Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

My Year of the War by Frederick Palmer

Part 7 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"I'd like to drop that hundred-pounder on to a Zeppelin!" said one of
the aviators. All the population of London would like to see him do it.
And Fritz, the submarine, does not like to see the shadow of man's
wings above the water.

Seaplanes and destroyers carry the imagination away from the fleet
to another sphere of activity, which I had not the fortune to see. An
aviator can see Fritz below a smooth surface; for he cannot travel
much deeper than thirty or forty feet. He leaves a characteristic ripple
and tell-tale bubbles of air and streaks of oil. When the planes have
located him they tell the hunters where to go. Sometimes it is known
that a submarine is in a certain region; he is lost sight of and seen
again; a squall may cover his track a second time, and the hunters,
keeping touch with the planes by signals, course here and there on
the look out for another glimpse. Perhaps he escapes altogether. It is
a tireless game of hide and seek, like gunnery at the front. Naval
ingenuity has invented no end of methods, and no end of
experiments have been tried. Strictest kept of naval secrets, these.
Fritz is not to be told what to avoid and what not to avoid.

Very thin is the skin of a submarine; very fragile and complicated its
machinery. It does not take much of a shock to put it out of order or a
large charge of explosives to dent the skin beyond repair. It being in
the nature of submarines to sink, how does the hunter know when he
has struck a mortal blow? If oil and bubbles come up for some time in
one place, or if they come up with a rush, that is suggestive. Then, it
does not require a nautical mind to realize that by casting about on
the bottom with a grapnel you will learn if an object with the bulk and
size of a submarine is there. The Admiralty accept no guesswork
from the hunters about their exploits; they must bring the brush to
prove the kill.

With Admiral Crawford I went to see the submarine defences of the
harbour. It reminded one of the days of the drawbridge to a castle,
when a friend rode freely in and an enemy might try to swim the moat
and scale the walls if he pleased.

"Take care! There is a tide here!" the coxswain was warned, lest the
barge should get into some of the troubles meant for Fritz. "A cunning
fellow, Fritz. We must give him no openings."

The openings appear long enough to permit British craft, whether
trawlers, or flotillas, or cruiser squadrons, to go and come. Lying as
close together as fish in a basket, I saw at one place a number of
torpedo boats home from a week at sea.

"Here to-day and gone to-morrow," said an officer. "What a time they
had last winter! You know how cold the North Sea is--no, you cannot,
unless you have been out in a torpedo boat dancing the tango in the
teeth of that bitter wind, with the spray whipping up to the tops of the
smoke-stacks. In the dead of night they would come into this pitch-
dark harbour. How they found their way is past me. It's a trick of those
young fellows, who command."

Stationary they seemed now as the quay itself; but let a signal speak,
an alarm come, and they would soon be as alive as leaping
porpoises. The sport is to those who scout and hunt. But do not
forget those who watch, those who keep the blockade, from the
Channel to Iceland, and the trawlers that plod over plotted sea-
squares with the regularity of mowing-machines cutting a harvest, on
their way back and forth sweeping up mines. They were fishermen
before the war and are fishermen still. Night and day they keep at it.
They come into the harbours stiff with cold, thaw out, and return to
hardships which would make many a man prefer the trenches.
Tributes to their patient courage, which came from the heart, were
heard on board the battleships.

"It is when we think of them," said an officer, "that we are most eager
to have the German fleet come out, so that we can do our part."

The Fleet Puts To Sea

There is another test besides that of gun-drills and target practice
which reflects the efficiency of individual ships, and the larger the
number of ships the more important it is. For the business of a fleet is
to go to sea. At anchor, it is in garrison rather than on campaign, an
assembly of floating forts. Navies one has seen which seemed
excellent when in harbour, but when they started to get under way the
result was hardly reassuring. Some erring sister fouled her anchor
chain; another had engine-room trouble; another lagged for some
other reason; there was fidgeting on the bridges. Then one asked,
What if a summons to battle had come? Our own officers were
authority enough that the British had no superiors in any of the tests.
But strange reports dodged in and out of the alleys of pessimism in
the company of German insistence that the Tiger and other ships
which one saw afloat had been sunk. Was the fleet really held
prisoner by fear of submarines? If it could go and come freely when it
chose, the harbour was the place for it while it waited. If not, then,
indeed, the submarine had revolutionized naval warfare. Admiral
Jellicoe might lose some of his battleships before he could get into
action against the Germans.

