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The Soul of the War by Philip Gibbs

Part 6 out of 7

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men were strapped to them, as though in some torture chamber,
devilishly contrived. In this place, however, the work was to defeat the
cruelties of War the Torturer, after it had done its worst with human

The worst was in other rooms, where poor wrecks of men lay face
downwards in hot-air boxes, where they stayed immovable and silent
as though in their coffins, or with half their bodies submerged in
electrolysed baths. Nurses were massaging limbs which had been
maimed and smashed by shell-fire, and working with fine and delicate
patience at the rigid fingers of soldiers, some of whom had lost their
other arms, so that unless they could use their last remaining fingers,
three or four to a hand, they would be useless for any work in the
world. But most pitiable of all were the long rows of the paralysed and
the blind, who lay in the hospital ward, motionless and sightless, with
smashed faces. In the Palace of Fine Arts this statuary might have
made the stones weep.


At last the spring song sounded through the streets of Paris with a
pagan joy.

There was a blue sky over the city--so clear and cloudless that if any
Zeppelin came before the night, it would have been seen a mile high,
as a silver ship, translucent from stem to stern, sailing in an azure
sea. One would not be scared by one of these death-ships on such a
day as this, nor believe, until the crash came, that it would drop down
destruction upon this dream city, all aglitter in gold and white, with all
its towers and spires clean-cut against the sky.

It was hard to think of death and war; because spring had come with
its promise of life. There was a thrill of new vitality throughout the
city. I seemed to hear the sap rising in the trees along the boulevards.
Or was it only the wind plucking at invisible harp-strings, or visible
telephone wires, and playing the spring song in Parisian ears?

In the Tuileries gardens, glancing aslant the trees, I saw the first
green of the year, as the buds were burgeoning and breaking into tiny
leaves. The white statues of goddesses--a little crumbled and
weather-stained after the winter--were bathed in a pale sunshine.
Psyche stretched out her arms, still half-asleep, but waking at the call
of spring. Pomona offered her fruit to a young student, who gazed at
her with his black hat pushed to the back of his pale forehead.

Womanhood, with all her beauty carved in stone, in laughing and
tragic moods, in the first grace of girlhood, and in full maturity, stood
poised here in the gardens of the Tuileries, and seemed alive and
vibrant with this new thrill of life which was pulsing in the moist earth
and whispering through the trees, because spring had come to Paris.

There was no doubt about it. The flower girls who had been early to
les Halles came up the rue Royale one morning with baskets full of
violets, so that all the street was perfumed as though great ladies
were passing and wafting scent in their wake. Even the old cocher
who drove me down the rue Cambon had put on a new white hat. He
had heard the glad tidings, this old wrinkled man, and he clacked his
whip to let others know, and gave the glad-eye--a watery, wicked old
eye--to half a dozen midinettes who came dancing along the rue St.
Honore. They knew without his white hat, and the clack of his whip.
The ichor of the air had got into their blood. They laughed without the
reason for a jest, and ran, in a skipping way, because there was the
spring-song in their feet.

Along the Champs Elysees there was the pathway of the sun.
Through the Arc de Triomphe there was a glamorous curtain of cloth
of gold, and arrows of light struck and broke upon the golden figures
of Alexander's Bridge. Looking back I saw the dome of the Invalides
suspended in space, like a cloud in the sky. It was painted over to
baffle the way of hostile aircraft, but the paint was wearing off, and the
gold showed through again, glinting and flashing in the air-waves.

The Seine was like molten liquid and the bridges which span it a
dozen times or more between Notre Dame and the Pont de l'Aima
were as white as snow, and unsubstantial as though they bridged the
gulfs of dreams. Even the great blocks of stone and the balks of
timber which lie on the mud banks below the Quai d'Orsay--it is where
the bodies of suicides float up and bring new tenants to the Morgue--
were touched with the beauty of this lady day, and invited an artist's

The Eiffel Tower hung a cobweb in the sky. Its wires had been thrilling
to the secrets of war, and this signal station was barricaded so that no
citizens might go near, or pass the sentries pacing there with loaded
rifles. But now it was receiving other messages, not of war. The
wireless operator with the receiver at his ears must have heard those
whispers coming from the earth: "I am spring... The earth is waking...
I am coming with the beauty of life... I am gladness and youth..."

Perhaps even the sentry pacing up and down the wooden barricade
heard the approach of some unseen presence when he stood still
that morning and peered through the morning sunlight. "Halt! who
goes there?" "A friend." "Pass, friend, and give the countersign."

The countersign was "Spring," and where the spirit of it stepped,
golden crocuses had thrust up through the warming earth, not far
from where, a night or two before, fire-balls dropped from a hostile air-

Oh, strange and tragic spring, of this year 1915! Was it possible that,
while Nature was preparing her beauty for the earth, and was busy in
the ways of life, men should be heaping her fields with death, and
drenching this fair earth with blood?

One could not forget. Even in Paris away from the sound of the guns
which had roared in my ears a week before, and away from the moan
of the wounded which had made my ears ache worse than the noise
of battle, I could not forget the tragedy of all this death which was
being piled up under the blue sky, and on fields all astir with the life of
the year.

In the Tuileries gardens the buds were green. But there were black
figures below them. The women who sat there all the afternoon,
sewing, and knitting, or with idle hands in their laps, were clothed in
widows' black. I glanced into the face of one of these figures as I
passed. She was quite a girl to whom the spring-song should have
called with a loud, clear note of joy. But her head drooped and her
eyes were steadfast as they stared at the pathway, and the sunshine
brought no colour into her white cheeks... She shivered a little, and
pulled her crepe veil closer about her face.

Down the broad pathway between the white statues came a
procession of cripples. They wore the uniforms of the French army,
and were mostly young men in the prime of life, to whom also the
spring should have brought a sense of vital joy, of intense and
energetic life. But they dragged between their crutches while their
lopped limbs hung free. A little further off in a patch of sunshine
beyond the wall of the Jeu de Paumes, sat half a dozen soldiers of
France with loose sleeves pinned to their coats, or with only one leg
to rest upon the ground. One of them was blind and sat there with his
face to the sun, staring towards the fountain of the nymphs with
sightless eyes. Those six comrades of war were quite silent, and did
not "fight their battles o'er again." Perhaps they were sad because
they heard the spring-song, and knew that they could never step out
again to the dance-tune of youth.

And yet, strangely, there was more gladness than sadness in Paris
now that spring had come, in spite of the women in black, and the
cripples in the gardens. Once again it brought the promise of life.
"Now that the spring is here," said the old cab-driver in the white hat,
"France will soon be free and the war will soon be over."

This hopefulness that the fine weather would end the war quickly was
a splendid superstition which buoyed up many hearts in France.
Through the long, wet months of winter the women and the old
people had agonized over the misery of their soldiers in the trenches.
Now that the earth was drying again, and the rain clouds were
vanishing behind a blue sky, there was new hope, and a wonderful
optimism in the spirit of the people. "The spring will bring victory to
France" was an article of faith which comforted the soul of the little
midinette who sang on her way to the Rue Lafayette, and the French
soldier who found a wild flower growing in his trench.


I have written many words about the spirit of Paris in war. Yet all
these little glimpses I have given reveal only the trivial characteristics
of the city. Through all these episodes and outward facts, rising
above them to a great height of spirituality, the soul of Paris was a
white fire burning with a steady flame. I cannot describe the effect of it
upon one's senses and imagination. I was only conscious of it, so that
again and again, in the midst of the crowded boulevards, or in the dim
aisles of Notre Dame, or wandering along the left bank of the Seine, I
used to say to myself, silently or aloud: "These people are wonderful!
They hold the spirit of an unconquerable race... Nothing can smash
this city of intellect, so gay, and yet so patient in suffering, so
emotional and yet so stoical in pride and courage!"

There was weakness, and vanity, in Paris. The war had not cleansed
it of all its vice or of all its corruption, but this burning wind of love
for La Patrie touched the heart of every man and woman, and
inflamed them so that self-interest was almost consumed, and
sacrifice for the sake of France became a natural instinct. The
ugliest old hag in the markets shared this love with the most
beautiful woman of the salons; the demi-mondaine with her rouged
lips, knelt in spirit, like Mary Magdalene before the cross, and was
glad to suffer for the sake of a pure and uncarnal love, symbolized
to her by the folds of the Tricolour or by the magic of that word,
"La France!" which thrilled her soul, smirched by the traffic of the
streets. The most money-loving bourgeois, who had counted every
sou and cheated every other one, was lifted out of his meanness
and materialism and did astounding things, without a murmur,
abandoning his business to go back to the colours as a soldier of
France, and regarding the ruin of a life's ambitions without a
heartache so that France might be free.

There were embusques in Paris-perhaps hundreds, or even
thousands of young men who searched for soft jobs which would
never take them to the firing-line, or who pleaded ill-health with the
successful influence of a family or political "pull." Let that be put down
honestly, because nothing matters save the truth. But the manhood
of Paris as a whole, after the first shudder of dismay, the first agonies
of this wrench from the safe, familiar ways of life, rose superbly to the
call of la Patrie en danger! The middle-aged fathers of families and
the younger sons marched away singing and hiding their sadness
under a mask of careless mirth. The boys of eighteen followed them
in the month of April, after nine months of war, and not a voice in
Paris was raised to protest against this last and dreadful sacrifice.
Paris cursed the stupidity of the war, cried "How long, O Lord, how
long?" as it dragged on in its misery, with accumulating sums of
death, was faint at the thought of another winter campaign, and
groaned in spirit when its streets were filled with wounded men and
black-garbed women. But though Paris suffered with the finer agonies
of the sensitive intelligence, it did not lose faith or courage, and found
the heart to laugh sometimes, in spite of all its tears.

City of beauty, built out of the dreams of great artists and great poets,
I have watched you through this time of war, walking through your
silent streets in the ordeal of most dreadful days, mingling with your
crowds when a multitude of cripples dragged their lopped limbs
thiough the sunlight, studying your moods of depression, and
hopefulness, and passionate fervour, wandering in your churches,
your theatres and your hospitals, and lingering on mild nights under
the star-strewn sky which made a vague glamour above your
darkness; and always my heart has paid a homage to the spirit which
after a thousand years of history and a thousand million crimes, still
holds the fresh virtue of ardent youth, the courage of a gallant race,
and a deathless faith in the fine, sweet, gentle things of art and life.
The Germans, however great their army, could never have captured
the soul of Paris.

Chapter IX
The Soldiers Of France


When in the first days of the war I saw the soldiers of France on their
way to the front, I had even then a conviction that the fighting qualities
of the nation had not degenerated in forty-four years of peace, after
the downfall in which the courage of the men had been betrayed by
the corruption of a Government. Afterwards, during many months as
a wanderer in this war, I came to know the French soldier with the
intimacy of long conversations to the sound of guns, in the first line of
trenches facing the enemy, in hospitals, where he spoke quietly while
comrades snored themselves to death, in villages smashed to pieces
by shell-fire, in troop trains overcrowded with wounded, in woods and
fields pockmarked by the holes of marmites, and in the restaurants of
Paris and provincial towns where, with an empty sleeve or one
trouser-leg dangling beneath the tablecloth, he told me his
experiences of war with a candour in which there was no
concealment of truth; and out of all these friendships and revelations
of soul the character of the soldiers of France stands before my mind
in heroic colours.

