Part 1 out of 2
THE LOG OF A NONCOMBATANT
by Horace Green
Staff Correspondent of the New York Evening Post
Special Correspondent of the Boston Journal
In the following pages the ego is thickly spread. Their publication is
the result of persuasion from many sources that, before returning to
the war zone, I should put into connected form my personal
experiences as correspondent during the first year of the War of
Nations. A few of these adventures were mentioned in news letters
from the Continent, where I limited myself so far as possible to
descriptions of armies at war and peoples in time of stress; but the
greater part of them were merely jotted down from time to time for my
own benefit in "The Log of a Noncombatant."
I. From Broadway To Ghent
II. The Second Bombardment Of Termonde
IV. A Clog Dance On The Scheldt
V. The Bombardment Of Antwerp
VI. The Surrender Of Antwerp
VII. Spying On Spies
VIII. The Sorrow Of The People
The Log Of A Noncombatant
From Broadway To Ghent
When the war broke out in August, 1914, I was at work in the City
Room of the "New York Evening Post." One morning, during the first
week of activities, the copy boy handed me a telegram which was
signed "Luther, Boston," and contained the rather cryptic message:
--"How about this fight?"
It was some moments before I could recall the time, more than two
years before, when I had last seen the writer, Willard B. Luther,
Boston lawyer, devotee of some, and critic of many kinds of sport.
We had been sitting on that previous occasion--a crowd of college
fellows, including Luther and myself--in a certain room in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from the University in that
neighborhood where Luther had attended the Law School and the
rest of us, on our respective graduation days, had received valuable
pieces of parchment with the presidential signature attached. The
conversation had already run through the question of Votes for
Women, progressive politics, and prize-fights, and before the card
game began it had settled on the last-named, chiefly because of my
own vainglorious description of adventures at Reno, Nevada, at the
time of the Jeffries-Johnson battle for the heavyweight championship
of the world. I remember telling with some gusto of my first
newspaper interview--one with "Bob" Fitzsimmons, then the Old
Man of the ring, and "Gentleman" Jim Corbett, who was Jeffries'
trainer at Reno.
"I had always wanted to see that performance," said Luther, "and
would have gone in a flash if I could have got any one to make the
trip with me. But remember this fact: whenever the next big fight is
held I'm going with you." Later in the evening we shook hands on the
At the time that Luther's telegram came I was planning to start for the
Continent as Staff Correspondent of the "New York Evening Post"
and Special Correspondent of the "Boston Journal." Remembering
that Cambridge agreement I immediately wired:--
"Yes. This fight will do."
So that is how it came to pass that Luther and myself boarded the
Campania together, landed in Liverpool, cast about for ways and
means of getting into the scrimmage, and for the first month and a
half of my four months of wandering on the Continent were brother
conspirators, until the duties of partnership called my friend home and
left me without a companion in adventure.
In London we absorbed to some extent a heavy British fog and to a
greater extent British public opinion. We marveled at the exterior calm
of a nation plunged in the greatest of wars, yet fighting, so it seemed
at the time, with its top hat on and its smile still undisturbed. Across
the English Channel three days later the Dutch steam packet
Princess Juliana carried us safely through mine fields and between
lanes of British torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers. We
landed on the Continent at Flushing. Thence we headed for The
Hague, Holland, the neutral gateway of northern Europe, where we
found the American Minister, Dr. Henry van Dyke, and his first
secretary, Marshall Langhorne, shouldering the work of the American
Legation in its chameleonesque capacity as bank, post-office,
detective bureau, bureau of information, charity organization, and one
might even say temporary home for the stranded travelers of every
rank and nation.
Antwerp, the temporary capital of Belgium, was at this time invested,
but not yet besieged, by the German army. On the south the city was
already cut off by several regiments of the Ninth and Tenth German
Army Corps under General von Boehn. The River Scheldt and the
Dutch border formed a wall on the north and west. It was to Antwerp,
therefore, that we determined to go. After listening to the usual flood
of warnings against entering the fighting zone, and drinking our fill of
stories of atrocity and hate which every refugee brought across the
border into Holland, we took a couple of reefs in our baggage, and,
hoisting our knapsacks, set our course for the temporary Belgian
capital. By rail we traveled south across the level fields and lush
green meadows of Holland, over bridges ready to be dynamited in
case of invasion, and through training camps of the 450,000 Dutch
soldiers then mobilized along the border. At a little town called
Eschen the train stopped because the Belgians had torn up the
Seated on the cross-piece of a joggling two-wheeled ox cart, moving
at the rate of not more than four miles an hour, with a dumb
specimen for a driver, and a volume of Baedeker for interpreter and
guide, we got our first glimpse of the hideous thing called war.
Judging from the looks of the country and the burning villages, we
were on the heels of a devastating army. For three, four, and five
miles on either side of the road beautiful trees lay flat upon the
ground. It was not until we saw groups of Belgian soldiers tearing
down their own walls and hedges and applying match and gasolene
to those which still stood, that we realized that this was a case of
self-inflicted destruction. Farmhouses, stores, churches, old Belgian
mansions, and windmills were either in flames or smouldering ruins.
Where burning had not been sufficient, powder and dynamite had
been applied to destroy landmarks which for centuries had been the
country's pride. As far as the eye could reach the countryside was
flattened to a desert. It reminded me of the Salem fire, through which,
while the piles of debris were still smoking, I had been taken in the
"Boston Journal's" car. But instead of a single town, here for twenty
miles along lay stretched a smouldering waste. The devastation was
for the defensive purpose of giving an unobstructed view to the
cannon of Antwerp's outer fortifications, which on that side covered
one sector of the circle swept by her enormous guns. I should
hesitate to mention the millions of dollars of self-inflicted damage to
Antwerp's suburbs alone. Luther and I did not at the time have the
military password. So that first day was a specimen in the matter of
hold-ups and arrests. From the time that we started across the level
plains which approach the city until we got through the double sector
of forts, we were stopped, questioned, and searched by thirteen
different groups of soldiers. There were marry occasions where, after
one pair of stupid sentries had put us through the grill, a second pair,
watching from a distance of thirty yards or so, promptly repeated the
entire performance. As these fellows spoke only Flemish dialect, our
conversations were not particularly fluent. Frequently there gathered
around us a crowd of gaping peasants, and when the word
"Americaine" came out, there were "Oh's" and "Ah" of astonishment,
or as often, when our explanations were not believed, sibilant hisses
that shaped themselves into the menacing word "Spion." We had
been led to believe that sooner or later a wool-witted sentry would
shoot first and investigate later; but so far they had simply crossed
bayonets, or with their hands up and palms outward had signaled us
Our experience that day, as later events proved, was not an
extraordinary occurrence for war-time, especially for those
endeavoring to gain entrance to an invested city. But as our first and
maiden adventure it somewhat shook our nerve. When the grilling
was over we felt about as guilty as any criminal who has been put
through the third degree as practiced in the old police department
days, and I had several times to look over my passport and letters of
credentials to persuade myself that I was really not a spy. Eventually
we were permitted to pass the gates of the Gare du Nord. Once
inside the city gates, we made our way into the Place Verte and went
directly to the Hotel St. Antoine, whose proprietor sent our names to
police headquarters. The St. Antoine was at that time the residence
of the diplomatic corps and the Belgian ministers of state, and was
fifty yards from the Royal Palace and across the street from
headquarters of the Belgian General Staff.
There is no need of describing in detail Antwerp at the time of my first
visit. One or two pictures will suffice to give a rough idea of its
existence up to the time of the bombardment. Try to imagine, for
example, going about your business in New York or Boston or Los
Angeles (of course Antwerp is smaller than these) when your country,
a territory perhaps the size of the New England States, was already
two thirds overrun, burnt, smashed, and conquered by a hostile
nation, whose forces were now within nineteen miles of the gates of
the capital. Imagine that nation's warriors in the act of crushing your
tiny army, whose remnants were already exhausted and on the verge
of despair. Then picture a quaint, sleepy city, with shadowy alleys and
twisting, gabled streets, in which every other store and house was
decorated with King Albert's picture or draped in the red, black, and
yellow banner of the country-a city whose atmosphere was charged
with fear and suspicion and excitement. Sometimes a crowd of a
thousand or two drew one toward the Central Station where
bedraggled refugee families, just arrived from Liege, Termonde,
Aerschot, and Malines, stood on street corner or wagon top and
thrilled the crowd with tales of atrocities and the story of their flight
from their burning homes to the south. Now and then the crowd
parted before the clanging bell of a Red Cross ambulance rushing its
load of bleeding bodies to the hospitals along the Place de Meir.
Nurses, male or female, clung to the ambulance steps. The first one I
saw made a vivid impression on me. She was an English-looking girl
in a new khaki skirt, supporting with one hand what was left of a
blood-dripping head,--the eyes and nose were shot away,--while
out of the other hand she ate with apparent relish a thick rye-bread
sandwich. Occasionally she waved remnants of the sandwich at the
gaping crowd. It struck me as a peculiarly unnecessary exhibition of
her callous fitness for the job of nurse.
During the daytime the ordinary things of life went on, for the good
burghers and shopkeepers went about their business as usual, and,
generally speaking, fought against fear as bravely as the soldiers in
the trenches stood up against the German howitzers. It was only after
dark (when martial law permitted no lights of any kind) that the city
seemed to shiver and suck in its breath; doors were barricaded, iron
shutters came down, and behind them the people talked in whispers.
Military autos, fresh from the firing line, groaned and sputtered at the
doorstep of the St. Antoine; soldiers with pocket lanterns stamped
about the streets. From sheer nervousness after a day of
confinement some citizens, in spite of warnings, groped about the
more important avenues at night. Picture yourself on Broadway or
Tremont Street, with not a light on the street gleaming from a window,
and walking up and down with one hand on your wallet and the other
in the pocket where your Colt automatic ought to be.
Such, very briefly, was the condition of Antwerp at the time when we
arrived. That very evening word came in that the Belgian forces,
which had been engaged with the enemy for five consecutive days of
severe fighting, had retired behind the southern ramparts of the city.
During the night the stream of incoming wounded confirmed the news
of battle. In the moonlight, and later in the gray dawn, I watched the
long lines of Belgian hounds, pulling their rapid-fire guns out toward
the trenches. Many times later I was destined to see them. They
made a picturesque and stimulating sight--those faithful dogs of war
--fettered and harnessed, their tongues hanging out as they lay
patiently beneath the gun trucks awaiting the order to go into action,
or, when the word had been given, trotted along the dusty roads,
each pair tugging to the battle front a lean, gray engine of destruction.
For our purpose the best approach to Brussels was by way of Ghent.
Luther pushed on ahead while I was finishing a story. The following
morning, shouldering my knapsack, which now contained an extra
supply of army rations, and carefully stuffing my different sets of
credentials in different pockets (one for Belgian, one for German, and
one for English consumption), I crossed the River Scheldt and made
a slow and tortuous railway journey to Ghent.
Ghent lies thirty miles west of Antwerp. The trip took seven hours.
During the course of it I passed north of the Belgian lines and through
the western sector of forts, that is to say, Fort St. Nicholas, Fort
Haesdonck, and Fort Tete de Flandre. It was the same road along
which Winston Churchill's English marines and the remnant of the
Belgian forces retreated after the fall of Antwerp.
