomb of the pleasures which had been the
passing extravaganza of relief, from dull lives elsewhere. The
Parisienne of that Paris spent a thousand francs to get her pet dog
safely away to Marseilles. Politicians of a craven type, who are the
curse of all democracies, had gone to keep her company, leaving
Paris cleaner than ever she was after the streets had had their
morning bath on a spring day when the horse chestnuts were in
bloom and madame was arranging her early editions on the table of
her kiosk--a spiritually clean Paris.
Monsieur, would you have America judged by the White Way? What
has the White Way to do with the New York of Seventy-Second
Street or Harlem? It serves the same purpose as the boulevards of
furnishing scandalous little paragraphs for foreign newspapers.
Foreigners visit it and think that they understand how Americans live
in Stockbridge, Mass., or Springfield Illinois, Empty its hotels and
nobody but sightseers and people interested in the White Way would
know the difference.
The other Paris, making ready to stand siege, with the Government
gone to Bordeaux with all the gold of the Bank of France, with the
enemy's guns audible in the suburbs and old men cutting down trees
and tearing up paving-stones to barricade the streets--never had that
Paris been more alive. It was after the death of the old and the birth of
the new Paris that an elderly man, seeing a group of women at tea in
one of the few fashionable refreshment places which were open,
stopped and said:
"Can you find nothing better than that to do, ladies, in a time like
And the Latin temperament gave the world a surprise. Those who
judged France by her playful Paris thought that if a Frenchman
gesticulated so emotionally in the course of everyday existence, he
would get overwhelmingly excited in a great emergency. One
evening, after the repulse of the Germans on the Marne, I saw two
French reserves dining in a famous restaurant where, at this time of
the year, four out of five diners ordinarily would be foreigners
surveying one another in a study of Parisian life. They were big, rosy-
cheeked men, country born and bred, belonging to the new France of
sports, of action, of temperate habits, and they were joking about
dining there just as two sturdy Westerners might about dining in a
deserted Broadway. The foreigners and demimondaines were
noticeably absent; a pair of Frenchmen were in the place of the
absentees; and after their dinner they smoked their black brier-root
pipes in that fashionable restaurant.
Among the picture post-cards then on sale was one of Marianne, who
is France, bound for the front in an aeroplane with a crowing French
cock sitting on the brace above her. Marianne looked as happy as if
she were going to the races; the cock as triumphant as if he had a
spur through the German eagle's throat. However, there was little
sale for picture post-cards or other trifles, while Paris waited for the
siege. They did not help to win victories. News and not jeux d'esprit,
victory and not wit, was wanted.
For Marianne went to war with her liberty cap drawn tight over her
brow, a beat in her temples, and her heart in her throat; and the cock
had his head down and pointed at the enemy. She was relieved in a
way, as all Europe was, that the thing had come; at last an end of the
straining of competitive taxation and preparation; at last the test. She
had no Channel, as England had, between her and the foe. Defeat
meant the heel of the enemy on her soil, German sentries in her
streets, submission. Long and hard she had trained; while the outside
world, thinking of the Paris of the boulevards, thought that she could
not resist the Kaiser's legions. She was effeminate, effete. She was
all right to run cafes and make artificial flowers, but she lacked beef.
All the prestige was with her enemy. In '70 all the prestige had been
with her. For there is no prestige like military prestige. It is all with
those who won the last war.
"But if we must succumb, let it be now," said the French.
On, on--the German corps were coming like some machine-
controlled avalanche of armed men. Every report brought them a little
nearer Paris. Ah, monsieur, they had numbers, those Germans!
Every German mother has many sons; a French mother only one or
How could one believe those official communiques which kept saying
that the position of the French armies was favourable and then
admitted that von Kluck had advanced another twenty miles? The
heart of Paris stopped beating. Paris held its breath. Perhaps the
reason there was no panic was that Parisians had been prepared for
What silence! The old men and the women in the streets moved as
under a spell, which was the sense of their own helplessness. But few
people were abroad, and those going on errands apparently. The
absence of traffic and pedestrians heightened the sepulchral
appearance to superficial observation. At the windows of flats, inside
the little shops, and on by-streets, you saw waiting faces, everyone
with the weight of national grief become personal. Was Paris alive?
Yes, if Paris is human and not bricks and stone. Every Parisian was
living a century in a week. So, too, was one who loved France. In the
prospect of its loss he realized the value of all that France stands for,
her genius, her democracy, her spirit.
One recalled how German officers had said that the next war would
be the end of France. An indemnity which would crush out her power
of recovery would be imposed on her. Her northern ports would be
taken. France, the most homogeneous of nations, would be divided
into separate nationalities--even this the Germans had planned.
Those who read their Shakespeare in the language they learned in
childhood had no doubt of England's coming out of the war secure;
but if we thought which foreign civilization brought us the most in our
lives, it was that of France.
What would the world be without French civilization? To think of
France dead was to think of cells in your own brain that had gone
lifeless; of something irreparable extinguished to every man to whom
civilization means more than material power of destruction. The
sense of what might be lost was revealed to you at every turn in
scenes once merely characteristic of a whole, each with an appeal of
its own now; in the types of people who, by their conduct in this hour
of trial, showed that Spartan hearts might beat in Paris-the Spartan
hearts of the mass of everyday, workaday Parisians.
Those waiting at home calmly with their thoughts, in a France of
apprehension, knew that their fate was out of their hands in the hands
of their youth. The tide of battle wavering from Meaux to Verdun
might engulf them; it might recede; but Paris would resist to the last.
That was something. She would resist in a manner worthy of Paris;
and one could live on very little food. Their fathers had. Every day
that Paris held out would be a day lost to the Germans and a day
gained for Joffre and Sir John French to bring up reserves.
The street lamps should not reveal to Zeppelins or Taubes the
location of precious monuments. You might walk the length of the
Champs Elysees without meeting a vehicle or more than two or three
pedestrians. The avenue was all your own; you might appreciate it as
an avenue for itself; and every building and even the skyline of the
streets you might appreciate, free of any association except the
thought of the results of man's planning and building. Silent, deserted
Paris by moonlight, without street lamps--few had ever seen that.
Millionaire tourists with retinues of servants following them in motor-
cars may never know this effect; nor the Parisienne who paid a
thousand francs to send her pet dog to Marseilles.
The moonlight threw the Arc de Triomphe in exaggerated spectral
relief, sprinkled the leaves of the long rows of trees, glistened on the
upsweep of the broad pavements, gleamed on the Seine. Paris was
majestic, as scornful of Prussian eagles as the Parthenon of Roman
eagles. A column of soldiery marching in triumph under the Arc might
possess as a policeman possesses; but not by arms could they gain
the quality that made Paris, any more than the Roman legionary
became a Greek scholar by doing sentry go in front of the Parthenon.
Every Parisian felt anew how dear Paris was to him; how worthy of
some great sacrifice!
If New York were in danger of falling to an enemy, the splendid length
of Fifth Avenue and the majesty of the skyscrapers of lower
Broadway and the bay and the rivers would become vivid to you in a
way they never had before; or Washington, or San Francisco, or
Boston--or your own town. The thing that is a commonplace, when
you are about to lose it takes on a cherished value.
To-morrow the German guns might be thundering in front of the
fortifications. The communiques from Joffre became less frequent
and more laconic. Their wording was like some trembling, fateful
needle of a barometer, pausing, reacting a little, but going down,
down, down, indicator of the heart-pressure of Paris, shrivelling the
flesh, tightening the nerves. Already Paris was in a state of siege, in
one sense. Her exits were guarded against all who were not in
uniform and going to fight; to all who had no purpose except to see
what was passing where two hundred miles resounded with strife. It
was enough to see Paris itself awaiting the siege; fighting one was yet
to see to repletion.