Individually, of course, the qualities of these men differ as one man
from another in any nation or class. I have seen the neurasthenic,
quivering with agony in his distress of imaginary terrors, and the man
with steady nerves, who can turn a deaf ear to the close roar of guns
and eat a hunk of bread-and-cheese with an unspoilt appetite within a
yard or two of death; I have seen the temperament of the aristocrat
and the snob in the same carriage with the sons of the soil and the
factory whose coarse speech and easy-going manners jarred upon
his daintiness. War does not entirely annihilate all distinctions of caste
even in France, where Equality is a good word, and it does not blend
all intellectual and moral qualities into one type of character, in spite
of the discipline of compulsory service and the chemical processes
which mix flesh and blood together in the crucible of a battlefield. So it
is impossible to write of the French soldier as a single figure, or to
make large generalizations about the armies of France. The coward
skulks by the side of the war. The priestly spirit in the ranks is
outraged by the obscenities of the debauchee.

Yet out of those great masses of men who have fought for France
there does emerge a certain definite character overwhelming the
details of their individual differences, and I have seen certain qualities
of temperament which belong to the majority of them, as essential
elements of the national spirit of France. The quality of their
patriotism, for example, shines very clear above all these millions of
men who have abandoned all their small self-interests for the supreme
purpose of defending France. England has her patriotism--we
give a great proof of it in blood--but it is not like that of France, not
so religious in its sentiment, not so passionate in its convictions, not
so feminine a thing. To most of these French soldiers, indeed to all
that I have talked with, the love of France is like the faith of a devout
Catholic in his church. It is not to be argued about. It holds the very
truth of life. It enshrines all the beauty of French ideals, all the rich
colour of imagination, all the poetry and music that has thrilled
through France since the beginning of our civilization, all her agonies
and tears. To the commonest soldier of France, "La Patrie" is his
great mother, with the tenderness of motherhood, the authority of
motherhood, the sanctity of motherhood, as to a Catholic the Blessed
Virgin is the mother of his soul. Perhaps as one of her children he has
been hardly dealt with, has starved and struggled and received many
whippings, but he does not lose his mother-love. The thought of
outrageous hands plucking at her garments, of hostile feet trampling
upon her, of foul attempts upon her liberty and honour, stirs him to
just that madness he would feel if his individual mother, out of whose
womb he came, were threatened in the same way. He does not like
death--he dreads the thought of it--but without questioning his soul he
springs forward to save this mother-country of his and dies upon her
bosom with a cry of "Vive la France!"


The French soldier, whatever his coarseness or his delicacy, needs
feminine consolation, and all his ideals and his yearnings and his self-
pity are intimately associated with the love of women, and especially
of one woman--his mother. When Napoleon, in the island of St.
Helena, used to talk about the glories of his victorious years, and then
brooded over the tragedy of his overthrow so that all his soul was
clouded with despair, he used to rouse himself after the silence which
followed those hours of self-analysis and say, "Let us talk about
women--and love." Always it is the feminine spirit in which a
Frenchman bathes his wounds. One small incident I saw a year or
two ago gave me the clue to this quality in the French character. It
was when Vedrines, the famous airman, was beaten by only a few
minutes in the flight round England. Capitaine Conneau--"Beaumont,"
as he called himself--had outraced his rival and waited, with French
gallantry, to shake the hand of the adversary he had defeated on
untiring wings. A great crowd of smart men and women waited also at
Brooklands to cheer the second in the race, who in England is always
more popular than the prize-winner. But when Vedrines came to earth
out of a blue sky he was savage and bitter. The loss of the prize-
money was a great tragedy to this mechanic who had staked all his
ambition on the flight. He shouted out harsh words to those who
came to cheer him, and shook them off violently when they tried to
clap him on the back. He was savagely angry. Then suddenly
something seemed to break in his spirit, and his face quivered.

"Is there any woman to embrace me?" he asked. Out of the crowd
came a pretty Frenchwoman and, understanding the man, though
she had not met him before, she held out her arms to him and raised
her face.

"Allons-donc, mon vieux!" she said. The man put his arms about her
and kissed her, while tears streamed down his face, covered in sweat
and dust. He was comforted, like a boy who had hurt himself, in his
mother's arms. It was a queer little episode--utterly impossible in the
imagination of an Englishman--but a natural thing in France.

So when a Frenchman lies dying, almost unconscious before the last
breath, it is always a woman's name that he cries out, or whispers,
though not always the name of his wife or mistress. One word is
heard again and again in the hospital wards, where the poilus lie,
those bearded fellows, so strong when they went out to the war, but
now so weak and helpless before death.

"Maman! Maman!"

It is to the bosom of motherhood that the spirit of the Frenchman
goes in that last hour.

"Oh, my dear little mamma," writes a young lieutenant of artillery, "it
would be nice to be in my own room again, where your picture hangs
over my bed looking down on the white pillows upon which you used
to make the sign of the Cross before I went to sleep. I often try to
dream myself into that bedroom again, but the cold is too intense for
dreams, and another shell comes shrieking overhead. War is nothing
but misery, after all."


Yet if any English reader imagines that because this thread of
sentiment runs through the character of France there is a softness in
the qualities of French soldiers, he does not know the truth. Those
men whom I saw at the front and behind the fighting lines were as
hard in moral and spiritual strength as in physical endurance. It was
this very hardness which impressed me even in the beginning of the
war, when I did not know the soldiers of France as well as I do now.

After a few weeks in the field these men, who had been labourers
and mechanics, clerks and journalists, artists and poets, shop
assistants and railway porters, hotel waiters, and young aristocrats of
Paris who had played the fool with pretty girls, were fined down to the
quality of tempered steel. With not a spare ounce of flesh on them--
the rations of the French army are not as rich as ours--and tested by
long marches down dusty roads, by incessant fighting in retreat
against overwhelming odds, by the moral torture of those rearguard
actions, and by their first experience of indescribable horrors, among
dead and dying comrades, they had a beauty of manhood which I
found sublime. They were bronzed and dirty and hairy, but they had
the look of knighthood, with a calm light shining in their eyes and with
resolute lips. They had no gaiety in those days, when France was in
gravest peril, and they did not find any kind of fun in this war. Out of
their baptism of fire they had come with scorched souls, knowing the
murderous quality of the business to which they were apprenticed;
but though they did not hide their loathing of it, nor the fears which
had assailed them, nor their passionate anger against the people
who had thrust this thing upon them, they showed no sign of
weakness. They were willing to die for France, though they hated
death, and in spite of the first great rush of the German legions, they
had a fine intellectual contempt of that army, which seemed to me
then unjustified, though they were right, as history now shows. Man
against man, in courage and cunning they were better than the
Germans, gun against gun they were better, in cavalry charge and in
bayonet charge they were better, and in equal number irresistible.

There was in England a hidden conviction, expressed privately in
clubs and by women over their knitting, that the French soldiers were
poor fellows as fighting men, filled with sentimentality, full of brag,
with fine words on their lips, but with no strength of courage or
endurance. British soldiers coming back wounded from the first
battles and a three weeks' rearguard action, spread abroad the tale
that "those French fellows were utterly useless and had run like rabbits
before the German advance." They knew nothing but what they had
seen in their own ditches on the fighting ground, they were sick with
horror at the monstrous character of the war, and they had a rankling
grudge against the French because they had not been supported
strongly enough during those weeks in August between Charleroi
and Compiegne.

Later the English Press, anxious, naturally enough, to throw into high
relief the exploits of our own troops in France, and getting only scraps
of news from the French lines, gave a distorted view of the general
situation, and threw the whole picture of the war out of perspective,
like the image of a man in a convex mirror. The relative importance of
the British Expedition was vastly exaggerated, not because its
particular importance was over-estimated, but because the French
operations received very scant notice. There are still people in
England who believe with a pious and passionate faith that our
soldiers sustained the entire and continual attack of the German
army, while the French looked on and thanked God for our work of
rescue. The fact that we only held a front of thirty miles, at most,
during the first nine months of war, and that the French were
successfully holding a line of five hundred miles through which the
Germans were trying to smash their way by repeated attacks of
ferocious character, never took hold of the imagination of many
honest souls at home, who thrilled with patriotic pride at the heroism
of the British troops, according to the old tradition of "How England
saved Europe."


Well, nothing will ever minimise our services to France. The graves of
our men will stand as records of the help we gave, paying our debt of
honour with priceless blood. But England must know what France did
in self-defence and understand the fine enduring heroism of those
armies of France which, after the first mistakes, built a wall of steel
against which the greatest fighting machine in Europe shattered itself
in vain.

Not a mile along all that five hundred miles of front was without its
battle, and not a mile there but is the grave of young Frenchmen who
fought with a martyr's faith and recklessness of life. As far back as the
last days of September 1914 I met men of the eastern frontier who
had a right already to call themselves veterans because they had
been fighting continuously for two months in innumerable
engagements--for the most part unrecorded in the public Press.

At the outset they were smart fellows, clean-shaven and even spruce
in their new blue coats and scarlet trousers. Now the war had put its
dirt upon them and seemed to have aged them by fifteen years,
leaving its ineffaceable imprint upon their faces. They had stubble
beards upon their chins, and their cheeks were sunken and hollow,
after short rations in the trenches and sleepless nights on the
battlefields, with death as their bedfellow. Their blue coats had
changed to a dusty grey. Their scarlet trousers had deep patches of
crimson, where the blood of comrades had splashed them. They
were tattered and torn and foul with the muck and slime of their
frontier work. But they were also hard and tough for the most part--
though here and there a man coughed wheezily with bronchitis or had
the pallor of excessive fatigue--and Napoleon would not have wished
for better fighting-men.

In the wooded country of the two "Lost Provinces" there was but little
time or chance to bury the dead encumbering the hills and fields.
Even six weeks after the beginning of the war horror made a camping
ground of the regions which lay to the east of the Meurthe, between
the villages of Blamont and Badonviller, Cirey les Forges and
Arracourt, Chateau Salins and Baudrecourt. The slopes of
Hartmansweilerkopf were already washed by waves of blood which
surged round it for nine months and more, until its final capture by the
French. St. Mihiel and Les Eparges and the triangle which the
Germans had wedged between the French lines were a shambles
before the leaves had fallen from the autumn trees in the first year of
war. In the country of the Argonne men fought like wolves and began
a guerilla warfare with smaller bodies of men, fighting from wood to
wood, from village to village, the forces on each side being scattered
over a wide area in advance of their main lines. Then they dug
themselves into trenches from which they came out at night, creeping
up to each other's lines, flinging themselves upon each other with
bayonets and butt-ends, killing each other as beasts kill, without pity
and in the mad rage of terror which is the fiercest kind of courage. In
Lorraine the tide of war ebbed and flowed over the same tracts of
ground, and neither side picked up its dead or its wounded. Men lay
there alive for days and nights, bleeding slowly to death. The hot sun
glared down upon them and made them mad with thirst, so that they
drank their own urine and jabbered in wild delirium. Some of them lay
there for as long as three weeks, still alive, with gangrened limbs in
which lice crawled, so that they stank abominably.