Ghent resounded with praises of its American Vice-Consul, Julius
Van Hee, a hair-trigger politician and a live wire if there ever was one.
Van Hee, with his intimate knowledge of four languages and the
Yankee knack of being on the right spot at the right time, twice saved
blood-shed in the streets of Ghent and in one instance probably
prevented a repetition of the scenes at Louvain.
In Ghent I again found Luther, with a fine young rumor in his pocket
--a rumor which turned out to be correct--that six German spies were
to be executed next morning at sunrise. The place mentioned was
behind the museum in a public park.
"I suppose we'll take it in," said Luther.
"I don't know about that," I answered; adding that, although
executions might be part of the day's work for a war correspondent, I
drew the line at seeing my first murder before breakfast. The tip was
correct enough except that it mentioned the wrong park.
The following noon the Military Governor, according to regulations,
caused to be posted circulars announcing that the men had been put
to death; but at all events I am glad to say that at that early date I did
not have the experience of watching six blindfolded wretches backed
up against a wall, of seeing the officer drop his arm as a signal, and
of hearing the fatal crack of a dozen muskets, as the bodies
collapsed like a telescope, crumpled inward with the chin upon the
chest, and fell forward to the earth.
The Second Bombardment Of Termonde
September 15th was our day with Henry Verhagen, the tall gray
alderman of the town that was once Termonde.
During all the time I was with him Verhagen did not speak a bitter
word. On the contrary, he was calm--particularly calm as he stood
beside the mound where the Belgian soldiers were buried in the
center of the ruined town, pointed to the pile of bricks where he had
lived, and told us how in two nights he had lost 340,000 francs, his
son, his factory, and his home. It was from him, from the
burgomaster's wife, and from a priest that we learned the story of the
city that had ceased to be.
It was the night before that I had wandered into Ghent alone, without
even the excitement of getting arrested. Luther, who became restive
early the next morning while I was jotting notes in the log-book, went
off in search of adventure. Because of the influence exerted by Vice-
Consul Van Hee an arrangement was very soon made whereby a Belgian
Government car and chauffeur were placed at our disposal. We had no
laissez-passer for the firing line; but we were accompanied by the
United States Consul and not governed by any stipulation as to our
destination. In our Belgian car, decorated with all the American flags
we could find, and "American Consular Service" pasted in huge letters on
the windshield and side flaps, we raced along the Boulevard de
l'lndustrie, swung into the southern suburbs, and, once outside the city
limits, we opened up the exhaust and threw down the throttle as Van Hee
shouted out the order:--"To Termonde!"
Termonde was at that time the scene of determined fighting between
units of the ninth German Corps and the Belgian defenders. Situated
as it is, twenty-one miles southeast of Ghent, it marks the southwest
corner of a square formed by Louvain and Termonde on the south,
by Ghent and Antwerp on the north. It controlled the bridge over the
River Scheldt and with it an important approach to Antwerp, the
capital at that time of Belgium. The heavy German siege guns,
capable of demolishing a first-class fort at a range of several miles,
could not have crossed the river so easily at any other point. For this
reason the Germans particularly wanted Termonde--an open bridge
to Antwerp was always worth the taking. The town had already at that
time been captured and recaptured; wounded and refugees were
swarming into Ghent full of battle stories and tales of terrible
atrocities. So it was Termonde that we vowed we would see.
We first saw Verhagen trudging in the same direction as ourselves on
the level, dusty road two miles southwest of Ghent. As we
approached a cross-road marked by a tavern, a couple of
direction-posts, and nondescript stucco buildings, we made out two
Belgian sentries, with their rifles lifted overhead and indulging in
some acrobatic exercises which we interpreted as a signal to halt. Van
Hee swapped cigarettes with them and gossiped in their native tongue, in
return for which they gave us some good advice. They warned us to pay
no attention to sign-posts, which, in order to fool the enemy, were
either marked with false names or else were pointed in the wrong
direction. While we were talking, a tall gray alderman came along the
road with a greasy package under his arm and at his side a priest--one
of those ubiquitous black-robed figures with a hat like an inverted
"Where to?" asked the Vice-Consul of Ghent.
"A Dendermonde," (to Termonde), answered Verhagen, sizing us up
as strangers, and using French instead of the local Flemish dialect.
"You know the road?"
"Yes, well," said Verhagen; and so, partly because of charity and
partly because we could have him as a useful guide, we took him into
As we sped through the level lanes of poplars, challenged as usual
by every Belgian regular or Garde Civique who could boast a uniform,
the smooth green meadows of Flanders with their trim hamlets of
stucco and tile seemed to deny the reports of savagery we had heard
the night before. We had been told, and we had read, of German
atrocities, and we had talked with survivors of Louvain. There was
pillage, burning, and looting in Louvain, we had agreed, but the
cruelty to women and children was the better part myth. And at all
events, there was a semblance of cause for that. Perhaps there had
been more resistance, more sniping by citizens than generally known,
and perhaps the German side had not been fully explained.
Then suddenly Termonde lay before us. The center of the bridge was
gone. Splintered timber sticking on end lay in the mud at the river's
side, along with iron beams torn by the charges of dynamite. The
current was choked with masses of steel and wood. We crawled
across some temporary beams reconstructed by Belgian engineers,
and entered the ruins with a handful of Termonde's citizens who had
come back for the first time to see what was left of their homes.
"I will take you to the center," said Verhagen. "That is where my
A quarter of a mile behind us, as the alderman sat upon a rock
beside the gravestone, lay the thin neck of the Upper Scheldt, less
than one hundred yards wide at this point, where it curved between
the lines of charred and flattened buildings. We could still see the
rush of water tumbling and splashing through the wreckage of the
bridge we had just crossed. Twice it had been dynamited and twice
rebuilt in part, so that at present a single line of slippery beams,
suspended a few feet above the water and supported by some heavy
wire, was all that remained between ourselves and the retreating road
to Ghent. From the direction of Alost came the desultory boom of
German guns; across the stream behind us the Belgian outposts
whiled away the time with cigarettes and cards. Shaggy horses dozed
against the gun trucks, and the men of artillery, some stretched at full
length in the sun, others sitting bolt upright with arms folded, slept
soundly on the gun carriages. We could hear the stream gurgling. We
could hear the creak of a lazy windmill, and, coming somewhere from
the smoking piles, the hideous howl of starving hounds. Of other
human sounds there were none except the voice of Verhagen.
Ten days before Termonde had been a thriving town; that day it was
a heap of smouldering ashes. America had heard a good deal about
Tirlemont and Louvain, but not much of Termonde. Because this was
a war of millions, it did not count in the news--for it was only a
community of twelve thousand inhabitants, as pretty and quaint as
the province of Flanders boasts, the prosperous center of its rope
and cordage manufacture, with fifteen hundred houses, barracks, two
statues, a town-hall, five churches, an orphan asylum, and a convent.
Now only one of the churches stood, as well as the building where the
officers were quartered, the Museum of Antiquity, and perhaps a
dozen others. Across the moat, which led to the gateway of what
were formerly the inner fortifications, were piles of rotting horseflesh.
The bronze statue of De Smet, the Jesuit missionary, looked calmly
on the scene. All the rest was blotted out. There was no sign of
hot-tempered impetuous work of a handful of drunken Uhlans, a fire
started in anger and driven by the wind throughout the entire town.
There was not a breath of wind. That the night was calm was shown
by the fact that here and there single houses, even houses built of
boards, were spared at the commander's word. The convent was
burnt and pillaged, stones and mortar littered the street in front of the
Hotel de Ville, and upon the sidewalk lay the famous bells which
came crashing to the street below when shells burst in the belfry.
From cellar to garret nearly every remaining house was
systematically drenched with naphtha and the torch applied, and
when all was over hundreds of gallons were tossed into the River
Scheldt. Over a small group of houses in the poorer section of the
city, where the prostitutes were quartered, grim Prussian humor, or
perhaps a sense of value received, had prompted the conquerors to
write in great white chalk marks in German script, "Gute Leute. Nicht
brennen!" (Good people. Do not burn!)
For an hour we walked through the silence of ashes and stone,
stumbling over timber and debris, tangled and twisted wire, a fallen
statue, broken bells or the cross-piece of a spire; we made our way
through piles of beds, chairs, singed mattresses, and stepped over
the carcass of a horse with its belly bloated and flies feasting on its
glassy eyes. We entered an apothecary shop where the clock still
ticked upon the counter. Thinking there could be no reason of war to
call for the destruction of the orphan asylum, we entered its portals to
investigate. Before us lay burnt beds and littered glass. We searched
what ten days before had been a convent, and crawled over heaps of
logs and brick into narrow alleys that reminded one of Naples or
Pompeii--alleys where the walls stood so close as to hide the light
of sun but not the odor of charred vats and sewage and smouldering,
smelling things, long dead. Not far from there the way widened into
the light, and before us, breaking the rays of sunset, stood the cross
above a heap of cobblestones.
"They are buried here," said Verhagen, "and here too is my house."
Another alderman, a friend of Verhagen, who had been allowed to remain
in Termonde most of the four days that the Germans stayed, had the story
detailed in his little pocket diary. On Thursday, September 3, he said,
he was just leaving his rope and twine factory when he heard the sounds
of musketry to the south. A small force of Belgian outposts were
completely surprised by a part of the Ninth German Army Corps under
General von Boehn. They were completely outclassed. Before retreating,
however, they let the enemy have a couple of volleys. In the return
fire they lost six of their men. They then retreated into the town and
across the bridge.
Nothing happened after dark, but the next morning at nine o'clock the
cannonading started. Inside of half an hour, according to the villagers,
the entire German force of the One Hundred and Sixty-second and
One Hundred and Sixty-third Uhlans and the Ninetieth Regiment of
infantry of the Ninth Army Corps were in the town. They entered
simultaneously by three different roads. The burgomaster was
ordered immediately to provide rations for the regiment. But the
burgomaster was away. He was given twelve hours to return. When
he did not return, the burning began, according to the townspeople.
"The soldiers did not wish to burn the town," said one man; "but the
orders were orders of war." He recounted that four Uhlans entered
his house with a bow, and a knock at the door, politely helped
themselves to his cellar, drank a toast to his wife, put his chairs in the
street, and sat there playing his phonograph. They said they were
sorry, but the house must be burnt. But before pouring on the
naphtha and lighting the flame they freed his canary bird. Verhagen
and the priest agreed that fright brought on an attack to a woman
about to become a mother, and that she fell in the Rue de l'Eglise.
A German lieutenant saw the trouble, put her on a stretcher made of
window shutters, and called the German army doctor. She was sent
to a field hospital and tenderly cared for until she and the child could
be moved. Such incidents in strange relief, told by men who had lost
everything, lent corroboration, if such were necessary, to the burden
of their story of the relentless destruction of the town itself.
Our little band was the first to enter the ruins of Termonde after its
abandonment by the Ninth German Army Corps. And by a coincidence, we
were the last to leave. That very evening, at precisely the time we
were crawling across the broken timbers that spanned the Scheldt and
connected us with Belgium-owned Belgium, the Germans again pumped heavy
artillery fire into the town. This was later known as the second German
bombardment and occupation of Termonde. Because of superior artillery
range, the attack had the cruel advantage of the man who can strike and
still stay out of reach. On that evening at six-thirty, the Teutons
sent a few warning shells into the debris, and then the first column of
scouts entered simultaneously by the two southern gates. It was just at
six-thirty that our party started back for Ghent.