"Oh, to hear the hoarse rattle of the anchor chains!" I kept thinking
while I was with the fleet. "Oh, to see all these monsters on the

A vain wish it seemed, but it came true. A message from the
Admiralty arrived while we were on the flagship. Admiral Jellicoe
called his Flag Lieutenant and spoke a word to him, which was
passed in a twinkling from flagship to squadron and division and ship.
He made it as simple as ordering his barge alongside, this sending of
the Grand Fleet to sea.

From the bridge of a destroyer beyond the harbour entrance we saw
it go. I shall not attempt to describe the spectacle, which convinced
me that language is the vehicle for making small things seem great
and great things seem small. If you wish words invite splendid and
magnificent and overwhelming and all the reliable old friends to come
forth in glad apparel from the dictionary. Personally, I was inarticulate
at sight of that sea-march of dull-toned, unadorned power.

First came the outriders of majesty, the destroyers; then the graceful
light cruisers. How many destroyers has the British navy? I am only
certain that it has not as many as it seems to have, which would
mean thousands. Trying to count them is like trying to count the bees
in the garden. You cannot keep your eye on the individual bees. You
are bound to count some twice, so busy are their manoeuvres.

"Don't you worry, great ladies!" you imagined the destroyers were
saying to the battleships. "We will clear the road. We will keep watch
against snipers and assassins."

"And if any knocks are coming, we will take them for you, great
ladies!" said the cruisers. "If one of us went down, the loss would not
be great. Keep your big guns safe to beat other battleships into

For you may be sure that Fritz was on the watch in the open. He
always is, like the highwayman hiding behind a hedge and envying
people who have comfortable beds. Probably from a distance he had
a peep through his periscope at the Grand Fleet before the approach
of the policeman destroyers made him duck beneath the water; and
probably he tried to count the number of ships and identify their
classes in order to take the information home to Kiel. Besides, he
always has his fingers crossed. He hopes that some day he may get
a shot at something more warlike than a merchant steamer or an
auxiliary; only that prospect becomes poorer as life for him grows
harder. Except a miracle happened, the steaming fleet, with its
cordons of destroyers, is as safe from him as from any other kind of

The harbour which is the fleet's home is landlocked by low hills. There
is an eclipse of the sun by the smoke from the ships getting under
way; streaming, soaring columns of smoke on the move rise above
the skyline from the funnels of the battleships before they appear
around a bend. Indefinite masses as yet they are, under their night-
black plumes. Each ship seems too immense to respond to any will
except its own. But there is something automatic in the regularity with
which, one after another, they take the bend, as if a stop watch had
been held on twenty thousand tons of steel for a second's variation.
As they approach they become more distinct and, showing less
smoke, there seems less effort. Their motive-power seems inherent,

There is some sea running outside the entrance, enough to make a
destroyer roll. But the battleships disdain any notice of its existence. It
is no more to them than a ripple of dust to a motor truck. They plough
through it.

Though you were within twenty yards of them you would feel quite
safe. An express train was in no more danger of jumping the track.
Mast in line with mast, they held the course with a majestic
steadiness. Now the leading ship makes a turn of a few points. At the
same spot, as if it were marked by the grooves of tyres in a road, the
others make it. Any variation of speed between them would have
been instantly noticeable, as one forged ahead or lagged; but the
distance between bows and sterns did not change. A line of one
length would do for each interval so far as one could discern.

It was difficult to think that they were not attached to some taut,
moving cable under water. How could such apparently unwieldy
monsters, in such a slippery element as the sea, be made to obey
their masters with such fine precision?

The answer again is sheer hard work! Drills as arduous in the engine-
room as at the guns; machinery kept in tune; traditions in
manoeuvring in all weathers, which is kept up with tireless practice.

Though all seemed perfection to the lay eye, let it be repeated that
this was not so to the eyes of admirals. It never can be. Perfection is
the thing striven for. Officers dwell on faults; all are critics. Thus you
have the healthiest kind of spirit, which means that there will be no
cessation in the striving.

"Look at that!" exclaimed an officer on the destroyer. "They ought to
try another painting on her and see if they can't do better."

Ever changing that northern light. For an instant the sun's rays,
strained by a patch of peculiar cloud, playing on a Dreadnought's
side, made her colour appear molten, exaggerating her size till she
seemed as colossal to the eye as to the thought.

"But look, now!" said another officer. She was out of the patch and
seemed miles farther away to the vision, a dim shape in the sea-

"You can't have it right for every atmospheric mood of the North Sea,
I suppose!" muttered the critic. Still, it hurt his professional pride
that a battleship should show up as such a glaring target even
for a moment.