"I cannot tell you all the things I saw," said one of the young soldiers
who talked to me on his way back from Lorraine. He had a queer look
in his eyes when he spoke those words which he tried to hide from
me by turning his head away. But he told me how the fields were
littered with dead, decomposing and swarmed with flies, lying here in
huddled postures, yet some of them so placed that their fixed eyes
seemed to be staring at the corpses near them. And he told me how
on the night he had his own wound French and German soldiers not
yet dead talked together by light of the moon, which shed its pale light
upon all those prostrate men, making their faces look very white. He
heard the murmurs of voices about him, and the groans of the dying,
rising to hideous anguish as men were tortured by ghastly wounds
and broken limbs. In that night enmity was forgotten by those who
had fought like beasts and now lay together. A French soldier gave
his water-bottle to a German officer who was crying out with thirst.
The German sipped a little and then kissed the hand of the man who
had been his enemy. "There will be no war on the other side," he

Another Frenchman--who came from Montmartre--found lying within
a yard of him a Luxembourgeois whom he had known as his
chasseur in a big hotel in Paris. The young German wept to see his
old acquaintance. "It is stupid," he said, "this war. You and I were
happy when we were good friends in Paris. Why should we have
been made to fight with each other?" He died with his arms round the
neck of the soldier who told me the story, unashamed of his own

Round this man's neck also were clasped the arms of a German
officer when a week previously the French piou-piou went across the
field of a battle--one of the innumerable skirmishes--which had been
fought and won four days before another French retirement. The
young German had had both legs broken by a shell, and was
wounded in other places. He had strength enough to groan piteously,
but when my friend lifted him up death was near to him.

"He was all rotten," said the soldier, "and there came such a terrible
stench from him that I nearly dropped him, and vomited as I carried
him along."

I learnt something of the psychology of the French soldier from this
young infantryman with whom I travelled in a train full of wounded
soon after that night in Lorraine, when the moon had looked down on
the field of the dead and dying in which he lay with a broken leg. He
had passed through a great ordeal, so that his nerves were still torn
and quivering, and I think he was afraid of going mad at the memory
of the things he had seen and suffered, because he tried to compel
himself to talk of trivial things, such as the beauty of the flowers
growing on the railway banks and the different badges on English
uniforms. But suddenly he would go back to the tale of his fighting in
Lorraine and resume a long and rapid monologue in which little
pictures of horror flashed after each other as though his brain were a
cinematograph recording some melodrama. Queer bits of philosophy
jerked out between this narrative. "This war is only endurable
because it is for a final peace in Europe." "Men will refuse to suffer
these things again. It is the end of militarism." "If I thought that a
child of mine would have to go through all that I have suffered
during these last weeks, I would strangle him in his cradle to save him
from it."

Sometimes he spoke of France with a kind of religion in his eyes.

"Of course, I am ready to die for France. She can demand my life as
a right. I belong to her and she can do with me what she likes. It's my
duty to fight in her defence, and although I tell you all the worst of war,
monsieur, I do not mean that I am not glad to have done my part. In a
few weeks this wound of mine will be healed and I shall go back, for
the sake of France, to that Hell again. It is Hell, quand meme!"

He analysed his fears with simple candour and confessed that many
times he had suffered most from imaginary terrors. After the German
retreat from Luneville, he was put on a chain of outposts linked up
with the main French lines. It was at night, and as he stood leaning on
his rifle he saw black figures moving towards him. He raised his rifle,
and his finger trembled on the trigger. At the first shot he would
arouse the battalion nearest to him. They were sleeping, but as men
sleep who may be suddenly attacked. They would fire without further
question, and probably he would be the first to die from their bullets.
Was it the enemy? They were coming at right angles to the French
lines. The foremost were even within twenty yards of him now. His
nerves were all trembling. He broke out into a hot sweat. His eyes
straining through the darkness were shot through with pain. He had
almost an irresistible desire to fire and shout out, so as to end the
strain of suspense which racked his soul. At last he gave the
challenge, restraining himself from firing that first shot. It was well he
did so. For the advancing French troops belonged to a French
regiment changing their position under cover of darkness. If my little
friend had lost his nerve and fired too soon they would have been
shot down by their own comrades.

"It's one's imagination that gives one most trouble," he said, and I
thought of the words of an English officer, who told me one day that
"No one with an imagination ought to come out to this war." It is for
that reason--the possession of a highly developed imagination--that
so many French soldiers have suffered more acutely than their
English allies. They see the risks of war more vividly, though they
take them with great valour. They are more sensitive to the sights and
sounds of the fighting lines than the average English "Tommy," who
has a tougher temperament and does not allow his mind to brood
over blood and agony. They have the gift, also, of self-analysis and
self-expression, so that they are able to translate their emotions into
vivid words, whereas our own men are taciturn for the most part
about their side of the business and talk objectively, looking
outwards, and not inwards.


Some of the letters from French soldiers, scrawled in the squalor of
the trenches by men caked in filth and mud, are human documents in
which they reveal themselves with extraordinary intimacy, and in
which they put the whole truth, not disguising their terror or their
blood-lust in the savage madness of a bayonet charge, or the
heartache which comes to them when they think of the woman they
love, or the queer little emotions and sentiments which come to them
in the grim business of war. They watch the dawn, and in a line or two
put some of its beauty into their letters home. They describe with a
literary skill that comes from strong emotions the gloom and horror of
long nights near the enemy's trenches from which at any moment a
new attack may come. And yet, though they do not hide their
moments of spiritual misery or despair, there is in all these letters the
splendid courage of men who are ready for the last sacrifice and
eager for their chance of honour.

"I send this letter," writes a young Zouave, "as I sit huddled under an
earth-heap at twenty yards from a German trench, less to be envied
than a rabbit in its burrow, because when the hunter is far away it can
come out and feed at pleasure. You who live through the same
agonies, old friend, must learn and rejoice that I have been promoted
adjutant on the night of November 13 on the banks of the Yser. There
were seventy men out of 250--the rest of the company sleep for ever
round that ferryman's house which the papers have made famous...
What moral sufferings I have endured! We have now been brought to
the south of Ypres and continue this depressing life in advanced
trenches. Not a quarter of an hour's respite: shells, shrapnels, bombs
and bullets fall around us continuously. How courage has changed
with this modern war! The hero of olden times was of a special type,
who put on a fine pose and played up to the gallery because he
fought before admiring spectators. Now, apart from our night attacks,
always murderous, in which courage is not to be seen, because one
can hardly discern one's neighbour in the darkness, our valour
consists in a perfect stoicism. Just now I had a fellow killed before a
loophole. His comrades dragged him away, and with perfect quietude
replaced the man who is eternally out of action. Isn't that courage?
Isn't it courage to get the brains of one's comrade full in the face, and
then to stand on guard in the same place while suffering the extremes
of cold and dampness? ... On the night of the 13th I commanded a
section of corpses which a mitrailleuse had raked. I had the luck to
escape, and I shouted to these poor devils to make a last assault.
Then I saw what had happened and found myself with a broken rifle
and a uniform in rags and tatters. My commandant spoke to me that
night, and said: 'You had better change those clothes. You can put on
an adjutant's stripes.'"

One passage in this young Zouave's letter reveals the full misery of
the war to a Frenchman's spirit: "Our courage consists in a perfect
stoicism." It is not the kind of courage which suits his temperament,
and to sit in a trench for months, inactive, waiting for death under the
rain of shells, is the worst ordeal to which the soul of the French
soldier is asked to submit. Yet he has submitted, and held firm, along
lines of trenches, 500 miles from end to end, with a patience in
endurance which no critics of France would have believed possible
until the proof was given. Above the parapet lie the corpses of
comrades and of men who were his enemies until they became poor

"The greater number of the bodies," writes a soldier, "still lie between
the trenches, and we have been unable to withdraw them. We can
see them always, in frightful quantity, some of them intact, others torn
to bits by the shells which continue to fall upon them. The stench of
this corruption floats down upon us with foul odours. Bits of their
rotting carcases are flung into our faces and over our heads as new
shells burst and scatter them. It is like living in a charnel house where
devils are at play flinging dead men's flesh at living men, with fiendish
mockery. The smell of this corruption taints our food, and taints our
very souls, so that we are spiritually and physically sick. That is war!"
"This horrible game of war," writes another man, "goes on
passionately in our corner. In seventy-four days we have progressed
about 1200 yards. That tells you everything. Ground is gained, so to
speak, by the inch, and we all know now how much it costs to get
back a bit of free France."


Along the French lines Death did not rest from his harvesting
whatever the weather, and although for months there was no general
advance on either side, not a day passed without new work for the
surgeons, the stretcher-bearers, and the gravediggers. One incident
is typical of a hospital scene near the front. It was told in a letter from
a hospital nurse to a friend in Paris.

"About midday we received a wounded general, whom we made as
comfortable as possible in a little room. Although he suffered terribly,
he would submit to no special care, and only thought of the comfort of
two of his officers. By an extraordinary chance a soldier of his own
regiment was brought in a few moments later. Joy of the general, who
wanted to learn at once what had happened to his children. He asked
to see the soldier immediately:

"'Tell me--the commandant?'

"'Dead, mon general.'

"'And the captain?'

"'Dead, mon general.'

"Four times questions were asked, and four times the soldier, whose
voice became lower, made his answer of death. Then the general
lowered his head and asked no more. We saw the tears running
down his scarred old face, and we crept out of the room on tip-toe."


In spite of all this tragedy, the French soldier into whose soul it sank,
and who will never forget, wrote home with a gaiety which gleamed
through the sadness of his memories. There was a new series of
"Lettres de mon moulin" from a young officer of artillery keeping
guard in an old mill-house in an important position at the front. They
were addressed to his "dearest mamma," and, thoughtful of all the
pretty hands which had been knitting garments for him, he described
his endeavours to keep warm in them:

"To-night I have piled on to my respectable body a flannel waistcoat,
a flannel shirt, and a flannel belt going round three times, a jacket with
sleeves sent by mamma herself, a leather waistcoat from Aunt
Charlotte, a woollen vest which came to me from the unknown
mother of a young dragoon, a warm undercoat recently received from
my tailor, and a woollen jacket and wrap knitted by Madame P. J. So I
prepare to sleep in peace, if the Boches will kindly allow me."

The enemy did not often allow the young gentleman to sleep, and
about the windmill the shells were bursting.

They reached one Sunday morning almost as far as the little twelfth-
century church to which the young officer had stepped down from his
windmill to hear Mass in the middle of a crowd of soldiers chanting
the office, recited by a soldier, accompanied by a harmonium played
by another soldier. The windows were shattered, and a beautiful old
house next to the church lay in ruins.