As we crawled across on all fours the remaining beams cracked
beneath our feet and the Belgian engineers called on us to hurry.
"Oh, Tiber! Father Tiber," we thought as the last of us got across;
but unlike Horatius at the bridge, we were on the right side when
engineers applied the match to a small charge of dynamite, and the
beams crashed and the remaining planks of Termonde's bridge
writhed and twisted in the rushing waters.
Twenty-seven miles away, when we whirled through the gates of
Ghent later in the evening, we said "Au revoir" to Verhagen and the
mendicant priest, and went to our rooms. At midnight came a rap at
the door; my gray-haired alderman broke into the room, bursting with
the latest news, his eyes aflame with excitement.
"Revanche!" he exclaimed dramatically; "our enemies have paid for it
Sure enough, after a few preliminary shells--a sort of here-we-come
salvo--the head of the German column had entered, and a party of
staff officers, for purposes of reconnaissance, immediately mounted
the spire of the only remaining church. The officers of the Ninth
German Army Corps swept the landscape with their glasses, but the
level plains gave nothing to their sight. They saw only the ashes of
Termonde, the river, and the straight stretch of sandy roads and
stucco hamlets beyond.
They did not notice a valley of covered ground and a quarter-mile
stretch of trees and shrubbery, where three squads of Belgian field
artillery were neatly hidden. Here the men took cover at the first
sound of cannonade. Quietly in their retreat the Belgian artillery
officers had figured the range and elevation of the cathedral tower,
not over fifteen hundred yards away. Just as darkness was setting in
and the figures in the belfry were clearly visible, the battery sergeant
sharply dropped his arm.
"C-r-r-m-p-h!" coughed the field pieces as the gunners drew the
levers home. There were four sharp reports, four flashes of flame and
smoke, the crescendo moan of tons of flying steel--and the church
tower, the bells, and the German officers came crashing to the
Up to the day that Luther and I went through the Belgian trenches
near Alost and got into the hands of the German outposts north of
Brussels, we had not seen nearly as much fighting as we wished. We
had looked upon the ear-marks and horrible results of battles; had
heard guns, smelt the blood and ether of wounded, and seen the
ruins over which had rolled the wave of battle. We knew that ahead of
us there had been much fighting in the Sempst-Alost-Vilvorde-
Tirlemont region. The Germans at that moment, if not actually
advancing toward Antwerp, were skirmishing and making feints in
every direction, with the ultimate disposition of their forces carefully
concealed. Of course, we had no official permission to be at the front
with either army; in fact, up to that point we had received nothing but
official threats on the subject of what would happen to us in case we
went ahead. But as no one did more than threaten, we kept on going,
since we preferred that mode of procedure to sitting around in Paris
or Berlin on the chance of one of those "personally conducted" tours
of inspection, whose purpose is to show the correspondent
everything except actual fighting. It was our hope during that early
part of the war to see as much as possible of the German army,
realizing that, if captured, we should undoubtedly be sent either
backward or forward along the German line of communication in
conquered Belgium. Once within the German outposts we pleaded
like Brer Rabbit not to be thrown into the German brier patch. So of
course we landed in it. After a few days in Brussels they shipped us
Eastward to Aix-la-Chapelle by way of Lou-vain, Tirlemont, and Liege.
It was two days after the second bombardment of Termonde--at 7
A.M., to be exact--that Luther and I started from Ghent for Brussels
in a military automobile, the property of the Belgian Government, and
again loaned for the occasion to Julius Van Hee, American Vice-
Consul, then Acting Consul at Ghent. We carried with us a United
States Government mail pouch, a packet of mail from Dr. Henry van
Dyke, at The Hague, addressed to Brand Whitlock, the American
Minister at Brussels, and another packet of mail from Henry W.
Diederick, United States Consul-General at Antwerp. Mr. Van Hee
hoped to obtain from the German authorities in Brussels some
smallpox vaccine to take back to Ghent, where a smallpox epidemic
Once out of the town limits of Ghent we bowled along at top speed,
with the American colors trembling fore and aft and impressive-
looking signs pasted on windshield and side-flaps. The autumn rains
descended heavily upon us, drenching everything except the
carefully protected mail bags.
Six miles southeast of Ghent, we ran into a regiment of Belgian
infantry moving back from the direction of Brussels, and farther on a
squad of cavalry and some more cavalry outposts; then two
companies of bicycle patrol, the men with their heads bent over the
handlebars, Mausers slung over their shoulders, pedaling heavily
through the mud and slush of a cold September storm. A few
mitrailleuses, known as the Minerva type, and mounted on armored
motor-cars, were trained on the ravine through which the road dipped
a thousand yards ahead of us. They had sighted the German
outposts on the crest of a hill opposite us about three quarters of a
mile away. In a very poor kind of trench, hastily constructed in the
beet-fields, and little more than body deep, the men lay on their
bellies in the mud, nervously fingering their muskets and adjusting the
sights. A third company of bicycle scouts were ordered to advance for
the purpose of drawing fire.
I doubt if that particular body of men had ever before been under fire.
Never was the fear of death more plainly written on human face. All of
the men went ahead without flinching or failing, but the muscles of
their jaws were knotted, their faces were the color of chalk, and one
or two dismounted for a moment, subject to the physical effects of
fear. I have seen men tremble before important physical contests:
Jeffries, stepping into the prize ring at Reno, Nevada, ready for the
beating of his life and the loss of reputation. I have seen murderers
condemned to death. Charles Becker, as I watched him taking his
death sentence that evening in the Criminal Courts Building, did not
give one the same uncanny feeling as this handful of Belgian scouts
pedaling out to meet the German fire. I do not intend to say the
Belgians were not brave men, for this was an isolated instance. And
indeed there was something gruesome about that little company
offered for the slaughter, simply for the purpose of locating the
German batteries. The men understood the meaning of the order and
appreciated the odds against them.
The mitrailleuses pointed down the road we were headed on, and the
Belgian gun-captain told us they were going to clean things up as soon
as their own scouts drew fire and the first Teuton helmet appeared above
the crest. Naturally we were ordered back. Had we continued on this
road we should have been between the Belgian fire behind and the German
fire in front, for the Germans would undoubtedly have mistaken us for a
scouting party in an armored car. As it was, Luther jumped to the wheel
and insisted on seeing the thing through. We went ahead for about half
a mile. I told him that if the shrapnel began to burst too close he
would find me tucked safely underneath the car examining the gasoline
tanks or in the nearest farmhouse cellar, and I believe he would have.
But nothing came close to us on that occasion. My real "baptism" was
reserved for another day, because Van Hee suddenly wrenched the wheel
from Luther and turned our machine down a side road. It was a case of
out of the firing line into the frying-pan, for the side road led us
into a trap from which there was no turning back--the territory
patrolled by the burly pickets of the Ninth German Army Corps, forming
part of the Kaiser's army of occupation in Brussels.
Out of earshot, and certainly out of sight of that skirmish, we were
speeding at a great rate along a level, lonely road flanked by
beet-fields and long lines of graceful elms that shook hands overhead,
"HALT! WOHIN? WO GEHEN SIE?" rang suddenly out of the darkness
as two figures jumped from behind a farmhouse and leveled their
rifles at us. I shall always remember that sharp command as the cold,
gray muzzles followed us like a sportsman covering a bevy of quail.
Our fat Belgian chauffeur, violinist in times of peace, and posing that
day as an American,--one of those men who look as if they would
bleed water if you pricked them with a bayonet,--needed no second
warning. Running the German gauntlet was not precisely his hobby.
Down went the emergency brake and the car jolted to a sudden halt.
A bristle-whiskered German giant under a canvas-covered helmet
stuck his head through the flaps, and for more than ten minutes he
and another sentinel searched our knapsacks and credentials and
inspected the Government mail pouches which we carried. The
sentries were far from satisfied. We said little at first, realizing,
nevertheless, that we had run between the opposing trenches and up
to the German outposts without actually drawing fire. That, at least,
was something of a comfort.
Then, as if the answer was the price of admission, the big one asked
us if we had seen many British soldiers around Antwerp and Ghent.
We had previously decided that the answer to such talk was, "None
of your business." But the fellow's bayonet was infernally bright and
sharp and his countenance like ice. It wasn't only the equinoctial rain
that made us shiver.
While I was trying to limber up my German vocabulary he passed us
along to his Ober-leutenant in the hut along the roadside. The Ober-
Ieutenant was grave. He said we must report to army headquarters
in Brussels, and that under no circumstances should we be allowed
to return within the Belgian lines. In this way began our eight days'
confinement within the lines of the German Army of the North under
General von Boehn.
Just as we had been warned repeatedly, so we discovered in reality
that to cross between two opposing lines was no joking matter. Bad
enough, particularly in the early days of the war, to a correspondent
without permission at the front. To work up from the rear (if you had
permission) was at least according to the rules of the game. But to
cross between hostile armies--that was the one forbidden act. The
fact that we were with an American Consul was not sufficient. Three
days later Van Hee was allowed to return, but the remainder of the
party, that is to say, Willard Luther and myself, were given a free trip
into German territory and incidentally more than a week's chance to
study the German army from within.
Those next eight days Luther and I spent as willing and, on the whole,
decently treated captives within the lines of the German Army of the
North, talking freely with cultivated officers and grimy men of the
ranks, and in this way learning much of the German war machine, the
opinions of the officers and the men at their command. It would be
interesting to tell how in Brussels we dodged from War Office to cafe,
from cafe to consulate, from consulate back to War Office, and later
were worried and watched and suspected; how we were shipped
back across the German border on a combination Red Cross and
ammunition train; how we were locked for much of the night in a
half-mile tunnel of the northern Vosges Mountains, and there, in the
groping darkness of our box-car prison, shared the soldier's biscuit
and his bottle, so coming to know the Kaiser's private as a
companion and not as the barbarian his enemies paint him.
The day after we got inside the German lines we went before Major
Heinrich Bayer, at that time military commandant in Brussels in the
absence of General von der Goltz. Jostling through the street and
jamming the courtyard of the War Office was a crowd of a thousand
persons--mothers, children, whole families begging for relief or
permission to leave the city limits; German subjects trying to get
passes, officials and employees of the civil administration taking
orders from the military authorities. A relay of aides, orderlies, and
secretaries led us from courtyard to corridor and from corridor to staff
headquarters and into the Holy of Holies--the office of the
Grim, stern,--but courteous throughout the interview,--the major
paced the floor beside his desk. He seemed anxious enough to be rid
of the "crazy Americans" who had wandered through the Belgian and
German lines, not altogether satisfied with their integrity, yet not
wishing to take a hostile attitude. I asked him when he thought the
war would be over. At the moment the German major, Vice-Consul
Van Hee, and I were the only persons in the room.
"I do not know," he said, as if thinking aloud; "I really do not know.
