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Fighting in Flanders by E. Alexander Powell

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"I have here," said Van Hee, displaying the packet, "a large number
of letters from the German officers who are imprisoned in Belgium. If
I don't get the pass you don't get these letters."

"You hold a winning hand, Mr. Van Hee," said the general, laughing,
as he reached for pen and paper.

But when Whedbee and I were ready to return to Antwerp it was a
different matter. The German authorities, though scrupulously polite,
were adamantine in their refusal to permit us to pass through the
German lines. And we held no cards, as did Van Hee, with which to
play diplomatic poker. So we were compelled to bluff. Telling the
German commander that we would call on him again, we climbed
into the car and quietly left the city by the same route we had
followed upon entering it the preceding day. All along the road we
found soldiers smoking the cigarettes we had distributed to them.
Instead of stopping us and demanding to see our papers they
waved their hands cheerily and called, "Auf wiedersehn!" As we
knew that we could not get through Louvain without being stopped,
we drove boldly up to headquarters and asked the general
commanding the division if he would detail a staff officer to
accompany us to the outer lines. (There seemed no need of
mentioning the fact that we had no passes.) The general said, with
profuse apologies, that he had no officer available at the moment,
but hoped that a sergeant would do. We carried the sergeant with
us as far as Aerschot, distributing along the way what remained of
our cigarettes. At Aerschot we were detained for nearly an hour, as
the officer who had visited Atlantic City, Niagara Falls and Coney
Island insisted on our waiting while he sent for another officer who,
until the outbreak of the war, had lived in Chicago. We tried not to
show our impatience at the delay, but our hair stood on end every
time a telephone bell tinkled. We were afraid that the staff in
Brussels, learning of our unauthorized departure, would telephone
to the outposts to stop us. It was with a heartfelt sigh of relief
that we finally shook hands with our hosts and left ruined Aerschot
behind us. I opened up the throttle, and the big car fled down the long,
straight road which led to the Belgian lines like a hunted cat on the
top of a backyard fence.

V. With The Spiked Helmets

It was really a Pittsburg chauffeur who was primarily responsible for
my being invited to dine with the commander of the Ninth German
Army. The chauffeur's name was William Van Calck and his
employer was a gentleman who had amassed several millions
manufacturing hats in the Smoky City. When war was declared the
hat-manufacturer and his family were motoring in Austria, with Van
Calck at the wheel of the car. The car being a large and powerful
one, it was promptly commandeered by the Austrian military
authorities; the hat-manufacturer and his family, thus dumped
unceremoniously by the roadside, made their way as best they
could to England; and Van Calck, who was a Belgian by birth,
though a naturalized American, enlisted in the Belgian army and
was detailed to drive one of the armoured motor-cars which so
effectively harassed the enemy during the early part of the
campaign in Flanders. Now if Van Calck hadn't come tearing into
Ghent in his wheeled fortress on a sunny September morning he
wouldn't have come upon a motor-car containing two German
soldiers who had lost their way; if he had not met them, the two
Germans would not have been wounded in the dramatic encounter
which ensued; if the Germans had not been wounded it would not
have been necessary for Mr. Julius Van Hee, the American Vice-Consul,
to pay a hurried visit to General von Boehn, the German commander,
to explain that the people of Ghent were not responsible for the
affair and to beg that no retaliatory measures be taken against
the city; if Mr. Van Hee had not visited General von Boehn the
question of the attitude of the American Press would not have
come up for discussion; and if it had not been discussed,
General von Boehn would not have sent me an invitation through
Mr. Van Hee to dine with him at his headquarters and hear the
German side of the question.

But perhaps I had better begin at the beginning. On September 8,
then, the great German army which was moving from Brussels on
France was within a few miles of Ghent. In the hope of inducing the
Germans not to enter the city, whose large and turbulent working
population would, it was feared, cause trouble in case of a military
occupation, the burgomaster went out to confer with the German
commander. An agreement was finally arrived at whereby the
Germans consented to march around Ghent if certain requirements
were complied with. These were that no Belgian troops should
occupy the city, that the Garde Civique should be disarmed and
their weapons surrendered, and that the municipality should supply
the German forces with specified quantities of provisions and other
supplies--the chief item, by the way, being a hundred thousand
cigars.

The burgomaster had not been back an hour when a military motor-
car containing two armed German soldiers appeared in the city
streets. It transpired afterwards that they had been sent out to
purchase medical supplies and, losing their way, had entered Ghent
by mistake. At almost the same moment that the German car
entered the city from the south a Belgian armoured motor-car,
armed with a machine-gun and with a crew of three men and driven
by the former Pittsburg chauffeur, entered from the east on a
scouting expedition. The two cars, both travelling at high speed,
encountered each other at the head of the Rue de l'Agneau, directly
in front of the American Consulate. Vice-Consul Van Hee, standing
in the doorway, was an eyewitness of what followed.

The Germans, taken completely by surprise at the sight of the grim
war-car in its coat of elephant-grey bearing down upon them, threw
on their power and attempted to escape, the man sitting beside the
driver opening an ineffectual fire with his carbine. Regardless of the
fact that the sidewalks were crowded with spectators, the Belgians
opened on the fleeing Germans with their machine-gun, which
spurted lead as a garden-hose spurts water. Van Calck, fearing that
the Germans might escape, swerved his powerful car against the
German machine precisely as a polo-player "rides off" his opponent,
the machine-gun never ceasing its angry snarl. An instant later the
driver of the German car dropped forward over his steering-wheel
with blood gushing from a bullet-wound in the head, while his
companion, also badly wounded, threw up both hands in token of
surrender.

Vice-Consul Van Hee instantly recognized the extremely grave
consequences which might result to Ghent from this encounter,
which had taken place within an hour after the burgomaster had
assured the German commander that there were no Belgian
soldiers in the city. Now Mr. Julius Van Hee is what is popularly
known in the United States as "a live wire." He is a shirt-sleeve
diplomatist who, if he thought the occasion warranted it, would not
hesitate to conduct diplomatic negotiations in his night-shirt.
Appreciating that as a result of this attack on German soldiers,
which the Germans would probably characterize as treachery,
Ghent stood in imminent danger of meeting the terrible fate of its
sister-cities of Aerschot and Louvain, which were sacked and
burned on no greater provocation, Mr. Van Hee jumped into his car
and sought the burgomaster, whom he urged to accompany him
without an instant's delay to German headquarters. The burgomaster,
who had visions of being sent to Germany as a hostage, at first
demurred; but Van Hee, disregarding his protestations, handed
him his hat, hustled him into the car, and ordered the chauffeur
to drive as though the Uhlans were behind him.

They found General von Boehn and his staff quartered in a chateau
a few miles outside the city. At first the German commander was
furious with anger and threatened Ghent with the same punishment
he had meted out to other cities where Germans had been fired on.
Van Hee took a very firm stand, however. He reminded the general
that Americans have a great sentimental interest in Ghent because
of the treaty of peace between England and the United States which
was signed there a century ago, and he warned him that the burning
of the city would do more than anything else to lose the Germans
the sympathy of the American people.

"If you will give me your personal word," said the general finally,
"that there will be no further attacks upon Germans who may enter
the city, and that the wounded soldiers will be taken under American
protection and sent to Brussels by the American Consular
authorities when they have recovered, I will agree to spare Ghent
and will not even demand a money indemnity."

In the course of the informal conversation which followed, General
von Boehn remarked that copies of American papers containing
articles by E. Alexander Powell, criticizing the Germans' treatment of
the Belgian civil population, had come to his attention, and he
regretted that he could not have an opportunity to talk with their
author and give him the German version of the incidents in
question. Mr. Van Hee said that, by a curious coincidence, I had
arrived in Ghent that very morning, whereupon the general asked
him to bring me out to dinner on the following day and issued a safe
conduct through the German lines for the purpose.

We started early the next morning. As there was some doubt about
the propriety of my taking a Belgian military driver into the German
lines I drove the car myself. And, though nothing was said about a
photographer, I took with me Donald Thompson. Before we passed
the city limits of Ghent things began to happen. Entering a street
which leads through a district inhabited by the working classes, we
suddenly found our way barred by a mob of several thousand
excited Flemings.

Above a sea of threatening arms and brandished sticks and angry
faces rose the figures of two German soldiers, with carbines slung
across their backs, mounted on work-horses which they had
evidently hastily unharnessed from a wagon. Like their unfortunate
comrades of the motor-car episode, they too had strayed into the
city by mistake. As we approached the crowd made a concerted
rush for them. A blast from my siren opened a lane for us, however,
and I drove the car alongside the terrified Germans.

"Quick!" shouted Van Hee in German. "Off your horses and into the
car! Hide your rifles! Take off your helmets! Sit on the floor and keep
out of sight!"

The mob, seeing its prey escaping, surged about us with a roar. For
a moment things looked very ugly. Van Hee jumped on the seat.

"I am the American Consul!" he shouted. "These men are under my
protection! You are civilians, attacking German soldiers in uniform.
If they are harmed your city will be burned about your ears."

At that moment a burly Belgian shouldered his way through the
crowd and, leaping on the running-board, levelled a revolver at the
Germans cowering in the tonneau. Quick as thought Thompson
knocked up the man's hand, and at the same instant I threw on the
power. The big car leaped forward and the mob scattered before it.
It was a close call for every one concerned, but a much closer call
for Ghent; for had those German soldiers been murdered by
civilians in the city streets no power on earth could have saved the
city from German vengeance. General von Boehn told me so
himself.

A few minutes later, as playlets follow each other in quick
succession on a stage, the scene changed from near tragedy to
screaming farce. As we came thundering into the little town of
Sotteghem, which is the Sleepy Hollow of Belgium, we saw, rising
from the middle of the town square, a pyramid, at least ten feet high,
of wardrobe-trunks, steamer-trunks, bags, and suit-cases. From the
summit of this extraordinary monument floated a huge American
flag. As our car came to a halt there rose a chorus of exclamations
in all the dialects between Maine and California, and from the door
of a near-by cafe came pouring a flood of Americans. They proved
to be a lost detachment of that great army of tourists which, at the
beginning of hostilities, started on its mad retreat for the coast,
leaving Europe strewn with their belongings. This particular
detachment had been cut off in Brussels by the tide of German
invasion, and, as food-supplies were running short, they determined
to make a dash--perhaps crawl would be a better word--for Ostend,
making the journey in two lumbering farm wagons. On reaching
Sotteghem, however, the Belgian drivers, hearing that the Germans
were approaching, refused to go further and unceremoniously
dumped their passengers in the town square. When we arrived they
had been there for a day and a night and had begun to think that it
was to be their future home. It was what might be termed a mixed
assemblage, including several women of wealth and fashion who
had been motoring on the Continent and had had their cars taken
from them, two prim schoolteachers from Brooklyn, a mine-owner
from West Virginia, a Pennsylvania Quaker, and a quartet of
professional tango-dancers--artists, they called themselves--who
had been doing a "turn" at a Brussels music-hall when the war
suddenly ended their engagement. Van Hee and I skirmished about
and, after much argument, succeeded in hiring two farm-carts to
transport the fugitives to Ghent. For the thirty-mile journey the
thrifty peasants modestly demanded four hundred francs--and got it.
When I last saw my compatriots they were perched on top of their
luggage piled high on two creaking carts, rumbling down the road to
Ghent with their huge flag flying above them. They were singing at
the top of their voices, "We'll Never Go There Any More."

Half a mile or so out of Sotteghem our road debouched into the
great highway which leads through Lille to Paris, and we suddenly
found ourselves in the midst of the German army. It was a sight
never to be forgotten. Far as the eye could see stretched solid
columns of marching men, pressing westward, ever westward. The
army was advancing in three mighty columns along three parallel
roads, the dense masses of moving men in their elusive grey-green
uniforms looking for all the world like three monstrous serpents
crawling across the country-side.