The power of the fleet was more patent in movement than at rest; for
the sea-lion was out of his lair on the hunt. Fluttering with flags at a
review at Spithead, the battleships seemed out of their element;
giants trying for a fairy's part. Display is not for them. It ill becomes
them, as does a pink ribbon on a bulldog.

Irresistibly ploughing their way they presented a picture of resolute
utility--guns and turrets and speed. No spot of bright colour was
visible on board. The crew was at the guns, I took it. Turn the turrets,
give the range, lay the sights on the enemy's ships, and the battle
was on.

"There is the old Dreadnought," said an officer. The old Dreadnought
--all of ten years of age, the senile old thing! What a mystery she was
when she was building! The mystery accentuated her celebrity--and
almost forgotten now, while the Queen Elizabeth and the Warspite,
and others of their class with their fifteen-inch guns, would be in the
public eye as the latest type till a new type came. A parade of naval
types was passing. One seemed to shade into the other in
harmonious effect. But here was an outsider, whom one noted
instantly as he studied those rugged silhouettes of steel. She had
twelve twelve-inch guns, with turret piled on turret in an exotic
fashion--one of the two Turkish battleships building in England at the
time of the war and taken over by the British.

One division, two divisions, four ships, eight Dreadnoughts--even a
squadron coming out of a harbour numbs the faculties with a sense
of its might. Sixteen--twenty--twenty-four--it was the unending
numbers of this procession of sea-power which was most impressive.
An hour passed and all were not by. One sat down for a few minutes
behind the wind-screen of the destroyer's bridge, only to look back
and see more Dreadnoughts going by. A spectator had not realized
that there were so many in the harbour. He had a suspicion that
Admiral Jellicoe was a conjuror who could take Dreadnoughts out of
a hat.

The first was lost in the gathering darkness far out in the North Sea,
and still the cloud of smoke over the anchorage was as thick as ever;
still the black plumes kept appearing around the bend. The King
Edward VII. class with their four twelve-inch guns and other ancients
of the pre-Dreadnought era, which are still powerful antagonists, were
yet to come. One's eyes ached. Those who saw a German corps
march through Brussels said that it seemed irresistible. What if they
had seen the whole German army? Here was the counterpart of the
whole German army in sea-power and in land-power, too.

The destroyer commander looked at his watch.

"Time!" he said. "I'll put you on shore."

He must take his place in the fleet at a given moment. A word to the
engine-room and the next thing we knew we were off at thirty knots
an hour, cutting straight across the bows of a Dreadnought steaming
at twenty knots, towering over us threateningly, with a bone in her

Imagination sped across seas where a man had cruised into
harbours that he knew and across continents that he knew. He was
trying to visualize the whole globe--all of it except the Baltic seas and
a thumb-mark in the centre of Europe. Hong-Kong, Melbourne,
Sydney, Halifax, Cape Town, Bombay--yes, and Rio and Valparaiso,
Shanghai, San Francisco, New York, Boston, these and the lands
back of them, where countless millions dwell, were all safe behind the
barrier of that fleet.

Then back through the land where Shakespeare wrote to London,
with its glare of recruiting posters and the throbbing of that individual
freedom which is on trial in battle with the Prussian system--and as
one is going to bed the sound of guns in the heart of the city! From
the window one looked upward to see, under a searchlight's play, the
silken sheen of a cigar-shaped sort of aerial phantom which was
dropping bombs on women and children, while never a shot is fired at
those sturdy men behind armour.

When you have travelled far; when you think of Botha and his Boers
fighting for England; when you have found justice and fair play and
open markets under the British flag; when you compare the
vociferations of von Tirpitz, glorying in the torpedoing of a Lusitania,
with the quiet manner of Sir John Jellicoe, you need only a little spark
of conscience to prefer the way that the British have used their sea-
power to the way that the men who send out Zeppelins to war on
women and children would use that power if they had it.

British Problems

Throughout the summer of 1915 the world was asking, What about
the new British army? Why was it not attacking at the opportune
moment when Germany was throwing her weight against Russia? A
facile answer is easy; indeed, facile answers are always easy.
Unhappily, they are rarely correct. None that was given in this
instance was, to my mind. They sought to put a finger on one definite
cause; again, on an individual or a set of individuals.

The reasons were manifold; as old as Waterloo, as fresh as the last
speech in Parliament. They were inherent in the Anglo-Saxon race.
Whoever raised a voice and said, This, or that, or you, are
responsible! should first have looked into his own mind and into the
history of his race and then into a mirror. Least of all should any
American have been puzzled by the delay.

"Oh, we should have done better than that--we are Americans!" I
hear my countrymen say. Perhaps we should. I hope so; I believe so.
The British public thought that they were going to do better; military
men were surprised that they did as well.