America is the only country that has not fired on us yet, but all the rest
--" Then he added thoughtfully, "Perhaps it is better that you go. But
you cannot return to Ghent or Antwerp; you must go back to
Germany." He stopped as if he had gone too far, and then sharply
commanded the orderly to remove us. Forty-eight hours later Mr. Van
Hee got his release. To Luther and myself was given a curious sort of
pass, beset with limitations, which at times caused us royal treatment
and as often proved a fatal baggage tag. I have always believed a
joker lay hidden somewhere in that document. It started with a
flattering description of our status (as given by ourselves), but below it
directed us to be taken into Aix-la-Chapelle, Germany, and under no
circumstances to be returned within the Belgian lines. We had seen a
great deal too much for that. In spite of our protestations of good faith
and promises to keep dark what we had seen, the military authorities
considered us much safer under German guard. We were to be
taken on the southern route by way of Namur. To drive home the
importance of obeying this order we were reminded of the regulation,
printed in French and posted throughout the city, "that whosoever
passed the city limits or approached the fighting line without military
permit, or on the pretense of having such a permit, or whosoever
deviated from the route laid down would be shot 'sur le champ.'" That
same evening, however, army orders declared that the Namur route
was closed. We got a second War Office pass sending us to Aix by
way of Louvain, Tirlemont, and Liege. Armed with these we went
down to an old Major Bock von W------, in charge of transportation at
Schaerbeek, on the outskirts of the city.
I showed him the passes and said with a painful attempt at levity,
"Major, we can't obey both of these, so we 're going to get shot either
way we go. If it is all the same to you I would rather die on your
route." To my great relief the old fellow laid back his gray head and
emitted a series of long, loud Teuton laughs. He was the first German I
had heard laugh and it did me good. I knew we were safe. On the
understanding that the business was strictly confidential and that no
other citizens or suspects were to know of it, he gave us a permit for
the military trains. It had been the intention of the War Office to
pack us under guard with the herds on one of those Government refugee
trains. But to live and sleep with the soldiers as we were now to do,
to see their marches, to absorb their uninformed and boastful talk, to
study their guns, munitions, and equipment, was better than our highest
"You have to do a lot of quick transporting?" I asked before saying
good-bye to Major von W------.
"Yes," was the answer. "They 're at us from all sides. Some of the
men we are now transporting have been under fire in two countries,
and now they will see service in a third." He knew that I had come
from Ghent and from Antwerp, which the Germans were about to
bombard, yet, to his credit, it should be said that he did not ask for
information of Belgian activities. Similarly, although the soldiers, as a
rule, and one man high in the civil government of Brussels, asked
what was going on in Antwerp, it was noticeable that German officers
recognized the obligations of neutrality.
Of how we left Brussels and of the first part of the eastward trip, I am
going to quote from the jottings in the log-book, which was written up
at some length after we left Aix-la-Chapelle:--
"Early on the morning of the 22d, I went up to Consul Watts's office to
get the mail pouch I had promised him to carry. Luther and I then
boarded a trolley car going northwest past the Gare du Nord and on
to Schaerbeek, a junction on the outskirts of Brussels. Although the
Major Bayer passes, with von W------'s counter-signature, got us as
far as Schaerbeek, we were challenged by the guards at the railroad
station. The stations were watched with the most astounding
precaution. Of course there was no such thing as a ticket; once inside
the gate you could jump a troop train, ammunition car, or blow up the
track if you felt like it. Wherefore they guarded the stations carefully.
"At the gates had a terrible pow-wow with an officious Bavarian who
called himself the Officer-of-the-Day. I played all my best German
cards, including Count von Bemstorffs letter. At the end of half an
hour our pig-headed officer shipped us back to Brussels. We
returned to von W------, then in Brussels, who vised our pass with a
note to the effect that although we were civilians, exceptional
circumstances demanded our hurried return to Aix by military train.
"When we eventually got into the Schaerbeek station we had two
hours to wait. Walked up and down the tracks or sat on the platform,
keeping an eye on everything that was going on. Luther says I spent
most of my time trying not to look like an Englishman. Occasionally,
when we spoke a word of English, some officer would shoot us a 42
cm. glance and demand our papers. We were undoubtedly marked
figures, because in the first place no civilians were allowed along the
railway line, especially foreigners.
"Watched several westbound loads go by until about two o'clock,
when they made up a combination train consisting of Red Cross
coaches and empty freight trucks going back to Aix for fresh loads of
men and ammunition. Aix is the great distributing center for the line of
communication into northern Belgium. Most of the open cars were
empty, barring occasional gun carriages on the way home for repairs;
in the closed freight cars lay a few wounded first line men, a half a
dozen male nurses, and some privates on furlough. Speaking of
nurses, I haven't--so far at least-seen a woman nurse nearer the
scene of action than a base hospital, i.e., one of the big hospitals in
Antwerp, Brussels, or Ghent. Luther and I, closely followed by the
two guards that had trailed us from the time we had got inside the
station, climbed into a freight car, apparently used as a box stall on
the out trip, and bare except for a pile of damp straw in one corner.
Interminable journey. Most of the time we stood on sidings waiting for
the outbound traffic. Made fair time to Louvain,--i.e., an hour and a
half,--and stayed there two hours, for which I was thankful, as it
gave me a chance to look around. Interviewed soldiers, citizens, and
a Jesuit priest, of which more later. One hour more to Tirlemont. Then
seven hours to Liege, where we arrived at 2 A.M., were smothered for
two hours in that tunnel, and took six and three quarters hours more
from Liege to Verviers--a distance of less than fifteen miles! It was
another five hours to Aix.
"Saw tremendous troop movements along Brussels-Louvain-Verviers
line of communication. During the first day thirty-five troop and
transport trains went past us, moving towards the western frontier,
the larger part to strengthen the German attack on Antwerp, which we
had not long left behind us, others to discharge their loads as near as
possible to Lille, Tournai, and Mons. The average train was twenty
cars long, making about seven hundred carloads, with two hundred
or more in each car, giving a total of more than 140,000 fighting men.
We stopped counting at the end of the first day.
"After we left Louvain I got out occasionally and stretched my legs
along the tracks, but Luther, not being able to talk German, stuck
pretty close to his diggings. Had a great time at a little town called
Neerwinden, where we stayed about half an hour. A crowd of soldiers
from our train joined a group cooking supper in the moonlight at one
of the soup kitchens along the tracks. They fed me lukewarm stew
and slabs of rye bread, then went on singing and arguing without
paying much attention to me. One bald-headed, stocky private told
the crowd the news that von Hindenburg had captured Warsaw. Later
a crowd of big brutes, apparently pretty drunk, swaggered down and
clapped me on the back with a 'Who are you, my friend?'
"'Amerikaner,' I explained, not thinking it necessary to mention the war
correspondent part. They set up a cheer, clapped me on the back,
and finally lifted me to their shoulders for a triumphal ride up and
down the railroad ties, all the time yelling out 'Amerikaner! Hurrah!
"A few hundred years seemed the night we spent locked in that
box-car prison. A five-days' equinoctial storm had given way to the
coldest day of the autumn: our car, raw and dank as a dungeon, joggled
along endlessly until afternoon gave way to evening and evening to
chilly night. Hour after hour we looked out upon the rolling fields and
burnt farmhouses along the path where General von Emmich's army had
passed. As the moon crawled up over the rain-bathed foothills of the
Ourthe Mountains, the temperature dropped far below the freezing point.
For ages we lay awake braced against the cold. The soldier next me, who
had been through the fight at Maubeuge, coughed throughout the night--a
hollow, retching cough. "Tuberculosis," the Red Cross doctor told me,
although the fellow had got through his army tests all right.
Between two and four in the morning we stuck in the middle of a
tunnel of the northern Vosges Mountains, two hundred feet, perhaps,
beneath the surface of the ground. The sliding door on the left side of
our car was locked: on the other side jagged walls, dripping wet to the
touch, jutted so close that a thin man couldn't have walked between
them and the car. Everywhere pitch blackness, the blackness of the
tomb. The consumptive soldier pulled a candle from his kit, balanced
it in the straw, and over it warmed his hands. If that candle had
toppled over in the straw we wouldn't have had a rat's chance in the
fire. It was impossible to get out of our car or to communicate with
another except by tapping. The fellows in the next car must have
been considerably frightened, for after about an hour they began
yelling and pounding at the walls. All you could hear was a roaring
sound that caromed against the walls of the cavern. Smoke from the
engine drifted back to choke us. It hit the consumptive worst. The
poor fellow began blowing and coughing, then rolled feebly on his
back and gasped. During the worst of the smoke one of the soldiers
in the next car set up a rollicking song, and others followed his
example. We could hear the clank of beer bottles as they finished, the
echoes of the song reverberating loudly, then faintly, then louder
again up and down the length of that interminable vault. A draught of
air cleared the smoke away and it didn't bother us again. At four in
the morning we steamed out of the tunnel into the open. A little after
that I must have dozed off, for I woke with a start when the
consumptive stumbled over me.
"There you are," he said, throwing a bundle beside me; "I thought
you'd need it."
Noticing, when he lit his pipe at dawn, that we had no army blankets
and were pretty nearly frozen, this "barbarian" had jumped out of the
car in the Liege freight yards, had run a quarter of a mile to the
nearest army kitchen depot, and had stolen for us a couple of
heaping blankets' full of warm, dry straw.
It was impossible to believe that these men had committed the
atrocities reported at Termonde and Roosbeek, at Malines and
Louvain. At close range it was easy to see that the prevalent
conception of the "barbarians" was the purest kind of rot--the
picture created and fostered by the Allied press, of a vicious and
besotted beast with natural brutality accentuated by alcoholic rage.
With such men as individuals it seemed to us that neutral observers
could have no quarrel. To the Kaiser's privates who have been
fighting for a cause they do not thoroughly understand, was due, we
thought, the greatest respect; to the officers, too, who understand
what they are doing and are game in the face of odds; and most of all
to the suffering German people. But to the German war machine, we
reflected, was due a terrible punishment--the lesson it must learn
not only for Germany's enlightenment, but for the sake of civilization
A Clog Dance On The Scheldt
When the German major at Aix-la-Cha-pelle stamped on our passports:--
"Gesehen. Gut Zum Austritt Kommandant 2 Kompagnie, Landsturm Batl.
Aachen," we were free, so we thought, to shake the dust of Germany from
our feet. Hoisting our rucksacks, we gave up box cars in favor of a
civilized passenger train, northward bound, and at noon crossed the
Dutch border at Simplefeldt.
For three hours we talked English, consulted maps, took notes, and
asked questions where and when we pleased. The holiday cost us
dear. At the end of that time we were under lock and key in the town
of Maastricht, the Province of Limburg, and the supposedly free and
neutral Kingdom of the Netherlands. We suspected at the time, and
in view of what I learned upon a later trip to Berlin I am quite certain,
that the long arm of the German Secret Service had reached out for
us across the border.
Having started from Antwerp during its investment, but prior to its
siege by the German army, we were now on the third stage of a
round trip which was to land one of us back in the Belgian temporary
capital in time for the bombardment. During the previous two weeks
we had been stopped, questioned, and sometimes examined, no less
than one hundred and thirty times. Thirteen, we calculated, was our
average number of hold-ups on our early "marching days"; that is to
say, during those wanderings which led us by foot, train, ox cart, and
automobile past the double sector of Antwerp's fortifications, through
the Belgian fighting lines to Ghent and Termonde, and thence into the
arms of the German pickets on the outskirts of Brussels.