The situation must be very bad or the Government would not have
gone to Bordeaux. Alors, one must trust the army and the army must
trust Joffre. There is no trust like that of a democracy when it gives its
heart to a cause; the trust of the mass in the strength of the mass
which sweeps away the middlemen of intrigue.
And silence, only silence in Paris; the silence of the old men and the
women, and of children who had ceased to play and could not
understand. No one might see what was going on unless he carried a
rifle. No one might see even the wounded. Paris was spared this,
isolated in the midst of war. The wounded were sent out of reach of
the Germans in case they should come.
Then the indicator stopped falling. It throbbed upward. The
communiques became more definite; they told of positions regained,
and borne in the ether by the wireless of telepathy was something
which confirmed the communiques. At first Paris was uneasy with the
news, so set had history been on repeating itself, so remorselessly
certain had seemed the German advance. But it was true, true--the
Germans were going, with the French in pursuit, now twenty, now
thirty, now forty, now fifty, sixty, seventy miles away from Paris. Yes,
With the needle rising, did Paris gather in crowds and surge through
the streets, singing and shouting itself hoarse, as it ought to have
done according to the popular international idea? No, monsieur, Paris
will not riot in joy in the presence of the dead on the battlefields and
while German troops are still within the boundaries of France. Paris,
which had been with heart standing still and breathing hard, began to
breathe regularly again and the glow of life to run through her veins.
In the markets, whither madame brought succulent melons, pears,
and grapes with commonplace vegetables, the talk of bargaining
housewives with their baskets had something of its old vivacity and
madame stiffened prices a little, for there will be heavy taxes to pay
for the war. Children, so susceptible to surroundings, broke out of the
quiet alleys and doorways in play again.
A Sunday of relief, with a radiant September sun shining, followed a
Sunday of depression. The old taxicabs and the horse vehicles with
their venerable steeds and drivers too old for service at the front,
exhumed from the catacomb of the hours of doubt, ran up and down
the Champs Elysees with airing parties. At Notre Dame the religious
rejoicing was expressed. A great service of prayer was held by the
priests who were not away fighting for France, as three thousand are,
while joyful prayers of thanks shone on the faces of that democratic
people who have not hesitated to discipline the church as they have
disciplined their rulers. Groups gathered in the cafes or sauntered
slowly, talking less than usual, gesticulating little, rolling over the
good news in their minds as something beyond the power of
expression. How banal to say, "C'est chic, ca!" or "C'est epatant!"
Language is for little things.
That pile of posters at the American Embassy had already become
historical souvenirs which won a smile. The name of every American
resident in Paris and his address had been filled in the blank space.
He had only to put up the warning over his door that the premises
were under the Embassy's protection. Ambassador Herrick, suave,
decisive, resourceful, possessed the gift of acting in a great
emergency with the same ease and simplicity as in a small one,
which is a gift sometimes found wanting when a crisis breaks upon
the routine of official life.
He had the courage to act and the ability to secure a favour for an
American when it was reasonable; and the courage to say "No" if it
were unreasonable or impracticable. No one of the throngs who had
business with him was kept long at the door in uncertainty. In its
organization for facilitating the home-going of the thousands of
Americans in Paris and the Americans coming to Paris from other
parts of Europe, the American Embassy in Paris seemed as well
mobilized for its part in the war as the German army.
In spite of '70, France still lived. You noted the faces of the women in
fresh black for their dead at the front, a little drawn but proud and
victorious. The son or brother or husband had died for the country.
When a fast motor-car bearing officers had a German helmet or two
displayed, the people stopped to look. A captured German in the
flesh on a front seat beside a soldier-chauffeur brought the knots to a
standstill. "Voila C'est un Allemand!" ran the exclamation. But Paris
soon became used to these stray German prisoners, left-overs from
the German retreat coming in from the fields to surrender. The
batches went through by train without stopping for Paris, southward to
the camps where they were to be interned; and the trains of wounded
to winter resorts, whose hotels became hospitals, the verandas
occupied by convalescents instead of gossiping tourists. It is tres a la
mode to be wounded, monsieur--tres a la mode all over Europe.
And, monsieur, all those barricades put up for nothing! They will not
need the cattle gathered on Long-champs race-track and in the parks
at Versailles for a siege. The people who laid in stocks of tinned
goods till the groceries of Paris were empty of everything in tins--they
will either have to live on canned food or confess that they were pigs,
hein? Those volunteers, whether young men who had been excused
because they were only sons or for weak hearts which now let them
past the surgeons, whether big, hulking farmers, or labourers, or
stooped clerks, drilling in awkward squads in the suburbs till they are
dizzy, they will not have to defend Paris; but, perhaps, help to regain
Alsace and Lorraine.
Then there were stories going the rounds; stories of French courage
and elan which were cheering to the ears of those who had to remain
at home. Did you hear about the big French peasant soldier who
captured a Prussian eagle in Alsace? They had him come to Paris to
give him the Legion of Honour and the great men made a ceremony
of it, gathering around him at the Ministry of War. The simple fellow
looked from one to another of the group, surprised at all this attention.
It did not occur to him that he had done anything remarkable. He had
seen a Prussian with a standard and taken the standard away from
"If you like this so well," said that droll one, "I'll try to get another!"
On The Heels Of Von Kluck
Though the Germans were going, the siege by the cordon of French
guards around Paris had not been raised. To them every civilian was
a possible spy. So they let no civilians by. Must one remain for ever in
Paris, screened from any view of the great drama? Was there no way
of securing a blue card which would open the road to war for an atom
of humanity who wanted to see Frenchmen in action and not to pry
into generals' plans?
Happily, an army winning is more hospitable than an army losing; and
bonds of friendship which stretch around the world could be linked
with authority which has only to say the word, in order that one might
have a day's glimpse of the fields where von Kluck's Germans were
showing their heels to the French.
Ours, I think, was the pioneer of the sight-seeing parties which
afterwards became the accepted form of war correspondence with
the French. None could have been under more delightful auspices in
companionship or in the event. Victory was in the hearts of our hosts,
who included M. Paul Doumer, formerly President of the Chamber of
Deputies and Governor of French Indo-China and now a senator, and
General Febrier, of the French Medical Service, who was to have had
charge of the sanitation of Paris in case of a siege.
M. Doumer was acting as Chef de Cabinet to General Gallieni, the
commandant of Paris, and he and General Febrier and two other
officers of Gallieni's staff, who would have been up to their eyes in
work if there had been a siege, wanted to see something of that army
whose valour had given them a holiday. Why should not Roberts and
myself come along? which is the pleasant way the French have of
putting an invitation.
Oh, the magic of a military pass and the companionship of an officer
in uniform! It separates you from the crowd of millions on the other
side of the blank wall of military secrecy and takes you into the area
of the millions in uniform; it wins a nod of consent on a road from that
middle-aged reservist whose bayonet has the police power of millions
of bayonets in support of its authority.
At last one was to see; the measure of his impressions was to be his
own eyes and not written reports. Other passes I have had since,
which gave me the run of trenches and shell-fire areas; but this pass
opened the first door to the war. That day we ran by Meaux and
Chateau Thierry to Soissons and back by Senlis to Paris. We saw a
finger's breadth of battle area; a pin-point of army front. Only a ride
along a broad, fine road out of Paris, at first; a road which our cars
had all to themselves. Then at Claye we came to the high-water mark
of the German invasion in this region. Thus close to Paris in that
direction and no closer had the Germans come.