Along with laws and language we have inherited our military ideas
from England. In many qualities we are different--a distinct type; but in
nothing are we more like the British than in our attitude toward the
soldier and toward war. The character of any army reflects the
character of its people. An army is the fist; but the muscle, the
strength, of the physical organism behind the blow in the long run
belong to the people. What they have prepared for in peace they
receive in war, which decides whether they have been living in the
paradise of a fool or of a wise man.

As a boy I was brought up to believe, as an inheritance of the
American Revolution, that one American could whip two Englishmen
and five or six of any other nationality, which made the feathers of the
eagle perched on the national escutcheon look glossy. It was a
satisfying sort of faith. Americans had never tried five or six of any
first-class fighting race; but that was not a thought which occurred to
me. As we had won victories over the English and the English had
whipped the French at Waterloo, the conclusion seemed obvious.
English boys, I understand, also had been brought up to believe that
one Englishman could whip five or six men of any other nationality,
but, I take it for granted, only two Americans. This clothed the British
lion with majesty, while the lower ratio of superiority over Americans
returned the compliment in kind from the sons of the lion to the sons
of the eagle.

After I began to read history for myself and to think as I read, I found
that when British and Americans had met, the generals on either side
were solicitous about having superior forces, and in case of odds of
two to one they made a "strategic retreat." When either side was
beaten, the other always explained that he was overcome by superior
numbers, though perhaps the adversary had not more than ten or
fifteen per cent, advantage. Then I learned that the British had not
whipped five or six times their number on the continent of Europe.
The British Expeditionary Force made as fine an effort to do so at
Mons as was ever attempted in history, but they did not succeed.

It was a regular army that fought at Mons. The only two first-class
nations which depend upon regulars to do their fighting are the British
and the American. This is the vital point of similarity which is the
practical manifestation of our military ideas. We have been the earth's
spoiled children, thanks to the salt seas between us and other
powerful military nations. Before any other Power could reach the
United States it must overwhelm the British navy, and then it must
overwhelm ours and bring its forces in transports. Sea-power, you
say. That is the facile word, so ready to the lips that we do not realize
the wonder of it any more than of the sun rising and setting.

When we want soldiers our plan still is to advertise for them. The
ways of our ancestors remain ours. We think that the volunteer must
necessarily make the best soldier because he offers his services;
while the conscript--rather a term of opprobrium to us--must be
lukewarm. It hardly occurs to us that some forms of persuasion may
amount to conscription, or that the volunteer, won by oratorical
appeal to his emotions or by social pressure, may suffer a reaction
after enlistment which will make him lukewarm also, particularly as he
sees others, also young and fit, hanging back. Nor does it occur to us
that there may be virtue in that fervour of national patriotism aroused
by the command that all must serve, which, on the continent in this
war, has meant universal exaltation to sacrifice. The life of Jones
means as much to him as the life of Smith does to him; and when the
whole nation is called to arms there ought to be no favourites in life-

For the last hundred years, if we except the American Civil War, ours
have been comparatively little wars. The British regular army has
policed an empire and sent punitive expeditions against rebellious
tribes with paucity of numbers, in a work which the British so well
understand. Our little regular army took care of the Red Indians as
our frontier advanced from the Alleghenies to the Pacific. To put it
bluntly, we have hired someone to do our fighting for us.

Without ever seriously studying the business of soldiering, the
average Anglo-Saxon thought of himself as a potential soldier, taking
his sense of martial superiority largely from the work of the long-
service, severely drilled regular. Also, we used our fists rather than
daggers or duelling swords in personal encounters and, man to man,
unequipped with fire-arms or blades, the quality which is responsible
for our sturdy pioneering individualism gave us confidence in our
physical prowess.

Alas! modern wars are not fought with fists. A knock-kneed man who
knows how to use a machine-gun and has one to use--which is also
quite important--could mow down all the leading heavy-weights of the
United States and England, with the latest champion leading the

Now, this regular who won our little wars was not representative of
the people as a whole. He was the man "down on his luck," who went
to the recruiting depot. Soldiering became his profession. He was in a
class, like priests and vagabonds. When you passed him in the street
you thought of him as a strange being, but one of the necessities of
national existence. It did not interest you to be a soldier; but as there
must be soldiers, you were glad that men who would be soldiers were

When trouble broke, how you needed him! When the wires brought
news of his gallantry you accepted the deeds of this man whom you
had paid as the reflection of national courage, which thrilled you with
a sense of national superiority. To him, it was in the course of duty;
what he had been paid to do. He did not care about being called a
hero; but it pleased the public to make him one--this professional who
fights for a shilling a day in England and $17.50 a month in the United

Though when the campaign went well the public was ready to take
the credit as a personal tribute, when the campaign went badly they
sought a scapegoat, and the general who might have been a hero
was sent to the wilderness perhaps because those busy men in
Congress or Parliament thought that the army could do without that
little appropriation which was needed for some other purpose. The
army had failed to deliver the goods which it was paid to produce.
The army was to blame, when, of course, under free institutions the
public was to blame, as the public is master of the army and not the
army of the public.