And now, as the heavy door of the Maastricht police headquarters
slammed in our faces, and the key rattled in the guardroom lock, my
companion in crime threw down his hat and coat in rage. Between us
we treated our fellow-prisoners to a quarter of an hour's tirade on the
American citizen's right to freedom, swore that the Kingdom of the
Netherlands would repent this outrage, and each of us politely
assured the other it was all the other fellow's fault.
All of which, though true, had no effect on the sniffling young woman
across the way, nor the sleeper on the hardwood bench next mine,
nor the bald-headed, big-lipped police sergeant who bent over his
desk in the corner, impervious to these usual outbursts of the newly
arrested, as he laboriously scrawled in the police blotter the report of
the day's round-up.
"Sit down!" he bellowed as I advanced toward the pen door, and tried
to open it.
When he resumed his scratching I did my best to explain in a
German-French-Dutch dialect of my own invention that we wished to
see Mons. le Commissaire at once; that we had only come to inspect
the concentration camp of German and Belgian prisoners, and that
we were leaving town that day. I particularly emphasized this point.
We were, in fact, I assured him in several different ways, leaving that
very afternoon--as soon as the disagreeable mistake of our arrest
was rectified. He may or may not have understood this: at all events,
he wore an expression as blank and graven as Jack Rose upon the
witness stand. His only answer was a vacant stare at the pit of my
stomach, followed by a slow scratch-scratching on the police blotter.
In fact our arrest on that occasion was rather a Jack Rose affair; that
is to say, it started by our being invited to headquarters, suspicious
but not certain of our status until we finally landed behind the iron
doors. Without doubt Maastricht authorities were waiting for us even
as we stepped off the train, showing that we were doomed from the
time we left the border. Our captor, an unctuous, pink-cheeked
politzei, made his appearance not far from the internment camp.
Where were we going, and why?
"To see the prisoners," we said.
"It is possible," said the spider to the fly, "zat I can get for you
permission if you will come to ze guardhouse. Ze capitain is there."
The "guardhouse" proved a precinct police station, and the captain
was not there: instead we found a mixed crowd of civilians and
militaires who looked us over and shook their heads. Next we were
taken to military headquarters \n the center of the town. For fifteen
minutes we hunted the evasive captain while I ran through my head
the various sets of credentials stuffed in different pockets; for, being
in Dutch territory, although only a few miles from the Belgian frontier
on one side and the German frontier on the other, I was not quite
certain which to produce. Among my letters I carried one from the
German Ambassador, Count von Bernstorff, to the Foreign Office in
Berlin; one from Professor Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard, and a note
from the secretary of the Belgian Legation at The Hague.
Unfortunately I did not have with me at the time a very helpful letter
from Colonel Roosevelt, ending with the statement that the bearer "is
an American citizen, a non-combatant, and emphatically not a spy." I
had promised the Colonel to use this, my trump card, only in case of
necessity--and once, on a later occasion, I did so with immediate
effect. On the whole, I now decided in favor of a United States
passport decorated with my picture and enough vises to resemble the
diplomatic history of the Continent.
"The captain is not here. We go to the commissaire at headquarters,"
said the polite politzei. It was then that we cut loose, told him to
bring the commissaire or the burgomaster to us, and started to walk off.
It was a bad move. So far he had handled us with a velvet grip, but at
the first sign of insurrection he showed his teeth, locked arms with
each of us, and, signaling another officer to follow, forthwith marched
us off to police headquarters and our ultimate resting-place, the
How long we stayed there I don't know--long enough, at all events,
to get a glimpse of the Dutch police system and the third degree as
practiced in the Lowlands. There swung open a great iron door
leading to the street and the market-place, not so large but fully as
busy as Washington Market the week before Thanksgiving. Through
it, sobbing and screaming, their hats gone and their hair torn, came
two women, roughly handled by gendarmes and followed by a mob
escort. They were thrown weeping and expostulating into an adjoining
cell. A gendarme came out with trickles of blood on his face. He
mopped his brow and complained of feminine finger-nails. Close
behind him followed a male friend of the imprisoned women. He
pleaded with the sergeant at the desk, while the moans of the
women, under pressure to confess their crime, came from their cell.
But Jack Rose only scratched and scratched monotonously, and now
and then gazed at the middle of the speaker's stomach.
In the mean time we fell back into our habit of talking for publication.
With an intimacy that would have surprised those gentlemen we
referred casually to Brand Whitlock, Dr. van Dyke, and the biggest
Dutch and Belgian names we could think of. We suspected that Jack
Rose and the man at our side understood more English than they
pretended. At all events, it had its effect. In half an hour we were
taken before the commissioner.
Two cigars lay on the edge of the table nearest us. I could see at a
glance that we were free.
"Do you speak English?" I asked him.
"No," he answered in our native tongue; "only French, Flemish,
German, and Italian--but not English." And with a grin he asked for
"You are for the American newspapers?"
"Yes," I answered--"one of us is a lawyer who writes occasionally. I
am correspondent for a New York and a Boston paper, but I won't
cable anything from here." For this reason, I explained, no
movements of troops or news of military value could leak out.
"Ah, I see," said the commissioner who could not talk English. "An
amateur correspondent and a slow correspondent. But correspondents are
not at all tolerated in this province. It is five o'clock. You will
board the train leaving this province at 5.16 P.M."
From Maastricht to the Dutch capital is, under usual conditions, a
four-hour run to the north. During this trip we passed encampments
and fortifications of the 400,000 well-drilled but poorly equipped
troops which the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in the spirit of no
negative neutrality, had mobilized along her borders. Whenever we
crossed a bridge every window in the entire train was fastened down
and there were strict orders against raising them. We discovered that
under the boulders were carefully concealed large charges of
dynamite ready for immediate use in case of invasion--so that
Horatius need not be called upon while axe and crowbar were at
work. The windows, it appears, were locked to prevent throwing out of
lighted cigars or matches.
At one o'clock the next morning our train, delayed by war-time traffic,
rolled into the Hague station, whence three days later, I was to start
my lucky trip into Antwerp, the besieged.
Clog dancing and cognac helped to get me from The Hague back
into Antwerp in time for its bombardment and capture by the German
forces under General von Beseler. I happened to perform the clog
dancing at a critical moment during a trip on a Scheldt River barge,
thus diverting the attention of the river sentries from my lack of proper
papers. While the pedal acrobatics were in progress my temporary
friend, Mons. le Conducteur, reinforced the already genial pickets with
many glasses of the warming fluid.
Willard Luther, my companion in and out of jail during the first part of
the continental wanderings, was forced to leave for home the day
after we got back to The Hague. He had five days to catch the
Lusitania at Liverpool. Three of them he spent on a whirlwind trip
trying to see action in northern Flanders, but, much to his
disappointment, was called away before the final scrimmage at
Antwerp. If he had succeeded in getting in, I rather fear the
Massachusetts Bar would have lost a valuable member. He had an
insatiable passion to be in the neighborhood of bullets and bombs--
not, as I take it, that he really wanted to get hit--merely that he
would like to see how close he could come.
On October 2d, strictest regulations were passed prohibiting entry
within the fortifications of Antwerp without permit from the military
governor, General de Guise. Three weeks earlier entry had been
possible but difficult, and the feat was again easier after the German
occupation. But during the city's days of trial the military lid was
clamped and riveted. Except for those coming direct from England,
the highest civil recommendations were valueless.
I had one of these,--a laissez-passer from Prince d'Eline, Secretary of
the Belgian Legation at The Hague,--issued because of the fact that I
was carrying a large packet of mail from the American Legation at The
Hague to Henry W. Diederick, United States Consul-General at Antwerp. I
had also been entrusted with three hundred marks to be delivered to a
German prisoner, Lieutenant Ulrici, known to have been wounded and
captured in the fighting around Termonde, and believed to be lying in a
hospital ship in the river or in Antwerp itself. The fact of carrying
such money was of course against me as indicating German sympathy.
Because a large part of the railroad line between Eschen, Cappelen,
and Antwerp had been torn up, because there would be many
hold-ups, and because I couldn't speak a word of Flemish, I decided
against the overland route. Hearing, however, that L. Braakman &
Company, a grain and freight shipping concern, were running down
barges from Rotterdam, I got a Belgian friend to call them up on my
behalf. The result was a flat throw-down: without General de Guise's
sanction I might not even cross the gangplank.
Nevertheless, I went to Rotterdam, crossed the river basin to the
island from which the Braakman boats ran, and there saw a director
of the company, who, fortunately, could speak both English and
Flemish. He took me to the captain of the river barge, a low craft that
looked a cross between a tugboat and a Hudson River scow. In less
than three minutes my case was disposed of. Verdict: "C'est
absolument defendu." It was time for a little "bluff." An hour later I
returned with a new proposition, having in the mean time telegraphed
Mr. Diederick either to meet me at the pier at Antwerp or to send a
military permit. Displaying a copy of this telegram I suggested that I
be allowed to board. If there was any one at Antwerp to meet and
vouch for me, well and good; if not, they were at liberty to ship me
back. That was my proposition.
"He may go as far as the border patrol, fifteen miles east of Antwerp,"
the captain said to my interpreter. "If the river sentries permit it he
may then go as far as the Antwerp pier, but he cannot land."
We cast off Sunday, October 4th, at 6 A.M. The little Telegraaf III
poked her nose through the blue-gray haze of a chilly October
morning while the muddy waters of the Meuse slapped coldly against
her bow. I stamped the deck a few times, wondering if there was an
English-speaking soul aboard, and leaned up against the engine
room until the odor of coffee and bacon lured me to the fo'castle
hatch. A purple-faced giant, with thick lips that met like the halves of
an English muffin blocked the companion-way.
"'Jour," growled the face as though it hated to say it, then pointed to
the food and cognac. This was Monsieur le Conducteur, ship's cook,
barkeeper, and collector of fares.
In the center of a dark cabin, littered with charts, pails, and Flemish
newspapers, was a kitchen table. Now and then a smoking oil lamp
flared up to throw a light on the faces of my fellow-passengers, five of
them in addition to the captain and Mons. le Conducteur. They were,
as I discovered later, Mons. A. Albrecht, a leading alderman of
Antwerp and a friend of Mons. Vos, the burgomaster; a light-haired
Belgian piano salesman who could speak five languages; Mile.
Blanche Ravinet, of looks beautiful and occupation unknown; and two
others. From the suddenness with which the conversation stopped, I
judged they had been discussing "ze American." They were welcome
to say what they liked barring the word "spion."
For hours we chugged steadily along, catching a fair tide on the
lower Meuse, and sliding past the neat little towns of Dordrecht,
Papendrecht, and Willemstad, through the Hollandische Diep and the
Krammer Volkerak. After that the Telegraaf III worried through the
canals and systems of locks which virtually cut the neck of Tholen
from the mainland, and, when the last of these had been
accomplished, splashed into the great basin of the East Scheldt. A
Dutch gunboat cut across our bows, signaling us to halt. An officer
boarded us to study the freight invoices.
Farther upstream a launch came alongside, making fast fore and aft,
while two Belgian river sentries, in long blue coats and faded drab
trousers, poked their bearded heads above the rail. This, then, was
what the captain meant by the border patrol.