There was the field where their skirmishers had turned back. Farther
on, the branches of the avenue of trees which shaded the road had
been slashed as if by a whirlwind of knives, where the French
soixante-quinze field-guns had found a target. Under that sudden
bath of projectiles, with the French infantry pressing forward on their
front, the German gunners could not wait to take away the cord of
five-inch shells which they had piled to blaze their way to Paris. One
guessed their haste and their irritation. They were within range of the
fortifications; within two hours' march of the suburbs; of the Mecca of
forty years' preparation. After all that march from Belgium, with no
break in the programme of success, the thunders broke and lightning
flashed out of the sky as Manoury's army rushed upon von Kluck's
"It was not the way that they wanted us to get the shells," said a
French peasant who was taking one of the shell-baskets for a
souvenir. It would make an excellent umbrella stand.
For the French it had been the turn of the tide; for that little British
army which had fought its way back from Mons it was the sweet
dream, which had kept men up on the retreat, come true. Weary
Germans, after a fearful two weeks of effort, became the driven.
Weary British and French turned drivers. A hypodermic of victory
renewed their energy. Paris was at their back and the German backs
in front. They were no longer leaving their dead and wounded behind
to the foe; they were sweeping past the dead and wounded of the
But their happiness, that of a winning action, exalted and passionate,
had not the depths of that of the refugees who had fled before the
German hosts and were returning to their homes in the wake of their
victorious army. We passed farmers with children perched on top of
carts laden with household goods and drawn by broad-backed farm-
horses, with usually another horse or a milch cow tied behind. The
real power of France, these peasants holding fast to the acres they
own, with the fire of the French nature under their thrifty
conservatism. Others on foot were villagers who had lacked horses
or carts to transport their belongings. In the packs on their backs
were a few precious things which they had borne away and were now
Soon they would know what the Germans had done to the homes.
What the Germans had done to one piano was evident. It stood in the
yard of a house where grass and flowers had been trodden by horses
and men. In the sport of victory the piano had been dragged out of
the little drawing-room, while Fritz and Hans played and sang in the
intoxication of a Paris gained, a France in submission. They did not
know what Joffre had in pickle for them. It had all gone according to
programme up to that moment. Nothing can stop us Germans!
Champagne instead of beer! Set the glass on top of the piano and
sing! Haven't we waited forty years for this day?
Captured diaries of German officers, which reflect the seventh
heaven of elation suddenly turned into grim depression, taken in
connection with what one saw on the battlefield, reconstruct the
scene around that piano. The cup to the lips; then dashed away. How
those orders to retreat must have hurt!
The state of the refugees' homes all depended upon the chances of
war. War's lightning might have hit your roof-tree and it might not. It
plays no favourites between the honest and the dishonest; the thrifty
and the shiftless. We passed villages which exhibited no signs of
destruction or of looting. German troops had marched through in the
advance and in the retreat without being billeted. A hurrying army with
another on its heels has no time for looting. Other villages had been
points of topical importance; they had been in the midst of a fight.
General Mauvaise Chance had it in for them. Shells had wrecked
some houses; others were burned. Where a German non-commissioned
officer came to the door of a French family and said that room must
be made for German soldiers in that house and if anyone dared to
interfere with them he would be shot, there the exhausted human
nature of a people trained to think that "Krieg ist Krieg" and that the
spoils of war are to the victor had its way.
It takes generations to lift a man up a single degree; but so swift is the
effect of war, when men live a year in a day, that he is demonized in a
month. Before the occupants had to go, often windows were broken,
crockery smashed, closets and drawers rifled. The soldiery which
could not have its Paris "took it out" of the property of their hosts.
Looting, destruction, one can forgive in the orgy of war which is
organized destruction; one can even understand rapine and atrocities
when armies, which include latent vile and criminal elements, are
aroused to the kind of insane passion which war kindles in human
beings. But some indecencies one could not understand in civilized
men. All with a military purpose, it is said; for in the nice calculations
of a staff system which grinds so very fine, nothing must be excluded
that will embarrass the enemy. A certain foully disgusting practice
was too common not to have had the approval of at least some
officers, whose conduct in several chateaux includes them as
accomplices. Not all officers, not all soldiers. That there should be a
few is enough to sicken you of belonging to the human species.
Nothing worse in Central America; nothing worse where civilized
degeneracy disgraces savagery.
But do not think that destruction for destruction's sake was done in all
houses where German soldiers were billeted. If the good principle
was not sufficiently impressed, Belgium must have impressed it; a
looting army is a disorderly army. The soldier has burden enough to
carry in heavy marching order without souvenirs. That collector of the
stoppers of carafes who had thirty on his person when taken prisoner
was bound to be a laggard in the retreat.
To their surprise and relief, returning farmers found their big, conical
haystacks untouched, though nothing could be more tempting to the
wantonness of an army on enemy soil. Strike a match and up goes
the harvest! Perhaps the Germans as they advanced had in mind to
save the forage for their own horses, and either they were running too
fast to stop or the staff overlooked the detail on the retreat.
It was amazing how few signs of battle there were in the open.
Occasionally one saw the hastily-made shelter-trenches of a skirmish
line; and again, the emplacements for batteries--hurried field-
emplacements, so puny beside those of trench warfare. It had been
open fighting; the tide of an army sweeping forward and then,
pursued, sweeping back. One side was trying to get away; the other
to overtake. Here, a rearguard made a determined action which
would have had the character of a battle in other days; there, a
rearguard was pinched as the French or the British got around it.
Swift marching and quick manoeuvres of the type which gave war
some of its old sport and zest; the advance all the while gathering
force like the neap tide! Crowds of men hurrying across a harvested
wheatfield or a pasture after all leave few marks of passage. A day's
rain will wash away bloodstains and liven trampled vegetation. Nature
hastens with a kind of contempt of man to repair the damage done by
his murderous wrath.
The cyclone past, the people turned out to put things in order.
Peasants too old to fight, who had paid the taxes which paid for the
rifles and guns and shell-fire, were moving across the fields with
spades, burying the bodies of the young men and the horses that
were war's victims. Long trenches full of dead told where the eddy of
battle had been fierce and the casualties numerous; scattered
mounds of fresh earth where they were light; and, sometimes, when
the burying was unfinished--well, one draws the curtain over scenes
like that in the woods at Betz, where Frenchmen died knowing that
Paris was saved and Germans died knowing that they had failed to
Whenever we halted our statesman, M. Doumer, was active. Did we
have difficulties over a culvert which had been hastily mended, he
was out of the car and in command. Always he was meeting some
man whom he knew and shaking hands like a senator at home. At
one place a private soldier, a man of education by his speech, came
running across the street at sight of him.
"Son of an old friend of mine, from my town," said our statesman.
Being a French private meant being any kind of a Frenchman. All
inequalities are levelled in the ranks of a great conscript army.
Be it through towns unharmed or towns that had been looted and
shelled, the people had the smile of victory, the look of victory in their
eyes. Children and old men and women, the stay-at-homes, waved to
our car in holiday spirit. The laugh of a sturdy young woman who
threw some flowers into the tonneau as we passed, in her tribute to
the uniform of the army that had saved France, had the spirit of
victorious France--France after forty years' waiting throwing back a
foe that had two soldiers to every one of hers. All the land, rich fields
and neat gardens and green stretches of woods in the fair, rolling
landscape, basked in victory. Dead the spirit of anyone who could
not, for the time being, catch the infection of it and feel himself a
Frenchman. Far from the Paris of gay show for the tourist one
seemed; in the midst of the France of the farms and the villages
which had saved Paris and France.
