Part 3 out of 3
As a result of the ban put upon the correspondents by the armies, the
English and a few American newspapers, instead of sending into the
field one accredited representative, gave their credentials to a dozen.
These men had no other credentials. The letter each received stating
that he represented a newspaper worked both ways. When arrested
it helped to save him from being shot as a spy, and it was almost sure
to lead him to jail. The only way we could hope to win out was through
the good nature of an officer or his ignorance of the rules. Many
officers did not know that at the front correspondents were prohibited.
As in the old days of former wars we would occasionally come upon
an officer who was glad to see some one from the base who could tell
him the news and carry back from the front messages to his friends
and family. He knew we could not carry away from him any
information of value to the enemy, because he had none to give. In a
battle front extending one hundred miles he knew only his own tiny
unit. On the Aisne a general told me the shrapnel smoke we saw two
miles away on his right came from the English artillery, and that on his
left five miles distant were the Canadians. At that exact moment the
English were at Havre and the Canadians were in Montreal.
In order to keep at the front, or near it, we were forced to make use of
every kind of trick and expedient. An English officer who was acting
as a correspondent, and with whom for several weeks I shared the
same automobile, had no credentials except an order permitting him
to pass the policemen at the British War Office. With this he made his
way over half of France. In the corner of the pass was the seal or
coat of arms of the War Office. When a sentry halted him he would,
with great care and with an air of confidence, unfold this permit, and
with a proud smile point at the red seal. The sentry, who could not
read English, would invariably salute the coat of arms of his ally, and
wave us forward.
That we were with allied armies instead of with one was a great help.
We would play one against the other. When a French officer halted
us we would not show him a French pass but a Belgian one, or one in
English, and out of courtesy to his ally he would permit us to proceed.
But our greatest asset always was a newspaper. After a man has
been in a dirt trench for two weeks, absolutely cut off from the entire
world, and when that entire world is at war, for a newspaper he will
give his shoes and his blanket.
The Paris papers were printed on a single sheet and would pack as
close as bank-notes. We never left Paris without several hundred of
them, but lest we might be mobbed we showed only one. It was the
duty of one of us to hold this paper in readiness. The man who was to
show the pass sat by the window. Of all our worthless passes our rule
was always to show first the one of least value. If that failed we
brought out a higher card, and continued until we had reached the
ace. If that proved to be a two-spot, we all went to jail. Whenever we
were halted, invariably there was the knowing individual who
recognized us as newspaper men, and in order to save his country
from destruction clamored to have us hung. It was for this pest that
the one with the newspaper lay in wait. And the instant the pest
opened his lips our man in reserve would shove the Figaro at him.
"Have you seen this morning's paper?" he would ask sweetly. It
never failed us. The suspicious one would grab at the paper as a dog
snatches at a bone, and our chauffeur, trained to our team-work,
would shoot forward.
When after hundreds of delays we did reach the firing-line, we always
announced we were on our way back to Paris and would convey
there postal cards and letters. If you were anxious to stop in any one
place this was an excellent excuse. For at once every officer and
soldier began writing to the loved ones at home, and while they wrote
you knew you would not be molested and were safe to look at the
It was most wearing, irritating, nerve-racking work. You knew you
were on the level. In spite of the General Staff you believed you had a
right to be where you were. You knew you had no wish to pry into
military secrets; you knew that toward the allied armies you felt only
admiration--that you wanted only to help. But no one else knew that;
or cared. Every hundred yards you were halted, cross-examined,
searched, put through a third degree. It was senseless, silly, and
humiliating. Only a professional crook with his thumb-prints and
photograph in every station-house can appreciate how from minute to
minute we lived. Under such conditions work is difficult. It does not
make for efficiency to know that any man you meet is privileged to
touch you on the shoulder and send you to prison.
This is a world war, and my contention is that the world has a right to
know, not what is going to happen next, but at least what has
happened. If men have died nobly, if women and children have
cruelly and needlessly suffered, if for no military necessity and without
reason cities have been wrecked, the world should know that.
Those who are carrying on this war behind a curtain, who have
enforced this conspiracy of silence, tell you that in their good time the
truth will be known. It will not. If you doubt this, read the accounts of
this war sent out from the Yser by the official "eye-witness" or
"observer" of the English General Staff. Compare his amiable gossip
in early Victorian phrases with the story of the same battle by Percival
Phillips; with the descriptions of the fall of Antwerp by Arthur Ruhl, and
the retreat to the Marne by Robert Dunn. Some men are trained to
fight, and others are trained to write. The latter can tell you of what
they have seen so that you, safe at home at the breakfast table, also
can see it. Any newspaper correspondent would rather send his
paper news than a descriptive story. But news lasts only until you
have told it to the next man, and if in this war the correspondent is not
to be permitted to send the news I submit he should at least be
permitted to tell what has happened in the past. This war is a world
enterprise, and in it every man, woman, and child is an interested
stockholder. They have a right to know what is going forward. The
directors' meetings should not be held in secret.