The officer spent lonely hours in the windmill in charge of the
telephone exchange, from which the batteries were worked. The men
in the trenches and the gun-pits pitied his loneliness, and invented a
scheme to cheer him up. So after dark, when the cannonade
slackened, he put the receiver to his ears and listened to a Tyrolese
ballad sung by an orderly, and to the admirable imitation of a barking
dog performed by a sapper, and to a Parisian chanson delightfully
rendered by the aviator.

"Bonne nuit, maman," wrote the officer of artillery at the end of each
letter from his windmill.


The front did not change its outline on the map, except by
hairbreadths, for months at a stretch, yet at many points of the line
there were desperate battles, a bayonet charge now and then, and
hours of frightful slaughter, when men saw red and killed with joy.

There was a little farm near Steinbach round which a battle raged for
many days. Leading to it was a sunken road, defended by the enemy,
until one day they put up a number of non-combatants from captured
villages to prevent a French attack.

"Among them we could distinguish a woman, with her hair falling to
her shoulders and her hands tied behind her back. This new infamy
inflamed the courage of our soldiers. A company rushed forward with
fixed bayonets. The road to the farm was swept by the enemy's fire,
but nothing stopped our men. In spite of our losses we carried the
position and are masters of the farm. There was no mercy in those
moments of triumph. The ghastly business of war was done to the

There were ghastly things in some of the enemy's trenches. One of
the worst of them was seen in the forest of Apremont, in the district of
Woevre, where the enemy was strongly entrenched in some quarries
quite close to the French trenches which sapped their way forward to
those pits. When the guns ceased firing the French soldiers often
heard the sound of singing. But above the voices of the Germans
there came sometimes a series of piercing cries like the screeching of
an owl in a terrible plaint, followed by strange and bloodcurdling
laughter. It was the voice of a mad woman who was one of those
captured from neighbouring villages and brought into the trenches by
the Germans. One day the German soldiers carried her the length of
their own trenches. Only her head was visible above the ground. She
wore a German helmet above the wild hair which blew in wisps about
her death-white face, and it seemed like a vision of hell as she
passed shrieking with the laughter of insanity.

One turns from such horrors to the heroism of the French soldier, his
devotion to his officers, his letters to that chere maman before whom
his heartis always that of a little child, to the faith which saves men
from at least the grosser brutalities of war.


One of the tragic ironies of the war was that men whose lives had
been dedicated to the service of Christ, and whose hands should be
clean of blood, found themselves compelled by the law of France
(and in many cases urged by their own instincts of nationality) to
serve as soldiers in the fighting ranks. Instead of denouncing from
every pulpit the shamefulness of this butchery, which has made a
mockery of our so-called civilization and involved all humanity in its
crime, those priests and monks put themselves under discipline
which sent them into the shambles in which they must kill or be killed.
When the mobilization orders were issued, the call to the colours was
sent to young cures and abbes throughout the country, and to monks
belonging to religious orders banished by its politicians. Jesuits and
Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites, who had been exiled from
France for conscience' sake, hurried back at the first summons,
dispensed from that Canon Law which forbids them to shed blood,
and as Frenchmen, loving their country though it expelled them,
rallied to the flag in the hour of peril. They were Christian priests, but
they were also patriots, and Christianity is not so instinctive in its
emotion as the spirit of nationality which, by some natural law, makes
men on one side of a frontier eager to fight till death when they are
challenged by men across the boundary line, forgetting their
principles of peace and the command, "Thou shalt not kill," in their
loyalty to their own soil, crown, or national ideas. There were twenty
thousand priests in the French army, and although many of them
were acting according to their religious vocations as chaplains, or
stretcher-bearers, the great majority were serving as simple soldiers
in the ranks or as officers who had gained promotion by merit.

Although nothing may explain away the paradox that those whose
duty it seems to preach the gospel of peace and charity should be
helping to heap up the fields of Christendom with the corruption of
dead bodies, there is at least this to be said: the priest-soldier in
France has been a spiritual influence among his comrades, so that
some of them fought with nobler motives than that of blood-lust, and
went to death or victory, influenced not with hatred of fellow men, but
with a conviction that out of all that death there would come a new life
to nations, and that in killing their enemy they were killing a brutal
tyranny with its grip upon the world, and a barbarism which would
make human life a slavery. A young priest who said his prayers
before lying down on his straw mattress or in the mud of his trench,
put a check upon blasphemy, and his fellows--anti-clericals perhaps
in the old days or frank materialists--watched him curiously and were
thoughtful after their watchfulness. It was easy to see that he was
eager to give up his life as a sacrifice to the God of his faith. His
courage had something supernatural in it, and he was careless of
death. Then, again, he was the best comrade in the company. Never
a grumble came from his lips, though he was as cold and wet and
hungry as the others. He did a thousand little acts of service to his
fellow soldiers, and especially to those who were most sullen, most
brutal or most miserable. He spoke sometimes of the next life with a
cheerful certainty which made death seem less than an end of things,
and he was upborne with a strange fervour which gave a kind of glory
to the most wretched toil.

Not a week passed without some priest being cited in the Order of the

"Corporal Delabre Alphonse (priest of the diocese of Puy) and Private
Miolane Antoine (priest of the diocese of Clermont) belonging to the
292nd Regiment of Infantry, distinguished themselves throughout the
battle by an untiring gallantry and devotion, going to collect the
wounded in the line and afterwards spending their nights in assisting
the wounded and dying."

That is one notice out of hundreds which I had in official documents.

"M. l'Abbe Martin," says another, "having been wounded in the hand
by a bursting shell, remained at his post in the line of fire, prodigal in
his help to the wounded and in his consolations to the dying."

The Abbe Bertrand, vicar of St. Germain de Coulamer, was mobilized
on the outbreak of war, and for his gallantry in the field promoted
successively to the ranks of sergeant, sergeant-major, sub-
lieutenant, and lieutenant. He fell on November 4 at the battle of
Audrechy, leading his men to the assault. A few days before his
death he wrote: "I always look upon this war as an expiation, and I am
proud to be a victim." And again: "Oh, how cold the rain is, and how
severe the weather I For our faith in France I have offered God to let
me be wet and soaked to the very bones."

The story of the Abbe Armand, in the 14th battalion of the Chasseurs
Alpins, is that of a hero. A simple man, he used to open his heart to
his rough comrades, and often in the trenches, under shell-fire, he
would recite the Psalms in a clear voice so that they could hear him.
On November 17, to the south of Ypres, his company was selected to
hold a dangerous position, swept by the heavy guns of the Germans
and near the enemy's trenches. All day until the evening the priest
and his comrades stayed there, raked by a hideous shell-fire. At last
nearly all the men were killed, and on his side of the emplacement the
Abbe Armand was left with two men alive. He signalled the fact to
those below by raising three fingers, but shortly afterwards a bullet
struck him so that he fell and another hit him in the stomach. It was
impossible to send help to him at the time, and he died half an hour
later on the tumulus surrounded by the dead bodies of his comrades.
They buried him up there, and that night his loss was mourned, not
without tears, by many rough soldiers who had loved the man for his
cheeriness, and honoured him for the simple faith, which seemed to
put a glamour about the mud-stained uniform of a soldier of France.

There were scores of stories like that, and the army lists contained
the names of hundreds of these priest-soldiers decorated with the
Legion of Honour or mentioned in dispatches for gallant acts.

The character of these men was filled with the spirit of Christian faith,
though the war in which they sacrificed their lives was an outrage
against Christianity itself. The riddle of it all bewilders one's soul, and
one can only go groping in the dark of despair, glad of the little light
which comes to the trench of the battlefield, because men like these
still promise something better than hatred and blood, and look
beyond the gates of death, to peace.


Not all French soldiers are like these priests who were valiant with the
spirit of Christian faith. Side by side with the priest was the apache, or
the slum-dweller, or the peasant from the fields, who in conversation
was habitually and unconsciously foul. Not even the mild protest of
one of these priests could check the flow of richly imagined
blasphemies which are learnt in the barracks during the three years'
service, and in the bistros of the back streets of France from
Cherbourg to Marseilles. But, as a rule, the priest did not protest,
except by the example of keeping his own tongue clean. "What is the
use?" said one of them. "That kind of thing is second nature to the
men and, after all, it is part of my sacrifice."

Along the roads of France, swinging along to dig a new line of
trenches, or on a march from a divisional headquarters to the front,
the soldiers would begin one of their Rabelaisian songs which have
no ending, but in verse after verse roam further into the purlieus of
indecent mirth, so that, as one French officer told me, "these ballads
used to make the heather blush." After the song would come the
great game of French soldiers on the march. The humorist of the
company would remark upon the fatigued appearance of a sous-
officier near enough to hear.

"He is not in good form to-day, our little corporal. Perhaps it has
something to do with his week-end in Paris!"

Another humorist would take up the cue.

"He has a great thirst, our corporal. His first bottle of wine just whets
his whistle. At the sixth bottle he begins to think of drinking seriously!"

"He is a great amourist, too, they tell me, and very passionate in his

So the ball is started and goes rolling from one man to another in the
ranks, growing in audacity and wallowing along filthy ways of thought,
until the sous-officier, who had been grinning under his kepi, suddenly
turns red with anger and growls out a protest.

"Taisez-vous, cochons. Foutez-moi la paix!"

All this obscenity of song and speech spoils the heroic picture a little,
and yet does not mean very much in spite of its outrageous heights
and depths. It belongs to the character of men who have faced all the
facts of life with frank eyes, and find laughter in the grossest humours
without losing altogether the finer sentiments of the heart and little
delicacies of mind which seem untarnished by the rank weeds which
grow in human nature. Laughter is one of the great needs of the
French soldier. In war he must laugh or lose all courage. So if
there is a clown in the company he may be as coarse as one of
Shakespeare's jesters as long as he be funny, and it is with the
boldness of one of Shakespeare's heroes--like Benedick--that a
young Frenchman, however noble in his blood, seizes the ball of wit
and tosses it higher. Like D'Artagnan, he is not squeamish, though a
very gallant gentleman.


The spirit of D'Artagnan is not dead. Along many roads of France I
have met gay fellows whose courage has the laughing quality of that
Musketeer, and his Gascon audacity which makes a jest of death itself.
In spite of all the horrors of modern warfare, with its annihilating
shell-fire and the monstrous ruthlessness of great guns, the French
soldier at his best retains that quality of youth which soars even
above the muck and misery of the trenches. The character of a
young lieutenant of artillery, who came to fill the place of a poor fellow
killed at the side of his caisson, is typical of innumerable soldiers of
France. He presented himself with a jaunty good humour, made a
little speech to his battery which set all the men laughing, and then
shook hands with them one by one. Next day he knew each man by
name, used the familiar "thee" and "thou" to them, and won their
hearts by his devil-may-care manners and the smile which came from
a heart amused by life. Everything was a joke to him. He baptized his
four guns by absurd nicknames, and had a particular affection for old
"Bumps," which had been scarred by several shells. The captain
called this young gentleman Lieutenant Mascot, because he had a
lucky way with him. He directed the aim of his guns with astounding
skill. A German battery had to shift very quickly five minutes after his
first shell had got away, and when the enemy's fire was silenced, he
would call out, "Don't chuck any more," to the telephone operator.
That was his way of ordering the cease-fire.