Now, as luck would have it, the day was cold: we were the first boat to
come through the locks for some hours, and apparently the river
sentries had had no breakfast. So they dove into the fo'castle, where
Mons. le Conducteur produced bread and cognac. I at once ordered
Mons. le Conducteur to get a second round of liquid refreshment for
our military guests. Conversation flowed. The soldiers drummed on
the table to keep their hands warm and in a moment of inspiration I
showed them how the darkies in our country warm their feet.
"Clog dance," I explained.
"Encore," shouted the piano salesman. "That is splendid."
"Pleaz again! Oh, pleaz!" echoed Mile. Blanche. "See, every one, ze
grand American foot game."
The fat-faced conducteur, with whom I had suddenly grown in favor,
repeated the cognac treatment on the sentries. Before I knew it, they
had me alongside the table, one hand steadied against a thwart of
the swaying cabin, my head in the smoke of the oil lamp, my feet
pounding and kicking, as it seemed, at the very door of Antwerp. The
piano salesman shouted rag-time, Mile. Blanche drummed time on
the bench, and the river sentries pounded time with their rifle butts.
"Encore!" they shouted when I sat down with aching legs.
All at once the launch alongside gave an angry toot, for the officer
wanted his men back: there were other boats to be examined. The
sentries glanced quickly at our papers, not reading, I am sure, a word
of mine, speedily cast off ropes, and disappeared guiltily and
somewhat unsteadily over the larboard rail.
An hour later the Telegraaf III took the river's turn, swinging past Fort
St. Philippe, until we could see the gray-blue spire of the Cathedral of
Notre Dame with its intricate network of stone silhouetted against the
autumn sunset. Mr. Diederick was not at the pier to meet me, nor was
there a military passport from General de Guise.
"Stay by me," said Alderman Albrecht. As each of the pier sentries
saluted him he said a whispered word, and apparently his word was
good, for the American "foot game" artist was allowed to pass.
Perhaps Alderman Albrecht had decided that German spies don't
Though not officially admitted to the besieged city, I went at once to
my old stand, the Hotel St. Antoine, now converted into British Staff
Headquarters. At sundown a mist crept up from the river, and through
it we heard a roar of welcome and the rumble of heavy artillery.
Charging down the Avenue de Keyser came a hundred London
motor-busses, Piccadilly signs and all, some filled, some half-filled,
with a wet-looking bunch of Tommies, followed by armored
mitrailleuses, a few 6.7 naval guns, officers' machines, commissary
and ammunition carriages--the first brigade of Winston Churchill's
army of relief, which for five days was destined to make so valiant,
but so short, a fight against the overwhelming German army.
The Bombardment Of Antwerp
There was something typically British in the way those Englishmen
went about the defense of Antwerp. In the streets and barracks, and
more especially at the Hotel St. Antoine, British Staff Headquarters,
where I stayed until its doors were closed, I saw them at close range
during that week of horror. Once when I was eating with a company
of marines near their temporary barracks, they gave me the
password to the trenches, and, although I only got out as far as the
inner line of forts on that day, it gave me an opportunity to observe
the work of the men under long-range firing. At the St. Antoine, ten or
a dozen officers were quartered; others clanked in and out for hurried
conferences in the corridors or disappeared into the smoking-room,
whose heavy doors with the sign, "Reservee pour la Gouvernement
Anglaise," hid Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the English
Admiralty, and his portmanteau of war maps.
Here was Belgium's last stronghold on the verge of downfall: the
outer line of forts had already fallen; Forts Wavre, St. Catherine,
Waelham, and Lierre were already prey to the Krupp mortars; the
German hosts were swarming across the River Nethe, six miles to
the city's south, and the cowering populace in their flight made the
streets terrible to look upon.
Yet at the St. Antoine there was no particular flurry--so far, at least,
as the officers were concerned. At night they worked over their war
maps; in the daytime they went out to the forts. They would get up in
the morning, an hour or two earlier than the average business man, have
a comfortable breakfast, smoke a cigar for half an hour or so, and talk
things over. Then their military automobiles came trembling and
sputtering to the doorsteps, and in groups of fours and fives they went
out to the firing line. If only two or three of a group returned, you
would naturally have to draw your own conclusions as to the fate of the
Those English gentlemen went about their jobs of life and death with
the same detached coolness as if their hunters were being saddled,
or they were waiting for the referee's whistle in Rugby football. Their
attitude was infernally exasperating; yet you couldn't help taking off
your hat to their sublime nerve and indifference.
I overheard a typical remark when matters were in this critical state. It
came from a handsome, curly-headed officer, noticeable not only for
his apparent efficiency, but because he didn't let the game of war
interfere with his attentions to the little Princess de Ligne. The latter
was nursing her brother, who had been shot through the back of the
neck during a raid through German lines. She was a princess in rank,
and a queen in looks. Thirty hours before the first shell burst into the
Place Verte--Monday morning, it was--this fellow rapped at my
door. He had wandered into the wrong pew, for his words were
obviously intended to hurry up a brother officer with whom he was to
take the morning ride to the firing line. Sticking his curly, sunburnt
head around the corner he drawled in inimitable British intonation:-
"I say, old chap, do hurry along; this is no ORDINARY occasion, you
In the Royal Belgian Palace there happened a few hours before the
bombardment an incident revealing the simplicity and kindliness of
King Albert's character. In connection with it, it is necessary to speak
of Harold Fowler, a New Yorker and Columbia College graduate, who
helped to save the public buildings of Antwerp, and later entered the
Allied ranks as a fighter. When the war broke out, Fowler was private
secretary to Ambassador Page in London. In November he got a commission
in the Royal Horse Guards, known as the "Blues." While the Germans were
pressing hard on Antwerp, the German commander, as I have mentioned
elsewhere, asked that a diagram of the city of Antwerp, with plans and
location of the cathedral, the Hotel de Ville, and the more important
works be sent to him in order that he might find the range and avoid
firing on them. Neutrals were to carry the plans through; and Fowler
and Hugh Gibson, secretary to the American Minister at Brussels (Brand
Two days before the bombardment Gibson went to the Royal Palace
at Antwerp where General de Guise and his staff were in conference.
Fowler trailed along, but, not liking to enter, walked up and down the
hallway, hands in his pockets, admiring the portraits half-hidden in the
darkness of the foyer. A tall figure approached and in French asked
who he was. Fowler replied that he was an American and was waiting
"I see," said the figure, then speaking in English, "that you are
interested in pictures."
"Very much," answered Fowler.
"Then, would you like to see those in the Royal Chambers upstairs?"
Fowler hesitated, feeling like an intruder, but the figure insisted upon
leading him upstairs. When they got into the light, Fowler turned to
examine his kind friend. To his utter astonishment he saw that it was
Albert, King of the Belgians!
By that time we of Antwerp were getting a very fair imitation of a city
besieged. Water supply had already been cut off for some days.
There was just enough for cooking purposes; bathing and such
pleasantries were out of the question--even for Royalty. According
to the French maid in my corridor, Winston Churchill managed to get
a shave by ordering tea sent to his room and using the hot water for
Monday, October 5th, the night before the city emptied itself of
non-combatants, was almost a festive occasion at the St. Antoine. The
British entry gave tremendous confidence to the stricken city and the
tired Belgian soldiers--a bit of pride before the fall. New faces turned
up, friends in the English army met, shook hands, and discussed the
outlook. One was even reminded of lighter occasions, such as the
Copley-Plaza in Boston or the Hotel Taft in New Haven before an
annual Harvard-Yale battle. At the head of a long table in the center
of the dining-room sat the First Lord of the British Admiralty, looking
rather thoughtful, his baldish head and Trinity House uniform standing
out in contrast to the service uniforms of the younger men around
him. At the same table were commissary officers, sergeants,
aide-de-camps, Hugh Gibson, Harold Fowler, and somewhat farther down the
Russian Minister and my curly-headed officer, chatting over his coffee
with little Princess de Ligne.
In the flash of an eye these scenes changed to scenes of terror.
The news leaked out, and spread like wildfire, that the Kaiser's men
had crossed the River Nethe and had placed their big guns within
range of the city. It was not until forty-eight hours later that the
populace saw a handful of Flemish posters pasted in out-of-the-way
corners--posters signed by the Civil Government--which thanked
the populace "for retaining until the present time their praiseworthy
sangfroid, and regretting that the responsibilities of their office
necessitated their own removal to a neighborhood more safe."
Queen Elizabeth, whom danger made a democrat, walked right into
my hotel, if you please, and stopped casually to say good-bye to the
Russian Minister. The crowd outside did not know she was leaving for
Ostend under cover of darkness--they cheered her loudly just the
same. She is a spunky sort of queen.
Then came the flight. You knew the fear of the Germans had got into
their blood when waiters dropped their plates and dishes and ran;
when shops, houses, hotels closed and the people melted away;
when the French chambermaid besought with frightened eyes that
Monsieur take her away to England, and when the hotel proprietor
disappeared without even asking for his bill.
There were other sights that did one good to see: such as gray-haired
Mrs. Richardson, venerable figure of a British nurse, with six wars to
her credit and a breastful of decorations from four different
governments, who refused to leave her hospital even if it was blown
to pieces, so long as there were men to help and wounds to heal.
When the St. Antoine closed I took her to the American Consulate to
find a house where she could stay. That night and the next loads of
English Red Cross busses with their households of pain and ether
rumbled over the pontoon bridge across the Scheldt, went past Fort
Tete de Flandre, and disappeared in the swampy meadows on the
road to Ghent. I never saw her again, but I have always hoped that
Mrs. Richardson was among the nurses who went with them.
When on Wednesday morning I was turned out of my room, I made
my way past a pressing throng of foreign faces to the Queen's Hotel
on the water front. There I found Arthur Ruhl and James H. Hare,
who had just come over from England. The hotel overlooked the
River Scheldt, forming a wide crescent on the city's north, and was
within fifty yards of one of the longest pontoon bridges constructed in
Here was a sight to come again and rend the memory. The crowds
were endeavoring to get away over one of the two avenues of
escape still open. I estimated that between five in the afternoon and
the following dawn three hundred thousand persons must have
passed through the city's gates. They were the people of Antwerp
itself, swelled by exiles from Alost, Aerschot, Malines, Termonde, and
other cities to the south and west. Intermittently for two days and
nights I watched them from my room in the Queen's. From five yards
beneath my window ledge came the shuffle, shuffle of unending feet,
the creak and groans of heavy cart wheels, the talk and babble of
guttural tongues, the yelp of hounds, as the thousands moved and
wept and surged and jostled along throughout the night and into the
uncertain mist of that October morning. They were so close I could
have jumped into their carts or dropped a pebble on their heads.
Infinitely more impressive than the retreat of the allied armies or the
victorious entry of the Germans a little later, was the pageant of this
pitiful army without guns or leaders.