The car sped on over the hard road. Staff officers in other cars whom
we passed alone suggested that there was war somewhere ahead.
Were we never going to reach the battle-line, the magnet of our
speed when a French army chauffeur made all speed laws obsolete?
Shooting out of a grove, a valley made a channel for sound that
brought to our ears the thunder of guns, with firing so rapid that it was
like the roll of some cyclopean snare-drum beaten with sticks the size
of ship-masts. From the crest of the next hill we had a glimpse of an
open sweep of park-like country toward wooded hills. As far as we
could see against the background of the foliage which threw it into
relief was a continuous cloud of smoke from bursting shells, renewed
with fresh, soft, blue puffs as fast as it was dissipated.
This, then, was a battle. No soldiers, no guns, in sight; only against
masses of autumn green a diaphanous, man-made nimbus which
was raining steel hail. Ten miles of this, one would say; and under it
lines of men in blue coats and red trousers and green uniforms
hugging the earth, as unseen as a battalion of ants at work in the tall
grass. Even if a charge swept across a field one would have been
able to detect nothing except moving pin-points on a carpet.
There was hard fighting; a lot of French and German were being
killed in the direction of Compiegne and Noyon to-day. Another dip
into another valley and the thir-r-r of a rapid-firer and the muffled
firing of a line of infantry were audible. Yes, we were getting up
with the army, with one tiny section of it operating along the road on
which we were. Multiply this by a thousand and you have the whole.
Ahead was the army's larder on wheels; a procession of big motor
transport trucks keeping their intervals of distance with the precision
of a battleship fleet at sea. We should have known that they belonged
to the army by the deafness of the drivers to appeals to let us pass.
All army transports are like that. What the deuced right has anybody
to pass? They are the transport, and only fighting men belong in front
of them. Our car in trying to go by to one side got stuck in a rut that
an American car, built for bad roads, would have made nothing of;
which proves again how closely European armies are tied to their fine
highways. We got out, and here again was our statesman putting his
shoulder to the wheel. That is the way of the French in war.
Everybody tries to help. By this time the transport chauffeurs
remembered that they also were Frenchmen; and as Frenchmen are
polite even in time of war, they let us by.
A motor-cyclist approached with his hand up.
"Stop here!" he called.
Those transport chauffeurs who were deaf to ex-premiers heard
instantly and obeyed. In front of them was a line of single horse-
drawn carts, with an extra horse in the rear. They could take paths
that the motor trucks could not. Archaic they seemed, yet friendly, as
a relic of how armies were fed in other days. For the first time I was
realizing what the motor truck means to war. It brings the army
impedimenta close up to the army's rear; it means a reduction of road
space occupied by transport by three-quarters; ease in keeping pace
with food with the advance, speed in falling back in case of retreat.
All that day I did not see a single piece of French army transport
broken down. And this army had been fighting for weeks; it had been
an army on the road. The valuable part of our experience was exactly
in this: a glimpse of an army in action after it had been through all the
vicissitudes that an army may have in marching and counter-
marching and attack. Order one expected afterwards, behind the
siege line of trenches, when there had been time to establish a
routine; organization and smooth organization you had here at the
climax of a month's strain. It told the story of the character of the
French army and the reasons for its success other than its courage.
The brains were not all with the German Staff.
That winding road, with a new picture at every turn, now revealed the
town of Soissons in the valley of the River Aisne. Soissons was ours,
we knew, since yesterday. How much farther had we gone? Was our
advance still continuing? For then, winter trench-fighting was
unforeseen and the sightseers thought of the French army as
following up success with success. Paris, rising from gloom to
optimism, hoped to see the Germans speedily put out of France. The
appetite for victory grew, after a week's bulletins which moved the
flags forward on the map every day.
Another turn and Soissons was hidden from view by a woodland.
Here we came upon what looked like a leisurely family party of
reserves. The French army, a small section of French army, along a
road! And thus, if one would see the whole it must be in bits along the
roads, when not on the firing-line. They were sprawling in the fields in
the genial afternoon sun, looking as if they had no concern except to
rest. Uniforms dusty and faces tanned and bearded told their story of
the last month.
The duty of a portion of a force is always to wait on what is being
done by the others at the front. These were waiting near a fork which
could take them to the right or the left, as the situation demanded. At
the rear, their supply of small arms ammunition; in front, caissons of
shells for a battery speaking from the woods near by; a troop of
cavalry drawn up, the men dismounted, ready; and ahead of them
more reserves ready; everything ready.
This was where the general wanted the body of men and equipment
to be, and here they were. There were no dragging ends in the rear,
so far as I could see; nobody complaining that food or ammunition
was not up; no aide looking for somebody who could not be found; no
excited staff officer rushing about shouting for somebody to look
sharp for somebody had made a mistake. The thing was unwarlike; it
was like a particularly well-thought-out route march. Yet at the word
that company of cavalry might be in the thick of it, at the point where
they were wanted; the infantry rushing to the support of the firing-line;
the motor transport facing around for withdrawal, if need be. It was
only a little way, indeed, into the zone of death from the rear of that
compact column. Thousands of such compact bodies on many
roads, each seemingly a force by itself and each a part of the whole,
which could be a dependable whole only when every part was ready,
alert, and where it belonged! Nothing can be left to chance in a battle-
line three hundred miles long. The general must know what to
depend on, mile by mile, in his plans. Millions of human units are
grouped in increasingly larger units, harmonized according to set
forms. The most complex of all machines is that of a vast army, which
yet must be kept most simple. No unit acts without regard to the
others; every one must know how to do its part. The parts of the
machine are standardized. One is like the other in training, uniform,
and every detail, so that one can replace another. Oldest of all trades
this of war; old experts the French. What one saw was like
manoeuvres. It must be like manoeuvres or the army would not hold
together. Manoeuvres are to teach armies coherence; war tries out
that coherence, which you may not have if someone does not know
just what to do; if he is uncertain in his role. Haste leads to confusion;
haste is only for supreme moments. In order to know how to hasten
when the hurry call comes, the mighty organism must move in its
routine with the smoothness of a well-rehearsed play.
Joffre and the others who directed the machine must know more than
the mechanics of staff-control. They must know the character of the
man-material in the machine. It was their duty as real Frenchmen to
understand Frenchmen, their verve, their restlessness for the
offensive, their individualism, their democratic intelligence, the value
of their elation, the drawback of their tendency to depression and to
think for themselves. Indeed, the leader must counteract the faults of
his people and make the most of their virtues.
Thus, we had a French army's historical part reversed: a French army
falling back and concentrating on the Marne to receive the enemy
blow. Equally alive to German racial traits, the German Staff had
organized in their mass offensive the elan which means fast
marching and hard blows. So, we found the supposedly excitable
French digging in to receive the onslaught of the supposedly
phlegmatic German. When the time came for the charge--ah, you can
always depend on a Frenchman to charge!
Those reserves were pawns on a chessboard. They appeared like it;
one thought that they realized it. Their individual intelligence
and democracy had reasoned out the value of obedience and
homogeneity, rather than accepted it as the dictum of any war lord.
Difficult to think that 'each one had left a vacancy at a family board;
difficult to think that all were not automatons in a process of endless
routine of war; but not difficult to learn that they were Frenchmen
once we had thrown our bombs in the midst of the group.