A first impression of the British army is always that of the regiment.
Pride of regiment sometimes appears almost more deep-seated than
army pride to the outsider. It has been so long a part of British martial
inheritance that it is bred in the blood. In the old days of small armies
and in the later days of small wars, while Europe was making every
man a soldier by conscription, regiment vying with regiment won the
battles of empire. The memory of the part each regiment played is the
inspiration of its present; its existence is inseparable from the
traditions of its long list of battle honours.

The British public loves to read of its Guards' regiment and to watch
them in their brilliant uniforms at review. When a cadet comes out of
Sandhurst he names the regiment which he wishes to join, instead of
being ordered to a certain regiment, as at West Point. It rests with the
regimental commander whether or not he is accepted. Frequently the
young man of wealth or family serves in the Guards or another crack
regiment for awhile and resigns, usually to enjoy the semi-leisurely life
which is the fortune of his inheritance.

Then there are the county line regiments, such as the Yorkshires, the
Kents, and the Durhams. In this war each county wanted to read
about its own regiments at the same time as about the Guards, just
as Kansans at home would want to read about the Kansas regiment
and Georgians about the Georgia regiment. The most trying feature
of the censorship to the British public was its refusal to allow the
exploitation of regiments. The staff was adamant on this point; for the
staff was thinking for the whole and of the interests of the whole. In
the French and the German armies, as in our regular army, regiments
are known by numbers.

The young man who lives in the big house on the hill, the son of the
man of wealth and power in the community, as a rule does not go to
West Point. None of the youth of our self-called aristocracy which
came up the golden road in a generation past those in modest
circumstances who have generations of another sort back of them,
think of going into the First Cavalry or the First Infantry for a few years
as a part of the career of their class. A few rich men's sons enter our
army, but only enough to prove the rule by the exception. They do not
regard the army as "the thing." It does not occur to them that they
ought to do something for their country. Rather, their country ought to
do something for them.

But sink the plummet a little deeper and these are not our aristocracy
nor our ruling class, which is too numerous and too sound of thought
and principle for them to feel at home in that company. Any boy,
however humble his origin, may go to West Point if he can pass the
competitive examination. Europe, particularly Germany, would not
approve of this; but we think it the best way. The average graduate of
the Point, whether the son of a doctor, a lawyer, or a farmer, sticks to
the army as his profession. We maintain the Academy for the strict
business purpose of teaching young men how to train our army in
time of peace and to lead and direct it in time of action.

Our future officers enter West Point when they are two years younger
than is the average at Sandhurst; the course is four years compared
with two at Sandhurst. I should venture to say that West Point is the
harder grind; that the graduate of the Point has a more specifically
academic military training than the graduate of Sandhurst. This is not
saying that he may be any better in the performance of the simple
duties of a company officer. It is not a new criticism that we train
everybody at West Point to be a general, when many of the students
may never rise above the command of a battalion. However, it is a
significant fact that at the close of the Civil War every army
commander was a West Point man and so were most of the corps

The doors are open in the British army for a man to rise from the
ranks; not as wide as in our army, but open. The Chief of Staff of the
British Expeditionary Force, Sir William Robertson, was in the ranks
for ten years. No man not a West Pointer had a position equivalent in
importance to his at the close of the Civil War. His rise would have
been possible in no other European army.

But West Point sets the stamp on the American army, and Sandhurst
and Woolwich, the engineering and artillery school, on the British
army. At the end of the four years at West Point the men who survive
the hard course may be tried by courtmartial not for conduct
unbecoming an officer, but an officer and a gentleman. They are
supposed, whatever their origin, to have absorbed certain qualities, if
they were not inborn, which are not easily described but which we all
recognize in any man. If they are absent it is not the fault of West
Point; and if a man cannot acquire them there, then nature never
meant them for him. From the time he entered the school the
government has paid his way; and he is cared for until he dies, if he
keeps step and avoids courtmartials.