The twenty-foot entrance to that pontoon bridge seemed to me like
the mouth of a funnel through which poured the dense misery of an
entire nation. Think of this army's composition: a great city was
emptying itself of human life; not only a great city, but all the people
driven to it from the outside, all who had congregated in Belgium's
last refuge and its strongest fort. They bore themselves bravely, the
greater number plodding along silently in the footsteps of those who
went ahead, with no thoughts of their direction, some of them even
chatting and laughing. You saw great open wagons carrying baby
carriages, perambulators, pots and kettles, an old chair, huge
bundles of household goods, and the ubiquitous Belgian bicycle
strapped to the side. There were small wagons, and more great
wagons crowded with twenty, thirty, forty people: aged brown women,
buried like shrunk walnuts in a mass of shawls, girls sitting listlessly
on piles of straw, and children fitfully asleep or very much awake and
Sometimes the men and boys mounted their bicycles, rode for a
dozen yards, were stopped by the procession, and then, for want of
better occupation, rang their bells. One saw innumerable yelping
dogs: big Belgian police hounds harnessed to the cart and doing their
share of work, others sniffing along the outskirts and plainly
advertising for an owner. There were noisy cattle, too, some of which
escaped. Long after the city was evacuated I saw a cow bellowing
under an archway of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
In this way the city emptied itself, but so slowly that the very slowness
of the movement wore the marchers out. Each family group was
limited to the speed of its oldest member. Hundreds gave it up and
lay by the road, or formed little gypsy camps under the trees. At night
these were lighted by fires, overshadowed by the greater fire from the
distant burning city, and beside them stretched dumb-looking souls,
watching vaguely those who still had strength to move.
Watching these wretches got so on my nerves that I had to get out
and do something. With a British intelligence officer, formerly of Sir
John French's staff, I wandered down to the southern quarter of the
city known as Berchem. As usual, the guns at the outer forts had
been booming throughout the evening. From the city's ramparts you
could not only feel the shudder of the earth, but you could see
occasional splashes of flame from the Belgian batteries, answered, in
the dim distance to the south, by smaller, less vivid splashes issuing
from the mouths of the German instruments of "Culture" which
throughout the night pounded ruthlessly on the unprotected houses
without the city limits.
On the way home we stopped in at the British field hospital to see a
wounded British friend.
The Surrender Of Antwerp
As we left the British field hospital, on the Rue de Leopold, a shrieking
skyrocket whizzed by above us and buried its hissing head in the
river to the north. One or two more fell at a distance of several
hundred yards, and in the southern part of the city flames from
several houses shot up into the quiet, windless night.
The bombardment was on--the time was 12.07 Wednesday
For a moment I did not realize that this was the beginning of the end
of Antwerp. I had heard so much gun-fire and seen so many bombs
dropping from aeroplanes that I did not fully appreciate the
significance of these shells. I scribbled a few notes in my diary,
unstrapped my money belt, and then picked out an empty bed at the
Queen's Hotel and tumbled in. I must have slept for six or seven
When I arose everything was quiet. The hotel was apparently
deserted. I remember being particularly irritated because there was
no one in the kitchen who would give me breakfast, so I made myself
some tea and then strolled into the street. It so happened that the
Germans had been pumping lead steadily into the city for six hours
and that this was the morning lull. The Germans are methodical in
everything. When they bombard a city they stop for breakfast.
As I walked down the Avenue de Keyser I thought at first it was
Sunday--or rather a year of Sundays all rolled into one. Overnight
the city had been transformed into a tomb. Shops were closed; iron
shutters were pulled down everywhere; trolley cars stood in the street
as they had been left. My own footsteps resounded fearfully on the
pavement, and I walked five blocks before I saw a human being.
I stopped at the American Consul's office on the Place de Meir, only
to find the place was locked. A frightened face behind the grating told
me that the consul had taken his wife to the country--good place to
be in, I thought.
Things began to seem lonely. I heard shells falling and saw flames in
the southern quarter of the city, and decided to go in that direction to
look up an American correspondent and two photographers who had
asked me to bunk with them in the cellar of a little abandoned house
at 74 Rue de Peage.
Turning down a little side street leading toward the Boulevard de
Leopold, I was greeted by a clap of thunder overhead. A shell
demolished a house across the street and about thirty yards down.
The concussion knocked over a couple of babies. I picked them up,
put them back in the doorway of the house where they seemed to belong,
saying over and over again mechanically, "There, there, don't cry.
There is nothing to be frightened about"; and then, just to show how
little I myself was frightened I began to run. I ran for all I was
worth. I ran right into the fire. The shells were falling fairly thick
on the Boulevard de Leopold; every two or three hundred yards a house
was partially destroyed; bricks and glass littered the pavement, and
occasionally, every quarter of a mile or so, I saw a figure skulking
along under the eaves of a building, crouching and ducking in time to
the nasty music of the shells. But I decided that the middle of the
street was the safest part.
When I had gone about a quarter of a mile I got my nerve again. I put
my hands in my pockets, lighted a cigarette, and was just saying to
myself, "This is pretty good fun, after all," when CRASH!! CRASH!! two,
or possibly three, shells, bursting in rapid succession, tore down
houses a hundred yards ahead of me. Then one struck in the street, and
jagged fragments of angry shrapnel skidded along the pavement like a
thrown stone skipping along the surface of the water. I was again
trembling all over.
Was the game worth the candle, I asked myself. "I've come three
thousand miles and overcome every obstacle just to get into this
horrible mess. If I get disfigured--no, I'd much rather be killed--will
"Crash!! Bang!!" went a monster shell as I turned the corner.
Two doors from the corner of a narrow street covered with bricks and
mortar fluttered a United States flag, and beneath it the door of 74
Rue de Peage. This place was later spoken of as "Thompson's fort,"
because Donald C. Thompson, a Kansas photographer, took
possession of it after the Belgian family fled, and plundered the
neighborhood for coffee, rolls, and meat, with which he stocked his
little cellar. The house next door had already been struck, and
shattered glass littered the pavement. The doorstep of 74 was
covered by a couple of mattresses and sand-bags. Beneath this, in a
dingy sort of coal-bin, heaped with straw, I found crouching the
tenants of "Thompson's fort."
Next to Berchem, the southern quarter of the city, where the
Germans were approaching, the Rue de Peage was the worst spot in
Antwerp. We sat for a time listening to the shells. There were here, in
addition to Thompson, Edwin Weigel, a Chicago photographer;
Edward Eyre Hunt, of "Collier's Weekly"; and the Dutch Vice-Consul.
We heard the distant resounding Boom ... Boom ... Boom ... ed ...
Boom ... Boom ... Boom.
An interval of perhaps a second's silence, then a faint moaning, a
crescendo wail, the whirr and rush of a snarling, shrieking skyrocket
overhead, and a crash, like all the thunders of the universe rolled into
one, when the shell struck, followed by the roar of falling brick as a
neighboring house came pouring into the street.
"Whee.....wheee.....Hi.....HIOU UIOUW," we heard. "Whee ...
whEEE ... whEEE ... UIOUW ... OUWW ... SSH ... SSHSHHH ...
BANG ... BANG!!!!!!"
"Whee.....wheee.....Hi.....HIOUUIOUW," we heard. "Whee ...
whEEE ... whEEE ... UIOUW... OUWW... SSH ... SSHSHHH... BANG...
I tried to persuade the other fellows to come up to the Queen's Hotel
along the Scheldt waterfront on the northern side of the city, where I
was then encamped. It was a safer locality because the Germans
had not yet got the range of the northern end of the city. Weigel and
Thompson, having to look out for their kodaks and moving-picture
paraphernalia, decided to wait a while, as did Hunt. Hare, who came
in later, had two big kodaks which he wanted to get back to his room
in the Queen's. I offered to carry one of them for him.
We shook hands all around and one or two of us exchanged
messages to be taken back in case there was any trouble--that is to
say, in case, as seemed likely at the time, some of us should get out
alive and some should not. Hunt gave me a letter to his family, and
later, with watch in hand, started to walk around the burning city to
calculate the number of falling shells per minute! I slung Hare's kodak
over my shoulder and we started back, taking separate streets. It was
a dash of three quarters of a mile and nothing fell particularly close to
us, although the buildings on all sides were in flames. Near a pile of
discarded uniforms of the garde civique, I saw what was left of the
figure of a man with his insides oozing out, his eyes still open, staring
vacantly upwards, and all around him the horrible odor of decaying
horses. By this time I was calm and was getting quite accustomed to
the bursting of shells. I suppose I had been through my "baptism of
About half an hour later, when we were sitting in the Queen's,
Thompson, pale as a sheet, staggered into the deserted lobby closely
followed by Weigel and Hunt and the Dutch Vice-Consul, the latter
somewhat out of his head. Just after I left 74 Rue de Peage, a 32 cm.
shell burst on the roof, tearing off the two top floors of the house,
throwing Thompson's bed into the street, and setting the place on fire.
At sundown the house was in ashes. Somehow or other the men all
got out, rescuing a portion of their paraphernalia.
All Thursday afternoon the German Taubes circled above the city--
mostly along the waterfront. Below them puffed little clouds of smoke
where shells from the Belgian anti-aircraft guns were exploding. I
fancy the airmen were locating the pontoon bridge and signaling to
the Prussian battery commanders six miles away; but during
Wednesday and Thursday, when the crowds of refugees were
assembled on the waterfront, not a single bomb dropped among
them. A few shells, well placed, would have slaughtered them like
sheep. Before and during the bombardment I am quite certain that
the Germans intended to frighten, rather than injure, non-combatants.
Report to the contrary notwithstanding, it is equally true that, so far as
possible, the invaders kept to their promise to spare such buildings as
the Cathedral, the Palais de Justice, the Hotel de Ville, the Castle
Steen, and other historic landmarks.
The bombardment lasted forty hours. That night,--Thursday, October
8th,--the second and last night which the town held out, all of the
Americans who were left gathered at the Queen's. The firing by this
time was terrific. Except for the lurid glare of the burning buildings
which lit up the streets, the city was in total darkness. For weeks
martial law had been in effect and there were no lights after sundown.
An unearthly feeling it was, to be locked in the darkness of this
strange city, unable to speak a word of the language, not knowing
whether the garrison had evacuated the forts or whether the city had
been surrendered, believing there would be street righting or an
insurrection of franc-tireurs. At times we heard through the darkness
the tramp of squads of soldiers. Surely, we thought, there come the
Germans. We remembered the atrocities at Louvain.
About an hour after darkness settled on us I climbed to the roof of the
Queen's Hotel, from which, for a few minutes, I looked out upon the
most horrible and at the same time the most gorgeous panorama that
I ever hope to see. The entire southern portion of the city appeared a
desolate ruin; whole streets were ablaze, and great sheets of fire rose
to the height of thirty or forty feet.
The night, like the preceding, was calm and quiet, without a breath of
wind. On all sides rose greedy tongues of flame which seemed to
thirst for things beyond their reach. Slowly and majestically the sparks
floated skyward; and every now and then, following the explosion of a
shell, a new burst of flame lighted up a section hitherto hidden in
darkness. The window panes of the houses still untouched flashed
the reflection in our eyes.
Even more glorious was the scene to the north. On the opposite side
of the Scheldt the oil tanks, the first objects to be set on fire by bombs
from the German Taubes, were blazing furiously and vomiting huge
volumes of oil-laden smoke. Looking over on this side of the river,
too, I could see the crackling wooden houses of the village of St.