Of old, one knew the wants of soldiers. One needed no hint of what
was welcome at the front. Never at any front were there enough
newspapers or tobacco. Men smoke twice as much as usual in the
strain of waiting for action; men who do not use tobacco at all get the
habit. Ask the G.A.R. men who fought in our great war if this is not
true. Then, too, when your country is at war, when back at home
hands stretch out for every fresh edition and you at the front know
only what happens in your alley, think what a newspaper from Paris
means out on the battle-line seventy miles from Paris! So I had
brought a bundle of newspapers and many packets of cigarettes.
Monsieur, the sensation is beyond even the French language to
express--the sensation of sitting down by the roadside with this
morning's edition and the first cigarette for twenty-four hours.
"C'est epatant! C'est chic, ca! C'est magnifique! Alors, nom de Dieu!
Tiens! Helas! Voila! Merci, mille remerciments!"--it was an army of
Frenchmen with ready words, quick, telling gestures, pouring out their
volume of thanks as the car sped by and we tossed out our
newspapers at intervals, so that all should have a look.
An Echo de Paris that fell into the road was the centre of a flag-rush,
which included an officer. Most un-military--an officer scrambling at
the same time as his men! In the name of the Kaiser, what discipline!
Then the car stopped long enough for me to see a private give the
paper to his officer, who was plainly sensible of a loss of dignity, with
a courtesy which said, "A thousand pardons, mon capitaine!" and the
capitaine began reading the newspaper aloud to his men. Scores of
human touches which were French, republican, democratic!
With half our cigarettes gone, we fell in with some brown-skinned,
native African troops, the Mohammedan Turcos. Their white teeth
gleaming, their black eyes devilishly eager, they began climbing on to
the car. We gave them all the cigarettes in sight; but fortunately our
reserve supply was not visible, and an officer's sharp command
saved us from being invested by storm.
As we came into Soissons we left the reserves behind. They were
kept back out of range of the German shells, making the town a dead
space between them and the firing-line, which was beyond. When the
Germans retreated through the streets the French had taken care, as
it was their town, to keep their fire away from the cathedral and the
main square to the outskirts and along the river. Not so the German
guns when the French infantry passed through. Soissons was not a
We alighted from the car in a deserted street, with all the shutters of
shops that had not been torn down by shell-fire closed. Soissons was
as silent as the grave, within easy range of many enemy guns. War
seemed only for the time being in this valley bottom shut in from the
roar of artillery a few miles away, except for a French battery which
was firing methodically and slowly, its shells whizzing toward the ridge
back of the town.
The next thing that one wanted most was to go into that battery and
see the soixante-quinze and their skilful gunners. Our statesman said
that he would try to locate it. We thought that it was in the direction of
the river, that famous Aisne which has since given its name to the
longest siege-line in history; a small, winding stream in the bottom of
an irregular valley. Both bridges across it had been cut by the
Germans. If that battery were on the other side under cover of any
one of a score of blots of foliage we could not reach it. Another shot--
and we were not sure that the battery was not on the opposite side of
the town; a crack out of the landscape: this was modern artillery fire to
one who faced it. Apparently the guns of the battery were scattered,
according to the accepted practice, and from the central firing-station
word to fire was being passed first to one gun and then to another.
Beside the buttress of one bridge lay two still figures of Algerian
Zouaves. These were fresh dead, fallen in the taking of the town.
Only two men! There were dead by thousands which one might see
in other places. These two had leaped out from cover to dash forward
and bullets were waiting for them. They had rolled over on their
backs, their rigid hands still in the position of grasping their rifles
after the manner of crouching skirmishers.
Our statesman said that we had better give up trying to locate the
battery; and one of the officers called a halt to trying to go up to the
firing-line on the part of a personally-conducted party, after we
stopped a private hurrying back from the front on some errand. With
his alertness, the easy swing of his walk, his light step, and his
freedom of spirit and appearance, he typified the thing which the
French call elan. Whenever one asked a question of a French private
you could depend upon a direct answer. He knew or he did not know.
This definiteness, the result of military training as well as of Gallic
lucidity of thought, is not the least of the human factors in making an
efficient army, where every man and every unit must definitely know
his part. This young man, you realized, had tasted the "salt of life," as
Lord Kitchener calls it. He had heard the close sing of bullets; he had
known the intoxication of a charge.
"Does everything go well?" M. Doumer asked. "It is not going at all,
now. It is sticking," was the answer. "Some Germans were busy up
there in the stone quarries while the others were falling back. They
have a covered trench and rapid-fire-gun positions to sweep a zone
of fire which they have cleared."
Famous stone quarries of Soissons, providing ready-made dug-outs
as shelter from shells!
There is a story of how before Marengo Napoleon heard a private
saying: "Now this is what the general ought to do!" It was Napoleon's
own plan revealed. "You keep still!" he said. "This army has too many
"They mean to make a stand," the private went on. "It's an ideal place
for it. There is no use of an attack in front. We'd be mowed down by
machine-guns." The br-r-r of a dozen shots from a German machine-
gun gave point to his conclusion. "Our infantry is hugging what we
have and intrenching. You'd better not go up. One has to know the
way, or he'll walk right into a sharpshooter's bullet"--instructions that
would have been applicable a year later when one was about to visit
a British trench in almost the same location.
The siege-warfare of the Aisne line had already begun. It was singular
to get the first news of it from a private in Soissons and then to return
to Paris and London, on the other side of the curtain of secrecy,
where the public thought that the Allied advance would continue.
"Allons!" said our statesman, and we went to the town square, where
German guns had carpeted the ground with branches of shade trees
and torn off the fronts of houses, revealing sections of looted interior
which had been further messed by shell-bursts. Some women and
children and a crippled man came out of doors at sight of us. M.
Doumer introduced himself and shook hands all around. They were
glad to meet him in much the same way as if he had been on an
"A German shell struck there across the square only half an hour
ago," said one of the women.
"What do you do when there is shelling?" asked M. Doumer.
"If it is bad we go into the cellar," was the answer; an answer which
implied that peculiar fearlessness of women, who get accustomed to
fire easier than men. These were the fatalists of the town, who would
not turn refugee; helpless to fight, but grimly staying with their homes
and accepting what came with an incomprehensible stoicism, which
possibly had its origin in a race-feeling so proud and bitter that they
would not admit that they could be afraid of anything German, even a
"And how did the Germans act?"
"They made themselves at home in our houses and slept in our beds,
while we slept in the kitchen," she answered. "They said that if we
kept indoors and gave them what they wanted we should not be
harmed. But if anyone fired a shot at their troops or any arms were
found in our houses, they would burn the town. When they were
going back in a great hurry--how they scattered from our shells! We
went out in the square to see our shells, monsieur!"
What mattered the ruins of her home? "Our" shells had returned
Arrows with directions in German, "This way to the river," "This way to
Villers-Cotteret," were chalked on the standing walls; and on door-
casings the names of the detachments of the Prussian Guard billeted
there, all in systematic Teutonic fashion.
"Prince Albrecht Joachim, one of the Kaiser's sons, was here and I
talked with him," said the Mayor, who thought we would enjoy a
morsel from court circles in exchange for a copy of the Echo de Paris,
which contained the news that Prince Albrecht had been wounded
later. The Mayor looked tired, this local man of the people, who had to
play the shepherd of a stricken flock. Afterwards, they said that he
deserted his charge and a lady, Mme. Macherez, took his place. All I
know is that he was present that day; or, at least, a man who was
introduced to me as mayor; and he was French enough to make a
bon mot by saying that he feared there was some fault in his
hospitality because he had been unable to keep his guest.