But Lieutenant "Mascot," one day jumped on the top of a hayrick to
direct the marksmanship of his battery, and a moment later a German
shell burst above him and scattered part of the rick in all directions. It
was a moment of anguish for the onlookers. The captain became as
pale as death, and the gunners went on plugging out shells in an
automatic way with grief-stricken faces. The telephone man put his
head out of his dugout. He stared at the broken rick. Beyond doubt
Monsieur Mascot was as dead as mutton. Suddenly, with the receiver
at his ear and transfigured, he began to shout: "Don't chuck any
more!" It was the lieutenant who had sent him the usual order. Ten
minutes later the lieutenant came back laughing gaily and, after
shaking some straw out of his muddy uniform, gave a caressing
touch to old "Bumps," who had got the enemy's range to perfection.
Then the captain embraced him.


The spirit of youth and the spirit of faith cannot rob war of its horrors,
nor redeem the crime in which all humanity is involved, nor check the
slaughter that goes on incessantly. But they burn with a bright light
out of the darkness, and make the killing of men less beastlike. The
soul of France has not been destroyed by this war, and no German
guns shattering the beauty of old towns and strewing the northern
fields with the bodies of beautiful young manhood could be victorious
over this nation, which, with all her faults, her incredulities and
passions, has at the core a spiritual fervour which lifts it above the
clay of life.

The soldiers of France have learnt the full range of human suffering,
so that one cannot grudge them their hours of laughter, however
coarse their mirth. There were many armies of men from Ypres to St.
Mihiel who were put to greater tasks of courage than were demanded
of the human soul in mediaeval torture chambers, and they passed
through the ordeal with a heroism which belongs to the splendid
things of history. As yet the history has been written only in brief
bulletins stating facts baldly, as when on a Saturday in March of 1915
it was stated that "In Malancourt Wood, between the Argonne and the
Meuse, the enemy sprayed one of our trenches with burning liquid so
that it had to be abandoned. The occupants were badly burnt." That
official account does not convey in any way the horror which
overwhelmed the witnesses of the new German method of attacking
trenches by drenching them with inflammatory liquid. A more detailed
narrative of this first attack by liquid fire was given by one of the

"It was yesterday evening, just as night fell, that it happened. The day
had been fairly calm, with the usual quantity of bursting shells
overhead, and nothing forewarned us of a German attack. Suddenly
one of my comrades shouted, 'Hallo! what is this coming down on
us? Anyone would think it was petroleum.' At that time we could not
believe the truth, but the liquid which began to spray on us was
certainly some kind of petroleum. The Germans were pumping it from
hoses. Our sub-lieutenant made us put out our pipes. But it was a
useless precaution. A few seconds later incendiary bombs began to
rain down on us and the whole trench burst into flame. It was like
being in hell. Some of the men began to scream terribly, tearing off
their clothes, trying to beat out the flames. Others were cursing and
choking in the hot vapour which stifled us. 'Oh, my Christ!' cried a
comrade of mine. 'They've blinded me!' In order to complete their
work those German bandits took advantage of our disturbance by
advancing on the trench and throwing burning torches into it. None of
us escaped that torrent of fire. We had our eyebrows and eyelashes
burnt off, and clothes were burnt in great patches and our flesh was
sizzling like roasting meat. But some of us shot through the greasy
vapour which made a cloud about us and some of those devils had to
pay for their game."

Although some of them had become harmless torches and others lay
charred to death, the trench was not abandoned until the second line
were ready to make a counter-attack, which they did with fixed
bayonets, frenzied by the shrieks which still came from the burning pit
where those comrades lay, and flinging themselves with the ferocity
of wild beasts upon the enemy, who fled after leaving three hundred
dead and wounded on the ground.


Along five hundred miles of front such scenes took place week after
week, month after month, from Artois to the Argonne, not always with
inflammatory liquid, but with hand grenades, bombs, stink-shells, fire
balls, smoke balls, and a storm of shrapnel. The deadly monotony of
the life in wet trenches, where men crouched in mud, cold, often
hungry, in the abyss of misery, unable to put their heads above
ground for a single second without risk of instant death, was broken
only by the attacks and counter-attacks when the order was given to
leave the trench and make one of those wild rushes for a hundred
yards or so in which the risks of death were at heavy odds against the
chances of life. Let a French soldier describe the scene:

"Two sections of infantry have crouched since morning on the edge
of a wood, waiting for the order which hurls them to the assault of that
stupid and formidable position which is made up of barbed wire in
front of the advanced trenches. Since midday the guns thunder
without cessation, sweeping the ground. The Germans answer with
great smashing blows, and it is the artillery duel which precedes
heroic work. Every one knows that when the guns are silent the brief
order which will ring out above the huddled men will hold their
promise of death. Yet those men talk quietly, and there are some of
them who in this time of danger find some poignant satisfaction,
softening their anguish, in calling up the memory of those dear beings
whom perhaps they will never see again. With my own ears I have
heard a great fair-headed lad expatiate to all his neighbours on the
pretty ways of his little daughter who is eight years old. A kind of dry
twittering interrupts his discourse. The field telegraph, fixed up in a
tree, has called the lieutenant. At the same moment the artillery fired
a few single shots and then was silent. The officer drew his watch, let
ten minutes pass, and then said, 'Get up,' in the same tranquil and
commonplace tones with which a corporal says 'attention' on parade
ground. It was the order to go forward. Every one understood and
rose up, except five men whom a nervous agony chained to their
ground. They had been demoralized by their long wait and weakened
by their yearnings for the abandoned homes, and were in the grip of
fear. The lieutenant--a reservist who had a little white in his beard--
looked at the five defaulters without anger. Then he drew, not his
sword from its scabbard, but a cigarette from its case, lighted it, and
said simply:

"'Eh bien?'

"Who can render the intonation of that 'Eh bien'? What actor could
imitate it? In that 'Eh bien?' there was neither astonishment nor
severity, nor brusque recall to duty, but rather the compassionate
emotion of an elder brother before a youngster's weakness which he
knows is only a passing mood. That 'Eh bien?'--how he put into it, this
elder of ours, so much pitiful authority, such sweetness of command,
such brotherly confidence, and also such strength of will. The five
men sprang up. And you know that we took the village after having
fought from house to house. At the angle of two alleys the lieutenant
was killed, and that is why the two notes of his 'Eh bien?' will always
echo in my heart as the fine call of an unrecorded heroism. It appears
that this war must be impersonal--it is the political formula of the time
--and it is forbidden to mention names. Eh bien? Have I named any


Out of the monotonous narratives of trench-warfare, stories more
horrible than the nightmare phantasies of Edgar Allen Poe, stories of
men buried alive by sapping and mining, and of men torn to bits by a
subterranean explosion which leaves one man alive amidst the litter
of his comrades' limbs so that he goes mad and laughs at the frightful
humour of death, come now and then to reveal the meaning of this
modern warfare which is hidden by censors behind decent veils. It is
a French lieutenant who tells this story, which is heroic as well as

"We were about to tidy up a captured trench. At the barrier of sand-
bags which closed up one end of it, two sentinels kept a sharp look-
out so that we could work in peace of mind. Suddenly from a tunnel,
hidden by a fold in the ground, an avalanche of bombs was hurled
over our heads, and before we could collect our wits ten of our men
had fallen dead and wounded, all hugger-mugger. I opened my
mouth to shout a word of command when a pebble, knocked by a
piece of shell, struck me on the head and I fell, quite dazed. But my
unconsciousness only lasted a second or two. A bursting shell tore off
my left hand and I was awakened by the pain of it. When I opened
my eyes and groaned, I saw the Germans jump across the sand-
bags and invade the trench. There were twenty of them. They had no
rifles, but each man carried a sort of wicker basket filled with bombs. I
looked round to the left. All our men had fled except those who were
lying in their blood. And the Germans were coming on. Another slip or
two and they would have been on the top of me. At that moment one
of my men, wounded in the forehead, wounded in the chin, and with
his face all in a pulp of blood, sat up, snatched at a bag of hand
grenades, and shouted out:

"Arise, ye dead!"

He got on his knees, and began to fling his bombs into the crowd of
Germans. At his call, the other wounded men struggled up. Two with
broken legs grasped their rifle and opened fire. The hero with his left
arm hanging limp, grabbed a bayonet. When I stood up, with all my
senses about me now, some of the Germans were wounded and
others were scrambling out of the trench in a panic. But with his back
to the sand-bags stayed a German Unter-offizier, enormous,
sweating, apoplectic with rage, who fired two revolver shots in our
direction. The man who had first organized the defence of the trench
--the hero of that "Arise, ye dead!"--received a shot full in the throat
and fell. But the man who held the bayonet and who had dragged
himself from corpse to corpse, staggered up at four feet from the
sand-bags, missed death from two shots, and plunged his weapon
into the German's throat. The position was saved, and it was as
though the dead had really risen.


The French soldier, as I have said, is strangely candid in the analysis
of his emotions, and is not ashamed of confessing his fears. I
remember a young lieutenant of Dragoons who told me of the terror
which took possession of him when the enemy's shrapnel first burst
above his head.

"As every shell came whizzing past, and then burst, I ducked my
head and wondered whether it was this shell which was going to kill
me, or the next. The shrapnel bullets came singing along with a 'Tue!
Tue!' Ah, that is a bad song! But most of all I feared the rifle-shots of
an infantry attack. I could not help glancing sideways at the sound of
that 'Zip! zip! zip!' There was something menacing and deadly in it,
and one cannot dodge the death which comes with one of these little
bullets. It is horrible!"

And yet this man, who had an abscess in his leg after riding for weeks
in his saddle and who had fought every day and nearly every night for
a fortnight, was distressed because he had to retire from his
squadron for awhile until his leg healed. In five days at the most he
would go back again to hell--hating the horror of it all, fearing those
screeching shells and hissing bullets, yet preferring to die for France
rather than remain alive and inactive when his comrades were

Imagine the life of one of these cavalrymen, as I heard it described by
many of them in the beginning of the war.

They were sent forward on a reconnaissance--a patrol of six or eight.
The enemy was known to be in the neighbourhood. It was necessary
to get into touch with him, to discover his strength, to kill some of his
outposts, and then to fall back to the division of cavalry and report the
facts. Not an easy task! It quite often happened that only one man
out of six came back to tell the tale, surprised at his own luck. The
German scouts had clever tricks.

One day near Bethune they played one of them--a favourite one. A
friend of mine led six of his dragoons towards a village where Uhlans
had been seen. They became visible at a turn of the road, and after
firing a few shots with their carbines turned tail and fled. The French
dragoons gave chase, across some fields and round the edge of a
quiet wood. Suddenly at this point the Uhlans reined in their horses
and out of the wood came the sudden shattering fire of a German
quickfirer. Fortunately it was badly aimed, and my friend with his six
dragoons was able to gallop away from that infernal machine which
had so cleverly ambushed them.