Nicolas, lighting with their glow all of northern Antwerp and the
water-front. In the swampy meadows on the farther bank we could see the
frightened refugees as they hurried along the still protected road to
Ghent. They passed on our side of the burning village, not five
hundred yards away. Every now and then as a fitful flame lighted the
meadow I could see the figures silhouetted against the red
They appeared to be actually walking through the flames like
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It was all a glorious and
There was at this time an ominous lull in the moaning pound of
Out of the darkness in the direction of West Antwerp came a new
sound-the low methodical beat of feet. The noise became gradually
louder and louder until one could hear the rumble of heavy wheels
and distinguish the sound of voices above the crowd. This was the
beginning of the British and Belgian retreat, which started at about
eight o'clock Thursday night, and, under cover of darkness, continued
unbroken for eight hours. Following the line taken by the escaping
populace this retreat went past our position on the water-front. Before
dawn on Friday morning, when the light became strong enough for
the advancing army to make out the enemy's position, practically the
entire Belgian army plus ten thousand Royal British Naval Marines
had got across the pontoon bridge and were well along the road to
Ghent. During all these hours squads of gendarmes with fixed
bayonets held back such remaining townsfolk as attempted to get
near the bridge. To these wretches it seemed that their last avenue of
escape had been cut off. There were now at the Queen's, Arthur
Ruhl, Hare, and myself, in addition to an English intelligence officer
and the recruits from "Fort Thompson." We talked over our plans for
the next day. The intelligence officer volunteered to get up with me at
sunrise and scour the river for a barge. It was my idea, in case we
could make any kind of arrangements for a get-away, to come back
and report to the other fellows. I remember that Arthur Ruhl was
uncertain as to whether he would come with us or wait for the
German entry. He was worried about some friends in the British field
hospital, and he decided not to leave without looking them up,--a
pretty white thing to do, it seemed to me.
I tried to sleep, but the rumble of artillery wagons and shouts of the
marchers prevented. So I spent most of the night of the British and
Belgian retreat beneath my window. At daybreak the intelligence
officer came to my room and we started out along the water-front,
moving in the direction of the Dutch border. With the rising sun on
Friday morning the German Taubes again swept over the city. When
the Germans saw that the whole British and Belgian army had got
away from them they moved up their 42 cm. guns and literally gave
us hell. This time they had no mercy on the few remaining
The intelligence officer's baggage delayed us a long time. When we
got up nearly as far as Fort St. Philippe, we separated. We saw a
barge anchored in the river and he had an idea it would leave about
seven o'clock, and that we might be able to get on it. I gave him my
knapsack containing my gold belt, which, in the confusion, I had not
had time to strap on, and started to make a dash back to the
Queen's, because I considered that I ought to let the other fellows
know what had happened to us.
I had fifteen minutes to cover the distance.
I ran. The shells, at that time, were falling at a rate, I should
judge, of five a minute. Opposite the Castle Steen I had a narrow
escape--just concussion, I suppose. Directly above me came a crash of
thunder. A few moments later I found myself lying in the street, head
pointing north--dazed. A bomb crashed through the eaves and tore a hole
as big as a small cellar in the street directly before the old castle,
bursting with the concussion of a tornado. For a few moments I sat on
the street feeling weak in the legs and unable to move.
Again I started back to the Queen's. Two hundred yards east of the
bridge some soldiers held me up.
"Get back!" they shouted, believing that I was making for the pontoon.
They turned me back, and I hesitated a moment. A terrible explosion,
louder than anything I had yet heard, rocked the city to its
foundations. For a moment the walls of the houses trembled and every
window on the waterfront was broken. The retreating Belgian army had
blown up that pontoon bridge and with it what then seemed the last hope
of escape for the few remaining survivors. For a few moments wreckage
writhed in midstream like a great sea creature in agony of death.
Past me rushed groups of Belgian soldiers, the remainder of a few
hundred who had been left to cover the British and Belgian retreat, fire
the last shots from the forts, and spike the guns as the Germans
approached. Pitiable was the terror of these fellows when they saw the
bridge gone. Many of them were out of their heads through exposure and
exhaustion; not a few of them wept. One sergeant tore off his uniform
and fatigue cap and tried to exchange them for my citizen's clothes.
The worst fire of the entire bombardment was concentrated during these
moments; the racket was stupendous. Because gunboats, barges, lighters,
tenders, rowboats, were commandeered by the military authorities to
ferry across soldiers and wounded there was slim chance for
noncombatants. Above the noise of bomb and shrapnel Belgian gunboats
added to the confusion by cannonading big boats along the quay. This
was done in order that the Germans might not make use of them for the
pursuit. It speaks volumes for my military knowledge that for a brief
moment I imagined the Germans had embarked upstream and were going to
make a river battle of it.
By this time the American correspondents had left the Queen's, going
in different directions for different purposes. Hunt and Thompson, I
later learned, went to the American Consulate, where they stayed
during the German entry.
For a moment I see-sawed up and down the river bank, remembering
I had left my handbag at the Queen's, but, infinitely more important,
that my knapsack with money belt and diary were in the keeping of a
peripatetic acquaintance somewhere along the crowded piers
downstream. Without that gold, the thousands of miles to New York
seemed doubly long. When I at last got back to the barge office a
dock-hand pointed to a bench in the corner; there to my intense relief
lay the knapsack, where my kind English intelligence officer had left it.
A little later I managed to clamber on a river barge laden nearly
to the sinking point with Antwerp's peaceful burghers and their
dumb-looking women and children. Slowly--very slowly--we steamed out
of the haze of powder and oil-laden smoke, through long lines of
gunboats and a flotilla of drifting scows packed to the gunwales like
our own, and past Fort St. Philippe, whose garrison were at that
moment heaving tons of powder into the river.
A few miles farther downstream they landed us on the northern bank
of the Scheldt near the little town of Liefkenshack. Here I began a few
miles of walking, occasionally varied by ox-cart locomotion.
I was traveling with nothing but a knapsack (my suitcase had to be
abandoned) and therefore moving faster than the crowd. At one
point, for the sake of company, I joined a group and took a turn at
shoving the family wheel-barrow. They poured out thanks in the
guttural Flemish tongue, then loaded me with bread and bits of
mouldy pie. When that was not accepted they feared for their
hospitality. They talked and I talked, with a result that was hardly
worth the effort. Finally, after a conference, one of the group
disappeared into the crowd and returned leading an eight-year-old
"Me talk American," said the boy. "We two speak together?"
And so we talked, for the road was long and weary.
Their advance was so gradual that, although I did not leave Antwerp
until the bombardment was over, I caught up with the army of
refugees before Roosendaal, just across the Dutch border.
Here Holland opened out her arms. The kindness of the Dutch--as
yet personal, unorganized endeavor--was beyond conception.
Churches, houses, public halls, stations were thrown open to the
multitude. You saw hundreds of Dutch soldiers join in the procession,
lift babies and bundles, and walk with them for miles. At Dordrecht,
when the trains came through, peasants passed scores of babies'
milk-bottles into the cars. When a jolly-looking Dutch girl, with a great
big gleaming smile that reminded me of some one, gave me milk and
chocolate, the tears began to trickle down my cheeks. I suppose it
was the reaction, or because I was tired, or, perhaps, because the
crowd was cheering and waving at us. For the others there were piles
of bread, Dutch cake, and, best of all, some good, long drinks of
water. For ten days Antwerp's water supply had been cut off. Von
Beseler, German siege commander, had seen to that.
At Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal people used the walls of the
houses for post-offices. They wrote their names in chalk letters, giving
directions to relatives lost in the scramble.
After ox carts, rowboats, and river barges had done their share, a
Dutch-Belgian "Stoom Tram" joggled us along for a few miles. Some
more walking and a little running before I at last crawled aboard a
twenty-car freight and passenger train moving slowly toward the east.
At the first telegraph office across the Dutch border, I filed a cable
story to the "Boston Journal"; and later started an account for the
"New York Evening Post." I had an idea that I would score a "beat" or
"scoop" so that the people of the Back Bay could read of Antwerp's
fall over their coffee-cups the next morning. My cable account had too
much inside information. There were in it too many facts concerning
Winston Churchill's visit, also information about the number of Royal
Marines engaged, none of which it was thought proper to give out at
that time. So the English censor refused to let it through. That,
however, did not prevent the Dutch Cable Company from pocketing
my two hundred guilders.
By the time I reached Rotterdam the word "refugee" had assumed a
new and altogether nearer meaning. I had been in a besieged and
captured city; I had mixed with homeless and starving people; I had
seen houses crumble and burn; and ghastly human figures with their
insides oozing away and the eyes staring vacantly.
As I lay in bed that night I could hear, and I still can hear, the scruff,
scruff, and shuffle of feet as the compact body of this army--the
army without guns or leaders--dragged slowly past my window at
the Queen's, the tinkle of ox-cart bells, the talk and babble of guttural
tongues; the curses of the team drivers, the frantic cries of mothers
who had lost their children in the scramble, the cries of young children
who didn't know what was wrong, but realized in their vague, childish
way that something terrible was happening.
I could see, and I still can see, those big Belgian hounds sniffing
along the outskirts of the crowd and plainly advertising for an owner; I
can see other hounds with their heads thrown back wailing at the
door of their deserted and abandoned homes. And I can see the
Dutch border where Holland opened out her arms, and the Dutch
peasants gave us rye bread and sandwiches and good long drinks of
Sometimes I can sit with my legs dangling over the stern of that old
towboat barge on which I finally made my escape, and can visualize
the blue-gray spire of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, standing, it
seemed to me, a quiet sentinel over the ruins of the tortured city; and,
then, as the old barge sweeps around the river's bend, I can look
back upon the last of Antwerp's story written in flaming letters of red
against the early morning sky.
Spying On Spies
Less than forty-eight hours after the fall of Antwerp the wave of
helpless humanity whose crest broke on the Belgian border had
rolled over the entire length and breadth of Holland. Thousands of
Belgian refugees wandered as far north as The Hague, where
various Dutch relief committees and the American Legation at The
Hague did their best to house the homeless and relieve the suffering.
Dr. van Dyke rolled up his sleeves still farther and strained to solve
the problem of the unemployed, sometimes, when a case interested
him, turning his own pocket inside out.
Eight days after the Antwerp bombardment, I left The Hague for my
second trip into Germany.
Just before my start Captain Sunderland, U.S.A., at the head of the
American Relief Committee at The Hague, asked me to help him in
taking charge of two carloads of grain, which were to go across the
German border and be distributed among the starving Belgians at
Liege. England had agreed not to interfere with food supplies,
provided the United States saw that they did not fall into German
hands in Belgium. The present job required sleeping in the freight
cars and saying, in one form or another, "Hands off!" to every spiked
helmet that tried to interfere. Captain Sunderland could speak no
German, and as I had already been over the same territory and had
had some experience with the military authorities, he wished me to
I decided, however, to go into the interior of Germany. I had already
seen three armies in the field, and had watched, more or less closely,
the people of two warring nations. I was now particularly anxious to
study the German point of view, and if possible get to the front with
the Crown Prince's army.
For such a purpose I considered that I carried good enough
credentials. In addition to a packet of mail for Ambassador Gerard,
my letter from ex-President Roosevelt, and my United States
passport, which had been vised by Herr von Mueller, German
Ambassador at The Hague, I now carried a special laissez-passer
which Mr. Marshall Langhorne had been kind enough to secure for
me from the same legation. I had a letter from Count von Bernstorff,
whom I had seen the night he arrived in America, and a letter from
Herr von Biel, Secretary of the German Embassy at The Hague,
recommending me to the Foreign Office in Berlin. Professor Hugo
Munsterberg had taken the trouble to send me a note to Dr. R. W.
Drechsler, head of the American Institute in Berlin, and I had also a
letter to the head of the University of Berlin.