"May I have this confiture?" asked a battle-stained French orderly,
coming up to him. "I found it in that ruined house there--all the
Germans had left. I haven't had a confiture for a long time, and,
monsieur, you cannot imagine what a hunger I have for confitures."
All the while the French battery kept on firing slowly, then again
rapidly, their cracks trilling off like the drum of knuckles on a
table-top. Another effort to locate one of the guns before we started
back to Paris failed. Speeding on, we had again a glimpse of the
landscape toward Noyon, sprinkled with shell-bursts. The reserves
were around their camp-fires making savoury stews for the evening
meal. They would sleep where night found them on the sward under
the stars, as in wars of old. That scene remains indelible as one of
many while the army was yet mobile, before the contest became
one of the mole and the beaver.
Though one had already seen many German prisoners in groups and
convoys, the sight of two on the road fixed the attention because of
the surroundings and the contrast suggested between French and
German natures. Both were young, in the very prime of life, and both
Prussian. One was dark-complexioned, with a scrubbly beard which
was the product of the war. He marched with such rigidity that I
should not have been surprised to see him break into a goose-step.
The other was of that mild, blue-eyed, tow-haired type from the Baltic
provinces, with the thin, white skin which does not tan but burns. He
was frailer than the other and he was tired! He would lag and then
stiffen back his shoulders and draw in his chin and force a trifle more
energy into his steps.
A typical, lively French soldier was escorting the pair. He looked pretty
tired, too, but he was getting over the ground in the natural, easy way
in which man is meant to walk. The aboriginal races, who have a
genius for long distances on foot, do not march in the German
fashion, which looks impressive, but lacks endurance. By the same
logic, the cowboy pony's gait is better for thirty miles day in and day
out than the gait of the high-stepping carriage horse.
You could realize the contempt which those two martial Germans had
for their captor. Four or five peasant women refugees by the roadside
loosened their tongues in piercing feminine satire and upbraiding.
"You are going to Paris, after all! This is what you get for invading our
country; and you'll get more of it!"
The little French soldier held up his hand to the women and shook his
head. He was a chivalrous fellow, with imagination enough to
appreciate the feelings of an enemy who has fought hard and lost.
Such as he would fight fair and hold this war of the civilizations up to
something like the standards of civilization.
The very tired German stiffened up again, as his drill sergeant had
taught him, and both stared straight ahead, proud and contemptuous,
as their Kaiser would wish them to do. I should recognize the faces of
those two Germans and of that little French guard if I saw them ten
years hence. In ten years, what will be the Germans' attitude toward
this war and their military lords?
It is not often that one has a senator for a guide; and I never knew a
more efficient one than our statesman. His own curiosity was the best
possible aid in satisfying our own. Having seen the compactness and
simplicity of an army column at the front, we were to find that the
same thing applied to high command. A sentry and a small flag at the
doorway of a village hotel: this was the headquarters of the Sixth
Army, which General Manoury had formed in haste and flung at von
Kluck with a spirit which crowned his white hairs with the audacity of
youth. He was absent, but we might see something of the central
direction of one hundred and fifty thousand men in the course of one
of the most brilliant manoeuvres of the war, before staffs had settled
down to office existence in permanent quarters. That is, we might see
the little there was to see: a soldier telegrapher in one bedroom, a
soldier typewritist in another, officers at work in others. One realized
that they could pack up everything and move in the time it takes to
toss enough clothes into a bag to spend a night away from home.
Apparently, when the French fought they left red tape behind with the
From his seat before a series of maps on a sitting-room table an
officer of about thirty-five rose to receive us. It struck me that he
exemplified self-possessed intelligence and definite knowledge; that
he had coolness and steadiness plus that acuteness of perception
and clarity of statement which are the gift of the French. You felt sure
that no orders which left his hand wasted any words or lacked
explicitness. The Staff is the brains of the army, and he had brains.
"All goes well!" he said, as if there were no more to say. All goes well!
He would say it when things looked black or when they looked bright,
and in a way that would make others believe it.
Outside the hotel were no cavalry escorts or commanders, no
hurrying orderlies, none of the legendary activity that is associated
with an army headquarters. A motor-car drove up, an officer got out;
another officer descended the stairs to enter a waiting car. The wires
carry word faster than the cars. Each subordinate commander was in
his place along that line where we had seen the puffs of smoke
against the landscape, ready to answer a question or obey an order.
That simplicity, like art itself, which seems so easy is the most difficult
accomplishment of all in war.
After dark, in a drizzling rain, we came to what seemed to be a town,
for our motor-car lamps spread their radiant streams over wet
pavements. But these were the only lights. Tongues of loose bricks
had been shot across the cobblestones and dimly the jagged skyline
of broken walls of buildings on either side could be discerned. It was
Senlis, the first town I had seen which could be classified as a town in
ruins. Afterwards, one became a sort of specialist in ruins, comparing
the latest with previous examples of destruction.
Approaching footsteps broke the silence. A small, very small, French
soldier--he was not more than five feet two--appeared, and we
followed him to an ambulance that had broken down for want of
petrol. It belonged to the Societe de Femmes de France. The little
soldier had put on a uniform as a volunteer for the only service his
stature would permit. In those days many volunteer organizations
were busy seeking to "help." There was a kind of competition among
them for wounded. This ambulance had got one and was taking him
to Paris, off the regular route of the wounded who were being sent
south. The boot-soles of a prostrate figure showed out of the dark
recess of the interior. This French officer, a major, had been hit in the
shoulder. He tried to control the catch in his voice which belied his
assertion that he was suffering little pain. The drizzling rain was chilly.
It was a long way to Paris yet.
"We will make inquiries," said our kindly general.
A man who came out of the gloom said that there was a hospital kept
by some Sisters of Charity in Senlis which had escaped destruction.
The question was put into the recesses of the ambulance:
"Would you prefer to spend the night here and go on in the morning?"
"Yes, monsieur, I--should--like--that--better!" The tone left no doubt of
the relief that the journey in a car with poor springs was not to be
continued after hours of waiting, marooned in the street of a ruined
Whilst the ambulance passed inside the hospital gate, I spoke with an
elderly woman who came to a near-by door. Cool and definite she
was as a French soldier, bringing home the character of the women
of France which this war has made so well known to the world.
"Were you here during the fighting?"
"Yes, monsieur, and during the shelling and the burning. The shelling
was not enough. The Germans said that someone fired on their
soldiers--a boy, I believe--so they set fire to the houses. One could
only look and hate and pray as their soldiers passed through, looking
so unconquerable, making all seem so terrible for France. Was it to
be '70 over again? One's heart was of stone, monsieur. Tiens! They
came back faster than they went. A mitrailleuse was down there at
the end of the street, our mitrailleuse! The bullets went cracking by.
They crack, the bullets; they do not whistle like the stories say. Then
the street was empty of Germans who could run. The dead they
could not run, nor the wounded. Then the French came up the street,
running too--running after the Germans. It was good, monsieur, good,
good! My heart was not of stone then, monsieur. It could not beat fast
enough for happiness. It was the heart of a girl. I remember it all very
clearly. I always shall, monsieur."
"Allons!" said our statesman. "The officer is well cared for."
The world seemed normal again as we passed through other towns
unharmed and swept by the dark countryside, till a red light rose in
our path and a sharp "Qui vive?" came out of the night as we slowed
down. This was not the only sentry call from a French Territorial in
front of a barricade.
At a second halt we found a chain as well as a barricade across the
road. For a moment it seemed that even the suave parliamentarism
of our statesman and the authority of our general and our passes
could not convince one grizzled reservist, doing his duty for France at
the rear whilst the young men were at the front, that we had any right
to be going into Paris at that hour of the night. The password, which
was "Paris," helped, and we felt it a most appropriate password as we
came to the broad streets of the city that was safe.