His position in life is secure. His pay, counting everything, is better
than that of the average graduate of a university or a first-class
professional school who practises a profession. Yet only three boys, I
remember, wanted to go to West Point from our congressional district
in my youth. Nothing could better illustrate the fact that we are not a
military people. From West Point they go out to the little army which is
to fight our wars; to the posts and the Philippines, and become a
world in themselves; an isolated caste in spite of themselves. I am
not at all certain that either the British or the American officer works
as hard as the German in time of peace. Neither has the practical
incentive nor the determined driver behind him.

For it takes a soldier Secretary of War to drive a soldier; for example,
Lord Kitchener. Those British officers who applied themselves in
peace to the mastery of their profession and were not content with
the day's routine requirements, had to play chess without chessmen;
practise manoeuvres on a board rather than with brigades, divisions,
corps, and armies. They became the rallying points in the concourse
of untrained recruits.

German and French officers had the incentive and the chessmen.
The Great War could not take them by surprise. They took the road
with a machine whose parts had been long assembled. They had
been trained for big war; their ambition and intelligence were under
the whip of a definite anticipation.

A factor overlooked, but even more significant than training or staff
work, was that what might be called martial team-play had become
an instinct with the continental peoples through the necessity of their
situation. This the Japanese also possess. It is the right material
ready to hand for the builder. Not that it is the kind of material one
admires; but it is the right material for making a war-machine. One
had only to read the expert military criticism in the British and the
American Press at the outset of the war to realize how vague was the
truth of the continental situation to the average Englishman or
American--but not to the trained British Staff.

So that little British Expeditionary Force, in ratio of number one to
twenty or thirty of the French army, crossed the Channel to help save
Belgium. Gallantry it had worthy of the brightest chapter in the
immortal history of its regiments from Quebec to Kandahar, from
Agincourt, Blenheim and Waterloo to South Africa, Guards and
Hussars, Highlanders and Lowlanders, kilts and breeks, Connaught
Rangers and Royal Fusiliers, Duke of Wellington's and Prince of
Wales' Own, come again to Flanders. The best blood of England was
leading Tommy Atkins. Whatever British aristocracy is or is not, it
never forgets its duty to the England of its fathers. It is never ingrate
to its fortune. The time had come to go out and die for England, if
need be, and these officers went as their ancestors had gone before
them, as they would go to lectures at Oxford, to the cricket field and
the polo field, in outward phlegm, but with a mighty passion in their

The Germans affected to despise this little army. It had not been
trained in the mass tactics which hurl columns of flesh forward to gain
tactical points that have been mauled by artillery fire. You do not use
mass tactics against Boers, nor against Afridis, nor Filipinos. It is
difficult to combine the two kinds of efficiency. Those who were on the
march to the relief of the Peking Legations recall how the Germans
were as ill at ease in that kind of work as the Americans and British
were at home. It made us misjudge the Germans and the Germans
misjudge us when they thought of us as trying to make war on the
continent of Europe. A small, mobile, regular army, formed to go
overseas and march long distances, was to fight in a war where
millions were engaged and a day's march would cover an immense
stretch of territory in international calculations of gain and loss.

For its own purposes, the British Expeditionary Force was well-nigh a
perfect instrument. As quantity of ammunition was an important factor
in transport in the kind of campaign which it was prepared for, its
guns were the most accurate on a given point and its system of fire
adapted to that end; but the French system of fire, with plentiful
ammunition from near bases over fine roads, was better adapted for
a continental campaign. To the last button that little army was
prepared. Man for man and regiment for regiment, I should say it was
the best force that ever fired a shot in Europe; this without regard to
national character. As England must make every regular soldier
count, and as she depended upon the efficiency of the few rather
than on numbers, she had trained her men in musketry. No
continental army could afford to allow its soldiers to expend the
amount of ammunition on the target range that the British had
expended. Only by practice can you learn how to shoot. This gives
the soldier confidence. He stays in his trench and keeps on shooting
because he knows that he can hit those advancing figures and that
this is his best protection. The more I learn, the more I am convinced
that the Germans ought to have got the British Expeditionary Force;
and the Germans were very surprised that they did not get it. With
their surprise developed a respect for British arms, reported by all
visitors to Germany.

Mr. Thomas Atkins, none other, is the hero of that retreat from Mons.
The first statue raised in London after the war ought to be of him. If
there had been five hundred thousand of him in Belgium at the end of
the second week in August, Brussels would now be under the Belgian
flag. Like many other good things in this world, including the French
army, there were not enough of him. Many a company on that retreat
simply got tired of retreating, though orders were to fall back. It dug a
trench and lay down and kept on firing--accurately, in the regular,
businesslike way, reinforced by the "stick it" British character--until
killed or engulfed. This held back the flood long enough for the
remainder of the army to retire.