There was no rest for the cavalry in those first days of the war. The
infantry had its bivouac every day, there was rest sometimes in the
trenches, but the cavalry had to push on always upon new
adventures to check the enemy in his advance.

A young Russian officer in the French dragoons told me that he had
been fighting since the beginning of the war with never more than
three hours sleep a night and often no sleep at all. On many nights
those brief hours of rest were in beetroot fields in which the German
shrapnel had been searching for victims, and he awakened now and
then to listen to the well-known sound of that singing death before
dozing off again.

It was "Boot and saddle" at four o'clock in the morning, before the
dawn. It was cold then--a cold which made men tremble as with an
ague. A cup of black coffee was served, and a piece of bread.

The Russian officer of French dragoons, who has lived in British
Colonies, saw a vision then--a false mirage--of a British breakfast. It
was the thought of grilled bloaters, followed by ham and eggs, which
unmanned him for a moment. Ten minutes later the cavalry was
moving away. A detachment was sent forward on a mission of peril,
to guard a bridge. There was a bridge near Bethune one night
guarded by a little patrol. It was only when the last man had been
killed that the Germans made their way across.

Through the darkness these mounted men leaned forward over their
saddles, peering for the enemy, listening for any jangle of stirrup or
clink of bit. On that night there came a whisper from the cavalry

"They are coming! ... Quiet there!"

A file of dark shadows moved forward. The dragoons swung their
carbines forward. There was a volley of shots before a cry rang out.

"Cessez feu! Cessez feu!"

The cry had been heard before from German officers speaking
excellent French, but this time there was no treachery in it. The
shadows who moved forward through the night were Frenchmen
changing from one trench to another.


The infantryman had a hard time, too. It was true that theoretically he
might sometimes snatch a few hours of sleep in a trench or out in an
open field, but actually the coldness of the night was often an acute
agony, which kept him awake. The food question was a difficult one.
When there was heavy fighting to be done, and rapid marching, the
provisions became as theoretical as the hours of sleep.

I heard the graphic recital of a sergeant of infantry, which was typical
of many others in those early days.

His section awakened one morning near Armentieres with a
famishing hunger, to find an old peasant woman coming up with a
great barrow-load of potatoes.

"These are for your breakfast, my little ones," she said. "See, I have
some faggots here. If you care to make a fire there will be roast
potatoes for you in twenty minutes."

"Madame, you are too kind," said my sergeant. He helped to make
the fire, to pack it with potatoes. He added his eloquence to that of his
comrades when the fragrant smell made his nostrils quiver. And just
as the potatoes were nearly done up came a motor cyclist with orders
that the section was to move on immediately to a place fifteen
kilometres away. It was a tragedy! There were tearful farewells to
those potatoes. Fifteen kilometres away there was a chateau, and a
friendly lady, and a good cook who prepared a dinner of excellent
roast beef and most admirable fried potatqes. And just as the lady
came to say "Mes amis, le diner est servi," up panted a Belgian
cyclist with the news that German cavalry was advancing in strong
force accompanied by 500 motor-cars with mitrailleuses and many
motor-cycles, and a battery of horse artillery. It was another tragedy!
And the third took place sixteen hours later, when this section of
infantry which had been marching most of that time lay down on an
open field to sleep without a supper.

Yet--"Nothing matters except the rain," said a friend of mine in the
French artillery. He shrugged his shoulders as he spoke, and an
expression of disgust came upon his bearded face. He was thinking,
perhaps, of his beloved guns which lose their mobility in the
quagmires of the fields. But the rain is bad also for men and beasts. It
takes eight days for a French overcoat to get thoroughly dry after a
bad wetting. Even the cavalryman's cloak is a poor shield against the
driving rain, and at night wet straw or a water pool in a trench is not a
pleasant kind of bed.

"War," said one of the French officers with whom I have chatted, "is
not only fighting, as some people seem to think. The physical
discomforts are more dangerous to one's health than shrapnel. And it
is--par exemple--the impossibility of changing one's linen for weeks
and weeks which saps one's moral fibre more than the risk of losing
one's head."

The risk of death is taken lightly by all these men. It is curious, indeed,
that almost every French soldier has a conviction that he will die in
battle sooner or later. In moments of imagination he sees his own
corpse lying out in the field, and is full of pity for his wife and
children. But it does not destroy his courage or his gift of gaiety
or his desire to fight for France or his sublime endurance of pain.

The wounded men who pour down from the battlefields are incredibly
patient. I have seen them stand on a wounded leg to give their places
in a railway-carriage to peasant women with their babies. They have
used their bandaged hands to lift up the baskets of refugees. They
forget their wounds in remembering their adventures, and the simple
soldier describes his combats with a vivid eloquence not to be
attained by the British Tommy, who has no gift of words.

The French soldier has something in his blood and strain which uplifts
him as a fighting man, and gives him the quality of chivalry. Peasant
or bourgeois or of patrician stock he has always the fine manners of a
gentleman, and to know him in the field is to love the humour and
temper of the man.


Yet there were some men in the French army, as in our own, who
showed how thin is the veneer which hides the civilized being from
the primitive savage, to whom there is a joy in killing, like the wild
animal who hunts his prey in the jungles and desert places. One such
man comes to my mind now. He was in the advanced lines near
Albert, but was always restless in the trench. As soon as darkness
came he would creep out and crawl on his belly across the swampy
ground to a deep hole dug by the explosion of a marmite quite close
to the German lines. Here he found a hiding-place from which he
could take "pot shots" at any German soldiers who under cover of
darkness left their burrows to drag in the bodies of their comrades or
to gather bits of wood with which to make a floor to their trenches.
They were quite unconscious of that man in the hole staring down the
length of his rifle, and listening intently for any sound which would
betray an enemy. Every night he shot two or three men, perfectly
patient in his long cold vigil if he could have that "luck." Then at dawn
he would crawl back again, bringing a helmet or two with him, a
cartridge belt or some other trophy as a sign of his success.

One night he shot a man who had stumbled quite close to his pit, and
some great instinct of pity for his victim stirred in him, so that he
risked a double journey over the open ground to fetch a spade with
which he buried the man. But soon afterwards he added to his "bag"
of human life. In his own trench he spoke very little and always
seemed to be waiting for the hour when he could crawl out again like
a Red Indian in search of scalps. He was the primitive man, living like
one of his ancestors of the Stone Age, except for the fire-stick with
which he was armed and the knowledge of the arts and beauties of
modern life in his hunter's head. For he was not a French Canadian
from the backwoods, or an Alpine chasseur from lonely mountains,
but a well-known lawyer from a French provincial town, with the blood
and education of a gentleman. As a queer character this man is worth
remembering by those who study the psychology of war, but he is not
typical of the soldiers of France, who in the mass have no blood-lust,
and hate butchering their fellow beings, except in their moments of
mad excitement, made up of fear as well as of rage, when to the
shout of "En avant!" they leap out of the trenches and charge a body
of Germans, stabbing and slashing with their bayonets, clubbing men
to death with the butt-ends of their rifles, and for a few minutes of
devilish intoxication, with the smell of blood in their nostrils, and with
bloodshot eyes, rejoicing in slaughter.

"We did not listen to the cries of surrender or to the beseeching
plaints of the wounded," said a French soldier, describing one of
these scenes. "We had no use for prisoners and on both sides there
was no quarter given in this Argonne wood. Better than fixed
bayonets was an unfixed bayonet grasped as a dagger. Better than
any bayonet was a bit of iron or a broken gun-stock, or a sharp knife.
In that hand-to-hand fighting there was no shooting but only the
struggling of interlaced bodies, with fists and claws grabbing for each
other's throats. I saw men use teeth and bite their enemy to death
with their jaws, gnawing at their windpipes. This is modern war in the
twentieth century--or one scene in it--and it is only afterwards, if one
escapes with life, that one is stricken with the thought of all that horror
which has debased us as low as the beasts--lower than beasts,
because we have an intelligence and a soul to teach us better

The soldiers of France have an intelligence which makes them, or
most of them, revolt from the hideous work they have to do and cry
out against this infamy which has been thrust upon them by a nation
which compelled the war. Again and again, for nine months and
more, I have heard French soldiers ask the question, "Why are such
things allowed by God? What is the use of civilization if it leads to
this?" And, upon my soul, I could not answer them.


The mobilization of all the manhood of France, from boys of eighteen
and nineteen to men of forty-five, was a demonstration of national
unity and of a great people rising as one man in self-defence,
which to the Englishman was an astounding and overwhelming
phenomenon. Though I knew the meaning of it and it had no real
surprises for me, I could never avoid the sense of wonderment when
I met young aristocrats marching in the ranks as common soldiers,
professors, poets, priests and painters, as hairy and dirty as the
poilus who had come from the farms and the meat markets,
millionaires and the sons of millionaires driving automobiles as
military chauffeurs or as orderlies to officers upon whom they waited
respectfully, forbidden to sit at table with them in public places, and
having to "keep their place" at all times. Even now I am astonished at
a system which makes young merchants abandon their businesses
at a moment's notice to serve in the ranks, and great employers of
labour go marching with their own labourers, giving only a backward
glance at the ruin of their property and their trade. There is something
magnificent in this, but all one's admiration of a universal military
service which abolishes all distinctions of class and wealth--after all
there were not many embusques, or privileged exemptes--need not
blind one to abuses and unnecessary hardships inflicted upon large
numbers of men.

Abuses there have been in France, as was inevitable in a system like
this, and this general call to the colours inflicted an enormous amount
of suffering upon men who would have suffered more willingly if it had
been to serve France usefully. But in thousands and hundreds of
thousands of cases there was no useful purpose served. General
Joffre had as many men as he could manage along the fighting lines.
More would have choked up his lines of communication and the
whole machinery of the war. But behind the front there were millions
of men in reserve, and behind them vast bodies of men idling in
depots, crowded into barracks, and eating their hearts out for lack of
work. They had been forced to abandon their homes and their
professions, and yet during the whole length of the war they found no
higher duty to do for France than sweep out a barrack-yard or clean
out a military latrine. It was especially hard upon the reformes--men of
delicate health who had been exempted from their military service in
their youth but who now were re-examined by the Conseil de
Revision and found "good for auxiliary service in time of war."

To the old soldiers who have done their three years a return to the
barracks is not so distressing. They know what the life is like and the
rude discipline of it does not shock them. But to the reforme, sent to
barracks for the first time at thirty-five or forty years of age, it is a
moral sacrifice which is almost unendurable. After the grief of parting
from his wife and children and the refinements of his home, he arrives
at the barracks inspired by the best sentiments, happy in the idea of
being useful to his country, of serving like other Frenchmen. But
when he has gone through the great gate, guarded by soldiers with
loaded rifles, when he has changed his civil clothes for an old and
soiled uniform, when he has found that his bed is a filthy old mattress
in a barn where hundreds of men are quartered, when he has
received for the first time certain brief and harsh orders from a sous-
officier, and finally, when he goes out again into the immense
courtyard, surrounded by high grey walls, a strange impression of
solitude takes hold of him, and he finds himself abandoned, broken
and imprisoned.