The American flags which fluttered from our wind-shield proved a
passport in themselves, and as we approached the close-locked
ranks parted to let us pass, and then closed in behind us. For five
solid hours, travelling always at express-train speed, we motored
between walls of marching men. In time the constant shuffle of
boots and the rhythmic swing of grey-clad arms and shoulders grew
maddening, and I became obsessed with the fear that I would send
the car ploughing into the human hedge on either side. It seemed
that the interminable ranks would never end, and so far as we were
concerned they never did end, for we never saw the head of that
mighty column. We passed regiment after regiment, brigade after
brigade of infantry; then hussars, cuirassiers, Uhlans, field batteries,
more infantry, more field-guns, ambulances with staring red crosses
painted on their canvas tops, then gigantic siege-guns, their grim
muzzles pointing skyward, each drawn by thirty straining horses;
engineers, sappers and miners with picks and spades, pontoon-wagons,
carts piled high with what looked like masses of yellow silk but which
proved to be balloons, bicyclists with carbines slung upon their backs
hunter-fashion, aeroplane outfits, bearded and spectacled doctors of
the medical corps, armoured motor-cars with curved steel rails above
them as a protection against the wires which the Belgians were in the
habit of stringing across the roads, battery after battery of pom-poms
(as the quick-firers are descriptively called), and after them more
batteries of spidery-looking, lean-barrelled machine-guns, more
Uhlans--the sunlight gleaming on their lance-tips and the breeze
fluttering their pennons into a black-and-white cloud above them, and
then infantry in spiked and linen-covered helmets, more infantry and
still more infantry--all sweeping by, irresistibly as a mighty river,
with their faces turned towards France.

This was the Ninth Field Army, composed of the very flower of the
German Empire, including the magnificent troops of the Imperial
Guard. It was first and last a fighting army. The men were all young,
and they struck me as being as keen as razors and as hard as
nails. Their equipment was the acme to all appearances ordinary
two-wheeled farm-carts, contained "nests" of nine machine-guns
which could instantly be brought into action. The medical corps was
magnificent; as businesslike, as completely equipped, and as
efficient as a great city hospital--as, indeed, it should be, for no
hospital ever built was called upon to treat so many emergency
cases. One section of the medical corps consisted wholly of
pedicurists, who examined and treated the feet of the men. If a
German soldier has even a suspicion of a corn or a bunion or a
chafed heel and does not instantly report to the regimental
pedicurist for treatment he is subject to severe punishment. He is
not permitted to neglect his feet--or for that matter his teeth, or any
other portion of his body--because his feet do not belong to him but
to the Kaiser, and the Kaiser expects those feet kept in condition to
perform long and arduous marches and to fight his battles.

At one cross-roads I saw a soldier with a horse-clipping machine.
An officer stood beside him and closely scanned the heads of the
passing men. Whenever he spied a soldier whose hair was a
fraction of an inch too long, that soldier was called out of the ranks,
the clipper was run over his head as quickly and dexterously as an
expert shearer fleeces sheep, and then the man, his hair once more
too short to harbour dirt, ran to rejoin his company. They must have
cut the hair of a hundred men an hour. It was a fascinating
performance. Men on bicycles, with coils of insulated wire slung on
reels between them, strung field-telephones from tree to tree, so
that the general commanding could converse with any part of the
fifty-mile-long column. The whole army never slept. When half was
resting the other half was advancing. The German soldier is treated
as a valuable machine, which must be speeded up to the highest
possible efficiency. Therefore he is well fed, well shod, well clothed--
and worked as a negro teamster works a mule. Only men who are
well cared-for can march thirty-five miles a day, week in and week
out. Only once did I see a man ill-treated. A sentry on duty in front of
the general headquarters failed to salute an officer with sufficient
promptness, whereupon the officer lashed him again and again
across the face with a riding-whip. Though welts rose at every blow,
the soldier stood rigidly at attention and never quivered. It was not a
pleasant thing to witness. Had it been a British or an American
soldier who was thus treated there would have been an officer's
funeral the next day.

As we were passing a German outpost a sentry ran into the road
and signalled us to stop.

"Are you Americans?" he asked.

"We are," said I.

"Then I have orders to take you to the commandant," said he.

"But I am on my way to dine with General von Boehn. I have a pass
signed by the General himself and I am late already."

"No matter," the man insisted stubbornly. "You must come with me.
The commander has so ordered it."

So there was nothing for it but to accompany the soldier. Though we
tried to laugh away our nervousness, I am quite willing to admit that
we had visions of court-martials and prison cells and firing parties.
You never know just where you are at with the Germans. You see,
they have no sense of humour.

We found the commandant and his staff quartered at a farmhouse a
half-mile down the road. He was a stout, florid-faced, boisterous
captain of pioneers.

"I'm sorry to detain you," he said apologetically, "but I ordered the
sentries to stop the first American car that passed, and yours
happened to be the unlucky one. I have a brother in America and I
wish to send a letter to him to let him know that all is well with me.
Would you have the goodness to post it?"

"I'll do better than that, Captain," said I. "If you will give me your
brother's name and address, and if he takes the New York World,
he will read in to-morrow morning's paper that I have met you."

And the next morning, just as I had promised, Mr. F. zur Nedden of
Rosebank, New York, was astonished to read in the columns of his
morning paper that I had left his soldier-brother comfortably
quartered in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Renaix, Belgium, in
excellent health but drinking more red wine than was likely to be
good for him.

It was now considerably past midday, and we were within a few
miles of the French frontier, when I saw the guidon which signified
the presence of the head of the army, planted at the entrance to a
splendid old chateau. As we passed between the stately gateposts,
whirled up the splendid, tree-lined drive and came to a stop in front
of the terrace, a dozen officers came running out to meet us. So
cordial and informal were their greetings that I felt as though I were
being welcomed at a country-house in America instead of the
headquarters of a German army in the field. So perfect was the
field-telephone service that the staff had been able to keep in touch
with our progress ever since, five hours before, we had entered the
German lines, and had waited dinner for us. General von Boehn I
found to be a red-faced, grey-moustached, jovial old warrior, who
seemed very much worried for fear that we were not getting enough
to eat, and particularly enough to drink. He explained that the
Belgian owners of the chateau had had the bad taste to run away
and take their servants with them, leaving only one bottle of
champagne in the cellar. That bottle was good, however, as far as it
went. Nearly all the officers spoke English, and during the meal the
conversation was chiefly of the United States, for one of them had
been attached to the German Embassy at Washington and knew
the golf-course at Chevy Chase better than I do myself; another
had fished in California and shot elk in Wyoming; and a third had
attended the army school at Fort Riley. After dinner we grouped
ourselves on the terrace and Thompson made photographs of us.
They are probably the only ones--in this war, at least--of a German
general and an American war correspondent who is not under
arrest. Then we gathered about a table on which was spread a staff
map of the war area and got down to serious business.

The general began by asserting that the accounts of atrocities
perpetrated by German troops on Belgian non-combatants were
lies.

"Look at these officers about you," he said. "They are gentlemen,
like yourself. Look at the soldiers marching past in the road out
there. Most of them are the fathers of families. Surely you do not
believe that they would do the unspeakable things they have been
accused of?"

"Three days ago, General," said I, "I was in Aerschot. The whole
town is now but a ghastly, blackened ruin."

"When we entered Aerschot," was the reply, "the son of the
burgomaster came into the room where our officers were dining and
assassinated the Chief of Staff. What followed was retribution. The
townspeople got only what they deserved."

"But why wreak your vengeance on women and children?" I asked.

"None have been killed," the general asserted positively.

"I'm sorry to contradict you, General," I asserted with equal
positiveness, "but I have myself seen their bodies. So has Mr.
Gibson, the secretary of the American Legation in Brussels, who
was present during the destruction of Louvain."

"Of course," replied General von Boehn, "there is always danger of
women and children being killed during street fighting if they insist
on coming into the streets. It is unfortunate, but it is war."

"But how about a woman's body I saw with the hands and feet cut
off? How about the white-haired man and his son whom I helped to
bury outside of Sempst, who had been killed merely because a
retreating Belgian soldier had shot a German soldier outside their
house? There were twenty-two bayonet wounds in the old man's
face. I counted them. How about the little girl, two years old, who
was shot while in her mother's arms by a Uhlan and whose funeral I
attended at Heyst-op-den-Berg? How about the old man near
Vilvorde who was hung by his hands from the rafters of his house
and roasted to death by a bonfire being built under him?"

The general seemed taken aback by the exactness of my
information.

"Such things are horrible if true," he said. "Of course, our soldiers,
like soldiers in all armies, sometimes get out of hand and do things
which we would never tolerate if we knew it. At Louvain, for
example, I sentenced two soldiers to twelve years' penal servitude
each for assaulting a woman."

"Apropos of Louvain," I remarked, "why did you destroy the library?"

"We regretted that as much as anyone else," was the answer. "It
caught fire from burning houses and we could not save it."

"But why did you burn Louvain at all?" I asked.

"Because the townspeople fired on our troops. We actually found
machine-guns in some of the houses. And," smashing his fist down
upon the table, "whenever civilians fire upon our troops we will teach
them a lasting lesson. If women and children insist on getting in the
way of bullets, so much the worse for the women and children."

"How do you explain the bombardment of Antwerp by Zeppelins?" I
inquired.

"Zeppelins have orders to drop their bombs only on fortifications and
soldiers," he answered.

"As a matter of fact," I remarked, "they destroyed only private
houses and innocent civilians, several of whom were women. If one
of those bombs had dropped two hundred yards nearer my hotel I
wouldn't be here to-day smoking one of your excellent cigars."

"That is a calamity which, thank God, didn't happen," he replied.

"If you feel for my safety as deeply as that, General," I said,
earnestly, "you can make quite sure of my coming to no harm by
sending no more Zeppelins."

"Well, Herr Powell," he said, laughing, "we will think about it. And,"
he continued gravely, "I trust that you will tell the American people,
through your great paper, what I have told you to-day. Let them
hear our side of this atrocity business. It is only justice that they
should be made familiar with both sides of the question."

I have quoted my conversation with General von Boehn as nearly
verbatim as I can remember it. I have no comments to make. I will
leave it to my readers to decide for themselves just how convincing
were the answers of the German General Staff--for General von
Boehn was but its mouthpiece--to the Belgian accusations. Before
we began our conversation I asked the general if my photographer,
Thompson, might be permitted to take photographs of the great
army which was passing. Five minutes later Thompson whirled
away in a military motor-car, ciceroned by the officer who had
attended the army school at Fort Riley. It seems that they stopped
the car beside the road, in a place where the light was good, and
when Thompson saw approaching a regiment or a battery or a
squadron of which he wished a picture he would tell the officer,
whereupon the officer would blow a whistle and the whole column
would halt.

"Just wait a few minutes until the dust settles," Thompson would
remark, lighting a cigar, and the Ninth Imperial Army, whose
columns stretched over the country-side as far as the eye could
see, would stand in its tracks until the air was sufficiently clear to get
a good picture.

A field battery of the Imperial Guard rumbled past and Thompson
made some remark about the accuracy of the American gunners at
Vera Cruz.

"Let us show you what our gunners can do," said the officer, and he
gave an order. There were more orders--a perfect volley of them. A
bugle shrilled, eight horses strained against their collars, the drivers
cracked their whips, the cannoneers put their shoulders to the
wheels, and a gun left the road and swung into position in an
adjacent field. On a knoll three miles away an ancient windmill was
beating the air with its huge wings. A shell hit the windmill and tore it
into splinters.

"Good work," Thompson observed critically. "If those fellows of
yours keep on they'll be able to get a job in the American navy when
the war is over."

In all the annals of modern war I do not believe that there is a
parallel to this little Kansas photographer halting, with peremptory
hand, an advancing army and leisurely photographing it, regiment
by regiment, and then having a field-gun of the Imperial Guard go
into action solely to gratify his curiosity.