Not all the generalship emanated from generals. I like best that story
of the cross-roads where, with Germans pressing hard on all sides,
two columns in retreat fell in together, uncertain which way to go. With
confusion developing for want of instructions, a lone, exhausted staff
officer who happened along took charge, and standing at the junction
in the midst of shell-fire told every doubting unit what to do, with a
one-two-three alacrity of decision. His work finished, he and his red
cap disappeared, and I never could find anyone who knew who he

After the retreat and after the victory of the Marne, what was
England's position? The average Englishman had thought that
England's part in the alliance was to send a small army to France and
to take care of the German fleet. England's fleet was her first
consideration; that must be served. France's demand for rifles and
supplies must be attended to before the British demand. Serbia
needed supplies; Russia needed supplies; a rebellion threatened in
South Africa; the Turks threatened the invasion of Egypt. England
had to spread her energy out over a vast empire with an army that
had barely escaped annihilation. Every soldier who fought must be
supplied overseas. German officers put a man on a railroad train and
he detrained near the front. Every British soldier had to go on board a
train and then a ship and then disembark from the ship and go on
board another train. Every article of ordnance, engineering, medical
supply, food supply, must be handled four times, while in Germany
they need be handled but twice. Any railway traffic manager will
understand what this means. Both the British supply system and the
medical corps were marvels.

Germany was stronger than the British public thought. Germany and
Austria could put at the front in the first six months of the war
practically double the number which the Allies could maintain. Russia
had multitudes to draw from in reserve, but the need was multitudes
at the front. There she was only as strong as the number she could
feed and equip. In the first year of the war England suffered 380,000
casualties on land, more than three times the number of men that
she had at Mons. This wastage must be met before she could begin
to increase her forces. The length of line on the western front that she
was holding was not the criterion of her effort. The French who
shared with the British that terrible Ypres salient realized this.

Apart from the regulars she had the Territorials, who are much the
same as our National Guard and vary in quality in the same way.
Native Indian troops were brought to France to face the diabolical
shell-fire of modern guns, and Territorials went out to India to take the
place of the British regulars who were withdrawn for France. Every
rifle that England could bring to the assistance of the French in their
heroic stand was a rifle to the good.

Meanwhile, she was making her new army. For the first time since
Cromwell's day, all classes in England were going to war. Making an
army out of the raw is like building a factory to be manned by expert
labour which you have to train. Let us even suppose that the factory
is ready and that the proprietor must mobilize his managers,
overseers, foremen, and labour from far and near--a force individually
competent, but which had never before worked together. It would
require some time to organize team-play, wouldn't it? Particularly it
would if you were short of managers, overseers, and foremen. To
express my meaning from another angle, in talking once with an
English pottery manufacturer he said:

"We do not train our labour in the pottery district. We breed it from
generation to generation."

In Germany they have not only been training soldiers, but breeding
them from generation to generation. You may think that system is
wrong. It may be contrary to our ideals. But in fighting against that
system for your ideals when war is violence and killing, you must
have weapons as effective as the enemy's. You express only a part
of Germany's preparedness by saying that the men who left the
plough and the shop, the factory and the office, became trained
soldiers at the command of the staff as soon as they were in uniform
and had rifles. These men had the instinct of military co-ordination
bred in them, and so had their officers, while England had to take
men from the plough and the shop, the factory and the office, and
equip them and teach them the rudiments of soldiering before she
could consider making them into an army.

It was one thing for the spirit of British manhood to rise to the
emergency. Another and even more important requisite went with it. If
my country ever faces such a crisis I hope that we also may have the
courage of wisdom which leaves an expert's work to an expert.
England had Lord Kitchener, who could hold the imagination and the
confidence of the nation through the long months of preparation,
when there was little to show except repetition of drills here and there
on gloomy winter days. It required a man with a big conception and
patience and authority to carry it through, and recruits with an
unflinching sense of duty. The immensity of the task of transforming a
non-military people into a great fighting force grew on one in all its
humdrum and vital details as he watched the new army forming. "Are
you learning to think in big numbers?" was Lord Kitchener's question
to his generals.

Half of the regular officers were killed or wounded.