Many of these reformes are men of delicate health, suffering from
heart or chest complaints, but in these barracks there is no comfort
for the invalid. I know one of them in which nearly seven hundred
men slept together in a great garret, with only one window and a
dozen narrow skylights, so that the atmosphere was suffocating
above their rows of straw trusses, rarely changed and of
indescribable filth. But what hurts the spirits of men who have
attained good positions in civil life, who have said to this man "Go!"
and he goeth, and to that man "Come!" and he cometh, is to find their
positions reversed and to be under the orders of a corporal or
sergeant with a touch of the bully about him, happy to dominate men
more educated and more intelligent than himself. I can quote an
example of an aristocrat who, in spite of his splendid chateau in the
country, was mobilized as a simple soldat.

At the barracks this gentleman found that his corporal was a labourer
in the village where the old chateau stands. In order to amuse himself
the corporal made M. le Chatelain do all the dirtiest jobs, such as
sweeping the rooms, cleaning the staircases and the lavatories. At
the same barracks were a number of priests, including an archipretre,
who was about to become a bishop. Even the most ferocious anti-
clericals in the caserne had to acknowledge that these men were
excellent soldiers and good comrades. They submitted to all
inconveniences, did any task as though it were a religious duty, and
submitted to the rough life among men of foul speech with a
wonderful resignation. But that did not save them from the tyranny of
a sous-officier, who called them the hardest names his tongue could
find when they made any faux pas in their barrack drill, and swore as
terribly as those in Flanders when they did not obey his commands
with the lightning rapidity of soldiers who have nothing more to learn.

These cases could be multiplied by hundreds of thousands, and for
men of refinement there was a long torture in their barracks when
there was no mental satisfaction in useful work for France. Yet their
sacrifice has not been in vain perhaps. "They serve who only stand
and wait," and they proved by their submission to the system a loyalty
and a patriotism equal to those who went into the trenches. They, too,
who know what war means--for war is not only at the front--will come
back with a deep-rooted hatred of militarism which will make it more
difficult in future for politicians who breathe out fire and slaughter and
urge a people to take up arms for any other cause than that of self-


It is curious how long the song of La Marseillaise has held its power. It
has been like a leit-motif through all the drama of this war in France,
through the spirit of the French people waiting patiently for victory,
hiding their tears for the dead, consoling their wounded and their
cripples, and giving their youngest and their manhood to the God of
War. What is the magic in this tune so that if one hear it even on a
cheap piano in an auxiliary hospital, or scraped thinly on a violin in a
courtyard of Paris, it thrills one horribly? On the night of August 2,
when I travelled from Paris to Nancy, it seemed to me that France
sang La Marseillaise--the strains of it rose from every wayside station
--and that out of its graveyards across those dark hills and fields, with
a thin luminous line on the far horizon the ghosts of slain soldiers rose
to sing it to those men who were going to fight again for liberty.

Since then it has always been in my ears. I heard it that night in
Amiens when the French army was in retreat, and when all the young
men of the city, not yet called to the colours because of their youth,
escaped hurriedly on truck trains before a bridge was blown up, so
that if they stayed they would be prisoners in German hands. It was
these boys who sang it, with fresh, clear voices, joining in a fine
chorus, though not far away the soldiers of France were limping
through the night from abandoned positions:

Entendez-vous, dans les campagnes,
Mugir ces feroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!

I listened to those boys' voices, and something of the history of the
song put its spell upon me then. There was the passion of old
heroism in it, of old and bloody deeds, with the wild wars of revolution
and lust for liberty. Rouget de Lisle wrote it one night at Strasburg,
when he was drunk, says the legend. But it was not the drunkenness
of wine which inspired his soul. It was the drunkenness of that year
1792, when the desire of liberty made Frenchmen mad. . . The men
of Marseilles came singing it into Paris. The Parisians heard and
caught up the strains. It marched to the victories of the Republican
armies. "We fought one against ten," wrote a French general, "but La
Marseillaise was on our side." "Send us," wrote another general, "ten
thousand men and one copy of La Marseillaise, and I will answer for

A hundred years and more have passed since then, but the tune has
not gone stale. Again and again in the Orders of the Day one read
that "the company went into action singing La Marseillaise, Lieutenant
X was still singing when, after carrying the enemy's position, he was
shot in the throat"; or "the Chasseurs Alpins climbed the ridge to the
song of La Marseillaise."

The spirit of it runs through the narrative of a French infantryman who
described an action in the Argonne, where his regiment held a village
heavily attacked by the enemy. There was street-fighting of the
fiercest kind, and hand-to-hand combats in the houses and even in
the cellars. "Blood," he wrote, "ran in the gutters like water on a rainy
day." The French soldiers were being hard pressed and reserves
came with their new regiments in the nick of time.

"Suddenly the Marseillaise rang out while the bugles of the three
regiments sounded the charge. From where we stood by the fire of
burning houses we could see the action very clearly, and never again
shall I see anything more fantastic than those thousands of red legs
charging in close ranks. The grey legs began to tremble (they do not
love the bayonet), and the Marseillaise continued with the bugles,
while bur guns vomited without a pause. Our infantry had closed with
the enemy. Not a shot now, but cold steel... Suddenly the charge
ceased its bugle-notes. They sounded instead the call to the flag. Au
drapeau! Our flag was captured! Instinctively we ceased fire,
thunderstruck. Then very loud and strong the Marseillaise rang out
above the music of the bugles, calling Au drapeau again and again."

"We saw the awful melee, the struggle to the death with that song
above all the shouting and the shrieks... You who imagine you know
La Marseillaise because you have heard it played at prize
distributions must acknowledge your error. In order to know it you
must have heard it as I have tried to tell you, when blood is flowing
and the flag of France is in danger."

To this soldier it is an intolerable thought that he should hear the
hymn of victory sung at a "prize distribution," or in a music-hall
scented with the perfume of women. But even in a music-hall in Paris,
or in a third-rate cabaret in a provincial town, the song may be heard
with all its magic. I heard it one night in such a place, where the song
was greater than the singer. French poilus were in the hall, crippled or
convalescent, after their day of battle, and with their women around
them they stood at attention while the national hymn was sung. They
knew the meaning of it, and the women knew. Some of them became
quite pale, with others faces flushed. Their eyes were grave, but with
a queer fire in them as the verses rang out. ... It seemed to me as I
stood there in this hall, filled with stale smoke and woman's scent,
that I smelt blood, and gunpowder, and heard through the music of
the Marseillaise the shouts of hoarse voices, charging with the
bayonet, the screams of wounded, and then the murmur of a
battlefield when dawn comes, lighting the tattered flags of France.


The soldiers of France in that strange land called la-bas had one
consolation which should have helped them a little--did help them, I
think, more than a little--to endure the almost intolerable misery of
their winter quarters at the front in one of the wettest half years within
living memory. They stood in the waterlogged trenches, shivering and
coughing, they tramped through cotton-wool mists with heavy
overcoats which had absorbed many quarts of rain, they slept at
nights in barns through which the water dripped on to puddled straw,
or in holes beneath the carts with dampness oozing through the clay
walls, or in boggy beetroot fields under a hail of shrapnel, and their
physical discomfort of coldness and humidity was harder to bear than
their fear of death or mutilation.

But throughout those months of mud and blood a spirit came to visit
them in their trenches, and though it could not cure frozen feet or put
a healing touch for men spitting blood and coughing their lungs away,
it warmed the hearts of men who otherwise would have been chilled
to a moral death. The love of women and of all those people who had
not been called upon to fight went out to those poilus at the front, in
waves of emotion which reached as far as the advanced trenches. By
millions of letters, which in spite of an almost hopeless muddle of the
postal service did at last reach the soldier, they knew that France, the
very heart of France, was full of pity and hero-worship and yearning
for them. By the gifts which came to them--after months of delay,
sometimes--not only from their own kinsfolk but from unknown
benefactors, school children, convents, societies, and all classes of
men and women, they knew that their sufferings were understood
and that throughout the country there was a great prayer going up--
from freethinkers as well as from Catholic souls--that the soldiers of
France might be blessed with victory and that they might have the
strength to endure the cruelties of war.

It may be thought that this sentiment would not comfort a man lying
on his stomach as sentinel on outpost duty, staring through the mist
and rain, and listening for the slightest sound of an approaching
enemy, or a man crouching beneath a ledge of earth, waiting for the
quiet words of En avant! which would make him scramble up and go
into a storm of shells with a fair chance of being cut to bits by flying
scythes. But in truth the sentiment that came welling up to those men
at the front was of infinite comfort and kept alight a flame in them
which no winter wind could douse. That sentinel on his stomach,
gripping a cold rifle with numbed hands, and cursing silently the fate
which had brought him to this agony, checked the fear that Avas
creeping up to his heart--was that a line of Boches stealing through
the mist?--when he thought that the women he knew, the folk in the
Normandy village, the old cure, and all the spirit of France had made
a hero of him and expected him to bear himself bravely, and in
imagination stood beside him to share his vigil. In order not to spoil
the image they had made of him, to live up to their ideals of him he
must hold on and kill these little devils of fear, and die, if need be, as
a gallant soldier of France. It would be fine to come back with a stripe
on his arm, perhaps with the military medal on his breast... But oh,
the pain in those frozen feet of his! and the coldness of this bed of

Poor devils! hundreds of them have told me their stories and at the
end of a tale of misery have said: "I do not complain, you know. It's
war, and I am glad to do my duty for the sake of France." And yet
sometimes, when they thought back, to the homes they had left, and
their old ways of civil life, they had moments of weakness in which all
the strength of their souls seemed to ebb away.

"It's fatal to think of one's life before the war," said a young
Frenchman who sat with me at the table of a little cafe not far from
the front. He was a rich young man, with a great business in Paris
which had been suspended on the first day of mobilization, and with a
pretty young wife who had just had her first baby. Now he was a
simple soldier, and for nine months he had not seen Paris or his
home or his pretty wife. The baby's eyes were grey-blue, it seemed,
but he had not been able to test the truth of that description.

"As a rule," he said, "one doesn't think back to one's old life. A great
gulf lies between us and the past and it is as though one had been
born again just to be a soldier in this war. The roots of our former
existence have been torn up. All one's old interests have been
buried. My wife? I hardly ever think of her. My home? Is there such a
place? It is only at night, or suddenly, sometimes, as one goes
marching with one's company that one's thoughts begin to roam back
over old grounds for a moment or two. The other fellows know what
one's silence means, and one's deafness, so that one doesn't hear a
neighbour's joke or answer his question. It gives one a horrible
heartache and one is overwhelmed with depression... Great God,
how long is this war going to last?"


It is only those who have been to the front in France who can realize
the life of the men there as it went on month after month--the misery of
it, the dreariness of it, the lack of any thrill except that of fear. At
the end of April in this year 1915 I went to the most desolate part
of the French front, along the battlefields of Champagne, where
after nine months of desperate fighting the guns were still at work
ceaselessly and great armies of France and Germany were still divided
from each other by a few barren meadows, a burnt wood or two, a
river bank, a few yards of trenches and a zone of Death.

It was in Champagne-Pouilleuse--mangy Champagne it is called,
because it has none of the richness of the vineyard country, but is a
great stretch of barren land through which the chalk breaks out in
bald patches. The spirit of war brooded over all this countryside, and I
passed through many ruined villages, burnt and broken by
incendiarism and shell-fire. Gradually as we approached nearer to the
front, the signs of ordinary life were left behind, and we came into a
region where all the activities of men were devoted to one
extraordinary purpose, and where they lived in strange conditions.

No civilian came this way unless as a correspondent under the
charge of a staff officer. The labourers on the roadside--carting
stones to this country of chalk--were all in uniform. No women
invaded this territory except, where, here and there, by rare chance, a
wrinkled dame drove a plough across a lonely field. No children
played about the brooks or plucked the wild flowers on the hillsides.
The inhabitants of this country were all soldiers, tanned by months of
hard weather, in war-worn clothes, dusty after marching down the
long, white roads, hard and tough in spite of a winter's misery, with
calm, resolute eyes in spite of the daily peril of death in which they

They lived in a world which is as different from this known world of
ours as though they belonged to another race of men inhabiting
another planet, or to an old race far back behind the memory of the
first civilization. For in this district of Champagne, the soldiers of
France were earth-men or troglodytes, not only in the trenches, but
for miles behind the trenches. When the rains came last autumn they
were without shelter, and there were few villages on this lonely stretch
of country in which to billet them. But here were soft, chalky ridges
and slopes in which it was not difficult to dig holes and caverns. The
troops took to picks and shovels, and very soon they built habitations
for themselves in which they have been living ever since when not in
the trenches.

I was invited into some of these subterranean parlours, and ducked
my head as I went down clay steps into dim caves where three or
four men lived in close comradeship in each of them. They had
tacked the photographs of their wives or sweethearts on the walls, to
make these places "homelike," and there was space in some of them
for wood fires, which burned with glowing embers and a smoke that
made my eyes smart, so that by the light of them these soldiers
would see the portraits of those who wait for them to come back, who
have waited so patiently and so long through the dreary months.

But now that spring had come the earth-men had emerged from their
holes to bask in the sun again, and with that love of beauty which is
instinctive in a Frenchman's heart, they were planting gardens and
shrubberies outside their chalk dwellings with allegorical designs in
cockle-shells or white stones.

"Tres chic!" said the commandant to a group of soldiers proud to their

And chic also, though touching in its sentiment, was a little graveyard
behind a fringe of branches which mask a French battery. The
gunners were still at work plugging out shells over the enemy's lines,
from which came answering shells with the challenge of death, but
they had found time to decorate the graves of the comrades who had
been "unfortunate." They had twined wild flowers about the wooden
crosses and made borders of blossom about those mounds of earth.
It was the most beautiful cemetery in which I have ever stood with
bared head. Death was busy not far away. Great guns were speaking
in deep, reverberating tones, which gave a solemn import to the day;
but Nature was singing to a different tune.

"It is strange, is it not," said our commandant, "this contrast between
war and peace? Those cherry trees comfort one's spirit."

He was a soldier in every fibre of his being, but behind those keen,
piercing eyes of his there was the sentiment of France stirred now by
the beauty through which we passed, in spite of war. We drove for a
mile or more down a long, straight road which was an avenue of
cherry trees. They made an archway of white blossom above our
heads, and the warm sun of the day drew out their perfume. Away on
either side of us the fields were streaked with long rays of brilliant
yellow where saffron grew as though the sun had split bars of molten
metal there, and below the hillside the pear-blossom and cherry-
blossom which bloomed in deserted orchards lay white and gleaming
like snow on the Swiss peaks in summer.

"Even war is less horrible now that the sun shines," said a French

The sky was cloudlessly blue, but as I gazed up into a patch of it,
where a winged machine flew high with a humming song, five tiny
white clouds appeared quite suddenly.

"They are shelling him," said the commandant. "Pretty close too."

Invisible in the winged machine was a French aviator, reconnoitring
the German lines away over Beausejour. Afterwards he became
visible, and I talked with him when he had landed in the aviation field,
where a number of aeroplanes stood ready for flight.

"They touched her three times," he said, pointing to his machine.
"You can see the holes where the shrapnel bullets pierced the metal

He showed me how he worked his mitrailleuse, and then strolled
away to light a cigarette against the wind. He had done his morning
job, and had escaped death in the air by half an inch or so. But in the
afternoon he would go up again--2000 feet up above the German
guns--and thought no more of it than of just a simple duty with a little
sport to keep his spirits up.

"We are quite at home here," said one of the French officers, leading
the way through a boyau, or tunnel, to a row of underground
dwellings which had been burrowed out of the earth below a high
ridge overlooking the German positions opposite Perthes, Mesnil-lez-
Hurlus, and Beause-jour, where there had been some of the most
ferocious fighting in the war, so that the names of those places have
been written in blood upon the history of France.

"You see we have made ourselves as comfortable as possible," said
the general, who received us at the doorway of the little hole which,
with delightful irony, he called his "palace." He is an elderly man, this
general who has held in check some of the most violent assaults of
the German army, but there was a boyish smile in his eyes and none
of the harshness of old age in the sweetness of his voice. He lived in
a hole in the earth with just a peep-hole out of which he could see the
German lines on the opposite hills and his won trenches down below.
As he spread out his maps and explained the positions of his
batteries and lines, I glanced round his room--at the truckle-bed which
filled the length of it, and the deal table over which he was bending,
and the wooden chair in which he sat to think out the problems of his
task. There was only one touch of colour in this hole in the hillside,
and it belonged to a bunch of carnations placed in a German shell
and giving out a rich odour so that some of the beauty of spring had
come into this hiding-place where an old man directed the operations
of death. "Look," said the general, pointing to the opposite lines, "here
is Crest 196, about which you gentlemen have written so much in

It was just a rise in the ground above the ravine which divided us
from the German ridges, but I gazed at it with a thrill, remembering
what waves of blood have washed around this hillock, and how many
heroes of France have given their lives to gain that crest. Faintly I
could see the lines of German trenches with their earthworks thrown
up along the hillsides and along the barren fields on each side of the
ravine, where French and German soldiers are very close to each
other's tunnels. From where we stood subterranean passages led to
the advanced trenches down there, and to a famous "trapeze" on the
right of the German position, forming an angle behind the enemy's
lines, so that now and again their soldiers might be seen.

"It is not often in this war that we can see our enemy unless we visit
them in their trenches, or they come to us," said the general, "but a
few days ago, when I was in the trapeze, I saw one of them stooping
down as though gathering something in his hands or tying up
his boot-laces." Those words were spoken by a man who had
commanded French troops for nine months of incessant fighting
which reveal the character of this amazing war. He was delighted
because he had seen a German soldier in the open and found it a
strange unusual thing. Not a sign of any human being could I see as I
gazed over the great battlefields of France. There was no glint of
helmets, no flash of guns, no movements of regiments, no stirring of
the earth. There was a long tract of country in which no living thing
moved: utterly desolate in its abandonment. Yet beneath the earth
here, close to us as well as far away, men crouched in holes waiting
to kill or to be killed, and all along the ridges, concealed in dug-outs or
behind the low-lying crests, great guns were firing so that their
thunder rolled across the ravines, and their smoke-clouds rested for a
little while above the batteries.

The general was pointing out a spot on Hill 196 where the Germans
still held a ridge. I could not see it very clearly, or at least the
general thought my eyes were wandering too much to the right.

"I will drop a shell there," he said, and then turned to a telephone
operator who was crouched in a hole in the wall, and gave an order to

The man touched his instrument and spoke in the mouthpiece.

"C'est la batterie?"

There was a little crackling in the telephone, like twigs under a pot,
and it seemed as though a tiny voice were speaking from a great

"Now!" said the general, pointing towards the crest.

I stared intently, and a second later, after a solitary thunderstroke
from a heavy gun, I saw a shell burst and leave a soft white cloud at
the very spot indicated by the old man at my side. I wondered if a few
Germans had been killed to prove the point for my satisfaction. What
did it matter--a few more deaths to indicate a mark on the map? It
was just like sweeping a few crumbs off the table in an argument on

In another hole to which the general took me was the officers' mess--
about as large as a suburban bathroom. At the end of the dining-table
the captain was shaving himself, and laughed with embarrassment at
our entry. But he gave me two fingers of a soapy hand and said
"Enchante" with fine courtesy.

Outside, at the top of the tunnel, was another group of officers, who
seemed to me cheery men in spite of all the hardships of their winter
in a subterranean world. The spring had warmed their spirits, and
they laughed under the blue sky. But one of them, who stood chatting
with me, had a sudden thrill in his voice as he said, "How is Paris?"
He spoke the word again and said, "Paris!" as though it held all his


There was the real spirit of old-world chivalry in a chateau of France
which I visited two days ago. This old building, with its high gables
and pointed roofs, holds the memory of many great chapters in
French history. Attila the Hun came this way with his hordes, checked
and broken at last, as centuries later, not far away, 100,000 Germans
were checked and broken by Dumouriez and the French army of
1792 on the plain of Valmy.

A French officer pointed to a tablet on the wall of the chateau
commemorating that victory, and said: "Perhaps history will be
repeated here by the general whom you will see later on." He stooped
down and rubbed some dust off a stone, revealing a tracing of the
footprint of Henri IV, who once crossed this threshold, and on the way
upstairs pointed to other memorial tablets of kings and princes,
statesmen and soldiers, who had received the hospitality of this old

There are many chateaux of this kind in Champagne, and in one of
them we entered a long, bare room, where a French general stood
with some of his officers, and I knew that the old spirit of France and
its traditions of chivalry have not died. This general, with a silver star
on his breast, seemed to me like one of those nobles who fought in
the wars of the sixteenth century under the Duc de Guise.

He is a man of less than fifty years of age, with a black beard and
steel-blue eyes, extraordinarily keen and piercing, and a fine poise of
the head, which gives him an air of dignity and pride, in spite of the
simplicity and charm of his manners. I sat opposite to him at table,
and in this old room, with stone walls, he seemed to me like the
central figure of some mediaeval painting. Yet there was nothing
mediaeval except the touch of chivalry and the faith of France in the
character of this general and his officers. Men of modern science and
trained in a modern school of thought, their conversation ranged over
many subjects both grave and gay, and, listening to them, I saw the
secret of Germany's failure to strike France to her knees.

With such men as these in command, with that steel-eyed general on
the watch--energy and intellectual force personified in his keen,
vivacious face--the old faults of 1870 could not happen so easily
again, and Germany counted without this renaissance of France.
These men do not minimize the strength of the German defensive,
but there is no fear in their hearts about the final issue of the war, and
they are sure of their own position along this front in Champagne.

It was to the first lines of defence along that front that I went in the
afternoon with other officers. Our way was through a wood famous in
this war because it has been the scene of heavy fighting, ending in its
brilliant capture by the French. It has another interest, because it is
one of the few places along the front--as far as I know the only place-
where troops have not entrenched themselves.

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