There is a popular idea that Napoleon was a super-genius who won
his battles single-handed. It is wrong. He had a lot of Frenchmen
along to help. Much the same kind of Frenchmen live to-day. Not until
they fought again would the world believe this. It seems that the
excitable Gaul, whom some people thought would become demoralized
in face of German organization, merely talks with his hands. In a
great crisis he is cool, as he always was. I like the French for their
democracy and humanity. I like them, too, for leaving their war
to France and Marianne; for not dragging in God as do the Germans.
For it is just possible that God is not in the fight. We don't know
that He even approved of the war.
And Calais Waits
To the traveller, Calais had been the symbol of the shortest route
from London to Paris, the shortest spell of torment in crossing the
British Channel. It was a point where one felt infinite relief or sad
physical anticipations. In the last days of November Calais became
the symbol of a struggle for world-power. The British and the French
were fighting to hold Calais; the Germans to get it. In Calais,
Germany would have her foot on the Atlantic coast. She could look
across only twenty-two miles of water to the chalk cliffs of Dover. She
would be as near her rival as twice the length of Manhattan Island;
within the range of a modern gun; within an hour by steamer and
twenty minutes by aeroplane.
The long battle-front from Switzerland to the North Sea had been
established. There was no getting around the Allied flank; there had
ceased to be a flank. To win Calais, Germany must crush through by
main force, without any manoeuvre. From the cafes where the British
journalists gathered England received its news, which they gleaned
from refugees and stragglers and passing officers. They wrote
something every day, for England must have something about that
dizzy, head-on wrestle in the mud, that writhing line of changing
positions of new trenches rising behind the old destroyed by German
artillery. The British were fighting with their last reserves on the Ypres-
Armentieres line. The French divisions to the north were suffering no
less heavily, and beyond them the Belgians were trying to hold the
last strip of their land which remained under Belgian sovereignty.
Cordons of guards which kept back the observer from the struggle
could not keep back the truth. Something ominous was in the air.
It was worth while being in that old town as it waited on the issue in
the late October rains. Its fishermen crept out in the mornings from
the shelter of its quays, where refugees gathered in crowds hoping to
get away by steamer. Like lost souls, carrying all the possessions
they could on their backs, these refugees. There was numbness in
their movements and their faces were blank--the paralysis of brain
from sudden disaster. The children did not cry, but mechanically
munched the dry bread given them by their parents.
The newspaper men said that "refugee stuff" was already stale;
eviction and misery were stale. Was Calais to be saved? That was
the only question. If the Germans came, one thought that madame at
the hotel would still be at her desk, unruffled, businesslike, and she
would still serve an excellent salad for dejeuner; the fishermen would
still go to sea for their daily catch.
What was going to happen? What might not happen? It was human
helplessness to the last degree for all behind the wrestlers. Fate was
in the battle-line. There could be no resisting that fate. If the Germans
came, they came. Belgian staff officers with their high-crowned, gilt-
braided caps went flying by in their cars. There always seemed a
great many Belgian staff officers back of the Belgian army in the
restaurants and cafes. Habit is strong, even in war. They did not often
miss their dejeuners. On the Dixmude line all that remained of the
active Belgian army was in a death struggle in the rain and mud. To
these "schipperkes" honour without stint, as to their gallant king.
Slightly-wounded Belgians and Belgian stragglers roamed the streets
of Calais. Some had a few belongings wrapped up in handkerchiefs.
Others had only the clothes they wore. Yet they were cheerful; this
was the amazing thing. They moved about, laughing and chatting in
groups. Perhaps this was the best way. Possibly relief at being out of
the hell at the front was the only emotion they could feel. But their
cheerfulness was none the less a dash of sunlight for Calais.
The French were grim. They were still polite; they went on with their
work. No unwounded French soldiers were to be seen, except the old
Territorials guarding the railroad and the highways. The military
organization of France, which knew what war meant and had
expected war, had drawn every man to his place and held him there
with the inexorable hand of military and racial discipline. Calais had
never considered caring for wounded, and the wounded poured in. I
saw a motor-car with a wounded man stop at a crowded corner, in
the midst of refugees and soldiers; a doctor was leaning over him,
and he died whilst the car waited.
But the journalists were saying that stories of wounded men were
likewise stale. So they were, for Europe was red with wounded. Train
after train brought in its load from the front, and Calais tried to care
for them. At least, it had buildings which would give shelter from
the rain. On the floor of a railway freight shed the wounded lay in
long rows, with just enough space between them to make an alley.
Those in the row against one of the walls were German prisoners.
Their green uniforms melted into the stone of the wall and did not
show the mud stains. Two slightly wounded had their heads together
whispering. They were helplessly tired, though not as tired as most
of the others, those two stalwart young men; but they seemed to be
relieved, almost happy. It did not matter what happened to them, now,
so long as they could rest.
Next to them a German was dying, and others badly hit were glassy-
eyed in their fatigue and exhaustion. This was the word, exhaustion,
for all the wounded.
They had not the strength for passion or emotion. The fuel for those
fires was in ashes. All they wanted in this world was to lie quiet; and
some fell asleep not knowing or caring probably whether they were in
Germany or in France. In the other rows, in contrast with this
chameleon, baffling green, were the red trousers of the French and
the dark blue of the Belgian uniforms, sharing the democracy of
exhaustion with their foe.
A misty rain was falling. In a bright spot of light through a window one
by one the wounded were being lifted up on to a seat, if they were not
too badly hit, and on to an operating-table if their condition were
serious. A doctor and a sturdy Frenchwoman of about thirty, in
spotless white, were in charge. Another woman undid the first-aid
bandage and still another applied a spray. No time was lost; there
were too many wounded to care for. The thing must be done as
rapidly as possible before another train-load came in. If these
attendants were tired, they did not know it any more than the
wounded had realized their fatigue in the passion of battle. The
improvized arrangement to meet an emergency had an appeal which
more elaborate arrangements of organization which I had seen
lacked. It made war a little more red; humanity a little more human
and kind and helpless under the scourge which it had brought on
Though Calais was not prepared for wounded, when they came the
women of energy and courage turned to the work without jealousy,
without regard to red tape, without fastidiousness. I have in mind half
a dozen other women about the streets that day in uniforms of short
skirts and helmets, who belonged to a volunteer organization which
had taken some care as to its regimentals. They were types not
characteristic of the whole, of whom one practical English doctor said:
"We don't mind as long as they do not get in the way." Their criticisms
of Calais and the arrangements were outspoken; nothing was
adequate; conditions were filthy; it was shameful. They were going to
write to the English newspapers about it and appeal for money. When
they had organized a proper hospital, one should see how the thing
ought to be done. Meantime, these volunteer Frenchwomen were
doing the best they knew how and doing it now.
A fine-looking young Frenchman who had a shell-wound in the thigh
was being lifted on to the table. He shuddered with pain, as he
clenched his teeth; yet when the dressing was finished he was able to
breathe his thanks. On the seat was a Congo negro who had been
with one of the Belgian regiments, coal black and thick-lipped, with
bloodshot eyes; an unsensitized human organism, his face as
expressionless as his bare back with holes made by shell-fragments.
A young Frenchwoman--she could not have been more than nineteen
--with a face of singular refinement, sprayed his wounds with the
definiteness of one trained to such work, though two days before it
had probably never occurred to her as being within the possibilities
of her existence. Her coolness and the coolness of the other women
in their silent activity had a charm that added to one's devout respect.
The French wounded, too, were silent, as if in the presence of a crisis
which overwhelmed personal thoughts. Help was needed at the front;
they knew it. On sixty trains in one day sixty thousand French passed
through Calais. With a pass from the French commandant at Calais, I
got on board one of these trains down at the railroad yards at dawn.
This lot were Turcos, under the command of a white-haired veteran of
African campaigns. An utter change of atmosphere from the freight
shed! Perhaps it is only the wounded who have time to think. My
companions in the officers' car were as cheery as the brown devils
whom they led. They had come from the trenches on the Marne, and
their commissariat was a boiled ham, some bread and red wine.
Enough! It was war time, as they said.
"We were in the Paris railroad yards. That is all we saw of Paris--and
in the night. Hard luck!"
They had left the Marne the previous day. By night they could be in
the fight. It did not take long to send reinforcements when the line
was closed to all except military traffic and one train followed close on
the heels of another.
They did not know where they were going; one never knew. Probably
they would get orders at Dunkirk. Father Joffre, when there was a call
for reinforcements, never was in a panicky hurry. He seemed to
understand that the general who made the call could hold out a little
longer; but the reinforcements were always up on time. A long head
had Father Joffre.
Now I am going to say that life was going on as usual at Dunkirk; that
is the obvious thing to say. The nearer the enemy, the more
characteristic that trite observation of those who have followed the
roads of war in Europe. At Dunkirk you might have a good meal
within sound of the thunder of the guns of the British monitors which
were helping the Belgians to hold their line. At Dunkirk most excellent
patisserie was for sale in a confectionery shop. Why shouldn't
tartmakers go on making tarts and selling them? The British naval
reserve officers used to take tea in this shop. Little crowds of citizens
who had nothing to do, which is the most miserable of vocations in
such a crisis, gathered to look at armoured motor-cars which had
come in from the front with bullet dents, which gave them the
atmosphere of battle.
Beyond Dunkirk, one might see wounded Belgians, fresh from the
field of battle, staggering in, crawling in, hobbling in from the havoc of
shell-fire, their first-aid bandages saturated with mud, their ungainly
and impracticable uniforms oozing mud, ghosts of men-these
"schipperkes" of the nation that was unprepared for war who had
done their part, when the only military thought was for more men,
unwounded men, British, French, Belgian, to stem the German tide.
Yet many of these Belgians, even these, were cheerful. They could
still smile and say, "Bonne chance!"
Indeed, there seemed no limit to the cheerfulness of Belgians. At a
hospital in Calais I met a Belgian professor with his head a white ball
of bandages, showing a hole for one eye and a slit for the mouth. He
had been one of the cyclist force which took account of many
German cavalry scouts in the first two weeks of the war. A staff
motor-car had run over him on the road.
"I think the driver of the car was careless," he said mildly, as if he
were giving a gentle reproof to a student.
By contrast, he had reason to be thankful for his lot. Looked after by a
brave man attendant in another room were the wounded who were
too horrible to see; who must die. Then, in another, you had a picture
of a smiling British regular, with a British nurse and an Englishwoman
of Calais to look after him. They read to him, they talked to him, they
vied with each other in rearranging his pillows or bedclothes. He was
a hero of a story; but it rather puzzled him why he should be. Why
were a lot of people paying so much attention to him for doing his
In the cavalry, he had been separated from his regiment on the
retreat from Mons. Wandering about the country, he came up with a
regiment of cuirassiers and asked if he might not fight with them. A
number of the cuirassiers spoke English. They took him into the
ranks. The regiment went far over on the Marne, through towns with
French names which he could not pronounce, this man in khaki with
the French troopers. He was marked. C'est un Anglais! People
cheered him and threw flowers to him in regions which had never
seen one of the soldiers of the Ally before.
Yes, officers and gentlemen invited him to dine, like he was a
gentleman, he said, and not a Tommy, and the French Government
had given him a decoration called the Legion of Honour or something
like that. This was all very fine; but the best thing was that his own
colonel, when he returned, had him up before his company and made
a speech to him for fighting with the French when he could not find
his own regiment. He was supremely happy, this Tommy. In waiting
Calais one might witness about all the emotions and contrasts of war
--and many which one does not find at the front.
Never had the war seemed a more monstrous satire than on that first
day in Germany as the train took me to Berlin. It was the other side of
the wall of gun and rifle-fire where another set of human beings were
giving life in order to take life. The Lord had fashioned them in the
same pattern on both sides of the wall. Their children were born in the
same way; they bled from wounds in the same way--but why go on in
this vicious circle of thought?
My impressions of Germany were brief, and the clearer perhaps for
being brief, and drawn on the fresh background of Paris and Calais
waiting to know their fate; of England staring across the Channel, in a
suspense which her stoicism would not confess, to learn the result of
the battle for the Channel ports; of England and France straining with
all their strength to hold, while the Germans exerted all theirs to gain,
a goal; of Holland, stolid mistress of her neutrality, fearing for it and
profiting by it while she took in the Belgian foundlings dropped on her
steps--Holland, that little land at peace, with the storms lashing
The stiff and soldierly-appearing reserve officer with bristling
Kaiserian moustache, so professedly alert and efficient, who looked
at the mottled back of my passport and frowned at the recent visa, "A
la Place de Calais, bon pour aller a Dunkerque, P.O. Le Chef d'Etat-
Major," but let me by without questions or fuss, aroused visions of a
frontier stone wall studded with bayonets.
For something about him expressed a certain character of downright
militancy lacking in either an English or a French guard. I could
imagine his contempt for both and particularly for a "sloppy,
undisciplined" American guard, as he would have called one of ours.
Personal feelings did not enter into his thoughts. He had none; only
national feelings, this outpost of the national organism. The mood of
the moment was friendliness to Americans. Germany wished to
create the impression on the outside world through the agency of the
neutral press that she was in | danger of starving, whilst she amassed
munitions for her summer campaign and the Allies were lulled into
confidence of siege by famine rather than by arms. A double, a treble
purpose the starving campaign served; for it also ensured economy
of foodstuffs, whilst nothing so puts the steel into a soldier's heart as
the thought that the enemy is trying to beat him through taking the
bread out of his mouth and the mouths of the women and children
dependent upon him.
Tears and laughter and moods and passions organized! Seventy
millions in the union of determined earnestness of a life-and-death
issue! Germany had studied more than how to make war with an
army. She had studied how the people at home should help an army
to make war.
"With our immense army, which consists of all the able-bodied youth
of the people," as a German officer said, "when we go to war the
people must be passionate for war. Their impulse must be the
impulse of the army. Their spirit will drive the army on. They must be
drilled, too, in their part. No item in national organization is too small
to have its effect."
Compared to the, French, who had turned grim and gave their prayers
as individuals to hearten their soldiers, the Germans were as
responsive as a stringed instrument to the master musician's touch. A
whisper in Berlin was enough to set a new wave of passion in motion,
which spread to the trenches east and west.
Something like the team-work of the "rah-rah" of college athletics was
applied to the nation. The soft pedal on this emotion, the loud on that,
or a new cry inaugurated which all took up, not with the noisy, paid
insincerity of a claque, but with the vibrant force of a trained orchestra
with the brasses predominant.
There seemed less of the spontaneity of an individualistic people than
of the exaltation of a religious revival. If the army were a machine of
material force, then the people were a machine of psychical force.
Though the thing might leave the observer cold, as a religious revival
leaves the sceptic, yet he must admire. I was told that I should