They were very courteous and hospitable to me, those German
officers, and I was immensely interested with all that I saw. But,
when all is said and done, they impressed me not as human beings,
who have weaknesses and virtues, likes and dislikes of their own,
but rather as parts, more or less important, of a mighty and highly
efficient machine which is directed and controlled by a cold and
calculating intelligence in far-away Berlin. That machine has about
as much of the human element as a meat-chopper, as a steam-
roller, as the death-chair at Sing Sing. Its mission is to crush,
obliterate, destroy, and no considerations of civilization or chivalry or
humanity will affect it. I think that the Germans, with their grim, set
faces, their monotonous uniforms, and the ceaseless shuffle,
shuffle, shuffle of their boots must have gotten on my nerves, for it
was with a distinct feeling of relief that I turned the bonnet of my car
once more towards Antwerp and my friends the Belgians.

VI. On The Belgian Battle-Line

In writing of the battles in Belgium I find myself at a loss as to what
names to give them. After the treaty-makers have affixed their
signatures to a piece of parchment and the arm-chair historians
have settled down to the task of writing a connected account of the
campaign, the various engagements will doubtless be properly
classified and labelled--and under the names which they will receive
in the histories we, who were present at them, will probably not
recognize them at all. Until such time, then, as history has granted
them the justice of perspective, I can only refer to them as "the fight
at Sempst" or "the first engagement at Alost" or "the battle of
Vilvorde" or "the taking of Termonde." Not only this, but the
engagements that seemed to us to be battles, or remarkably lifelike
imitations of battles, may be dismissed by the historians as
unimportant skirmishes and contacts, while those engagements that
we carelessly referred to at the time as "scraps" may well prove, in
the light of future events, to have been of far greater significance
than we realized. I don't even know how many engagements I
witnessed, for I did not take the trouble to keep count. Thompson,
who was with me from the beginning of the campaign to the end,
told a reporter who interviewed him upon his return to London that
we had been present at thirty-two engagements, large and small.
Though I do not vouch, mind you, for the accuracy of this assertion,
it is not as improbable as it sounds, for, from the middle of August to
the fall of Antwerp in the early part of October, it was a poor day that
didn't produce a fight of some sort. The fighting in Belgium at this
stage of the war may be said to have been confined to an area
within a triangle whose corners were Antwerp, Aerschot and
Termonde. The southern side of this triangle, which ran somewhat
to the south of Malines, was nearly forty miles in length, and it was
this forty-mile front, extending from Aerschot on the east to
Termonde on the west, which, during the earlier stages of the
campaign, formed the Belgian battle-line. As the campaign
progressed and the Germans developed their offensive, the
Belgians were slowly forced back within the converging sides of the
triangle until they were squeezed into the angle formed by Antwerp,
where they made their last stand.

The theatre of operations was, from the standpoint of a professional
onlooker like myself, very inconsiderately arranged. Nature had
provided neither orchestra-stalls nor boxes. All the seats were bad.
In fact it was quite impossible to obtain a good view of the stage and
of the uniformed actors who were presenting the most stupendous
spectacle in all history upon it. The whole region, you see, was
absolutely flat--as flat as the top of a table--and there wasn't
anything even remotely resembling a hill anywhere. To make
matters worse, the country was criss-crossed by a perfect network
of rivers and brooks and canals and ditches; the highways and the
railways, which had to be raised to keep them from being washed
out by the periodic inundations, were so thickly screened by trees as
to be quite useless for purposes of observation; and in the rare
places where a rise in the ground might have enabled one to get a
comprehensive view of the surrounding country, dense groves of
trees or red-and-white villages almost invariably intervened. One
could be within a few hundred yards of the firing-line and literally not
see a thing save the fleecy puffs of bursting shrapnel. Indeed, I
don't know what we should have done had it not been for the church
towers. These were conveniently sprinkled over the landscape--
every cluster of houses seemed to have one--and did their best to
make up for the region's topographical shortcomings. The only
disadvantage attaching to the use of the church-spires as places to
view the fighting from was that the military observers and the
officers controlling the fire of the batteries used them for the same
purpose. The enemy knew this, of course, and almost the first thing
he did, therefore, was to open fire on them with his artillery and drive
those observers out. This accounts for the fact that in many
sections of Belgium there is not a church-spire left standing. When
we ascended a church tower, therefore, for the purpose of obtaining
a general view of an engagement, we took our chances and we
knew it. More than once, when the enemy got the range and their
shells began to shriek and yowl past the belfry in which I was
stationed, I have raced down the rickety ladders at a speed which,
under normal conditions, would probably have resulted in my
breaking my neck. In view of the restrictions imposed upon
correspondents in the French and Russian theatres of war, I
suppose that instead of finding fault with the seating arrangements I
should thank my lucky stars that I did not have to write my
dispatches with the aid of an ordnance-map and a guide-book in a
hotel bedroom a score or more of miles from the firing-line.

The Belgian field army consisted of six divisions and a brigade of
cavalry and numbered, on paper at least, about 180,000 men. I very
much doubt, however, if King Albert had in the field at anyone time
more than 120,000 men--a very large proportion of whom were, of
course, raw recruits. Now the Belgian army, when all is said and
done, was not an army according to the Continental definition; it
was not much more than a glorified police force, a militia. No one
had ever dreamed that it would be called upon to fight, and hence,
when war came, it was wholly unprepared. That it was able to offer
the stubborn and heroic resistance which it did to the advance of the
German legions speaks volumes for Belgian stamina and courage.
Many of the troops were armed with rifles of an obsolete pattern, the
supply of ammunition was insufficient, and though the artillery was
on the whole of excellent quality, it was placed at a tremendous
disadvantage by the superior range and calibre of the German field-
guns. The men did not even have the protection afforded by neutral-
coloured uniforms, but fought from first to last in clothes of blue and
green and blazing scarlet. As I stood one day in the Place de Meir in
Antwerp and watched a regiment of mud-bespattered guides clatter
past, it was hard to believe that I was living in the twentieth century
and not in the beginning of the nineteenth, for instead of serviceable
uniforms of grey or drab or khaki, these men wore the befrogged
green jackets, the cherry-coloured breeches, and the huge fur
busbies which characterized the soldiers of Napoleon.

The carabineers, for example, wore uniforms of bottle-green and
queer sugar-loaf hats of patent leather which resembled the
headgear of the Directoire period. Both the grenadiers and the
infantry of the line marched and fought and slept in uniforms of
heavy blue cloth piped with scarlet and small, round, visorless
fatigue-caps which afforded no protection from either sun or rain.
Some of the men remedied this by fitting their caps with green
reading-shades, such as undergraduates wear when they are
cramming for examinations, so that at first glance a regiment looked
as though its ranks were filled with either jockeys or students. The
gendarmes--who, by the way, were always to be found where the
fighting was hottest--were the most unsuitably uniformed of all, for
the blue coats and silver aiguillettes and towering bearskins which
served to impress the simple country-folk made splendid targets for
the German marksmen. This medley of picturesque and brilliant
uniforms was wonderfully effective, of course, and whenever I came
upon a group of lancers in sky-blue and yellow lounging about the
door of a wayside tavern or met a patrol of guides in their green
jackets and scarlet breeches trotting along a country-road, I always
had the feeling that I was looking at a painting by Meissonier or
Detaille.

At the beginning of the war the Belgian cavalry was as well mounted
as that of any European army, many of the officers having Irish
hunters, while the men were mounted on Hungarian-bred stock. The
almost incessant campaigning, combined with lack of proper food
and care, had its effect upon the horses, however, and before the
campaign in Flanders was half over the cavalry mounts were a raw-
boned and sorry-looking lot. The Belgian field artillery was horsed
magnificently: the sturdy, hardy animals native to Luxembourg and
the Ardennes making admirable material for gun-teams, while the
great Belgian draught-horses could scarcely have been improved
upon for the army's heavier work.

Speaking of cavalry, the thing that I most wanted to see when I went
to the war was a cavalry charge. I had seen mounted troops in
action, of course, both in Africa and in Asia, but they had brown
skins and wore fantastic uniforms. What I wanted to see was one of
those charges such as Meissonier used to paint--scarlet breeches
and steel helmets and a sea of brandished sword-blades and all
that sort of thing. But when I confided my wish to an American army
officer whom I met on the boat going over he promptly discouraged
me. "Cavalry charges are a thing of the past," he asserted. "There
will never be one again. The modern high-power rifle has made
them impossible. Henceforward cavalry will only be used for
scouting purposes or as mounted infantry." He spoke with great
positiveness, I remember, having been, you see, in both the Cuban
and Philippine campaigns. According to the textbooks and the
military experts and the armchair tacticians he was perfectly right; I
believe that all of the writers on military subjects agree in saying that
cavalry charges are obsolete as a form of attack. But the trouble
with the Belgians was that they didn't play the war-game according
to the rules in the book. They were very primitive in their
conceptions of warfare. Their idea was that whenever they got
within sight of a German regiment to go after that regiment and
exterminate it, and they didn't care whether in doing it they used
horse, foot, or guns. It was owing, therefore, to this total disregard
for the rules laid down in the textbooks that I saw my cavalry charge.
Let me tell you about it while I have the chance, for there is no doubt
that cavalry charges are getting scarce and I may never see
another.

It was in the region between Termonde and Alost. This is a better
country for cavalry to manoeuvre in than most parts of Flanders, for
sometimes one can go almost a mile without being stopped by a
canal. A considerable force of Germans had pushed north from
Alost and the Belgian commander ordered a brigade of cavalry,
composed of the two regiments of guides and, if I remember rightly,
two regiments of lancers, to go out and drive them back. After a
morning spent in skirmishing and manoeuvring for position, the
Belgian cavalry commander got his Germans where he wanted
them. The Germans were in front of a wood, and between them and
the Belgians lay as pretty a stretch of open country as a cavalryman
could ask for. Now the Germans occupied a strong position, mind
you, and the proper thing to have done according to the books
would have been to have demoralized them with shell-fire and then
to have followed it up with an infantry attack. But the grizzled old
Belgian commander did nothing of the sort. He had fifteen hundred
troopers who were simply praying for a chance to go at the
Germans with cold steel, and he gave them the chance they
wanted. Tossing away his cigarette and tightening the chin-strap of
his busby, he trotted out in front of his men. "Right into line!" he
bellowed. Two long lines--one the guides, in green and scarlet, the
other the lancers, in blue and yellow--spread themselves across the
fields. "Trot!" The bugles squealed the order. "Gallop!" The forest of
lances dropped from vertical to horizontal and the cloud of gaily
fluttering pennons changed into a bristling hedge of steel. "Charge!"
came the order, and the spurs went home. "Vive la Belgique! Vive la
Belgique!" roared the troopers--and the Germans, not liking the look
of those long and cruel lances, fell back precipitately into the wood
where the troopers could not follow them. Then, their work having
been accomplished, the cavalry came trotting back again. Of
course, from a military standpoint it was an affair of small
importance, but so far as colour and action and excitement were
concerned it was worth having gone to Belgium to see.

After the German occupation of Brussels, the first engagement of
sufficient magnitude to be termed a battle took place on August 25
and 26 in the Sempst-Elewyt-Eppeghem-Vilvorde region, midway
between Brussels and Malines. The Belgians had in action four
divisions, totalling about sixty thousand men, opposed to which was
a considerably heavier force of Germans. To get a clear conception
of the battle one must picture a fifty-foot-high railway embankment,
its steeply sloping sides heavily wooded, stretching its length across
a fertile, smiling country-side like a monstrous green snake. On this
line, in time of peace, the bloc trains made the journey from Antwerp
to Brussels in less than an hour. Malines, with its historic buildings
and its famous cathedral, lies on one side of this line and the village
of Vilvorde on the other, five miles separating them. On the 25th the
Belgians, believing the Brussels garrison to have been seriously
weakened and the German communications poorly guarded, moved
out in force from the shelter of the Antwerp forts and assumed a
vigorous offensive. It was like a terrier attacking a bulldog.

They drove the Germans from Malines by the very impetus
of their attack, but the Germans brought up heavy reinforcements,
and by the morning of the 26th the Belgians were in a most perilous
position. The battle hinged on the possession of the railway
embankment had gradually extended, each army trying to outflank
the other, until it was being fought along a front of twenty miles. At
dawn on the second day an artillery duel began across the
embankment, the German fire being corrected by observers in
captive balloons. By noon the Germans had gotten the range and a
rain of shrapnel was bursting about the Belgian batteries, which
limbered up and retired at a trot in perfect order. After the guns were
out of range I could see the dark blue masses of the supporting
Belgian infantry slowly falling back, cool as a winter's morning.
Through an oversight, however, two battalions of carabineers did
not receive the order to retire and were in imminent danger of being
cut off and destroyed.

Then occurred one of the bravest acts that I have ever seen. To
reach them a messenger would have to traverse a mile of open
road, swept by-shrieking shrapnel and raked by rifle-fire. There was
about one chance in a thousand of a man getting to the end of that
road alive. A colonel standing beside me under a railway-culvert
summoned a gendarme, gave him the necessary orders, and
added, "Bonne chance, mon brave." The man, a fierce-moustached
fellow who would have gladdened the heart of Napoleon, knew that
he was being sent into the jaws of death, but he merely saluted, set
spurs to his horse, and tore down the road, an archaic figure in his
towering bearskin. He reached the troops uninjured and gave the
order for them to retreat, but as they fell back the German gunners
got the range and with marvellous accuracy dropped shell after shell
into the running column. Soon road and fields were dotted with
corpses in Belgian blue.

Time after time the Germans attempted to carry the railway
embankment with the bayonet, but the Belgians met them with
blasts of lead which shrivelled the grey columns as leaves are
shrivelled by an autumn wind. By mid-afternoon the Belgians and
Germans were in places barely a hundred yards apart, and the rattle
of musketry sounded like a boy drawing a stick along the palings of
a picket-fence. During the height of the battle a Zeppelin slowly
circled over the field like a great vulture awaiting a feast. So heavy
was the fighting that the embankment of a branch railway from
which I viewed the afternoon's battle was literally carpeted with the
corpses of Germans who had been killed during the morning. One
of them had died clasping a woman's picture. He was buried with it
still clenched in his hand. I saw peasants throw twelve bodies into
one grave. One peasant would grasp a corpse by the shoulders and
another would take its feet and they would give it a swing as though
it were a sack of meal. As I watched these inanimate forms being
carelessly tossed into the trench it was hard to make myself believe
that only a few hours before they had been sons or husbands or
fathers and that somewhere across the Rhine women and children
were waiting and watching and praying for them. At a hamlet near
Sempst I helped to bury an aged farmer and his son, inoffensive
peasants, who had been executed by the Germans because a
retreating Belgian soldier had shot a Uhlan in front of their
farmhouse. Not content with shooting them, they had disfigured
them almost beyond recognition. There were twenty-two bayonet
wounds in the old man's face. I know, for I counted them.

By four o'clock all the Belgian troops were withdrawn except a thin
screen to cover the retreat. As I wished to see the German advance
I remained on the railway embankment on the outskirts of Sempst
after all the Belgians, save a picket of ten men, had been withdrawn
from the village. I had my car waiting in the road below with the
motor running. As the German infantry would have to advance
across a mile of open fields it was obvious that I would have ample
time in which to get away. The Germans prefaced their advance by
a terrific cannonade. The air was filled with whining shrapnel.
Farmhouses collapsed amid puffs of brown smoke. The sky was
smeared in a dozen places with the smoke of burning hamlets.
Suddenly a soldier crouching beside me cried, "Les Allemands! Les
Allemands!" and from the woods which screened the railway-
embankment burst a long line of grey figures, hoarsely cheering. At
almost the same moment I heard a sudden splutter of shots in the
village street behind me and my driver screamed, "Hurry for your
life, monsieur! The Uhlans are upon us!" In my desire to see the
main German advance it had never occurred to me that a force of
the enemy's cavalry might slip around and take us in the flank,
which was exactly what had happened. It was three hundred yards
to the car and a freshly ploughed field lay between, but I am
confident that I broke the world's record for the distance. As I leaped
into the car and we shot down the road at fifty miles an hour, the
Uhlans cantered into the village, the sunlight striking on their lance-
tips. It was a close call.

The retreat from Malines provided a spectacle which I shall never
forget. For twenty miles every road was jammed with clattering
cavalry, plodding infantry, and rumbling batteries, the guns, limbers,
and caissons still covered with the green boughs which had been
used to mask their position from German aeroplanes. Gendarmes in
giant bearskins, chasseurs in uniforms of green and yellow,
carabineers with their shiny leather hats, grenadiers, infantry of the
line, guides, lancers, sappers and miners with picks and spades,
engineers with pontoon-wagons, machine-guns drawn by dogs,
ambulances with huge Red Cross flags fluttering above them, and
cars, cars, cars, all the dear old familiar American makes among
them, contributed to form a mighty river flowing towards Antwerp.
Malines formerly had a population of fifty thousand people, and
forty-five thousand of these fled when they heard that the Germans
were returning. The scenes along the road were heart-rending in
their pathos. The very young and the very old, the rich and the well-
to-do and the poverty-stricken, the lame and the sick and the blind,
with the few belongings they had been able to save in sheet-
wrapped bundles on their backs or piled in push-carts, clogged the
roads and impeded the soldiery. These people were abandoning all
that they held most dear to pillage and destruction. They were
completely terrorized by the Germans. But the Belgian army was not
terrorized. It was a retreating army but it was victorious in retreat.
The soldiers were cool, confident, courageous, and gave me the
feeling that if the German giant left himself unguarded a single
instant little Belgium would drive home a solar-plexus blow.

For many days after its evacuation by the Belgians, Malines
occupied an unhappy position midway between the contending
armies, being alternately bombarded by the Belgians and the
Germans. The latter, instead of endeavouring to avoid damaging
the splendid cathedral, whose tower, three hundred and twenty-five
feet high, is the most conspicuous landmark in the region, seemed
to take a grim pleasure in directing their fire upon the ancient
building. The great clock, the largest in Belgium, was destroyed; the
famous stained-glass windows were broken; the exquisite carvings
were shattered; and shells, crashing through the walls and roof,
converted the beautiful interior into a heap of debris. As there were
no Belgian troops in Malines at this time, and as this fact was
perfectly well known to the Germans, this bombardment of an
undefended city and the destruction of its historic monuments struck
me as being peculiarly wanton and not induced by any military
necessity. It was, of course, part and parcel of the German policy of
terrorism and intimidation. The bombardment of cities, the
destruction of historic monuments, the burning of villages, and, in
many cases, the massacre of civilians was the price which the
Belgians were forced to pay for resisting the invader.

In order to ascertain just what damage had been done to the city,
and particularly to the cathedral, I ran into Malines in my car during a
pause in the bombardment. As the streets were too narrow to permit
of turning the car around, and as it was more than probable that we
should have to get out in a hurry, Roos suggested that we run in
backward, which we did, I standing up in the tonneau, field-glasses
glued to my eyes, on the look-out for lurking Germans. I don't recall
ever having had a more eerie experience than that surreptitious visit
to Malines. The city was as silent and deserted as a cemetery;
there was not a human being to be seen; and as we cautiously
advanced through the narrow, winding streets, the vacant houses
echoed the throbbing of the motor with a racket which was positively
startling. Just as we reached the square in front of the cathedral a
German shell came shrieking over the house-tops and burst with a
shattering crash in the upper story of a building a few yards away.
The whole front of that building came crashing down about us in a
cascade of brick and plaster. We did not stay on the order of our
going. No. We went out of that town faster than any automobile
every went out of it before. We went so fast, in fact, that we struck
and killed the only remaining inhabitant. He was a large yellow dog.

Owing to strategic reasons the magnitude and significance of the
great four days' battle which was fought in mid-September between
the Belgian field army and the combined German forces in Northern
Belgium was carefully masked in all official communications at the
time, and, in the rush of later events, its importance was lost sight
of. Yet the great flanking movement of the Allies in France largely
owed its success to this determined offensive movement on the part
of the Belgians, who, as it afterwards proved, were acting in close
co-operation with the French General Staff. This unexpected sally,
which took the Germans completely by surprise, not only compelled
them to concentrate all their available forces in Belgium, but, what
was far more important, it necessitated the hasty recall of their Third
and Ninth armies, which were close to the French frontier and
whose addition to the German battle-line in France might well have
turned the scales in Germany's favour. In addition the Germans had
to bring up their Landwehr and Landsturm regiments from the south
of Brussels, and a naval division composed of fifteen thousand
sailors and marines was also engaged. It is no exaggeration, then,
to say that the success of the Allies on the Aisne was in great
measure due to the sacrifices made on this occasion by the Belgian
army. Every available man which the Germans could put into the
field was used to hold a line running through Sempst, Weerde,
Campenhout, Wespelaer, Rotselaer, and Holsbeek. The Belgians
lay to the north-east of this line, their left resting on Aerschot and
their centre at Meerbeek. Between the opposing armies stretched
the Malines-Louvain canal, along almost the entire length of which
fighting as bloody as any in the war took place.

To describe this battle--I do not even know by what name it will be
known to future generations--would be to usurp the duties of the
historian, and I shall only attempt, therefore, to tell you of that
portion of it which I saw with my own eyes. On the morning of
September 13 four Belgian divisions moved southward from
Malines, their objective being the town of Weerde, on the Antwerp-
Brussels railway. It was known that the Germans occupied Weerde
in force, so throughout the day the Belgian artillery, masked by
heavy woods, pounded away incessantly. By noon the enemy's
guns ceased to reply, which was assumed by the jubilant Belgians
to be a sign that the German artillery had been silenced. At noon the
Belgian First Division moved forward and Thompson and I, leaving
the car in front of a convent over which the Red Cross flag was
flying, moved forward with it. Standing quite by itself in the middle of
a field, perhaps a mile beyond the convent, was a two-story brick
farmhouse. A hundred yards in front of the farmhouse stretched the
raised, stone-paved, tree-lined highway which runs from Brussels to
Antwerp, and on the other side of the highway was Weerde.
Sheltering ourselves as much as possible in the trenches which
zigzagged across the field, and dashing at full speed across the
open places which were swept by rifle-fire, we succeeded in
reaching the farmhouse. Ascending to the garret, we broke a hole
through the tiled roof and found ourselves looking down upon the
battle precisely as one looks down on a cricket match from the
upper tier of seats at Lord's. Lying in the deep ditch which bordered
our side of the highway was a Belgian infantry brigade, composed of
two regiments of carabineers and two regiments of chasseurs a
pied, the men all crouching in the ditch or lying prone upon the
ground. Five hundred yards away, on the other side of the highway,
we could see through the trees the whitewashed walls and red
pottery roofs of Weerde, while a short distance to the right, in a
heavily wooded park, was a large stone chateau. The only sign that
the town was occupied was a pall of blue-grey vapour which hung
over it and a continuous crackle of musketry coming from it, though
occasionally, through my glasses, I could catch glimpses of the lean
muzzles of machine-guns protruding from the upper windows of the
chateau.

Now you must bear in mind the fact that in this war soldiers fired
from the trenches for days on end without once getting a glimpse of
the enemy. They knew that somewhere opposite them, in that bit of
wood, perhaps, or behind that group of buildings, or on the other
side of that railway-embankment, the enemy was trying to kill them
just as earnestly as they were trying to kill him. But they rarely got a
clear view of him save in street fighting and, of course, when he was
advancing across open country. Soldiers no longer select their man
and pick him off as one would pick off a stag, because the great
range of modern rifles has put the firing-lines too far apart for that
sort of thing. Instead, therefore, of aiming at individuals, soldiers aim
at the places where they believe those individuals to be. Each
company commander shows his men their target, tells them at what
distance to set their sights, and controls their expenditure of
ammunition, the fire of infantry generally being more effective when
delivered in bursts by sections.

What I have said in general about infantry being unable to see the
target at which they are firing was particularly true at Weerde owing
to the dense foliage which served to screen the enemy's position.
Occasionally, after the explosion of a particularly well-placed Belgian
shell, Thompson and I, from our hole in the roof and with the aid of
our high-power glasses, could catch fleeting glimpses of scurrying
grey-clad figures, but that was all. The men below us in the trenches
could see nothing except the hedges, gardens, and red-roofed
houses of a country town. They knew the enemy was there,
however, from the incessant rattle of musketry and machine-guns
and from the screams and exclamations of those of their fellows
who happened to get in the bullets' way.

Late in the afternoon word was passed down the line that the
German guns had been put out of action, that the enemy was
retiring and that at 5.30 sharp the whole Belgian line would advance
and take the town with the bayonet. Under cover of artillery fire so
continuous that it sounded like thunder in the mountains, the
Belgian infantry climbed out of the trenches and, throwing aside
their knapsacks, formed up behind the road preparatory to the
grand assault. A moment later a dozen dog batteries came trotting
up and took position on the left of the infantry. At 5.30 to the minute
the whistles of the officers sounded shrilly and the mile-long line of
men swept forward cheering. They crossed the roadway, they
scrambled over ditches, they climbed fences, they pushed through
hedges, until they were within a hundred yards of the line of
buildings which formed the outskirts of the town. Then hell itself
broke loose. The whole German front, which for several hours past
had replied but feebly to the Belgian fire, spat a continuous stream
of lead and flame. The rolling crash of musketry and the ripping
snarl of machine-guns were stabbed by the vicious pom-pom-pom-
pom-pom of the quick-firers. From every window of the three-storied
chateau opposite us the lean muzzles of mitrailleuses poured out
their hail of death. I have seen fighting on four continents, but I have
never witnessed so deadly a fire as that which wiped out the head of
the Belgian column as a sponge wipes out figures on a slate.

The Germans had prepared a trap and the Belgians had walked--or
rather charged--directly into it. Three minutes later the dog batteries
came tearing back on a dead run. That should have been a signal
that it was high time for us to go, but, in spite of the fact that a storm
was brewing, we waited to see the last inning. Then things began to
happen with a rapidity that was bewildering. Back through the
hedges, across the ditches, over the roadway came the Belgian
infantry, crouching, stooping, running for their lives, Every now and
then a soldier would stumble, as though he had stubbed his toe,
and throw out his arms and fall headlong. A bullet had hit him. The
road was sprinkled with silent forms in blue and green. The fields
were sprinkled with them too. One man was hit as he was struggling
to get through a hedge and died standing, held upright by the thorny
branches. Men with blood streaming down their faces, men with
horrid crimson patches on their tunics, limped, crawled, staggered
past, leaving scarlet trails behind them. A young officer of
chasseurs, who had been recklessly exposing himself while trying to
check the retreat of his men, suddenly spun around on his heels,
like one of those wooden toys which the curb vendors sell, and then
crumpled up, as though all the bone and muscle had gone out of
him. A man plunged into a half-filled ditch and lay there, with his
head under water. I could see the water slowly redden.

Bullets began to smash the tiles above us. "This is no place for two
innocent little American boys," remarked Thompson, shouldering his
camera. I agreed with him. By the time we reached the ground the
Belgian infantry was half a mile in our rear, and to reach the car we
had to cross nearly a mile of open field. Bullets were singing across
it and kicking up little spurts of brown earth where they struck. We
had not gone a hundred yards when the German artillery, which the
Belgians so confidently asserted had been silenced, opened with
shrapnel. Have you ever heard a winter gale howling and shrieking
through the tree-tops? Of course. Then you know what shrapnel
sounds like, only it is louder. You have no idea though how
extremely annoying shrapnel is, when it bursts in your immediate
vicinity. You feel as though you would like nothing in the world so
much as to be suddenly transformed into a woodchuck and have a
convenient hole. I remembered that an artillery officer had told me
that a burst of shrapnel from a battery two miles away will spread
itself over an eight-acre field, and every time I heard the moan of an
approaching shell I wondered if it would decide to explode in the
particular eight-acre field in which I happened to be.

As though the German shell-storm was not making things
sufficiently uncomfortable for us, when we were half-way across the
field two Belgian soldiers suddenly rose from a trench and covered
us with their rifles. "Halt! Hands up!" they shouted. There was
nothing for it but to obey them. We advanced with our hands in the
air but with our heads twisted upward on the look-out for shrapnel.
As we approached they recognized us. "Oh, you're the Americans,"
said one of them, lowering his rifle. "We couldn't see your faces and
we took you for Germans. You'd better come with us. It's getting too
hot to stay here." The four of us started on a run for a little cluster of
houses a few hundred yards away. By this time the shells were
coming across at the rate of twenty a minute.

"Suppose we go into a cellar until the storm blows over," suggested
Roos, who had joined us. "I'm all for that," said I, making a dive for
the nearest doorway. "Keep away from that house!" shouted a
Belgian soldier who suddenly appeared from around a corner. "The
man who owns it has gone insane from fright. He's upstairs with a
rifle and he's shooting at every one who passes." "Well, I call that
damned inhospitable," said Thompson, and Roos and I heartily
agreed with him. There was nothing else for it, therefore, but to
make a dash for the car. We had left it standing in front of a convent
over which a Red Cross flag was flying on the assumption that there
it would be perfectly safe. But we found that we were mistaken. The
Red Cross flag did not spell protection by any means. As we came
within sight of the car a shell burst within thirty feet of it, a fragment
of the projectile burying itself in the door. I never knew of a car
taking so long to crank. Though it was really probably only a matter
of seconds before the engine started it seemed to us, standing in
that shell-swept road, like hours.

Darkness had now fallen. A torrential rain had set in. The car slid
from one side of the road to the other like a Scotchman coming
home from celebrating Bobbie Burns's birthday and repeatedly
threatened to capsize in the ditch. The mud was ankle-deep and the
road back to Malines was now in the possession of the Germans, so
we were compelled to make a detour through a deserted country-
side, running through the inky blackness without lights so as not to
invite a visit from a shell. It was long after midnight when, cold, wet
and famished, we called the password to the sentry at the gateway
through the barbed-wire entanglements which encircled Antwerp
and he let us in. It was a very lively day for every one concerned
and there were a few minutes when I thought that I would never see
the Statue of Liberty again.

VII. The Coming Of The British

Imagine, if you please, a professional heavy-weight prize-fighter,
with an abnormally long reach, holding an amateur bantam-weight
boxer at arm's length with one hand and hitting him when and where
he pleased with the other. The fact that the little man was not in the
least afraid of his burly antagonist and that he got in a vicious kick or
jab whenever he saw an opening would not, of course, have any
effect on the outcome of the unequal contest. Now that is almost
precisely what happened when the Germans besieged Antwerp, the
enormously superior range and calibre of their siege-guns enabling
them to pound the city's defences to pieces at their leisure without
the defenders being able to offer any effective resistance.

Though Antwerp was to all intents and purposes a besieged city for
many weeks prior to its capture, it was not until the beginning of the
last week in September that the Germans seriously set to work of
destroying its fortifications. When they did begin, however, their
great siege pieces pounded the forts as steadily and remorselessly
as a trip-hammer pounds a bar of iron. At the time the Belgian
General Staff believed that the Germans were using the same giant
howitzers which demolished the forts at Liege, but in this they were
mistaken, for, as it transpired later, the Antwerp fortifications owed
their destruction to Austrian guns served by Austrian artillerymen.
Now guns of this size can only be fired from specially prepared
concrete beds, and these beds, as we afterwards learned, had been
built during the preceding month behind the embankment of the
railway which runs from Malines to Louvain, thus accounting for the
tenacity with which the Germans had held this railway despite
repeated attempts to dislodge them. At this stage of the investment
the Germans were firing at a range of upwards of eight miles, while
the Belgians had no artillery that was effective at more than six. Add
to this the fact that the German fire was remarkably accurate, being
controlled and constantly corrected by observers stationed in
balloons, and that the German shells were loaded with an explosive
having greater destructive properties than either cordite or shimose
powder, and it will be seen how hopeless was the Belgian position.

The scenes along the Lierre-St. Catherine-Waelhem sector, against
which the Germans at first focussed their attack, were impressive
and awesome beyond description. Against a livid sky rose pillars of
smoke from burning villages. The air was filled with shrieking shell
and bursting shrapnel. The deep-mouthed roar of the guns in the
forts and the angry bark of the Belgian field-batteries were answered
at intervals by the shattering crash of the German high-explosive
shells. When one of these big shells--the soldiers dubbed them
"Antwerp expresses"--struck in a field it sent up a geyser of earth
two hundred feet in height. When they dropped in a river or canal,
as sometimes happened, there was a waterspout. And when they
dropped in a village, that village disappeared from the map.

While we were watching the bombardment from a rise in the
Waelhem road a shell burst in the hamlet of Waerloos, whose red-
brick houses were clustered almost at our feet. A few minutes later
a procession of fugitive villagers came plodding up the cobble-
paved highway. It was headed by an ashen-faced peasant pushing
a wheelbarrow with a weeping woman clinging to his arm. In the
wheelbarrow, atop a pile of hastily collected household goods, was
sprawled the body of a little boy. He could not have been more than
seven. His little knickerbockered legs and play-worn shoes
protruded grotesquely from beneath a heap of bedding. When they
lifted it we could see where the shell had hit him. Beside the dead
boy sat his sister, a tot of three, with blood trickling from a flesh-
wound in her face. She was still clinging convulsively to a toy lamb
which had once been white but whose fleece was now splotched
with red. Some one passed round a hat and we awkwardly tried to
express our sympathy through the medium of silver. After a little
pause they started on again, the father stolidly pushing the
wheelbarrow, with its pathetic load, before him. It was the only home
that family had.

One of the bravest acts that I have ever seen was performed by an
American woman during the bombardment of Waelhem. Her name
was Mrs. Winterbottom; she was originally from Boston, and had
married an English army officer. When he went to the front in
France she went to the front in Belgium, bringing over her car, which
she drove herself, and placing it at the disposal of the British Field
Hospital. After the fort of Waelhem had been silenced and such of
the garrison as were able to move had been withdrawn, word was
received at ambulance headquarters that a number of dangerously
wounded had been left behind and that they would die unless they
received immediate attention. To reach the fort it was necessary to
traverse nearly two miles of road swept by shell-fire. Before anyone
realized what was happening a big grey car shot down the road with
the slender figure of Mrs. Winterbottom at the wheel. Clinging to the
running-board was her English chauffeur and beside her sat my little
Kansas photographer, Donald Thompson. Though the air was filled
with the fleecy white patches which look like cotton-wool but are
really bursting shrapnel, Thompson told me afterwards that Mrs.
Winterbottom was as cool as though she were driving down her
native Commonwealth Avenue on a Sunday morning. When they
reached the fort shells were falling all about them, but they filled the
car with wounded men and Mrs. Winterbottom started back with her
blood-soaked freight for the Belgian lines.

Thompson remained in the fort to take pictures. When darkness fell
he made his way back to the village of Waelhem, where he found a
regiment of Belgian infantry. In one of the soldiers Thompson
recognized a man who, before the war, had been a waiter in the St.
Regis Hotel in New York and who had been detailed to act as his
guide and interpreter during the fighting before Termonde. This man
took Thompson into a wine-shop where a detachment of soldiers
was quartered, gave him food, and spread straw upon the floor for
him to sleep on. Shortly after midnight a forty-two centimetre shell
struck the building. Of the soldiers who were sleeping in the same
room as Thompson nine were killed and fifteen more who were
sleeping upstairs, the ex-waiter among them. Thompson told me
that when the ceiling gave way and the mangled corpses came
tumbling down upon him, he ran up the street with his hands above
his head, screaming like a madman. He met an officer whom he
knew and they ran down the street together, hoping to get out of the
doomed town. Just then a projectile from one of the German siege-
guns tore down the long, straight street, a few yards above their
heads. The blast of air which it created was so terrific that it threw
them down. Thompson said that it was like standing close to the
edge of the platform at a wayside station when the Empire State
Express goes by. When his nerve came back to him he pulled a
couple of cigars out of his pocket and offered one to the officer.
Their hands trembled so, he said afterwards, that they used up half
a box of matches before they could get their cigars lighted.

I am inclined to think that the most bizarre incident I saw during the
bombardment of the outer forts was the flight of the women inmates
of a madhouse at Duffel. There were three hundred women in the
institution, many of them violently insane, and the nuns in charge,
assisted by soldiers, had to take them across a mile of open
country, under a rain of shells, to a waiting train. I shall not soon
forget the picture of that straggling procession winding its slow way
across the stubble-covered fields. Every few seconds a shell would
burst above it or in front of it or behind it with a deafening explosion.
Yet, despite the frantic efforts of the nuns and soldiers, the women
would not be hurried. When a shell burst some of them would
scream and cower or start to run, but more of them would stop in
their tracks and gibber and laugh and clap their hands like excited
children. Then the soldiers would curse under their breath and push
them roughly forward and the nuns would plead with them in their
soft, low voices, to hurry, hurry, hurry. We, who were watching the
scene, thought that few of them would reach the train alive, yet not
one was killed or wounded. The Arabs are right: the mad are under
God's protection.

One of the most inspiring features of the campaign in Belgium was
the heroism displayed by the priests and the members of the
religious orders. Village cures in their black cassocks and shovel
hats, and monks in sandals and brown woollen robes, were
everywhere. I saw them in the trenches exhorting the soldiers to
fight to the last for God and the King; I saw them going out on to the
battlefield with stretchers to gather the wounded under a fire which
made veterans seek shelter; I saw them in the villages where the
big shells were falling, helping to carry away the ill and the aged; I
saw them in the hospitals taking farewell messages and administering
the last sacrament to the dying; I even saw them, rifle in hand, on the
firing-line, fighting for the existence of the nation. To these soldiers
of the Lord I raise my hat in respect and admiration. The people of
Belgium owe them a debt that they can never repay.

In the days before the war it was commonly said that the Church
was losing ground in Belgium; that religion was gradually being
ousted by socialism. If this were so, I saw no sign of it in the nation's
days of trial. Time and time again I saw soldiers before going into
battle drop on their knees and cross themselves and murmur a
hasty prayer. Even the throngs of terrified fugitives, flying from their
burning villages, would pause in their flight to kneel before the little
shrines along the wayside. I am convinced, indeed, that the ruthless
destruction of religious edifices by the Germans and the brutality
which they displayed toward priests and members of the religious
orders was more responsible than any one thing for the desperate
resistance which they met with from the Belgian peasantry.

By the afternoon of October 3 things were looking very black for
Antwerp. The forts composing the Lierre-Waelhem sector of the
outer line of defences had been pounded into silence by the
German siege-guns; a strong German force, pushing through the
breach thus made, had succeeded in crossing the Nethe in the face
of desperate opposition; the Belgian troops, after a fortnight of
continuous fighting, were at the point of exhaustion; the hospitals
were swamped by the streams of wounded which for days past had
been pouring in; over the city hung a cloud of despondency and
gloom, for the people, though kept in complete ignorance of the true
state of affairs, seemed oppressed with a sense of impending
disaster.

When I returned that evening to the Hotel St. Antoine from the
battle-front, which was then barely half a dozen miles outside the
city, the manager stopped me as I was entering the lift.

"Are you leaving with the others, Mr. Powell?" he whispered.

"Leaving for where? With what others?" I asked sharply.

"Hadn't you heard?" he answered in some confusion. "The
members of the Government and the Diplomatic Corps are leaving
for Ostend by special steamer at seven in the morning. It has just
been decided at a Cabinet meeting. But don't mention it to a soul.
No one is to know it until they are safely gone."

I remember that as I continued to my room the corridors smelled of
smoke, and upon inquiring its cause I learned that the British
Minister, Sir Francis Villiers, and his secretaries were burning papers
in the rooms occupied by the British Legation. The Russian Minister,
who was superintending the packing of his trunks in the hall,
stopped me to say good-bye. Imagine my surprise, then, upon
going down to breakfast the following morning, to meet Count
Goblet d'Alviella, the Vice-President of the Senate and a minister of
State, leaving the dining-room.

"Why, Count!" I exclaimed, "I had supposed that you were well on
your way to Ostend by this time."

"We had expected to be," explained the venerable statesman, "but
at four o'clock this morning the British Minister sent us word that Mr.
Winston Churchill had started for Antwerp and asking us to wait and
hear what he has to say."

At one o'clock that afternoon a big drab-coloured touring-car filled
with British naval officers tore up the Place de Meir, its horn
sounding a hoarse warning, took the turn into the narrow Marche
aux Souliers on two wheels, and drew up in front of the hotel. Before
the car had fairly come to a stop the door of the tonneau was thrown
violently open and out jumped a smooth-faced, sandy-haired, stoop-
shouldered, youthful-looking man in the undress Trinity House
uniform. There was no mistaking who it was. It was the Right Hon.
Winston Churchill. As he darted into the crowded lobby, which, as
usual at the luncheon-hour, was filled with Belgian, French, and
British staff officers, diplomatists, Cabinet Ministers and
correspondents, he flung his arms out in a nervous, characteristic
gesture, as though pushing his way through a crowd. It was a most
spectacular entrance and reminded me for all the world of a scene
in a melodrama where the hero dashes up, bare-headed, on a
foam-flecked horse, and saves the heroine or the old homestead or
the family fortune, as the case may be.

While lunching with Sir Francis Villiers and the staff of the British
Legation, two English correspondents approached and asked Mr.
Churchill for an interview.

"I will not talk to you," he almost shouted, bringing his fist down upon
the table. "You have no business to be in Belgium at this time. Get
out of the country at once."

It happened that my table was so close that I could not help but
overhear the request and the response, and I remember remarking
to the friends who were dining with me: "Had Mr. Churchill said that
to me, I should have answered him, 'I have as much business in
Belgium at this time, sir, as you had in Cuba during the Spanish-
American War.'"

An hour later I was standing in the lobby talking to M. de Vos, the
Burgomaster of Antwerp, M. Louis Franck, the Antwerp member of
the Chamber of Deputies, American Consul-General Diederich and
Vice-Consul General Sherman, when Mr. Churchill rushed past us
on his way to his room. He impressed one as being always in a
tearing hurry. The Burgomaster stopped him, introduced himself,
and expressed his anxiety regarding the fate of the city. Before he
had finished Churchill was part-way up the stairs.

"I think everything will be all right now, Mr. Burgomaster," he called
down in a voice which could be distinctly heard throughout the
lobby. "You needn't worry. We're going to save the city."

Whereupon most of the civilians present heaved sighs of relief.
They felt that a real sailor had taken the wheel. Those of us who
were conversant with the situation were also relieved because we
took it for granted that Mr. Churchill would not have made so
confident and public an assertion unless ample reinforcements in
men and guns were on the way. Even then the words of this
energetic, impetuous young man did not entirely reassure me, for
from the windows of my room I could hear the German guns quite
plainly. They had come appreciably nearer.

That afternoon and the three days following Mr. Churchill spent in
inspecting the Belgian position. He repeatedly exposed himself
upon the firing-line and on one occasion, near Waelhem, had a
rather narrow escape from a burst of shrapnel. For some
unexplainable reason the British censorship cast a veil of profound
secrecy over Mr. Churchill's visit to Antwerp. The story of his arrival,
just as I have related it above, I telegraphed that same night to the
New York World, yet it never got through, nor did any of the other
dispatches which I sent during his four days' visit. In fact, it was not
until after Antwerp had fallen that the British public was permitted to
learn that the Sea Lord had been in Belgium.

Had it not been for the promises of reinforcements given to the King
and the Cabinet by Mr. Churchill, there is no doubt that the
Government would have departed for Ostend when originally
planned and that the inhabitants of Antwerp, thus warned of the
extreme gravity of the situation, would have had ample time to leave
the city with a semblance of comfort and order, for the railways
leading to Ghent and to the Dutch frontier were still in operation and
the highways were then not blocked by a retreating army.

The first of the promised reinforcements arrived on Sunday evening
by special train from Ostend. They consisted of a brigade of the
Royal Marines, perhaps two thousand men in all, well drilled and
well armed, and several heavy guns. They were rushed to the
southern front and immediately sent into the trenches to relieve the
worn-out Belgians. On Monday and Tuesday the balance of the
British expeditionary force, consisting of between five and six
thousand men of the Volunteer Naval Reserve, arrived from the
coast, their ammunition and supplies being brought by road, via
Bruges and Ghent, in London motor-buses. When this procession
of lumbering vehicles, placarded with advertisements of teas,
tobaccos, whiskies, and current theatrical attractions and bearing
the signs "Bank," "Holborn," "Piccadilly," "Shepherd's Bush,"
"Strand," rumbled through the streets of Antwerp, the populace went
mad. "The British had come at last! The city was saved! Vive les
Anglais! Vive Tommy Atkins!"

I witnessed the detrainment of the naval brigades at Vieux Dieu and
accompanied them to the trenches north of Lierre. As they tramped
down the tree-bordered, cobble-paved high road, we heard, for the
first time in Belgium, the lilting refrain of that music-hall ballad which
had become the English soldiers' marching song:

It's a long way to Tipperary,
It's a long way to go; It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know! Good-bye, Piccadilly!
Farewell, Leicester Square! It's a long, long way to Tipperary;
But my heart's right there!

Many and many a one of the light-hearted lads with whom I
marched down the Lierre road on that October afternoon were
destined never again to feel beneath their feet the flags of Piccadilly,
never again to lounge in Leicester Square.

They were as clean-limbed, pleasant-faced, wholesome-looking a
lot of young Englishmen as you would find anywhere, but to anyone
who had had military experience it was evident that, despite the fact
that they were vigorous and courageous and determined to do their
best, they were not "first-class fighting men." To win in war, as in
the prize-ring, something more than vigour and courage and
determination are required; to those qualities must be added
experience and training, and experience and training were precisely
what those naval reservists lacked. Moreover, their equipment left
much to be desired. For example, only a very small proportion had
pouches to carry the regulation one hundred and fifty rounds. They
were, in fact, equipped very much as many of the American militia
organizations were equipped when suddenly called out for strike
duty in the days before the reorganization of the National Guard.
Even the officers--those, at least, with whom I talked--seemed to be
as deficient in field experience as the men. Yet these raw troops
were rushed into trenches which were in most cases unprotected by
head-covers, and, though unsupported by effective artillery, they
held those trenches for three days under as murderous a shell-fire
as I have ever seen and then fell back in perfect order. What the
losses of the Naval Division were I do not know. In Antwerp it was
generally understood that very close to a fifth of the entire force was
killed or wounded--upwards of three hundred cases were, I was told,
treated in one hospital alone--and the British Government officially
announced that sixteen hundred were forced across the frontier and
interned in Holland.

No small part in the defence of the city was played by the much-
talked-about armoured train, which was built under the supervision
of Lieutenant-Commander Littlejohn in the yards of the Antwerp
Engineering Company at Hoboken. The train consisted of four large
coal-trucks with sides of armour-plate sufficiently high to afford
protection to the crews of the 4.7 naval guns--six of which were
brought from England for the purpose, though there was only time
to mount four of them--and between each gun-truck was a heavily-
armoured goods-van for ammunition, the whole being drawn by a
small locomotive, also steel-protected. The guns were served by
Belgian artillerymen commanded by British gunners and each gun-
truck carried, in addition, a detachment of infantry in the event of the
enemy getting to close quarters. Personally, I am inclined to believe
that the chief value of this novel contrivance lay in the moral
encouragement it lent to the defence, for its guns, though more
powerful, certainly, than anything that the Belgians possessed, were
wholly outclassed, both in range and calibre, by the German artillery.
The German officers whom I questioned on the subject after the
occupation told me that the fire of the armoured train caused them
no serious concern and did comparatively little damage.

By Tuesday night a boy scout could have seen that the position of
Antwerp was hopeless. The Austrian siege guns had smashed and
silenced the chain of supposedly impregnable forts to the south of
the city with the same businesslike dispatch with which the same
type of guns had smashed and silenced those other supposedly
impregnable forts at Liege and Namur. Through the opening thus
made a German army corps had poured to fling itself against the
second line of defence, formed by the Ruppel and the Nethe.
Across the Nethe, under cover of a terrific artillery fire, the Germans
threw their pontoon-bridges, and when the first bridges were
destroyed by the Belgian guns they built others, and when these
were destroyed in turn they tried again, and at the third attempt they
succeeded. With the helmeted legions once across the river, it was
all over but the shouting, and no one knew it better than the
Belgians, yet, heartened by the presence of the little handful of
English, they fought desperately, doggedly on. Their forts pounded
to pieces by guns which they could not answer, their ranks thinned
by a murderous rain of shot and shell, the men heavy-footed and
heavy-eyed from lack of sleep, the horses staggering from
exhaustion, the ambulance service broken down, the hospitals
helpless before the flood of wounded, the trenches littered with the
dead and dying, they still held back the German legions.

By this time the region to the south of Antwerp had been
transformed from a peaceful, smiling country-side into a land of
death and desolation. It looked as though it had been swept by a
great hurricane, filled with lightning which had missed nothing. The
blackened walls of what had once been prosperous farm-houses,
haystacks turned into heaps of smoking carbon, fields slashed
across with trenches, roads rutted and broken by the great wheels
of guns and transport wagons--these scenes were on every hand.
In the towns and villages along the Nethe, where the fighting was
heaviest, the walls of houses had fallen into the streets and piles of
furniture, mattresses, agricultural machinery, and farm carts showed
where the barricades and machine-guns had been. The windows of
many of the houses were stuffed with mattresses and pillows,
behind which the riflemen had made a stand. Lierre and Waelhem
and Duffel were like sieves dripping blood. Corpses were strewn
everywhere. Some of the dead were spread-eagled on their backs
as though exhausted after a long march, some were twisted and
crumpled in attitudes grotesque and horrible, some were propped
up against the walls of houses to which they had tried to crawl in
their agony.

All of them stared at nothing with awful, unseeing eyes. It was one
of the scenes that I should like to forget. But I never can.

On Tuesday evening General de Guise, the military governor of
Antwerp, informed the Government that the Belgian position was
fast becoming untenable and, acting on this information, the capital
of Belgium was transferred from Antwerp to Ostend, the members
of the Government and the Diplomatic Corps leaving at daybreak on
Wednesday by special steamer, while at the same time Mr. Winston
Churchill departed for the coast by automobile under convoy of an
armoured motorcar. His last act was to order the destruction of the
condensers of the German vessels in the harbour, for which the
Germans, upon occupying the city, demanded an indemnity of
twenty million francs.

As late as Wednesday morning the great majority of the inhabitants
of Antwerp remained in total ignorance of the real state of affairs.
Morning after morning the Matin and the Metropole had published
official communiques categorically denying that any of the forts had
been silenced and asserting in the most positive terms that the
enemy was being held in check all along the line. As a result of this
policy of denial and deception, the people of Antwerp went to sleep
on Tuesday night calmly confident that in a few days more the
Germans would raise the siege from sheer discouragement and
depart. Imagine what happened, then, when they awoke on
Wednesday morning, October 7, to learn that the Government had
stolen away between two days without issuing so much as a word of
warning, and to find staring at them from every wall and hoarding
proclamations signed by the military governor announcing that the
bombardment of the city was imminent, urging all who were able to
leave instantly, and advising those who remained to shelter
themselves behind sand-bags in their cellars. It was like waiting until
the entire first floor of a house was in flames and the occupants'
means of escape almost cut off, before shouting "Fire!"

No one who witnessed the exodus of the population from Antwerp
will ever forget it. No words can adequately describe it. It was not a
flight; it was a stampede. The sober, slow-moving, slow-thinking
Flemish townspeople were suddenly transformed into a herd of
terror-stricken cattle. So complete was the German enveloping
movement that only three avenues of escape remained open:
westward, through St. Nicolas and Lokeren, to Ghent; north-
eastward across the frontier into Holland; down the Scheldt toward
Flushing. Of the half million fugitives--for the exodus was not
confined to the citizens of Antwerp but included the entire population
of the country-side for twenty miles around--probably fully a quarter
of a million escaped by river. Anything that could float was pressed
into service: merchant steamers, dredgers, ferry-boats, scows,
barges, canal-boats, tugs, fishing craft, yachts, rowing-boats,
launches, even extemporized rafts. There was no attempt to
enforce order. The fear-frantic people piled aboard until there was
not even standing room on the vessels' decks. Of all these
thousands who fled by river, but an insignificant proportion were
provided with food or warm clothing or had space in which to lie
down. Yet through two nights they huddled together on the open
decks in the cold and the darkness while the great guns tore to
pieces the city they had left behind them. As I passed up the
crowded river in my launch on the morning after the first night's
bombardment we seemed to be followed by a wave of sound--a
great murmur of mingled anguish and misery and fatigue and
hunger from the homeless thousands adrift upon the waters.

The scenes along the highways were even more appalling, for here
the retreating soldiery and the fugitive civilians were mixed in
inextricable confusion. By mid-afternoon on Wednesday the road
from Antwerp to Ghent, a distance of forty miles, was a solid mass
of refugees, and the same was true of every road, every lane, every
footpath leading in a westerly or a northerly direction. The people
fled in motor-cars and in carriages, in delivery-wagons, in moving-
vans, in farm-carts, in omnibuses, in vehicles drawn by oxen, by
donkeys, even by cows, on horseback, on bicycles, and there
were thousands upon thousands afoot. I saw men trundling
wheelbarrows piled high with bedding and with their children
perched upon the bedding. I saw sturdy young peasants carrying
their aged parents in their arms. I saw women of fashion in fur coats
and high-heeled shoes staggering along clinging to the rails of the
caissons or to the ends of wagons. I saw white-haired men and
women grasping the harness of the gun-teams or the stirrup-
leathers of the troopers, who, themselves exhausted from many
days of fighting, slept in their saddles as they rode. I saw springless
farm-wagons literally heaped with wounded soldiers with piteous
white faces; the bottoms of the wagons leaked and left a trail of
blood behind them. A very old priest, too feeble to walk, was
trundled by two young priests in a handcart. A young woman, an
expectant mother, was tenderly and anxiously helped on by her
husband. One of the saddest features of all this dreadful procession
was the soldiers, many of them wounded, and so bent with fatigue
from many days of marching and fighting that they could hardly
raise their feet. One infantryman who could bear his boots no longer
had tied them to the cleaning-rod of his rifle. Another had strapped
his boots to his cowhide knapsack and limped forward with his
swollen feet in felt slippers. Here were a group of Capuchin monks
abandoning their monastery; there a little party of white-faced nuns
shepherding the flock of children--many of them fatherless--who had
been entrusted to their care. The confusion was beyond all
imagination, the clamour deafening: the rattle of wheels, the
throbbing of motors, the clatter of hoofs, the cracking of whips, the
curses of the drivers, the groans of the wounded, the cries of
women, the whimpering of children, threats, pleadings, oaths,
screams, imprecations, and always the monotonous shuffle, shuffle,
shuffle of countless weary feet.

The fields and the ditches between which these processions of
disaster passed were strewn with the prostrate forms of those who,
from sheer exhaustion, could go no further. And there was no food
for them, no shelter. Within a few hours after the exodus began the
country-side was as bare of food as the Sahara is of grass. Time
after time I saw famished fugitives pause at farmhouses and offer all
of their pitifully few belongings for a loaf of bread; but the kind-
hearted country-people, with tears streaming down their cheeks,
could only shake their heads and tell them that they had long since
given all their food away. Old men and fashionably gowned women
and wounded soldiers went out into the fields and pulled up turnips
and devoured them raw--for there was nothing else to eat. During a
single night, near a small town on the Dutch frontier, twenty women
gave birth to children in the open fields. No one will ever know how
many people perished during that awful flight from hunger and
exposure and exhaustion; many more, certainly, than lost their lives
in the bombardment.

VIII. The Fall Of Antwerp

The bombardment of Antwerp began about ten o'clock on the
evening of Wednesday, October 7. The first shell to fall within the
city struck a house in the Berchem district, killing a fourteen-year-old
boy and wounding his mother and little sister. The second
decapitated a street-sweeper as he was running for shelter.
Throughout the night the rain of death continued without cessation,
the shells falling at the rate of four or five a minute. The streets of
the city were as deserted as those of Pompeii. The few people who
remained, either because they were willing to take their chances or
because they had no means of getting away, were cowering in their
cellars. Though the gas and electric lights were out, the sky was
rosy from the reflection of the petrol-tanks which the Belgians had
set on fire; now and then a shell would burst with the intensity of
magnesium, and the quivering beams of two searchlights on the
forts across the river still further lit up the ghastly scene. The noise
was deafening. The buildings seemed to rock and sway. The very
pavements trembled. Mere words are inadequate to give a
conception of the horror of it all. There would come the hungry
whine of a shell passing low over the house-tops, followed, an
instant later, by a shattering crash, and the whole facade of the
building that had been struck would topple into the street in a
cascade of brick and stone and plaster. It was not until Thursday
night, however, that the Germans brought their famous forty-two-
centimetre guns into action. The effect of these monster cannon
was appalling. So tremendous was the detonation that it sounded
as though the German batteries were firing salvoes. The projectiles
they were now raining upon the city weighed a ton apiece and had
the destructive properties of that much nitroglycerine. We could
hear them as they came. They made a roar in the air which
sounded at first like an approaching express train, but which rapidly
rose in volume until the atmosphere quivered with the howl of a
cyclone. Then would come an explosion which jarred the city to its
very foundations.

Over the shivering earth rolled great clouds of dust and smoke.
When one of these terrible projectiles struck a building it did not
merely tear away the upper stories or blow a gaping aperture in its
walls: the whole building crumbled, disintegrated, collapsed, as
though flattened by a mighty hand. When they exploded in the open
street they not only tore a hole in the pavement the size of a cottage
cellar, but they sliced away the facades of all the houses in the
immediate vicinity, leaving their interiors exposed, like the interiors
upon a stage. Compared with the "forty-twos" the shell and shrapnel
fire of the first night's bombardment was insignificant and harmless.
The thickest masonry was crumpled up like so much cardboard.
The stoutest cellars were no protection if a shell struck above them.
It seemed as though at times the whole city was coming down about
our ears. Before the bombardment had been in progress a dozen
hours there was scarcely a street in the southern quarter of the city--
save only the district occupied by wealthy Germans, whose houses
remained untouched--which was not obstructed by heaps of fallen
masonry. The main thoroughfares were strewn with fallen electric
light and trolley wires and shattered poles and branches lopped
from trees. The sidewalks were carpeted with broken glass. The air
was heavy with the acrid fumes of smoke and powder. Abandoned
dogs howled mournfully before the doors of their deserted homes.
From a dozen quarters of the city columns of smoke by day and
pillars of fire by night rose against the sky.

Owing to circumstances--fortunate or unfortunate, as one chooses
to view them--I was not in Antwerp during the first night's
bombardment. You must understand that a war correspondent, no
matter how many thrilling and interesting things he may be able to
witness, is valueless to the paper which employs him unless he is
able to get to the end of a telegraph wire and tell the readers of that
newspaper what is happening. In other words, he must not only
gather the news but he must deliver it. Otherwise his usefulness
ceases. When, therefore, on Wednesday morning, the telegraph
service from Antwerp abruptly ended, all trains and boats stopped
running, and the city was completely cut off from communication
with the outside world, I left in my car for Ghent, where the telegraph
was still in operation, to file my dispatches. So dense was the mass
of retreating soldiery and fugitive civilians which blocked the
approaches to the pontoon-bridge, that it took me four hours to get
across the Scheldt, and another four hours, owing to the slow
driving necessitated by the terribly congested roads, to cover the
forty miles to Ghent. I had sent my dispatches, had had a hasty
dinner, and was on the point of starting back to Antwerp, when Mr.
Johnson, the American Consul at Ostend, called me up by
telephone. He told me that the Minister of War, then at Ostend, had
just sent him a package containing the keys of buildings and
dwellings belonging to German residents of Antwerp who had been
expelled at the beginning of the war, with the request that they be
transmitted to the German commander immediately the German
troops entered the city, as it was feared that, were these places
found to be locked, it might lead to the doors being broken open and
thus give the Germans a pretext for sacking. Mr. Johnson asked me
if I would remain in Ghent until he could come through in his car with
the keys and if I would assume the responsibility of seeing that the
keys reached the German commander. I explained to Mr. Johnson
that it was imperative that I should return to Antwerp immediately;
but when he insisted that, under the circumstances, it was clearly
my duty to take the keys through to Antwerp, I promised to await his
arrival, although by so doing I felt that I was imperilling the interests
of the newspaper which was employing me. Owing to the congested
condition of the roads Mr. Johnson was unable to reach Ghent until
Thursday morning.

By this time the highroad between Ghent and Antwerp was utterly
impassable--one might as well have tried to paddle a canoe up the
rapids at Niagara as to drive a car against the current of that river of
terrified humanity--so, taking advantage of comparatively empty by-
roads, I succeeded in reaching Doel, a fishing village on the Scheldt
a dozen miles below Antwerp, by noon on Thursday.

By means of alternate bribes and threats, Roos, my driver,
persuaded a boatman to take us up to Antwerp in a small motor-
launch over which, as a measure of precaution, I raised an
American flag. As long as memory lasts there will remain with me,
sharp and clear, the recollection of that journey up the Scheldt, the
surface of which was literally black with vessels with their loads of
silent misery. It was well into the afternoon and the second day's
bombardment was at its height when we rounded the final bend in
the river and the lace-like tower of the cathedral rose before us.
Shells were exploding every few seconds, columns of grey-green
smoke rose skyward, the air reverberated as though to a continuous
peal of thunder. As we ran alongside the deserted quays a shell
burst with a terrific crash in a street close by, and our boatman,
panic-stricken, suddenly reversed his engine and backed into the
middle of the river. Roos drew his pistol.

"Go ahead!" he commanded. "Run up to the quay so that we can
land." Before the grim menace of the automatic the man sullenly
obeyed.

"I've a wife and family at Doel," he muttered. "If I'm killed there'll be
no one to look after them."

"I've a wife and family in America," I retorted. "You're taking no more
chances than I am."

I am not in the least ashamed to admit, however, that as we ran
alongside the Red Star quays--the American flag was floating above
them, by the way--I would quite willingly have given everything I
possessed to have been back on Broadway again. A great city
which has suddenly been deserted by its population is inconceivably
depressing. Add to this the fact that every few seconds a shell
would burst somewhere behind the row of buildings that screened
the waterfront, and that occasionally one would clear the house-tops
altogether and, moaning over our heads, would drop into the river
and send up a great geyser, and you will understand that Antwerp
was not exactly a cheerful place in which to land. There was not a
soul to be seen anywhere. Such of the inhabitants as remained had
taken refuge in their cellars, and just at that time a deep cellar would
have looked extremely good to me. On the other hand, as I argued
with myself there was really an exceedingly small chance of a shell
exploding on the particular spot where I happened to be standing,
and if it did--well, it seemed more dignified, somehow, to be killed in
the open than to be crushed to death in a cellar like a cornered rat.

About ten o'clock in the evening the bombardment slackened for a
time and the inhabitants of Antwerp's underworld began to creep out
of their subterranean hiding-places and slink like ghosts along the
quays in search of food. The great quantities of food-stuffs and
other provisions which had been taken from the captured German
vessels at the beginning of the war had been stored in hastily-
constructed warehouses upon the quays, and it was not long before
the rabble, undeterred by the fear of the police and willing to chance
the shells, had broken in the doors and were looting to their hearts'
content. As a man staggered past under a load of wine bottles,
tinned goods and cheeses, our boatman, who by this time had
become reconciled to sticking by us, inquired wistfully if he might do
a little looting too. "We've no food left down the river," he urged,
"and I might just as well get some of those provisions for my
family as to let the Germans take them." Upon my assenting he
disappeared into the darkness of the warehouse with a hand-truck.
He was not the sort who did his looting by retail, was that boatman.

By midnight Roos and I were shivering as though with ague, for the
night had turned cold, we had no coats, and we had been without
food since leaving Ghent that morning. "I'm going to do a little
looting on my own account." I finally announced. "I'm half frozen and
almost starved and I'm not going to stand around here while there's
plenty to eat and drink over in that warehouse." I groped my way
through the blackness to the doorway and entering, struck a match.
By its flickering light I saw a case filled with bottles in straw casings.
From their shape they looked to be bottles of champagne. I reached
for one eagerly, but just as my fingers closed about it a shell burst
overhead. At least the crash was so terrific that it seemed as though
it had burst overhead, though I learned afterward that it had
exploded nearly a hundred yards away. I ran for my life, clinging,
however, to the bottle. "At any rate, I've found something to drink," I
said to Roos exultantly, when my heart had ceased its pounding.
Slipping off the straw cover I struck a match to see the result of my
maiden attempt at looting. I didn't particularly care whether it was
wine or brandy. Either would have tasted good. It was neither. It was
a bottle of pepsin bitters!

At daybreak we started at full speed down the river for Doel, where
we had left the car, as it was imperative that I should get to the end
of a telegraph wire, file my dispatches, and get back to the city.
They told me at Doel that the nearest telegraph office was at a little
place called L'Ecluse, on the Dutch frontier, ten miles away. We
were assured that there was a good road all the way and that we
could get there and back in an hour. So we could have in ordinary
times, but these were extraordinary times and the Belgians, in order
to make things as unpleasant as possible for the Germans, had
opened the dykes and had begun to inundate the country. When we
were about half-way to L'Ecluse, therefore, we found our way barred
by a miniature river and no means of crossing it. It was in such
circumstances that Roos was invaluable. Collecting a force of
peasants, he set them to work chopping down trees and with these
trees we built a bridge sufficiently strong to support the weight of the
car. Thus we came into L'Ecluse.

But when the stolid Dutchman in charge of the telegraph office saw
my dispatches he shrugged his shoulders discouragingly. "It is not
possible to send them from here," he explained. "We have no
instrument here but have to telephone everything to Hulst, eight
miles away. As I do not understand English it would be impossible to
telephone your dispatches." There seemed nothing for it but to walk
to Hulst and back again, for the Dutch officials refused to permit me
to take the car, which was a military one, across the frontier. Just at
that moment a young Belgian priest--Heaven bless him!--who had
overheard the discussion, approached me. "If you will permit me,
monsieur," said he, "I will be glad to take your dispatches through to
Hulst myself. I understand their importance. And it is well that the
people in England and in America should learn what is happening
here in Belgium and how bitterly we need their aid." Those
dispatches were, I believe, the only ones to come out of Antwerp
during the bombardment. The fact that the newspaper readers in
London and New York and San Francisco were enabled to learn
within a few hours of what had happened in the great city on the
Scheldt was due, not to any efforts of mine, but to this little Belgian
priest.

But when we got back to Doel the launch was gone. The boatman,
evidently not relishing another taste of bombardment, had
decamped, taking his launch with him. And neither offers of money
nor threats nor pleadings could obtain me another one. For a time it
looked as though getting back to Antwerp was as hopeless as
getting to the moon. Just as I was on the point of giving up in
despair, Roos appeared with a gold-laced official whom he
introduced as the chief quarantine officer. "He is going to let you
take the quarantine launch," said he. I don't know just what
arguments Roos had brought to bear, and I was careful not to
inquire, but ten minutes later I was sitting in lonely state on the after-
deck of a trim black yacht and we were streaking it up the river at
twenty miles an hour. As I knew that the fall of the city was only a
matter of hours, I refused to let Roos accompany me and take the
chances of being made a prisoner by the Germans, but ordered him
instead to take the car, while there was yet time, and make his way
to Ostend. I never saw him again. By way of precaution, in case the
Germans should already be in possession of the city, I had taken
the two American flags from the car and hoisted them on the
launch, one from the mainmast and the other at the taffrail. It was a
certain satisfaction to know that the only craft that went the wrong
way of the river during the bombardment flew the Stars and Stripes.
As we came within sight of the quays, the bombardment, which had
become intermittent, suddenly broke out afresh and I was
compelled to use both bribes and threats--the latter backed up by a
revolver--to induce the crew of the launch to run in and land me at
the quay. An hour after I landed the city surrendered.

The withdrawal of the garrison from Antwerp began on Thursday
and, everything considered, was carried out in excellent order, the
troops being recalled in units from the outer line, marched through
the city and across the pontoon-bridge which spans the Scheldt and
thence down the road to St. Nicolas to join the retreating field army.
What was implied in the actual withdrawal from contact with the
enemy will be appreciated when I explain the conditions which
existed. In places the lines were not two hundred yards apart and
for the defenders no movement was possible during the daylight.
Many of the men in the firing-line had been on duty for nearly a
hundred hours and were utterly worn out both mentally and
physically. Such water and food as they had were sent to them at
night, for any attempt to cross the open spaces in the daytime the
Germans met with fierce bursts of rifle and machine-gun fire. The
evacuation of the trenches was, therefore, a most difficult and
dangerous operation and that it was carried out with so
comparatively small loss speaks volumes for the ability of the
officers to whom the direction of the movement was entrusted, as
does the successful accomplishment of the retreat from Antwerp
into West Flanders along a road which was not only crowded with
refugees but was constantly threatened by the enemy. The chief
danger was, of course, that the Germans would cross the river at
Termonde in force and thus cut off the line of retreat towards the
coast, forcing the whole Belgian army and the British contingent
across the frontier of Holland. To the Belgian cavalry and carabineer
cyclists and to the armoured cars was given the task of averting this
catastrophe, and it is due to them that the Germans were held back
for a sufficient time to enable practically the whole of the forces
evacuating Antwerp to escape. That a large proportion of the British
Naval Reserve divisions were pushed across the frontier and
interned was not due to any fault of the Belgians, but, in some cases
at least, to their officer's misconception of the attitude of Holland.
Just as I was leaving Doel on my second trip up the river, a steamer
loaded to the guards with British naval reservists swung in to the
wharf, but, to my surprise, the men did not start to disembark. Upon
inquiring of some one where they were bound for I was told that they
were going to continue down the Scheldt to Terneuzen. Thereupon I
ordered the launch to run alongside and clambered aboard the
steamer.

"I understand," said I, addressing a group of officers who seemed to
be as much in authority as anyone, "that you are keeping on down
the river to Terneuzen? That is not true, is it?"

They looked at me as though I had walked into their club in Pall Mall
and had spoken to them without an introduction.

"It is," said one of them coldly. "What about it?"

"Oh, nothing much," said I, "except that three miles down this river
you'll be in Dutch territorial waters, whereupon you will all be
arrested and held as prisoners until the end of the war. It's really
none of my business, I know, but I feel that I ought to warn you."

"How very extraordinary," remarked one of them, screwing a
monocle into his eye. "We're not at war with Holland are we? So
why should the bally Dutchmen want to trouble us?"

There was no use arguing with them, so I dropped down the ladder

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