Where the leaders? Where the drillmasters for the new army? Old
officers came out of retirement, where they had become used to an
easy life as a rule, to twelve hours a day of hard application. "Dug-
outs" they were called. Veteran non-commissioned officers had to drill
new ones. It was demonstrated that a good infantry soldier can be
made in six months; perhaps in three. But it takes seven months to
build a rifle-plant; many more months to make guns--and the navy
must never be stinted. Probably the English are slow; slow and
thoroughgoing. They are good at the finish, but not quick at the start.
They are used to winning the last battle, which they say is the one
that counts. The complacency of empire with a century's power was a
handicap, no doubt. We are inclined to lean forward on our oars, they
to lean back--which does not mean that they cannot lean forward in
an emergency or that they lack reserve strength. It may lead us to
misjudge them.

Public impatience was inevitable. It could not be kept silent; that is the
English of it--the American, too. It demands to know what is being
done. It was not silent in the Civil War. From the time McClellan
started forming his new army until the Peninsular campaign was six
months, if I remember rightly. Von Moltke, who built the German staff
system, said that the Civil War was a strife between two armed mobs;
though I think if he had brought his Prussians to Virginia a year later,
in '63, which would have ended the Civil War there and then, he
would have had an interesting time before he returned to Berlin.

The British new army was not to face another new army, but the most
thoroughly organized military machine that the world has ever known.
Not only this, but the Germans, with a good start and their system
established, were not standing still and waiting for the British to catch
up, so that the two could begin again even, but were adapting
themselves to the new features of the war. They had been the world's
arms-makers. With vast munition plants ready, their feudal socialistic
organization could make the most of their resources in men and

More than two million Englishmen went to the recruiting depots,
though no invader had set foot on their soil, and offered to serve in
France or wherever they were needed overseas. If no magic could
put rifles in their hands or summon batteries of guns to follow them on
the march, the fact of their volunteering, when they knew by watching
from day to day the drudgery that it meant and what trench warfare
was, shows at least that the race is not yet decadent. Perhaps we
should have done better. No one can know until we try it. If liberal
treatment by the government and the course set by Secretary Root
means anything, our staff ought to be better equipped for such a task
than the English were; this, too, only war can decide.

Whatsoever of pessimism appeared in the British Press was
telegraphed to America. Pessimism was not permitted in the German
Press. Imagine Germany holding control of the cable and allowing
press dispatches from Germany to pass over it with the freedom that
England allowed. Imagine Germany having waited as long as
England before making cotton contraband. The British Press
demanded information from the government which the German Press
would never have dared to ask. I have known an American
correspondent, fed out of hand in Germany and thankful for anything
that the fearful German war-machine might vouchsafe, turning a
belligerent when he was in London for privileges which he would
never have thought of demanding in Berlin.

If an English ship were reported sunk, he believed it must be, despite
the government's denial. Did he go to the Germans and demand that
he might publish the rumours of what had happened to the Moltke in
the Gulf of Riga, or how many submarines Germany had really lost?
Indeed, he was unconsciously paying a compliment to British free
institutions. He expected more in England; it seemed a right to him,
as it would at home. Englishmen talked frankly to him about mistakes;
he heard all the gossip; and sometimes he concluded that England
was in a bad way. In Germany such talk was not allowed. Every
German said that the government was absolutely truthful; every
German believed all of its reports. But ask this critical American how
he would like to live under German rule, and then you found how anti-
German he was at heart. Nothing succeeds like success, and
Germany was winning and telling no one if she had any setbacks.

If there were a strike, the British Press made the most of it, for it was
big news. Pessimism is the Englishman's natural way of arousing
himself to fresh energy. It is also against habit to be demonstrative in
his effort; so it is not easy to understand how much he is doing. Then,
pessimism brought recruits; it made the Englishman say, "I've got to
put my back into it!" Muddling there was and mistakes, such as that
of the method of attack at Gallipoli; but in the midst of all this
dispiriting pessimism, no Englishman thought of anything but of
putting his back into it more and more. Lord Kitchener had said that it
was to be a long war and evidently it must be. Of course, England's
misfortune was in having the war catch her in the transition from an
old order of things to social reforms.

But if the war shows anything it is that basically English character has
not changed. She still has unconquerable, dogged persistence, and
her defects for this kind of war are not among the least admirable of
her traits to those who desire to live their own lives in their own way,
as the English-speaking people have done for five hundred years,
without having a verboten sign on every street corner.

It is still the law that when a company of infantry marches through
London it must be escorted by a policeman. This means a good deal:
that civil power is superior to military power. It is a symbol of what
Englishmen have fought for with spades and pitchforks, and what we
have fought Englishmen for. My own idea is that England is fighting
for it in this struggle; and starting unready against a foe which was
ready, as the free peoples always have done, she was fighting for
time and experience before she could strike her sturdiest blows.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest