KINGS, QUEENS AND PAWNS
An American Woman at the Front
MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
FOR KING AND COUNTRY
I. TAKING A CHANCE
II. "SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE"
III. LA PANNE
IV. "'TWAS A FAMOUS VICTORY"
V. A TALK WITH THE KING OF THE BELGIANS
VI. THE CAUSE
VII. THE STORY WITH AN END
VIII. THE NIGHT RAID ON DUNKIRK
IX. NO MAN'S LAND
X. THE IRON DIVISION
XI. AT THE HOUSE OF THE BARRIER
XII. NIGHT IN THE TRENCHES
XIV. LADY DECIES' STORY
XV. RUNNING THE BLOCKADE
XVI. THE MAN OF YPRES
XVII. IN THE LINE OF THE "MITRAILLEUSE"
XVIII. FRENCH GUNS IN ACTION
XIX. "I NIBBLE THEM"
XX. DUNKIRK: FROM MY JOURNAL
XXI. TEA WITH THE AIR-FIGHTERS
XXII. THE WOMEN AT THE FRONT
XXIII. THE LITTLE "SICK AND SORRY" HOUSE
XXV. VOLUNTEERS AND PATRIOTS
XXVI. A LUNCHEON AT BRITISH HEADQUARTERS
XXVII. A STRANGE PARTY
XXVIII. SIR JOHN FRENCH
XXIX. ALONG THE GREAT BETHUNE ROAD
XXX. THE MILITARY SECRET
XXXI. QUEEN MARY OF ENGLAND
XXXII. THE QUEEN OF THE BELGIANS
XXXIII. THE RED BADGE OF MERCY
XXXIV. IN TERMS OF LIFE AND DEATH
XXXV. THE LOSING GAME
XXXVI. HOW AMERICANS CAN HELP
XXXVII. AN ARMY OF CHILDREN
KINGS, QUEENS AND PAWNS
KINGS, QUEENS AND PAWNS
FOR KING AND COUNTRY
March in England is spring. Early in the month masses of snowdrops
lined the paths in Hyde Park. The grass was green, the roads hard and
dry under the eager feet of Kitchener's great army. For months they
had been drilling, struggling with the intricacies of a new career,
working and waiting. And now it was spring, and soon they would be
off. Some had already gone.
"Lucky beggars!" said the ones who remained, and counted the days.
And waiting, they drilled. Everywhere there were squads: Scots in
plaid kilts with khaki tunics; less picturesque but equally imposing
regiments in the field uniform, with officers hardly distinguishable
from their men. Everywhere the same grim but cheerful determination to
get over and help the boys across the Channel to assist in holding
that more than four hundred miles of battle line against the invading
hosts of Germany.
Here in Hyde Park that spring day was all the panoply of war: bands
playing, the steady tramp of numberless feet, the muffled clatter of
accoutrements, the homage of the waiting crowd. And they deserved
homage, those fine, upstanding men, many of them hardly more than
boys, marching along with a fine, full swing. There is something
magnificent, a contagion of enthusiasm, in the sight of a great
volunteer army. The North and the South knew the thrill during our own
great war. Conscription may form a great and admirable machine, but it
differs from the trained army of volunteers as a body differs from a
soul. But it costs a country heavy in griefs, does a volunteer army;
for the flower of the country goes. That, too, America knows, and
England is learning.
They marched by gaily. The drums beat. The passers-by stopped. Here
and there an open carriage or an automobile drew up, and pale men,
some of them still in bandages, sat and watched. In their eyes was the
same flaming eagerness, the same impatience to get back, to be loosed
against the old lion's foes.
For King and Country!
All through England, all through France, all through that tragic
corner of Belgium which remains to her, are similar armies, drilling
and waiting, equally young, equally eager, equally resolute. And the
thing they were going to I knew. I had seen it in that mysterious
region which had swallowed up those who had gone before; in the
trenches, in the operating, rooms of field hospitals, at outposts
between the confronting armies where the sentries walked hand in hand
with death. I had seen it in its dirt and horror and sordidness, this
thing they were going to.
War is not two great armies meeting in a clash and frenzy of battle.
It is much more than that. War is a boy carried on a stretcher,
looking up at God's blue sky with bewildered eyes that are soon to
close; war is a woman carrying a child that has been wounded by a
shell; war is spirited horses tied in burning buildings and waiting
for death; war is the flower of a race, torn, battered, hungry,
bleeding, up to its knees in icy water; war is an old woman burning a
candle before the Mater Dolorosa for the son she has given. For King
TAKING A CHANCE
I started for the Continent on a bright day early in January. I was
searched by a woman from Scotland Yard before being allowed on the
platform. The pockets of my fur coat were examined; my one piece of
baggage, a suitcase, was inspected; my letters of introduction were
opened and read.
"Now, Mrs. Rinehart," she said, straightening, "just why are you
I told her exactly half of why I was going. I had a shrewd idea that
the question in itself meant nothing. But it gave her a good chance to
look at me. She was a very clever woman.
And so, having been discovered to be carrying neither weapons nor
seditious documents, and having an open and honest eye, I was allowed
to go through the straight and narrow way that led to possible
destruction. Once or twice, later on, I blamed that woman for letting
me through. I blamed myself for telling only half of my reasons for
going. Had I told her all she would have detained me safely in
England, where automobiles sometimes go less than eighty miles an
hour, and where a sharp bang means a door slamming in the wind and not
a shell exploding, where hostile aeroplanes overhead with bombs and
unpleasant little steel darts, were not always between one's eyes and
heaven. She let me through, and I went out on the platform.
The leaving of the one-o'clock train from Victoria Station, London, is
an event and a tragedy. Wounded who have recovered are going back;
soldiers who have been having their week at home are returning to that
mysterious region across the Channel, the front.
Not the least of the British achievements had been to transport,
during the deadlock of the first winter of the war, almost the entire
army, in relays, back to England for a week's rest. It had been done
without the loss of a man, across a channel swarming with hostile
submarines. They came in thousands, covered with mud weary, eager,
their eyes searching the waiting crowd for some beloved face. And
those who waited and watched as the cars emptied sometimes wept with
joy and sometimes turned and went away alone.
Their week over, rested, tidy, eyes still eager but now turned toward
France, the station platform beside the one-o'clock train was filled
with soldiers going back. There were few to see them off; there were
not many tears. Nothing is more typical of the courage and patriotism
of the British women than that platform beside the one-o'clock train
at Victoria. The crowd was shut out by ropes and Scotland Yard men
stood guard. And out on the platform, saying little because words are
so feeble, pacing back and forth slowly, went these silent couples.
They did not even touch hands. One felt that all the unselfish
stoicism and restraint would crumble under the familiar touch.
The platform filled. Sir Purtab Singh, an Indian prince, with his
suite, was going back to the English lines. I had been a neighbour of
his at Claridge's Hotel in London. I caught his eye. It was filled
with cold suspicion. It said quite plainly that I could put nothing
over on him. But whether he suspected me of being a newspaper writer
or a spy I do not know.
Somehow, considering that the train was carrying a suspicious and
turbaned Indian prince, any number of impatient officers and soldiers,
and an American woman who was carefully avoiding the war office and
trying to look like a buyer crossing the Channel for hats, the whistle
for starting sounded rather inadequate. It was not martial. It was
thin, effeminate, absurd. And so we were off, moving slowly past that
line on the platform, where no one smiled; where grief and tragedy, in
that one revealing moment, were written deep. I shall never forget the
faces of the women as the train crept by.
And now the train was well under way. The car was very quiet. The
memory of those faces on the platform was too fresh. There was a brown
and weary officer across from me. He sat very still, looking straight
ahead. Long after the train had left London, and was moving smoothly
through the English fields, so green even in winter, he still sat in
the same attitude.
I drew a long breath, and ordered luncheon. I was off to the war. I
might be turned back at Folkstone. There was more than a chance that I
might not get beyond Calais, which was under military law. But at
least I had made a start.
This is a narrative of personal experience. It makes no pretensions,
except to truth. It is pure reporting, a series of pictures, many of
them disconnected, but all authentic. It will take a hundred years to
paint this war on one canvas. A thousand observers, ten thousand, must
record what they have seen. To the reports of trained men must be
added a bit here and there from these untrained observers, who without
military knowledge, ignorant of the real meaning of much that they
saw, have been able to grasp only a part of the human significance of
the great tragedy of Europe.
I was such an observer.
My errand was primarily humane, to visit the hospitals at or near the
front, and to be able to form an opinion of what supplies were needed,
of conditions generally. Rumour in America had it that the medical and
surgical situation was chaotic. Bands of earnest and well-intentioned
people were working quite in the dark as to the conditions they hoped
to relieve. And over the hospital situation, as over the military,
brooded the impenetrable silence that has been decreed by the Allies
since the beginning of the war. I had met everywhere in America tales
from both the German and the Allies' lines that had astounded me. It
seemed incredible that such conditions could exist in an age of
surgical enlightenment; that, even in an unexpected and unprepared-for
war, modern organisation and efficiency should have utterly failed.
On the steamer crossing the Atlantic, with the ship speeding on her
swift and rather precarious journey windows and ports carefully closed
and darkened, one heard the same hideous stories: of tetanus in
uncounted cases, of fearful infections, of no bandages—worst of all,
of no anæsthetics.
I was a member of the American Red Cross Association, but I knew that
the great work of the American Red Cross was in sending supplies. The
comparatively few nurses they had sent to the western field of war
were not at the front or near it. The British, French, Belgian and
Dutch nursing associations were in charge of the field hospitals, so
far as I could discover.
To see these hospitals, to judge and report conditions, then, was a
part of my errand. Only a part, of course; for I had another purpose.
I knew nothing of strategy or tactics, of military movements and their
significance. I was not interested in them particularly. But I meant
to get, if it was possible, a picture of this new warfare that would
show it for the horror that it is; a picture that would give pause to
that certain percentage of the American people that is always so eager
to force a conservative government into conflict with other nations.
There were other things to learn. What was France doing? The great
sister republic had put a magnificent army into the field. Between
France and the United States were many bonds, much reciprocal good
feeling. The Statue of Liberty, as I went down the bay, bespoke the
kindly feeling between the two republics. I remembered Lafayette.
Battle-scarred France, where liberty has fought so hard for life—what
was France doing? Not saying much, certainly. Fighting, surely, as the
French have always fought. For certainly England, with her gallant but
at that time meagre army, was not fighting alone the great war.
But there were three nations fighting the allied cause in the west.
What had become of the heroic Belgian Army? Was it resting on its
laurels? Having done its part, was it holding an honorary position in
the great line-up? Was it a fragment or an army, an entity or a
The newspapers were full of details that meant nothing: names of
strange villages, movements backward and forward as the long battle
line bent and straightened again. But what was really happening beyond
the barriers that guarded the front so jealously? How did the men live
under these new and strange conditions? What did they think? Or fear?
Great lorries and transports went out from the French coast towns and
disappeared beyond the horizon; motor ambulances and hospital trains
came in with the grim harvest. Men came and, like those who had gone
before, they too went out and did not come back. "Somewhere in
France," the papers said. Such letters as they wrote came from
"somewhere in France." What was happening then, over there, beyond the
horizon, "somewhere in France"?
And now that I have been beyond the dead line many of these questions
have answered themselves. France is saying nothing, and fighting
magnificently, Belgium, with two-thirds of her army gone, has still
fifty thousand men, and is preparing two hundred thousand more.
Instead of merely an honorary position, she is holding tenaciously,
against repeated onslaughts and under horrible conditions, the flooded
district between Nieuport and Dixmude. England, although holding only
thirty-two miles of front, beginning immediately south of Ypres, is
holding that line against some of the most furious fighting of the
war, and is developing, at the same time, an enormous fighting machine
for the spring movement.[A]
[Footnote A: This is written of conditions in the early spring of
1915. Although the relative positions of the three armies are the
same, the British are holding a considerably longer frontage.]
The British soldier is well equipped, well fed, comfortably
transported. When it is remembered that England is also assisting to
equip all the allied armies, it will be seen that she is doing much
more than holding the high seas.
To see the wounded, then; to follow the lines of hospital trains to
that mysterious region, the front; to see the men in the trenches and
in their billets; to observe their morale, the conditions under
which they lived—and died. It was too late to think of the cause of
the war or of the justice or injustice of that cause. It will never be
too late for its humanities and inhumanities, its braveries and its
occasional flinchings, its tragedies and its absurdities.
It was through the assistance of the Belgian Red Cross that I got out
of England and across the Channel. I visited the Anglo-Belgian
Committee at its quarters in the Savoy Hotel, London, and told them of
my twofold errand. They saw at once the point I made. America was
sending large amounts of money and vast quantities of supplies to the
Belgians on both sides of the line. What was being done in interned
Belgium was well known. But those hospital supplies and other things
shipped to Northern France were swallowed up in the great silence. The
war would not be ended in a day or a month.
"Let me see conditions as they really are," I said. "It is no use
telling me about them. Let me see them. Then I can tell the American
people what they have already done in the war zone, and what they may
be asked to do."
Through a piece of good luck Doctor Depage, the president, had come
across the Channel to a conference, and was present. A huge man, in
the uniform of a colonel of the Belgian Army, with a great military
cape, he seemed to fill and dominate the little room.
They conferred together in rapid French.
"Where do you wish to go?" I was asked.
"Hospitals are not always cheerful to visit."
"I am a graduate of a hospital training-school. Also a member of the
American Red Cross."
They conferred again.
"Madame will not always be comfortable—over there."
"I don't want to be comfortable," I said bravely.
Another conference. The idea was a new one; it took some mental
readjustment. But their cause was just, and mingled with their desire
to let America know what they were doing was a justifiable pride. They
knew what I was to find out—that one of the finest hospitals in the
world, as to organisation, equipment and results, was situated almost
under the guns of devastated Nieuport, so close that the roar of
artillery is always in one's ears.
I had expected delays, a possible refusal. Everyone had encountered
delays of one sort and another. Instead, I found a most courteous and
agreeable permission given. I was rather dazed. And when, a day or so
later, through other channels, I found myself in possession of letters
to the Baron de Broqueville, Premier and Minister of War for Belgium,
and to General Melis, Inspector General of the Belgian Army Medical
Corps, I realised that, once in Belgian territory, my troubles would
probably be at an end.
For getting out of England I put my faith in a card given me by the
Belgian Red Cross. There are only four such cards in existence, and
mine was number four.
From Calais to La Panne! If I could get to Calais I could get to the
front, for La Panne is only four miles from Nieuport, where the
confronting lines of trenches begin. But Calais was under military
law. Would I be allowed to land?
Such writers as reached there were allowed twenty-four hours, and were
then shipped back across the Channel or to some innocuous destination
south. Yet this little card, if all went well, meant the privilege of
going fifty miles northeast to the actual front. True, it gave no
chance for deviation. A mile, a hundred feet off the straight and
tree-lined road north to La Panne, and I should be arrested. But the
time to think about that would come later on.
As a matter of fact, I have never been arrested. Except in the
hospitals, I was always practically where I had no business to be. I
had a room in the Hôtel des Arcades, in Dunkirk, for weeks, where,
just round the corner, the police had closed a house for a month as a
punishment because a room had been rented to a correspondent. The
correspondent had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but had
been released after five weeks. I was frankly a writer. I was almost
aggressively a writer. I wrote down carefully and openly everything I
saw. I made, but of course under proper auspices and with the
necessary permits, excursions to the trenches from Nieuport to the La
Bassée region and Béthune, along Belgian, French and English lines,
always openly, always with a notebook. And nothing happened!
As my notebook became filled with data I grew more and more anxious,
while the authorities grew more calm. Suppose I fell into the hands of
the Germans! It was a large notebook, filled with much information. I
could never swallow the thing, as officers are supposed to swallow the
password slips in case of capture. After a time the general spy alarm
got into my blood. I regarded the boy who brought my morning coffee
with suspicion, and slept with my notes under my pillow. And nothing
I had secured my passport visé at the French and Belgian Consulates,
and at the latter legation was able also to secure a letter asking the
civil and military authorities to facilitate my journey. The letter
had been requested for me by Colonel Depage.
It was almost miraculously easy to get out of England. It was almost
suspiciously easy. My passport frankly gave the object of my trip as
"literary work." Perhaps the keen eyes of the inspectors who passed me
onto the little channel boat twinkled a bit as they examined it.
The general opinion as to the hopelessness of my trying to get nearer
than thirty miles to the front had so communicated itself to me that
had I been turned back there on the quay at Folkstone, I would have
been angry, but hardly surprised.
Not until the boat was out in the channel did I feel sure that I was
to achieve even this first leg of the journey.
Even then, all was not well. With Folkstone and the war office well
behind, my mind turned to submarines as a sunflower to the sun.
Afterward I found that the thing to do is not to think about
submarines. To think of politics, or shampoos, or of people one does
not like, but not of submarines. They are like ghosts in that respect.
They are perfectly safe and entirely innocuous as long as one thinks
of something else.
And something went wrong almost immediately.
It was imperative that I get to Calais. And the boat, which had
intended making Calais, had had a report of submarines and headed for
Boulogne. This in itself was upsetting. To have, as one may say, one's
teeth set for Calais, and find one is biting on Boulogne, is not
agreeable. I did not want Boulogne. My pass was from Calais. I had
visions of waiting in Boulogne, of growing old and grey waiting, or of
trying to walk to Calais and being turned back, of being locked in a
cow stable and bedded down on straw. For fear of rousing hopes that
must inevitably be disappointed, again nothing happened.
There were no other women on board: only British officers and the
turbaned and imposing Indians. The day was bright, exceedingly cold.
The boat went at top speed, her lifeboats slung over the sides and
ready for lowering. There were lookouts posted everywhere. I did not
think they attended to their business. Every now and then one lifted
his head and looked at the sky or at the passengers. I felt that I
should report him. What business had he to look away from the sea? I
went out to the bow and watched for periscopes. There were black
things floating about. I decided that they were not periscopes, but
mines. We went very close to them. They proved to be buoys marking the
I hated to take my eyes off the sea, even for a moment. If you have
ever been driven at sixty miles an hour over a bad road, and felt that
if you looked away the car would go into the ditch, and if you will
multiply that by the exact number of German submarines and then add
the British Army, you will know how I felt.
Afterward I grew accustomed to the Channel crossing. I made it four
times. It was necessary for me to cross twice after the eighteenth of
February, when the blockade began. On board the fated Arabic, later
sunk by a German submarine, I ran the blockade again to return to
America. It was never an enjoyable thing to brave submarine attack,
but one develops a sort of philosophy. It is the same with being under
fire. The first shell makes you jump. The second you speak of,
commenting with elaborate carelessness on where it fell. This is a
gain over shell number one, when you cannot speak to save your life.
The third shell you ignore, and the fourth you forget about—if you
Seeing me alone the captain asked me to the canvas shelter of the
bridge. I proceeded to voice my protest at our change of destination.
He apologised, but we continued to Boulogne.
"What does a periscope look like?" I asked. "I mean, of course, from
"Depends on how much of it is showing. Sometimes it's only about the
size of one of those gulls. It's hard to tell the difference."
I rather suspect that captain now. There were many gulls sitting on
the water. I had been looking for something like a hitching post
sticking up out of the water. Now my last vestige of pleasure and
confidence was gone. I went almost mad trying to watch all the gulls
"What will you do if you see a submarine?'
"Run it down," said the captain calmly. "That's the only chance we've
got. That is, if we see the boat itself. These little Channel steamers
make about twenty-six knots, and the submarine, submerged, only about
half of that. Sixteen is the best they can do on the surface. Run them
down and sink them, that's my motto."
"What about a torpedo?"
"We can see them coming. It will be hard to torpedo this boat—she
goes too fast."
Then and there he explained to me the snowy wake of the torpedo, a
white path across the water; the mechanism by which it is kept true to
its course; the detonator that explodes it. From nervousness I shifted
to enthusiasm. I wanted to see the white wake. I wanted to see the
Channel boat dodge it. My sporting blood was up. I was willing to take
a chance. I felt that if there was a difficulty this man would escape
it. I turned and looked back at the khaki-coloured figures on the deck
Taking a chance! They were all taking a chance. And there was one, an
officer, with an empty right sleeve. And suddenly what for an
enthusiastic moment, in that bracing sea air, had seemed a game,
became the thing that it is, not a game, but a deadly and cruel war. I
never grew accustomed to the tragedy of the empty sleeve. And as if to
accentuate this thing toward which I was moving so swiftly, the
British Red Cross ship, from Boulogne to Folkstone, came in sight,
hurrying over with her wounded, a great white boat, garnering daily
her harvest of wounded and taking them "home."
Land now—a grey-white line that is the sand dunes at Ambleteuse,
north of Boulogne. I knew Ambleteuse. It gave a sense of strangeness
to see the old tower at the water's edge loom up out of the sea. The
sight of land was comforting, but vigilance was not relaxed. The
attacks of submarines have been mostly made not far outside the
harbours, and only a few days later that very boat was to make a
sensational escape just outside the harbour of Boulogne.
All at once it was twilight, the swift dusk of the sea. The boat
warped in slowly. I showed my passport, and at last I was on French
soil. North and east, beyond the horizon, lay the thing I had come to
"SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE"
Many people have seen Boulogne and have written of what they have
seen: the great hotels that are now English hospitals; the crowding of
transport wagons; the French signs, which now have English signs added
to them; the mixture of uniforms—English khaki and French blue; the
white steamer waiting at the quay, with great Red Crosses on her snowy
funnels. Over everything, that first winter of the war, hung the damp
chill of the Continental winter, that chill that sinks in and never
leaves, that penetrates fur and wool and eats into the spirit like an
I got through the customs without much difficulty. I had a large
package of cigarettes for the soldiers, for given his choice, food or
a smoke, the soldier will choose the latter. At last after much talk I
got them in free of duty. And then I was footfree.
Here again I realise that I should have encountered great
difficulties. I should at least have had to walk to Calais, or to have
slept, as did one titled Englishwoman I know, in a bathtub. I did
neither. I took a first-class ticket to Calais, and waited round the
station until a train should go.
And then I happened on one of the pictures that will stand out always
in my mind. Perhaps it was because I was not yet inured to suffering;
certainly I was to see many similar scenes, much more of the flotsam
and jetsam of the human tide that was sweeping back and forward over
the flat fields of France and Flanders.
A hospital train had come in, a British train. The twilight had
deepened into night. Under the flickering arc lamps, in that cold and
dismal place, the train came to a quiet stop. Almost immediately it
began to unload. A door opened and a British nurse alighted. Then
slowly and painfully a man in a sitting position slid forward, pushing
himself with his hands, his two bandaged feet held in the air. He sat
at the edge of the doorway and lowered his feet carefully until they
"Frozen feet from the trenches," said a man standing beside me.
The first man was lifted down and placed on a truck, and his place was
filled immediately by another. As fast as one man was taken another
came. The line seemed endless. One and all, their faces expressed keen
apprehension, lest some chance awkwardness should touch or jar the
tortured feet. Ten at a time they were wheeled away. And still they
came and came, until perhaps two hundred had been taken off. But now
something else was happening. Another car of badly wounded was being
unloaded. Through the windows could be seen the iron framework on
which the stretchers, three in a tier, were swung.
Halfway down the car a wide window was opened, and two tall
lieutenants, with four orderlies, took their places outside. It was
very silent. Orders were given in low tones. The muffled rumble of the
trucks carrying the soldiers with frozen feet was all that broke the
quiet, and soon they, too, were gone; and there remained only the six
men outside, receiving with hands as gentle as those of women the
stretchers so cautiously worked over the window sill to them. One by
one the stretchers came; one by one they were added to the lengthening
line that lay prone on the stone flooring beside the train. There was
not a jar, not an unnecessary motion. One great officer, very young,
took the weight of the end as it came toward him, and lowered it with
marvellous gentleness as the others took hold. He had a trick of the
wrist that enabled him to reach up, take hold and lower the stretcher,
without freeing his hands. He was marvellously strong, marvellously
The stretchers were laid out side by side. Their occupants did not
speak or move. It was as if they had reached their limit of endurance.
They lay with closed eyes, or with impassive, upturned faces, swathed
in their brown blankets against the chill. Here and there a knitted
neck scarf had been loosely wrapped about a head. All over America
women were knitting just such scarfs.
And still the line grew. The car seemed inexhaustible of horrors. And
still the young lieutenant with the tender hands and the strong wrists
took the onus of the burden, the muscles of his back swelling under
his khaki tunic. If I were asked to typify the attitude of the British
Army and of the British people toward their wounded, I should point to
that boy. Nothing that I know of in history can equal the care the
English are taking of their wounded in this, the great war. They have,
of course, the advantage of the best nursing system in Europe.
France is doing her best, but her nursing had always been in the hands
of nuns, and there are not nearly enough nuns in France to-day to cope
with the situation. Belgium, with some of the greatest surgeons in the
world, had no organised nursing system when war broke out. She is
largely dependent apparently on the notable work of her priests, and
on English and Dutch nurses.
When my train drew out, the khaki-clad lieutenant and his assistants
were still at work. One car was emptied. They moved on to a second.
Other willing hands were at work on the line that stretched along the
stone flooring, carrying the wounded to ambulances, but the line
seemed hardly to shrink. Always the workers inside the train brought
another stretcher and yet another. The rumble of the trucks had
ceased. It was very cold. I could not look any longer.
It took three hours to go the twenty miles to Calais, from six o'clock
to nine. I wrapped myself in my fur coat. Two men in my compartment
slept comfortably. One clutched a lighted cigarette. It burned down
close to his fingers. It was fascinating to watch. But just when it
should have provided a little excitement he wakened. It was
We drifted into conversation, the gentleman of the cigarette and I. He
was an Englishman from a London newspaper. He was counting on his luck
to get him into Calais and his wit to get him out. He told me his
name. Just before I left France I heard of a highly philanthropic and
talented gentleman of the same name who was unselfishly going through
the hospitals as near the front as he could, giving a moving-picture
entertainment to the convalescent soldiers. I wish him luck; he
deserves it. And I am sure he is giving a good entertainment. His wit
had got him out of Calais!
Calais at last, and the prospect of food. Still greater comfort, here
my little card became operative. I was no longer a refugee, fleeing
and hiding from the stern eyes of Lord Kitchener and the British War
Office. I had come into my own, even to supper.
I saw no English troops that night. The Calais station was filled with
French soldiers. The first impression, after the trim English uniform,
was not particularly good. They looked cold, dirty, unutterably weary.
Later, along the French front, I revised my early judgment. But I have
never reconciled myself to the French uniform, with its rather
slovenly cut, or to the tendency of the French private soldier to
allow his beard to grow. It seems a pity that both French and
Belgians, magnificent fighters that they are, are permitted this
slackness in appearance. There are no smarter officers anywhere than
the French and Belgian officers, but the appearance of their troops
en masse is not imposing.
Later on, also, a close inspection of the old French uniform revealed
it as made of lighter cloth than the English, less durable, assuredly
less warm. The new grey-blue uniform is much heavier, but its colour
is questionable. It should be almost invisible in the early morning
mists, but against the green of spring and summer, or under the
magnesium flares—called by the English "starlights"—with which the
Germans illuminate the trenches of the Allies during the night, it
appeared to me that it would be most conspicuous.
I have before me on my writing table a German fatigue cap. Under the
glare of my electric lamp it fades, loses colour and silhouette, is
eclipsed. I have tried it in sunlight against grass. It does the same
thing. A piece of the same efficient management that has distributed
white smocks and helmet covers among the German troops fighting in the
rigours of Poland, to render them invisible against the snow!
Calais then, with food to get and an address to find. For Doctor
Depage had kindly arranged a haven for me. Food, of a sort, I got at
last. The hotel dining room was full of officers. Near me sat fourteen
members of the aviation corps, whose black leather coats bore, either
on left breast or left sleeve, the outspread wings of the flying
division. There were fifty people, perhaps, and two waiters, one a
pale and weary boy. The food was bad, but the crisp French bread was
delicious. Perhaps nowhere in the world is the bread average higher
than in France—just as in America, where fancy breads are at their
best, the ordinary wheat loaf is, taking the average, exceedingly
Calais was entirely dark. The Zeppelin attack, which took place four
or five weeks later, was anticipated, and on the night of my arrival
there was a general feeling that the birthday of the German Emperor
the next day would produce something spectacular in the way of an air
raid. That explained, possibly, the presence so far from the
front—fifty miles from the nearest point—of so many flying men.
As my French conversational powers are limited, I had some difficulty
in securing a vehicle. This was explained later by the discovery the
next day that no one is allowed on the streets of Calais after ten
o'clock. Nevertheless I secured a hack, and rode blithely and
unconsciously to the house where I was to spend the night. I have lost
the address of that house. I wish I could remember it, for I left
there a perfectly good and moderately expensive pair of field glasses.
I have been in Calais since, and have had the wild idea of driving
about the streets until I find it and my glasses. But a close scrutiny
of the map of Calais has deterred me. Age would overtake me, and I
should still be threading the maze of those streets, seeking an old
house in an old garden, both growing older all the time.
A very large house it was, large and cold. I found that I was
expected; but an air of unreality hung over everything. I met three or
four most kindly Belgian people of whom I knew nothing and who knew
nothing of me. I did not know exactly why I was there, and I am sure
the others knew less. I went up to my room in a state of bewilderment.
It was a huge room without a carpet, and the tiny fire refused to
light. There was a funeral wreath over the bed, with the picture of
the deceased woman in the centre. It was bitterly cold, and there was
a curious odor of disinfectants in the air.
By a window was a narrow black iron bed without a mattress. It looked
sinister. Where was the mattress? Had its last occupant died and the
mattress been burned? I sniffed about it; the odour of disinfectant
unmistakably clung to it. I do not yet know the story of that room or
of that bed. Perhaps there is no story. But I think there is. I put on
my fur coat and went to bed, and the lady of the wreath came in the
night and talked French to me.
I rose in the morning at seven degrees Centigrade and dressed. At
breakfast part of the mystery was cleared up. The house was being used
as a residence by the chief surgeon of the Ambulance Jeanne d'Arc, the
Belgian Red Cross hospital in Calais, and by others interested in the
Red Cross work. It was a dormitory also for the English nurses from
the ambulance. This explained, naturally, my being sent there, the
somewhat casual nature of the furnishing and the odour of
disinfectants. It does not, however, explain the lady of the wreath or
the black iron bed.
After breakfast some of the nurses came in from night duty at the
ambulance. I saw their bedroom, one directly underneath mine, with
four single beds and no pretence at comfort. It was cold, icy cold.
"You are very courageous," I said. "Surely this is not very
comfortable. I should think you might at least have a fire."
"We never think of a fire," a nurse said simply. "The best we can do
seems so little to what the men are doing, doesn't it?"
She was not young. Some one told me she had a son, a boy of nineteen,
in the trenches. She did not speak of him. But I have wondered since
what she must feel during those grisly hours of the night when the
ambulances are giving up their wounded at the hospital doors. No doubt
she is a tender nurse, for in every case she is nursing vicariously
that nineteen-year-old boy of hers in the trenches.
That morning I visited the various Calais hospitals. It was a bright
morning, sunny and cold. Lines of refugees with packs and bundles were
on their way to the quay.
The frightful congestion of the autumn of 1914 was over, but the
hospitals were all full. They were surgical hospitals, typhoid
hospitals, hospitals for injured civilians, hospital boats. One and
all they were preparing as best they could for the mighty conflict of
the spring, when each side expected to make its great onward movement.
As it turned out, the terrible fighting of the spring failed to break
the deadlock, but the preparations made by the hospitals were none too
great for the sad by-products of war.
The Belgian hospital question was particularly grave. To-day, several
months later, it is still a matter for anxious thought. In case the
Germans retire from Belgium the Belgians will find themselves in their
own land, it is true, but a land stripped of everything. It is for
this contingency that the Allies are preparing. In whichever direction
the line moves, the arrangements that have served during the impasse
of the past year will no longer answer. Portable field hospital
pavilions, with portable equipment, will be required. The destructive
artillery fire, with its great range, will leave no buildings intact
near the battle line.
One has only to follow the present line, fringed as it is with
destroyed or partially destroyed towns, to realise what the situation
will be if a successful offensive movement on the part of the Allies
drives the battle line back. Artillery fire leaves no buildings
standing. Even the roads become impassable,—masses of broken stone
with gaping holes, over which ambulances travel with difficulty.
From Calais to La Panne is fifty miles. Calais is under military law.
It is difficult to enter, almost impossible to leave in the direction
in which I wished to go. But here again the Belgian Red Cross achieved
the impossible. I was taken before the authorities, sharply
questioned, and in the end a pink slip was passed over to the official
of the Red Cross who was to take me to the front. I wish I could have
secured that pink slip, if only because of its apparent fragility and
its astounding wearing qualities. All told, between Calais and La
Panne it was inspected—texture, weight and reading matter, front and
reverse sides, upside down and under glass—by some several hundred
sentries, officials and petty highwaymen. It suffered everything but
attack by bayonet. I found myself repeating that way to madness of
Punch, brothers, punch with care,
Punch in the presence of the passenjaire,
A pink trip slip for a five-cent fare—
and so on.
Northeast then, in an open grey car with "Belgian Red Cross" on each
side of the machine. Northeast in a bitter wind, into a desolate and
almost empty country of flat fields, canals and roads bordered by
endless rows of trees bent forward like marching men. Northeast
through Gravelines, once celebrated of the Armada and now a
manufacturing city. It is curious to think that a part of the Armada
went ashore at Gravelines, and that, by the shifting of the English
Channel, it is now two miles inland and connected with the sea by a
ship canal. Northeast still, to Dunkirk.
From Calais to Gravelines there had been few signs of war—an
occasional grey lorry laden with supplies for the front; great
ambulances, also grey, and with a red cross on the top as a warning to
aëroplanes; now and then an armoured car. At Gravelines the country
took on a more forbidding appearance. Trenches flanked the roads,
which were partly closed here and there by overlapping earthworks, so
that the car must turn sharply to the left and then to the right to
get through. At night the passage is closed by barbed wire. In one
place a bridge was closed by a steel rope, which a sentry lowered
after another operation on the pink slip.
The landscape grew more desolate as the daylight began to fade, more
desolate and more warlike. There were platforms for lookouts here and
there in the trees, prepared during the early days of the war before
the German advance was checked. And there were barbed-wire
entanglements in the fields. I had always thought of a barbed-wire
entanglement as probably breast high. It was surprising to see them
only from eighteen inches to two feet in height. It was odd, too, to
think that most of the barbed wire had been made in America. Barbed
wire is playing a tremendous part in this war. The English say that
the Boers originated this use for it in the South African War.
Certainly much tragedy and an occasional bit of grim humour attach to
its present use.
With the fortified town of Dunkirk—or Dunkerque—came the real
congestion of war. The large square of the town was filled with
soldiers and marines. Here again were British uniforms, British
transports and ambulances. As a seaport for the Allied Armies in the
north, it was bustling with activity. The French and Belgians
predominated, with a sprinkling of Spahis on horseback and Turcos. An
air of activity, of rapid coming and going, filled the town. Despatch
riders on motor cycles, in black leather uniforms with black leather
hoods, flung through the square at reckless speed. Battered
automobiles, their glass shattered by shells, mud guards crumpled,
coated with clay and riddled with holes, were everywhere, coming and
going at the furious pace I have since learned to associate with war.
And over all, presiding in heroic size in the centre of the Square,
the statue of Jean Bart, Dunkirk's privateer and pirate, now come into
his own again, was watching with interest the warlike activities of
the Square. Things have changed since the days of Jean Bart, however.
The cutlass that hangs by his side would avail him little now. The
aeroplane bombs that drop round him now and then, and the processions
of French "seventy-five" guns that rumble through the Square, must
puzzle him. He must feel rather a piker in this business of modern
Dunkirk is generally referred to as the "front." It is not, however.
It is near enough for constant visits from German aeroplanes, and has
been partially destroyed by German guns, firing from a distance of
more than twenty miles. But the real line begins fifteen miles farther
along the coast at Nieuport.
So we left Dunkirk at once and continued toward La Panne. A drawbridge
in the wall guards the road out of the city in that direction. And
here for the first time the pink slip threatened to fail us. The Red
Cross had been used by spies sufficiently often to cover us with cold
suspicion. And it was worse than that. Women were not allowed, under
any circumstances, to go in that direction—a new rule, being enforced
with severity. My little card was produced and eyed with hostility.
My name was assuredly of German origin. I got out my passport and
pointed to the picture on it. It had been taken hastily in Washington
for passport purposes, and there was a cast in the left eye. I have no
cast in the left eye. Timid attempts to squint with that eye failed.
But at last the officer shrugged his shoulders and let us go. The two
sentries who had kept their rifles pointed at me lowered them to a
more comfortable angle. A temporary sense of cold down my back retired
again to my feet, whence it had risen. We went over the ancient
drawbridge, with its chains by which it may be raised, and were free.
But our departure was without enthusiasm. I looked back. Some eight
sentries and officers were staring after us and muttering among
Afterward I crossed that bridge many times. They grew accustomed to
me, but they evidently thought me quite mad. Always they protested and
complained, until one day the word went round that the American lady
had been received by the King. After that I was covered with the
mantle of royalty. The sentries saluted as I passed. I was of the
There were other sentries until the Belgian frontier was passed. After
that there was no further challenging. The occasional distant roar of
a great gun could be heard, and two French aeroplanes, winging home
after a reconnaissance over the German lines, hummed overhead. Where
between Calais and Dunkirk there had been an occasional peasant's cart
in the road or labourer in the fields, now the country was deserted,
save for long lines of weary soldiers going to their billets, lines
that shuffled rather than marched. There was no drum to keep them in
step with its melancholy throbbing. Two by two, heads down, laden with
intrenching tools in addition to their regular equipment, grumbling as
the car forced them off the road into the mud that bordered it,
swathed beyond recognition against the cold and dampness, in the
twilight those lines of shambling men looked grim, determined,
"We are going through Furnes," said my companion. "It has been shelled
all day, but at dusk they usually stop. It is out of our way, but you
will like to see it."
I said I was perfectly willing, but that I hoped the Germans would
adhere to their usual custom. I felt all at once that, properly
conserved, a long and happy life might lie before me. I mentioned that
I was a person of no importance, and that my death would be of no
military advantage. And, as if to emphasise my peaceful fireside at
home, and dinner at seven o'clock with candles on the table, the fire
"Artillery," I said with conviction, "seems to me barbarous and
unnecessary. But in a moving automobile—"
It was a wrong move. He hastened to tell me of people riding along
calmly in automobiles, and of the next moment there being nothing but
a hole in the road. Also he told me how shrapnel spread, scattering
death over large areas. If I had had an idea of dodging anything I saw
coming it vanished.
We went into the little town of Furnes. Nothing happened. Only one
shell was fired, and I have no idea where it fell. The town was a dead
town, its empty streets full of brick and glass. I grew quite calm and
expressed some anxiety about the tires. Although my throat was dry, I
was able to enunciate clearly! We dared not light the car lamps, and
our progress was naturally slow.
Furnes is not on the coast, but three miles inland. So we turned sharp
to the left toward La Panne, our destination, a small seaside resort
in times of peace, but now the capital of Belgium. It was dark now,
and the roads were congested with the movements of troops, some going
to the trenches, those out of the trenches going back to their billets
for twenty-four hours' rest, and the men who had been on rest moving
up as pickets or reserves. Even in the darkness it was easy to tell
the rested men from the ones newly relieved. Here were mostly
Belgians, and the little Belgian soldier is a cheery soul. He asks
very little, is never surly. A little food, a little sleep—on straw,
in a stable or a church—and he is happy again. Over and over, as I
saw the Belgian Army, I was impressed with its cheerfulness under
Most of them have been fighting since Liege. Of a hundred and fifty
thousand men only fifty thousand remain. Their ration is meagre
compared with the English and the French, their clothing worn and
ragged. They are holding the inundated district between Nieuport and
Dixmude, a region of constant struggle for water-soaked trenches,
where outposts at the time I was there were being fought for through
lakes of icy water filled with barbed wire, where their wounded fall
and drown. And yet they are inveterately cheerful. A brave lot, the
Belgian soldiers, brave and uncomplaining! It is no wonder that the
King of Belgium loves them, and that his eyes are tragic as he looks
La Panne at last, a straggling little town of one street and rows of
villas overlooking the sea. La Panne, with the guns of Nieuport
constantly in one's ears, and the low, red flash of them along the
sandy beach; with ambulances bringing in their wounded now that night
covers their movements; with English gunboats close to the shore and a
searchlight playing over the sea. La Panne, with just over the sand
dunes the beginning of that long line of trenches that extends south
and east and south again, four hundred and fifty miles of death.
It was two weeks and four days since I had left America, and less than
thirty hours since I boarded the one-o'clock train at Victoria
Station, London. Later on I beat the thirty-hour record twice, once
going from the Belgian front to England in six hours, and another time
leaving the English lines at Béthune, motoring to Calais, and arriving
in my London hotel the same night. Cars go rapidly over the French
roads, and the distance, measured by miles, is not great. Measured by
difficulties, it is a different story.
"'TWAS A FAMOUS VICTORY"
FROM MY JOURNAL:
LA PANNE, January 25th, 10 P.M.
I am at the Belgian Red Cross hospital to-night. Have had supper and
have been given a room on the top floor, facing out over the sea.
This is the base hospital for the Belgian lines. The men come here
with the most frightful injuries. As I entered the building to-night
the long tiled corridor was filled with the patient and quiet figures
that are the first fruits of war. They lay on portable cots, waiting
their turn in the operating rooms, the white coverings and bandages
not whiter than their faces.
11 P.M. The Night Superintendent has just been in to see me. She says
there is a baby here from Furnes with both legs off, and a nun who
lost an arm as she was praying in the garden of her convent. The baby
will live, but the nun is dying.
She brought me a hot-water bottle, for I am still chilled from my long
ride, and sat down for a moment's talk. She is English, as are most of
the nurses. She told me with tears in her eyes of a Dutch Red Cross
nurse who was struck by a shell in Furnes, two days ago, as she
crossed the street to her hospital, which was being evacuated. She was
"Her leg was shattered," she said. "So young and so pretty she was,
too! One of the surgeons was in love with her. It seemed as if he
could not let her die."
How terrible! For she died.
"But she had a casket," the Night Superintendent hastened to assure
me. "The others, of course, do not. And two of the nurses were
relieved to-day to go with her to the grave."
I wonder if the young surgeon went. I wonder—
The baby is near me. I can hear it whimpering.
Midnight. A man in the next room has started to moan. Good God, what a
place! He has shell in both lungs, and because of weakness had to be
operated on without an anæsthetic.
2 A.M. I cannot sleep. He is trying to sing "Tipperary."
English battleships are bombarding the German batteries at Nieuport
from the sea. The windows rattle all the time.
6 A.M. A new day now. A grey and forbidding dawn. Sentries every
hundred yards along the beach under my window. The gunboats are moving
out to sea. A number of French aeroplanes are scouting overhead.
The man in the next room is quiet.
* * * * *
Imagine one of our great seaside hotels stripped of its bands, its gay
crowds, its laughter. Paint its many windows white, with a red cross
in the centre of each one. Imagine its corridors filled with wounded
men, its courtyard crowded with ambulances, its parlours occupied by
convalescents who are blind or hopelessly maimed, its card room a
chapel trimmed with the panoply of death. For bathchairs and bathers
on the sands substitute long lines of weary soldiers drilling in the
rain and cold. And over all imagine the unceasing roar of great guns.
Then, but feebly, you will have visualised the Ambulance Ocean at La
Panne as I saw it that first winter of the war.
The town is built on the sand dunes, and is not unlike Ostend in
general situation; but it is hardly more than a village. Such trees as
there are grow out of the sand, and are twisted by the winds from the
sea. Their trunks are green with smooth moss. And over the dunes is
long grass, then grey and dry with winter, grass that was beaten under
the wind into waves that surge and hiss.
The beach is wide and level. There is no surf. The sea comes in in
long, flat lines of white that wash unheralded about the feet of the
cavalry horses drilling there. Here and there a fisherman's boat close
to the line of villas marks the limit of high tide; marks more than
that; marks the fisherman who has become a soldier; marks the end of
the peaceful occupations of the little town; marks the change from a
sea that was a livelihood to a sea that has become a menace and a
The beach at La Panne has its story. There are guns there now,
waiting. The men in charge of them wait, and, waiting, shiver in the
cold. And just a few minutes away along the sands there was a house
built by a German, a house whose foundation was a cemented site for a
gun. The house is destroyed now. It had been carefully located,
strategically, and built long before the war began. A gun on that
foundation would have commanded Nieuport.
Here, in six villas facing the sea, live King Albert and Queen
Elisabeth and their household, and here the Queen, grief-stricken at
the tragedy that has overtaken her innocent and injured people, visits
the hospital daily.
La Panne has not been bombarded. Hostile aëroplanes are always
overhead. The Germans undoubtedly know all about the town; but it has
not been touched. I do not believe that it will be. For one thing, it
is not at present strategically valuable. Much more important, Queen
Elisabeth is a Bavarian princess by birth. Quite aside from both
reasons, the outcry from the civilised world which would result from
injury to any member of the Belgian royal house, with the present
world-wide sympathy for Belgium, would make such an attack
And yet who knows? So much that was considered fundamental in the
ethics of modern warfare has gone by the board; so certainly is this
war becoming one of reprisals, of hate and venom, that before this is
published La Panne may have been destroyed, or its evacuation by the
royal family have been decided.
The contrast between Brussels and La Panne is the contrast between
Belgium as it was and as it is. The last time I was in Belgium, before
this war, I was in Brussels. The great modern city of three-quarters
of a million people had grown up round the ancient capital of Brabant.
Its name, which means "the dwelling on the marsh," dates from the
tenth century. The huge Palais de Justice is one of the most
remarkable buildings in the world.
Now in front of that great building German guns are mounted, and the
capital of Belgium is a fishing village on the sand dunes. The King of
Belgium has exchanged the magnificent Palais du Roi for a small and
cheaply built house—not that the democratic young King of Belgium
cares for palaces. But the contrast of the two pictures was impressed
on me that winter morning as I stood on the sands at La Panne and
looked at the royal villa. All round were sentries. The wind from the
sea was biting. It set the long grey grass to waving, and blew the
fine sand in clouds about the feet of the cavalry horses filing along
I was quite unmolested as I took photographs of the stirring scenes
about. It was the first daylight view I had had of the Belgian
soldiers. These were men on their twenty-four hours' rest, with a part
of the new army that was being drilled for the spring campaign. The
Belgian system keeps a man twenty-four hours in the trenches, gives
him twenty-four hours for rest well back from the firing line, and
then, moving him up to picket or reserve duty, holds him another
twenty-four hours just behind the trenches. The English system is
different. Along the English front men are four days in the trenches
and four days out. All movements, of course, are made at night.
The men I watched that morning were partly on rest, partly in reserve.
They were shabby, cold and cheery. I created unlimited surprise and
interest. They lined up eagerly to be photographed. One group I took
was gathered round a sack of potatoes, paring raw potatoes and eating
them. For the Belgian soldier is the least well fed of the three
armies in the western field. When I left, a good Samaritan had sent a
case or two of canned things to some of the regiments, and a favoured
few were being initiated into the joys of American canned baked beans.
They were a new sensation. To watch the soldiers eat them was a joy
and a delight.
I wish some American gentleman, tiring of storing up his treasures
only in heaven, would send a can or a case or a shipload of baked
beans to the Belgians. This is alliterative, but earnest. They can
heat them in the trenches in the cans; they can thrive on them and
fight on them. And when the cans are empty they can build fires in
them or hang them, filled with stones, on the barbed-wire
entanglements in front of the trenches, so that they ring like bells
on a herd of cows to warn them of an impending attack.
And while we are on this subject, I wish some of the women who are
knitting scarfs would stop,[B] now that winter is over, and make jelly
and jam for the brave and cheerful little Belgian army. I am aware
that it is less pleasant than knitting. It cannot be taken to lectures
or musicales. One cannot make jam between the courses of a luncheon or
a dinner party, or during the dummy hand at bridge. But the men have
so little—unsweetened coffee and black bread for breakfast; a stew of
meat and vegetables at mid-day, taken to them, when it can be taken,
but carried miles from where it is cooked, and usually cold. They pour
off the cold liquor and eat the unpalatable residue. Supper is like
breakfast with the addition of a ration of minced meat and potatoes,
also cold and not attractive at the best.
[Footnote B: This was written in the spring. By the time this book is
published knitted woollens will be again in demand. Socks and mittens,
abdominal belts and neck scarfs are much liked. A soldier told me he
liked his scarf wide, and eight feet long, so he can carry it around
his body and fasten it in the back.]
Sometimes they have bully beef. I have eaten bully beef, which is a
cooked and tinned beef, semi-gelatinous. The Belgian bully beef is
drier and tougher than the English. It is not bad; indeed, it is quite
good. But the soldier needs variety. The English know this. Their
soldiers have sugar, tea, jam and cheese.
If I were asked to-day what the Belgian army needs, now that winter is
over and they need no longer shiver in their thin clothing, I should
say, in addition to the surgical supplies that are so terribly
necessary, portable kitchens, to give them hot and palatable food.
Such kitchens may be bought for two hundred and fifty dollars, with a
horse to draw them. They are really sublimated steam cookers, with the
hot water used to make coffee when they reach the trenches. I should
say, then, surgical supplies and hospital equipment, field kitchens,
jams of all sorts, canned beans, cigarettes and rubber boots! A number
of field kitchens have already been sent over. A splendid Englishman
attached to the Belgian Army has secured funds for a few more. But
many are needed. I have seen a big and brawny Belgian officer, with a
long record of military bravery behind him, almost shed tears over the
prospect of one of these kitchens for his men.
I took many pictures that morning—of dogs, three abreast, hauling
mitrailleuse, the small and deadly quick-firing guns, from the word
mitraille, a hail of balls; of long lines of Belgian lancers on
their undipped and shaggy horses, each man carrying an eight-foot
lance at rest; of men drilling in broken boots, in wooden shoes
stuffed with straw, in carpet slippers. I was in furs from head to
foot—the same fur coat that has been, in turn, lap robe, bed clothing
and pillow—and I was cold. These men, smiling into my camera, were
thinly dressed, with bare, ungloved hands. But they were smiling.
Afterward I learned that many of them had no underclothing, that the
blue tunics and trousers were all they had. Always they shivered, but
often also they smiled. Many of them had fought since Liège; most of
them had no knowledge of their families on the other side of the line
of death. When they return to their country, what will they go back
to? Their homes are gone, their farm buildings destroyed, their horses
and cattle killed.
But they are a courageous people, a bravely cheery people. Flor every
one of them that remained there, two had gone, either to death,
captivity or serious injury. They were glad to be alive that morning
on the sands of La Panne, under the incessant roaring of the guns. The
wind died down; the sun came out. It was January. In two months, or
three, it would be spring and warm. In two months, or three, they
confidently expected to be on the move toward their homes again.
What mattered broken boots and the mud and filth of their trenches?
What mattered the German aëroplane overhead? Or cold and insufficient
food? Or the wind? Nothing mattered but death, and they still lived.
And perhaps, beyond the line—
That afternoon, from the Ambulance Ocean, a young Belgian officer was
It was a bright, sunny afternoon, but bitterly cold. Troops were lined
up before the hospital in the square; a band, too, holding its
instruments with blue and ungloved fingers.
He had been a very brave officer, and very young. The story of what he
had done had been told about. So, although military funerals are many,
a handful of civilians had gathered to see him taken away to the
crowded cemetery. The three English gunboats were patrolling the sea.
Tall Belgian generals, in high blue-and-gold caps and great cape
overcoats, met in the open space and conferred.
The dead young officer lay in state in the little chapel of the
hospital. Ten tall black standards round him held burning candles, the
lights of faith. His uniform, brushed of its mud and neatly folded,
lay on top of the casket, with his pathetic cap and with the sword
that would never lead another charge. He had fought very hard to live,
they said at the hospital. But he had died.
The crowd opened, and the priest came through. He wore a purple velvet
robe, and behind him came his deacons and four small acolytes in
surplices. Up the steps went the little procession. And the doors of
the hospital closed behind it.
The civilians turned and went away. The soldiers stood rigid in the
cold sunshine, and waited. A little boy kicked a football over the
sand. The guns at Nieuport crashed and hammered.
After a time the doors opened again. The boy picked up his football
and came closer. The musicians blew on their fingers to warm them. The
dead young officer was carried out. His sword gleamed in the sun. They
carried the casket carefully, not to disorder the carefully folded
tunic or the pathetic cap. The body was placed in an ambulance. At a
signal the band commenced to play and the soldiers closed in round the
The path of glory, indeed!
But it was not this boyish officer's hope of glory that had brought
this scene to pass. He died fighting a defensive war, to save what was
left to him of the country he loved. He had no dream of empire, no
vision of commercial supremacy, no thrill of conquest as an invaded
and destroyed country bent to the inevitable. For months since Liège
he had fought a losing fight, a fight that Belgium knew from the
beginning must be a losing fight, until such time as her allies could
come to her aid. Like the others, he had nothing to gain by this war
and everything to lose.
He had lost. The ambulance moved away.
I was frequently in La Panne after that day. I got to know well the
road from Dunkirk, with its bordering of mud and ditch, its heavy
transports, its grey gunboats in the canals that followed it on one
side, its long lines of over-laden soldiers, its automobiles that
travelled always at top speed. I saw pictures that no artist will ever
paint—of horrors and beauties, of pathos and comedy; of soldiers
washing away the filth of the trenches in the cold waters of canals
and ditches; of refugees flying by day from the towns, and returning
at night to their ruined houses to sleep in the cellars; of long
processions of Spahis, Arabs from Algeria, silhouetted against the
flat sky line against a setting sun, their tired horses moving slowly,
with drooping heads, while their riders, in burnoose and turban, rode
with loose reins; of hostile aëroplanes sailing the afternoon breeze
like lazy birds, while shells from the anti-aircraft guns burst
harmlessly below them in small balloon-shaped clouds of smoke.
But never in all that time did I overcome the sense of unreality, and
always I was obsessed by the injustice, the wanton waste and cost and
injustice of it all. The baby at La Panne—why should it go through
life on stumps instead of legs? The boyish officer—why should he have
died? The little sixteen-year-old soldier who had been blinded and who
sat all day by the phonograph, listening to Madame Butterfly,
Tipperary, and Harry Lauder's A Wee Deoch-an'-Doris—why should he
never see again what I could see from the window beside him, the
winter sunset over the sea, the glistening white of the sands, the
flat line of the surf as it crept in to the sentries' feet? Why? Why?
All these wrecks of boys and men, where are they to go? What are they
to do? Blind and maimed, weak from long privation followed by great
suffering, what is to become of them when the hospital has fulfilled
its function and they are discharged "cured"? Their occupations, their
homes, their usefulness are gone. They have not always even clothing
in which to leave the hospital. If it was not destroyed by the shell
or shrapnel that mutilated them it was worn beyond belief and
redemption. Such ragged uniforms as I have seen! Such tragedies of
trousers! Such absurd and heart-breaking tunics!
When, soon after, I was presented to the King of the Belgians, these
very questions had written lines in his face. It is easy to believe
that King Albert of Belgium has buried his private anxieties in the
common grief and stress of his people.
A TALK WITH THE KING OF THE BELGIANS
The letter announcing that I was to have an audience with the King of
the Belgians reached me at Dunkirk, France, on the evening of the day
before the date set. It was brief and to the effect that the King
would receive me the next afternoon at two o'clock at the Belgian Army
The object of my visit was well known; and, because I wished an
authoritative statement to give to America, I had requested that the
notes of my conversation with His Majesty should be officially
approved. This request was granted. The manuscript of the interview
that follows was submitted to His Majesty for approval. It is
published as it occurred, and nothing has been added to the record.
A general from the Ministry of War came to the Hôtel des Arcades, in
Dunkirk, and I was taken in a motor car to the Belgian Army
headquarters some miles away. As the general who conducted me had
influenza, and I was trying to keep my nerves in good order, it was
rather a silent drive. The car, as are all military cars—and there
are no others—was driven by a soldier-chauffeur by whose side sat the
general's orderly. Through the narrow gate, with its drawbridge
guarded by many sentries, we went out into the open country.
The road, considering the constant traffic of heavy transports and
guns, was very fair. It is under constant repair. At first, during
this severe winter, on account of rain and snow, accidents were
frequent. The road, on both sides, was deep in mud and prolific of
catastrophe; and even now, with conditions much better, there are
numerous accidents. Cars all travel at frightful speed. There are no
restrictions, and it is nothing to see machines upset and abandoned in
the low-lying fields that border the road.
Conditions, however, are better than they were. Part of the
conservation system has been the building of narrow ditches at right
angles to the line of the road, to lead off the water. Every ten feet
or so there is a gutter filled with fagots.
I had been in the general's car before. The red-haired Fleming with
the fierce moustache who drove it was a speed maniac, and passing the
frequent sentries was only a matter of the password. A signal to slow
down, given by the watchful sentry, a hoarse whisper of the password
as the car went by, and on again at full speed. There was no bothering
On each side of the road were trenches, barbed-wire entanglements,
earthen barriers, canals filled with barges. And on the road were
lines of transports and a file of Spahis on horseback, picturesque in
their flowing burnouses, bearded and dark-skinned, riding their
unclipped horses through the roads under the single rows of trees. We
rode on through a village where a pig had escaped from a
slaughterhouse and was being pursued by soldiers—and then, at last,
army headquarters and the King of the Belgians.
There was little formality. I was taken in charge by the King's
equerry, who tapped at a closed door. I drew a long breath.
"Madame Rinehart!" said the equerry, and stood aside.
There was a small screen in front of the door. I went round it.
Standing alone before the fire was Albert I, King of the Belgians. I
bowed; then we shook hands and he asked me to sit down.
It was to be a conversation rather than an interview; but as it was to
be given as accurately as possible to the American people, I was
permitted to make careful notes of both questions and answers. It was
to be, in effect, a statement of the situation in Belgium as the King
of the Belgians sees it.
I spoke first of a message to America.
"I have already sent a message to America," he informed me; "quite a
long message. We are, of course, intensely appreciative of what
Americans have done for Belgium."
"They are anxious to do what they can. The general feeling is one of
"Americans are both just and humane," the King replied; "and their
system of distribution is excellent. I do not know what we should have
done without the American Relief Committees."
"Is there anything further Your Majesty can suggest?"
"They seem to have thought of everything," the King said simply. "The
food is invaluable—particularly the flour. It has saved many from
"But there is still need?"
"Oh, yes—great need."
It was clear that the subject was a tragic one. The King of the
Belgians loves his people, as they love him, with a devotion that is
completely unselfish. That he is helpless to relieve so much that they
are compelled to endure is his great grief.
His face clouded. Probably he was seeing, as he must always see, the
dejected figures of the peasants in the fields; the long files of his
soldiers as they made their way through wet and cold to the trenches;
the destroyed towns; the upheaval of a people.
"What is possible to know of the general condition of affairs in that
part of Belgium occupied by the Germans?" I asked. "I do not mean in
regard to food only, but the general condition of the Belgian people."
"It is impossible to say," was the answer. "During the invasion it was
very bad. It is a little better now, of course; but here we are on the
wrong side of the line to form any ordered judgment. To gain a real
conception of the situation it would be necessary to go through the
occupied portions from town to town, almost from house to house. Have
you been in the other part of Belgium?"
"Not yet; I may go."
"You should do that—see Louvain, Aerschot, Antwerp—see the destroyed
towns for yourself. No one can tell you. You must see them."
I was not certain that I should be permitted to make such a journey,
but the King waved my doubts aside with a gesture.
"You are an American," he said. "It would be quite possible and you
would see just what has happened. You would see open towns that were
bombarded; other towns that were destroyed after occupation! You would
see a country ruthlessly devastated; our wonderful monuments
destroyed; our architectural and artistic treasures sacrificed without
reason—without any justification."
"But as a necessity of war?" I asked.
"Not at all. The Germans have saved buildings when it suited their
convenience to do so. No military necessity dictated the destruction
of Louvain. It was not bombarded. It was deliberately destroyed. But,
of course, you know that."
"The matter of the violation of Belgium's neutrality still remains an
open question," I said. "I have seen in American facsimile copies of
documents referring to conversations between staff officers of the
British and Belgian armies—documents that were found in the
ministerial offices at Brussels when the Germans occupied that city
last August. Of course I think most Americans realise that, had they
been of any real importance, they would have been taken away. There
was time enough. But there are some, I know, who think them
The King of the Belgians shrugged his shoulders.
"They were of an unofficial character and entirely without importance.
The German Staff probably knew all about them long before the
declaration of war. They themselves had, without doubt, discussed and
recorded similar probabilities in case of war with other countries. It
is a common practice in all army organisations to prepare against
different contingencies. It is a question of military routine only."
"There was no justification, then, for the violation of Belgian
neutrality?" I inquired.
"None whatever! The German violation of Belgian neutrality was wrong,"
he said emphatically. "On the fourth of August their own chancellor
admitted it. Belgium had no thought of war. The Belgians are a
peace-loving people, who had every reason to believe in the friendship
The next question was a difficult one. I inquired as to the behaviour
of the Germans in the conquered territory; but the King made no
sweeping condemnation of the German Army.
"Fearful things have been done, particularly during the invasion," he
said, weighing his words carefully; "but it would be unfair to condemn
the whole German Army. Some regiments have been most humane; but
others behaved very badly. Have you seen the government report?"
I said I had not seen it, though I had heard that a careful
investigation had been made.
"The government was very cautious," His Majesty said. "The
investigation was absolutely impartial and as accurate as it could be
made. Doubts were cast on all statements—even those of the most
dependable witnesses—until they could be verified."
"They were verified?"
"Yes; again and again."
"By the victims themselves?"
"Not always. The victims of extreme cruelty do not live to tell of it;
but German soldiers themselves have told the story. We have had here
many hundreds of journals, taken from dead or imprisoned Germans,
furnishing elaborate details of most atrocious acts. The government is
keeping these journals. They furnish powerful and incontrovertible
testimony of what happened in Belgium when it was swept over by a
brutal army. That was, of course, during the invasion—such things are
not happening now so far as we know."
He had spoken quietly, but there was a new note of strain in his
voice. The burden of the King of the Belgians is a double one. To the
horror of war has been added the unnecessary violation and death of
The King then referred to the German advance through Belgian
"Thousands of civilians have been killed without reason. The execution
of noncombatants is not war, and no excuse can be made for it. Such
deeds cannot be called war."
"But if the townspeople fired on the Germans?" I asked.
"All weapons had been deposited in the hands of the town authorities.
It is unlikely that any organised attack by civilians could have been
made. However, if in individual cases shots were fired at the German
soldiers, this may always be condoned in a country suffering invasion.
During an occupation it would be different, naturally. No excuse can
be offered for such an action in occupied territory."
"Various Belgian officers have told me of seeing crowds of men, women
and children driven ahead of the German Army to protect the troops.
This is so incredible that I must ask whether it has any foundation of
"It is quite true. It is a barbarous and inhuman system of protecting
the German advance. When the Belgian soldiers fired on the enemy they
killed their own people. Again and again innocent civilians of both
sexes were sacrificed to protect the invading army during attacks. A
His Majesty made no effort to conceal his great grief and indignation.
And again, as before, there seemed to be nothing to say.
"Even now," I said, "when the Belgians return the Grerman artillery
fire they are bombarding their own towns."
"That is true, of course; but what can we do? And the civilian
population is very brave. They fear invasion, but they no longer pay
any attention to bombs. They work in the fields quite calmly, with
shells dropping about. They must work or starve."
He then spoke of the morale of the troops, which is excellent, and of
his sympathy for their situation.
"Their families are in Belgium," he said. "Many of them have heard
nothing for months. But they are wonderful. They are fighting for life
and to regain their families, their homes and their country. Christmas
was very sad for them."
"In the event of the German Army's retiring from Belgium, do you
believe, as many do, that there will be more destruction of cities?
Brussels, for instance?"
"I think not."
I referred to my last visit to Belgium, when Brussels was the capital;
and to the contrast now, when La Panne a small seaside resort hardly
more than a village, contains the court, the residence of the King and
Queen, and of the various members of his household. It seemed to me
unlikely that La Panne would be attacked, as the Queen of the Belgians
is a Bavarian.
"Do you think La Panne will be bombarded?" I asked.
"I thought that possibly, on account of Your Majesty and the Queen
being there, it would be spared.
"They are bombarding Furnes, where I go every day," he replied. "And
there are German aëroplanes overhead all the time."
The mention of Furnes brought to my mind the flooded district near
that village, which extends from Nieuport to Dixmude.
"Belgium has made a great sacrifice in flooding her lowlands," I said.
"Will that land be as fertile as before?"
"Not for several years. The flooding of the productive land in the
Yser district was only carried out as a military necessity. The water
is sea water, of course, and will have a bad effect on the soil. Have
you seen the flooded district?"
I told His Majesty that I had been to the Belgian trenches, and then
across the inundated country to one of the outposts; a remarkable
experience—one I should never forget.
The conversation shifted to America and her point of view; to American
women who have married abroad. His Majesty mentioned especially Lady
Curzon. Two children of the King were with Lord Curzon, in England, at
the time. The Crown Prince, a boy of fourteen, tall and straight like
his father, was with the King and Queen.
The King had risen and was standing in his favourite attitude, his
elbow on the mantelpiece. I rose also.
"I was given some instructions as to the ceremonial of this audience,"
I said. "I am afraid I have not followed them!"
"What were you told to do?" said His Majesty, evidently amused. Then,
without waiting for a reply;
"We are very democratic—we Belgians," he said. "More democratic than
the Americans. The President of the United States has great
power—very great power. He is a czar."
He referred to President Wilson in terms of great esteem—not only as
the President but as a man. He spoke, also, with evident admiration of
Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. McKinley, both of whom he had met.
I looked at the clock. It was after three and the interview had begun
at two. I knew it was time for me to go, but I had been given no
indication that the interview was at an end. Fragments of the coaching
I had received came to my mind, but nothing useful; so I stated my
difficulty frankly, and again the King's serious face lighted up with
"There is no formality here; but if you are going we must find the
general for you."
So we shook hands and I went out; but the beautiful courtesy of the
soldier King of the Belgians brought him out to the doorstep with me.
That is the final picture I have of Albert I, King of the Belgians—a
tall young man, very fair and blue-eyed, in the dark blue uniform of a
lieutenant-general of his army, wearing no orders or decorations,
standing bareheaded in the wind and pointing out to me the direction
in which I should go to find the general who had brought me.
He is a very courteous gentleman, with the eyes of one who loves the
sea, for the King of the Belgians is a sailor in his heart; a tragic
and heroic figure but thinking himself neither—thinking of himself
not at all, indeed; only of his people, whose griefs are his to share
but not to lighten; living day and night under the rumble of German
artillery at Nieuport and Dixmude in that small corner of Belgium
which remains to him.
He is a King who, without suspicion of guilt, has lost his country;
who has seen since August of 1914 two-thirds of his army lost, his
beautiful and ancient towns destroyed, his fertile lands thrown open
to the sea.
I went on. The guns were still at work. At Nieuport, Dixmude, Furnes,
Pervyse—all along that flat, flooded region—the work of destruction
was going on. Overhead, flying high, were two German aëroplanes—the
eyes of the war.
* * * * *
Not politically, but humanely, it was time to make to America an
authoritative statement as to conditions in Belgium.
The principle of non-interference in European politics is one of
national policy and not to be questioned. But there can be no
justification for the destruction of property and loss of innocent
lives in Belgium. Germany had plead to the neutral nations her
necessity, and had plead eloquently. On the other hand, the English
and French authorities during the first year of the war had preserved
a dignified silence, confident of the justice of their cause.
And official Belgium had made no complaint. She had bowed to the
judgment of her allies, knowing that a time would come, at the end
of the war, to speak of her situation and to demand justifiable
But a million homeless Belgians in England and Holland proclaimed and
still proclaim their wretchedness broadcast. The future may bring
redress, but the present story of Belgium belongs to the world.
America, the greatest of the neutral countries, has a right to know
now the suffering and misery of this patient, hard-working people.
This war may last a long time; the western armies are at a deadlock.
Since November of 1914 the line has varied only slightly here and
there; has been pushed out or back only to straighten again.
Advances may be counted by feet. From Nieuport to Ypres attacks are
waged round solitary farms which, by reason of the floods, have become
tiny islands protected by a few men, mitrailleuses, and entanglements
of barbed wire. Small attacking bodies capture such an outpost, wading
breast-deep—drowning when wounded—in the stagnant water. There are
no glorious charges here, no contagion of courage; simply a dogged and
desperate struggle—a gain which the next day may see forfeited. The
only thing that goes on steadily is the devastating work of the heavy
guns on each side.
Meantime, both in England and in France, there has been a growing
sentiment that the government's policy of silence has been a mistake.
The cudgel of public opinion is a heavy one. The German propaganda in
America has gone on steadily. There is no argument where one side only
is presented. That splendid and solid part of the American people, the
German population, essentially and naturally patriotic, keeping their
faith in the Fatherland, is constantly presenting its case; and
against that nothing official has been offered.
England is fighting heroically, stoically; but her stoicism is a vital
mistake. This silence has nothing whatever to do with military
movements, their success or their failure. It is more fundamental, an
inherent characteristic of the English character, founded on
reserve—perhaps tinged with that often misunderstood conviction of
the Britisher that other persons cannot be really interested in what
is strictly another's affairs.
The Allies are beginning to realise, however, that this war is not
their own affair alone. It affects the world too profoundly. Mentally,
morally, spiritually and commercially, it is an upheaval in which all
And the English people, who have sent and are sending the very flower
of their country's manhood to the front, are beginning to regret the
error in judgment that has left the rest of the English-speaking world
in comparative ignorance of the true situation.
They are sending the best they have—men of high ideals, who, as
volunteers, go out to fight for what they consider a just cause. The
old families, in which love of country and self-sacrifice are
traditions, have suffered heavily.
The crux of the situation is Belgium—the violation of her neutrality;
the conduct of the invading army; her unnecessary and unjustifiable
suffering. And Belgium has felt that the time to speak has come.
The Belgian Red Cross may well be proud of the hospital at La Panne.
It is modern, thoroughly organised, completely equipped. Within two
weeks of the outbreak of the war it was receiving patients. It was not
at the front then. But the German tide has forced itself along until
now it is almost on the line.
Generally speaking, order had taken the place of the early chaos in
the hospital situation when I was at the front. The British hospitals
were a satisfaction to visit. The French situation was not so good.
The isolated French hospitals were still in need of everything, even
of anæsthetics. The lack of an organised nursing system was being
But the early handicaps of unpreparedness and overwhelming numbers of
patients had been overcome to a large extent. Scientific management
and modern efficiency had stepped in. Things were still capable of
improvement. Gentlemen ambulance drivers are not always to be depended
on. Nurses are not all of the same standard of efficiency. Supplies of
one sort exceeded the demand, while other things were entirely
lacking. Food of the kind that was needed by the very ill was scarce,
expensive and difficult to secure at any price.
But the things that have been done are marvellous. Surgery has not
failed. The stereoscopic X-ray and antitetanus serum are playing their
active part. Once out of the trenches a soldier wounded at the front
has as much chance now as a man injured in the pursuit of a peaceful
Once out of the trenches! For that is the question. The ambulances
must wait for night. It is not in the hospitals but in the ghastly
hours between injury and darkness that the case of life or death is
decided. That is where surgical efficiency fails against the brutality
of this war, where the Red Cross is no longer respected, where it is
not possible to gather in the wounded under the hospital flag, where
there is no armistice and no pity. This is war, glorious war, which
those who stay at home say smugly is good for a nation.
But there are those who are hurt, not in the trenches but in front of
them. In that narrow strip of No Man's Land between the confronting
armies, and extending four hundred and fifty miles from the sea
through Belgium and France, each day uncounted numbers of men fall,
and, falling, must lie. The terrible thirst that follows loss of blood
makes them faint; the cold winds and snows and rains of what has been
a fearful winter beat on them; they cannot have water or shelter. The
lucky ones die, but there are some that live, and live for days. This
too is war, glorious war, which is good for a nation, which makes its
boys into men, and its men into these writhing figures that die so
slowly and so long.
I have seen many hospitals. Some of the makeshifts would be amusing
were they not so pathetic. Old chapels with beds and supplies piled
high before the altar; kindergarten rooms with childish mottoes on the
walls, from which hang fever charts; nuns' cubicles thrown open to
doctors and nurses as living quarters.
At La Panne, however, there are no makeshifts. There are no wards, so
called. But many of the large rooms hold three beds. All the rooms are
airy and well lighted. True, there is no lift, and the men must be
carried down the staircases to the operating rooms on the lower floor,
and carried back again. But the carrying is gently done.
There are two operating rooms, each with two modern operating tables.
The floors are tiled, the walls, ceiling and all furnishings white.
Attached to the operating rooms is a fully equipped laboratory and an
X-ray room. I was shown the stereoscopic X-ray apparatus by which the
figure on the plate stands out in relief, like any stereoscopic
picture. Every large hospital I saw had this apparatus, which is
invaluable in locating bullets and pieces of shell or shrapnel. Under
the X-ray, too, extraction frequently takes place, the operators using
long-handled instruments and gloves that are soaked in a solution of
lead and thus become impervious to the rays so destructive to the
Later on I watched Doctor DePage operate at this hospital. I was put
into a uniform, and watched a piece of shell taken from a man's brain
and a great blood clot evacuated. Except for the red cross on each
window and the rattle of the sash under the guns, I might have been in
one of the leading American hospitals and war a century away. There
were the same white uniforms on the surgeons; the same white gauze
covering their heads and swathing their faces to the eyes; the same
silence, the same care as to sterilisation; the same orderly rows of
instruments on a glass stand; the same nurses, alert and quiet; the
same clear white electric light overhead; the same rubber gloves, the
same anæsthetists and assistants.
It was twelve minutes from the time the operating surgeon took the
knife until the wound was closed. The head had been previously shaved
by one of the assistants, and painted with iodine. In twelve minutes
the piece of shell lay in my hand. The stertorous breathing was
easier, bandages were being adjusted, the next case was being
anæsthetised and prepared.
I wish I could go further. I wish I could follow that peasant-soldier
to recovery and health. I wish I could follow him back to his wife and
children, to his little farm in Belgium. I wish I could even say he
recovered. But I cannot. I do not know. The war is a series of
incidents with no beginning and no end. The veil lifts for a moment
and drops again.
I saw other cases brought down for operation at the Ambulance Ocean.
One I shall never forget. Here was a boy again, looking up with
hopeful, fully conscious eyes at the surgeons. He had been shot
through the spine. From his waist down he was inert, helpless. He
smiled. He had come to be operated on. Now all would be well. The
great surgeons would work over him, and he would walk again.
When after a long consultation they had to tell him they could not
operate, I dared not look at his eyes.
Again, what is he to do? Where is he to go? He is helpless, in a
strange land. He has no country, no people, no money. And he will
live, think of it!
I wish I could leaven all this with something cheerful. I wish I could
smile over the phonograph playing again and again A Wee
Deoch-an'-Doris in that room for convalescents that overlooks the sea.
I wish I could think that the baby with both legs off will grow up
without missing what it has never known. I wish I could be reconciled
because the dead young officer had died the death of a patriot and a
soldier, or that the boy I saw dying in an upper room, from shock and
loss of blood following an amputation, is only a pawn in the great
chess game of empires. I wish I could believe that the two women on
the floor below, one with both arms gone, another with one arm off and
her back ripped open by a shell, are the legitimate fruits of a holy
war. I cannot. I can see only greed and lust of battle and ambition.
In a bright room I saw a German soldier. He had the room to himself.
He was blue eyed and yellow haired, with a boyish and contagious
smile. He knew no more about it all than I did. It must have
bewildered him in the long hours that he lay there alone. He did not
hate these people. He never had hated them. It was clear, too, that
they did not hate him. For they had saved a gangrenous leg for him
when all hope seemed ended. He lay there, with his white coverlet
drawn to his chin, and smiled at the surgeon. They were evidently on
the best of terms.
"How goes it?" asked the surgeon cheerfully in German.
"Sehr gut," he said, and eyed me curiously.
He was very proud of the leg, and asked that I see it. It was in a
cast. He moved it about triumphantly. Probably all over Germany, as
over France and this corner of Belgium, just such little scenes occur
The German peasant, like the French and the Belgian, is a peaceable
man. He is military but not militant. He is sentimental rather than
impassioned. He loves Christmas and other feast days. He is not
ambitious. He fights bravely, but he would rather sing or make a
It is over the bent shoulders of these peasants that the great
Continental army machines must march. The German peasant is poor,
because for forty years he has been paying the heavy tax of endless
armament. The French peasant is poor, because for forty years he has
been struggling to recover from the drain of the huge war indemnity
demanded by Germany in 1871. The Russian peasant toils for a remote
government, with which his sole tie is the tax-gatherer; toils with
childish faith for The Little Father, at whose word he may be sent to
battle for a cause of which he knows nothing.
Germany's militarism, England's navalism, Russia's autocracy, France,
graft-ridden in high places and struggling for rehabilitation after a
century of war—and, underneath it all, bearing it on bent shoulders,
men like this German prisoner, alone in his room and puzzling it out!
It makes one wonder if the result of this war will not be a great and
overwhelming individualism, a protest of the unit against the mass; if
Socialism, which has apparently died of an ideal, will find this ideal
but another name for tyranny, and rise from its grave a living force.
Now and then a justifiable war is fought, for liberty perhaps, or like
our Civil War, for a great principle. There are wars that are
inevitable. Such wars are frequently revolutions and have their
origins in the disaffection of a people.
But here is a world war about which volumes are being written to
discover the cause. Here were prosperous nations, building wealth and
culture on a basis of peace. Europe was apparently more in danger of
revolution than of international warfare. It is not only war without a
known cause, it is an unexpected war. Only one of the nations involved
showed any evidence of preparation. England is not yet ready. Russia
has not yet equipped the men she has mobilised.
Is this war, then, because the balance of power is so nicely adjusted
that a touch turns the scale, whether that touch be a Kaiser's dream
of empire or the eyes of a Czar turned covetously toward the South?
I tried to think the thing out during the long nights when the sound
of the heavy guns kept me awake. It was hard, because I knew so
little, nothing at all of European politics, or war, or diplomacy.
When I tried to be logical, I became emotional. Instead of reason I
found in myself only a deep resentment.
I could see only that blue-eyed German in his bed, those cheery and
cold and ill-equipped Belgians drilling on the sands at La Panne.
But on one point I was clear. Away from all the imminent questions
that filled the day, the changing ethics of war, its brutalities, its
hideous necessities, one point stood out clear and distinct. That the
real issue is not the result, but the cause of this war. That the
world must dig deep into the mire of European diplomacy to find that
cause, and having found it must destroy it. That as long as that cause
persists, be it social or political, predatory or ambitious, there
will be more wars. Again it will be possible for a handful of men in
high place to overthrow a world.
And one of the first results of the discovery of that cause will be a
demand of the people to know what their representatives are doing.
Diplomacy, instead of secret whispering, a finger to its lips, must
shout from the housetops. Great nations cannot be governed from
cellars. Diplomats are not necessarily conspirators. There is such a
thing as walking in the sunlight.
There is no such thing in civilisation as a warlike people. There are
peaceful people, or aggressive people, or military people. But there
are none that do not prefer peace to war, until, inflamed and roused
by those above them who play this game of empires, they must don the
panoply of battle and go forth.
THE STORY WITH AN END
In its way that hospital at La Panne epitomised the whole tragedy of
the great war. Here were women and children, innocent victims when the
peaceful nearby market town of Furnes was being shelled; here was a
telegraph operator who had stuck to his post under furious bombardment
until both his legs were crushed. He had been decorated by the king
for his bravery. Here were Belgian aristocrats without extra clothing
or any money whatever, and women whose whole lives had been shielded
from pain or discomfort. One of them, a young woman whose father is
among the largest landowners in Belgium, is in charge of the villa
where the uniforms of wounded soldiers are cleaned and made fit for
use again. Over her white uniform she wore, in the bitter wind, a thin
tan raincoat. We walked together along the beach. I protested.
"You are so thinly clad," I said. "Surely you do not go about like
She shrugged her shoulders.
"It is all I have," she said philosophically. "And I have no
money—none. None of us has."
A titled Belgian woman with her daughter had just escaped from
Brussels. She was very sad, for she had lost her only boy. But she
smiled a little as she told me of their having nothing but what they
wore, and that the night before they had built a fire in their room,
washed their linen, and gone to bed, leaving it until morning to dry.
Across the full width of the hospital stretched the great drawing-room
of the hotel, now a recreation place for convalescent soldiers. Here
all day the phonograph played, the nurses off duty came in to write
letters, the surgeons stopped on their busy rounds to speak to the men
or to watch for a few minutes the ever-changing panorama of the beach,
with its background of patrolling gunboats, its engineers on rest
playing football, its occasional aëroplanes, carrying each two men—a
pilot and an observer.
The men sat about. There were boys with the stringy beards of their
twenty years. There were empty sleeves, many crutches, and some who
must be led past the chairs and tables—who will always have to be
They were all cheerful. But now and then, when the bombardment became
more insistent, some of them would raise their heads and listen, with
the strained faces of those who see a hideous picture.
The young woman who could not buy a heavy coat showed me the villa
adjoining the hospital, where the clothing of wounded soldiers is
cared for. It is placed first in a fumigating plant in the basement
and thoroughly sterilised. After that it is brushed of its encrusted
mud and blood stains are taken out by soaking in cold water. It is
then dried and thoroughly sunned. Then it is ready for the second
Here tailors are constantly at work mending garments apparently
unmendable, pressing, steaming, patching, sewing on buttons. The
ragged uniforms come out of that big bare room clean and whole, ready
to be tied up in new burlap bags, tagged, and placed in racks of fresh
white cedar. There is no odour in this room, although innumerable old
garments are stored in it.
In an adjoining room the rifles and swords of the injured men stand in
racks, the old and unserviceable rifles with which Belgium was forced
to equip so many of her soldiers side by side with the new and
scientific German guns. Along the wall are officers' swords, and above
them, on shelves, the haversacks of the common soldiers, laden with
the things that comprise their whole comfort.
I examined one. How few the things were and how worn! And yet the
haversack was heavy. As he started for the trenches, this soldier who
was carried back, he had on his shoulders this haversack of hide
tanned with the hair on. In it he had two pairs of extra socks, worn
and ragged, a tattered and dirty undershirt, a photograph of his wife,
rags for cleaning his gun, a part of a loaf of dry bread, the remnant
of what had been a pair of gloves, now fingerless and stiff with rain
and mud, a rosary, a pair of shoes that the woman of the photograph
would have wept and prayed over, some extra cartridges and a piece of
leather. Perhaps he meant to try to mend the shoes.
And here again I wish I could finish the story. I wish I could tell
whether he lived or died—whether he carried that knapsack back to
battle, or whether he died and its pitiful contents were divided among
those of his comrades who were even more needy than he had been. But
the veil lifts for a moment and drops again.
Two incidents stand out with distinctness from those first days in La
Panne, when, thrust with amazing rapidity into the midst of war, my
mind was a chaos of interest, bewilderment and despair.
One is of an old abbé, talking earnestly to a young Belgian noblewoman
who had recently escaped from Brussels with only the clothing she
The abbé was round of face and benevolent. I had met him before, at
Calais, where he had posed me in front of a statue and taken my
picture. His enthusiasm over photography was contagious. He had made a
dark room from a closet in an old convent, and he owned a little
American camera. With this carefully placed on a tripod and covered
with a black cloth, he posed me carefully, making numerous excursions
under the cloth. In that cold courtyard, under the marble figure of
Joan of Arc, he was a warm and human and most alive figure, in his
flat black shoes, his long black soutane with its woollen sash, his
woollen muffler and spectacles, with the eternal cigarette, that is
part and parcel of every Belgian, dangling loosely from his lower lip.
The surgeons and nurses who were watching the operation looked on with
affectionate smiles. They loved him, this old priest, with his
boyishness, his enthusiasms, his tiny camera, his cigarette, his
beautiful faith. He has promised me the photograph and what he
promises he fulfils. But perhaps it was a failure. I hope not. He
would be so disappointed—and so would I.
So I was glad to meet him again at La Panne—glad and surprised, for
he was fifty miles north of where we had met before. But the abbé was
changed. He was without the smile, without the cigarette. And he was
speaking beseechingly to the smiling young refugee. This is what he
"I am glad, daughter, to help you in every way that I can. I have
bought for you in Calais everything that you requested. But I implore
you, daughter, do not ask me to purchase any more ladies' underlinen.
It is most embarrassing."
"No underlinen," he repeated firmly. But it hurt him to refuse. One
could see that. One imagined, too, that in his life of service there
were few refusals. I left them still debating. The abbé's eyes were
desperate but his posture firm. One felt that there would be no
Another picture, and I shall leave La Panne for a time.
I was preparing to go. A telephone message to General Melis, of the
Belgian Army, had brought his car to take me to Dunkirk. I was about
to leave the protection of the Belgian Red Cross and place myself in
the care of the ministry of war. I did not know what the future would
bring, and the few days at La Panne and the Ambulance Ocean had made
friends for me there. Things move quickly in war time. The
conventions with which we bind up our souls in ordinary life are cut
away. La Panne was already familiar and friendly territory.
I went down the wide staircase. An ambulance had stopped and its
burden was being carried in. The bearers rested the stretcher gently
on the floor, and a nurse was immediately on her knees beside it.
"Shell!" she said.
The occupant was a boy of perhaps nineteen—a big boy. Some mother
must have been very proud of him. He was fully conscious, and he
looked up from his stained bandages with the same searching glance
that now I have seen so often—the glance that would read its chances
in the faces of those about. With his uninjured arm he threw back the
blanket. His right arm was wounded, broken in two places, but not
"He'll do nicely," said the nurse. "A broken jaw and the arm."
His eyes were on me, so I bent over.
"The nurse says you will do nicely," I assured him. "It will take
time, but you will be very comfortable here, and—"
The nurse had been making further investigation. Now she turned back
the other end of the blanket His right leg had been torn off at the
That story has an end; for that boy died.
The drive back to Dunkirk was a mad one. Afterward I learned to know
that red-headed Flemish chauffeur, with his fiercely upcurled
moustache and his contempt of death. Rather, perhaps, I learned to
know his back. It was a reckless back. He wore a large army overcoat
with a cape and a cap with a tassel. When he really got under way at
anything from fifty miles an hour to the limit of the speedometer,
which was ninety miles, the gilt tassel, which in the Belgian cap
hangs over and touches the forehead, had a way of standing up; the
cape overcoat blew out in the air, cutting off my vision and my last
I regard that chauffeur as a menace on the high road. Certainly he is
not a lady's chauffeur. He never will be. Once at night he took
me—and the car—into an iron railroad gate, and bent the gate into a
V. I was bent into the whole alphabet.
The car was a limousine. After that one cold ride from Calais to La
Panne I was always in a limousine—always, of course, where a car
could go at all. There may be other writers who have been equally
fortunate, but most of the stories are of frightful hardships. I was
not always comfortable. I was frequently in danger. But to and from
the front I rode soft and warm and comfortable. Often I had a bottle
of hot coffee and sandwiches. Except for the two carbines strapped to
the speedometer, except for the soldier-chauffeur and the orderly who
sat together outside, except for the eternal consulting of maps and
showing of passes, I might have been making a pleasure tour of the
towns of Northern France and Belgium. In fact, I have toured abroad
during times of peace and have been less comfortable.
I do not speak Flemish, so I could not ask the chauffeur to desist,
slow down, or let me out to walk. I could only sit tight as the
machine flew round corners, elbowed transports, and threw a warning
shriek to armoured cars. I wondered what would happen if we skidded
into a wagon filled with high explosives. I tried to remember the
conditions of my war insurance policy at Lloyd's. Also I recalled the
unpleasant habit the sentries have of firing through the back of any
car that passes them.
I need not have worried. Except that once we killed a brown chicken,
and that another time we almost skidded into the canal, the journey
was uneventful, almost calm. One thing cheered me—all the other
machines were going as fast as mine. A car that eased up its pace
would be rammed from behind probably. I am like the English—I prefer
a charge to a rearguard engagement.
My pass took me into Dunkirk.
It was dusk by that time. I felt rather lost and alone. I figured out
what time it was at home. I wished some one would speak English. And I
hated being regarded as a spy every mile or so, and depending on a
slip of paper as my testimonial of respectability. The people I knew
were lunching about that time, or getting ready for bridge or the
matinée. I wondered what would happen to me if the pass blew out of
the orderly's hands and was lost in the canal.
The chauffeur had been instructed to take me to the Mairie a great
dark building of stone halls and stairways, of sentries everywhere, of
elaborate officers and much ceremony. But soon, in a great hall of the
old building piled high with army supplies, I was talking to General
Melis, and my troubles were over. A kindly and courteous gentleman, he
put me at my ease at once. More than that, he spoke some English. He
had received letters from England about me, and had telegraphed that
he would meet me at Calais. He had, indeed, taken the time out of his
busy day to go himself to Calais, thirty miles by motor, to meet me.
I was aghast. "The boat went to Boulogne," I explained. "I had no
idea, of course, that you would be there."
"Now that you are here," he said, "it is all right. But—exactly what
can I do for you?"
So I told him. He listened attentively. A very fine and gallant
soldier he was, sitting in that great room in the imposing uniform of
his rank; a busy man, taking a little time out of his crowded day to
see an American woman who had come a long way alone to see this
tragedy that had overtaken his country. Orderlies and officers came
and went; the Mairie was a hive of seething activities. But he
"Where do you want to go?" he asked when I had finished.
"I should like to stay here, if I may. And from here, of course, I
should like to get to the front."
"Can I get to Ypres?"
"It is not very safe."
I proclaimed instantly and loudly that I was as brave as a lion; that
I did not know fear. He smiled. But when the interview was over it was
arranged that I should have a permis de séjour to stay in Dunkirk,
and that on the following day the general himself and one of his
officers having an errand in that direction would take me to Ypres.
That night the town of Dunkirk was bombarded by some eighteen German
THE NIGHT RAID ON DUNKIRK
I found that a room had been engaged for me at the Hotel des Arcades.
It was a very large room looking out over the public square and the
statue of Jean Bart. It was really a princely room. No wonder they
showed it to me proudly, and charged it to me royally. It was an
upholstered room. Even the doors were upholstered. And because it was
upholstered and expensive and regal, it enjoyed the isolation of
greatness. The other people in the hotel slept above or underneath.
There were times when I longed for neighbours, when I yearned for some
one to occupy the other royal apartment next door. But except for a
Russian prince who stayed two days, and who snored in Russian and kept
two valets de chambre up all night in the hall outside my door
polishing his boots and cleaning his uniform, I was always alone in
that part of the hotel.
At my London hotel I had been lodged on the top floor, and twice in
the night the hall porter had telephoned me to say that German
Zeppelins were on their way to London. So I took care to find that in
the Hotel des Arcades there were two stories and two layers of Belgian
and French officers overhead.
I felt very comfortable—until the air raid. The two stories seemed
absurd, inadequate. I would not have felt safe in the subcellar of the
There were no women in the hotel at that time, with the exception of a
hysterical lady manager, who sat in a boxlike office on the lower
floor, and two chambermaids. A boy made my bed and brought me hot
water. For several weeks at intervals he knocked at the door twice a
day and said: "Et wat." I always thought it was Flemish for "May I
come in?" At last I discovered that he considered this the English for
"hot water." The waiters in the café were too old to be sent to war,
but I think the cook had gone. There was no cook. Some one put the
food on the fire, but he was not a cook.
Dunkirk had been bombarded several times, I learned.
"They come in the morning," said my informant. "Every one is ordered
off the streets. But they do little damage. One or two machines come
and drop a bomb or two. That is all. Very few are killed."
I protested. I felt rather bitter about it. I expected trouble along
the lines, I explained. I knew I would be quite calm when I was
actually at the front, and when I had my nervous system prepared for
trouble. But in Dunkirk I expected to rest and relax. I needed sleep
after La Panne. I thought something should be done about it.
My informant shrugged his shoulders. He was English, and entirely
"Dunkirk is a fortified town," he explained. "It is quite legitimate.
But you may sleep to-night. The raids are always daylight ones."
So I commenced dinner calmly. I do not remember anything about that
dinner. The memory of it has gone. I do recall looking about the
dining room, and feeling a little odd and lonely, being the only
woman. Then a gun boomed somewhere outside, and an alarm bell
commenced to ring rapidly almost overhead. Instantly the officers in
the room were on their feet, and every light went out.
The maître d'hôtel, Emil, groped his way to my table and struck a
"Aëroplanes!" he said.
There was much laughing and talking as the officers moved to the door.
The heavy velvet curtains were drawn. Some one near the door lighted a
"Where shall I go?" I asked.
Emil, unlike the officers, was evidently nervous.
"Madame is as safe here as anywhere," he said. "But if she wishes to
join the others in the cellar—"
I wanted to go to the cellar or to crawl into the office safe. But I
felt that, as the only woman and the only American about, I held the
reputation of America and of my sex in my hands. The waiters had gone
to the cellar. The officers had flocked to the café on the ground
floor underneath. The alarm bell was still ringing. Over the candle,
stuck in a saucer, Emil's face looked white and drawn.
"I shall stay here," I said. "And I shall have coffee."
The coffee was not bravado. I needed something hot.
The gun, which had ceased, began to fire again. And then suddenly, not
far away, a bomb exploded. Even through the closed and curtained
windows the noise was terrific. Emil placed my coffee before me with
shaking hands, and disappeared.
Another crash, and another, both very close!
There is nothing that I know of more hideous than an aërial
bombardment. It requires an entire mental readjustment. The sky, which
has always symbolised peace, suddenly spells death. Bombardment by the
big guns of an advancing army is not unexpected. There is time for
flight, a chance, too, for a reprisal. But against these raiders of
the sky there is nothing. One sits and waits. And no town is safe. One
moment there is a peaceful village with war twenty, fifty miles away.
The next minute hell breaks loose. Houses are destroyed. Sleeping
children die in their cradles. The streets echo and reëcho with the
din of destruction. The reply of the anti-aircraft guns is feeble, and
at night futile. There is no bustle of escape. The streets are empty
and dead, and in each house people, family groups, noncombatants, folk
who ask only the right to work and love and live, sit and wait with
More explosions, nearer still. They were trying for the Mairie,
which was round the corner.
In the corridor outside the dining room a candle was lighted, and the
English officer who had reassured me earlier in the evening came in.
"You need not be alarmed," he said cheerfully. "It is really nothing.
But out in the corridor it is quite safe and not so lonely."
I went out. Two or three Belgian officers were there, gathered round a
table on which was a candle stuck in a glass. They were having their
after-dinner liqueurs and talking of many things. No one spoke of what
was happening outside. I was given a corner, as being out of the
The explosion were incessant now. With each one the landlady
downstairs screamed. As they came closer, cries and French adjectives
came up the staircase beside me in a nerve-destroying staccato of
At nine-thirty, when the aëroplanes had been overhead for
three-quarters of an hour, there came a period of silence. There were
no more explosions.
"It is over," said one of the Belgian officers, smiling. "It is over,
and madame lives!"
But it was not over.
I took advantage of the respite to do the forbidden thing and look out
through one of the windows. The moon had come up and the square was
flooded with light. All around were silent houses. No ray of light
filtered through their closed and shuttered windows. The street lamps
were out. Not an automobile was to be seen, not a hurrying human
figure, not a dog. No night prowler disturbed that ghastly silence.
The town lay dead under the clear and peaceful light of the moon. The
white paving stones of the square gleamed, and in the centre,
saturnine and defiant, stood uninjured the statue of Jean Bart,
privateer and private of Dunkirk.
Crash again! It was not over. The attack commenced with redoubled
fury. If sound were destructive the little town of Dunkirk would be
off the map of Northern France to-day. Sixty-seven bombs were dropped
in the hour or so that the Germans were overhead.
The bombardment continued. My feet were very cold, my head hot. The
lady manager was silent; perhaps she had fainted. But Emil reappeared
for a moment, his round white face protruding above the staircase
well, to say that a Zeppelin was reported on the way.
Then at last silence, broken soon by the rumble of ambulances as they
started on their quest for the dead and the wounded. And Emil was
wrong. There was no Zeppelin. The night raid on Dunkirk was history.
The lights did not come on again. From that time on for several weeks
Dunkirk lay at night in darkness. Houses showing a light were fined by
the police. Automobiles were forbidden the use of lamps. One crept
along the streets and the roads surrounding the town in a mysterious
and nerve-racking blackness broken only by the shaded lanterns of the
sentries as they stepped out with their sharp command to stop.
The result of the raid? It was largely moral, a part of that campaign
of terrorisation which is so strangely a part of the German system,
which has set its army to burning cities, to bombarding the
unfortified coast towns of England, to shooting civilians in conquered
Belgium, and which now sinks the pitiful vessels of small traders and
fishermen in the submarine-infested waters of the British Channel. It
gained no military advantage, was intended to gain no military
advantage. Not a soldier died. The great stores of military supplies
were not wrecked. The victims were, as usual, women and children. The
houses destroyed were the small and peaceful houses of noncombatants.
Only two men were killed. They were in a side street when the first
bomb dropped, and they tried to find an unlocked door, an open house,
anything for shelter. It was impossible. Built like all French towns,
without arcades or sheltering archways, the flat façades of the closed
and barricaded houses refused them sanctuary. The second bomb killed
Through all that night after the bombardment I could hear each hour
the call of the trumpet from the great overhanging tower, a double
note at once thin and musical, that reported no enemy in sight in the
sky and all well. From far away, at the gate in the wall, came the
reply of the distant watchman's horn softened by distance.
"All well here also," it said.
Following the trumpets the soft-toned chimes of the church rang out a
hymn that has chimed from the old tower every hour for generations,
extolling and praising the Man of Peace.
The ambulances had finished their work. The dead lay with folded
hands, surrounded by candles, the lights of faith. And under the
fading moon the old city rested and watched.
NO MAN'S LAND
FROM MY JOURNAL:
I have just had this conversation with the little French chambermaid
at my hotel. "You have not gone to mass, Mademoiselle?"
"But here, so near the lines, I should think—"
"I do not go to church. There is no God." She looked up with
red-rimmed, defiant eyes. "My husband has been killed," she said.
"There is no God. If there was a God, why should my husband be killed?
He had done nothing."
This afternoon at three-thirty I am to start for the front. I am to
see everything. The machine leaves the Mairie at three-thirty.
* * * * *
Do you recall the school map on which the state of Texas was always
pink and Rhode Island green? And Canada a region without colour, and
therefore without existence?
The map of Europe has become a battle line painted in three colours:
yellow for the Belgian Army, blue for the British and red for the
French. It is really a double line, for the confronting German Army is
drawn in black. It is a narrow line to signify what it does—not only
death and wanton destruction, but the end of the myth of civilisation;
a narrow line to prove that the brotherhood of man is a dream, that
modern science is but an improvement on fifth-century barbarity; that
right, after all, is only might.
It took exactly twenty-four hours to strip the shirt off the diplomacy
of Europe and show the coat of mail underneath.
It will take a century to hide that coat of mail. It will take a
thousand years to rebuild the historic towns of Belgium. But not
years, nor a reclothed diplomacy, nor the punishment of whichever
traitor to the world brought this thing to pass, nor anything but
God's great eternity, will ever restore to one mother her uselessly
sacrificed son; will quicken one of the figures that lie rotting along
the battle line; will heal this scar that extends, yellow and blue and
red and black, across the heart of Western Europe.
It is a long scar—long and irregular. It begins at Nieuport, on the
North Sea, extends south to the region of Soissons, east to Verdun,
and then irregularly southeast to the Swiss border.
The map from which I am working was coloured and marked for me by
General Foch, commander of the French Army of the North, at his
headquarters. It is a little map, and so this line, which crosses
empires and cuts civilisation in half, is only fourteen inches long,
although it represents a battle line of over four hundred miles. Of
this the Belgian front is one-half inch, or approximately
one-twenty-eighth. The British front is a trifle more than twice as
long. All the rest of that line is red—French.
That is the most impressive thing about the map, the length of the
With the arrival of Kitchener's army this last spring the blue portion
grew somewhat. The yellow remained as it was, for the Belgian
casualties have been two-thirds of her army. There have been many
tragedies in Belgium. That is one of them.
In the very north then, yellow; then a bit of red; below that blue;
then red again in that long sweeping curve that is the French front.
Occasionally the line moves a trifle forward or back, like the
shifting record of a fever chart; but in general it remains the same.
It has remained the same since the first of November. A movement to
thrust it forward in any one place is followed by a counter-attack in
another place. The reserves must be drawn off and hurried to the
threatened spot. Automatically the line straightens again.
The little map is dated the twenty-third of February. All through the
spring and summer the line has remained unchanged. There will be no
change until one side or the other begins a great offensive movement.
After that it will be a matter of the irresistible force and the
immovable body, a question not of maps but of empires.
Between the confronting lines lies that tragic strip of No Man's Land,
which has been and is the scene of so much tragedy. No Man's Land is
of fixed length but of varying width. There are places where it is
very narrow, so narrow that it is possible to throw across a hand
grenade or a box of cigarettes, depending on the nearness of an
officer whose business is war. Again it is wide, so that friendly
relations are impossible, and sniping becomes a pleasure as well as an
It was No Man's Land that I was to visit the night of the entry in my
From the neighbourhood of Ypres to the Swiss border No Man's Land
varies. The swamps and flat ground give way to more rolling country,
and this to hills. But in the north No Man's Land is a series of
shallow lakes, lying in flat, unprotected country.
For Belgium, in desperation, last October opened the sluices and let
in the sea. It crept in steadily, each high tide advancing the flood
farther. It followed the lines of canal and irrigation ditches mile
after mile till it had got as far south as Ypres, beyond Ypres indeed.
To the encroachment of the sea was added the flooding resulting from
an abnormally rainy winter. Ordinarily the ditches have carried off
the rain; now even where the inundation does not reach it lies in
great ponds. Belgium's fertile sugar-beet fields are under salt water.
The method was effectual, during the winter, at least, in retarding
the German advance. Their artillery destroyed the towns behind the
opposing trenches of the Allies, but their attempts to advance through
the flood failed.
Even where the floods were shallow—only two feet or so—they served
their purpose in masking the character of the land. From a wading
depth of two feet, charging soldiers stepped frequently into a deep
ditch and drowned ignominiously.
It is a noble thing, war! It is good for a country. It unites its
people and develops national spirit!
Great poems have been written about charges. Will there ever be any
great poems about these men who have been drowned in ditches? Or about
the soldiers who have been caught in the barbed wire with which these
inland lakes are filled? Or about the wounded who fall helpless into
The inland lakes that ripple under the wind from the sea, or gleam
silver in the light of the moon, are beautiful, hideous, filled with
bodies that rise and float, face down. And yet here and there the
situation is not without a sort of grim humour. Brilliant engineers on
one side or the other are experimenting with the flood. Occasionally
trenches hitherto dry and fairly comfortable find themselves
unexpectedly filling with water, as the other side devises some clever
scheme for turning the flood from a menace into a military asset.
In No Man's Land are the outposts.
The fighting of the winter has mystified many noncombatants, with its
advances and retreats, which have yet resulted in no definite change
of the line. In many instances this sharp fighting has been a matter
of outposts, generally farms, churches or other isolated buildings,
sometimes even tiny villages. In the inundated portion of Belgium
these outposts are buildings which, situated on rather higher land, a
foot or two above the flood, have become islands. Much of the fighting
in the north has been about these island outposts. Under the
conditions, charges must be made by relatively small bodies of men.
The outposts can similarly house but few troops.
They are generally defended by barbed wire and a few quick-firing
guns. Their purpose is strategical; they are vantage points from which
the enemy may be closely watched. They change sides frequently; are
won and lost, and won again.
Here and there the side at the time in command of the outpost builds
out from its trenches through the flood a pathway of bags of earth,
topped by fascines or bundles of fagots tied together. Such a path
pays a tribute of many lives for every yard of advance. It is built
under fire; it remains under fire. It is destroyed and reconstructed.
When I reached the front the British, Belgian and French troops in the
north had been fighting under these conditions for four months. My
first visit to the trenches was made under the auspices of the Belgian
Ministry of War. The start was made from the Mairie in Dunkirk,
accompanied by the necessary passes and escorted by an attaché of the
I was taken in an automobile from Dunkirk to the Belgian Army
Headquarters, where an officer of the headquarters staff, Captain
F——, took charge. The headquarters had been a brewery.
Stripped of the impedimenta of its previous occupation, it now housed
the officers of the staff.
Since that time I have frequently visited the headquarters staffs of
various armies or their divisions. I became familiar with the long,
bare tables stacked with papers, the lamps, the maps on the walls, the
telephones, the coming and going of dispatch riders in black leather.
I came to know something of the chafing restlessness of these men who
must sit, well behind the firing line, and play paper battles on which
lives and empires hang.
But one thing never ceased to puzzle me.
That night, in a small kitchen behind the Belgian headquarters rooms,
a French peasant woman was cooking the evening meal. Always, at all
the headquarters that were near the front, somewhere in a back room
was a resigned-looking peasant woman cooking a meal. Children hung
about the stove or stood in corners looking out at the strange new
life that surrounded them. Peasants too old for war, their occupations
gone, sat listlessly with hanging hands, their faces the faces of
bewildered children; their clean floors were tracked by the muddy
boots of soldiers; their orderly lives disturbed, uprooted; their once
tidy farmyards were filled with transports; their barns with army
horses; their windmills, instead of housing sacks of grain, were
occupied by mitrailleuses.
What were the thoughts of these people? What are they thinking
now?—for they are still there. What does it all mean to them? Do they
ever glance at the moving cord of the war map on the wall? Is this war
to them only a matter of a courtyard or a windmill? Of mud and the
upheaval of quiet lives? They appear to be waiting—for spring,
probably, and the end of hostilities; for spring and the planting of
crops, for quiet nights to sleep and days to labour.
The young men are always at the front. They who are left express
confidence that these their sons and husbands will return. And yet in
the spring many of them ploughed shallow over battlefields.
It had been planned to show me first a detail map of the places I was
to visit, and with this map before me to explain the present position
of the Belgian line along the embankment of the railroad from Nieuport
to Dixmude. The map was ready on a table in the officers' mess, a bare
room with three long tables of planks, to which a flight of half a
dozen steps led from the headquarters room below.
Twilight had fallen by that time. It had commenced to rain. I could
see through the window heavy drops that stirred the green surface of
the moat at one side of the old building. On the wall hung the
advertisement of an American harvester, a reminder of more peaceful
days. The beating of the rain kept time to the story Captain F——
told that night, bending over the map and tracing his country's ruin
with his forefinger.
Much of it is already history. The surprise and fury of the Germans on
discovering that what they had considered a contemptible military
force was successfully holding them back until the English and French
Armies could get into the field; the policy of systematic terrorism
that followed this discovery; the unpreparedness of Belgium's allies,
which left this heroic little army practically unsupported for so long
against the German tidal wave.
The great battle of the Yser is also history. I shall not repeat the
dramatic recital of the Belgian retreat to this point, fighting a
rear-guard engagement as they fell back before three times their
number; of the fury of the German onslaught, which engaged the entire
Belgian front, so that there was no rest, not a moment's cessation. In
one night at Dixmude the Germans made fifteen attacks. Is it any
wonder that two-thirds of Belgium's Army is gone?
They had fought since the third of August. It was on the twenty-first
of October that they at last retired across the Yser and two days
later took up their present position at the railway embankment. On
that day, the twenty-third of October, the first French troops arrived
to assist them, some eighty-five hundred reaching Nieuport.
It was the hope of the Belgians that, the French taking their places
on the line, they could retire for a time as reserves and get a little
rest. But the German attack continuing fiercely against the combined
armies of the Allies, the Belgians were forced to go into action
again, weary as they were, at the historic curve of the Yser, where
was fought the great battle of the war. At British Headquarters later
on I was given the casualties of that battle, when the invading German
Army flung itself again and again, for nineteen days, against the
forces of the Allies: The English casualties for that period were
forty-five thousand; the French, seventy thousand; the German, by
figures given out at Berlin, two hundred and fifty thousand. The
Belgian I do not know.
"It was after that battle," said Captain F——, "that the German dead
were taken back and burned, to avoid pestilence."
The Belgians had by this time reached the limit of their resources. It
was then that the sluices were opened and their fertile lowlands
On the thirty-first of October the water stopped the German advance
along the Belgian lines. As soon as they discovered what had been done
the Germans made terrific and furious efforts to get forward ahead of
it. They got into the towns of Ramscappelle and Pervyse, where furious
street fighting occurred.
Pervyse was taken five times and lost five times. But all their
efforts failed. The remnant of the Belgian Army had retired to the
railroad embankment. The English and French lines held firm.
For the time, at least, the German advance was checked.
That was Captain F——'s story of the battle of the Yser.
When he had finished he drew out of his pocket the diary of a German
officer killed at the Yser during the first days of the fighting, and
read it aloud. It is a great human document. I give here as nearly as
possible a literal translation.
It was written during the first days of the great battle. For fifteen
days after he was killed the German offensive kept up. General Foch,
who commanded the French Army of the North during that time, described
their method to me. "The Germans came," he said, "like the waves of
* * * * *
The diary of a German officer, killed at the Yser:—
Twenty-fourth of October, 1914:
"The battle goes on—we are trying to effect a crossing of the Yser.
Beginning at 5:45 P.M. the engineers go on preparing their bridging
materials. Marching quickly over the country, crossing fields and
ditches, we are exposed to continuous heavy fire. A spent bullet
strikes me in the back, just below the coat collar, but I am not
"Taking up a position near Vandewonde farm, we are able to obtain a
little shelter from the devastating fire of the enemy's artillery. How
terrible is our situation! By taking advantage of all available cover
we arrive at the fifth trench, where the artillery is in action and
rifle fire is incessant. We know nothing of the general situation. I
do not know where the enemy is, or what numbers are opposed to us, and
there seems no way of getting the desired information.
"Everywhere along the line we are suffering heavy losses, altogether
out of proportion to the results obtained. The enemy's artillery is
too well sheltered, too strong; and as our own guns, fewer in number,
have not been able to silence those of the enemy, our infantry is
unable to make any advance. We are suffering heavy and useless losses.
"The medical service on the field has been found very wanting. At
Dixmude, in one place, no less than forty frightfully wounded men were
left lying uncared, for. The medical corps is kept back on the other
side of the Yser without necessity. It is equally impossible to
receive water and rations in any regular way.
"For several days now we have not tasted a warm meal; bread and other
things are lacking; our reserve rations are exhausted. The water is
bad, quite green, indeed; but all the same we drink it—we can get
nothing else. Man is brought down to the level of the brute beast.
Myself, I have nothing left to eat; I left what I had with me in the
saddlebags on my horse. In fact, we were not told what we should have
to do on this side of the Yser, and we did not know that our horses
would have to be left on the other side. That is why we could not
"I am living on what other people, like true comrades, are willing to
give me, but even then my share is only very small. There is no
thought of changing our linen or our clothes in any way. It is an
incredible situation! On every hand farms and villages are burning.
How sad a spectacle, indeed, to see this magnificent region all in
ruins, wounded and dead lying everywhere all round."
Twenty-fifth of October, 1914:
"A relatively undisturbed night. The safety of the bridge over the
Yser has been assured for a time. The battle has gone on the whole day
long. We have not been given any definite orders. One would not think
this is Sunday. The infantry and artillery combat is incessant, but no
definite result is achieved. Nothing but losses in wounded and killed.
We shall try to get into touch with the sixth division of the Third
Reserve Army Corps on our right."
Twenty-sixth of October, 1914:
"What a frightful night has gone by! There was a terrible rainstorm. I
felt frozen. I remained standing knee-deep in water. To-day an
uninterrupted fusillade meets us in front. We shall throw a bridge
across the Yser, for the enemy's artillery has again destroyed one we
had previously constructed.
"The situation is practically unchanged. No progress has been made in
spite of incessant fighting, in spite of the barking of the guns and
the cries of alarm of those human beings so uselessly killed. The
infantry is worthless until our artillery has silenced the enemy's
guns. Everywhere we must be losing heavily; our own company has
suffered greatly so far. The colonel, the major, and, indeed, many
other officers are already wounded; several are dead.
"There has not yet been any chance of taking off our boots and washing
ourselves. The Sixth Division is ready, but its help is insufficient.
The situation is no clearer than before; we can learn nothing of what
is going on. Again we are setting off for wet trenches. Our regiment
is mixed up with other regiments in an inextricable fashion. No
battalion, no company, knows anything about where the other units of
the regiment are to be found. Everything is jumbled under this
terrible fire which enfilades from all sides.
"There are numbers of francs-tireurs. Our second battalion is going
to be placed under the order of the Cyckortz Regiment, made up of
quite diverse units. Our old regiment is totally broken up. The
situation is terrible. To be under a hail of shot and shell, without
any respite, and know nothing whatever of one's own troops!
"It is to be hoped that soon the situation will be improved. These
conditions cannot be borne very much longer. I am hopeless. The
battalion is under the command of Captain May, and I am reduced to
acting as Fourier. It is not at all an easy thing to do in our
present frightful situation. In the black night soldiers must be sent
some distance in order to get and bring back the food so much needed
by their comrades. They have brought back, too, cards and letters from
those we love. What a consolation in our cheerless situation! We
cannot have a light, however, so we are forced to put into our
pockets, unread, the words of comfort sent by our dear ones—we have
to wait till the following morning.
"So we spend the night again on straw, huddled up close one to another
in order to keep warm. It is horribly cold and damp. All at once a
violent rattle of rifle fire raises us for the combat; hastily we get
ready, shivering, almost frozen."
Twenty-seventh of October, 1914:
"At dawn I take advantage of a few moments' respite to read over the
kind wishes which have come from home. What happiness! Soon, however,
the illusion leaves me. The situation here is still all confusion; we
cannot think of advancing—"
The last sentence is a broken one. For he died.
* * * * *
Morning came and he read his letters from home. They cheered him a
little; we can be glad of that, at least. And then he died.
That record is a great human document. It is absolutely genuine. He
was starving and cold. As fast as they built a bridge to get back it
was destroyed. From three sides he and the others with him were being
shelled. He must have known what the inevitable end would be. But he
said very little. And then he died.
There were other journels taken from the bodies of other German
officers at that terrible battle of the Yser. They speak of it as a
"hell"—a place of torment and agony impossible to describe. Some of
them I have seen. There is nowhere in the world a more pitiful or
tragic or thought-compelling literature than these diaries of German
officers thrust forward without hope and waiting for the end.
At six o'clock it was already entirely dark and raining hard. Even in
the little town the machine was deep in mud. I got in and we started
off again, moving steadily toward the front. Captain F—— had brought
with him a box of biscuits, large, square, flaky crackers, which were
to be my dinner until some time in the night. He had an electric flash
and a map. The roads were horrible; it was impossible to move rapidly.
Here and there a sentry's lantern would show him standing on the edge
of a flooded field. The car careened, righted itself and kept on. As
the roads became narrower it was impossible to pass another vehicle.
The car drew out at crossroads here and there to allow transports to
THE IRON DIVISION
It was bitterly cold, and the dead officer's diary weighed on my
spirit. The two officers in the machine pored over the map; I sat
huddled in my corner. I had come a long distance to do the thing I was
doing. But my enthusiasm for it had died. I wished I had not heard the
"At dawn I take advantage of a few moments' respite to read over the
kind wishes which have come from home. What happiness!" And then he
The car jolted on.
The soldier and the military chauffeur out in front were drenched. The
wind hurled the rain at them like bullets. We were getting close to
the front. There were shellholes now, great ruts into which the car
dropped and pulled out again with a jerk.
Then at last a huddle of dark houses and a sentry's challenge. The car
stopped and we got out. Again there were seas of mud, deeper even than
before. I had reached the headquarters of the Third Division of the
Belgian Army, commonly known as the Iron Division, so nicknamed for
its heroic work in this war.
The headquarters building was ironically called the "château." It had
been built by officers and men, of fresh boards and lined neatly
inside with newspapers. Some of them were illustrated French papers.
It had much the appearance of a Western shack during the early days of
the gold fever. On one of the walls was a war map of the Eastern
front, the line a cord fastened into place with flag pins. The last
time I had seen such a map of the Eastern front was in the Cabinet
Room at Washington.
A large stove in the centre of the room heated the building, which was
both light and warm. Some fifteen officers received us. I was the only
woman who had been so near the front, for out here there are no
nurses. One by one they were introduced and bowed. There were fifteen
hosts and extremely few guests!
Having had telephone notice of our arrival, they showed me how
carefully they had prepared for it. The long desk was in beautiful
order; floors gleamed snow white; the lamp chimneys were polished.
There were sandwiches and tea ready to be served.
In one room was the telephone exchange, which connected the
headquarters with every part of the line. In another, a long line of
American typewriters and mimeographing machines wrote out and copied
the orders which were regularly distributed to the front.
"Will you see our museum?" said a tall officer, who spoke beautiful
English. His mother was an Englishwoman. So I was taken into another
room and shown various relics of the battlefield—pieces of shells,
rifles and bullets.
"Early German shells," said the officer who spoke English, "were like
this. You see how finely they splintered. The later ones are not so
good; the material is inferior, and here is an aluminum nose which
shows how scarce copper is becoming in Germany to-day."
I have often thought of that visit to the "château," of the beautiful
courtesy of those Belgian officers, their hospitality, their eagerness
to make an American woman comfortable and at home. And I was to have
still further proof of their kindly feeling, for when toward daylight
I came back from the trenches they were still up, the lamps were still
burning brightly, the stove was red hot and cheerful, and they had
provided food for us against the chill of the winter dawn. Out through
the mud and into the machine again. And now we were very near the
trenches. The car went without lights and slowly. A foot off the
centre of the road would have made an end to the excursion.
We began to pass men, long lines of them standing in the drenching
rain to let us by. They crowded close against the car to avoid the
seas of mud. Sometimes they grumbled a little, but mostly they were
entirely silent. That is the thing that impressed me always about the
lines of soldiers I saw going to and from the trenches—their silence.
Even their feet made no noise. They loomed up like black shadows which
the night swallowed immediately.
The car stopped again. We had made another leg of the journey. And
this time our destination was a church. We were close behind the
trenches now and our movements were made with extreme caution. Captain
F—— piloted me through the mud.
"We will go quietly," he said. "Many of them are doubtless sleeping;
they are but just out of the trenches and very tired."
Now and then one encounters in this war a picture that cannot be
painted. Such a picture is that little church just behind the Belgian
lines at L——. There are no pews, of course, in Continental churches.
The chairs had been piled up in a corner near the altar, and on the
stone floor thus left vacant had been spread quantities of straw.
Lying on the straw and covered by their overcoats were perhaps two
hundred Belgian soldiers. They lay huddled close together for warmth;
the mud of the trenches still clung to them. The air was heavy with
the odour of damp straw.
The high vaulted room was a cave of darkness. The only lights were
small flat candles here and there, stuck in saucers or on haversacks
just above the straw. These low lights, so close to the floor, fell on
the weary faces of sleeping men, accentuating the shadows, bringing
pinched nostrils into relief, showing lines of utter fatigue and
But the picture was not all sombre. Here were four men playing cards
under an image of Our Lady, which was just overhead. They were muffled
against the cold and speaking in whispers. In a far corner a soldier
sat alone, cross-legged, writing by the light of a candle. His letter
rested on a flat loaf of bread, which was his writing table. Another
soldier had taken a loaf of bread for his pillow and was comfortably
asleep on it.
Captain F—— led the way through the church. He stepped over the men
carefully. When they roused and looked up they would have risen to
salute, but he told them to lie still.
It was clear that the relationship between the Belgian officers and
their troops was most friendly. Not only in that little church at
midnight, but again and again I have seen the same thing. The officers
call their men their "little soldiers," and eye them with affection.
One boy insisted on rising and saluting. He was very young, and on his
chin was the straggly beard of his years. The Captain stooped, and
lifting a candle held it to his face.
"The handsomest beard in the Belgian Army!" he said, and the men round
And so it went, a word here, a nod there, an apology when we disturbed
one of the sleepers.
"They are but boys," said the Captain, and sighed. For each day there
were fewer of them who returned to the little church to sleep.
On the way back to the car, making our way by means of the Captain's
electric flash through the crowded graveyard, he turned to me.
"When you write of this, madame," he said, "you will please not
mention the location of this church. So far it has escaped—perhaps
because it is small. But the churches always suffer."
I regretted this. So many of the churches are old and have the
interest of extreme age, even when they are architecturally
insignificant. But I found these officers very fair, just as I had
found the King of the Belgians disinclined to condemn the entire
German Army for the brutalities of a part of it.
"There is no reason why churches should not be destroyed if they are
serving military purposes," one of them said. "When a church tower
shelters a gun, or is used for observations, it is quite legitimate
that it be subject to artillery fire. That is a necessity of war."
We moved cautiously. Behind the church was a tiny cluster of small
houses. The rain had ceased, but the electric flashlight showed great
pools of water, through which we were obliged to walk. The hamlet was
very silent—not a dog barked. There were no dogs.
I do not recall seeing any dogs at any time along the front, except at
La Panne. What has become of them? There were cats in the destroyed
towns, cats even in the trenches. But there were no dogs. It is not
because the people are not fond of dogs. Dunkirk was full of them when
I was there. The public square resounded with their quarrels and noisy
playing. They lay there in the sun and slept, and ambulances turned
aside in their headlong career to avoid running them down. But the
villages along the front were silent.
I once asked an officer what had become of the dogs.
"The soldiers eat them!" he said soberly.
I heard the real explanation later. The strongest dogs had been
commandeered for the army, and these brave dogs of Flanders, who have
always laboured, are now drawing mitrailleuses, as I saw them at
L——. The little dogs must be fed, and there is no food to spare. And
so the children, over whose heads passes unheeded the real
significance of this drama that is playing about them, have their own
small tragedies these days.
We got into the car again and it moved off. With every revolution of
the engine we were advancing toward that sinister line that borders No
Man's Land. We were very close. The road paralleled the trenches, and
shelling had begun again.
It was not close, and no shells dropped in our vicinity. But the low,
horizontal red streaks of the German guns were plainly visible.
With the cessation of the rain had begun again the throwing over the
Belgian trenches of the German magnesium flares, which the British
call starlights. The French call them fusées. Under any name I do
not like them. One moment one is advancing in a comfortable obscurity.
The next instant it is the Fourth of July, with a white rocket
bursting overhead. There is no noise, however. The thing is
miraculously beautiful, silent and horrible. I believe the light
floats on a sort of tiny parachute. For perhaps sixty seconds it hangs
low in the air, throwing all the flat landscape into clear relief.
I do not know if one may read print under these fusées. I never had
either the courage or the print for the experiment. But these eyes of
the night open and close silently all through the hours of darkness.
They hang over the trenches, reveal the movements of troops on the
roads behind, shine on ammunition trains and ambulances, on the
righteous and the unrighteous. All along the German lines these
fusées go up steadily. I have seen a dozen in the air at once. Their
silence and the eternal vigilance which they reveal are most
impressive. On the quietest night, with only an occasional shot being
fired, the horizon is ringed with them.
And on the horizon they are beautiful. Overhead they are distinctly
"They are very uncomfortable," I said to Captain F——. "The Germans
can see us plainly, can't they?"
"But that is what they are for," he explained. "All movements of
troops and ammunition trains to and from the trenches are made during
the night, so they watch us very carefully."
"How near are we to the trenches?" I asked.
"Very near, indeed."
"To the first line?"
For I had heard that there were other lines behind, and with the
cessation of the rain my courage was rising. Nothing less than the
first line was to satisfy me.
"To the first line," he said, and smiled.
The wind which had driven the rain in sheets against the car had blown
the storm away. The moon came out, a full moon. From the car I could
see here and there the gleam of the inundation. The road was
increasingly bad, with shell holes everywhere. Buildings loomed out of
the night, roofless and destroyed. The fusées rose and burst
silently overhead; the entire horizon seemed encircled with them. We
were so close to the German lines that we could see an electric signal
sending its message of long and short flashes, could even see the
reply. It seemed to me most unmilitary.
"Any one who knew telegraphy and German could read that message," I
"It is not so simple as that. It is a cipher code, and is probably
Nevertheless, the officers in the car watched the signalling closely,
and turning, surveyed the country behind us. In so flat a region, with
trees and shrubbery cut down and houses razed, even a pocket flash can
send a signal to the lines of the enemy. And such signals are sent.
The German spy system is thorough and far-reaching.
I have gone through Flanders near the lines at various times at night.
It is a dead country apparently. There are destroyed houses, sodden
fields, ditches lipful of water. But in the most amazing fashion
lights spring up and disappear. Follow one of these lights and you
find nothing but a deserted farm, or a ruined barn, or perhaps nothing
but a field of sugar beets dying in the ground.
Who are these spies? Are they Belgians and French, driven by the ruin
of everything they possess to selling out to the enemy? I think not.
It is much more probable that they are Germans who slip through the
lines in some uncanny fashion, wading and swimming across the
inundation, crawling flat where necessary, and working, an inch at a
time, toward the openings between the trenches. Frightful work, of
course. Impossible work, too, if the popular idea of the trenches were
correct—that is, that they form one long, communicating ditch from
the North Sea to Switzerland! They do not, of course. There are blank
spaces here and there, fully controlled by the trenches on either
side, and reënforced by further trenches behind. But with a knowledge
of where these openings lie it is possible to work through.
Possible, not easy. And there is no mercy for a captured spy.
The troops who had been relieved were moving out of the trenches. Our
progress became extremely slow. The road was lined with men. They
pressed their faces close to the glass of the car and laughed and
talked a little among themselves. Some of them were bandaged. Their
white bandages gleamed in the moonlight. Here and there, as they
passed, one blew on his fingers, for the wind was bitterly cold.
"In a few moments we must get out and walk," I was told. "Is madame a
I said I was a good walker. I had a strong feeling that two or three
people might walk along that road under those starlights much more
safely and inconspicuously than an automobile could move. For
automobiles at the front mean generals as a rule, and are always
subject to attack.
Suddenly the car stopped and a voice called to us sharply. There were
soldiers coming up a side road. I was convinced that we had surprised
an attack, and were in the midst of the German advance. One of the
officers flung the door open and looked out.
But we were only on the wrong road, and must get into reverse and turn
the machine even closer to the front. I know now that there was no
chance of a German attack at that point, that my fears were absurd.
Nevertheless, so keen was the tension that for quite ten minutes my
heart raced madly.
On again. The officers in the car consulted the map and, having
decided on the route, fell into conversation. The officer of the Third
Division, whose mother had been English, had joined the party. He had
been on the staff of General Leman at the time of the capture of
Liège, and he told me of the sensational attempt made by the Germans
to capture the General.
"I was upstairs with him at headquarters," he said, "when word came up
that eight Englishmen had just entered the building with a request to
see him. I was suspicious and we started down the staircase together.
The 'Englishmen' were in the hallway below. As we appeared on the
stairs the man in advance put his hand in his pocket and drew a
revolver. They were dressed in civilians' clothes, but I saw at once
that they were German.
"I was fortunate in getting my revolver out first, and shot down the
man in advance. There was a struggle, in which the General made his
escape and all of the eight were either killed or taken prisoners.
They were uhlans, two officers and six privates."
"It was very brave," I said. "A remarkable exploit."
"Very brave indeed," he agreed with me. "They are all very brave, the
Captain F—— had been again consulting his map. Now he put it away.
"Brave but brutal," he said briefly. "I am of the Third Division. I
have watched the German advance protected by women and children. In
the fighting the civilians fell first. They had no weapons. It was
terrible. It is the German system," he went on, "which makes
everything of the end, and nothing at all of the means. It is seen in
the way they have sacrificed their own troops."
"They think you are equally brutal," I said. "The German soldiers
believe that they will have their eyes torn out if they are captured."
I cited a case I knew of, where a wounded German had hidden in the
inundation for five days rather than surrender to the horrors he
thought were waiting for him. When he was found and taken to a
hospital his long days in the water had brought on gangrene and he
could not be saved.
"They have been told that to make them fight more savagely," was the
comment. "What about the official German order for a campaign of
'frightfulness' in Belgium?"
And here, even while the car is crawling along toward the trenches,
perhaps it is allowable to explain the word "frightfulness," which now
so permeates the literature of the war. Following the scenes of the
German invasion into Belgium, where here and there some maddened
civilian fired on the German troops and precipitated the deaths of his
townsmen,[C] Berlin issued, on August twenty-seventh, a declaration,
of which this paragraph is a part:
[Footnote C: The Belgians contend that, in almost every case, such
firing by civilians was the result of attack on their women.]
"The only means of preventing surprise attacks from the civil
population has been to interfere with unrelenting severity and to
create examples which, by their frightfulness, would be a warning to
the whole country."
A Belgian officer once quoted it to me, with a comment.
"This is not an order to the army. It is an attempt at justification
for the very acts which Berlin is now attempting to deny!"
That is how "frightfulness" came into the literature of the war.
Captain F—— stopped the car. Near the road was a ruin of an old
"In that church," he said, "our soldiers were sleeping when the
Germans, evidently informed by a spy, began to shell it. The first
shot smashed that house there, twenty-five yards away; the second shot
came through the roof and struck one of the supporting pillars,
bringing the roof down. Forty-six men were killed and one hundred and
He showed me the grave from a window of the car, a great grave in
front of the church, with a wooden cross on it. It was too dark to
read the inscription, but he told me what it said:
"Here lie forty-six chasseurs." Beneath are the names, one below the
other in two columns, and underneath all: "Morts pour la Patrie."
We continued to advance. Our lamps were out, but the fusées made
progress easy. And there was the moon. We had left behind us the lines
of the silent men. The scene was empty, desolate. Suddenly we stopped
by a low brick house, a one-story building with overhanging eaves.
Sentries with carbines stood under the eaves, flattened against the
wall for shelter from the biting wind.
AT THE HOUSE OF THE BARRIER
A narrow path led up to the house. It was flanked on both sides by
barbed wire, and progress through it was slow. The wind caught my rain
cape and tore it against the barbs. I had to be disentangled. The
sentries saluted, and the low door, through which the officers were
obliged to stoop to enter, was opened by an orderly from within.
We entered The House of the Mill of Saint ——.
The House of the Mill of Saint —— was less pretentious than its
name. Even at its best it could not have been imposing. Now, partially
destroyed and with its windows carefully screened inside by grain
sacks nailed to the frames for fear of a betraying ray of light, it
was not beautiful. But it was hospitable. A hanging lamp in its one
livable room, a great iron stove, red and comforting, and a large
round table under the lamp made it habitable and inviting. It was
Belgian artillery headquarters, and I was to meet here Colonel
Jacques, one of the military idols of Belgium, the hero of the Congo,
and now in charge of Belgian batteries. In addition, since it was
midnight, we were to sup here.
We were expected, and Colonel Jacques himself waited inside the
living-room door. A tall man, as are almost all the Belgian
officers—which is curious, considering that the troops seem to be
rather under average size—he greeted us cordially. I fancied that
behind his urbanity there was the glimmer of an amused smile. But his
courtesy was beautiful. He put me near the fire and took the next
I had a good chance to observe him. He is no longer a young man, and
beyond a certain military erectness and precision in his movements
there is nothing to mark him the great soldier he has shown himself to
"We are to have supper," he said smilingly in French. "Provided you
have brought something to eat with you!"
"We have brought it," said Captain F——.
The officers of the staff came in and were formally presented. There
was much clicking of heels, much deep and courteous bowing. Then
Captain F—— produced his box of biscuits, and from a capacious
pocket of his army overcoat a tin of bully beef. The House of the Mill
of Saint —— contributed a bottle of thin white native wine and,
triumphantly, a glass. There are not many glasses along the front.
There was cheese too. And at the end of the meal Colonel Jacques, with
great empressement, laid before me a cake of sweet chocolate.
I had to be shown the way to use the bully beef. One of the hard flat
biscuits was split open, spread with butter and then with the beef in
a deep layer. It was quite good, but what with excitement and fatigue
I was not hungry. Everybody ate; everybody talked; and, after asking
my permission, everybody smoked. I sat near the stove and dried my
Afterward I remembered that with all the conversation there was very
little noise. Our voices were subdued. Probably we might have cheered
in that closed and barricaded house without danger. But the sense of
the nearness of the enemy was over us all, and the business of war was
not forgotten. There were men who came, took orders and went away.
There were maps on the walls and weapons in every corner. Even the
sacking that covered the windows bespoke caution and danger.
Here it was too near the front for the usual peasant family huddled
round its stove in the kitchen, and looking with resignation on these
strange occupants of their house. The humble farm buildings outside
I looked round the room; a picture or two still hung on the walls, and
a crucifix. There is always a crucifix in these houses. There was a
carbine just beneath this one.
Inside of one of the picture frames one of the Colonel's medals had
been placed, as if for safety.
Colonel Jacques sat at the head of the table and beamed at us all. He
has behind him many years of military service. He has been decorated
again and again for bravery. But, perhaps, when this war is over and
he has time to look back he will smile over that night supper with the
first woman he had seen for months, under the rumble of his own and
the German batteries.
It was time to go to the advance trenches. But before we left one of
the officers who had accompanied me rose and took a folded paper from
a pocket of his tunic. He was smiling.
"I shall read," he said, "a little tribute from one of Colonel
Jacques' soldiers to him."
So we listened. Colonel Jacques sat and smiled; but he is a modest
man, and his fingers were beating a nervous tattoo on the table. The
young officer stood and read, glancing up now and then to smile at his
chief's embarrassment. The wind howled outside, setting the sacks at
the windows to vibrating.
This is a part of the poem:
"Comme chef nous avons l'homme à la hauteur
Un homme aimé et adoré de tous
L'Colonel Jacques; de lui les hommes sont fous
En lui nous voyons l'emblème de l'honneur.
Des compagnes il en a des tas: En Afrique
Haecht et Dixmude, Ramsdonck et Sart-Tilmau
Et toujours premier et toujours en avant
Toujours en têt' de son beau régiment,
Chef au grand coeur.
"L'Colo du 12me passe
Regardez ce vaillant
Quand il crie dans l'espace
Joyeus'ment 'En avant!'
Ses hommes, la mine heureuse
Gaîment suivent sa trace
Sur la route glorieuse.
Saluez-le, l'Colo du 12me passe.
We applauded. It is curious to remember how cheerful we were, how warm
and comfortable, there at the House of the Mill of Saint ——, with
war only a step away now. Curious, until we think that, of all the
created world, man is the most adaptable. Men and horses! Which is as
it should be now, with both men and horses finding themselves in
strange places, indeed, and somehow making the best of it.
The copy of the poem, which had been printed at the front, probably on
an American hand press, was given to me with Colonel Jacques'
signature on the back, and we prepared to go. There was much donning
of heavy wraps, much bowing and handshaking. Colonel Jacques saw us
out into the wind-swept night. Then the door of the little house
closed again, and we were on our way through the barricade.
Until now our excursion to the trenches, aside from the discomfort of
the weather and the mud, had been fairly safe, although there was
always the chance of a shell. To that now was to be added a fresh
hazard—the sniping that goes on all night long.
Our car moved quietly for a mile, paralleling the trenches. Then it
stopped. The rest of the journey was to be on foot.
All traces of the storm had passed, except for the pools of mud,
which, gleaming like small lakes, filled shell holes in the road. An
ammunition lorry had drawn up in the shadow of a hedge and was
cautiously unloading. Evidently the night's movement of troops was
over, for the roads were empty.
A few feet beyond the lorry we came up to the trenches. We were behind
them, only head and shoulders above.
There was no sign of life or movement, except for the silent fusées
that burst occasionally a little to our right. Walking was bad. The
Belgian blocks of the road were coated with slippery mud, and from
long use and erosion the stones themselves were rounded, so that our
feet slipped over them. At the right was a shallow ditch three or four
feet wide. Immediately beyond that was the railway embankment where,
as Captain F—— had explained, the Belgian Army had taken up its
position after being driven back across the Yser.
The embankment loomed shoulder high, and between it and the ditch were
the trenches. There was no sound from them, but sentries halted us
frequently. On such occasions the party stopped abruptly—for here
sentries are apt to fire first and investigate afterward—and one
officer advanced with the password.
There is always something grim and menacing about the attitude of the
sentry as he waits on such occasions. His carbine is not over his
shoulder, but in his hands, ready for use. The bayonet gleams. His
eyes are fixed watchfully on the advance. A false move, and his
overstrained nerves may send the carbine to his shoulder.
We walked just behind the trenches in the moonlight for a mile. No one
said anything. The wind was icy. Across the railroad embankment it
chopped the inundation into small crested waves. Only by putting one's
head down was it possible to battle ahead. From Dixmude came the
intermittent red flashes of guns. But the trenches beside us were
At the end of a mile we stopped. The road turned abruptly to the right
and crossed the railroad embankment, and at this crossing was the ruin
of what had been the House of the Barrier, where in peaceful times the
crossing tender lived.
It had been almost destroyed. The side toward the German lines was
indeed a ruin, but one room was fairly whole. However, the door had
been shot away. To enter, it was necessary to lift away an
extemporised one of planks roughly nailed together, which leaned
against the aperture.
The moving of the door showed more firelight, and a very small, shaded
and smoky lamp on a stand. There were officers here again. The little
house is slightly in front of the advanced trenches, and once inside
it was possible to realise its exposed position. Standing as it does
on the elevation of the railroad, it is constantly under fire. It is
surrounded by barbed wire and flanked by trenches in which are
The walls were full of shell holes, stuffed with sacks of straw or
boarded over. What had been windows were now jagged openings,
similarly closed. The wind came through steadily, smoking the chimney
of the lamp and making the flame flicker.
There was one chair.
I wish I could go farther. I wish I could say that shells were
bursting overhead, and that I sat calmly in the one chair and made
notes. I sat, true enough, but I sat because I was tired and my feet
were wet. And instead of making notes I examined my new six-guinea
silk rubber rain cape for barbed-wire tears. Not a shell came near.
The German battery across had ceased firing at dusk that evening, and
was playing pinochle four hundred yards away across the inundation.
The snipers were writing letters home.
It is true that any time an artilleryman might lose a game and go out
and fire a gun to vent his spleen or to keep his hand in. And the
snipers might begin to notice that the rain was over, and that there
was suspicious activity at the House of the Barrier. And, to take away
the impression of perfect peace, big guns were busy just north and
south of us. Also, just where we were the Germans had made a terrific
charge three nights before to capture an outpost. But the fact remains
that I brought away not even a bullet hole through the crown of my
soft felt hat.
NIGHT IN THE TRENCHES
When I had been thawed out they took me into the trenches. Because of
the inundation directly in front, they are rather shallow, and at this
point were built against the railroad embankment with earth, boards,
and here and there a steel rail from the track. Some of them were
covered, too, but not with bombproof material. The tops were merely
shelters from the rain and biting wind.
The men lay or sat in them—it was impossible to stand. Some of them
were like tiny houses into which the men crawled from the rear, and by
placing a board, which served as a door, managed to keep out at least
a part of the bitter wind.
In the first trench I was presented to a bearded major. He was lying
flat and apologised for not being able to rise. There was a machine
gun beside him. He told me with some pride that it was an American
gun, and that it never jammed. When a machine gun jams the man in
charge of it dies and his comrades die, and things happen with great
rapidity. On the other side of him was a cat, curled up and sound
asleep. There was a telephone instrument there. It was necessary to
step over the wire that was stretched along the ground.
All night long he lies there with his gun, watching for the first
movement in the trenches across. For here, at the House of the
Barrier, has taken place some of the most furious fighting of this
part of the line.
In the next division of the trench were three men. They were cleaning
and oiling their rifles round a candle.
The surprise of all of these men at seeing a woman was almost absurd.
Word went down the trenches that a woman was visiting. Heads popped
out and cautious comments were made. It was concluded that I was
visiting royalty, but the excitement died when it was discovered that
I was not the Queen. Now and then, when a trench looked clean and dry,
I was invited in. It was necessary to get down and crawl in on hands
Here was a man warming his hands over a tiny fire kindled in a tin
pail. He had bored holes in the bottom of the pail for air, and was
shielding the glow carefully with his overcoat.
Many people have written about the trenches—the mud, the odours, the
inhumanity of compelling men to live under such foul conditions.
Nothing that they have said can be too strong. Under the best
conditions the life is ghastly, horrible, impossible.
That night, when from a semi-shielded position I could look across to
the German line, the contrast between the condition of the men in the
trenches and the beauty of the scenery was appalling. In each
direction, as far as one could see, lay a gleaming lagoon of water.
The moon made a silver path across it, and here and there on its
borders were broken and twisted winter trees.
"It is beautiful," said Captain F——, beside me, in a low voice. "But
it is full of the dead. They are taken out whenever it is possible;
but it is not often possible."
"And when there is an attack the attacking side must go through the
"Not always, but in many places."
"What will happen if it freezes over?"
He explained that it was salt water, and would not freeze easily. And
the cold of that part of the country is not the cold of America in the
same latitude. It is not a cold of low temperature; it is a damp,
penetrating cold that goes through garments of every weight and seems
to chill the very blood in a man's body.
"How deep is the water?" I asked.
"It varies—from two to eight feet. Here it is shallow."
"I should think they would come over."
"The water is full of barbed wire," he said grimly. "And some, a great
many, have tried—and failed."
As of the trenches, many have written of the stenches of this war. But
the odour of that beautiful lagoon was horrible. I do not care to
emphasize it. It is one of the things best forgotten. But any
lingering belief I may have had in the grandeur and glory of war died
that night beside that silver lake—died of an odour, and will never
And now came a discussion.
The road crossing the railroad embankment turned sharply to the left
and proceeded in front of the trenches. There was no shelter on that
side of the embankment. The inundation bordered the road, and just
beyond the inundation were the German trenches.
There were no trees, no shrubbery, no houses; just a flat road, paved
with Belgian blocks, that gleamed in the moonlight.
At last the decision was made. We would go along the road, provided I
realised from the first that it was dangerous. One or two could walk
there with a good chance for safety, but not more. The little group
had been augmented. It must break up; two might walk together, and
then two a safe distance behind. Four would certainly be fired on.
I wanted to go. It was not a matter of courage. I had simply,
parrot-fashion, mimicked the attitude of mind of the officers. One
after another I had seen men go into danger with a shrug of the
"If it comes it comes!" they said, and went on. So I, too, had become
a fatalist. If I was to be shot it would happen, if I had to buy a
rifle and try to clean it myself to fulfil my destiny.
So they let me go. I went farther than they expected, as it turned
out. There was a great deal of indignation and relief when it was
over. But that is later on.
A very tall Belgian officer took me in charge. It was necessary to
work through a barbed-wire barricade, twisting and turning through its
mazes. The moonlight helped. It was at once a comfort and an anxiety,
for it seemed to me that my khaki-coloured suit gleamed in it. The
Belgian officers in their dark blue were less conspicuous. I thought
they had an unfair advantage of me, and that it was idiotic of the
British to wear and advocate anything so absurd as khaki. My cape
ballooned like a sail in the wind. I felt at least double my ordinary
size, and that even a sniper with a squint could hardly miss me. And,
by way of comfort, I had one last instruction before I started:
"If a fusée goes up, stand perfectly still. If you move they will
The entire safety of the excursion depended on a sort of tacit
agreement that, in part at least, obtains as to sentries.
This is a new warfare, one of artillery, supported by infantry in
trenches. And it has been necessary to make new laws for it. One of
the most curious is a sort of modus vivendi by which each side
protects its own sentries by leaving the enemy's sentries unmolested
so long as there is no active fighting. They are always in plain view
before the trenches. In case of a charge they are the first to be
shot, of course. But long nights and days have gone by along certain
parts of the front where the hostile trenches are close together, and
the sentries, keeping their monotonous lookout, have been undisturbed.
No doubt by this time the situation has changed to a certain extent;
there has been more active fighting, larger bodies of men are
involved. The spring floods south of the inundation will have dried
up. No Man's Land will have ceased to be a swamp and the deadlock may
But on that February night I put my faith in this agreement, and it
The tall Belgian officer asked me if I was frightened. I said I was
not. This was not exactly the truth; but it was no time for the truth.
"They are not shooting," I said. "It looks perfectly safe."
He shrugged his shoulders and glanced toward the German trenches.
"They have been sleeping during the rain," he said briefly. "But when
one of them wakes up, look out!"
After that there was little conversation, and what there was was in
As we proceeded the stench from the beautiful moonlit water grew
overpowering. The officer told me the reason.
A little farther along a path of fascines had been built out over the
inundation to an outpost halfway to the German trenches. The building
of this narrow roadway had cost many lives.
Half a mile along the road we were sharply challenged by a sentry.
When he had received the password he stood back and let us pass.
Alone, in that bleak and exposed position in front of the trenches,
always in full view as he paced back and forward, carbine on shoulder,
with not even a tree trunk or a hedge for shelter, the first to go at
the whim of some German sniper or at any indication of an attack, he
was a pathetic, almost a tragic, figure. He looked very young too. I
stopped and asked him in a whisper how old he was.
He said he was nineteen!
He may have been. I know something about boys, and I think he was
seventeen at the most. There are plenty of boys of that age doing just
what that lad was doing.
Afterward I learned that it was no part of the original plan to take a
woman over the fascine path to the outpost; that Captain F—— ground
his teeth in impotent rage when he saw where I was being taken. But it
was not possible to call or even to come up to us. So, blithely and
unconsciously the tall Belgian officer and I turned to the right, and
I was innocently on my way to the German trenches.
After a little I realised that this was rather more war than I had
expected. The fascines were slippery; the path only four or five feet
wide. On each side was the water, hideous with many secrets.
I stopped, a third of the way out, and looked back. It looked about as
dangerous in one direction as another. So we went on. Once I slipped
and fell. And now, looming out of the moonlight, I could see the
outpost which was the object of our visit.
I have always been grateful to that Belgian lieutenant for his
mistake. Just how grateful I might have been had anything untoward
happened, I cannot say. But the excursion was worth all the risk, and
On a bit of high ground stands what was once the tiny hamlet of
Oudstuyvenskerke—the ruins of two small white houses and the tower of
the destroyed church—hardly a tower any more, for only three sides of
it are standing and they are riddled with great shell holes.
Six hundred feet beyond this tower were the German trenches. The
little island was hardly a hundred feet in its greatest dimension.
I wish I could make those people who think that war is good for a
country see that Belgian outpost as I saw it that night under the
moonlight. Perhaps we were under suspicion; I do not know. Suddenly
the fusées, which had ceased for a time, began again, and with their
white light added to that of the moon the desolate picture of that
tiny island was a picture of the war. There was nothing lacking. There
was the beauty of the moonlit waters, there was the tragedy of the
destroyed houses and the church, and there was the horror of unburied
There was heroism, too, of the kind that will make Belgium live in
history. For in the top of that church tower for months a Capuchin
monk has held his position alone and unrelieved. He has a telephone,
and he gains access to his position in the tower by means of a rope
ladder which he draws up after him.
Furious fighting has taken place again and again round the base of the
tower. The German shells assail it constantly. But when I left Belgium
the Capuchin monk, who has become a soldier, was still on duty; still
telephoning the ranges of the gun; still notifying headquarters of
German preparations for a charge.
Some day the church tower will fall and he will go with it, or it will
be captured; one or the other is inevitable. Perhaps it has already
happened; for not long ago I saw in the newspapers that furious
fighting was taking place at this very spot.
He came down and I talked to him—a little man, regarding his
situation as quite ordinary, and looking quaintly unpriestlike in his
uniform of a Belgian officer with its tasselled cap. Some day a great
story will be written of these priests of Belgium who have left their
churches to fight.
We spoke in whispers. There was after all very little to say. It would
have embarrassed him horribly had any one told him that he was a
heroic figure. And the ordinary small talk is not currency in such a
We shook hands and I think I wished him luck. Then he went back again
to the long hours and days of waiting.
I passed under his telephone wires. Some day he will telephone that a
charge is coming. He will give all the particulars calmly, concisely.
Then the message will break off abruptly. He will have sent his last
warning. For that is the way these men at the advance posts die.
As we started again I was no longer frightened. Something of his
courage had communicated itself to me, his courage and his philosophy,
perhaps his faith.
The priest had become a soldier; but he was still a priest in his
heart. For he had buried the German dead in one great grave before the
church, and over them had put the cross of his belief.
It was rather absurd on the way back over the path of death to be
escorted by a cat. It led the way over the fascines, treading daintily
and cautiously. Perhaps one of the destroyed houses at the outpost had
been its home, and with a cat's fondness for places it remained there,
though everything it knew had gone; though battle and sudden death had
usurped the place of its peaceful fireside, though that very fireside
was become a heap of stone and plaster, open to winds and rain.
Again and again in destroyed towns I have seen these forlorn cats
stalking about, trying vainly to adjust themselves to new conditions,
cold and hungry and homeless.
We were challenged repeatedly on the way back. Coming from the
direction we did we were open to suspicion. It was necessary each time
to halt some forty feet from the sentry, who stood with his rifle
pointed at us. Then the officer advanced with the word.
Back again, then, along the road, past the youthful sentry, past other
sentries, winding through the barbed-wire barricade, and at last,
quite whole, to the House of the Barrier again. We had walked three
miles in front of the Belgian advanced trenches, in full view of the
Germans. There had been no protecting hedge or bank or tree between us
and that ominous line two hundred yards across. And nothing whatever
Captain F—— was indignant. The officers in the House of the Barrier
held up their hands. For men such a risk was legitimate, necessary. In
a woman it was foolhardy. Nevertheless, now that it was safely over,
they were keenly interested and rather amused. But I have learned that
the gallant captain and the officer with him had arranged, in case
shooting began, to jump into the water, and by splashing about draw
the fire in their direction!
We went back to the automobile, a long walk over the shell-eaten roads
in the teeth of a biting wind. But a glow of exultation kept me warm.
I had been to the front. I had been far beyond the front, indeed, and
I had seen such a picture of war and its desolation there in the
centre of No Man's Land as perhaps no one not connected with an army
had seen before; such a picture as would live in my mind forever.
I visited other advanced trenches that night as we followed the
Belgian lines slowly northward toward Nieuport.
Save the varying conditions of discomfort, they were all similar.
Always they were behind the railroad embankment. Always they were
dirty and cold. Frequently they were full of mud and water. To reach
them one waded through swamps and pools. Just beyond them there was
always the moonlit stretch of water, now narrow, now wide.
I was to see other trenches later on, French and English. But only
along the inundation was there that curious combination of beauty and
hideousness, of rippling water with the moonlight across it in a
silver path, and in that water things that had been men.
In one place a cow and a pig were standing on ground a little bit
raised. They had been there for weeks between the two armies. Neither
side would shoot them, in the hope of some time obtaining them for
They looked peaceful, rather absurd.
Now so near that one felt like whispering, and now a quarter of a mile
away, were the German trenches. We moved under their fusées, passing
destroyed towns where shell holes have become vast graves.
One such town was most impressive. It had been a very beautiful town,
rather larger than the others. At the foot of the main street ran the
railroad embankment and the line of trenches. There was not a house
It had been, but a day or two before, the scene of a street fight,
when the Germans, swarming across the inundation, had captured the
trenches at the railroad and got into the town itself.
At the intersection of two streets, in a shell hole, twenty bodies had
been thrown for burial. But that was not novel or new. Shell-hole
graves and destroyed houses were nothing. The thing I shall never
forget is the cemetery round the great church.
Continental cemeteries are always crowded. They are old, and graves
almost touch one another. The crosses which mark them stand like rows
of men in close formation.
This cemetery had been shelled. There was not a cross in place; they
lay flung about in every grotesque position. The quiet God's Acre had
become a hell. Graves were uncovered; the dust of centuries exposed.
In one the cross had been lifted up by an explosion and had settled
back again upside down, so that the Christ was inverted.
It was curious to stand in that chaos of destruction, that ribald
havoc, that desecration of all we think of as sacred, and see,
stretched from one broken tombstone to another, the telephone wires
that connect the trenches at the foot of the street with headquarters
and with the "château."
Ninety-six German soldiers had been buried in one shell hole in that
cemetery. Close beside it there was another, a great gaping wound in
the earth, half full of water from the evening's rain.
An officer beside me looked down into it.
"See," he said, "they dig their own graves!"
It was almost morning. The automobile left the pathetic ruin of the
town and turned back toward the "château." There was no talking; a
sort of heaviness of spirit lay on us all. The officers were seeing
again the destruction of their country through my shocked eyes. We
were tired and cold, and I was heartsick.
A long drive through the dawn, and then the "château."
The officers were still up, waiting. They had prepared, against our
arrival, sandwiches and hot drinks.
The American typewriters in the next room clicked and rattled. At the
telephone board messages were coming in from the very places we had
just left—from the instrument at the major's elbow as he lay in his
trench beside the House of the Barrier; from the priest who had left
his cell and become a soldier; from that desecrated and ruined
graveyard with its gaping shell holes that waited, open-mouthed,
When we had eaten, Captain F—— rose and made a little speech. It was
simply done, in the words of a soldier and a patriot speaking out of a
"You have seen to-night a part of what is happening to our country,"
he said. "You have seen what the invading hosts of Germany have made
us suffer. But you have seen more than that. You have seen that the
Belgian Army still exists; that it is still fighting and will continue
to fight. The men in those trenches fought at Liège, at Louvain, at
Antwerp, at the Yser. They will fight as long as there is a drop of
Belgian blood to shed.
"Beyond the enemy's trenches lies our country, devastated; our
national life destroyed; our people under the iron heel of Germany.
But Belgium lives. Tell America, tell the world, that destroyed,
injured as she is, Belgium lives and will rise again, greater than
FROM MY JOURNAL:
An aëroplane man at the next table starts to-night on a dangerous
scouting expedition over the German lines. In case he does not return
he has given a letter for his mother to Captain T——.
It now appears quite certain that I am to be sent along the French and
English lines. I shall be the first correspondent, I am told, to see
the British front, as "Eyewitness," who writes for the English papers,
is supposed to be a British officer.
I have had word also that I am to see Mr. Winston Churchill, the First
Lord of the British Admiralty. But to-day I am going to Ypres. The
Tommies call it "Wipers."
* * * * *
Before I went abroad I had two ambitions among others: One was to be
able to pronounce Ypres; the other was to bring home and exhibit to my
admiring friends the pronunciation of Przemysl. To a moderate extent I
have succeeded with the first. I have discovered that the second one
must be born to.
Two or three towns have stood out as conspicuous points of activity in
the western field. Ypres is one of these towns. Day by day it figures
in the reports from the front. The French are there, and just to the
east the English line commences.[D] The line of trenches lies beyond
the town, forming a semicircle round it.
[Footnote D: Written in May, 1915.]
A few days later I saw this semicircle, the flat and muddy battlefield
of Ypres. But on this visit I was to see only the town, which,
although completely destroyed, was still being shelled.
The curve round the town gave the invading army a great advantage in
its destruction. It enabled them to shell it from three directions, so
that it was raked by cross fire. For that reason the town of Ypres
presents one of the most hideous pictures of desolation of the present
General M—— had agreed to take me to Ypres. But as he was a Belgian
general, and the town of Ypres is held by the French, it was a part of
the etiquette of war that we should secure the escort of a French
officer at the town of Poperinghe.
For war has its etiquette, and of a most exacting kind. And yet in the
end it simplifies things. It is to war what rules are to
bridge—something to lead by! Frequently I was armed with passes to
visit, for instance, certain batteries. My escort was generally a
member of the Headquarters' Staff of that particular army. But it was
always necessary to visit first the officer in command of that
battery, who in his turn either accompanied us to the battlefield or
deputised one of his own staff. The result was an imposing number of
uniforms of various sorts, and the conviction, as I learned, among the
gunners that some visiting royalty was on an excursion to the front!
It was a cold winter day in February, a grey day with a fine snow that
melted as soon as it touched the ground. Inside the car we were
swathed in rugs. The chauffeur slapped his hands at every break in the
journey, and sentries along the road hugged such shelter as they could
As we left Poperinghe the French officer, Commandant D——, pointed to
a file of men plodding wearily through the mud.
"The heroes of last night's attack," he said. "They are very tired, as
We stopped the car and let the men file past. They did not look like
heroes; they looked tired and dirty and depressed. Although our
automobile generally attracted much attention, scarcely a man lifted
his head to glance at us. They went on drearily through the mud under
the pelting sleet, drooping from fatigue and evidently suffering from
keen reaction after the excitement of the night before.
I have heard the French soldier criticised for this reaction. It may
certainly be forgiven him, in view of his splendid bravery. But part
of the criticism is doubtless justified. The English Tommy fights as
he does everything else. There is a certain sporting element in what
he does. He puts into his fighting the same fairness he puts into
sport, and it is a point of honour with him to keep cool. The English
gunner will admire the enemy's marksmanship while he is ducking a
The French soldier, on the other hand, fights under keen excitement.
He is temperamental, imaginative; as he fights he remembers all the
bitterness of the past, its wrongs, its cruelties. He sees blood.
There is nothing that will hold him back. The result has made history,
is making history to-day.
But he has the reaction of his temperament. Who shall say he is not
entitled to it?
Something of this I mentioned to Monsieur le Commandant as the line
"It is because it is fighting that gets nowhere," he replied. "If our
men, after such an attack, could advance, could do anything but crawl
back into holes full of water and mud, you would see them gay and
After a time I discovered that the same situation holds to a certain
extent in all the armies. If his fighting gets him anywhere the
soldier is content. The line has made a gain. What matter wet
trenches, discomfort, freezing cold? The line has made a gain. It is
lack of movement that sends their spirits down, the fearful boredom of
the trenches, varied only by the dropping shells, so that they term
themselves, ironically, "Cannon food."
We left the victorious company behind, making their way toward
whatever church bedded down with straw, or coach-house or drafty barn
was to house them for their rest period.
"They have been fighting waist-deep in water," said the Commandant,
"and last night was cold. The British soldier rubs his body with oil
and grease before he dresses for the trenches. I hope that before long
our men may do this also. It is a great protection."
I have in front of me now a German soldier's fatigue cap, taken by one
of those men from a dead soldier who lay in front of the trench.
It is a pathetic cap, still bearing the crease which showed how he
folded it to thrust it into his pocket. When his helmet irked him in
the trenches he was allowed to take it <off and put this on. He
belonged to Bavarian Regiment Number Fifteen, and the cap was given
him in October, 1914. There is a blood-stain on one side of it. Also
it is spotted with mud inside and out. It is a pathetic little cap,
because when its owner died, that night before, a thousand other
Germans died with him, died to gain a trench two hundred yards from
their own line, a trench to capture which would have gained them
little but glory, and which, since they failed, lost them everything,
even life itself.
We were out of the town by this time, and started on the road to
Ypres. Between Poperinghe and Ypres were numerous small villages with
narrow, twisting streets. They were filled with soldiers at rest, with
tethered horses being re-shod by army blacksmiths, with small fires in
sheltered corners on which an anxious cook had balanced a kettle.
In each town a proclamation had been nailed to a wall and the
townspeople stood about it, gaping.
"An inoculation proclamation," explained the Commandant. "There is
typhoid here, so the civilians are to be inoculated. They are very
much excited about it. It appears to them worse than a bombardment."
We passed a file of Spahis, native Algerians who speak Arabic. They
come from Tunis and Algeria, and, as may be imagined, they were
suffering bitterly from the cold.
They peered at us with bright, black eyes from the encircling folds of
the great cloaks with pointed hoods which they had drawn closely about
them. They have French officers and interpreters, and during the
spring fighting they probably proved very valuable. During the winter
they gave me the impression of being out of place and rather forlorn.
Like the Indian troops with the British, they were fighting a new
warfare. For gallant charges over dry desert sands had been
substituted mud and mist and bitter cold, and the stagnation of
Terrible tales have been told of the ferocity of these Arabs, and of
the Turcos also. I am inclined to think they are exaggerated. But
certainly, met with on a lonely road, these long files of men in their
quaint costumes moving silently along with heads lowered against the
wind were sombre, impressive and rather alarming.
The car, going furiously, skidded, was pulled sharply round and
righted itself. The conversation went on. No one appeared to notice
that we had been on the edge of eternity, and it was not for me to
mention it. But I made a jerky entry in my notebook:
"Very casual here about human life. Enlarge on this."
The general, who was a Belgian, continued his complaint. It was about
the Belgian absentee tax.
The Germans now in control in Belgium had imposed an absentee tax of
ten times the normal on all Belgians who had left the country and did
not return by the fifteenth of March. The general snorted his rage and
"But," I said innocently, "I should think it would make very little
difference to you. You are not there, so of course you cannot pay it."
"Not there!" he said. "Of course I am not there. But everything I own
in the world is there, except this uniform that I have on my back."
"They would confiscate it?" I asked. "Not the uniform, of course; I
mean your property."
He broke into a torrent of rapid French. I felt quite sure that he was
saying that they would confiscate it; that they would annihilate it,
reduce it to its atomic constituents; take it, acres and buildings and
shade trees and vegetable garden, back to Germany. But as his French
was of the ninety horse-power variety and mine travels afoot, like
Bayard Taylor, and limps at that, I never caught up with him.
Later on, in a calmer moment, I had the thing explained to me.
It appears that the Germans have instituted a tax on all the Belgian
refugees of ten times the normal tax; the purpose being to bring back
into Belgium such refugees as wish to save the remnants of their
property. This will mean bringing back people of the better class who
have property to save. It will mean to the far-seeing German mind a
return of the better class of Belgians to reorganise things, to put
that prostrate country on its feet again, to get the poorer classes to
work, to make it self-supporting.
"The real purpose, of course," said my informant, "is so that American
sympathy, now so potent, will cease for both refugees and interned
Belgians. If the factories start, and there is work for them, and the
refugees still refuse to return, you can see what it means."
He may be right; I do not think so. I believe that at this moment
Germany regards Belgium as a new but integral part of the German
Empire, and that she wishes to see this new waste land of hers
productive. Assuredly Germany has made a serious effort to reorganise
and open again some of the great Belgian factories that are now idle.
In one instance that I know of a manufacturer was offered a large
guarantee to come back and put his factory into operation again. He
refused, although he knew that it spelled ruin. The Germans, unable
themselves at this time to put skilled labour in his mill, sent its
great machines by railroad back into Germany. I have been told that
this has happened in a number of instances. Certainly it sounds
The factory owner in question is in America at the time I am writing
this, obtaining credit and new machines against the time of the
retirement of the German Army.
From the tax the conversation went on to the finances of Belgium. I
learned that the British Government, through the Bank of England, is
guaranteeing the payment of the Belgian war indemnity to Germany! The
war indemnity is over nineteen million pounds, or approximately
ninety-six millions of dollars. Of this the Belgian authorities are
instructed to pay over nine million dollars each month.
The Société Générale de Belgique has been obliged by the German
Government to accept the power of issuing notes, on a strict
understanding that it must guarantee the note issue on the gold
reserve and foreign bill book, which is at present deposited in the
Bank of England at London. If the Société Générale de Belgique had not
done so, all notes of the Bank of Belgium would have been declared
valueless by Germany.
A very prominent Englishman, married to a Belgian lady, told me a
story about this gold reserve which is amusing enough to repeat, and
which has a certain appearance of truth.
When the Germans took possession of Brussels, he said, their first
move was to send certain officers to the great Brussels Bank, in whose
vaults the gold reserve was kept. The word had been sent ahead that
they were coming, and demanding that certain high officials of the
bank were to be present.
The officials went to the bank, and the German officers presented
The conversation was brief.
"Take us to the vaults," said one of the German officers.
"To the vaults?" said the principal official of the bank.
"To the vaults," was the curt reply.
"I am not the vault keeper. We shall have to send for him."
The bank official was most courteous, quite bland, indeed. The officer
scowled, but there was nothing to do but wait.
The vault keeper was sent for. It took some time to find him.
The bank official commented on the weather, which was, he considered,
At last the vault keeper came. He was quite breathless. But it seemed
that, not knowing why he came, he had neglected to bring his keys. The
bank official regretted the delay. The officers stamped about.
"It looks like a shower," said the bank official. "Later in the day it
may be cooler."
The officers muttered among themselves.
It took the vault keeper a long time to get his keys and return, but
at last he arrived. They went down and down, through innumerable doors
that must be unlocked before them, through gratings and more steel
doors. And at last they stood in the vaults.
The German officers stared about and then turned to the Belgian
"The gold!" they said furiously. "Where is the gold?"
"The gold!" said the official, much surprised. "You wished to see the
gold? I am sorry. You asked for the vaults and I have shown you the
vaults. The gold, of course, is in England."
We sped on, the same flat country, the same grey fields, the same
files of soldiers moving across those fields toward distant billets,
the same transports and ambulances, and over all the same colourless
Not very long ago some inquiring British scientist discovered that on
foggy days in London the efficiency of the average clerk was cut down
about fifty per cent. One begins to wonder how much of this winter
impasse is due to the weather, and what the bright and active days
of early spring will bring. Certainly the weather that day weighed on
me. It was easier to look out through the window of the car than to
get out and investigate. The penetrating cold dulled our spirits.
A great lorry had gone into the mud at the side of the road and was
being dug out. A horse neatly disembowelled lay on its back in the
road, its four stark legs pointed upward.
"They have been firing at a German Taube," said the Commandant, "and
naturally what goes up must come down."
On the way back we saw the same horse. It was dark by that time, and
some peasants had gathered round the carcass with a lantern. The hide
had been cut away and lay at one side, and the peasants were carving
the animal into steaks and roasts. For once fate had been good to
them. They would dine that night.
Everywhere here and there along the road we had passed the small sheds
that sentries built to protect themselves against the wind, little
huts the size of an American patrol box, built of the branches of
trees and thatched all about with straw.
Now we passed one larger than the others, a shed with the roof
thatched and the sides plastered with mud to keep out the cold.
The Commandant halted the car. There was one bare little room with a
wooden bench and a door. The bench and the door had just played their
part in a tragedy.
I have been asked again and again whether it is true that on both
sides of the line disheartened soldiers have committed suicide during
this long winter of waiting. I have always replied that I do not know.
On the Allied side it is thought that many Germans have done so; I
daresay the Germans make the same contention. This one instance is
perfectly true. But it was the result of an accident, not of
The sentry was alone in his hut, and he was cleaning his gun. For a
certain length of time he would be alone. In some way the gun exploded
and blew off his right hand. There was no one to call on for help. He
waited quite a while. It was night. Nobody came; he was suffering
Perhaps, sitting there alone, he tried to think out what life would be
without a right hand. In the end he decided that it was not worth
while. But he could not pull the trigger of his gun with his left
hand. He tried it and failed. So at last he tied a stout cord to the
trigger, fastened the end of it to the door, and sitting on the bench
kicked the door to. They had just taken him away.
Just back of Ypres there is a group of buildings that had been a great
lunatic asylum. It is now a hospital for civilians, although it is
"During the evacuation of the town," said the Commandant, "it was
decided that the inmates must be taken out. The asylum had been hit
once and shells were falling in every direction. So the nuns dressed
their patients and started to march them back along the route to the
nearest town. Shells were falling all about them; the nuns tried to
hurry them, but as each shell fell or exploded close at hand the
lunatics cheered and clapped their hands. They could hardly get them
away at all; they wanted to stay and see the excitement."
That is a picture, if you like. It was a very large asylum, containing
hundreds of patients. The nuns could not hurry them. They stood in the
roads, faces upturned to the sky, where death was whining its shrill
cry overhead. When a shell dropped into the road, or into the familiar
fields about them, tearing great holes, flinging earth and rocks in
every direction, they cheered. They blocked the roads, so that gunners
with badly needed guns could not get by. And behind and all round them
the nuns urged them on in vain. Some of them were killed, I believe.
All about great holes in fields and road tell the story of the hell
that beat about them.
Here behind the town one sees fields of graves marked each with a
simple wooden cross. Here and there a soldier's cap has been nailed to
The officers told me that in various places the French peasants had
placed the dead soldier's number and identifying data in a bottle and
placed it on the grave. But I did not see this myself.
Unlike American towns, there is no gradual approach to these cities of
Northern France; no straggling line of suburbs. Many of them were laid
out at a time when walled cities rose from the plain, and although the
walls are gone the tradition of compactness for protection still holds
good. So one moment we were riding through the shell-holed fields of
Northern France and the next we were in the city of Ypres.
At the time of my visit few civilians had seen the city of Ypres since
its destruction. I am not sure that any had been there. I have seen no
description of it, and I have been asked frequently if it is really
true that the beautiful Cloth Hall is gone—that most famous of all
the famous buildings of Flanders.
What a tragedy! Not a city now; hardly a skeleton of a city. Rumour is
correct, for the wonderful Cloth Hall is gone. There is a fragment
left of the façade, but no repairing can ever restore it. It must all
come down. Indeed, any storm may finish its destruction. The massive
square belfry, two hundred and thirty feet high and topped by its four
turrets, is a shell swaying in every gust of wind.
The inimitable arcade at the end is quite gone. Nothing indeed is left
of either the Cloth Hall, which, built in the year 1200, was the most
remarkable edifice of Belgium, or of the Cathedral behind it, erected
in 1300 to succeed an earlier edifice. General M—— stood by me as I
stared at the ruins of these two great buildings. Something of the
tragedy of Belgium was in his face.
"We were very proud of it," he said. "If we started now to build
another it would take more than seven hundred years to give it
There were shells overhead. But they passed harmlessly, falling either
into the open country or into distant parts of the town. We paid no
attention to them, but my curiosity was roused.
"It seems absurd to continue shelling the town," I said. "There is
Then and there I had a lesson in the new warfare. Bombardment of the
country behind the enemy's trenches is not necessarily to destroy
towns. Its strategical purpose, I was told, is to cut off
communications, to prevent, if possible, the bringing up of reserve
troops and transport wagons, to destroy ammunition trains. I was new
to war, with everything to learn. This perfectly practical explanation
had not occurred to me.
"But how do they know when an ammunition train is coming?" I asked.
"There are different methods. Spies, of course, always. And aëroplanes
"But an ammunition train moves."
It was necessary then to explain the various methods by which
aëroplanes signal, giving ranges and locations. I have seen since that
time the charts carried by aviators and airship crews, in which every
hedge, every ditch, every small detail of the landscape is carefully
marked. In the maps I have seen the region is divided into lettered
squares, each square made up of four small squares, numbered. Thus B 3
means the third block of the B division, and so on. By wireless or in
other ways the message is sent to the batteries, and B 3, along which
an ammunition train is moving, suddenly finds itself under fire. Thus
ended the second lesson!
An ammunition train, having safely escaped B 3 and all the other
terrors that are spread for such as it, rumbled by, going through the
Square. The very vibration of its wheels as they rattled along the
street set parts of the old building to shaking. Stones fell. It was
not safe to stand near the belfry.
Up to this time I had found a certain philosophy among the French and
Belgian officers as to the destruction of their towns. Not of Louvain,
of course, or those earlier towns destroyed during the German
invasion, but of the bombardment which is taking place now along the
battle line. But here I encountered furious resentment.
There is nothing whatever left of the city for several blocks in each
direction round the Cloth Hall. At the time it was destroyed the army
of the Allies was five miles in advance of the town. The shells went
over their heads for days, weeks.
So accurate is modern gunnery that given a chart of a city the gunner
can drop a shell within a few yards of any desired spot. The Germans
had a chart of Ypres. They might have saved the Cloth Hall, as they
did save the Cathedral at Antwerp. But they were furious with thwarted
ambition—the onward drive had been checked. Instead of attempting to
save the Cloth Hall they focussed all their fire on it. There was
nothing to gain by this wanton destruction.
It is a little difficult in America, where great structures are a
matter of steel and stone erected in a year or so, to understand what
its wonderful old buildings meant to Flanders. In a way they typified
its history, certainly its art. The American likes to have his art in
his home; he buys great paintings and puts them on the walls. He
covers his floors with the entire art of a nomadic people. But on the
Continent the method is different. They have built their art into
their buildings; their great paintings are in churches or in
structures like the Cloth Hall. Their homes are comparatively
unadorned, purely places for living. All that they prize they have
stored, open to the world, in their historic buildings. It is for that
reason that the destruction of the Cloth Hall of Ypres is a matter of
personal resentment to each individual of the nation to which it
belonged. So I watched the faces of the two officers with me. There
could be no question as to their attitude. It was a personal loss they
had suffered. The loss of their homes they had accepted stoically. But
this was much more. It was the loss of their art, their history, their
tradition. And it could not be replaced.
The firing was steady, unemotional.
As the wind died down we ventured into the ruins of the Cloth Hall
itself. The roof is gone, of course. The building took fire from the
bombardment, and what the shells did not destroy the fire did. Melted
lead from ancient gutters hung in stalactites. In one place a wall was
still standing, with a bit of its mural decoration. I picked up a bit
of fallen gargoyle from under the fallen tower and brought it away. It
is before me now.
It is seven hundred and fifteen years since that gargoyle was lifted
into its place. The Crusades were going on about that time; the robber
barons were sallying out onto the plains on their raiding excursions.
The Norman Conquest had taken place. From this very town of Ypres had
gone across the Channel "workmen and artisans to build churches and
feudal castles, weavers and workers of many crafts."
In those days the Yperlée, a small river, ran open through the town.
But for many generations it has been roofed over and run under the
It was curious to stand on the edge of a great shell hole and look
down at the little river, now uncovered to the light of day for the
first time in who knows how long.
In all that chaos, with hardly a wall intact, at the corner of what
was once the cathedral, stood a heroic marble figure of Burgomaster
Vandenpeereboom. It was quite untouched and as placid as the little
river, a benevolent figure rising from the ruins of war.
"They have come like a pestilence," said the General. "When they go
they will leave nothing. What they will do is written in what they
Monsieur le Commandant had disappeared. Now he returned triumphant,
carrying a great bundle in both arms.
"I have been to what was the house of a relative," he explained. "He
has told me that in the cellar I would find these. They will interest
"These" proved to be five framed photographs of the great paintings
that had decorated the walls of the great Cloth Hall. Although they
had been hidden in a cellar, fragments of shell had broken and torn
them. But it was still possible to gain from them a faint idea of the
interior beauty of the old building before its destruction.
I examined them there in the public square, with a shell every now and
then screeching above but falling harmlessly far away.
A priest joined us. He told pathetically of watching the destruction
of the Arcade, of seeing one arch after another go down until there
was nothing left.
"They ate it," said the priest graphically. "A bite at a time."
We walked through the town. One street after another opened up its
perspective of destruction. The strange antics that shell fire plays
had left doors and lintels standing without buildings, had left intact
here and there pieces of furniture. There was an occasional picture on
an exposed wall; iron street lamps had been twisted into travesties;
whole panes of glass remained in façades behind which the buildings
were gone. A part of the wooden scaffolding by which repairs were
being made to the old tower of the Cloth Hall hung there uninjured by
either flame or shell.
On one street all the trees had been cut off as if by one shell, about
ten feet above the ground, but in another, where nothing whatever
remained but piles of stone and mortar, a great elm had apparently not
lost a single branch.
Much has been written about the desolation of these towns. To get a
picture of it one must realise the solidity with which even the
private houses are built. They are stone, or if not, the walls are of
massive brick coated with plaster. There are no frame buildings; wood
is too expensive for that purpose. It is only in prodigal America that
we can use wood.
So the destruction of a town there means the destruction of buildings
that have stood for centuries, and would in the normal course of
events have stood for centuries more.
A few civilians had crept back into the town. As in other places, they
had come back because they had no place else to go. At any time a
shell might destroy the fragment of the building in which they were
trying to reëstablish themselves. There were no shops open, because
there were no shops to open. Supplies had to be brought from long
distances. As all the horses and automobiles had been commandeered by
the government, they had no way to get anything. Their situation was
pitiable, tragic. And over them was the daily, hourly fear that the
German Army would concentrate for its onward drive at some near-by
LADY DECIES' STORY
It was growing dark; the chauffeur was preparing to light the lamps of
the car. Shells were fewer. With the approach of night the activity
behind the lines increased; more ammunition trains made their way over
the débris; regiments prepared for the trenches marched through the
square on their way to the front.
They were laden, as usual, with extra food and jars of water. Almost
every man had an additional loaf of bread strapped to the knapsack at
his back. They were laughing and talking among themselves, for they
had had a sleep and hot food; for the time at least they were dry and
fed and warm.
On the way out of the town we passed a small restaurant, one of a row
of houses. It was the only undestroyed building I saw in Ypres.
"It is the only house," said the General, "where the inhabitants
remained during the entire bombardment. They made coffee for the
soldiers and served meals to officers. Shells hit the pavement and
broke the windows; but the house itself is intact. It is
We stopped at the one-time lunatic asylum on our way back. It had been
converted into a hospital for injured civilians, and its long wards
were full of women and children. An English doctor was in charge.
Some of the buildings had been destroyed, but in the main it had
escaped serious injury. By a curious fatality that seems to have
followed the chapels and churches of Flanders, the chapel was the only
part that was entirely gone. One great shell struck it while it was
housing soldiers, as usual, and all of them were killed. As an example
of the work of one shell the destruction of that building was
enormous. There was little or nothing left.
"The shell was four feet high," said the Doctor, and presented me with
the nose of it.
"You may get more at any moment," I said.
He shrugged his shoulders. "What must be, must be," he said quietly.
When the bombardment was at its height, he said, they took their
patients to the cellar and continued operating there. They had only a
candle or two. But it was impossible to stop, for the wards were full
of injured women and children.
I walked through some of the wards. It was the first time I had seen
together so many of the innocent victims of this war—children blind
and forever cut off from the light of day, little girls with arms
gone, women who will never walk again.
It was twilight. Here and there a candle gleamed, for any bright
illumination was considered unwise.
What must they think as they lie there during the long dark hours
between twilight and the late winter morning? Like the sentry, many of
them must wonder if it is worth while. These are people, most of them,
who have lived by their labour. What will they do when the war is
over, or when, having made such recovery as they may, the hospital
opens its doors and must perforce turn them out on the very threshold
And yet they cling to life. I met a man who crossed the Channel—I
believe it was from Flushing—with the first lot of hopelessly wounded
English prisoners who had been sent home to England from Germany in
exchange for as many wrecked and battered Germans on their way back to
One young boy was all eagerness. His home was on the cliff above the
harbour which was their destination. He alternately wept and cheered.
"They'll be glad enough to see me, all right," he said. "It's six
months since they heard from me. More than likely they think I'm lying
over there with some of the other chaps."
He was in a wheeled chair. In his excitement the steamer rug slipped
down. Both his legs were gone above the knees!
Our hands were full. The General had picked up a horseshoe on the
street at Ypres and given it to me to bring me luck; the Commandant
had the framed pictures. The General carried the gargoyle wrapped in a
newspaper. I had the nose of the shell.
We walked through the courtyard, with its broken fountain and cracked
walks, out to the machine. The password for the night was "Écosse,"
which means "Scotland." The General gave the word to the orderly and
we went on again toward Poperinghe, where we were to have coffee.
The firing behind us had ceased. Possibly the German gunners were
having coffee also. We went at our usual headlong speed through almost
empty roads. Now and then a lantern waved. We checked our headlong
speed to give the password, and on again. More lanterns; more
Since we passed, a few hours before, another car had been wrecked by
the road. One sees these cars everywhere, lying on their sides, turned
turtle in ditches, bent and twisted against trees. No one seems to be
hurt in these accidents; at least one hears nothing of them, if they
are. And now we were back at Poperinghe again.
The Commandant had his headquarters in the house of a notary. Except
in one instance, all the houses occupied by the headquarters' staffs
that I visited were the houses of notaries. Perhaps the notary is the
important man of a French town. I do not know.
This was a double house with a centre hall, a house of some pretension
in many ways. But it had only one lamp. When we went from one room to
another we took the lamp with us. It was not even a handsome lamp. In
that very comfortable house it was one of the many anomalies of war.
One or two of the best things from the museum at Ypres had been
secured and brought back here. On a centre table was a bronze
equestrian statue in miniature of a Crusader, a beautiful piece of
While we were waiting for coffee the Commandant opened the lower
drawer of a secretary and took out a letter.
"This may interest Madame," he said. "I have just received it. It is
from General Leman, the hero of Liège."
He held it close to the lamp and read it. I have the envelope before
me now. It is addressed in lead pencil and indorsed as coming from
General Leman, Prisoner of War at Magdeburg, Germany.
The letter was a soldier's simple letter, written to a friend. I wish
I had made a copy of it; but I remember in effect what it said.
Clearly the hero of Liège has no idea that he is a hero. He said he
had a good German doctor, but that he had been very ill. It is known,
of course, that his foot was injured during the destruction of one of
the fortresses just before he was captured.
"I have a very good German doctor," he wrote. "But my foot gives me a
great deal of trouble. Gangrene set in and part of it had to be
amputated. The wound refuses to heal, and in addition my heart is
He goes on to ask for his family, for news of them, especially of his
daughter. I saw this letter in March. He had been taken a prisoner the
previous August. He had then been seven or eight months without news
of his family.
"I am no longer young," he wrote in effect, for I am not quoting him
exactly, "and I hope my friends will not forget me, in case of an
exchange of prisoners."
He will never be forgotten. But of course he does not realise that. He
is sixty-four and very ill. One read through all the restraint of the
letter his longing to die among his own people. He hopes he will not
be forgotten in an exchange of prisoners!
The Commandant's orderly announced that coffee was served, and we
followed the lamp across the hall. An English officer made a fourth at
It was good coffee, served with cream, the first I had seen for weeks.
With it the Commandant served small, very thin cakes, with a layer of
honey in the centre. "A specialty of the country," he said.
We talked of many things: of the attitude of America toward the war,
her incredulity as to atrocities, the German propaganda, and a rumour
that had reached the front of a German-Irish coalition in the House of
Representatives at Washington.
From that the talk drifted to uniforms. The Commandant wished that the
new French uniforms, instead of being a slaty blue, had been green,
for use in the spring fighting.
I criticised the new Belgian uniform, which seemed to me much thinner
than the old.
"That is wrong. It is of excellent cloth," said the General, and
brought his cape up under the lamp for examination.
The uniforms of three armies were at the table—the French, the
Belgian and the English. It was possible to compare them under the
light of a single lamp.
The General's cloak, in spite of my criticism, was the heaviest of the
three. But all of them seemed excellent. The material was like felt in
body, but much softer.
All of the officers were united in thinking khaki an excellent
"The Turcos have been put into khaki," said the Commandant. "They
disliked it at first; but their other costumes were too conspicuous.
Now they are satisfied."
The Englishman offered the statement that England was supplying all of
the Allies, including Russia, with cloth.
Sitting round the table under the lamp, the Commandant read a postcard
taken from the body of a dead German in the attack the night before.
There was a photograph with it, autographed. The photograph was of the
woman who had written the card. It began "Beloved Otto," and was
signed "Your loving wife, Hedwig."
This is the postcard:
"Beloved Otto: To-day your dear cards came, so full of anxiety
for us. So that now at last I know that you have received my
letters. I was convinced you had not. We have sent you so many
packages of things you may need. Have you got any of them? To-day I
have sent you my photograph. I wished to send a letter also instead
of this card, but I have no writing paper. All week I have been
busy with the children's clothing. We think of you always, dear
Otto. Write to us often. Greetings from your Hedwig and the
So she was making clothing for the children and sending him little
packages. And Otto lay dead under the stars that night—dead of an
ideal, which is that a man must leave his family and all that he loves
and follow the beckoning finger of empire.
"For king and country!"
The Commandant said that when a German soldier surrenders he throws
down his gun, takes off his helmet and jerks off his shoulder straps,
saying over and over, "Pater familias." Sometimes, by way of
emphasising that he is a family man, he holds up his fingers—two
children or three children, whatever it may be. Even boys in their
teens will claim huge families.
I did not find it amusing after the postcard and the photograph. I
found it all very tragic and sad and disheartening.
It was growing late and the General was impatient to be off. We had
still a long journey ahead of us, and riding at night was not
I got into the car and they bundled in after me the damaged pictures,
the horseshoe, the piece of gargoyle from the Cloth Hall and the nose
of the shell.
The orderly reported that a Zeppelin had just passed overhead; but the
General shrugged his shoulders.
"They are always seeing Zeppelins," he said. "Me, I do not believe
there is such a thing!"
* * * * *
That night in my hotel, after dinner, Gertrude, Lady Decies, told me
the following story:
"I had only twelve hours' notice to start for the front. I am not a
hospital nurse, but I have taken for several years three months each
summer of special training. So I felt that I would be useful if I
could get over.
"It was November and very cold. When I got to Calais there was not a
room to be had anywhere. But at the Hotel Centrale they told me I
might have a bathroom to sleep in.
"At the last moment a gentleman volunteered to exchange with me. But
the next day he left, so that night I slept in a bathtub with a
mattress in it!
"The following day I got a train for Dunkirk. On the way the train was
wrecked. Several coaches left the track, and there was nothing to do
but to wait until they were put back on.
"I went to the British Consul at Dunkirk and asked him where I could
be most useful. He said to go to the railroad station at once.
"I went to the station. The situation there was horrible. Three
doctors and seven dressers were working on four-hour shifts.
"As the wounded came in only at night, that was when we were needed. I
worked all night from that time on. My first night we had eleven
hundred men. Some of them were dead when they were lifted out onto the
stone floor of the station shed. One boy flung himself out of the
door. I caught him as he fell and he died in my arms. He had
diphtheria, as well as being wounded.
"The station was frightfully cold, and the men had to be laid on the
stone floors with just room for moving about between them. There was
no heat of any sort. The dead were laid in rows, one on top of
another, on cattle trucks. As fast as a man died they took his body
away and brought in another wounded man.
"Every now and then the electric lights would go out and leave us
there in black darkness. Finally we got candles and lamps for
"We had no surgical dressings, but we had some iodine. The odours were
fearful. Some of the men had not had their clothes off for five weeks.
Their garments were like boards. It was almost impossible to cut
through them. And underneath they were coated with vermin. Their
bodies were black with them frequently.
"In many cases the wounds were green through lack of attention. One
man, I remember, had fifteen. The first two nights I was there we had
no water, which made it terrible. There was a pump outside, but the
water was bad. At last we had a little stove set up, and I got some
kettles and jugs and boiled the water.
"We were obliged to throw the bandages in a heap on the floor, and
night after night we walked about in blood. My clothing and stockings
were stained with blood to my knees.
"After the first five nights I kept no record of the number of
wounded; but the first night we had eleven hundred; the second night,
nine hundred; the third night, seven hundred and fifty; the fourth
night, two thousand; the fifth night, fifteen hundred.
"The men who were working at the station were English Quakers. They
were splendid men. I have never known more heroic work than they did,
and the curé was a splendid fellow. There was nothing too menial for
him to do. He was everywhere."
* * * * *
This is the story she told me that night, in her own words. I have not
revised it. Better than anything I know it tells of conditions as they
actually existed during the hard fighting of the first autumn of the
war, and as in the very nature of things they must exist again
whenever either side undertakes an offensive.
It becomes a little wearying, sometimes, this constant cry of horrors,
the ever-recurring demands on America's pocketbook for supplies, for
dressings, for money to buy the thousands of things that are needed.
Read Lady Decies' account again, and try to place your own son on that
stone floor on the station platform. Think of that wounded boy,
sitting for hours in a train, and choking to death with diphtheria.
This is the thing we call war.
RUNNING THE BLOCKADE
From my journal written during an attack of influenza at the Gare
Maritime in Calais:
Last night I left England on the first boat to cross the Channel after
the blockade. I left London at midnight, with the usual formality of
being searched by Scotland Yard detectives. The train was empty and
"At half-past two in the morning we reached Folkestone. I was quite
alone, and as I stood shivering on the quay waiting to have my papers
examined a cold wind from the harbour and a thin spray of rain made
the situation wretched. At last I confronted the inspector, and was
told that under the new regulations I should have had my Red Cross
card viséed in Paris. It was given back to me with a shrug, but my
passport was stamped.
"There were four men round the table. My papers and I were inspected
by each of the four in turn. At last I was through. But to my disgust
I found I was not to be allowed on the Calais boat. There was one
going to Boulogne and carrying passengers, but Calais was closed up
tight, except to troops and officers.
"I looked at the Boulogne boat. It was well lighted and cheerful.
Those few people who had come down from London on the train were
already settling themselves for the crossing. They were on their way
to Paris and peace.
"I did not want Paris and certainly I did not want peace. I had
telegraphed to Dunkirk and expected a military car to meet me at
Calais. Once across, I knew I could neither telegraph nor telephone to
Dunkirk, all lines of communication being closed to the public. I felt
that I might be going to be ill. I would not be ill in Boulogne.
"At the end of the quay, dark and sinister, loomed the Calais boat. I
had one moment of indecision. Then I picked up my suitcase and started
toward it in the rain. Luckily the gangway was out. I boarded the boat
with as much assurance as I could muster, and was at once accosted by
the chief officer.
"I produced my papers. Some of them were very impressive. There were
letters from the French Ambassador in London, Monsieur Cambon, to
leading French generals. There was a letter to Sir John French and
another letter expediting me through the customs, but unluckily the
customs at Boulogne.
"They left him cold. I threw myself on his mercy. He apologised, but
continued firm. The Boulogne boat drew in its gangway. I mentioned
this, and that, so to speak, I had burned my Boulogne gangway behind
me. I said I had just had an interview with Mr. Winston Churchill, and
that I felt sure the First Lord of the Admiralty would not approve of
my standing there arguing when I was threatened with influenza. He
acted as though he had never heard of the First Lord.
"At last he was called away. So I went into a deck cabin, and closed
and bolted the door. I remember that, and that I put a life preserver
over my feet, in case of a submarine, and my fur coat over the rest of
me, because of a chill. And that is all I do remember, until this
morning in a grey, rainy dawn I opened the door to find that we were
entering the harbour of Calais. If the officers of the boat were
surprised to see me emerge they concealed it. No doubt they knew that
with Calais under military law I could hardly slip through the fingers
of the police.
"This morning I have a mild attack of what the English call 'flu.' I
am still at the hotel in Calais. I have breakfasted to the extent of
hot coffee, have taken three different kinds of influenza remedies,
and am now waiting and aching, but at least I am in France.
"If the car from Dunkirk does not come for me to-day I shall be
"Two torpedo boats are coaling in the harbor. They have two large
white letters which answer for their names. One is the BE; the other
is the ER. As they lie side by side these tall white letters spell
"I have heard an amusing thing: that the English have built duplicates
of all their great battleships, building them of wood, guns and all,
over the hulls of other vessels; and that the Germans have done the
same thing! What would happen if one of the 'dummy' fleets met the
other? Would it be a battle of expletives? Would the German consonant
triumph over the English aspirate, and both ships go down in a sea of
"The idea is, of course, to delude submarines into the belief that
they are sinking battleships, while the real dreadnoughts are
somewhere else—pure strategy, but amusing, except for the crews of
these sham war flotillas."
* * * * *
The French Ambassador in London had given me letters to the various
generals commanding the divisions of the French Army.
It was realised that America knew very little of what the French were
doing in this great war. We knew, of course, that they were holding a
tremendous battle line and that they were fighting bravely. Rumours we
had heard of the great destruction done by the French seventy-five
millimetre gun, and the names of numerous towns had become familiar to
us in print, even when we could not pronounce them. The Paris
omnibuses had gone to the front. Paris fashions were late in coming to
us, and showed a military trend. For the first time the average
American knew approximately where and what Alsace-Lorraine is, and
that Paris has forts as well as shops and hotels.
But what else did we know of France and its part in the war? What does
America generally know of France, outside of Paris? Very little. Since
my return, almost the only question I have been asked about France is:
"Is Paris greatly changed?"
Yet America owes much to her great sister republic; much encouragement
in the arts, in literature, in research. For France has always
extended a kindly hand and a splendid welcome to gifted and artistic
Americans. But her encouragement neither begins nor ends there.
It was in France that American statesmen received the support that
enabled them to rear the new republic on strong and sturdy
foundations. It is curious to think of that France of Louis the
Sixteenth, with its every tradition opposed to the democracy for which
America was contending, sending the very flower of her chivalry to
assist the new republic. It is amazing to remember that when France
was in a deplorable condition financially it was yet found possible to
lend America six million dollars, and to exempt us from the payment of
interest for a year.
And the friendship of France was of the people, not alone of the king,
for it survived the downfall of the monarchy and the rise of the
French Republic. When Benjamin Franklin died the National Assembly at
Paris went into three days' mourning for "the great American."
As a matter of fact, France's help to America precipitated her own
great crisis. The Declaration of Independence was the spark that set
her ablaze. If the king was right in America he was utterly wrong at
home. Lafayette went back from America convinced that "resistance is
the most sacred of duties."
The French adopted the American belief that liberty is the object of
government, and liberty of the individual—that very belief which
France is standing for to-day as opposed to the nationalism of
Germany. The Frenchman believes, like the American, that pressure
should be from within out, not from without in. In other words, his
own conscience, and not the arbitrary ruling of an arbitrary
government, is his dictator. To reconcile liberty and democracy, then,
has been France's problem, as it has been that of America. She has
faced the same problems against a handicap that America has not
had—the handicap of a discontented nobility. And by sheer force and
determination France has won.
It has been said that the French in their Revolution were not reckless
innovators. They were confiding followers. And the star they followed
was the same star which, multiplied by the number of states, is the
American flag to-day—Liberty.
Because of the many ties between the two countries, I had urged on the
French Ambassador the necessity of letting America know a little more
intimately what was being done by the French in this war. Since that
time a certain relaxation has taken place along all the Allied lines.
Correspondents have been taken out on day excursions and have cabled
to America what they saw. But at the time I visited the French Army of
the North there had been no one there.
Those Americans who had seen the French soldier in times of peace had
not been greatly impressed. His curious, bent-kneed, slouching step,
so carefully taught him—so different from the stately progress of the
British, for instance, but so effective in covering ground—his loose
trousers and huge pack, all conspire against the ensemble effect of
French soldiers on the march.
I have seen British regiments at ease, British soldiers at rest and in
their billets. Always they are smart, always they are military. A
French regiment at ease ceases to be a part of a great machine. It
shows, perhaps, more humanity. The men let their muscles sag a bit.
They talk, laugh, sing if they are happy. They lie about in every
attitude of complete relaxation. But at the word they fall in again.
They take up the slack, as it were, and move on again in that
remarkable pas de flexion that is so oddly tireless. It is a
difference of method; probably the best thing for men who are Gallic,
temperamental. A more lethargic army is better governed probably by
rule of thumb.
I had crossed the Channel again to see the French and English lines.
On my previous visit, which had lasted for several weeks, I had seen
the Belgian Army at the front and the French Army in billets and on
reserve. This time I was to see the French Army in action.
The first step to that end, getting out of Calais, proved simple
enough. The car came from Dunkirk, and brought passes. I took more
influenza medicine, dressed and packed my bag. There was some little
regret mingled with my farewell to the hotel at the Gare Maritime. I
had had there a private bath, with a porcelain tub. More than that,
the tub had been made in my home city. It was, I knew, my last glimpse
of a porcelain tub, probably of any tub, for some time. There were
bath towels also. I wondered if I would ever see a bath towel again. I
left a cake of soap in that bathroom. I can picture its next occupant
walking in, calm and deliberate, and then his eye suddenly falling on
a cake of soap. I can picture his stare, his incredulity. I can see
him rushing to the corridor and ringing the fire bell and calling the
other guests and the strangers without the gates, and the boot boy in
an apron, to come and see that cake of soap.
But not the management. They would take it away.
The car which came for me had been at the front all night. It was
filled inside and out with mud, so that it was necessary to cover the
seat before I got in. Of all the cars I have ever travelled in, this
was the most wrecked. Hardly a foot of the metal body was unbroken by
shell or bullet hole. The wind shield had been torn away. Tatters of
curtain streamed out in the wind. The mud guards were bent and
twisted. Even in that region of wrecked cars people turned to look at
Calais was very gay that Sunday afternoon. The sun was out. At the end
of the drawbridge a soldier was exercising a captured German horse.
Officers in scarlet and gold, in pale blue, in green and red, in all
the picturesqueness of a Sunday back from the front, were decked for
the public eye. They walked in groups or singly. There were no women
with them. Their wives and sweethearts were far away. A Sunday in
Calais, indifferent food at a hotel, a saunter in the sunlight, and
then—Monday and war again, with the bright colours replaced by sombre
ones, with mud and evil odours and wretchedness.
They wandered about, smoking eternal cigarettes and watching the
harbour, where ships were coaling, and where, as my car waited, the
drawbridge opened to allow a great Norwegian merchantman to pass. The
blockade was only two days old, but already this Norwegian boat had
her name painted in letters ten feet high along each side of her hull,
flanked on both sides by the Norwegian flag, also painted. Her crew,
leaning over the side, surveyed the quay curiously. So this was
war—this petulant horse with its soldier rider, these gay uniforms!
It had been hoped that neutral shipping would, by thus indicating
clearly its nationality, escape the attacks of submarines. That very
ship was sunk three days later in the North Sea.
Convalescent soldiers limped about on crutches; babies were wheeled in
perambulators in the sun; a group of young aviators in black leather
costumes watched a French biplane flying low. English naval officers
from the coaling boats took shore leave and walked along with the free
There were no guns; everything was gaiety and brightness. But for the
limping soldiers, my own battered machine, and the ominous grey ships
in the harbour, it might have been a carnival.
In spite of the appearance of the machine it went northeast at an
incredible pace, its dried mud flying off like missiles, through those
French villages, which are so tidy because there is nothing to waste;
where there is just enough and no more—no extra paper, no extra
string, or food, or tin cans, or any of the litter that goes to make
the disorder of a wasteful American town; where paper and string and
tin cans and old boots serve their original purpose and then, in the
course of time, become flower-pots or rag carpets or soup meat, or
heaven knows what; and where, having fulfilled this second destiny,
they go on being useful in feeding chickens, or repairing roads, or
For the first time on this journey I encountered difficulty with the
sentries. My Red Cross card had lost its potency. A new rule had gone
out that even a staff car might not carry a woman. Things looked very
serious for a time. But at last we got through.
There were many aviators out that bright day, going to the front,
returning, or merely flying about taking the air. Women walked along
the roads wearing bright-coloured silk aprons. Here and there the
sentries had stretched great chains across the road, against which the
car brought up sharply. And then at last Dunkirk again, and the royal
apartment, and a soft bed, and—influenza.
Two days later I started for the French lines. I packed a small bag,
got out a fresh notebook, and, having received the proper passes, the
start was made early in the morning. An officer was to take me to the
headquarters of the French Army of the North. From there I was to
proceed to British headquarters.
My previous excursions from Dunkirk had all been made east and
southeast. This new route was south. As far as the town of Bergues we
followed the route by which I had gone to Ypres. Bergues, a little
fortified town, has been at times owned by the French, English,
Spanish and Dutch.
It is odd, remembering the new alignment of the nations, to see
erected in the public square a monument celebrating the victory of the
French over the English in 1793, a victory which had compelled the
British to raise the siege of Dunkirk.
South of Bergues there was no sign of war. The peasants rode along the
road in their high, two-wheeled carts with bare iron hoops over the
top, hoops over which canvas is spread in wet weather.
There were trees again; windmills with their great wings turning
peacefully; walled gardens and wayside shrines; holly climbing over
privet hedges; and rows of pollard willows, their early buds a reddish
brown; and tall Lombardy poplars, yellow-green with spring.
The road stretched straight ahead, a silver line. Nothing could have
been more peaceful, more unwar-like. Peasants trudged along with heavy
milk cans hanging from wooden neck yokes, chickens flew squawking from
the onslaught of the car. There were sheep here and there.
"It is forbidden to take or kill a sheep—except in self-defence!"
said the officer.
And then suddenly we turned into a small town and came on hundreds of
French omnibuses, requisitioned from all parts of France and painted a
Out of the town again. The road rose now to Cassel, with its three
windmills in a row on the top of a hill. We drove under an arch of
trees, their trunks covered with moss. On each side of the highway
peasants were ploughing in the mud—old peasants, bent to the plough,
or very young boys, who eyed us without curiosity.
Still south. But now there were motor ambulances and an occasional
long line of motor lorries. At one place in a village we came on a
great three-ton lorry, driven and manned by English Tommies. They knew
no French and were completely lost in a foreign land. But they were
beautifully calm. They sat on the driving seat and smoked pipes and
derided each other, as in turn they struggled to make their difficulty
"Bailleul," said the Tommies over and over, but they pronounced it
"Berlue," and the villagers only laughed.
The officer in the car explained.
"'Berlue,'" he said, "is—what do you Americans say—dotty? They are
telling the villagers they want to go crazy!"
So he got out and explained. Also he found out their road for them and
sent them off, rather sheepish, but laughing.
"I never get over the surprises of this war," said the officer when he
returned. "Think of those boys, with not a word of French, taking that
lorry from the coast to the English lines! They'll get there too. They
As we left the flat land toward the coast the country grew more and
more beautiful. It rolled gently and there were many trees.
The white houses with their low thatched roofs, which ended in a
bordering of red tiles, looked prosperous. But there were soldiers
again. We were approaching the war zone.
THE MAN OF YPRES
The sun was high when we reached the little town where General Foch,
Commander of the Armies of the North, had his headquarters. It was not
difficult to find the building. The French flag furled at the doorway,
a gendarme at one side of the door and a sentry at the other, denoted
the headquarters of the staff. But General Foch was not there at the
moment. He had gone to church.
The building was near. Thinking that there might be a service, I
decided to go also. Going up a steep street to where at the top stood
a stone church, with an image of the Christ almost covered by that
virgin vine which we call Virginia creeper, I opened the
leather-covered door and went quietly in.
There was no service. The building was quite empty. And the Commander
of the Armies of the North, probably the greatest general the French
have in the field to-day, was kneeling there alone.
He never knew I had seen him. I left before he did. Now, as I look
back, it seems to me that that great general on his knees alone in
that little church is typical of the attitude of France to-day toward
It is a totally different attitude from the English—not more heroic,
not braver, not more resolute to an end. But it is peculiarly
reverential. The enemy is on the soil of France. The French are
fighting for their homes, for their children, for their country. And
in this great struggle France daily, hourly, on its knees asks for
I went to the hotel—an ancient place, very small, very clean, very
cold and shabby. The entrance was through an archway into a
cobble-paved courtyard, where on the left, under the roof of a shed,
the saddles of cavalry horses and gendarmes were waiting on saddle
trestles. Beyond, through a glazed door, was a long dining room, with
a bare, white-scrubbed floor and whitewashed walls. Its white
table-cloths, white walls and ceiling and white floor, with no hint of
fire, although a fine snow had commenced to fall, set me to shivering.
Even the attempt at decoration of hanging baskets, of trailing vines
with strings of red peppers, was hardly cheering.
From the window a steep, walled garden fell away, dreary enough under
the grey sky and the snowfall. The same curious pale-green moss
covered the trees, and beyond the garden wall, in a field, was a hole
where a German aëroplane had dropped a bomb.
Hot coffee had been ordered, and we went into a smaller room for it.
Here there was a fire, with four French soldiers gathered round it.
One of them was writing at the table. The others were having their
"You have a heart line," said the palmist to one of them—"a heart
line like a windmill!"
I drank my coffee and listened. I could understand only a part of it,
but it was eminently cheerful. They laughed, chaffed each other, and
although my presence in the hotel must have caused much curiosity in
that land of no women, they did not stare at me. Indeed, it was I who
did the gazing.
After a time I was given a room. It was at the end of a whitewashed
corridor, from which pine doors opened on either side into bedrooms.
The corridor was bare of carpet, the whole upstairs freezing cold.
There were none of the amenities. My room was at the end. It boasted
two small windows, with a tiny stand between them containing a tin
basin and a pitcher; a bed with one side of the mattress torn open and
exposing a heterogeneous content that did not bear inspection; a pine
chair, a candle and a stove.
They called it a stove. It had a coal receptacle that was not as large
as a porridge bowl, and one small lump of coal, pulverized, was all it
held. It was lighted with a handful of straw. Turn your back and count
ten, and it was out. Across the foot of the bed was one of the
Continental feather comforts which cover only one's feet and let the
It was not so near the front as La Panne, but the windows rattled
incessantly from the bombardment of Ypres. I glanced through one of
the windows. The red tiles I had grown to know so well were not in
evidence. Most of the roofs were blue, a weathered and mottled blue,
very lovely, but, like everything else about the town, exceedingly
cold to look at.
Shortly after I had unpacked my few belongings I was presented to
General Foch, not at headquarters, but at the house in which he was
living. He came out himself to meet me, attended by several of his
officers, and asked at once if I had had déjeuner. I had not, so he
invited me to lunch with him and with his staff.
Déjeuner was ready and we went in immediately. A long table had been
laid for fourteen. General Foch took his place at the centre of one of
the long sides, and I was placed in the seat of honour directly
across. As his staff is very large, only a dozen officers dine with
him. The others, juniors in the service, are billeted through the town
and have a separate mess.
Sitting where I did I had a very good opportunity to see the hero of
Ypres, philosopher, strategist and theorist, whose theories were then
bearing the supreme test of war.
Erect, and of distinguished appearance, General Foch is a man rather
past middle life, with heavy iron-grey hair, rather bushy grey
eyebrows and a moustache. His eyes are grey and extremely direct. His
speech incisive and rather rapid.
Although some of the staff had donned the new French uniform of
grey-blue, the general wore the old uniform, navy-blue, the only thing
denoting his rank being the three dull steel stars on the embroidered
sleeve of his tunic.
There was little ceremony at the meal. The staff remained standing
until General Foch and I were seated. Then they all sat down and
déjeuner was immediately served.
One of the staff told me later that the general is extremely
punctilious about certain things. The staff is expected to be in the
dining room five minutes before meals are served. A punctual man
himself, he expects others to be punctual. The table must always be
the epitome of neatness, the food well cooked and quietly served.
Punctuality and neatness no doubt are due to his long military
training, for General Foch has always been a soldier. Many of the
officers of France owe their knowledge of strategy and tactics to his
teaching at the École de Guerre.
General Foch led the conversation. Owing to the rapidity of his
speech, it was necessary to translate much of it for me. We spoke, one
may say, through a clearing house. But although he knew it was to be
translated to me, he spoke, not to the interpreter, but to me, and his
keen eyes watched me as I replied. And I did not interview General
Foch. General Foch interviewed me. I made no pretence at speaking for
America. I had no mission. But within my limitations I answered him as
well as I could.
"There are many ties between America and France," said General Foch.
"We wish America to know what we are doing over here, to realise that
this terrible war was forced on us."
I mentioned my surprise at the great length of the French line—more
than four hundred miles.
"You do not know that in America?" he asked, evidently surprised.
I warned him at once not to judge the knowledge of America by what I
myself knew, that no doubt many quite understood the situation.
"But you have been very modest," I said. "We really have had little
information about the French Army and what it is doing, unless more
news is going over since I left."
"We are more modest than the Germans, then?"
"You are, indeed. There are several millions of German-born Americans
who are not likely to let America forget the Fatherland. There are
many German newspapers also."
"What is the percentage of German population?"
I told him. I think I was wrong. I think I made it too great. But I
had not expected to be interviewed.
"And these German newspapers, are they neutral?"
"Not at all. Very far from it."
I told him what I knew of the German propaganda in America, and he
"What is its effect? Is it influencing public opinion?"
"It did so undeniably for a time. But I believe it is not doing so
much now. For one thing, Germany's methods on the sea will neutralise
all her agents can say in her favour—that and the relaxation of the
restrictions against the press, so that something can be known of what
the Allies are doing."
"You have known very little?"
There was some feeling in my tone, and he smiled.
"We wish to have America know the splendid spirit of the French Army,"
he said after a moment. "And the justice of its cause also."
I asked him what he thought of the future.
"There is no question about the future," he said with decision. "That
is already settled. When the German advance was checked it was checked
"Then you do not believe that they will make a further advance toward
He went on to explain the details of the battle of the Marne, and how
in losing that battle the invading army had lost everything.
It will do no harm to digress for a moment and explain exactly what
the French did at the battle of the Marne.
All through August the Allies fell back before the onward rush of the
Germans. But during all that strategic retreat plans were being made
for resuming the offensive again. This necessitated an orderly
retreat, not a rout, with constant counter-engagements to keep the
invaders occupied. It necessitated also a fixed point of retreat, to
be reached by the different Allied armies simultaneously.
When, on September fifth, the order for assuming the offensive was
given, the extreme limit of the retreat had not yet been reached. But
the audacity of the German march had placed it in a position
favourable for attack, and at the same time extremely dangerous for
the Allies and Paris if they were not checked.
On the evening of September fifth General Joffre sent this message to
all the commanders of armies:
"The hour has come to advance at all costs, and do or die where you
stand rather than give way."
The French did not give way. Paris was saved after a colossal battle,
in which more than two million men were engaged. The army commanded by
General Foch was at one time driven back by overwhelming odds, but
immediately resumed the offensive, and making a flank attack forced
the Germans to retreat.
Not that he mentioned his part in the battle of the Marne. Not that
any member of his staff so much as intimated it. But these are things
that get back.
"How is America affected by the war?"
I answered as best I could, telling him something of the paralysis it
had caused in business, of the war tax, and of our anxiety as to the
status of our shipping.
"From what I can gather from the newspapers, the sentiment in America
is being greatly influenced by the endangering of American shipping,"
"Naturally. But your press endeavours to be neutral, does it not?"
"Not particularly," I admitted. "Sooner or later our papers become
partisan. It is difficult not to. In this war one must take sides."
"Certainly. One must take sides. One cannot be really neutral in this
war. Every country is interested in the result, either actively now or
later on, when the struggle is decided. One cannot be disinterested;
one must be partisan."
The staff echoed this.
Having been interviewed by General Foch for some time, I ventured to
ask him a question. So I asked, as I asked every general I met, if the
German advance had been merely ruthless or if it had been barbaric.
He made no direct reply, but he said:
"You must remember that the Germans are not only fighting against an
army, they are fighting against nations; trying to destroy their past,
their present, even their future."
"How does America feel as to the result of this war?" he asked, "I
suppose it feels no doubt as to the result."
Again I was forced to explain my own inadequacy to answer such a
question and my total lack of authority to voice American sentiment.
While I was confident that many Americans believed in the cause of the
Allies, and had every confidence in the outcome of the war, there
remained always that large and prosperous portion of the population,
either German-born or of German parentage, which had no doubt of
"It is natural, of course," he commented. "How many French have you in
the United States?"
I thought there were about three hundred thousand, and said so.
"You treat your people so well in France," I said, "that few of them
come to us."
He nodded and smiled.
"What do you think of the blockade, General Foch?" I said. "I have
just crossed the Channel and it is far from comfortable."
"Such a blockade cannot be," was his instant reply; "a blockade must
be continuous to be effective. In a real blockade all neutral shipping
must be stopped, and Germany cannot do this."
One of the staff said "Bluff!" which has apparently been adopted into
the French language, and the rest nodded their approval.
Their talk moved on to aëroplanes, to shells, to the French artillery.
General Foch considered that Zeppelins were useful only as air scouts,
and that with the coming of spring, with short nights and early dawns,
there would be no time for them to range far. The aëroplanes he
considered much more valuable.
"One thing has impressed me," I said, "as I have seen various
artillery duels—the number of shells used with comparatively small
result. After towns are destroyed the shelling continues. I have seen
a hillside where no troops had been for weeks, almost entirely covered
with shell holes."
He agreed that the Germans had wasted a great deal of their
Like all great commanders, he was intensely proud of his men and their
"They are both cheerful and healthy," said the general; "splendid men.
We are very proud of them. I am glad that America is to know something
of their spirit, of the invincible courage and resolution of the
French to fight in the cause of humanity and justice."
Luncheon was over. It had been a good luncheon, of a mound of boiled
cabbage, finely minced beef in the centre, of mutton cutlets and
potatoes, of strawberry jam, cheese and coffee. There had been a
bottle of red wine on the table. A few of the staff took a little,
diluting it with water. General Foch did not touch it.
We rose. I had an impression that I had had my interview; but the
hospitality and kindness of this French general were to go further.
In the little corridor he picked up his dark-blue cap and we set out
for official headquarters, followed by several of the officers. He
walked rapidly, taking the street to give me the narrow sidewalk and
going along with head bent against the wind. In the square, almost
deserted, a number of staff cars had gathered, and lorries lumbered
through. We turned to the left, between the sentry and the gendarme,
and climbing a flight of wooden stairs were in the anteroom of the
general's office. Here were tables covered with papers, telephones,
maps, the usual paraphernalia of such rooms. We passed through a pine
door, and there was the general's room—a bare and shabby room, with a
large desk in front of the two windows that overlooked the street, a
shaded lamp, more papers and a telephone. The room had a fireplace,
and in front of it was a fine old chair. And on the mantelpiece, as
out of place as the chair, was a marvellous Louis-Quinze clock, under
glass. There were great maps on the walls, with the opposing battle
lines shown to the smallest detail. General Foch drew my attention at
once to the clock.
"During the battle of the Yser," he said, "night and day my eyes were
on that clock. Orders were sent. Then it was necessary to wait until
they were carried out. It was by the clock that one could know what
should be happening. The hours dragged. It was terrible."
It must have been terrible. Everywhere I had heard the same story.
More than any of the great battles of the war, more even than the
battle of the Marne, the great fight along the Yser, from the
twenty-first of October, 1914, to the twelfth of November, seems to
have impressed itself in sheer horror on the minds of those who know
its fearfulness. At every headquarters I have found the same feeling.
It was General Foch's army that reënforced the British at that battle.
The word had evidently been given to the Germans that at any cost they
must break through. They hurled themselves against the British with
unprecedented ferocity. I have told a little of that battle, of the
frightful casualties, so great among the Germans that they carried
their dead back and burned them in great pyres. The British Army was
being steadily weakened. The Germans came steadily, new lines taking
the place of those that were gone. Then the French came up, and, after
days of struggle, the line held.
General Foch opened a drawer of the desk and showed me, day by day,
the charts of the battle. They were bound together in a great book,
and each day had a fresh page. The German Army was black. The French
was red. Page after page I lived that battle, the black line
advancing, the blue of the British wavering against overwhelming
numbers and ferocity, the red line of the French coming up. "The Man
of Ypres," they call General Foch, and well they may.
"They came," said General Foch, "like the waves of the sea."
It was the second time I had heard the German onslaught so described.
He shut the book and sat for a moment, his head bent, as though in
living over again that fearful time some of its horror had come back
At last: "I paced the floor and watched the clock," he said.
How terrible! How much easier to take a sword and head a charge! How
much simpler to lead men to death than to send them! There in that
quiet room, with only the telephone and the ticking of the clock for
company, while his staff waited outside for orders, this great
general, this strategist on whose strategy hung the lives of armies,
this patriot and soldier at whose word men went forth to die, paced
He walked over to the clock and stood looking at it, his fine head
erect, his hands behind him. Some of the tragedy of those nineteen
days I caught from his face.
But the line held.
To-day, as I write this, General Foch's army in the North and the
British are bearing the brunt of another great attack at Ypres.[E] The
British have made a gain at Neuve Chapelle, and the Germans have
retaliated by striking at their line, some miles farther north. If
they break through it will be toward Calais and the sea. Every
offensive movement in this new warfare of trench and artillery
requires a concentration of reserves. To make their offensive movement
the British have concentrated at Neuve Chapelle. The second move of
this game of death has been made by the other side against the
weakened line of the Allies. During the winter the line, in this
manner, automatically straightened. But what will happen now?
[Footnote E: Battle of Neuve Chapelle March, 1915.]
One thing we know: General Foch will send out his brave men, and,
having sent them, will watch the Louis-Quinze clock and wait. And
other great generals will send out their men, and wait also. There
will be more charts, and every fresh line of black or blue or red or
Belgian yellow will mean a thousand deaths, ten thousand deaths.
They are fighting to-day at Ypres. I have seen that flat and muddy
battlefield. I have talked with the men, have stood by the batteries
as they fired. How many of the boys I watched playing prisoners' base
round their guns in the intervals of firing are there to-day? How many
remain of that little company of soldiers who gave three cheers for me
because I was the only woman they had seen for months? How many of the
officers who shrugged their shoulders when I spoke of danger have gone
down to death?
Outside the window where I am writing this, Fifth Avenue, New York,
has just left its churches and is flaunting its spring finery in the
sun. Across the sea, such a little way as measured by time, people are
in the churches also. The light comes through the ancient,
stained-glass windows and falls, not on spring finery, not on orchids
and gardenias, but on thousands of tiny candles burning before the
shrine of the Mother of Pity.
It is so near. And it is so terrible. How can we play? How can we
think of anything else? But for the grace of God, your son and mine
lying there in the spring sunlight on the muddy battlefield of Ypres!
IN THE LINE OF THE "MITRAILLEUSE"
I was taken to see the battlefield of Ypres by Captain Boisseau, of
the French War Academy, and Lieutenant René Puaux, of the staff of
General Foch. It was a bright and sunny day, with a cold wind,
however, that set the water in the wayside ditches to rippling.
All the night before I had wakened at intervals to heavy cannonading
and the sharp cracking of mitrailleuse. We were well behind the
line, but the wind was coming from the direction of the battlefield.
The start was made from in front of General Foch's headquarters. He
himself put me in the car, and bowed an au revoir.
"You will see," he said, "the French soldier in the field, and you
will see him cheerful and well. You will find him full also of
invincible courage and resolution."
And all that he had said, I found. I found the French soldiers smiling
and cheerful and ruddy in the most wretched of billets. I found them
firing at the enemy, still cheerful, but with a coolness of courage
that made my own shaking nerves steady themselves.
Today, when that very part of the line I visited is, as was expected
when I was there, bearing the brunt of the German attack in the most
furious fighting of the war, I wonder, of those French soldiers who
crowded round to see the first woman they had beheld for months, how
many are lying on that muddy battlefield? What has happened on that
road, guarded by buried quick-firers, that stretched to the German
trenches beyond the poplar trees? Did the "rabbit trap" do its work?
Only for a time, I think, for was it not there that the Germans broke
through? Did the Germans find and silence that concealed battery of
seventy-five-millimetre guns under its imitation hedge? Who was in the
tree lookout as the enemy swarmed across, and did he get away?
Except for the constant road repairing there was little to see during
the first part of the journey. Here in a flat field, well beyond the
danger zone, some of the new British Army was digging practice
trenches in the mud. Their tidy uniforms were caked with dirt, their
faces earnest and flushed. At last the long training at Salisbury
Plain was over, and here they were, if not at the front, within
hearing distance of the guns. Any day now a bit of luck would move
them forward, and there would be something doing.
By now, no doubt, they have been moved up and there has been something
doing. Poor lads! I watched them until even their khaki-coloured tents
had faded into the haze. The tall, blonde, young officer, Lieutenant
Puaux, pointed out to me a detachment of Belgian soldiers mending
roads. As our car passed they leaned on their spades and looked after
"Belgian carabineers," he said. "They did some of the most heroic work
of the war last summer and autumn. They were decorated by the King.
Now they are worn out and they mend roads!"
For—and this I had to learn—a man may not fight always, even
although he escapes actual injury. It is the greatest problem of
commanding generals that they must be always moving forward fresh
troops. The human element counts for much in any army. Nerves go after
a time. The constant noise of the guns has sent men mad.
More than ever, in this new warfare, is the problem serious. For days
the men suffer not only the enemy's guns but the roar of their own
batteries from behind them. They cannot always tell which side they
hear. Their tortured ears ache with listening. And when they charge
and capture an outpost it is not always certain that they will escape
their own guns. In one tragic instance that I know of this happened.
The route was by way of Poperinghe, with its narrow, crowded streets,
its fresh troops just arrived and waiting patiently, heavy packs
beside them, for orders. In Poperinghe are found all the troops of the
Allies: British, Belgian, French, Hindus, Cingalese, Algerians,
Moroccans. Its streets are a series of colourful pictures, of quaint
uniforms, of a babel of tongues, of that minor confusion that is order
on a great scale. The inevitable guns rumbled along with six horses
and three drivers: a lead driver, a centre driver and wheel driver.
Unlike the British guns, there are generally no gunners with the guns,
but only an officer or two. The gunners go ahead on foot. Lines of
hussars rode by, making their way slowly round a train of British
At Elverdingue I was to see the men in their billets. Elverdingue was
another Poperinghe—the same crowds of soldiers, the same confusion,
only perhaps more emphasised, for Elverdingue is very near the front,
between Poperinghe and Ypres and a little to the north, where the line
that curves out about Ypres bends back again.
More guns, more hussars. It was difficult to walk across the narrow
streets. We watched our chance and broke through at last, going into a
house at random. As each house had soldiers billeted in it, it was
certain we would find some, and I was to see not selected quarters but
billets chosen at random. Through a narrow, whitewashed centre hall,
with men in the rooms on either side, and through a muddy kitchen,
where the usual family was huddled round a stove, we went into a tiny,
brick-paved yard. Here was a shed, a roof only, which still held what
remained of the winter's supply of coal.
Two soldiers were cooking there. Their tiny fire of sticks was built
against a brick wall, and on it was a large can of stewing meat. One
of the cooks—they were company cooks—was watching the kettle and
paring potatoes in a basket. The other was reading a letter aloud. As
the officers entered the men rose and saluted, their bright eyes
taking in this curious party, which included, of all things, a woman!
"When did you get in from the trenches?" one of the officers asked.
"At two o'clock this morning, Monsieur le Capitaine."
"And you have not slept?"
"But no. The men must eat. We have cooked ever since we returned."
Further questioning elicited the facts that he would sleep when his
company was fed, that he was twenty-two years old, and that—this not
by questions but by investigation—he was sheltered against the cold
by a large knitted muffler, an overcoat, a coat, a green sweater, a
flannel shirt and an undershirt. Under his blue trousers he wore also
the red ones of an old uniform, the red showing through numerous rents
"You have a letter, comrade!" said the Lieutenant to the other man.
"From my family," was the somewhat sheepish reply.
Round the doorway other soldiers had gathered to see what was
occurring. They came, yawning with sleep, from the straw they had been
sleeping on, or drifted in from the streets, where they had been
smoking in the sun. They were true republicans, those French soldiers.
They saluted the officers without subservience, but as man to man. And
through a break in the crowd a new arrival was shoved forward. He
came, smiling uneasily.
"He has the new uniform," I was informed, and he must turn round to
show me how he looked in it.
We went across the street and through an alleyway to an open place
where stood an old coach house. Here were more men, newly in from the
front. The coach house was a ruin, far from weather-proof and floored
with wet and muddy straw. One could hardly believe that that straw had
been dry and fresh when the troops came in at dawn. It was hideous
now, from the filth of the trenches. The men were awake, and being
advised of our coming by an anxious and loud-voiced member of the
company who ran ahead, they were on their feet, while others, who had
been sleeping in the loft, were on their way down the ladder.
"They have been in a very bad place all night," said the Captain.
"They are glad to be here, they say."
"You mean that they have been in a dangerous place?"
The men were laughing among themselves and pushing forward one of
their number. Urged by their rapid French, he held out his cap to me.
It had been badly torn by a German bullet. Encouraged by his example,
another held out his cap. The crown had been torn almost out of it.
"You see," said Captain Boisseau, "it was not a comfortable night. But
they are here, and they are content."
I could understand it, of course, but "here" seemed so pitifully poor
a place—a wet and cold and dirty coach house, open to all the winds
that blew; before it a courtyard stabling army horses that stood to
the fetlocks in mud. For food they had what the boy of twenty-two or
other cooks like him were preparing over tiny fires built against
brick walls. But they were alive, and there were letters from home,
and before very long they expected to drive the Germans back in one of
those glorious charges so dear to the French heart. They were here,
and they were content.
More sheds, more small fires, more paring of potatoes and onions and
simmering of stews. The meal of the day was in preparation and its
odours were savoury. In one shed I photographed the cook, paring
potatoes with a knife that looked as though it belonged on the end of
a bayonet. And here I was lined up by the fire and the cook—and the
knife—and my picture taken. It has not yet reached me. Perhaps it
went by way of England, and was deleted by the censor as showing
munitions of war!
From Elverdingue the road led north and west, following the curves of
the trenches. We went through Woesten, where on the day before a
dramatic incident had taken place. Although the town was close to the
battlefield and its church in plain view from the German lines, it had
escaped bombardment. But one Sunday morning a shot was fired. The
shell went through the roof of the church just above the altar, fell
and exploded, killing the priest as he knelt. The hole in the roof of
the building bore mute evidence to this tragedy. It was a small hole,
for the shell exploded inside the building. When I saw it a half dozen
planks had been nailed over it to keep out the rain.
There were trees outside Woesten, more trees than I had been
accustomed to nearer the sea. Here and there a troop of cavalry horses
was corralled in a grove; shaggy horses, not so large as the English
ones. They were confined by the simple expedient of stretching a rope
from tree to tree in a large circle.
"French horses," I said, "always look to me so small and light
compared with English horses."
Then a horse moved about, and on its shaggy flank showed plainly the
mark of a Western branding iron! They were American cow ponies from
"There are more than a hundred thousand American horses here,"
observed the Lieutenant. "They are very good horses."
Later on I stopped to stroke the soft nose of a black horse as it
stood trembling near a battery of heavy guns that was firing steadily.
It was American too. On its flank there was a Western brand. I gave it
an additional caress, and talked a little American into one of its
nervous, silky ears. We were both far from home, a trifle bewildered,
a bit uneasy and frightened.
And now it was the battlefield—the flat, muddy plain of Ypres. On the
right bodies of men, sheltered by intervening groves and hedges, moved
about. Dispatch riders on motor cycles flew along the roads, and over
the roof of a deserted farmhouse an observation balloon swung in the
wind. Beyond the hedges and the grove lay the trenches, and beyond
them again German batteries were growling. Their shells, however, were
not bursting anywhere near us.
The balloon was descending. I asked permission to go up in it, but
when I saw it near at hand I withdrew the request. It had no basket,
like the ones I had seen before, but instead the observers, two of
them, sat astride a horizontal bar.
The English balloons have a basket beneath, I am told. One English
airship man told me that to be sent up in a stationary balloon was the
greatest penalty a man could be asked to pay. The balloon jerks at the
end of its rope like a runaway calf, and "the resulting nausea makes
sea-sickness seem like a trip to the Crystal Palace."
So I did not go up in that observation balloon on the field of Ypres.
We got out of the car, and trudged after the balloon as it was carried
to its new position by many soldiers. We stood by as it rose again
above the tree tops, the rope and the telephone wire hanging beneath
it. But what the observers saw that afternoon from their horizontal
bar I do not yet know—trenches, of course. But trenches are
interesting in this war only when their occupants have left them and
started forward. Batteries and ammunition trains, probably, the latter
crawling along the enemy's roads. But both of these can be better and
more easily located by aëroplanes.
The usefulness of the captive balloon in this war is doubtful. It
serves, at the best, to take the place of an elevation of land in this
flat country, is a large and tempting target, and can serve only on
very clear days, when there is no ground mist—a difficult thing to
achieve in Flanders.
We were getting closer to the front all the time. As the automobile
jolted on, drawing out for transports, for ambulances and ammunition
wagons, the two French officers spoke of the heroism of their men.
They told me, one after the other, of brave deeds that had come under
their own observation.
"The French common soldier is exceedingly brave—quite reckless," one
of them said. "Take, for instance, the case, a day or so ago, of
Philibert Musillat, of the 168th Infantry. We had captured a
communication trench from the Germans and he was at the end of it,
alone. There was a renewal of the German attack, and they came at him
along the trench. He refused to retreat. His comrades behind handed
him loaded rifles, and he killed every German that appeared until they
lay in a heap. The Germans threw bombs at him, but he would not move.
He stood there for more than twelve hours!"
There were many such stories, such as that of the boys of the senior
class of the military school of St. Cyr, who took, the day of the
beginning of the war, an oath to put on gala dress, white gloves and a
red, white and blue plume, when they had the honour to receive the
first order to charge.
They did it, too. Theatrical? Isn't it just splendidly boyish? They
did it, you see. The first of them to die, a young sub-lieutenant, was
found afterward, his red, white and blue plume trampled in the mud,
his brave white gloves stained with his own hot young blood. Another
of these St. Cyr boys, shot in the face hideously and unable to speak,
stood still under fire and wrote his orders to his men. It was his
first day under fire.
A boy fell injured between the barbed wire in front of his trench and
the enemy, in that No Man's Land of so many tragedies. His comrades,
afraid of hitting him, stopped firing.
"Go on!" he called to them. "No matter about me. Shoot at them!"
So they fired, and he writhed for a moment.
"I got one of yours that time!" he said.
The Germans retired, but the boy still lay on the ground, beyond
reach. He ceased moving, and they thought he was dead. One may believe
that they hoped he was dead. It was more merciful than the slow dying
of No Man's Land. But after a time he raised his head.
"Look out," he called. "They are coming again. They are almost up to
That is all of that story.
FRENCH GUNS IN ACTION
The car stopped. We were at the wireless and telephone headquarters
for the French Army of the North. It was a low brick building, and
outside, just off the roadway, was a high van full of telephone
instruments. That it was moved from one place to another was shown
when, later in the day, returning by that route, we found the van had
It was two o'clock. The German wireless from Berlin had just come in.
At three the receiving station would hear from the Eiffel Tower in
Paris. It was curious to stand there and watch the operator, receivers
on his ears, picking up the German message. It was curious to think
that, just a little way over there, across a field or two, the German
operator was doing the same thing, and that in an hour he would be
receiving the French message.
All the batteries of the army corps are—or were—controlled from that
little station. The colonel in charge came out to greet us, and to him
Captain Boisseau gave General Foch's request to show me batteries in
The colonel was very willing. He would go with us himself. I conquered
a strong desire to stand with the telephone building between me and
the German lines, now so near, and looked about. A French aëroplane
was overhead, but there was little bustle and activity along the road.
It is a curious fact in this war that the nearer one is to the front
the quieter things become. Three or four miles behind there is bustle
and movement. A mile behind, and only an occasional dispatch rider, a
few men mending roads, an officer's car, a few horses tethered in a
wood, a broken gun carriage, a horse being shod behind a wall, a
soldier on a lookout platform in a tree, thickets and hedges that on
occasion spout fire and death—that is the country round Ypres and
just behind the line, in daylight.
We were between Ypres and the Allied line, in that arc which the
Germans are, as I write, trying so hard to break through. The papers
say that they are shelling Ypres and that it is burning. They were
shelling it that day also. But now, as then, I cannot believe it is
burning. There was nothing left to burn.
While arrangements were being made to visit the batteries, Lieutenant
Puaux explained to me a method they had established at that point for
measuring the altitude of hostile aëroplanes for the guns.
"At some anti-aircfaft batteries," he explained, "they have the
telemeter for that purpose. But here there is none. So they use the
system of visée laterale, or side sight, literally."
He explained it all carefully to me. I understood it at the time, I
I remember saying it was perfectly clear, and a child could do it, and
a number of other things. But the system of visée laterale has gone
into that part of my mind which contains the Latin irregular verbs,
harmonies, the catechism and answers to riddles.
There is a curious feeling that comes with the firing of a large
battery at an unseen enemy. One moment the air is still; there is a
peaceful plain round. The sun shines, and heavy cart horses, drawing a
wagon filled with stones for repairing a road, are moving forward
steadily, their heads down, their feet sinking deep in the mud. The
next moment hell breaks loose. The great guns stand with smoking jaws.
The message of death has gone forth. Over beyond the field and that
narrow line of trees, what has happened? A great noise, the furious
recoiling of the guns, an upcurling of smoke—that is the firing of a
battery. But over there, perhaps, one man, or twenty, or fifty men,
So I required assurance that this battery was not being fired for me.
I had no morbid curiosity as to batteries. One of the officers assured
me that I need have no concern. Though they were firing earlier than
had been intended, a German battery had been located and it was their
instructions to disable it.
The battery had been well concealed.
"No German aëroplane has as yet discovered it," explained the officer
To tell the truth, I had not yet discovered it myself. We had alighted
from the machine in a sea of mud. There was mud everywhere.
A farmhouse to the left stood inaccessible in it. Down the road a few
feet a tree with an observation platform rose out of it. A few
chickens waded about in it. A crowd of soldiers stood at a respectful
distance and watched us. But I saw no guns.
One of the officers stooped and picked up the cast shoe of a battery
horse, and shaking the mud off, presented it to me.
"To bring you luck," he said, "and perhaps luck to the battery!"
We left the road, and turning to the right made a floundering progress
across a field to a hedge. Only when we were almost there did I
realise that the hedge was the battery.
"We built it," said the officer in charge. "We brought the trees and
saplings and constructed it. Madame did not suspect?"
Madame had not suspected. There were other hedges in the
neighbourhood, and the artificial one had been well contrived. Halfway
through the field the party paused by a curious elevation, flat,
perhaps twenty feet across and circular.
"The cyclone cellar!" some one said. "We will come here during the
But one look down the crude steps decided me to brave the return fire
and die in the open. The cave below the flat roof, turf-covered
against the keen eyes of aeroplanes, was full of water. The officers
watched my expression and smiled.
And now we had reached the battery, and eager gunners were tearing
away the trees and shrubbery that covered them. In an incredible space
of time the great grey guns, sinister, potential of death, lay open to
the bright sky. The crews gathered round, each man to his place. The
shell was pushed home, the gunners held the lanyards.
"Open your mouth wide," said the officer in charge, and gave the
The great steel throats were torn open. The monsters recoiled, as if
aghast at what they had done. Their white smoke curled from the
muzzles. The dull horses in the road lifted their heads.
And over there, beyond the line of poplar trees, what?
One by one they fired the great guns. Then all together, several
rounds. The air was torn with noise. Other batteries, far and near,
took up the echo. The lassitude of the deadlock was broken.
And then overhead the bursting shell of a German gun. The return fire
I had been under fire before. The sound of a bursting shell was not a
new one. But there had always before been a strong element of chance
in my favour. When the Germans were shelling a town, who was I that a
shell should pick me out to fall on or to explode near? But this was
different. They were firing at a battery, and I was beside that
battery. It was all very well for the officer in charge to have said
they had never located his battery. I did not believe him. I still
doubt him. For another shell came.
The soldiers from the farmhouse had gathered behind us in the field. I
turned and looked at them. They were smiling. So I summoned a shaky
smile myself and refused the hospitality of the cellar full of water.
One of the troopers stepped out from the others.
"We have just completed a small bridge," he said—"a bridge over the
canal. Will madame do us the honour of walking across it? It will thus
be inaugurated by the only lady at the front."
Madame would. Madame did. But without any real enthusiasm. The men
cheered, and another German shell came, and everything was merry as a
They invited me to climb the ladder to the lookout in the tree and
look at the enemy's trenches. But under the circumstances I declined.
I felt that it was time to move on and get hence. The honour of being
the only woman who had got to the front at Ypres began to weigh heavy
on me. I mentioned the passing of time and the condition of the roads.
So at last I got into the car. The officers of the battery bowed, and
the men, some fifty of them, gave me three rousing cheers. I think of
them now, and there is a lump in my throat. They were so interested,
so smiling and cheery, that bright late February afternoon, standing
in the mud of the battlefield of Ypres, with German shells bursting
overhead. Half of them, even then, had been killed or wounded. Each
day took its toll of some of them, one way or another.
How many of them are left to-day? The smiling officer, so debonair, so
proud of his hidden battery, where is he? The tiny bridge, has it run
red this last week? The watchman in the tree, what did he see, that
terrible day when the Germans got across the canal and charged over
the flat lands?
The Germans claim to have captured guns at or near this place. One
thing I am sure of: This battery or another, it was not taken while
there were men belonging to it to defend it. The bridge would run red
and the water under the bridge, the muddy field be strewn with bodies,
before those cheery, cool-eyed and indomitable French gunners would
lose their guns.
The car moved away, fifty feet, a hundred feet, and turned out to
avoid an ammunition wagon, disabled in the road. It was fatal. We slid
off into the mire and settled down. I looked back at the battery. A
fresh shell was bursting high in the air.
We sat there, interminable hours that were really minutes, while an
orderly and the chauffeur dug us out with spades. We conversed of
other things. But it was a period of uneasiness on my part. And, as if
to point the lesson and adorn the tale, away to the left, rising above
the plain, was the church roof with the hole in it—mute evidence that
even the mantle of righteousness is no protection against a shell.
Our course was now along a road just behind the trenches and
paralleling them, to an anti-aircraft station.
I have seen a number of anti-aircraft stations at the front: English
ones near the coast and again south of Ypres; guns mounted, as was
this French battery, on the plain of a battlefield; isolated cannon in
towers and on the tops of buildings and water tanks. I have seen them
in action, firing at hostile planes. I have never yet seen them do any
damage, but they serve a useful purpose in keeping the scouting
machines high in the air, thus rendering difficult the work of the
enemy's observer. The real weapon against the hostile aeroplane is
another machine. Several times I have seen German Taubes driven off
by French aviators, and winging a swift flight back to their lines.
Not, one may be sure, through any lack of courage on the part of
German aviators. They are fearless and extremely skilful. But because
they have evidently been instructed to conserve their machines.
I had considerable curiosity as to the anti-aircraft batteries. How
was it possible to manipulate a large field gun, with a target moving
at a varying height, and at a speed velocity of, say, sixty miles an
The answer was waiting on the field just north of Ypres.
A brick building by the road was evidently a storehouse for provisions
for the trenches. Unloaded in front of it were sacks of bread, meal
and provisions. And standing there in the sunshine was the commander
of the field battery, Captain Mignot. A tall and bearded man,
essentially grave, he listened while Lieutenant Puaux explained the
request from General Foch that I see his battery. He turned and
scanned the sky.
"We regret," he said seriously, "that at the moment there is no
aëroplane in sight. We will, however, show Madame everything."
He led the way round the corner of the building to where a path,
neatly banked, went out through the mud to the battery.
"Keep to the path," said a tall sign. But there was no temptation to
do otherwise. There must have been fifty acres to that field, unbroken
by hedge or tree. As we walked out, Captain Mignot paused and pointed
his finger up and somewhat to the right.
"German shrapnel!" he said. True enough, little spherical clouds told
where it had burst harmlessly.
As cannonading had been going on steadily all the afternoon, no one
paid any particular attention. We walked on in the general direction
of the trenches.
The gunners were playing prisoner's base just beyond the guns. When
they saw us coming the game ceased, and they hurried to their
stations. Boys they were, most of them. The youth of the French troops
had not impressed me so forcibly as had the boyishness of the English
and the Belgians. They are not so young, on an average, I believe. But
also the deception of maturity is caused by a general indifference to
shaving while in the field.
But Captain Mignot evidently had his own ideas of military smartness,
and these lads were all clean-shaven. They trooped in from their game,
under that little cloud of shrapnel smoke that still hung in the sky,
for all the world a crowd of overheated and self-conscious schoolboys
receiving an unexpected visit from the master of the school.
The path ended at the battery. In the centre of the guns was a raised
platform of wood, and a small shelter house for the observer or
officer on duty. There were five guns in pits round this focal point
and forming a circle. And on the platform in the centre was a curious
instrument on a tripod.
"The telemeter," explained Captain Mignot; "for obtaining the altitude
of the enemy's aëroplane."
Once again we all scanned the sky anxiously, but uselessly.
"I don't care to have any one hurt," I said; "but if a plane is coming
I wish it would come now. Or a Zeppelin."
The captain's serious face lighted in a smile.
"A Zeppelin!" he said. "We would with pleasure wait all the night for
He glanced round at the guns. Every gunner was in his place. We were
to have a drill.
"We will suppose," he said, "that a German aëroplane is approaching.
To fire correctly we must first know its altitude. So we discover that
with this." He placed his hand on the telemeter. "There are, you
observe, two apertures, one for each eye. In one the aëroplane is seen
right side up. In the other the image is inverted, upside down. Now!
By this screw the images are made to approach, until one is
superimposed exactly over the other. Immediately on the lighted dial
beneath is shown the altitude, in metres."
I put my eyes to the openings, and tried to imagine an aëroplane
overhead, manoeuvring to drop a bomb or a dart on me while I
calculated its altitude. I could not do it.
Next I was shown the guns. They were the famous
seventy-five-millimetre guns of France, transformed into aircraft guns
by the simple expedient of installing them in a pit with sloping
sides, so that their noses pointed up and out. To swing them round, so
that they pointed readily toward any portion of the sky, a circular
framework of planks formed a round rim to the pit, and on this runway,
heavily greased, the muzzles were swung about.
The gun drill began. It was executed promptly, skilfully. There was no
bungling, not a wrong motion or an unnecessary one, as they went
through the movements of loading, sighting and firing the guns. It was
easy to see why French artillery has won its renown. The training of
the French artilleryman is twice as severe as that of the infantryman.
Each man, in addition to knowing his own work on the gun, must be able
to do the work of all the eleven others. Casualties must occur, and in
spite of them the work of the gun must go on.
Casualties had occurred at that station. More than half the original
battery was gone. The little shelter house was splintered in a hundred
places. There were shell holes throughout the field, and the breech of
one gun had recently been shattered and was undergoing repair.
The drill was over and the gunners stood at attention. I asked
permission to photograph the battery, and it was cheerfully given. One
after the other I took the guns, until I had taken four. The gunners
waited smilingly expectant. For the last gun I found I had no film,
but I could not let it go at that. So I pointed the empty camera at it
and snapped the shutter. It would never do to show discrimination.
Somewhere in London are all those pictures. They have never been sent
to me. No doubt a watchful English government pounced on them in the
mail, and, in connection with my name, based on them most unjust
suspicions. They were very interesting. There was Captain Mignot, and
the two imposing officers from General Foch's staff; there were
smiling young French gunners; there was the telemeter, which cost,
they told me, ten thousand francs, and surely deserved to have its
picture taken, and there was one, not too steady, of a patch of sunny
sky and a balloon-shaped white cloud, where another German shrapnel
had burst overhead.
The drill was over. We went back along the path toward the road.
Behind the storehouse the evening meal was preparing in a shed. The
battery was to have a new ration that night for a change, bacon and
codfish. Potatoes were being pared into a great kettle and there was a
bowl of eggs on a stand. It appeared to me, accustomed to the meagre
ration of the Belgians, that the French were dining well that night on
the plains of Ypres.
In a stable near at hand a horse whinnied. I patted him as I passed,
and he put his head against my shoulder.
"He recognises you!" said Captain Boisseau. "He too is American."
It was late afternoon by that time. The plan to reach the advanced
trenches was frustrated by an increasing fusillade from the front.
There were barbed-wire entanglements everywhere, and every field was
honeycombed with trenches. One looked across the plain and saw
nothing. Then suddenly as we advanced great gashes cut across the
fields, and in these gashes, although not a head was seen, were men.
The firing was continuous. And now, going down a road, with a line of
poplar trees at the foot and the setting sun behind us throwing out
faint shadows far ahead, we saw the flash of water. It was very near.
It was the flooded river and the canal. Beyond, eight hundred yards or
less from where we stood, were the Germans. To one side the inundation
made a sort of bay.
It was along this part of the field that the Allies expected the
German Army to make its advance when the spring movement commenced.
And as nearly as can be learned from the cabled accounts that is where
the attack was made.
A captain from General d'Urbal's staff met us at the trenches, and
pointed out the strategical value of a certain place, the certainty of
a German advance, and the preparations that were made to meet it.
It was odd to stand there in the growing dusk, looking across to where
was the invading army, only a little over two thousand feet away. It
was rather horrible to see that beautiful landscape, the untravelled
road ending in the line of poplars, so very close, where were the
French outposts, and the shining water just beyond, and talk so calmly
of the death that was waiting for the first Germans who crossed the
"I NIBBLE THEM"
I went into the trenches. The captain was very proud of them.
"They represent the latest fashion in trenches!" he explained, smiling
It seemed to me that I could easily have improved on that latest
fashion. The bottom was full of mud and water. Standing in the trench,
I could see over the side by making an effort. The walls were
wattled—that is, covered with an interlacing of fagots which made the
But it was not for that reason only that these trenches were called
the latest fashion. They were divided, every fifteen feet or so, by a
bulwark of earth about two feet thick, round which extended a
"The object of dividing these trenches in this manner is to limit the
havoc of shells that drop into them," the captain explained. "Without
the earth bulwark a shell can kill every man in the trench. In this
way it can kill only eight. Now stand at this end of the trench. What
do you see?"
What I saw was a barbed-wire entanglement, leading into a cul-de-sac.
"A rabbit trap!" he said. "They will come over the field there, and
because they cannot cross the entanglement they will follow it. It is
built like a great letter V, and this is the point."
The sun had gone down to a fiery death in the west. The guns were
firing intermittently. Now and then from the poplar trees came the
sharp ping of a rifle. The evening breeze had sprung up, ruffling the
surface of the water, and bringing afresh that ever-present and
hideous odour of the battlefield. Behind us the trenches showed signs
of activity as the darkness fell.
Suddenly the rabbit trap and the trench grew unspeakably loathsome and
hideous to me. What a mockery, this business of killing men! No matter
that beyond the canal there lurked the menace of a foe that had
himself shown unspeakable barbarity and resource in plotting death. No
matter if the very odour that stank in my nostrils called loud for
vengeance. I thought of German prisoners I had seen, German wounded
responding so readily to kindness and a smile. I saw them driven
across that open space, at the behest of frantic officers who were
obeying a guiding ambition from behind. I saw them herded like cattle,
young men and boys and the fathers of families, in that cruel rabbit
trap and shot by men who, in their turn, were protecting their country
and their homes.
I have in my employ a German gardener. He has been a member of the
household for years. He has raised, or helped to raise, the children,
has planted the trees, and helped them, like the children, through
their early weakness. All day long he works in the garden among his
flowers. He coaxes and pets them, feeds them, moves them about in the
sun. When guests arrive, it is Wilhelm's genial smile that greets
them. When the small calamities of a household occur, it is Wilhelm's
philosophy that shows us how to meet them.
Wilhelm was a sergeant in the German Army for five years. Now he is an
American citizen, owning his own home, rearing his children to a
liberty his own childhood never knew.
But, save for the accident of emigration, Wilhelm would to-day be in
the German Army. He is not young, but he is not old. His arms and
shoulders are mighty. But for the accident of emigration, then,
Wilhelm, working to-day in the sun among his Delphiniums and his iris,
his climbing roses and flowering shrubs, would be wearing the helmet
of the invader; for his vine-covered house he would have substituted a
trench; for his garden pick a German rifle.
For Wilhelm was a faithful subject of Germany while he remained there.
He is a Socialist. He does not believe in war. Live and help others to
live is his motto. But at the behest of the Kaiser, Wilhelm too would
have gone to his appointed place.
It was of Wilhelm then, and others of his kind, that I thought as I
stood in the end of the new-fashion trench, looking at the rabbit
trap. There must be many Wilhelms in the German Army, fathers, good
citizens, kindly men who had no thought of a place in the sun except
for the planting of a garden. Men who have followed the false gods of
their country with the ardent blue eyes of supreme faith.
I asked to be taken home.
On the way to the machine we passed a mitrailleuse buried by the
roadside. Its location brought an argument among the officers.
Strategically it would be valuable for a time, but there was some
question as to its position in view of a retirement by the French.
I could not follow the argument. I did not try to. I was cold and
tired, and the red sunset had turned to deep purple and gold. The guns
had ceased. Over all the countryside brooded the dreadful peace of
sheer exhaustion and weariness. And in the air, high overhead, a
German plane sailed slowly home.
* * * * *
Sentries halted us on the way back holding high lanterns that set the
bayonets of their guns to gleaming. Faces pressed to the glass, they
surveyed us stolidly, making sure that we were as our passes described
us. Long lines of marching men turned out to let us pass. As darkness
settled down, the location of the German line, as it encircled Ypres,
was plainly shown by floating fusées. In every hamlet reserves were
lining up for the trenches, dark masses of men, with here and there a
face thrown into relief as a match was held to light a cigarette. Open
doors showed warm, lamp-lit interiors and the glow of fires.
I sat back in the car and listened while the officers talked together.
They were speaking of General Joffre, of his great ability, of his
confidence in the outcome of the war, and of his method, during those
winter months when, with such steady fighting, there had been so
little apparent movement. One of the officers told me that General
Joffre had put his winter tactics in three words:
"I nibble them."
DUNKIRK: FROM MY JOURNAL
I wakened early this morning and went to church—a great empty place,
very cold but with the red light of the sanctuary lamp burning before
a shrine. There were perhaps a dozen people there when I went in.
Before the Mater Dolorosa two women in black were praying with
upturned eyes. At the foot of the Cross crouched the tragic figure of
the Mother, with her dead Son in her arms. Before her were these other
mothers, praying in the light of the thin burning candles. Far away,
near the altar, seven women of the Society of the Holy Rosary were
conducting a private service. They were market women, elderly, plain,
raising to the altar faces full of faith and devotion, as they prayed
for France and for their soldier-children.
Here and there was a soldier or a sailor on his knees on a low
prie-dieu, his cap dangling loose in his hands. Unlike the women, the
lips of these men seldom moved in prayer; they apparently gazed in
wordless adoration at the shrine. Great and swelling thoughts were
theirs, no doubt, kindled by that tiny red flame: thoughts too big for
utterance or even for form. To go out and fight for France, to drive
back the invaders, and, please God, to come back again—that was what
their faces said.
Other people came in, mostly women, who gathered silently around the
Mater Dolorosa. The great empty Cross; the woman and the dead Christ
at the foot of it; the quiet, kneeling people before it; over all, as
the services began, the silvery bell of the Mass; the bending backs of
the priests before the altar; the sound of fresh, boyish voices
singing in the choir—that is early morning service in the great
Gothic church at Dunkirk.
Onto this drab and grey and grieving picture came the morning
sunlight, through roof-high windows of red and yellow and of that warm
violet that glows like a jewel. The candles paled in the growing
light. A sailor near me gathered up his cap, which had fallen unheeded
to the floor, and went softly out. The private service was over; the
market women picked up their baskets and, bowing to the altar,
followed the sailor. The great organ pleaded and cried out. I stole
out. I was an intruder, gazing at the grief of a nation.
It was a transformed square that I walked through on my way back to
the hotel. It was a market morning. All week long it had been crowded
with motor ambulances, lorries, passing guns. Orderlies had held
cavalry horses under the shadow of the statue in the centre. The
fried-potato-seller's van had exuded an appetising odour of cooking,
and had gathered round it crowds of marines in tam-o'-shanters with
red woollen balls in the centre, Turcos in great bloomers, and the
always-hungry French and Belgian troopers.
Now all was changed. The square had become a village filled with
canvas houses, the striped red-and-white booths of the market people.
War had given way to peace. For the clattering of accoutrements were
substituted high pitched haggling, the cackling of geese in crates,
the squawks of chickens tied by the leg. Little boys in pink-checked
gingham aprons ran about or stood, feet apart, staring with frank
curiosity at tall East Indians.
There were small and carefully cherished baskets of eggs and bundles
of dead Belgian hares hung by the ears, but no other fresh meats.
There was no fruit, no fancy bread. The vegetable sellers had only
Brussels sprouts, turnips, beets and the small round potatoes of the
country. For war has shorn the market of its gaiety. Food is scarce
and high. The flower booths are offering country laces and finding no
buyers. The fruit sellers have only shrivelled apples to sell.
Now, at a little after midday, the market is over. The canvas booths
have been taken down, packed on small handcarts and trundled away;
unsold merchandise is on its way back to the farm to wait for another
week and another market. Already the market square has taken on its
former martial appearance, and Dunkirk is at its midday meal of rabbit
and Brussels sprouts.
TEA WITH THE AIR-FIGHTERS
Later: Roland Garros, the French aviator, has just driven off a German
Taube. They both circled low over the town for some time. Then the
German machine started east with Garros in pursuit. They have gone out
* * * * *
War is not all grey and grim and hideous. It has its lighter moments.
The more terrible a situation the more keen is human nature to forget
it for a time. Men play between shells in the trenches. London,
suffering keenly, flocks to a comedy or a farce as a relief from
strain. Wounded men, past their first agony, chaff each other in the
hospitals. There are long hours behind the lines when people have tea
and try to forget for a little while what is happening just ahead.
Some seven miles behind the trenches, in that vague "Somewhere in
France," the British Army had established a naval air-station, where
one of its dirigible airships was kept. In good weather the airship
went out on reconnoissance. It was not a large airship, as such things
go, and was formerly a training ship. Now it was housed in an
extemporised hangar that was once a carwheel works, and made its
ascent from a plain surrounded by barbed wire.
The airship men were extremely hospitable, and I made several visits
to the station. On the day of which I am about to write I was taken
for an exhaustive tour of the premises, beginning with the hangar and
ending with tea. Not that it really ended with tea. Tea was rather a
beginning, leading to all sorts of unexpected and surprising things.
The airship was out when I arrived, and a group of young officers was
watching it, a dot on the horizon near the front. They gave me the
glasses, and I saw it plainly—a long, yellowish, slowly moving object
that turned as I looked and headed back for the station.
The group watched the sky carefully. A German aëroplane could wreck
the airship easily. But although there were planes in sight none was
of the familiar German lines.
It came on. Now one could see the car below. A little closer and three
dots were the men in it. On the sandy plain which is the landing field
were waiting the men whose work it is to warp the great balloon into
its hangar. The wind had come up and made landing difficult. It was
necessary to make two complete revolutions over the field before
coming down. Then the blunt yellow nose dipped abruptly. The men below
caught the ropes, the engine was cut off, and His Majesty's airship,
in shape and colour not unlike a great pig, was safely at home again
and being led to the stable.
"Do you want to know the bravest man in all the world?" one of the
young officers said. "Because here he is. The funny thing about it is
he doesn't know he is brave."
That is how I met Colonel M——, who is England's greatest airship man
and who is in charge of the naval air station.
"If you had come a little sooner," he said, "you could have gone out
I was grateful but unenthusiastic. I had seen the officers watching
the sky for German planes. I had a keen idea that a German aviator
overhead, armed with a Belgian block or a bomb or a dart, could have
ripped that yellow envelope open from stem to stern, and robbed
American literature of one of its shining lights. Besides, even in
times of peace I am afraid to look out of a third-story window.
We made a tour of the station, which had been a great factory before
the war began, beginning with the hangar in which the balloon was now
Entrance to the station is by means of a bridge over a canal. The
bridge is guarded by sentries and the password of the day is necessary
to gain admission. East and west along the canal are canal boats that
have been painted grey and have guns mounted on them. Side by side
with these gunboats are the ordinary canal boats of the region,
serving as homes for that part of the populace which remains, with
women knitting on the decks or hanging out lines of washing overhead.
The endless traffic of a main highroad behind the lines passes the
station day and night. Chauffeurs drop in to borrow petrol or to
repair their cars; visiting officers from other stations come to watch
the airship perform. For England has been slow to believe in the
airships, pinning her aëronautical faith to heavier-than-air machines.
She has considered the great expense for building and upkeep of each
of these dirigible balloons—as much as that of fifty aëroplanes—the
necessity of providing hangars for them, and their vulnerability to
attack, as overbalancing the advantages of long range, silence as they
drift with the wind with engines cut off, and ability to hover over a
given spot and thus launch aërial bombs more carefully.
There is a friendly rivalry between the two branches of the air
service, and so far in this war the credit apparently goes to the
aëroplanes. However, until the war is over, and Germany definitely
states what part her Zeppelins have had in both sea and land attacks,
it will be impossible to make any fair comparison.
The officers at the naval air station had their headquarters in the
administration building of the factory, a long brick building facing
the road. Here in a long room with western windows they rested and
relaxed, lined and talked between their adventurous excursions to the
Day by day these men went out, some in the airship for a
reconnoissance, others to man observation balloons. Day by day it was
uncertain who would come back.
But they were very cheerful. Officers with an hour to spare came up
from the gunboats in the canal to smoke a pipe by the fire. Once in so
often a woman came, stopping halfway her frozen journey to a soup
kitchen or a railroad station, where she looked after wounded
soldiers, to sit in the long room and thaw out; visiting officers from
other parts of the front dropped in for a meal, sure of a welcome and
a warm fire. As compared with the trenches, or even with the gunboats
on the canal, the station represented cheer, warmth; even, after the
working daylight hours, society.
There were several buildings. Outside near the bridge was the wireless
building, where an operator sat all the time with his receivers over
his ears. Not far from the main group was the great hangar of the
airship, and to that we went first. The hangar had been a machine shop
with a travelling crane. It had been partially cleared but the crane
still towered at one end. High above it, reached by a ladder, was a
The young captain of the airship pointed up to it.
"My apartments!" he said.
"Do you mean to say that you sleep here?" I asked. For the building
was bitterly cold; one end had been knocked out to admit the airship,
and the wall had been replaced by great curtains of sailcloth to keep
out the wind.
"Of course," he replied. "I am always within call. There are sentries
also to guard the ship. It would be very easy to put it out of
The construction of the great balloon was explained to me carefully.
It was made of layer after layer of gold-beater's skin and contained
two ballonets—a small ship compared to the Zeppelins, and non-rigid
Underneath the great cigar-shaped bag hangs an aluminum car which
carries a crew of three men. The pilot sits in front at a wheel that
resembles the driving wheel of an automobile. Just behind him is the
observer, who also controls the wireless. The engineer is the third
The wireless puzzled me. "Do you mean that when you go out on scouting
expeditions you can communicate with the station here?" I asked.
"It is quite possible. But when the airship goes out a wireless van
accompanies it, following along the roads. Messages are picked up by
the van and by a telephone connection sent to the various batteries."
It may be well to mention again the airship chart system by which the
entire region is numbered and lettered in small squares. Black lines
drawn across the detail map of the neighbourhood divide it into
lettered squares, A, B, C, and so forth, and these lettered squares
are again subdivided into four small squares, 1, 2, 3, 4. Thus the
direction B 4, or N 2, is a very specific one in directing the fire of
"Did you accomplish much to-day?" I inquired.
"Not as much as usual. There is a ground haze," replied Colonel M——,
who had been the observer in that day's flight. "Down here it is not
so noticeable, but from above it obscures everything."
He explained the difficulties of the airship builder, the expense and
tendency to "pinholes" of gold-beaters' skin, the curious fact that
chemists had so far failed to discover a gasproof varnish.
"But of course," he said, "those things will come. The airship is the
machine of the future. Its stability, its power to carry great
weights, point to that. The difference between an airship and an
aëroplane is the difference between a battleship and a submarine. Each
has its own field of usefulness."
All round lay great cylinders of pure hydrogen, used for inflating the
balloon. Smoking in the hangar was forbidden. The incessant wind
rattled the great canvas curtains and whistled round the rusting
crane. From the shop next door came the hammering of machines, for the
French Government has put the mill to work again.
We left the hangar and walked past the machine shop. Halfway along one
of its sides a tall lieutenant pointed to a small hole in the land,
leading under the building.
"The French government has sent here," he said, "the men who are unfit
for service in the army. Day by day, as German aëroplanes are seen
overhead, the alarm is raised in the shop. The men are panic-stricken.
If there are a dozen alarms they do the same thing. They rush out like
frightened rabbits, throw themselves flat on the sand, and wriggle
through that hole into a cave that they have dug underneath. It is
hysterically funny; they all try to get in at the same time."
I had hoped to see the thing happen myself. But when, late that
afternoon, a German aëroplane actually flew over the station, the
works had closed down for the day and the men were gone. It was
Between the machine shop and the administration building is a tall
water tower. On top of this are two observers who watch the sky day
and night. An anti-aircraft gun is mounted there and may be swung to
command any portion of the sky. This precaution is necessary, for the
station has been the object of frequent attacks. The airship itself
has furnished a tempting mark to numerous German airmen. Its best
speed is forty miles an hour, so they are able to circle about it and
attack it from various directions. As it has only two ballonets, a
single shot, properly placed, could do it great damage. The Zeppelin,
with its eighteen great gasbags, can suffer almost any amount of
attack and still remain in the air.
"Would you like to see the trenches?" said one of the officers,
"Trenches? Seven miles behind the line?"
"Trenches certainly. If the German drive breaks through it will come
along this road."
"But I thought you lived in the administration building?"
"Some of us must hold the trenches," he said solemnly. "What are six
or seven miles to the German Army? You should see the letters of
sympathy we get from home!"
So he showed me the trenches. They were extremely nice trenches, dug
out of the sand, it is true, but almost luxurious for all that, more
like rooms than ditches, with board shelves and dishes on the shelves,
egg cups and rows of shining glasses, silver spoons, neat little
folded napkins, and, though the beds were on the floor, extremely tidy
beds of mattresses and warm blankets. The floor was boarded over.
There was a chair or two, and though I will not swear to pictures on
the walls there were certainly periodicals and books. Outside the door
was a sort of vestibule of boards which had been built to keep the
"You see!" said the young officer with twinkling eyes. "But of course
this is war. One must put up with things!"
Nevertheless it was a real trench, egg cups and rows of shining
glasses and electric light and all. It was there for a purpose. In
front of it was a great barbed-wire barricade. Strategically it
commanded the main road over which the German Army must pass to reach
the point it has been striving for. Only seven miles away along that
road it was straining even then for the onward spring movement. Any
day now, and that luxurious trench may be the scene of grim and
And, more than that, these men at the station were not waiting for
danger to come to them. Day after day they were engaged in the most
perilous business of the war.
At this station some of the queer anomalies of a volunteer army were
to be found. So strongly ingrained in the heart of the British youth
of good family is the love of country, that when he is unable to get
his commission he goes in any capacity. I heard of a little chap, too
small for the regular service, who has gone to the front as a cook!
His uncle sits in the House of Lords. And here, at this naval air
station, there were young noncommissioned officers who were
Honourables, and who were trying their best to live it down. One such
youth was in charge of the great van that is the repair shop for the
airship. Others were in charge of the wireless station. One met them
everywhere, clear-eyed young Englishmen ready and willing to do
anything, no matter what, and proving every moment of their busy day
the essential democracy of the English people.
As we went into the administration building that afternoon two things
happened: The observers in the water tower reported a German aëroplane
coming toward the station, and a young lieutenant, who had gone to the
front in a borrowed machine, reported that he had broken the wind
shield of the machine. There are plenty of German aëroplanes at that
British airship station, but few wind shields. The aëroplane was
ignored, but the wind shield was loudly and acrimoniously discussed.
The day was cold and had turned grey and lowering. It was pleasant
after our tour of the station to go into the long living room and sit
by the fire. But the fire smoked. One after another those dauntless
British officers attacked it, charged with poker, almost with bayonet,
and retired defeated. So they closed it up finally with a curious
curved fire screen and let it alone. It was ten minutes after I began
looking at the fire screen before I recognised it for what it was—the
hood from an automobile!
Along one side of the wall was a piano. It had been brought back from
a ruined house at the front. It was rather a poor piano and no one had
any music, but some of the officers played a little by ear. The top of
the piano was held up by a bandage! It was a piano of German make, and
the nameplate had been wrenched off!
A long table filled the centre of the room. One end formed the press
censorship bureau, for it was part of the province of the station to
censor and stamp letters going out. The other end was the dining
table. Over the fireplace on the mantel was a baby's shoe, a little
brown shoe picked up on the street of a town that was being destroyed.
Beside it lay an odd little parachute of canvas with a weighted
letter-carrier beneath. One of the officers saw me examining it and
presented it to me, as it was worn and past service.
"Now and then," he explained, "it is impossible to use the wireless,
for one reason or another. In that case a message can be dropped by
means of the parachute."
I brought the message-carrier home with me. On its weighted canvas bag
is written in ink: "Urgent! You are requested to forward this at once
to the inclosed address. From His Majesty's airship ——."
The sight of the press-censor stamp reminded an English officer, who
had lived in Belgium, of the way letters to and from interned Belgians
have been taken over the frontier into Holland and there dispatched.
Men who are willing to risk their lives for money collect these
letters. At one time the price was as high as two hundred francs for
each one. When enough have been gathered together to make the risk
worth while the bearer starts on his journey. He must slip through the
sentry lines disguised as a workman, or perhaps by crawling through
the barbed wire at the barrier. For fear of capture some of these
bearers, working their way through the line at night, have dragged
their letters behind them, so that in case of capture they could drop
the cord and be found without incriminating evidence on them. For
taking letters into Belgium the process is naturally reversed. But
letters are sent, not to names, but to numbers. The bearer has a list
of numbers which correspond to certain addresses. Thus, even if he is
taken and the letters are found on him, their intended recipients will
not be implicated. I saw a letter which had been received in this way
by a Belgian woman. It was addressed simply to Number Twenty-eight.
The fire was burning better behind its automobile hood. An orderly had
brought in tea, white bread, butter, a pitcher of condensed cream, and
an English teacake. We gathered round the tea table. War seemed a
hundred miles away. Except for the blue uniforms and brass buttons of
the officers who belonged to the naval air service, the orderly's
khaki and the bayonet from a gun used casually at the other end of the
table as a paperweight, it was an ordinary English tea.
THE WOMEN AT THE FRONT
It was commencing to rain outside. The rain beat on the windows and
made even the reluctant fire seem cosy. Some one had had a box of
candy sent from home. It was brought out and presented with a
"It is frightful, this life in the trenches!" said the young officer
who passed it about.
Shortly afterward the party was increased. An orderly came in and
announced that an Englishwoman, whose automobile had broken down, was
standing on the bridge over the canal and asked to be admitted. She
did not know the password and the sentry refused to let her pass by.
One of the officers went out and returned in a few moments with a
small lady much wrapped in veils and extremely wet. She stood blinking
in the doorway in the accustomed light. She was recognised at once as
a well-known English novelist who is conducting a soup kitchen at a
railroad station three miles behind the Belgian front.
"A car was to have picked me up," she said, "but I have walked and
walked and it has not come. And I am so cold. Is that tea? And may I
come to the fire?"
So they settled her comfortably, with her feet thrust out to the
blaze, and gave her hot tea and plenty of bread and butter.
"It is like the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice in Wonderland," said
one of the officers gaily. "When any fresh person drops in we just
move up one place."
The novelist sipped her tea and told me about her soup kitchen.
"It is so very hard to get things to put into the soup," she said. "Of
course I have no car, and now with the new law that no women are to be
allowed in military cars I hardly know what to do."
"Will you tell me just what you do?" I asked. So she told me, and
later I saw her soup kitchen.
"Men come in from the front," she explained, "injured and without
food. Often they have had nothing to eat for a long time. We make soup
of whatever meat we can find and any vegetables, and as the hospital
trains come in we carry it out to the men. They are so very grateful
That was to be an exceptional afternoon at the naval air-station. For
hardly had the novelist been settled with her tea when two very
attractive but strangely attired young women came into the room. They
nodded to the officers, whom they knew, and went at once to the
business which had brought them.
"Can you lend us a car?" they asked. "Ours has gone off the road into
the mud, and it looks as though it would never move again."
That was the beginning of a very strange evening, almost an
extraordinary evening. For while the novelist was on her way back to
peace these young women were on their way home.
And home to them was one room of a shattered house directly on the
Much has been said about women at the front. As far as I know at that
time there were only two women absolutely at the front. Nurses as a
rule are kept miles behind the line. Here and there a soup kitchen,
like that just spoken of, has held its courageous place three or four
miles back along the lines of communication.
I have said that they were extraordinarily dressed. Rather they were
most practically dressed. Under khaki-coloured leather coats these two
young women wore khaki riding breeches with puttees and flannel
shirts. They had worn nothing else for six months. They wore knitted
caps on their heads, for the weather was extremely cold, and mittens.
The fire was blazing high and we urged them to take off their outer
wraps. For a reason which we did not understand at the time they
refused. They sat with their leather coats buttoned to the throat, and
coloured violently when urged to remove them.
"But what are you doing here?" said one of the officers. "What brings
you so far from P——"
They said they had had an errand, and went on drinking tea.
"What sort of an errand?" a young lieutenant demanded.
They exchanged glances.
"Shopping," they said, and took more tea.
"Shopping, for what?" He was smilingly impertinent.
They hesitated. Then: "For mutton," one of them replied. Both looked
relieved. Evidently the mutton was an inspiration. "We have found some
mutton." They turned to me. "It is a real festival. You have no idea
how long it is since we've had anything of the sort."
"Mutton!" cried the novelist, with frankly greedy eyes. "It makes
wonderful soup! Where can I get it?"
They told her, and she stood up, tied on her seven veils and departed,
rejoicing, in a car that had come for her.
When she was gone Colonel M—— turned to one of the young women.
"Now," he said, "out with it. What brings you both so far from your
thriving and prosperous little community?"
The irony of that was lost on me until later, when I discovered that
the said community was a destroyed town with the advance line of
trenches running through it, and that they lived in the only two whole
rooms in the place.
"Out with it," said the colonel, and scowled ferociously.
Driven into a corner they were obliged to confess. For three hours
that afternoon they had stood in a freezing wind on a desolate field,
while King Albert of Belgium decorated for bravery various officers
and—themselves. The jealously fastened coats were thrown open.
Gleaming on the breast of each young woman was the star of the Order
"But why did you not tell us?" the officers demanded.
"Because," was the retort, "you have never approved of us; you have
always wanted us sent back to England. The whole British Army has
objected to our being where we are."
"Much good the objecting has done!" grumbled the officers. But in
their hearts they were very proud.
Originally there had been three in this valiant little group of young
aristocrats who have proved as true as their brothers to the
traditions of their race. The third one was the daughter of an earl.
She, too, had been decorated. But she had gone to a little town near
by a day or two before.
"But what do you do?" I asked one of these young women. She was
drawing on her mittens ready to start for their car.
"Sick and sorry work," she said briefly. "You know the sort of thing.
I wish you would come out and have dinner with us. There is to be
I accepted promptly, but it was the situation and not the mutton that
appealed to me. It was arranged that they should go ahead and set
things in motion for the meal, and that I should follow later.
At the door one of them turned and smiled at me.
"They are shelling the village," she said. "You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all," I replied. And I meant it. For I was no longer so
gun-shy as I had been earlier in the winter. I had got over turning
pale at the slamming of a door. I was as terrified, perhaps, but my
pride had come to my aid.
It was the English officers who disapproved so thoroughly who told me
about them when they had gone.
"Of course they have no business there," they said. "It's a frightful
responsibility to place on the men at that part of the line. But
there's no question about the value of what they are doing, and if
they want to stay they deserve to be allowed to. They go right into
the trenches, and they take care of the wounded until the ambulances
can come up at night. Wait until you see their house and you will
understand why they got those medals."
And when I had seen their house and spent an evening with them I
understood very well indeed.
We gathered round the fire; conversation was desultory. Muddy and
weary young officers, who had been at the front all day, came in and
warmed themselves for a moment before going up to their cold rooms.
The owner of the broken wind shield arrived and was placated.
Continuous relays of tea were coming and going. Colonel ——, who had
been in an observation balloon most of the day, spoke of balloon
"I have been in balloons of one sort and another for twenty years," he
said. "I never overcome the nausea. Very few airmen do."
I spoke to him about a recent night attack by German aviators.
"It is remarkable work," he commented warmly, "hazardous in the
extreme; and if anything goes wrong they cannot see where they are
coming down. Even when they alight in their own lines, landing safely
is difficult. They are apt to wreck their machines."
The mention of German aëroplanes reminded one of the officers of an
experience he had had just behind the firing line.
"I had been to the front," he said, "and a mile or so behind the line
a German aëroplane overtook the automobile. He flew low, with the
evident intention of dropping a bomb on us. The chauffeur, becoming
excited, stalled the engine. At that moment the aviator dropped the
first bomb, killing a sow and a litter of young pigs beside the car
and breaking all the glass. Cranking failed to start the car. It was
necessary, while the machine manoeuvred to get overhead again, to lift
the hood of the engine, examine a spark-plug and then crank the car.
He dropped a second bomb which fell behind the car and made a hole in
the road. Then at last the engine started, and it took us a very short
time to get out of that neighbourhood."
The car he spoke of was the car in which I had come out to the
station. I could testify that something had broken the glass!
One of the officers had just received what he said were official
percentages of casualties in killed, wounded and missing among the
Allies, to the first of February.
The Belgian percentage was 66 2-3, the English 33 1-3 and the French
7. I have no idea how accurate the figures were, or his authority for
them. He spoke of them as official. From casualties to hospitals and
nurses was but a step. I spoke warmly of the work the nurses near the
front were doing. But one officer disagreed with me, although in the
main his views were not held by the others.
"The nurses at the base hospitals should be changed every three
months," he said. "They get the worst cases there, in incredible
conditions. After a time it tells on them. I've seen it in a number of
cases. They grow calloused to suffering. That's the time to bring up a
I think he is wrong. I have seen many hospitals, many nurses. If there
is a change in the nurses after a time, it is that, like the soldiers
in the field, they develop a philosophy which carries them through
their terrible days. "What must be, must be," say the men in the
trenches. "What must be, must be," say the nurses in the hospital. And
both save themselves from madness.
THE LITTLE "SICK AND SORRY" HOUSE
And now it was seven o'clock, and raining. Dinner was to be at eight.
I had before me a drive of nine miles along those slippery roads. It
was dark and foggy, with the ground mist of Flanders turning to a fog.
The lamps of the car shining into it made us appear to be riding
through a milky lake. Progress was necessarily slow.
One of the English officers accompanied me.
"I shall never forget the last time I dined out here," he said as we
jolted along. "There is a Belgian battery just behind the house. All
evening as we sat and talked I thought the battery was firing; the
house shook under tremendous concussion. Every now and then Mrs. K——
or Miss C—— would get up and go out, coming back a few moments later
and joining calmly in the conversation.
"Not until I started back did I know that we had been furiously
bombarded, that the noise I had heard was shells breaking all about
the place. A 'coal-box,' as they call them here, had fallen in the
garden and dug a great hole!"
"And when the young ladies went out, were they watching the bombs
burst?" I inquired.
"Not at all," he said. "They went out to go into the trenches to
attend to the wounded. They do it all the time."
"And they said nothing about it!"
"They thought we knew. As for going into the trenches, that is what
they are there to do."
My enthusiasm for mutton began to fade. I felt convinced that I should
not remain calm if a shell fell into the garden. But again, as
happened many times during those eventful weeks at the front, my pride
refused to allow me to turn back. And not for anything in the world
would I have admitted being afraid to dine where those two young women
were willing to eat and sleep and have their being day and night for
"But of course," I said, "they are well protected, even if they are at
the trenches. That is, the Germans never get actually into the town."
"Oh, don't they?" said the officer. "That town has been taken by the
Germans five times and lost as many. A few nights ago they got over
into the main street and there was terrific hand-to-hand fighting."
"Where do they go at such times?" I asked.
"I never thought about it. I suppose they get into the cellar. But if
they do it is not at all because they are afraid."
We went on, until some five of the nine miles had been traversed.
I have said before that the activity at the front commences only with
the falling of night. During the day the zone immediately back of the
trenches is a dead country. But at night it wakens into activity.
Soldiers leave the trenches and fresh soldiers take their places,
ammunition and food are brought up, wires broken during the day by
shells are replaced, ambulances come up and receive their frightful
Now we reached the zone of night activity. A travelling battery passed
us, moving from one part of the line to another; the drivers, three to
each gun, sat stolidly on their horses, their heads dropped against
the rain. They appeared out of the mist beside us, stood in full
relief for a moment in the glow of the lamps, and were swallowed up
At three miles from our destination, but only one mile from the German
lines, it was necessary to put out the lamps. Our progress, which had
been dangerous enough before, became extremely precarious. It was
necessary to turn out for teams and lorries, for guns and endless
lines of soldiers, and to turn out a foot too far meant slipping into
the mud. Two miles and a half from the village we turned out too far.
There was a sickening side slip. The car turned over to the right at
an acute angle and there remained. We were mired!
We got out. It was perfectly dark. Guns were still passing us, so that
it was necessary to warn the drivers of our wrecked car. The road was
full of shell holes, so that to step was to stumble. The German lines,
although a mile away, seemed very near. Between the road and the enemy
was not a tree or a shrub or a fence—only the line of the railway
embankment which marked the Allies' trenches. To add to the dismalness
of the situation the Germans began throwing the familiar magnesium
lights overhead. The flares made the night alike beautiful and
fearful. It was possible when one burst near to see the entire
landscape spread out like a map—ditches full of water, sodden fields,
shell holes in the roads which had become lakes, the long lines of
poplars outlining the road ahead. At one time no less than twenty
starlights hung in the air at one time. When they went out the inky
night seemed blacker than ever. I stepped off the road and was almost
knee-deep in mud at once.
The battery passed, urging its tired horses to such speed as was
possible. After it came thousands of men, Belgian and French mostly,
on their way out of the trenches.
We called for volunteers from the line to try to lift the car onto the
road. But even with twenty men at the towing rope it refused to move.
The men were obliged to give it up and run on to catch their
Between the fusées the curious shuffling of feet and a deeper shadow
were all that told of the passage of these troops. It was so dark that
one could see no faces. But here and there one saw the light of a
cigarette. The mere hardship of walking for miles along those roads,
paved with round stones and covered with mud on which their feet
slipped continually, must have been a great one, and agonizing for
feet that had been frosted in the water of the trenches.
Afterward I inquired what these men carried. They loomed up out of the
night like pack horses. I found that each soldier carried, in addition
to his rifle and bayonet, a large knapsack, a canteen, a cartridge
pouch, a brown haversack containing tobacco, soap, towel and food, a
billy-can and a rolled blanket.
German batteries were firing intermittently as we stood there. The
rain poured down. I had dressed to go out to tea and wore my one and
only good hat. I did the only thing that seemed possible—I took off
that hat and put it in the automobile and let the rain fall on my
unprotected head. The hat had to see me through the campaign, and my
hair would stand water.
At last an armoured car came along and pulled the automobile onto the
road. But after a progress of only ten feet it lapsed again, and there
The situation was now acute. It was impossible to go back, and to go
ahead meant to advance on foot along roads crowded with silent
soldiers—meant going forward, too, in a pouring rain and in
high-heeled shoes. For that was another idiocy I had committed.
We started on, leaving the apologetic chauffeur by the car. A few feet
and the road, curving to the right, began to near the German line.
Every now and then it was necessary to call sharply to the troops, or
struggling along through the rain they would have crowded us off
knee-deep into the mud.
"Attention!" the officer would call sharply. And for a time we would
have foot room. There were no more horses, no more guns—only men,
men, men. Some of them had taken off their outer coats and put them
shawl-fashion over their heads. But most of them walked stolidly on,
already too wet and wretched to mind the rain.
The fog had lifted. It was possible to see that sinister red streak
that follows the firing of a gun at night. The rain gave a peculiar
hollowness to the concussion. The Belgian and French batteries were
We seemed to have walked endless miles, and still there was no little
town. We went over a bridge, and on its flat floor I stopped and
rested my aching feet.
"Only a little farther now," said the British officer cheerfully.
"How much farther?"
"Not more than a mile,"
By way of cheering me he told me about the town we were
approaching—how the road we were on was its main street, and that the
advanced line of trenches crossed at the railroad near the foot of the
"And how far from that are the German trenches?" I asked nervously.
"Not very far," he said blithely. "Near enough to be interesting."
On and on. Here was a barn.
"Is this the town?" I asked feebly.
"Not yet. A little farther!"
I was limping, drenched, irritable. But now and then the absurdity of
my situation overcame me and I laughed. Water ran down my head and off
my nose, trickled down my neck under my coat. I felt like a great
sponge. And suddenly I remembered my hat.
"I feel sure," I said, stopping still in the road, "that the chauffeur
will go inside the car out of the rain and sit on my hat."
The officer thought this very likely. I felt extremely bitter about
it. The more I thought of it the more I was convinced that he was
exactly the sort of chauffeur who would get into a car and sit on an
At last we came to the town—to what had been a town. It was a town no
longer. Walls without roofs, roofs almost without walls. Here and
there only a chimney standing of what had been a home; a street so
torn up by shells that walking was almost impossible—full of
shell-holes that had become graves. There were now no lights, not even
soldiers. In the silence our footsteps re-echoed against those
desolate and broken walls.
A day or two ago I happened on a description of this town, written by
a man who had seen it at the time I was there.
"The main street," he writes, "is like a great museum of prehistoric
fauna. The house roofs, denuded of tiles and the joists left naked,
have tilted forward on to the sidewalks, so that they hang in mid-air
like giant vertebrae…. One house only of the whole village of ——
had been spared."
We stumbled down the street toward the trenches and at last stopped
before a house. Through boards nailed across what had once been
windows a few rays of light escaped. There was no roof; a side wall
and an entire corner were gone. It was the residence of the ladies of
Inside there was for a moment an illusion of entirety. The narrow
corridor that ran through the centre of the house was weatherproof.
But through some unseen gap rushed the wind of the night. At the
right, warm with lamplight, was the reception room, dining room and
bedroom—one small chamber about twelve by fifteen!
What a strange room it was, furnished with odds and ends from the
shattered houses about! A bed in the corner; a mattress on the floor;
a piano in front of the shell-holed windows, a piano so badly cracked
by shrapnel that panels of the woodwork were missing and keys gone;
two or three odd chairs and what had once been a bookcase, and in the
centre a pine table laid for a meal.
Mrs. K——, whose uncle was a cabinet minister, was hurrying in with a
frying-pan in her hand.
"The mutton!" she said triumphantly, and placed it on the table,
frying-pan and all. The other lady of the decoration followed with the
potatoes, also in the pan in which they had been cooked.
We drew up our chairs, for the mutton must not be allowed to get cold.
"It's quite a party, isn't it?" said one of the hostesses, and showed
us proudly the dish of fruit on the centre of the table, flanked by
bonbons and nuts which had just been sent from England.
True, the fruit was a little old and the nuts were few; but they gave
the table a most festive look.
Some one had taken off my shoes and they were drying by the fire,
stuffed with paper to keep them in shape. My soaking outer garments
had been carried to the lean-to kitchen to hang by the stove, and dry
under the care of a soldier servant who helped with the cooking. I
looked at him curiously. His predecessor had been killed in the room
where he stood.
The German batteries were firing, and every now and then from the
trenches at the foot of the street came the sharp ping of rifles. No
one paid any attention. We were warm and sheltered from the wind. What
if the town was being shelled and the Germans were only six hundred
feet away? We were getting dry, and there was mutton for dinner.
It was a very cheerful party—the two young ladies, and a third who
had joined them temporarily, a doctor who was taking influenza and
added little to the conversation, the chauffeur attached to the house,
who was a count in ordinary times, a Belgian major who had come up
from the trenches to have a real meal, and the English officer who had
taken me out.
Outside the door stood the major's Congo servant, a black boy who
never leaves him, following with dog-like fidelity into the trenches
and sleeping outside his door when the major is in billet. He had
picked him up in the Congo years before during his active service
The meal went on. The frying-pan was passed. The food was good and the
talk was better. It was indiscriminately rapid French and English.
When it was English I replied. When it was French I ate.
The hostess presented me with a shrapnel case which had arrived that
day on the doorstep.
"If you are collecting trophies," said the major, "I shall get you a
German sentry this evening. How would you like that?"
There was a reckless twinkle in the major's eye. It developed that he
had captured several sentries and liked playing the game.
But I did not know the man. So I said: "Certainly, it would be most
Whereupon he rose. It took all the combined effort of the dinner party
to induce him to sit down and continue his meal. He was vastly
disappointed. He was a big man with a humorous mouth. The idea of
bringing me a German sentry to take home as a trophy appealed to him.
The meal went on. No one seemed to consider the circumstances
extraordinary. Now and then I remembered the story of the street
fighting a few nights before. I had an idea that these people would
keep on eating and talking English politics quite calmly in the event
of a German charge. I wondered if I could live up to my reputation for
courage in such a crisis.
The first part of the meal over, the hostess picked up a nut and threw
it deftly at a door leading into the lean-to-kitchen.
"Our table bell," she explained to me. And, true enough, a moment
later the orderly appeared and carried out the plates.
Then we had dessert, which was fruit and candy, and coffee.
And all the time the guns were firing, and every opening of the door
into the corridor brought a gale of wind into the room.
Suddenly it struck me that hardly a foot of the plaster interior of
that room was whole. The ceiling was riddled. So were the walls.
"Shrapnel," said the major, following my gaze. "It gets worse every
"I think the ceiling is going to fall," said one of the hostesses.
True enough, there was a great bulge in the centre. But it held for
that night. It may be holding now.
Everybody took a hand at clearing the table. The lamp was burning low,
and they filled it without putting it out. One of the things that I
have always been taught is never to fill a lighted lamp. I explained
this to them carefully. But they were quite calm. It seems at the
front one does a great many extraordinary things. It is part and
parcel of that utter indifference to danger that comes with war.
Now appeared the chauffeur, who brought the information that the car
had been dragged out of the mud and towed as far as the house.
"Towed?" I said blankly.
"Towed, madame. There is no more petrol."
The major suggested that we kill him at once. But he was a perfectly
good chauffeur and young. Also it developed that he had not sat on my
hat. So we let him live.
"Never mind," said Miss C——; "we can give you the chauffeur's bed
and he can go somewhere else."
But after a time I decided that I would rather walk back than stay
overnight in that house. For the major explained that at eleven
o'clock the batteries behind the town would bombard the German
trenches and the road behind them, along which they had information
that an ammunition train would pass.
"Another night in the cellar!" said some one. "That means no one will
need any beds, for there will be a return fire, of course."
"Is there no petrol to be had?" I inquired anxiously.
None, of course. There had been shops in the town, and presumably
petrol and other things. But now there was nothing but ruined walls
and piles of brick and mortar. However, there was a cellar.
My feet were swollen and painful, for the walk had been one long
agony. I was chilled, too, from my wetting, in spite of the fire. I
sat by the tiny stove and tried to forget the prospect of a night in
the cellar, tried to ignore the pieces of shell and shrapnel cases
lined up on the mantelpiece, shells and shrapnel that had entered the
house and destroyed it.
The men smoked and talked. An officer came up from the trenches to
smoke his after-dinner pipe, a bearded individual, who apologised for
his muddy condition. He and the major played a duet. They made a great
fuss about their preparation for it. The stool must be so, the top of
the cracked piano raised. They turned and bowed to us profoundly. Then
sat down and played—CHOP STICKS!
But that was only the beginning. For both of them were accomplished
musicians. The major played divinely. He played a Rhapsodie Hongroise,
the Moonlight Sonata, one of the movements of the Sonata Appassionata.
He played without notes, a bulldog pipe gripped firmly in his teeth,
blue clouds encircling his fair hair. Gone was the reckless soldier
who would have taken his life in his hands for the whim of bringing in
a German sentry. Instead there was a Belgian whose ruined country lay
behind him, whose people lay dead in thousands of hideous graves,
whose heart was torn and aching with the things that it knew and
buried. We sat silent. His pipe died in his mouth; his eyes, fixed on
the shell-riddled wall, grew sombre. When the music ceased his hands
still lay lingeringly on the keys. And, beyond the foot of the street,
the ominous guns of the army that had ruined his country crashed
We were rather subdued when the music died away. But he evidently
regretted having put a weight on the spirits of the party. He rose and
brought me a charming little water-colour sketch he had made of the
bit of No Man's Land in front of his trench, with the German line
"By the way," he said in his exact English, "I went to art school in
Dresden with an American named Reinhart. Afterward he became a great
painter—Charles Stanley Reinhart. Is he by any chance a relative?"
"Charles Stanley Reinhart is dead," I said. "He was a Pittsburgher,
too, but the two families are connected only by marriage."
"Dead! So he is dead too! Everybody is dead. He—he was a very nice
Suddenly he stood up and stretched his long arms.
"It was a long time ago," he said. "Now I go for the sentry."
They caught him at the door, however, and brought him back.
"But it is so simple," he protested. "No one is hurt. And the American
The American lady protested.
"I don't want a German sentry," I said. "I shouldn't know what to do
with a German sentry if I had one."
So he sat down and explained his method to me. I wish I could tell his
method here. It sounded so easy. Evidently it was a safety-valve,
during that long wait of the deadlock, for his impetuous temperament.
One could picture him sitting in his trench day after day among the
soldiers who adored him, making little water-colour sketches and
smoking his bulldog pipe, and then suddenly, as now, rising and
stretching his long arms and saying:
"Well, boys, I guess I'll go out and bring one in."
And doing it.
I was taken for a tour of the house—up a broken staircase that hung
suspended, apparently from nothing, to what had been the upper story.
It was quite open to the sky and the rain was coming in. On the side
toward the German line there was no wall. There were no partitions, no
windows, only a few broken sticks of what had been furniture. And in
one corner, partly filled with rain water, a child's cradle that had
miraculously escaped destruction.
Downstairs to the left of the corridor was equal destruction. There
was one room here that, except for a great shell-hole and for a
ceiling that was sagging and almost ready to fall, was intact. Here on
a stand were surgical supplies, and there was a cot in the corner. A
soldier had just left the cot. He had come up late in the afternoon
with a nosebleed, and had now recovered.
"It has been a light day," said my guide. "Sometimes we hardly know
which way to turn—when there is much going on, you know. Probably
to-night we shall be extremely busy."
We went back into the living room and I consulted my watch. It was
half past ten o'clock. At eleven the bombardment was to begin!
The conversation in the room had turned to spies. Always, everywhere,
I found this talk of spies. It appeared that at night a handful of the
former inhabitants of the town crept back from the fields to sleep in
the cellars of what had been their homes, and some of them were under
"Every morning," said Miss C——, "before the German bombardment
begins, three small shells are sent over in quick succession. Then
there is about fifteen minutes' wait before the real shelling. I am
convinced that it is a signal to some one to get out."
The officers pooh-poohed the idea. But Miss C—— stuck to her point.
"They are getting information somehow," she said. "You may laugh if
you like. I am sure I am right."
Later on an officer explained to me something about the secret service
of the war.
"It is a war of spies," he said. "That is one reason for the deadlock.
Every movement is reported to the other side and checkmated almost
before it begins. In the eastern field of war the system is still
inadequate; that accounts for the great movements that have taken
Perhaps he is right. It sounds reasonable. I do not know with what
authority he spoke. But certainly everywhere I found this talk of
spies. One of the officers that night told of a recent experience of
"I was in a church tower at ——," he said. "There were three of us.
We had been looking over toward the German lines. Suddenly I looked
down into the street below. Some one with an electric flash was
signalling across. It was quite distinct. All of us saw it. There was
an answer from the German trenches immediately. While one of us kept
watch on the tower the others rushed down into the street. There was
no one there. But it is certain that that sort of thing goes on all
A quarter to eleven!
Suddenly the whole thing seemed impossible—that the noise at the foot
of the street was really guns; that I should be there; that these two
young women should live there day and night in the midst of such
horrors. For the whole town is a graveyard. Bodies in numbers have
been buried in shell-holes and hastily covered, or float in the
stagnant water of the canal. Every heavy rain uncovers shallow graves
in the fields, allowing a dead arm, part of a rotting trunk, to show.
And now, after this lapse of time, it still seems incredible. Are they
still there? Report has it that the Germans captured this town and
held it for a time, only to lose it later. What happened to the little
"sick and sorry" house during those fearful days? Did the German
officers sit about that pine table and throw a nut to summon an
orderly? Did they fill the lamp while it was lighted, and play on the
cracked piano, and pick up shrapnel cases as they landed on the
doorstep and set them on the mantel?
Ten minutes to eleven!
The chauffeur came to the door and stuck his head in.
"I have found petrol in a can in an empty shed," he explained. "It is
now possible to go."
We went. We lost no time on the order of our going. The rain was over,
but the fog had descended again. We lighted our lamps, and were curtly
ordered by a sentry to put them out. In the moment that they remained
alight, carefully turned away from the trenches, it was possible to
see the hopeless condition of the street.
At last we reached a compromise. One lamp we might have, but covered
with heavy paper. It was very little. The car bumped ominously, sagged
I turned and looked back at the house. Faint rays of light shone
through its boarded windows. A wounded soldier had been brought up the
street and stood, leaning heavily on his companion, at the doorstep.
The door opened, and he was taken in.
Good-bye, little "sick and sorry" house, with your laughter and tears,
your friendly hands, your open door! Good-bye!
Five minutes later, as we reached the top of the Street, the
VOLUNTEERS AND PATRIOTS
I hold a strong brief for the English: For the English at home,
restrained, earnest, determined and unassuming; for the English in the
field, equally all of these things.
The British Army has borne attacks at La Bassée and Ypres, positions
so strategically difficult to hold that the Germans have concentrated
their assaults at these points. It has borne the horrors of the
retreat from Mons, when what the Kaiser called "General French's
contemptible little army" was forced back by oncoming hosts of many
times its number. It has fought, as the English will always fight,
with unequalled heroism but without heroics.
To-day, after many months of war, the British Army in the field is as
smart, in a military sense, as tidy—if it will forgive me the
word—as well ordered, as efficiently cared for, as the German Army
was in the beginning. Partly this is due to its splendid equipment.
Mostly it is due to that fetish of the British soldier wherever he may
Behind the lines he is jaunty, cheerful, smart beyond belief. He hates
the trenches—not because they are dangerous or monotonous but because
it is difficult to take a bath in them. He is four days in the
trenches and four days out. On his days out he drills and marches, to
get back into condition after the forced inaction of the trenches. And
he gets his hair trimmed.
There is something about the appearance of the British soldier in the
field that got me by the throat. Perhaps because they are, in a sense,
my own people, speaking my tongue, looking at things from a view-point
that I could understand. That partly. But it was more than that.
These men and boys are volunteers, the very flower of England. They
march along the roads, heads well up, eyes ahead, thousands of them.
What a tragedy for the country that gives them up! Who will take their
places?—these splendid Scots with their picturesque kilts, their
bare, muscular knees, their great shoulders; the cheery Irish,
swaggering a bit and with a twinkle in their blue eyes; these tall
young English boys, showing race in every line; these dashing
Canadians, so impressive that their every appearance on a London
street was certain to set the crowds to cheering.
I saw them in London, and later on I saw them at the front. Still
later I saw them again, prostrate on the ground, in hospital trains,
on hospital ships. I saw mounds, too, marked with wooden crosses.
Volunteers and patriots! A race incapable of a mean thing, incapable
of a cruelty. A race of sportsmen, playing this horrible game of war
fairly, almost too honestly. A race, not of diplomats, but of
"You will always be fools," said a captured German naval officer to
his English captors, "and we shall never be gentlemen!"
But they are not fools. It is that attitude toward the English that
may defeat Germany in the end.
Every man in the British Army to-day has counted the cost. He is there
because he elected to be there. He is going to stay by until the thing
is done, or he is. He says very little about it. He is uncomfortable
if any one else says anything about it. He is rather matter of fact,
indeed, and nonchalant as long as things are being done fairly. But
there is nothing calm about his attitude when his opponent hits below
the belt. It was a sense of fair play, as well as humanity, that made
England rise to the call of Belgium. It is England's sense of fair
play that makes her soldiers and sailors go white with fury at the
drowning of women and children and noncombatants; at the unprincipled
employment of such trickery in war as the use of asphyxiating gases,
or at the insulting and ill-treating of those of their army who have
been captured by the Germans. It is at the English, not at the French
or the Belgians, that Germany is striking in this war. Her whole
attitude shows it. British statesmen knew this from the beginning, but
the people were slow to believe it. But escaped prisoners have told
that they were discriminated against. I have talked with a British
officer who made a sensational escape from a German prison camp.
German soldiers have called across to the French trenches that it was
the English they were after.
In his official order to his troops to advance, the German Emperor
voiced the general sentiment.
"It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your
energies, for the immediate present, upon one single purpose, and
that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my
soldiers to exterminate first the treacherous English and walk over
General French's contemptible little army.
"Aix-la-Chapelle, August 19th, 1914."
In the name of the dignity of great nations, compare that order with
Lord Kitchener's instructions to his troops, given at the same time.
"You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French
comrades against the invasion of a common enemy. You have to perform
a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience.
Remember that the honour of the British Army depends on your
individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example
of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to
maintain the most friendly relations with those whom you are helping
in this struggle.
"The operations in which you are engaged will, for the most part,
take place in a friendly country, and you can do your own country no
better service than in showing yourselves in France and Belgium in
the true character of a British soldier.
"Be invariably courteous, considerate, and kind. Never do anything
likely to injure or destroy property, and always look upon looting
as a disgraceful act. You are sure to meet with a welcome and to be
trusted; your conduct will justify that welcome and that trust. Your
duty cannot be done unless your health is sound. So keep constantly
on your guard against any excesses. In this new experience you may
find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist
both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect
courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.
"Do your duty bravely,
"Honour the King.
"(Signed), KITCHENER, Field Marshal,"
A LUNCHEON AT BRITISH HEADQUARTERS
The same high-crowned roads, with pitfalls of mud at each side; the
same lines of trees; the same coating of ooze, over which the car slid
dangerously. But a new element—khaki.
Khaki everywhere—uniforms, tents, transports, all of the same hue.
Skins, too, where one happens on the Indian troops. It is difficult to
tell where their faces end and their yellow turbans begin.
Except for the slightly rolling landscape and the khaki one might have
been behind the Belgian or French Army. There were as usual aëroplanes
overhead, clouds of shrapnel smoke, and not far away the thunder of
cannonading. After a time even that ceased, for I was on my way to
British General Headquarters, well back from the front.
I carried letters from England to Field Marshal Sir John French, to
Colonel Brinsley Fitzgerald, aid-de-camp to the "Chief," as he is
called, and to General Huguet, the liaison between the French and
English Armies. His official title is something entirely different,
but the French word is apt. He is the connecting link between the
English and French Armies.
I sent these letters to headquarters, and waited in the small hotel
for developments. The British antipathy to correspondents was well
known. True, there were indications that a certain relaxation was
about to take place. Frederick Palmer in London had been notified that
before long he would be sent across, and I had heard that some of the
London newspapers, the Times and a few others, were to be allowed a
day at the lines.
But at the time my machine drew into that little French town and
deposited me in front of a wretched inn, no correspondent had been to
the British lines. It was terra incognita. Even London knew very
little. It was rumoured that such part of the Canadian contingent as
had left England up to that time had been sent to the eastern field,
to Egypt or the Dardanelles. With the exception of Sir John French's
reports and the "Somewhere in France" notes of "Eyewitness," a British
officer at the front, England was taking her army on faith.
And now I was there, and there frankly as a writer. Also I was a
woman. I knew how the chivalrous English mind recoiled at the idea of
a woman near the front. Their nurses were kept many miles in the rear.
They had raised loud protests when three English women were permitted
to stay at the front with the Belgian Army.
My knees were a bit weak as I went up the steps and into the hotel.
They would hardly arrest me. My letters were from very important
persons indeed. But they could send me away with expedition and
dispatch. I had run the Channel blockade to get there, and I did not
wish to be sent away with expedition and dispatch.
The hotel was cold and bare. Curious eyed officers came in, stared at
me and went out. A French gentleman in a military cape walked round
the bare room, spoke to the canaries in a great cage in the corner,
and came back to where I sat with my fur coat, lap-robe fashion, over
"Pardon!" he said. "Are you the Duchess of Sutherland?"
I regretted that I was not the Duchess of Sutherland.
"You came just now in a large car?"
"You intend to stay here for some time?"
"I have not decided."
"Where did you come from?"
"I think," I said after a rather stunned pause, "that I shall not tell
"Madame is very cautious!"
I felt convinced that he spoke with the authority of the army, or of
the town gendarmerie, behind him. But I was irritated. Besides, I
had been cautioned so much about telling where I had been, except in
general terms, that I was even afraid to talk in my sleep.
"I think," I said, "that it does not really matter where I came from,
where I am going, or what I am doing here."
I expected to see him throw back his cape and exhibit a sheriff's
badge, or whatever its French equivalent. But he only smiled.
"In that case," he said cheerfully, "I shall wish you a good morning."
"Good-bye," I said coldly. And he took himself off.
I have never solved the mystery of that encounter. Was he merely
curious? Or scraping acquaintance with the only woman he had seen in
months? Or was he as imposing a person as he looked, and did he go
away for a warrant or whatever was necessary, and return to find me
safe in the lap of the British Army?
The canary birds sang, and a porter with a leather apron, having
overcome a national inability to light a fire in the middle of the
day, came to take me to my room. There was an odour of stewing onions
in the air, and soapsuds, and a dog sniffed at me and barked because I
addressed him in English.
And then General Huguet came, friendly and smiling, and speaking
English. And all was well.
Afterward I learned how that same diplomacy which made me comfortable
and at home with him at once has made smooth the relations between the
English and French Armies. It was Chesterfield, wasn't it, who spoke
of "Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re"? That is General Huguet. A
tall man, dark, keen and of most soldierly bearing; beside the genial
downrightness of the British officers he was urbane, suave, but full
of decision. His post requires diplomacy but not concession.
Sir John French, he regretted to say, was at the front and would not
return until late in the evening. But Colonel Fitzgerald hoped that I
would come to luncheon at headquarters, so that we might talk over
what was best to be done. He would, if the arrangement suited me,
return at one o'clock for me.
It was half past twelve. I made such concessions to the occasion as my
travelling bag permitted, and, prompt to the minute, General Huguet's
car drew up at the inn door. It was a wonderful car. I used it all
that afternoon and the next day, and I can testify both to its comfort
and to its speed. I had travelled fast in cars belonging to the
Belgian and French staffs, but never have I gone as I did in that
marvel of a car. Somewhere among my papers I have a sketch that I made
of the interior of the limousine body, with the two soldier-chauffeurs
outside in front, the two carbines strapped to the speedometer between
the vis-à-vis seats inside the car, and the speedometer registering
ninety kilometres and going up.
We went at once to British Headquarters, with its sentries and its
flag; a large house, which had belonged to a notary, its grim and
forbidding exterior gave little promise of the comfort within. A
passage led to a square centre hall from which opened various rooms—a
library, with a wood fire, the latest possible London and Paris
papers, a flat-topped desk and a large map; a very large drawing-room,
which is Sir John French's private office, with white walls panelled
with rose brocade, a marble mantel, and a great centre table, covered,
like the library desk, with papers; a dining room, wainscoted and
comfortable. There were other rooms, which I did not see. In the
square hall an orderly sat all day, waiting for orders of various
Colonel Fitzgerald greeted me amiably. He regretted that Sir John
French was absent, and was curious as to how I had penetrated to the
fastnesses of British Headquarters without trouble. Now and then,
glancing at him unexpectedly during the excellent luncheon that
followed, I found his eyes fixed on me thoughtfully, intently. It was
not at all an unfriendly gaze. Rather it was the look of a man who is
painstakingly readjusting his mental processes to meet a new
He made a delightful host. I sat at his right. At the other end of the
table was General Huguet, and across from me a young English nobleman,
attached to the field marshal's staff, came in, a few minutes late,
and took his place. The Prince of Wales, who lives there, had gone to
the trenches the day before.
Two soldier-servants served the meal. There was red wine, but none of
the officers touched it. The conversation was general and animated. We
spoke of public opinion in America, of the resources of Germany and
her starvation cry, of the probable length of the war. On this
opinions varied. One of the officers prophesied a quick ending when
the Allies were finally ready to take the offensive. The others were
not so optimistic. But neither here, nor in any of the conversations I
have heard at the headquarters of the Allies, was there a doubt
expressed as to ultimate victory. They had a quiet confidence that was
contagious. There was no bluster, no assertion; victory was simply
accepted as a fact; the only two opinions might be as to when it would
occur, and whether the end would be sudden or a slow withdrawal of the
The French Algerian troops and the Indian forces of Great Britain came
up for discussion, their bravery, their dislike for trench fighting
and intense longing to charge, the inroads the bad weather had made on
them during the winter.
One of the officers considered the American press rather pro-German.
The recent American note to Sir Edward Grey and his reply, with the
press comments on both, led to this statement. The possibility of
Germany's intentionally antagonising America was discussed, but not at
From the press to the censorship was but a step. I objected to the
English method as having lost us our perspective on the war.
"You allow anything to go through the censor's office that is not
considered dangerous or too explicit," I said. "False reports go
through on an equality with true ones. How can America know what to
It was suggested by some one that the only way to make the censorship
more elastic, while retaining its usefulness in protecting military
secrets and movements, was to establish such a censorship at the
front, where it is easier to know what news would be harmful to give
out and what may be printed with safety.
I mentioned what a high official of the admiralty had said to me about
the censorship—that it was "an infernal nuisance, but necessary."
"But it is not true that messages are misleadingly changed in
transmission," said one of the officers at the table.
I had seen the head of the press-censorship bureau, and was able to
repeat what he had said—that where the cutting out of certain phrases
endangered the sense of a message, the words "and" or "the" were
occasionally added, that the sense might be kept clear, but that no
other additions or changes of meaning were ever made.
Luncheon was over. We went into the library, and there, consulting the
map, Colonel Fitzgerald and General Huguet discussed where I might go
that afternoon. The mist of the morning had turned to rain, and the
roads at the front would be very bad. Besides, it was felt that the
"Chief" should give me permission to go to the front, and he had not
"How about seeing the Indians?" asked Colonel Fitzgerald, turning from
"I should like it very much."
The young officer was turned to, and agreed, like a British patriot
and gentleman, to show me the Indian villages. General Huguet offered
his car. The officer got his sheepskin-lined coat, for the weather was
"Thirty shillings," he said, "and nothing goes through it!"
I examined that coat. It was smart, substantial, lined throughout with
pure white fur, and it had cost seven dollars and a half.
There is a very popular English word just making its place in America.
The word is "swank." It is both noun and verb. One swanks when one
swaggers. One puts on swank when one puts on side. And because I hold
a brief for the English, and because I was fortunate enough to meet
all sorts of English people, I want to say that there is very little
swank among them. The example of simplicity and genuineness has been
set by the King and Queen. I met many different circles of people.
From the highest to the lowest, there was a total absence of that
arrogance which the American mind has so long associated with the
English. For fear of being thought to swagger, an Englishman will
understate his case. And so with the various English officers I met at
the front. There was no swank. They were downright, unassuming,
extremely efficient-looking men, quick to speak of German courage,
ready to give the benefit of the doubt where unproved outrages were in
question, but rousing, as I have said, to pale fury where their troops
were being unfairly attacked.
While the car was being brought to the door General Huguet pointed out
to me on the map where I was going. As we stood there his pencil drew
a light semicircle round the town of Ypres.
"A great battle," he said, and described it. Colonel Fitzgerald took
up the narrative. So it happened that, in the three different staff
headquarters, Belgian, French and English, executive officers of the
three armies in the western field described to me that great
battle—the frightful slaughter of the English, their re-enforcement
at a critical time by General Foch's French Army of the North, and the
final holding of the line.
The official figures of casualties were given me again: English
forty-five thousand out of a hundred and twenty thousand engaged; the
French seventy thousand, and the German over two hundred thousand.
Turning to the table, Colonel Fitzgerald picked up a sheet of paper
covered with figures.
"It is interesting," he said, "to compare the disease and battle
mortality percentages of this war with the percentages in other wars;
to see, considering the frightful weather and the trenches, how little
disease there has been among our troops. Compare the figures with the
Boer War, for instance. And even then our percentage has been somewhat
brought up by the Indian troops."
"Have many of them been ill?"
"They have felt the weather," he replied; "not the cold so much as the
steady rain. And those regiments of English that have been serving in
India have felt the change. They particularly have suffered from
I knew that. More than once I had seen men being taken back from the
British lines, their faces twisted with pain, their feet great masses
of cotton and bandages which they guarded tenderly, lest a chance blow
add to their agony. Even the English system of allowing the men to rub
themselves with lard and oil from the waist down before going into
flooded trenches has not prevented the tortures of frostbite.
It was time to go and the motor was waiting. We set off in a driving
sleet that covered the windows of the car and made motoring even more
than ordinarily precarious. But the roads here were better than those
nearer the coast; wider, too, and not so crowded. To Ham, where the
Indian regiment I was to visit had been retired for rest, was almost
twenty miles. "Ham!" I said. "What a place to send Mohammedans to!"
In his long dispatch of February seventeenth Sir John French said of
the Indian troops:
"The Indian troops have fought with the utmost steadfastness and
gallantry whenever they have been called upon."
This is the answer to many varying statements as to the efficacy of
the assistance furnished by her Indian subjects to the British Empire
at this time. For Sir John French is a soldier, not a diplomat. No
question of the union of the Empire influences his reports. The
Indians have been valuable, or he would not say so. He is chary of
praise, is the Field Marshal of the British Army.
But there is another answer—that everywhere along the British front
one sees the Ghurkas, slant-eyed and Mongolian, with their
broad-brimmed, khaki-coloured hats, filling posts of responsibility.
They are little men, smaller than the Sikhs, rather reminiscent of the
Japanese in build and alertness.
When I was at the English front some of the Sikhs had been retired to
rest. But even in the small villages on billet, relaxed and resting,
they were a fine and soldierly looking body of men, showing race and
their ancient civilisation.
It has been claimed that England called on her Indian troops, not
because she expected much assistance from them but to show the
essential unity of the British Empire. The plain truth is, however,
that she needed the troops, needed men at once, needed experienced
soldiers to eke out her small and purely defensive army of regulars.
Volunteers had to be equipped and drilled—a matter of months.
To say that she called to her aid barbarians is absurd. The Ghurkas
are fierce fighters, but carefully disciplined. Compare the lances of
the Indian cavalry regiments and the kukri, the Ghurka knife, with
the petrol squirts, hand grenades, aëroplane darts and asphyxiating
bombs of Germany, and call one barbarian to the advantage of the
other! The truth is, of course, that war itself is barbarous.
A STRANGE PARTY
The road to Ham turned off the main highway south of Aire. It was a
narrow clay road in unspeakable condition. The car wallowed along.
Once we took a wrong turning and were obliged to go back and start
It was still raining. Indian horsemen beat their way stolidly along
the road. We passed through hamlets where cavalry horses in ruined
stables were scantily protected, where the familiar omnibuses of
London were parked in what appeared to be hundreds. The cocoa and
other advertisements had been taken off and they had been hastily
painted a yellowish grey. Here and there we met one on the road,
filled and overflowing with troops, and looking curiously like the
"rubber-neck wagons" of New York.
Aside from the transports and a few small Indian ammunition carts,
with open bodies made of slats, and drawn by two mules, with an
impassive turbaned driver calling strange words to his team, there was
no sign of war. No bombarding disturbed the heavy atmosphere; no
aëroplanes were overhead. There was no barbed wire, no trenches. Only
muddy sugarbeet fields on each side of the narrow road, a few winter
trees, and the beat of the rain on the windows.
At last, with an extra lurch, the car drew up in the village of Ham.
At a gate in a brick wall a Scotch soldier in kilts, carrying a rifle,
came forward. Our errand was explained and he went off to find Makand
Singh, a major in the Lahore Lancers and in charge of the post.
It was a curious picture that I surveyed through the opened door of
the car. We were in the centre of the village, and at the intersection
of a crossroads was a tall cross with a life-size Christ. Underneath
the cross, in varying attitudes of dampness and curiosity, were a
dozen Indians, Mohammedans by faith. Some of them held horses which,
in spite of the rain, they had been exercising. One or two wore long
capes to the knees, with pointed hoods which fitted up over their
great turbans. Bearded men with straight, sensitive noses and oval
faces, even the absurdity of the cape and pointed hood failed to
lessen their dignity. They were tall, erect, soldierly looking, and
they gazed at me with the bland gravity of the East.
Makand Singh came hastily forward, a splendid figure of a man, six
foot two or thereabout, and appearing even taller by reason of his
turban. He spoke excellent English.
"It is very muddy for a lady to alight," he said, and instructed one
of the men to bring bags of sacking, which were laid in the road.
"You are seeing us under very unfavourable conditions," he said as he
helped me to alight. "But there is a fire if you are cold."
I was cold. So Makand Singh led the way to his living quarters. To go
to them it was necessary to pass through a long shed, which was now a
stable for perhaps a dozen horses. At a word of command the Indian
grooms threw themselves against the horses' heads and pushed them
back. By stepping over the ground pegs to which they were tethered I
got through the shed somehow and into a small yard.
Makand Singh turned to the right, and, throwing open the low door of a
peasant's house, stood aside to allow me to enter. "It is not very
comfortable," he explained, "but it is the best we have."
He was so tall that he was obliged to stoop as he entered the doorway.
Within was an ordinary peasant's kitchen, but cleaner than the
average. In spite of the weather the floor boards were freshly
scrubbed. The hearth was swept, and by the stove lay a sleek
tortoise-shell cat. There was a wooden dresser, a chimney shelf with
rows of plates standing on it, and in a doorway just beyond an elderly
peasant woman watching us curiously.
"Perhaps," said Makand Singh, "you will have coffee?"
I was glad to accept, and the young officer, who had followed,
accepted also. We sat down while the kettle was placed on the stove
and the fire replenished. I glanced at the Indian major's tall figure.
Even sitting, he was majestic. When he took the cape off he was
discovered clothed in the khaki uniform of his rank in the British
Army. Except for the olive colour of his skin, his turban, and the
fact that his beard—the soft beard of one who has never shaved—was
drawn up into a black net so that it formed a perfect crescent around
the angle of his jaw, he might have been a gallant and interested
For the situation assuredly interested him. His eyes were alert and
keen. When he smiled he showed rows of beautiful teeth, small and
white. And although his face in repose was grave, he smiled often. He
superintended the making of the coffee by the peasant woman and
instructed her to prepare the table.
She obeyed pleasantly. Indeed, it was odd to see that between this
elderly Frenchwoman and her strange guests—people of whose existence
on the earth I dare say she had never heard until this war—there was
the utmost good will. Perhaps the Indians are neater than other
troops. Certainly personal cleanliness is a part of their religion.
Anyhow, whatever the reason, I saw no evidence of sulkiness toward the
Indians, although I have seen surly glances directed toward many of
the billeted troops of other nationalities.
Conversation was rather difficult. We had no common ground to meet on,
and the ordinary currency of polite society seemed inadequate, out of
"The weather must be terrible after India," I ventured.
"We do not mind the cold. We come from the north of India, where it is
often cold. But the mud is bad. We cannot use our horses."
"You are a cavalry regiment?" I asked, out of my abysmal ignorance.
"We are Lancers. Yes. And horses are not useful in this sort of
From a room beyond there was a movement, followed by the entrance of a
young Frenchman in a British uniform. Makand Singh presented him and
he joined the circle that waited for coffee.
The newcomer presented an enigma—a Frenchman in a British uniform
quartered with the Indian troops! It developed that he was a pupil
from the Sorbonne, in Paris, and was an interpreter. Everywhere
afterward I found these interpreters with the British Army—Frenchmen
who for various reasons are disqualified from entering the French Army
in active service and who are anxious to do what they can. They wear
the British uniform, with the exception that instead of the stiff
crown of the British cap theirs is soft, They are attached to every
battalion, for Tommy Atkins is in a strange land these days, a land
that knows no more English than he knows French,
True, he carries little books of French and English which tell him how
to say "Porter, get my luggage and take it to a cab," or "Please bring
me a laundry list," or "Give my kind regards to your parents," Imagine
him trying to find the French for "Look out, they're coming!" to call
to a French neighbour, in the inevitable mix-up of the line during a
mêlée, and finding only "These trousers do not fit well," or "I
would like an ice and then a small piece of cheese."
It was a curious group that sat in a semicircle around that peasant
woman's stove, waiting for the kettle to boil—the tall Indian major
with his aristocratic face and long, quiet hands, the young English
officer in his Headquarters Staff uniform, the French interpreter, and
I. Just inside the door the major's Indian servant, tall, impassive
and turbaned, stood with folded arms, looking over our heads. And at
the table the placid faced peasant woman cut slices of yellow bread,
made with eggs and milk, and poured our coffee.
It was very good coffee, served black. The woman brought a small
decanter and placed it near me.
"It is rum," said the major, "and very good in coffee."
I declined the rum. The interpreter took a little. The major shook his
"Although they say that a Sikh never refuses rum!" he said, smiling.
Coffee over, we walked about the village. Hardly a village—a cluster
of houses along unpaved lanes which were almost impassable. There were
tumbling stables full of horses, groups of Indians standing under
dripping eaves for shelter, sentries, here and there a peasant. The
houses were replicas of the one where Makand Singh had his quarters.
Although it was still raining, a dozen Indian Lancers were exercising
their horses. They dismounted and stood back to let us pass. Behind
them, as they stood, was the great Cross.
That was the final picture I had of the village of Ham and the Second
Lahore Lancers—the turbaned Indians with their dripping horses, the
grave bow of Makand Singh as he closed the door of the car, and behind
him a Scotch corporal in kilt and cap, with a cigarette tucked behind
We went on. I looked back, Makand Singh was making his careful way
through the mud; the horses were being led to a stable. The Cross
SIR JOHN FRENCH
The next day I was taken along the English front, between the first
and the second line of trenches, from Béthune, the southern extremity
of the line, the English right flank, to the northern end of the line
just below Ypres. In a direct line the British front at that time
extended along some twenty-seven miles. But the line was irregular,
and I believe was really well over thirty.
I have never been in an English trench. I have been close enough to
the advance trenches to be shown where they lay, and to see the slight
break they make in the flat country. I was never in a dangerous
position at the English front, if one excepts the fact that all of
that portion of the country between the two lines of trenches is
exposed to shell fire.
No shells burst near me. Béthune was being intermittently shelled, but
as far as I know not a shell fell in the town while I was there. I
lunched on a hill surrounded by batteries, with the now celebrated
towns of Messines and Wytschaete just across a valley, so that one
could watch shells bursting over them. And still nothing threatened my
peace of mind or my physical well-being. And yet it was one of the
most interesting days of a not uneventful period.
In the morning I was taken, still in General Huguet's car, to British
Headquarters again, to meet Sir John French.
I confess to a thrill of excitement when the door into his private
office was opened and I was ushered in. The Field Marshal of the
British Army was standing by his table. He came forward at once and
shook hands. In his khaki uniform, with the scarlet straps of his rank
on collar and sleeves, he presented a most soldierly and impressive
A man of middle height, squarely and compactly built, he moves easily.
He is very erect, and his tanned face and grey hair are in strong
contrast. A square and determined jaw, very keen blue eyes and a
humorous mouth—that is my impression of Sir John French.
"We are sending you along the lines," he said when I was seated. "But
not into danger. I hope you do not want to go into danger."
I wish I might tell of the conversation that followed. It is
impossible. Not that it dealt with vital matters; but it was
understood that Sir John was not being interviewed. He was taking a
little time from a day that must have been crowded, to receive with
beautiful courtesy a visitor from overseas. That was all.
There can be no objection, I think, to my mentioning one or two things
he spoke of—of his admiration for General Foch, whom I had just seen,
of the tribute he paid to the courage of the Indian troops, and of the
marvellous spirit all the British troops had shown under the adverse
weather conditions prevailing. All or most of these things he has said
in his official dispatches.
Other things were touched on—the possible duration of the war, the
new problems of what is virtually a new warfare, the possibility of a
pestilence when warm weather came, owing to inadequately buried
bodies. The Canadian troops had not arrived at the front at that time,
although later in the day I saw their transports on the way, or I am
sure he would have spoken of them. I should like to hear what he has
to say about them after their recent gallant fighting. I should like
to see his fine blue eyes sparkle.
The car was at the door, and the same young officer who had taken me
about on the previous day entered the room.
"I am putting you in his care," said Sir John, indicating the new
arrival, "because he has a charmed life. Nothing will happen if you
are with him." He eyed the tall young officer affectionately. "He has
been fighting since the beginning," he said, "handling a machine gun
in all sorts of terrible places. And nothing ever touches him."
A discussion followed as to where I was to be taken. There was a culm
heap near the Givenchy brickyards which was rather favoured as a
lookout spot. In spite of my protests, that was ruled out as being
under fire at the time. Béthune was being shelled, but not severely. I
would be taken to Béthune and along the road behind the trenches. But
nothing was to happen to me. Sir John French knitted his grey brows,
and suggested a visit to a wood where the soldiers had built wooden
walks and put up signs, naming them Piccadilly, Regent Street, and so
"I should like to see something," I put in feebly.
I appreciated their kindly solicitude, but after all I was there to
see things; to take risks, if necessary, but to see.
"Then," said Sir John with decision, "we will send you to a hill from
which you can see."
The trip was arranged while I waited. Then he went with me to the door
and there we shook hands. He hoped I would have a comfortable trip,
and bowed me out most courteously. But in the doorway he thought of
"Have you a camera with you?"
I had, and said so; a very good camera.
"I hope you do not mind if I ask you not to use it."
I did not mind. I promised at once to take no pictures, and indeed at
the end of the afternoon I found my unfortunate camera on the floor,
much buffeted and kicked about and entirely ignored.
The interview with Sir John French had given me an entirely unexpected
impression of the Field Marshal of the British Army. I had read his
reports fully, and from those unemotional reports of battles, of
movements and countermovements, I had formed a picture of a great
soldier without imagination, to whom a battle was an issue, not a
great human struggle—an austere man.
I had found a man with a fighting jaw and a sensitive mouth; and a man
greatly beloved by the men closest to him. A human man; a soldier, not
And after seeing and talking with Sir John French I am convinced that
it is not his policy that dictates the silence of the army at the
front. He is proud of his men, proud of each heroic regiment, of every
brave deed. He would like, I am sure, to shout to the world the names
of the heroes of the British Army, to publish great rolls of honour.
But silence, or comparative silence, has been the decree.
There must be long hours of suspense when the Field Marshal of the
British Army paces the floor of that grey and rose brocade
drawing-room; hours when the orders he has given are being translated
into terms of action, of death, of wounds, but sometimes—thank
God!—into terms of victory. Long hours, when the wires and the
dispatch riders bring in news, valiant names, gains, losses; names
that are not to be told; brave deeds that, lacking chroniclers, must
Read this, from the report Sir John French sent out only a day or so
before I saw him:
"The troops composing the Army of France have been subjected to as
severe a trial as it is possible to impose upon any body of men. The
desperate fighting described in my last dispatch had hardly been
brought to a conclusion when they were called upon to face the
rigours and hardships of a winter campaign. Frost and snow have
alternated with periods of continuous rain."
"The men have been called upon to stand for many hours together
almost up to their waists in bitterly cold water, separated by only
one or two hundred yards from a most vigilant enemy."
"Although every measure which science and medical knowledge could
suggest to mitigate these hardships was employed, the sufferings of
the men have been very great."
"In spite of all this they present a most soldier like, splendid,
though somewhat war-worn appearance. Their spirit remains high and
confident; their general health is excellent, and their condition
"I regard it as most unfortunate that circumstances have prevented
any account of many splendid instances of courage and endurance, in
the face of almost unparalleled hardship and fatigue in war, coming
regularly to the knowledge of the public."
So it is clearly not the fault of Sir John French that England does
not know the names of her heroes, or that their families are denied
the comfort of knowing that their sons fought bravely and died nobly.
It is not the fault of the British people, waiting eagerly for news
that does not come. Surely, in these inhuman times, some concession
should be made to the humanities. War is not moving pawns in a game;
it is a struggle of quivering flesh and agonised nerves, of men
fighting and dying for ideals. Heroism is much more than duty. It is
idealism. No leader is truly great who discounts this quality.
America has known more of the great human interest of this war than
England. English people get the news from great American dailies. It
is an unprecedented situation, and so far the English people have
borne it almost in silence. But as the months go on and only bare
official dispatches reach them, there is a growing tendency to
protest. They want the truth, a picture of conditions. They want to
know what their army is doing; what their sons are doing. And they
have a right to know. They are making tremendous sacrifices, and they
have a right to know to what end.
The greatest agent in the world for moulding public opinion is the
press. The Germans know this, and have used their journals skilfully.
To underestimate the power of the press, to fail to trust to its good
will and discretion, is to refuse to wield the mightiest instrument in
the world for influencing national thought and national action. At
times of great crisis the press has always shown itself sane,
conservative, safe, eminently to be trusted.
The English know the power of the great modern newspaper, not only to
reflect but to form public opinion. They have watched the American
press because they know to what extent it influences American policy.
There is talk of conscription in England to-day. Why? Ask the British
people. Ask the London Times. Ask rural England where, away from the
tramp of soldiers in the streets, the roll of drums, the visual
evidence of a great struggle, patriotism is asked to feed on the ashes
Self-depreciation in a nation is as great an error as
over-complacency. Lack of full knowledge is the cause of much of the
present British discontent.
Let the British people be told what their army is doing. Let Lord
Kitchener announce its deeds, its courage, its vast unselfishness. Let
him put the torch of publicity to the national pride and see it turn
to a white flame of patriotism. Then it will be possible to tear the
recruiting posters from the walls of London, and the remotest roads of
England will echo to the tramp of marching men.
ALONG THE GREAT BETHUNE ROAD
Again and again through these chapters I have felt apologetic for the
luxurious manner in which I frequently saw the war. And so now I
hesitate to mention the comfort of that trip along the British lines;
the substantial and essentially British foresight and kindness that
had stocked the car with sandwiches wrapped in white paper; the good
roads; the sense of general well-being that spread like a contagion
from a well-fed and well-cared-for army. There is something about the
British Army that inspires one with confidence. It is a pity that
those people who sit at home in Great Britain and shrug their
shoulders over the daily papers cannot see their army at the front.
It is not a roast beef stolidity. It is rather the steadiness of calm
eyes and good nerves, of physically fit bodies and clean minds. I felt
it when I saw Kitchener's army of clear-eyed boys drilling in Hyde
Park. I got it from the quiet young officer, still in his twenties,
who sat beside me in the car, and who, having been in the war from the
beginning, handling a machine gun all through the battle of Ypres,
when his regiment, the Grenadier Guards, suffered so horribly, was
willing to talk about everything but what he had done.
We went first to Béthune. The roads as we approached the front were
crowded, but there was no disorder. There were motor bicycles and
side-cars carrying dispatch riders and scouts, travelling kitchens,
great lorries, small light cars for supplies needed in a hurry—cars
which make greater speed than the motor vans—omnibuses full of
troops, and steam tractors or caterpillar engines for hauling heavy
The day was sunny and cold. The rain of the day before had turned to
snow in the night, and the fields were dazzling.
"In the east," said the officer with me, "where there is always snow
in the winter, the Germans have sent out to their troops white helmet
covers and white smocks to cover the uniforms. But snow is
comparatively rare here, and it has not been considered necessary."
At a small bridge ten miles from Béthune he pointed out a house as
marking the farthest advance of the German Army, reached about the
eleventh of October. There was no evidence of the hard fighting that
had gone on along this road. It was a peaceful scene, the black
branches of the overarching trees lightly powdered with snow. But the
snowy fields were full of unmarked mounds. Another year, and the
mounds will have sunk to the level of the ground. Another year, and
only history will tell the story of that October of 1914 along the
great Béthune road.
An English aëroplane was overhead. There were armoured cars on the
road, going toward the front; top-heavy machines that made
surprisingly little noise, considering their weight. Some had a sort
of conning tower at the top. They looked sombre, menacing. The driving
of these cars over slippery roads must be difficult. Like the vans,
they keep as near the centre of the road as possible, allowing lighter
traffic to turn out to pass them. A van had broken down and was being
repaired at one of the wayside repair shops maintained everywhere
along the roads for this war of machinery. Men in khaki with leather
aprons were working about it, while the driver stood by, smoking a
As we went on we encountered the Indian troops again. The weather was
better, and they thronged the roads, driving their tiny carts,
cleaning arms and accoutrements in sunny doorways, proud and haughty
in appearence even when attending to the most menial duties. From the
little ammunition carts, like toy wagons, they gazed gravely at the
car, and at the unheard of spectacle of a woman inside. Side by side
with the Indians were Scots in kilts, making up with cheerful
impudence for the Indians' lack of curiosity.
There were more Ghurkas, carrying rifles and walking lightly beside
forage carts driven by British Tommies. There were hundreds of these
carts taking hay to the cavalry divisions. The Ghurkas looked more
Japanese than ever in the clear light. Their broad-brimmed khaki hats
have a strap that goes under the chin. The strap or their black
slanting eyes or perhaps their rather flattened noses and pointed
chins give them a look of cruelty that the other Indian troops do not
have. They are hard and relentless fighters, I believe; and they look
The conversation in the car turned to the feeding of the army.
"The British Army is exceedingly well fed," said the young officer.
"In the trenches also?"
"Always. The men are four days in the trenches and four out. When the
weather is too bad for anything but sniping, the inactivity of the
trench life and the abundant ration gets them out of condition. On
their four days in reserve it is necessary to drill them hard to keep
them in condition."
This proved to be the explanation of the battalions we met everywhere,
marching briskly along the roads. I do not recall the British ration
now, but it includes, in addition to meat and vegetables, tea, cheese,
jam and bacon—probably not all at once, but giving that variety of
diet so lacking to the unfortunate Belgian Army. Food is one of the
principal munitions of war. No man fights well with an empty stomach.
Food sinks into the background only when it is assured and plentiful.
Deprived of it, its need becomes insistent, an obsession that drives
away every other thought.
So the wise British Army feeds its men well, and lets them think of
other things, such as war and fighting and love of country and brave
But food has not always been plentiful in the British Army. There were
times last fall when, what with German artillery bombardment and
shifting lines, it was difficult to supply the men.
"My servant," said the officer, "found a hare somewhere, and in a
deserted garden a handful of carrots. Word came to the trench where I
was stationed that at dark that night he would bring out a stew. We
were very hungry and we waited eagerly. But just as it was cooked and
ready a German shell came down the chimney of the house where he was
working and blew up stove and stew and everything. It was one of the
greatest disappointments I ever remember."
We were in Béthune at last—a crowded town, larger than any I had seen
since I left Dunkirk. So congested were its narrow streets with
soldiers, mounted and on foot, and with all the ghastly machinery of
war, that a traffic squad had taken charge and was directing things.
On some streets it was possible to go only in one direction. I looked
about for the signs of destruction that had grown so familiar to me,
but I saw none. Evidently the bombardment of Béthune has not yet done
A squad of artillerymen marched by in perfect step; their faces were
keen, bronzed. They were fine-looking, well-set-up men, as smart as
English artillerymen always are. I watched them as long as I could see
We had lost our way, owing to the regulations of the traffic squad. It
was necessary to stop and inquire. Then at last we crossed a small
bridge over the canal, and were on our way along the front, behind the
advanced trenches and just in front of the second line.
For a few miles the country was very level. The firing was on our
right, the second line of trenches on our left. The congestion of
Béthune had given way to the extreme peace in daylight of the region
just behind the trenches. There were few wagons, few soldiers. Nothing
could be seen except an occasional cloud where shrapnel had burst. The
British Army was keeping me safe, as it had promised!
There were, however, barbed-wire entanglements everywhere, built, I
thought, rather higher than the French. Roads to the right led to the
advanced trenches, empty roads which at night are thronged with men
going to the front or coming back.
Here and there one saw a sentry, and behind him a tent of curious
mottled shades of red, brown and green.
"They look as though they were painted," I said, rather bewildered.
"They are," the officer replied promptly. "From an aëroplane these
tents are absolutely impossible to locate. They merge into the colors
of the fields."
Now and then at a crossroads it was necessary to inquire our way. I
had no wish to run into danger, but I was conscious of a wild longing
to have the car take the wrong turning and land abruptly at the
advance trenches. Nothing of the sort happened, however.
We passed small buildings converted into field hospitals and flying
the white flag with a red cross.
"There are no nurses in these hospitals," explained the officer. "Only
one surgeon and a few helpers. The men are brought here from the
trenches, and then taken back at night in ambulances to the railroad
or to base hospitals."
"Are there no nurses at all along the British front?"
"None whatever. There are no women here in any capacity. That is why
the men are so surprised to see you."
Here and there, behind the protection of groves and small thickets,
were temporary camps, sometimes tents, sometimes tent-shaped shelters
of wood. There were batteries on the right everywhere, great guns
concealed in farmyards or, like the guns I had seen on the French
front, in artificial hedges. Some of them were firing; but the firing
of a battery amounts to nothing but a great noise in these days of
long ranges. Somewhere across the valley the shells would burst, we
knew that; that was all.
The conversation turned to the Prince of Wales, and to the
responsibility it was to the various officers to have him in the
trenches. Strenuous efforts had been made to persuade him to be
satisfied with the work at headquarters, where he is attached to Sir
John French's staff. But evidently the young heir to the throne of
England is a man in spite of his youth. He wanted to go out and fight,
and he had at last secured permission.
"He has had rather remarkable training," said the young officer, who
was also his friend. "First he was in Calais with the transport
service. Then he came to headquarters, and has seen how things are
done there. And now he is at the front."
Quite unexpectedly round a turn in the road we came on a great line of
Canadian transports—American-built lorries with khaki canvas tops.
Canadians were driving them, Canadians were guarding them. It gave me
a homesick thrill at once to see these other Americans, of types so
familiar to me, there in Northern France.
Their faces were eager as they pushed ahead. Some of the tent-shaped
wooden buildings were to be temporary barracks for them. In one place
the transports had stopped and the men were cooking a meal beside the
road. Some one had brought a newspaper and a crowd of men had gathered
round it. I wondered if it was an American paper. I would like to have
stood on the running board of the machine, as we went past, and called
out that I, too, was an American, and God bless them!
But I fancy the young officer with me would have been greatly
disconcerted at such an action. The English are not given to such
demonstrations. But the Canadians would have understood, I know.
Since that time the reports have brought great news of these Canadian
troops, of their courage, of the loss of almost all their officers in
the fighting at Neuve Chapelle. But that sunny morning, when I saw
them in the north of France, they were untouched by battle or sudden
death. Their faces were eager, intent, earnest. They had come a long
distance and now they had arrived. And what next?
Into this scene of war unexpectedly obtruded itself a bit of peace. A
great cart came down a side road, drawn by two white oxen with heavy
wooden yokes. Piled high in the cart were sugar beets. Some thrifty
peasant was salvaging what was left of his crop. The sight of the oxen
reminded me that I had seen very few horses.
"They are farther back," said the officer, "Of course, as you know,
for the last two or three months it has been impossible to use the
cavalry at all."
Then he told me a curious thing. He said that during the long winter
wait the cavalry horses got much out of condition. The side roads were
thick with mud and the main roads were being reserved for transports.
Adequate exercises for the cavalry seemed impossible. One detachment
discovered what it considered a bright solution, and sent to England
for beagle hounds. Morning after morning the men rode after the hounds
over the flat fields of France. It was a welcome distraction and it
kept the horses in working trim.
But the French objected. They said their country was at war, was being
devastated by an alien army. They considered riding to hounds, no
matter for What purpose, an indecorous, almost an inhuman, thing to do
under the circumstances. So the hounds were sent back to England, and
the cavalry horses are now exercised in dejected strings along side
As we went north the firing increased in intensity. More English
batteries were at work; the German response was insistent.
We were approaching Ypres, this time from the English side, and the
great artillery duel of late February was in progress.
The country was slightly rolling. Its unevenness permitted more
activity along our road. Batteries were drawn up at rest in the fields
here and there. In one place a dozen food kitchens in the road were
cooking the midday meal, the khaki-clad cooks frequently smoking as
Ahead of this loomed two hills. They rose abruptly, treeless and
precipitous. On the one nearest to the German lines was a ruined
"The tower," said the officer, "would have been a charming place for
luncheon. But the hill has been shelled steadily for several days. I
have no idea why the Germans are shelling it. There is nobody there."
THE MILITARY SECRET
The second hill was our destination. At the foot of it the car stopped
and we got out. A steep path with here and there a wooden step led to
the summit. At the foot of the path was a sentry and behind him one of
the multicoloured tents.
"Are you a good climber?" asked the officer.
I said I was and we set out. The path extended only a part of the way,
to a place perhaps two hundred feet beyond the road, where what we
would call a cyclone cellar in America had been dug out of the
hillside. Like the others of the sort I had seen, it was muddy and
uninviting, practically a cave with a roof of turf.
The path ceased, and it was necessary to go diagonally up the steep
hillside through the snow. From numberless guns at the base of the
hill came steady reports, and as we ascended it was explained to me
that I was about to visit the headquarters of Major General H——,
commanding an army division.
"The last person I brought here," said the young officer, smiling,
"was the Prince of Wales."
We reached the top at last. There was a tiny farmhouse, a low stable
with a thatched roof, and, towering over all, the arms of a great
windmill. Chickens cackled round my feet, a pig grunted in a corner,
and apparently from directly underneath came the ear-splitting reports
of a battery as it fired.
"Perhaps I would better go ahead and tell them you are coming," said
the officer. "These people have probably not seen a woman in months,
and the shock would be too severe. We must break it gently."
So he went ahead, and I stood on the crest of that wind-swept hill and
looked across the valley to Messines, to Wytschaete and Ypres.
The battlefield lay spread out like a map. As I looked, clouds of
smoke over Messines told of the bursting of shells.
Major General H—— came hurrying out. His quarters occupy the only
high ground, with the exception of the near-by hill with its ruined
tower, in the neighbourhood of Ypres. Here, a week or so before, had
come the King of Belgium, to look with tragic eyes at all that
remained to him of his country. Here had come visiting Russian princes
from the eastern field, the King of England, the Prince of Wales. No
obscurities—except myself—had ever penetrated so far into the
fastness of the British lines.
Later on in the day I wrote my name in a visitors' book the officers
have established there, wrote under sprawling royal signatures, under
the boyish hand of the Prince of Wales, the irregular chirography of
Albert of Belgium, the blunt and soldierly name of General Joffre.
There are six officers stationed in the farmhouse, composing General
H——'s staff. And, as things turned out, we did not require the
white-paper sandwiches, for we were at once invited to luncheon.
"Not a very elaborate luncheon," said General H——, "but it will give
us a great deal of pleasure to share it."
While the extra places were being laid we went to the brow of the
hill. Across the valley at the foot of a wooded ridge were the British
trenches. The ground rose in front of them, thickly covered with
trees, to the German position on the ridge.
"It looks from here like a very uncomfortable position," I said. "The
German position is better, isn't it?"
"It is," said General H—— grimly. "But we shall take that hill
I am not sure, and my many maps do not say, but there is little doubt
in my mind that the hill in question is the now celebrated Hill 60, of
which so much has been published.
As we looked across shells were bursting round the church tower of
Messines, and the batteries beneath were sending out ear-splitting
crashes of noise. Ypres, less than three miles away, but partly hidden
in mist, was echoing the bombardment. And to complete the pandemonium
of sound, as we turned, a mitrailleuse in the windmill opened fire
"Practice!" said General H—— as I started. "It is noisy here, I'm
We went through the muddy farmyard back to the house. The staff was
waiting and we sat down at once to luncheon at a tiny pine table drawn
up before a window. It was not a good luncheon. The French wine was
like vinegar, the food the ordinary food of the peasant whose house it
was. But it was a cheerful meal in spite of the food, and in spite of
a boil on General H——'s neck. The marvel of a woman being there
seemed to grow, not diminish, as the meal went on.
"Next week," said General H——, "we are to have two parties of
correspondents here. The penny papers come first, and later on the
That brought the conversation, as usual, to the feeling about the war
in America. Like all the other officers I had met, these men were
anxious to have things correctly reported in America, being satisfied
that the true story of the war would undoubtedly influence any
wavering of public opinion in favour of the Allies.
One of the officers was a Canadian, and for his benefit somebody told
the following story, possibly by now familiar to America.
Some of the Canadian troops took with them to England a bit of the
dash and impatience of discipline of the great Northwest. The story in
question is of a group of soldiers at night passing a sentry, who
"Halt! Who goes there?"
"Advance, Black Watch, and all's well."
The next group is similarly challenged:
"Halt! Who goes there?"
The third group comes on.
"Halt! Who goes there?"
"What the devil is that to you?"
In the burst of mirth that followed the Canadian officer joined. Then
he told an anecdote also:
"British recruits, practising passing a whispered order from one end
of a trench to the other, received this message to pass along: 'Enemy
advancing on right flank. Send re-enforcements.' When the message
reached the other end of the trench," he said, "it was: 'Enemy
advancing with ham shank. Send three and fourpence!'"
It was a gay little meal, the only breaks in the conversation when the
great guns drowned out our voices. I wonder how many of those round
that table are living to-day. Not all, it is almost certain. The
German Army almost broke through the English line at that very point
in the late spring. The brave Canadians have lost almost all their
officers in the field and a sickening percentage of their men. That
little valley must have run deep with blood since I saw it that day in
Luncheon was over. I wrote my name in the visitors' book, to the tune
of such a bombardment as almost forbade speech, and accompanied by
General H—— we made our way down the steep hillside to the car.
"Some time to-night I shall be in England," I said as I settled myself
for the return trip.
The smile died on the general's face. It was as if, in speaking of
home, I had touched the hidden chord of gravity and responsibility
that underlay the cheerfulness of that cheery visit.
"England!" he said. That was all.
I looked back as the car started on. A battery was moving up along the
road behind the hill. The sentry stood by his low painted tent. The
general was watching the car, his hand shading his eyes against the
glare of the winter sun. Behind him rose his lonely hill, white with
snow, with the little path leading, by devious ways, up its steep and
It was not considered advisable to return by the road behind the
trenches. The late afternoon artillery duel was going on. So we turned
off a few miles south of the hill and left war behind us.
Not altogether, of course. There were still transports and troops. And
at an intersection of three roads we were abruptly halted. A line of
military cars was standing there, all peremptorily held up by a
handful of soldiers.
The young officer got out and inquired. There was little time to
spare, for I was to get to Calais that evening, and to run the Channel
blockade some time in the night.
The officer came back soon, smiling.
"A military secret!" he said. "We shall have to wait a little. The
road is closed."
So I sat in the car and the military secret went by. I cannot tell
about it except that it was thrillingly interesting. My hands itched
to get out my camera and photograph it, just as they itch now to write
about it. But the mystery of what I saw on the highroad back of the
British lines is not mine to tell. It must die with me!
My visit to the British lines was over.
As I look back I find that the one thing that stands out with
distinctness above everything else is the quality of the men that
constitute the British Army in the field. I had seen thousands in that
one day. But I had seen them also north of Ypres, at Dunkirk, at
Boulogne and Calais, on the Channel boats. I have said before that
they show race. But it is much more than a matter of physique. It is a
thing of steady eyes, of high-held heads, of a clean thrust of jaw.
The English are not demonstrative. London, compared with Paris, is
normal. British officers at the front and at headquarters treat the
war as a part of the day's work, a thing not to talk about but to do.
But my frequent meetings with British soldiers, naval men, members of
the flying contingent and the army medical service, revealed under the
surface of each man's quiet manner a grimness, a red heat of
patriotism, a determination to fight fair but to fight to the death.
They concede to the Germans, with the British sense of fairness,
courage, science, infinite resource and patriotism. Two things they
deny them, civilisation and humanity—civilisation in its spiritual,
not its material, side; humanity of the sort that is the Englishman's
creed and his religion—the safeguarding of noncombatants, the keeping
of the national word and the national honour.
My visit to the English lines was over. I had seen no valiant charges,
no hand-to-hand fighting. But in a way I had had a larger picture. I
had seen the efficiency of the methods behind the lines, the abundance
of supplies, the spirit that glowed in the eyes of every fighting man.
I had seen the colonial children of England in the field, volunteers
who had risen to the call of the mother country. I had seen and talked
with the commander-in-chief of the British forces, and had come away
convinced that the mother country had placed her honour in fine and
capable hands. And I had seen, between the first and second lines of
trenches, an army of volunteers and patriots—and gentlemen.
QUEEN MARY OF ENGLAND
The great European war affects profoundly all the women of each nation
involved. It affects doubly the royal women. The Queen of England, the
Czarina of Russia, the Queen of the Belgians, the Empress of Germany,
each carries in these momentous days a frightful burden. The young
Prince of Wales is at the front; the King of the Belgians has been
twice wounded; the Empress of Germany has her sons as well as her
husband in the field.
In addition to these cares these women of exalted rank have the
responsibility that comes always to the very great. To see a world
crisis approaching, to know every detail by which it has been
furthered or retarded, to realise at last its inevitability—to see,
in a word, every movement of the great drama and to be unable to check
its dénouement—that has been a part of their burden. And when the
dénouement came, to sink their private anxieties in the public
welfare, to assume, not a double immunity but a double responsibility
to their people, has been the other part.
It has required heroism of a high order. It is, to a certain extent, a
new heroism, almost a demonstration of the new faith whose foundation
is responsibility—responsibility of a nation to its sons, of rulers
to their people, of a man to his neighbour.
It has been my privilege to meet and speak with two of these royal
women, with the Queen of England and with the Queen of the Belgians.
In each instance I carried away with me an ineradicable impression of
this quality—of a grave and wearing responsibility borne quietly and
simply, of a quiet courage that buries its own griefs and asks only to
From the beginning of the war I had felt a keen interest in the Queen
of England. Here was a great queen who had chosen to be, first of all,
a wife and mother; a queen with courage and a conscience. And into her
reign had come the tragedy of a war that affected every nation of the
world, many of them directly, all of them indirectly. The war had come
unsought, unexpected, unprepared for. Peaceful England had become a
camp. The very palace in which the royal children were housed was open
to an attack from a brutal enemy, which added to the new warfare of
this century the ethics of barbarism.
What did she think of it all? What did she feel when that terrible
Roll of Honour came in, week by week, that Roll of Honour with its
photographs of splendid types of young manhood that no Anglo-Saxon can
look at without a clutch at his throat? What did she think when, one
by one, the friends of her girlhood put on the black of bereavement
and went uncomplainingly about the good works in which hers was the
guiding hand? What thoughts were hers during those anxious days before
the Prince of Wales went to the front, when, like any other mother,
she took every possible moment to be with him, walking about
arm-in-arm with her boy, talking of everything but the moment of
And when at last I was permitted to see the Queen of England, I
understood a part at least of what she was suffering. I had been to
the front. I had seen the English army in the field. I had been quite
close to the very trenches where the boyish Prince of Wales was facing
the enemies of his country and doing it with high courage. And I had
heard the rumble of the great German guns, as Queen Mary of England
must hear them in her sleep.
Even with no son in the field the Queen of England would be working
for the soldiers. It is a part of the tradition of her house. But a
good mother is a mother to all the world. When Queen Mary is
supervising the great work of the Needlework Guild one feels sure that
into each word of direction has gone a little additional tenderness,
because of this boy of hers at the front.
It is because of Her Majesty's interest in the material well-being of
the soldiers at the front, and because of her most genuine gratitude
for America's part in this well-being, that I took such pleasure in
meeting the Queen of England.
It was characteristic of Her Majesty that she put an American woman—a
very nervous American woman—at her ease at once, that she showed that
American woman the various departments of her Needlework Guild under
way, and that she conveyed, in every word she said, a deep feeling of
friendship for America and her assistance to Belgium in this crisis.
Although our ambassadors are still accredited to the Court of St.
James's, the old palace has ceased to be the royal residence. The King
still holds there his levees, to which only gentlemen are admitted.
But the formal Drawing Rooms are held at Buckingham Palace. To those
who have seen St. James's during a levee, or to those London tourists
who have watched the Scots Guards, or the Coldstream or the
Grenadiers, preceded by a splendid band, swinging into the old Friary
Court to perform the impressive ceremony of changing guard, the change
in these days of war is most amazing. Friary Court is guarded by
London policemen, and filled with great vans piled high with garments
and supplies for the front—that front where the Coldstream and the
Grenadiers and the others, shorn of their magnificence, are waiting
grimly in muddy trenches or leading charges to victory—or the Roll of
Honour. Under the winter sky of London the crenelated towers and brick
walls of the old palace give little indication of the former grandeur
of this most historic of England's palaces, built on the site of an
old leper hospital and still retaining the name of the saint to whom
that hospital was dedicated.
There had been a shower just before I arrived; and, although it was
February, there was already a hint of spring in the air. The sun came
out, drying the roads in the park close by, and shining brightly on
the lovely English grass, green even then with the green of June at
home. Riders, caught in the shower and standing by the sheltered sides
of trees for protection, took again to the bridle paths. The hollows
of Friary Court were pools where birds were splashing. As I got out of
my car a Boy Scout emerged from the palace and carried a large parcel
to a waiting van.
"Do you want the Q.M.N.G.?" said a tall policeman.
This, being interpreted, I was given to understand was Queen Mary's
Later on, when I was taken to Buckingham Palace to write my name in
the Queen's book, which is etiquette after a presentation, there was
all the formality the visit to St. James's had lacked—the drive into
the inclosure, where the guard was changing, the stately footmen, the
great book with its pages containing the dignitaries and great people
of all the earth.
But the Boy Scout and the policeman had restored my failing courage
that day at St. James's Palace. Except for a tendency to breathe at
twice my normal rate as the Queen entered the room I felt almost calm.
As she advanced toward us, stopping to speak cordially to the various
ladies who are carrying on the work of the Guild for her, I had an
opportunity to see this royal woman who has suffered so grossly from
It will be a surprise to many Americans to learn that the Queen of
England is very lovely to look at. So much emphasis has always been
placed on her virtues, and so little has been written of her charm,
that this tribute is only fair to Her Majesty. She is tall, perhaps
five feet eight inches, with deep-blue eyes and beautiful colouring.
She has a rather wide, humorous mouth. There is not a trace of
austerity in her face or in any single feature. The whole impression
was of sincerity and kindliness, with more than a trace of humour.
I could quite believe, after I saw Her Majesty, the delightful story
that I had heard from a member of her own circle, that now and then,
when during some court solemnity an absurdity occurred, it was
positively dangerous to catch the Queen's eye!
Queen Mary came up the long room. As she paused and held out her hand,
each lady took it and curtsied at the same time. The Queen talked,
smiling as she spoke. There was no formality. Near at hand the
lady-in-waiting who was in attendance stood, sometimes listening,
sometimes joining in the conversation. The talk was all of supplies,
for these days in England one thinks in terms of war. Certain things
had come in; other things had gone or were going. For the Queen of
England is to-day at the head of a great business, one that in a few
months has already collected and distributed over a million garments,
all new, all practical, all of excellent quality.
The Queen came toward me and paused. There was an agonised moment
while the lady-in-waiting presented me. Her Majesty held out her hand.
I took it and bowed. The next instant she was speaking.
She spoke at once of America, of what had already been done by
Americans for the Belgians both in England and in their desolated
country. And she hastened to add her gratitude for the support they
have given her Guild.
"The response has been more than generous," said Her Majesty. "We are
very grateful. We are glad to find that the sympathy of America is
She expressed a desire also to have America know fully just what was
being done with the supplies that are being constantly sent over, both
from Canada and from the United States.
"Canada has been wonderful," she said. "They are doing everything."
The ready response of Canada to the demand for both troops and
supplies appeared to have touched Her Majesty. She spoke at length
about the troops, the distance they had come, the fine appearance the
men made, and their popularity with the crowds when they paraded on
the streets of London. I had already noticed this. A Canadian regiment
was sure to elicit cheers at any time, although London, generally
speaking, has ceased any but silent demonstration over the soldiers.
"Have you seen any of the English hospitals on the Continent?" the
"I have seen a number, Your Majesty,"
"Do they seem well supplied?"
I replied that they appeared to be thoroughly equipped, but that the
amount of supplies required w&s terrifying and that at one time some
of the hospitals had experienced difficulty in securing what they
"One hospital in Calais," I said, "received twelve thousand pairs of
bed socks in one week last autumn, and could not get a bandage."
"Those things happened early in the war. We are doing much better now.
England had not expected war. We were totally unprepared."
And in the great analysis that is to come, that speech of the Queen of
England is the answer to many questions. England had not expected war.
Every roll of the drum as the men of the new army march along the
streets, every readjustment necessary to a peaceful people suddenly
thrust into war, every month added to the length of time it has taken
to put England in force into the field, shifts the responsibility to
where it belongs. Back of all fine questions of diplomatic negotiation
stands this one undeniable fact. To deny it is absurd; to accept it is
"What is your impression of the French and Belgian hospitals?" Her
I replied that none were so good as the English, that France had
always depended on her nuns in such emergencies, and, there being no
nuns in France now, her hospital situation was still not good.
"The priests of Belgium are doing wonderful work," I said. "They have
suffered terribly during the war."
"It is very terrible," said Her Majesty. "Both priests and nuns have
suffered, as England has reason to know."
The Queen spoke of the ladies connected with the Guild.
"They are really much overworked," she said. "They are giving all
their time day after day. They are splendid. And many of them, of
course, are in great anxiety."
Already, by her tact and her simplicity of manner, she had put me at
my ease. The greatest people, I have found, have this quality of
simplicity. When she spoke of the anxieties of her ladies, I wished
that I could have conveyed to her, from so many Americans, their
sympathy in her own anxieties, so keen at that time, so unselfishly
borne. But the lady-in-waiting was speaking:
"Please tell the Queen about your meeting with King Albert."
So I told about it. It had been unconventional, and the recital amused
Her Majesty. It was then that I realised how humorous her mouth was,
how very blue and alert her eyes. I told it all to her, the things
that insisted on slipping off my lap, and the King's picking them up;
the old envelope he gave me on which to make notes of the interview;
how I had asked him whether he would let me know when the interview
was over, or whether I ought to get up and go! And finally, when we
were standing talking before my departure, how I had suddenly
remembered that I was not to stand nearer to His Majesty than six
feet, and had hastily backed away and explained, to his great
Queen Mary laughed. Then her face clouded.
"It is all so very tragic," she said. "Have you seen the Queen?"
I replied that the Queen of the Belgians had received me a few days
after my conversation with the King.
"She is very sad," said Her Majesty. "It is a terrible thing for her,
especially as she is a Bavarian by birth."
From that to the ever-imminent subject of the war itself was but a
step. An English officer had recently made a sensational escape from a
German prison camp, and having at last got back to England, had been
sent for by the King. With the strange inconsistencies that seem to
characterise the behaviour of the Germans, the man to whom he had
surrendered after a gallant defence had treated him rather well. But
from that time on his story was one of brutalities and starvation.
The officer in question had told me his story, and I ventured to refer
to it Her Majesty knew it quite well, and there was no mistaking the
grief in her Voice as she commented on it, especially on that part of
it which showed discrimination against the British prisoners. Major
V—— had especially emphasised the lack of food for the private
soldiers and the fearful trials of being taken back along the lines of
communication, some fifty-two men being locked in one of the small
Continental box cars which are built to carry only six horses. Many of
them were wounded. They were obliged to stand, the floor of the car
being inches deep with filth. For thirty hours they had no water and
no air, and for three days and three nights no food.
"I am to publish Major V——'s statement in America, Your Majesty," I
"I think America should know it," said the Queen. "It is most unjust.
German prisoners in England are well cared for. They are well fed, and
games and other amusements are provided for them. They even play
I stepped back as Her Majesty prepared to continue her visit round the
long room. But she indicated that I was to accompany her. It was then
that one realised that the Queen of England is the intensely practical
daughter of a practical mother. Nothing that is done in this Guild,
the successor of a similar guild founded by the late Duchess of Teck,
Her Majesty's mother, escapes her notice. No detail is too small if it
makes for efficiency. She selected at random garments from the tables,
and examined them for warmth, for quality, for utility.
Generally she approved. Before a great heap of heavy socks she paused.
"The soldiers like the knitted ones, we are told," she said. "These
are not all knitted but they are very warm."
A baby sweater of a hideous yellow roused in her something like wrath.
"All that labour!" she said, "and such a colour for a little baby!"
And again, when she happened on a pair of felt slippers, quite the
largest slippers I have ever seen, she fell silent in sheer amazement.
They amused her even while they shocked her. And again, as she smiled,
I regretted that the photographs of the Queen of England may not show
A small canvas case, skilfully rolled and fastened, caught Her
Majesty's attention. She opened it herself and revealed with evident
pride its numerous contents. Many thousands of such cases had already
been sent to the army.
This one was a model of packing. It contained in its small compass an
extraordinary number of things—changes of under flannels, extra
socks, an abdominal belt, and, in an inclosure, towel, soap,
toothbrush, nailbrush and tooth powder. I am not certain, but I
believe there was also a pack of cards.
"I am afraid I should never be able to get it all back again!" said
Her Majesty. So one of the ladies took it in charge, and the Queen
My audience was over. As Her Majesty passed me she held out her hand.
I took it and curtsied.
"Were you not frightened the night you were in the Belgian trenches?"
"Not half so frightened as I was this afternoon, Your Majesty," I
She passed on, smiling.
* * * * *
And now, when enough time has elapsed to give perspective to my first
impression of Queen Mary of England, I find that it loses nothing by
this supreme test. I find that I remember her, not as a great Queen
but as a gracious and kindly woman, greatly beloved by those of her
immediate circle, totally without arrogance, and of a simplicity of
speech and manner that must put to shame at times those lesser lights
that group themselves about a throne.
I find another impression also—that the Queen of England is intensely
and alertly mental—alive to her finger tips, we should say in
America. She has always been active. Her days are crowded. A different
type of royal woman would be content to be the honoured head of the
Queen's Guild. But she is in close touch with it at all times. It is
she who dictates its policy, and so competently that the ladies who
are associated with the work that is being done speak of her with
admiration not unmixed with awe.
From a close and devoted friend of Queen Mary I obtained other
characteristics to add to my picture: That the Queen is acutely
sensitive to pain or distress in others—it hurts her; that she is
punctual—and this not because of any particular sense of time but
because she does not like to keep other people waiting. It is all a
part of an overwhelming sense of that responsibility to others that
has its origin in true kindliness.
The work of the Queen's Guild is surprising in its scope. In a way it
is a vast clearing house. Supplies come in from every part of the
world, from India, Ceylon, Java, Alaska, South America, from the most
remote places. I saw the record book. I saw that a woman from my home
city had sent cigarettes to the soldiers through the Guild, that
Africa had sent flannels! Coming from a land where the sending, as
regards Africa, is all the other way, I found this exciting. Indeed,
the whole record seems to show how very small the earth is, and how
the tragedy of a great war has overcome the barriers of distance and
time and language.
From this clearing house in England's historic old palace, built so
long ago by Bluff King Hal, these offerings of the world are sent
wherever there is need, to Servia, to Egypt, to South and East Africa,
to the Belgians. The work was instituted by the Queen the moment war
broke out, and three things are being very carefully insured: That a
real want exists, that the clothing reaches its proper destination,
and that there shall be no overlapping.
The result has been most gratifying to the Queen, but it was difficult
to get so huge a business—for, as I have already said, it is a
business now—under way at the beginning. Demand was insistent. There
was no time to organise a system in advance. It had to be worked out
in actual practice.
One of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting wrote in February, apropos of the
human element in the work:
"There was a great deal of human element in the start with its various
mistakes. The Queen wished, on the breaking out of war, to start the
Guild in such a way as to prevent the waste and overlapping which
occurred in the Boer War…. The fact that the ladies connected with
the work have toiled daily and unceasingly for seven months is the
most wonderful part of it all."
Before Christmas nine hundred and seventy thousand belts and socks
were collected and sent as a special gift to the soldiers at the
front, from the Queen and the women of the empire. That in itself is
an amazing record of efficiency.
It is rather comforting to know that there were mistakes in the
beginning. It is so human. It is comforting to think of this
exceedingly human Queen being a party to them, and being divided
between annoyance and mirth as they developed. It is very comforting
also to think that, in the end, they were rectified.
We had a similar situation during our Civil War. There were mistakes
then also, and they too were rectified. What the heroic women of the
North and South did during that great conflict the women of Great
Britain are doing to-day. They are showing the same high and
courageous spirit, the same subordination of their personal griefs to
the national cause, the same cheerful relinquishment of luxuries. It
is a United Britain that confronts the enemy in France. It is a united
womanhood, united in spirit, in labour, in faith and high moral
courage, that looks east across the Channel to that land beyond the
horizon, "somewhere in France," where the Empire is fighting for life.
A united womanhood, and at its head a steadfast and courageous Queen
and mother, Mary of England.
THE QUEEN OF THE BELGIANS
On the third of August, 1914, the German Army crossed the frontier
into Belgium. And on the following day, the fourth, King Albert made
his now famous speech to the joint meeting of the Belgian Chamber and
Senate. Come what might, the Belgian people would maintain the freedom
that was their birthright.
"I have faith in our destinies," King Albert concluded. "A country
which defends itself wins respect and cannot perish."
With these simple and dignified words Belgium took up the struggle.
She was beaten before she began, and she knew it. No matter what the
ultimate out-come of the war, she must lose. The havoc would be hers.
The old battleground of Europe knew what war meant; no country in the
world knew better. And, knowing, Belgium took up the burden.
To-day, Belgium is prostrate. That she lives, that she will rise
again, no Belgian doubts. It may be after months—even after years;
but never for a moment can there be any doubt of the national
integrity. The Germans are in Belgium, but not of it. Belgium is still
Belgium—not a part of the German Empire. Until the Germans are driven
out she is waiting.
As I write this, one corner of her territory remains to her, a
wedge-shaped piece, ten miles or so in width at the coast, narrowing
to nothing at a point less than thirty miles inland. And in that
tragic fragment there remains hardly an undestroyed town. Her revenues
are gone, being collected as an indemnity, for God knows what, by the
Germans. King Albert himself has been injured. The Queen of the
Belgians has pawned her jewels. The royal children are refugees in
England. Two-thirds of the army is gone. And, of even that tiny
remaining corner, much is covered by the salt floods of the sea.
The King of the Belgians is often heard of. We hear of him at the head
of his army, consulting his staff, reviewing his weary and decimated
troops. We know his calibre now, both as man and soldier. He stands
out as one of the truly heroic figures of the war.
But what of the Bavarian-born Queen of the Belgians? What of this
royal woman who has lost the land of her nativity through the same war
that has cost her the country of her adoption; who must see her
husband go each day to the battle line; who must herself live under
the shadow of hostile aëroplanes, within earshot of the enemy's guns?
What was she thinking of during those fateful hours when, all night
long, King Albert and his Ministers debated the course of Belgium—a
shameful immunity, or a war? What does she think now, when, before the
windows of her villa at La Panne, the ragged and weary remnant of the
brave Belgian Army lines up for review? What does she hope for and
pray for—this Queen without a country?
What she thinks we cannot know. What she hopes for we may guess—the
end of war; the return of her faithful people to their homes; the
reunion of families; that the guns will cease firing, so the long
lines of ambulances will no longer fill the roads; that the wounded
will recover; and that those that grieve may be comforted.
She has pawned her jewels. When I saw her she wore a thin gold chain
round her neck, and on it a tiny gold heart. I believe she has
sacrificed everything else. Royal jewels have been pawned before
this—to support extravagant mistresses or to bolster a crumbling
throne; but Elisabeth of Belgium has pawned her jewels to buy supplies
for wounded soldiers. Battle-scarred old Belgium has not always had a
clean slate; but certainly this act of a generous and devoted queen
should mark off many scores.
The Queen is living at La Panne, a tiny fishing village and resort on
the coast—an ugly village, robbed of quaintness by its rows of villas
owned by summer visitors. The villas are red and yellow brick, built
château fashion and set at random on the sand. Efforts at lawns have
proved abortive. The encroaching dunes gradually cover the grass. Here
and there are streets; and there is one main thoroughfare, along which
is a tramway that formerly connected the town with other villages.
On one side the sea; on the other the dunes, with little shade and no
beauty—such is the location of the new capital of Belgium. And here,
in one of the six small villas that house the court, the King and
Queen of Belgium, with the Crown Prince, are living. They live very
quietly, walking together along the sands at those times when King
Albert is not with his troops, faring simply, waiting always—as all
Belgium is waiting to-day. Waiting for the end of this terrible time.
I asked a member of the royal household what they did during those
long winter evenings, when the only sounds in the little village were
the wash of the sea and the continual rumble of the artillery at
"What can we do?" he replied. "My wife and children are in Brussels.
It is not possible to read, and it is not wise to think too much. We
But waiting does not imply inaction. The members of His Majesty's
household are all officers in the army. I saw only one gentleman in
civilian dress, and he was the King's secretary, M. Ingenbleek. The
King heads this activity, and the Queen of the Belgians is never idle.
The Ocean Ambulance, the great Belgian base hospital, is under her
active supervision, and its location near the royal villa makes it
possible for her to visit it daily. She knows the wounded soldiers,
who adore her. Indeed, she is frankly beloved by the army. Her
appearance is always the signal for a demonstration; and again and
again I saw copies of her photograph nailed up in sentry huts, in
soldiers' billets, in battered buildings that were temporary
headquarters for divisions of the army.
In return for this devotion the young Queen regards the welfare of the
troops as her especial charge. She visits them when they are wounded,
and many tales are told of her keen memory for their troubles. One, a
wounded Frenchman, had lost his pipe when he was injured. As he
recovered he mourned his pipe. Other pipes were offered, but they were
not the same. There had been something about the curve of the stem of
the old one, or the shape of the bowl—whatever it was, he missed it.
And it had been his sole possession.
At last the Queen of the Belgians had him describe the old pipe
exactly. I believe he made a drawing—and she secured a duplicate of
it for him. He told me the story himself.
The Queen had wished to go to the trenches to see the wretchedness of
conditions at the front, and to discover what she could do to
ameliorate them. One excursion she had been permitted at the time I
saw her, to the great anxiety of those who knew of the trip. She was
quite fearless, and went into one of the trenches at the railroad
embankment of Pervyse. I saw that trench afterward. It was proudly
decorated with a sign that said: Repose de la Reine. And above the
board was the plaster head of a saint, from one of the churches. Both
sign and head, needless to say, were carefully protected from German
Everywhere I went I found evidences of devotion to this girlish and
tender-hearted Queen. I was told of her farewell to the leading
officials of the army and of the court, when, having remained to the
last possible moment, King Albert insisted on her departure from
Brussels. I was told of her incognito excursions across the dangerous
Channel to see her children in England. I was told of her
single-hearted devotion to the King; her belief in him; her confidence
that he can do no wrong.
So, when a great and bearded individual, much given to bowing,
presented himself at the door of my room in the hotel at Dunkirk, and
extended to me a notification that the Queen of the Belgians would
receive me the next day at the royal villa at La Panne, I was keenly
I went over my wardrobe. It was exceedingly limited and more than a
little worn. Furs would cover some of the deficiencies, but there was
a difficulty about shoe buttons. Dunkirk apparently laces its shoes.
After a period of desperation, two top buttons were removed and sewed
on lower down, where they would do the most good. That and much
brushing was all that was possible, my total war equipment comprising
one small suitcase, two large notebooks and a fountain pen.
I had been invited to lunch at a town on my way to La Panne, but the
luncheon was deferred. When I passed through my would-be entertainer
was eating bully beef out of a tin, with a cracker or two; and shells
were falling inhospitably. Suddenly I was not hungry. I did not care
for food. I did not care to stop to talk about food. It was a very
small town, and there were bricks and glass and plaster in the
streets. There were almost no people, and those who were there were
hastily preparing for flight.
It was a wonderful Sunday afternoon, brilliantly sunny. A German
aëroplane hung overhead and called the bull's-eyes. From the plain
near they were firing at it, but the shells burst below. One could see
how far they fell short by the clouds of smoke that hung suspended
beneath it, floating like shadowy balloons.
I felt that the aëroplane had its eyes on my car. They drop darts—do
the aëroplanes—two hundred and more at a time; small pencil-shaped
arrows of steel, six inches long, extremely sharp and weighted at the
point end. I did not want to die by a dart. I did not want to die by a
shell. As a matter of fact, I did not want to die at all.
So the car went on; and, luncheonless, I met the Queen of the
The royal villa at La Panne faces the sea. It is at the end of the
village and the encroaching dunes have ruined what was meant to be a
small lawn. The long grass that grows out of the sand is the only
vegetation about it; and outside, half-buried in the dune, is a marble
seat. A sentry box or two, and sentries with carbines pacing along the
sand; the constant swish of the sea wind through the dead winter
grass; the half-buried garden seat—that is what the Queen of the
Belgians sees as she looks from the window of her villa.
The villa itself is small and ugly. The furnishing is the furnishing
of a summer seaside cottage. The windows fit badly and rattle in the
gale. In the long drawing room—really a living room—in which I
waited for the Queen, a heavy red curtain had been hung across the
lower part of the long French windows that face the sea, to keep out
the draft. With that and an open coal fire the room was fairly
As I waited I looked about. Rather a long room this, which has seen so
many momentous discussions, so much tragedy and real grief. A chaotic
room too; for, in addition to its typical villa furnishing of
chintz-covered chairs and a sofa or two, an ordinary pine table by a
side window was littered with papers.
On a centre table were books—H.G. Wells' "The War in the Air"; two
American books written by correspondents who had witnessed the
invasion of Belgium; and several newspapers. A hideous marble bust on
a pedestal occupied a corner, and along a wall was a very small
cottage piano. On the white marble mantel were a clock and two
candlesticks. Except for a great basket of heather on a stand—a gift
to Her Majesty—-the room was evidently just as its previous owners
had left it. A screen just inside the door, a rather worn rug on the
floor, and a small brocade settee by the fireplace completed the
The door opened and the Queen entered without ceremony. I had not seen
her before. In her simple blue dress, with its white lawn collar and
cuffs, she looked even more girlish than I had anticipated. Like Queen
Mary of England, she had suffered from the camera. She is indeed
strikingly beautiful, with lovely colouring and hair, and with very
direct wide eyes, set far apart. She is small and slender, and moves
quickly. She speaks beautiful English, in that softly inflected voice
of the Continent which is the envy of all American women.
I bowed as she entered; and she shook hands with me at once and asked
me to sit down. She sat on the sofa by the fireplace. Like the Queen
of England, like King Albert, her first words were of gratitude to
It is not my intention to record here anything but the substance of my
conversation with Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Much that was said was
the free and unrestricted speech of two women, talking over together a
situation which was tragic to them both; for Queen Elisabeth allowed
me to forget, as I think she had ceased to remember, her own exalted
rank, in her anxiety for her people.
A devoted churchwoman, she grieved over the treatment accorded by the
invading German Army to the priests and nuns of Belgium. She referred
to her own Bavarian birth, and to the confidence both King Albert and
she had always felt in the friendliness of Germany.
"I am a Bavarian," she said. "I have always, from my childhood, heard
this talk that Germany must grow, must get to the sea. I thought it
was just talk—a pleasantry!"
She had seen many of the diaries of German soldiers, had read them in
the very room where we were sitting. She went quite white over the
recollection and closed her eyes.
"It is the women and children!" she said. "It is terrible! There must
be killing. That is war. But not this other thing."
And later on she said, in reference to German criticism of King
Albert's course during the early days of the war:
"Any one who knows the King knows that he cannot do a wrong thing. It
is impossible for him. He cannot go any way but straight."
And Queen Elisabeth was right. Any one who knows King Albert of
Belgium knows that "he cannot go any way but straight."
The conversation shifted to the wounded soldiers and to the Queen's
anxiety for them. I spoke of her hospital as being a remarkable
one—practically under fire, but moving as smoothly as a great
American institution, thousands of miles from danger. She had looked
very sad, but at the mention of the Ocean Ambulance her face
brightened. She spoke of its equipment; of the difficulty in securing
supplies; of the new surgery, which has saved so many limbs from
amputation. They were installing new and larger sterilisers, she said.
"Things are in as good condition as can be expected now," she said.
"The next problem will come when we get back into our own country.
What are the people to do? So many of the towns are gone; so many
farms are razed!"
The Queen spoke of Brand Whitlock and praised highly his work in
Brussels. From that to the relief work was only a step. I spoke of the
interest America was taking in the relief work, and of the desire of
so many American women to help.
"We are grateful for anything," she said. "The army seems to be as
comfortable as is possible under the circumstances; but the people, of
course, need everything."
Inevitably the conversation turned again to the treatment of the
Belgian people by the Germans; to the unnecessary and brutal murders
of noncombatants; to the frightful rapine and pillage of the early
months of the war. Her Majesty could not understand the scepticism of
America on this point. I suggested that it was difficult to say what
any army would do when it found itself in a prostrate and conquered
"The Belgian Army would never have behaved so," said Her Majesty. "Nor
the English; nor the French. Never!"
And the Queen of the Belgians is a German! True, she has suffered
much. Perhaps she is embittered; but there was no bitterness in her
voice that afternoon in the little villa at La Panne—only sadness and
great sorrow and, with it, deep conviction. What Queen Elisabeth of
Belgium says, she believes; and who should know better? There, to that
house on the sea front, in the fragment of Belgium that remains, go
all the hideous details that are war. She knows them all. King Albert
is not a figure-head; he is the actual fighting head of his army. The
murder of Belgium has been done before his very eyes.
In those long evenings when he has returned from headquarters; when he
and Queen Elisabeth sit by the fire in the room that overlooks the
sea; when every blast that shakes the windows reminds them both of
that little army, two-thirds gone, shivering in the trenches only a
mile or two away, or of their people beyond the dead line, suffering
both deprivation and terror—what pictures do they see in the glowing
It is not hard to know. Queen Elisabeth sees her children, and the
puzzled, boyish faces of those who are going down to the darkness of
death that another nation may find a place in the sun.
What King Albert sees may not all be written; but this is certain:
Both these royal exiles—this Soldier-King who has won and deserved
the admiration of the world; this Queen who refuses to leave her
husband and her wounded, though day after day hostile aëroplanes are
overhead and the roar of German guns is in her ears—these royal
exiles live in hope and in deep conviction. They will return to
Belgium. Their country will be theirs again. Their houses will be
restored; their fields will be sown and yield harvest—not for
Germany, but for Belgium. Belgium, as Belgium, will live again!
THE RED BADGE OF MERCY
Immediately on the declaration of war by the Powers the vast machinery
of mercy was put in the field. The mobilisation of the Red Cross army
began—that great army which is of no nation, but of all nations, of
no creed but of all faiths, of one flag for all the world and that
flag the banner of the Crusaders.
The Red Cross is the wounded soldier's last defence. Worn as a
brassard on the left arm of its volunteers, it conveys a higher
message than the Victoria Cross of England, the Iron Cross of Germany,
or the Cross of the Legion of Honour of France. It is greater than
cannon, greater than hate, greater than blood-lust, greater than
vengeance. It triumphs over wrath as good triumphs over evil. Direct
descendant of the cross of the Christian faith, it carries on to every
battlefield the words of the Man of Peace: "Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy."
* * * * *
The care of the wounded in war has been the problem of the ages.
Richard the Lion-Hearted took a hospital ship to the coast of
Palestine. The German people of the Middle Ages had their wounded in
battle treated by their wives, who followed the army for that purpose.
It remained for Frederick the First of Prussia to establish a military
service in connection with a standing army.
With the invention of firearms battlefield surgery faced new problems,
notably hemorrhage, and took a step forward to meet these altered
conditions. It was a French surgeon who solved the problem of
hemorrhage by tying the torn blood vessels above the injury. To
England goes the credit for the prevention of sepsis, as far as it may
be prevented on a battlefield.
As far as it may be prevented on a battlefield! For that is the
question that confronts the machinery of mercy to-day. Transportation
to the hospitals has been solved, to a large extent, by motor
ambulances, by hospital trains, by converted channel steamers
connecting the Continent with England. Hospitals in the western field
of war are now plentiful and some are well equipped. The days of
bedding wounded men down on straw are largely in the past, but how to
prevent the ravages of dirt, the so-called "dirt diseases" of gaseous
gangrene, blood poisoning, tetanus, is the problem.
I did not see the first exchange of hopelessly wounded prisoners that
took place at Flushing, while I was on the Continent. It must have
been a tragic sight. They lined up in two parties at the railroad
station, German surgeons and nurses with British prisoners, British
surgeons and nurses with German prisoners.
Then they were counted off, I am told. Ten Germans came forward, ten
British, in wheeled chairs, on crutches, the sightless ones led. The
exchange was made. Then ten more, and so on. What a sight! What a
horror! No man there would ever be whole again. There were men without
legs, without arms, blind men, men twisted by fearful body wounds. Two
hundred and sixteen British officers and men, and as many Germans,
were exchanged that day.
"They were, however, in the best of spirits," said the London Times of
the next day!
At Folkestone a crowd was waiting on the quay, and one may be sure
that heads were uncovered as the men limped, or were led or wheeled,
down the gang-plank. Kindly English women gave them nosegays of
snowdrops and violets.
And then they went on—to what? For a few weeks, or months, they will
be the objects of much kindly sympathy. In the little towns where they
live visitors will be taken to see them. The neighbourhood will exert
itself in kindness. But after a time interest will die away, and
besides, there will be many to divide sympathy. The blind man, or the
man without a leg or an arm, will cease to be the neighbourhood's
responsibility and will become its burden.
What then? For that is the problem that is facing each nation at
war—to make a whole life out of a fragment, to teach that the spirit
may be greater than the body, to turn to usefulness these sad and
hopeless by-products of battlefields.
The ravages of war—to the lay mind—consist mainly of wounds. As a
matter of fact, they divide themselves into several classes, all
different, all requiring different care, handling and treatment, and
all, in their several ways, dependent for help on the machinery of
mercy. In addition to injuries on the battlefield there are illnesses
contracted on the field, septic conditions following even slight
abrasions or minor wounds, and nervous conditions—sometimes
approximating a temporary insanity—due to prolonged strain, to
incessant firing close at hand, to depression following continual lack
of success, to the sordid and hideous conditions of unburied dead,
rotting in full view for weeks and even months.
During the winter frozen feet, sometimes requiring amputation, and
even in mild cases entailing great suffering, took thousands of men
out of the trenches. The trouble resulted from standing for hours and
even days in various depths of cold water, and was sometimes given the
name "waterbite." Soldiers were instructed to rub their boots inside
and out with whale oil, and to grease their feet and legs. Unluckily,
only fortunately situated men could be so supplied, and the suffering
was terrible. Surgeons who have observed many cases of both frost and
water bite say that, curiously enough, the left foot is more
frequently and seriously affected than the right. The reason given is
that right-handed men automatically use the right foot more than the
left, make more movements with it. The order to remove boots twice a
day, for a few moments while in the trenches, had a beneficial effect
among certain battalions.
The British soldier who wraps tightly a khaki puttee round his leg and
thus hampers circulation has been a particular sufferer from frostbite
in spite of the precaution he takes to grease his feet and legs before
going into the trenches.
The presence of septic conditions has been appalling.
This is a dirty war. Men are taken back to the hospitals in incredible
states of filth. Their stiffened clothing must frequently be cut off
to reveal, beneath, vermin-covered bodies. When the problem of
transportation is a serious one, as after a great battle, men must lie
in sheds or railway stations, waiting their turn. Wounds turn green
and hideous. Their first-aid dressing, originally surgically clean,
becomes infected. Lucky the man who has had a small vial of iodine to
pour over the gaping surface of his wound. For the time, at least, he
is well off.
The very soil of Flanders seems polluted. British surgeons are sighing
for the clean dust of the Boer war of South Africa, although they
cursed it at the time. That it is not the army occupation which is
causing the grave infections of Flanders and France is shown by the
fact that the trouble dates from the beginning of the war. It is not
that living in a trench undermines the vitality of the men and lays
them open to infection. On the contrary, with the exception of frost
bite, there is a curious absence of such troubles as would ordinarily
result from exposure, cold and constant wetting.
The open-air life has apparently built up the men. Again and again the
extraordinary power of resistance shown has astonished the surgeons.
It is as if, in forcing men to face overwhelming hardships, a watchful
Providence had granted them overwhelming vitality.
Perhaps the infection of the soil, the typhoid-carrying waters that
seep through and into the trenches, the tetanus and gangrene that may
infect the simplest wounds, are due to the long intensive cultivation
of that fertile country, to the fertilisation by organic matter of its
fields. Doubtless the vermin that cover many of the troops form the
connecting link between the soil and the infected men. In many places
gasoline is being delivered to the troopers to kill these pests, and
it is a German army joke that before a charge on a Russian trench it
is necessary to send ahead men to scatter insect powder! So serious is
the problem in the east indeed that an official order from Berlin now
requires all cars returning from Russia to be placarded "Aus
Russland! Before using again thoroughly sterilise and unlouse!" And
no upholstered cars are allowed to be used.
Generally speaking, a soldier is injured either in his trench or in
front of it in the waste land between the confronting armies. In the
latter case, if the lines are close together the situation is still
further complicated. It may be and often is impossible to reach him at
all. He must lie there for hours or even for days of suffering, until
merciful death overtakes him. When he can be rescued he is, and many
of the bravest deeds of this war have been acts of such salvage. In
addition to the work of the ambulance corps and of volunteer soldiers
who often venture out into a rain of death to bring in fallen officers
and comrades in the western field, some five hundred ambulance dogs
are being used by the Allies to locate the wounded.
When a man is injured in the trenches his companions take care of him
until night, when it is possible to move him. His first-aid packet is
opened, a sterilised bandage produced, and the dressing applied to the
wound. Frequently he has a small bottle of iodine and the wound is
first painted with that. In cases where iodine is used at once,
chances of infection are greatly lessened. But often he must lie in
the trench until night, when the ambulances come up. His comrades make
him as comfortable as they can. He lies on their overcoats, his head
frequently on his own pack.
Fighting goes on about him, above him. Other comrades fall in the
trench and are carried and laid near him. In the intervals of
fighting, men bring the injured men water. For that is the first
cry—a great and insistent need—water. When they cannot get water
from the canteens they drink what is in the bottom of the trench.
At last night falls. The evening artillery duel, except when a charge
is anticipated, is greatly lessened at night, and infantry fire is
only that of "snipers." But over the trench and over the line of
communication behind the trench hang always the enemy's "starlights."
The ambulances come up. They cannot come as far as the trenches, but
stretchers are brought and the wounded men are lifted out as tenderly
Many soldiers have tried to tell of the horrors of a night journey in
an ambulance or transport; careful driving is out of the question.
Near the front the ambulance can have no lights, and the roads
everywhere have been torn up by shells.
Men die in transit, and, dying, hark back to early days. They call for
their mothers, for their wives. They dictate messages that no one can
take down. Unloaded at railway stations, the dead are separated from
the living and piled in tiers on trucks. The wounded lie about on
stretchers on the station floor. Sometimes they are operated on there,
by the light of a candle, it may be, or of a smoking lamp. When it is
a well-equipped station there is the mercy of chloroform, the blessed
release of morphia, but more times than I care to think of at night,
there has been no chloroform and no morphia.
France has sixty hospital trains, England twelve, Belgium not so many.
I have seen trains drawing in with their burden of wounded men. They
travel slowly, come to a gradual stop, without jolting or jarring; but
instead of the rush of passengers to alight, which usually follows the
arrival of a train, there is silence, infinite quiet. Then, somewhere,
a door is unhurriedly opened. Maybe a priest alights and looks about
him. Perhaps it is a nurse who steps down and takes a comprehensive
survey of conditions. There is no talking, no uproar. A few men may
come up to assist in lifting out the stretchers, an ambulance driver
who salutes and indicates with a gesture where his car is stationed.
There are no onlookers. This is business, the grim business of war.
The line of stretchers on the station platform grows. The men lie on
them, impassive. They have waited so long. They have lain on the
battlefield, in the trench, behind the line at the dressing shed,
waiting, always waiting. What is a little time more or less, now?
The patience of the injured! I have been in many hospitals. I have
seen pneumonia and typhoid patients lying in the fearful apathy of
disease. They are very sad to see, very tragic, but their patience is
the lethargy of half consciousness. Their fixed eyes see visions. The
patience of the wounded is the resignation of alert faculties.
Once I saw a boy dying. He was a dark-haired, brown-eyed lad of
eighteen. He had had a leg shattered the day before, and he had lain
for hours unattended on the battlefield. The leg had been amputated,
and he was dying of loss of blood.
He lay alone, in a small room of what had once been a girls' school.
He had asked to be propped up with pillows, so that he could breathe.
His face was grey, and only his eyes were alive. They burned like
coals. He was alone. The hospital was crowded, and there were others
who could be saved. So he lay there, propped high, alone, and as
conscious as I am now, and waited. The nurse came back at last, and
his eyes greeted her.
There seemed to be nothing that I could do. Before his conscious eyes
I was an intruder, gazing at him in his extremity. I went away. And
now and then, when I hear this talk of national honour, and am carried
away with a hot flame of resentment so that I, too, would cry for war,
I seem to see that dying boy's eyes, looking through the mists that
are vengeance and hatred and affronted pride, to war as it is—the end
of hope, the gate of despair and agony and death.
After my return I received these letters. The woman who wrote them
will, I know, forgive me for publishing extracts from them. She is a
Belgian, married to an American. More clearly than any words of mine,
they show where falls the burden of war:
"I have just learned that my youngest brother has been killed in
action in Flanders. King Albert decorated him for conspicuous bravery
on April 22d, and my poor boy went to his reward on April 26th. In my
leaden heart, through my whirling brain, your words keep repeating
themselves: 'For King and Country!' Yes, he died for them, and died a
hero! I know only that his regiment, the Grenadiers, was decimated. My
poor little boy! God pity us all, and save martyred Belgium!"
In a second letter:
"I enclose my dear little boy's obituary notice. He died at the head
of his company and five hundred and seventy-four of his Grenadiers
went down with him. Their regiment effectively checked the German
advance, and in recognition General Joffre pinned the Cross of the
Legion of Honour to his regimental colours. But we are left to
mourn—though I do no begrudge my share of sorrow. The pain is awful,
and I pray that by the grace of God you may never know what it means."
For King and Country!
The only leaven in this black picture of war as have seen it, as it
has touched me, has been the scarlet of the Red Cross. To a faith that
the terrible scene at the front had almost destroyed, came every now
and then again the flash of the emblem of mercy Hope, then, was not
dead. There were hands to soothe and labour, as well as hands to kill.
There was still brotherly love in the world. There was a courage that
was not of hate. There was a patience that was not a lying in wait.
There was a flag that was not of one nation, but of all the world; a
flag that needed no recruiting station, for the ranks it led were
always full to overflowing; a flag that stood between the wounded
soldier and death; that knew no defeat but surrender to the will of
the God of Battles.
And that flag I followed. To the front, to the field hospitals behind
the trenches, to railway stations, to hospital trains and ships, to
great base hospitals. I watched its ambulances on shelled roads. I
followed its brassards as their wearers, walking gently, carried
stretchers with their groaning burdens. And, whatever may have failed
in this war—treaties, ammunition, elaborate strategies, even some of
the humanities—the Red Cross as a symbol of service has never failed.
I was a critical observer. I am a graduate of a hospital
training-school, and more or less for years I have been in touch with
hospitals. I myself was enrolled under the Red Cross banner. I was
prepared for efficiency. What I was not prepared for was the absolute
self-sacrifice, the indifference to cost in effort, in very life
itself, of a great army of men and women. I saw English aristocrats
scrubbing floors; I found American surgeons working day and night
under the very roar and rattle of guns. I found cultured women of
every nation performing the most menial tasks. I found an army where
all are equal—priests, surgeons, scholars, chauffeurs, poets, women
of the stage, young girls who until now have been shielded from the
very name of death—all enrolled under the red badge of mercy.
IN TERMS OF LIFE AND DEATH
One of the first hospitals I saw was in Calais. We entered a muddy
courtyard through a gate, and the building loomed before us. It had
been a girls' convent school, and was now a military hospital for both
the French and British armies, one half the building being used by
each. It was the first war hospital I had seen, and I was taken
through the building by Major S——, of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
It was morning, and the corridors and stairs still bore the mud of the
night, when the ambulances drive into the courtyard and the stretchers
are carried up the stairs. It had been rather a quiet night, said
Major S——. The operations were already over, and now the work of
cleaning up was going on.
He opened a door, and we entered a long ward.
I live in a great manufacturing city. Day by day its mills take their
toll in crushed bodies. The sight of broken humanity is not new to me.
In a general way, it is the price we pay for prosperity. Individually,
men so injured are the losers in life's great struggle for food and
I had never before seen men dying of an ideal.
There is a terrible sameness in war hospitals. There are rows of beds,
and in them rows of unshaven, white-faced men. Some of them turn and
look at visitors. Others lie very still, with their eyes fixed on the
ceiling, or eternity, or God knows what. Now and then one is sleeping.
"He has slept since he came in," the nurse will say; "utter
Often they die. If there is a screen, the death takes place decently
and in order, away from the eyes of the ward. But when there is no
screen, it makes little difference. What is one death to men who have
seen so many?
Once men thought in terms of a day's work, a night's sleep, of labour
and play and love. But all over Europe to-day, in hospital and out,
men are learning to think in terms of life and death. What will be the
result? A general brutalising? The loss of much that is fine? Perhaps.
There are some who think that it will scourge men's souls clean of
pettiness, teach them proportion, give them a larger outlook. But is
it petty to labour and love? Is the duty of the nation greater than
the duty of the home? Is the nation greater than the individual? Is
the whole greater than the sum of its parts?
Ward after ward. Rows of quiet men. The occasional thump of a
convalescent's crutch. The swish of a nurse's starched dress. The
strangled grunt of a man as the dressing is removed from his wound.
The hiss of coal in the fireplace at the end of the ward. Perhaps a
priest beside a bed, or a nun. Over all, the heavy odour of drugs and
disinfectants. Brisk nurses go about, cheery surgeons, but there is no
real cheer. The ward is waiting.
I saw a man who had been shot in the lungs. His lungs were filled with
jagged pieces of steel. He was inhaling oxygen from a tank. There was
an inhaler strapped over his mouth and nostrils, and the oxygen passed
through a bottle of water, to moisten it before it entered his
The water in the bottle seethed and bubbled, and the man lay and
He was waiting for the next breath. Above the mask his eyes were
fixed, intent. Would it come? Ah, that was not so bad. Almost a full
breath that time. But he must have another, and another.
They are all waiting; for death, maybe; for home; for health again, or
such travesty of health as may come, for the hospital is not an end
but a means. It is an interval. It is the connecting link between the
trenches and home, between war and peace, between life and death.
That one hospital had been a school. The children's lavatory is now
the operating room. There are rows of basins along one side, set a
trifle low for childish hands. When I saw them they were faintly
rimmed with red. There was a locker room too. Once these lockers had
held caps, no doubt, and overshoes, balls and other treasures. Now
they contained torn and stained uniforms, weapons, knapsacks,
Does it matter how many wards there were, or how many surgeons? Do
figures mean anything to us any more? When we read in the spring of
1915 that the British Army, a small army compared with the others, had
lost already in dead, wounded and missing more than a quarter of a
million men we could not visualise it Multiply one ward by infinity,
one hospital by thousands, and then try to realise the terrible
by-products of war!
In that Calais hospital I saw for the first time the apparatus for
removing bits of shell and shrapnel directly under the X-ray. Four
years ago such a procedure would have been considered not only
marvelous but dangerous.
At that time, in Vienna and Berlin, I saw men with hands hopelessly
burned and distorted as the result of merely taking photographic
plates with the X-ray. Then came in lead-glass screens—screens of
glass made with a lead percentage.
Now, as if science had prepared for this great emergency, operators
use gloves saturated with a lead solution, and right-angled
instruments, and operate directly in the ray. For cases where
immediate extraction is inadvisable or unnecessary there is a
stereoscopic arrangement of plates on the principle of our familiar
stereoscope, which shows an image with perspective and locates the
foreign body exactly.
One plate I saw had a story attached to it.
I was stopping in a private house where a tall Belgian surgeon lived.
In the morning, after breakfast, I saw him carefully preparing a tray
and carrying it upstairs. There was a sick boy, still in his teens, up
there. As I passed the door I had seen him lying there, gaunt and
pale, but plainly convalescent.
Happening to go up shortly after, I saw the tall surgeon by the side
of the bed, the tray on his knees. And later I heard the story:
The boy was his son. During the winter he had been injured and taken
prisoner. The father, in Calais, got word that his boy was badly
injured and lying in a German hospital in Belgium. He was an only son.
I do not know how the frenzied father got into Belgium. Perhaps he
crept through the German lines. He may have gone to sea and landed on
the sand dunes near Zeebrugge. It does not matter how, for he found
his boy. He went to the German authorities and got permission to move
him to a private house. The boy was badly hurt. He had a bullet in the
wall of the carotid artery, for one thing, and a fractured thigh. The
father saw that his recovery, if it occurred at all, would be a matter
of skillful surgery and unremitting care, but the father had a post at
Calais and was badly needed.
He took a wagon to the hospital and got his boy. Then he drove,
disguised I believe as a farmer, over the frontier into Holland. The
boy was covered in the bottom of the wagon. In Holland they got a boat
and went to Calais. All this, with that sharp-pointed German bullet in
the carotid artery! And at Calais they took the plate I have mentioned
and got out the bullet.
The last time I saw that brave father he was sitting beside his son,
and the boy's hand was between both of his.
Nearly all the hospitals I saw had been schools. In one that I recall,
the gentle-faced nuns, who by edict no longer exist in France, were
still living in a wing of the school building. They had abandoned
their quaint and beautiful habit for the ugly dress of the French
provinces—odd little bonnets that sat grotesquely on the tops of
their heads, stuffy black dresses, black cotton gloves. They would
like to be useful, but they belonged to the old regime.
Under their bonnets their faces were placid, but their eyes were sad.
Their schoolrooms are hospital wards, the tiny chapel is piled high
with supplies; in the refectory, where decorous rows of small girls
were wont to file in to the convent meals, unthinkable horrors of
operations go on all day and far into the night. The Hall of the Holy
Rosary is a convalescent room, where soldiers smoke and play at cards.
The Room of the Holy Angels contains a steriliser. Through the
corridors that once re-echoed to the soft padding of their felt shoes
brisk English nurses pass with a rustle of skirts.
Even the cross by which they lived has turned red, the colour of
THE LOSING GAME
I saw a typhoid hospital in charge of two women doctors. It was
undermanned. There were not enough nurses, not enough orderlies.
One of the women physicians had served through the Balkan war.
"There was typhoid there," she said, "but nothing to compare with this
in malignancy. Nearly all the cases have come from one part of
Some of the men were wounded, in addition to the fever. She told me
that it was impossible to keep things in proper order with the help
"And food!" she said. "We cannot have eggs. They are prohibitive at
twenty-five centimes—five cents—each; nor many broths. Meat is dear
and scarce, and there are no chickens. We give them stewed macaroni
and farinaceous things. It's a terrible problem."
The charts bore out what she had said about the type of the disease.
They showed incredible temperatures, with the sudden drop that is
perforation or hemorrhage.
The odour was heavy. Men lay there, far from home, babbling in
delirium or, with fixed eyes, picking at the bed clothes. One was
going to die that day. Others would last hardly longer.
"They are all Belgians here," she said. "The British and French troops
have been inoculated against typhoid."
So here again the Belgians were playing a losing game. Perhaps they
are being inoculated now. I do not know. To inoculate an army means
much money, and where is the Belgian Government to get it? ft seems
the tragic irony of fate that that heroic little army should have been
stationed in the infested territory. Are there any blows left to rain
In a letter from the Belgian lines the writer says:
"This is just a race for life. The point is, which will get there
first, disease and sickness caused by drinking water unspeakably
contaminated, or sterilising plants to avoid such a disaster."
Another letter from a different writer, also in Belgium at the front,
"A friend of mine has just been invalided home with enteritis. He had
been drinking from a well with a dead Frenchman in it!"
The Belgian Soldiers' Fund in the spring of 1915 sent out an appeal,
"The full heat of summer will soon be upon the army, and the dust of
the battlefield will cause the men to suffer from an intolerable
This is a part of the appeal:
"It is said that out of the 27,000 men who gave their lives in the
South African war 7000 only were killed, whilst 20,000 died of
enteritis, contracted by drinking impure water.
"In order to save their army from the fatal effects of contaminated
water, the Belgian Army medical authorities have, after careful tests,
selected the following means of sterilisation—boiling, ozone and
violet rays—as the most reliable methods for obtaining large supplies
of pure water rapidly.
"Funds are urgently needed to help the work of providing and
distributing a pure water supply in the following ways:
"1. By small portable sterilising plants for every company to produce
and distribute from twenty to a hundred gallons of pure cold water per
"2. By sterilisers easy of adjustment for all field hospitals,
convalescent homes, medical depots, and so forth.
"3. By large sterilising plants, capable of producing from 150 gallons
upward per hour, to provide a pure water supply for all the devastated
towns through which the army must pass.
"4. By the sterilisation of contaminated pools and all surface water,
under the direction of leading scientific experts who have generously
offered their services.
"5. By pocket filters for all who may have to work out of reach of the
sterilising plants, and so forth.
"6. By two hundred field kitchens on the battlefield to serve out
soup, coffee or other drinks to the men fighting in the trenches or on
Everywhere, at the front, I found the gravest apprehension as to water
supply in case the confronting armies remained in approximately the
same position. Sir John French spoke of it, and the British are
providing a system of sterilised water for their men. Merely providing
so many human beings with water is a tremendous problem. Along part of
the line, quite aside from typhoid contamination, the water is now
impregnated with salt water from the sea. If even wells contain dead
bodies, how about the open water-courses? Wounded men must have water.
It is their first and most insistent cry.
People will read this who have never known the thirst of the
battlefield or the parched throat that follows loss of blood; people
who, by the turning of a tap, may have all the water they want.
Perhaps among them there are some who will face this problem of water
as America has faced Belgium's problem of food. For the Belgian Army
has no money at all for sterilisers, for pocket filters; has not the
means to inoculate the army against typhoid; has little of anything.
The revenues that would normally support the army are being
collected—in addition to a war indemnity—by Germany.
Any hope that conditions would be improved by a general spring
movement into uncontaminated territory has been dispelled. The war has
become a gigantic siege, varied only by sorties and assaults. As long
ago as November, 1914, the situation as to drinking water was
intolerable. I quote again from the diary taken from the body of a
German officer after the battle of the Yser—a diary published in full
in an earlier chapter.
"The water is bad, quite green, indeed; but all the same we drink
it—we can get nothing else. Man is brought down to the level of the
There is little or no typhoid among the British troops. They, too, no
doubt, have realised the value of conservation, and to inoculation
have added careful supervision of wells and of watercourses. But when
I was at the front the Belgian Army of fifty thousand trained soldiers
and two hundred thousand recruits was dependent on springs oozing from
fields that were vast graveyards; on sluggish canals in which lay the
bodies of men and horses; and on a few tank wagons that carried fresh
water daily to the front.
A quarter of a million dollars would be needed to install a water
supply for the Belgian Army and for the civilians—residents and
refugees—gathered behind the lines. To ask the American people to
shoulder this additional burden is out of the question. But perhaps,
somewhere among the people who will read this, there is one
great-hearted and wealthy American who would sleep better of nights
for having lifted to the lips of a wounded soldier the cup of pure
water that he craves; for having furnished to ten thousand wounds a
sterile and soothing wet compress.
Dunkirk was full of hospitals when I was there. Probably the
subsequent shelling of the town destroyed some of them. I do not know.
A letter from Calais, dated May 21st, 1915, says:
"I went through Dunkirk again. Last time I was there it was a
flourishing and busy market day. This time the only two living souls I
saw were the soldiers who let us in at one gate and out at the other.
In the interval, as you know, the town had been shelled by
fifteen-inch guns from a distance of twenty-three miles. Many
buildings in the main streets had been reduced to ruins, and nearly
all the windows in the town had been smashed."
There is, or was, a converted Channel steamer at Dunkirk that is now a
hospital. Men in all stages of mutilation are there. The salt winds of
the Channel blow in through the open ports. The boat rises and falls
to the swell of the sea. The deck cabins are occupied by wounded
officers, and below, in the long saloon, are rows of cots.
I went there on a bright day in February. There was a young officer on
the deck. He had lost a leg at the hip, and he was standing supported
by a crutch and looking out to sea. He did not even turn his head when
General M——, the head of the Belgian Army medical service, who had
escorted me, touched him on the arm, and he looked round without
"For conspicuous bravery!" said the General, and showed me the medal
he wore on his breast.
However, the young officer's face did not lighten, and very soon he
turned again to the sea. The time will come, of course, when the
tragedy of his mutilation will be less fresh and poignant, when the
Order of Leopold on his breast will help to compensate for many
things; but that sunny morning, on the deck of the hospital ship, it
held small comfort for him.
We went below. At our appearance at the top of the stairs those who
were convalescent below rose and stood at attention. They stood in a
line at the foot of their beds, boys and grizzled veterans, clad in
motley garments, supported by crutches, by sticks, by a hand on the
supporting back of a chair. Men without a country, where were they to
go when the hospital ship had finished with them? Those who were able
would go back to the army, of course. But what of that large
percentage who will never be whole again? The machinery of mercy can
go so far, and no farther. France cannot support them. Occupied with
her own burden, she has persistently discouraged Belgian refugees.
They will go to England probably—a kindly land but of an alien
tongue. And there again they will wait.
The waiting of the hospital will become the waiting of the refugee.
The Channel coast towns of England are full of human derelicts who
stand or sit for hours, looking wistfully back toward what was once
The story of the hospitals is not always gloomy. Where the
surroundings are favourable, defeat is sometimes turned to victory.
Tetanus is being fought and conquered by means of a serum. The open
treatment of fractures—that is, by cutting down and exposing the
jagged edges of splintered bones, and then uniting them—has saved
many a limb. Conservation is the watchword of the new surgery, to save
whenever possible. The ruthless cutting and hacking of previous wars
is a thing of the past.
I remember a boy in a French hospital whose leg bones had been fairly
shattered. Eight pieces, the surgeon said there had been. Two linear
incisions, connected by a centre one, like a letter H, had been made.
The boy showed me the leg himself, and a mighty proud and happy
youngster he was. There was no vestige of deformity, no shortening.
The incisions had healed by first intention, and the thin, white lines
of the H were all that told the story.
As if to offset the cheer of that recovery, a man in the next bed was
dying of an abdominal injury. I saw the wound. May the mother who bore
him, the wife he loved, never dream of that wound!
I have told of the use of railway stations as temporary resting places
for injured soldiers. One is typical of them all. As my visit was made
during a lull in the fighting, conditions were more than usually
favourable. There was no congestion.
On a bright afternoon early in March I went to the railway station
three miles behind the trenches at E——. Only a mile away a town was
being shelled. One could look across the fields at the changing roof
line, at a church steeple that had so far escaped. But no shells were
falling in E——.
The station was a small village one. In the room corresponding to our
baggage-room straw had been spread over the floor, and men just out of
the trenches lay there in every attitude of exhaustion. In a tiny room
just beyond two or three women were making soup. As fast as one kettle
was ready it was served to the hungry men. There were several
kettles—all the small stove would hold. Soup was there in every
state, from the finished product to the raw meat and vegetables on a
Beyond was a waiting-room, with benches. Here were slightly injured
men, bandaged but able to walk about. A few slept on the benches,
heads lolled back against the whitewashed wall. The others were paying
no attention to the incessant, nearby firing, but were watching a boy
who was drawing.
He had a supply of coloured crayons, and the walls as high as he could
reach were almost covered. There were priests, soldier types,
caricatures of the German Emperor, the arms of France and Belgium—I
do not remember what all. And it was exceedingly well done. The boy
was an artist to his finger tips.
At a clever caricature of the German Emperor the soldiers laughed and
clapped their hands. While they were laughing I looked through an open
Three men lay on cots in an inner room—rather, two men and a boy. I
One of the men was shot through the spine and paralysed. The second
one had a bullet in his neck, and his face already bore the dark flush
and anxious look of general infection. The boy smiled.
They had been there since the day before, waiting for a locomotive to
come and move the hospital train that waited outside. In that railway
station the boy had had his leg taken off at the knee.
They lay there, quite alone. The few women were feeding starving men.
Now and then one would look in to see if there was any change. There
was nothing to be done. They lay there, and the shells burst
incessantly a mile away, and the men in the next room laughed and
applauded at some happy stroke of the young artist.
"I am so sorry," I said to the boy. The others had not roused at my
entrance, but he had looked at me with quick, intelligent eyes.
"It is nothing!" was his reply.
Outside, in the village, soldiers thronged the streets. The sun was
shining with the first promise of spring. In an area way regimental
butchering was going on, and a great sow, escaping, ran frenzied down
the street, followed by a throng of laughing, shouting men. And still
the shells fell, across a few fields, and inside the station the three
men lay and waited.
That evening at dusk the bombardment ceased, and I went through the
shelled town. It was difficult to get about. Walls had fallen across
the way, interiors that had been homes gaped open to the streets.
Shattered beds and furnishings lay about—kitchen utensils, broken
dishes. On some of the walls holy pictures still hung, grouped about a
crucifix. There are many to tell how the crucifix has escaped in the
wholesale destruction of towns.
A shoemaker had come back into the village for the night, and had
opened his shop. For a time he seemed to be the only inhabitant of
what I had known, a short time before, as a prosperous and thriving
market town. Then through an aperture that had been a window I saw
three women sitting round a candle. And in the next street I found a
man on his knees on the pavement, working with bricks and a trowel.
He explained that he had closed up a small cellar-way. His family had
no place else to go and were coming in from the fields, where they had
sought safety, to sleep in the cellar for the night. He was leaving a
small aperture, to be closed with bags of sand, so that if the house
was destroyed over them in the night they could crawl out and escape.
He knelt on the bricks in front of the house, a patient, resigned
figure, playing no politics, interested not at all in war and
diplomacy, in a way to the sea or to a place in the sun—one of the
millions who must adapt themselves to new and fearsome situations and
do their best.
That night, sitting at dinner in a hotel, I saw two pretty nurses come
in. They had been relieved for a few hours from their hospital and
were on holiday.
One of them had a clear, although musical voice. What she said came to
me with great distinctness, and what she was wishing for was a glass
of American soda water!
Now, long months before I had had any idea of going to the war I had
read an American correspondent's story of the evacuation of Antwerp,
and of a tall young American girl, a nurse, whom the others called
Morning Glory. He never knew the rest of her name. Anyhow, Morning
Glory leaped into my mind and stayed there, through soup, through
rabbit, which was called on the menu something entirely different,
through hard cakes and a withered orange.
So when a young lieutenant asked permission to bring them over to meet
me, I was eager. It was Morning Glory! Her name is really Glory, and
she is a Southern girl Somewhere among my papers I have a snapshot of
her helping to take a wounded soldier out of an ambulance, and if the
correspondent wants it I shall send it to him. Also her name, which he
never knew. And I will verify his opinion that it is better to be a
Morning Glory in Flanders than to be a good many other things that I
can think of.
HOW AMERICANS CAN HELP
With the possible exception of Germany, which seems to have
anticipated everything, no one of the nations engaged appears to have
expected the fearful carnage of this war. The destructive effect of
the modern, high-explosive shell has been well known, but it is the
trench form of warfare which, by keeping troops in stationary
positions, under grilling artillery fire, has given such shells their
opportunity. Shrapnel has not been so deadly to the men in the
The result of the vast casualty lists has been some hundreds of
isolated hospitals scattered through France, not affiliated with any
of the Red Cross societies, unorganised, poverty-stricken, frequently
having only the services of a surgeon who can come but once a week.
They have no dressings, no nurses save peasants, no bedding, no coal
to cook even the scanty food that the villagers can spare.
No coal, for France is facing a coal famine to-day. Her coal mines are
in the territory held by the Germans. Even if she had the mines, where
would she get men to labour in them, or trains to transport the coal?
There are more than three hundred such hospitals scattered through
isolated French villages, hospitals where everything is needed. For
whatever else held fast during the first year of the war, the nursing
system of France absolutely failed. Some six hundred miles of hospital
wards there are to-day in France, with cots so close together that one
can hardly step between. It is true that with the passing of time, the
first chaos is giving way to order. But France, unlike England, has
the enemy within her boundaries, on her soil. Her every resource is
taxed. And the need is still great.
The story of the town of D——, in Brittany, is very typical of what
the war has brought into many isolated communities.
D—— is a little town of two thousand inhabitants, with a
thirteenth-century church, with mediaeval houses with quaint stone
porticoes and outside staircases. There is one street, shaped like a
sickle, with a handle that is the station road.
War was declared and the men of D—— went away. The women and
children brought in the harvest, and waited for news. What little came
One day in August one of the rare trains stopped at the station, and
an inspector got off and walked up the sickle-handle to the
schoolhouse. He looked about and made the comment that it would hold
eighty beds. Whereupon he went away, and D—— waited for news and
gathered the harvest.
On the fifth of September, 1914, the terrific battle of the Marne
commenced. The French strategic retreat was at an end, and with her
allies France resumed the offensive. What happened in the little
village of D——?
And remember that D—— is only one of hundreds of tiny interior
towns. D—— has never heard of the Red Cross, but D—— venerated, in
its thirteenth-century church, the Cross of Christ.
This is what happened:
One day in the first week of September a train drew up at the box-like
station, a heterogeneous train—coaches, luggage vans, cattle and
horse cars. The doors opened, and the work of emptying the cars began.
The women and children, aghast and bewildered, ran down the
sickle-handle road and watched. Four hundred wounded men were taken
out of the cars, laid prone on the station platform, and the train
There were no surgeons in D——, but there was a chemist who knew
something of medicine and who, for one reason or another, had not been
called to the ranks. There were no horses to draw carts. There was
The chemist was a man of action. Very soon the sickle and the old
church saw a curious sight. They saw women and children, a procession,
pushing wounded men to the school in the hand carts that country
people use for milk cans and produce. They saw brawny peasant women
carrying chairs in which sat injured men with lolling heads and sunken
Bales of straw were brought into the school. Tender, if unaccustomed,
hands washed fearful wounds, but there were no dressings, no bandages.
Any one who knows the French peasant and his poverty will realise the
plight of the little town. The peasant has no reserves of supplies.
Life is reduced to its simplest elements. There is nothing that is not
D—— solved part of its problem by giving up its own wooden beds to
the soldiers. It tore up its small stock of linen, its towels, its
dusters; but the problem of food remained.
There was a tiny stove, on which the three or four teachers of the
school had been accustomed to cook their midday meal. There was no
coal, only wood, and green wood at that. All day, and all day now,
D—— cooks the pot-à-feu for the wounded on that tiny stove.
Pot-à-feu is good diet for convalescents, but the "light diets" must
have eggs, broth, whatever can be found.
So the peasant woman of D—— comes to the hospital, bringing a few
eggs, the midday meal of her family, who will do without.
I have spoken mainly in the past tense, but conditions in D—— are
not greatly changed to-day. An old marquise, impoverished by the war,
darns the pathetic socks of the wounded men and mends their uniforms.
At the last report I received, the corridors and schoolrooms were
still filled—every inch of space—with a motley collection of beds,
on which men lay in their uniforms, for lack of other clothing. They
were covered with old patchwork quilts, with anything that can be
used. There were, of course, no sheets. All the sheets were used long
ago for dressings. A friend of mine there recently saw a soldier with
one leg, in the kitchen, rolling wretched scraps and dusters for
bandages. There was no way to sterilise them, of course. Once a week a
surgeon comes. When he goes away he takes his instruments with him.
This is not an isolated case, nor an exaggerated one. There are things
I do not care to publish. Three hundred and more such hospitals are
known. The French Government pays, or will pay, twenty-five cents a
day to keep these men. Black bread and pot-à-feu is all that can be
managed on that amount.
Convalescents sit up in bed and painfully unravel their tattered socks
for wool. They tie the bits together, often two or three inches in
length, and knit new feet in old socks, or—when they secure
enough—new socks. For the Germans hold the wool cities of France.
Ordinarily worsted costs eighteen and nineteen francs in Dinard and
Saint Malo, or from three dollars and sixty cents to three dollars and
eighty cents a pound. Much of the government reserves of woollen
underwear for the soldiers was in the captured towns, and German
prisoners have been found wearing woollens with the French Government
Every sort of building is being used for these isolated
hospitals—garages, town halls, private dwellings, schools. At first
they had no chloroform, no instruments. There are cases on record
where automobile tools were used in emergency, kitchen knives, saws,
anything. In one case, last spring, two hundred convalescents, leaving
one of these hospitals on a cold day in March, were called back, on
the arrival of a hundred freshly wounded men, that every superfluous
bandage on their wounds might be removed, to be used again.
Naturally, depending entirely on the unskilled nursing of the village
women, much that we regard as fundamental in hospital practice is
ignored. Wounded men, typhoid and scarlet fever cases are found in the
same wards. In one isolated town a single clinical thermometer is
obliged to serve for sixty typhoid and scarlet fever patients.[F]
[Footnote F: Written in June, 1915.]
Sometimes the men in these isolated and ill-equipped refuges realise
the horror and hopelessness of their situation. The nights are
particularly bad. Any one who knows hospitals well, knows the night
terrors of the wards; knows, too, the contagion of excitement that
proceeds from a hysterical or delirious patient.
In some of these lonely hospitals hell breaks loose at night. The
peasant women must sleep. Even the tireless nuns cannot labour forever
without rest. The men have come from battlefields of infinite horror.
A frenzied dream, a delirious soldier calling them to the charge, and
To offset these horrors of the night the peasants have, here and
there, resorted to music. It is naïve, pathetic. Where there is a
piano it is moved into the school, or garage, or whatever the building
may be, and at twilight a nun or a volunteer musician plays quietly,
to soothe the men to sleep. In one or two towns a village band, or
perhaps a lone cornetist, plays in the street outside.
So the days go on, and the nights. Supplies are begged for and do not
always come. Dressings are washed, to be used again and again.
An attempt is now being made to better these conditions. A Frenchwoman
helping in one of these hospitals, and driven almost to madness by the
outcries of men and boys undergoing operations without anæsthetics,
found her appeals for help unanswered. She decided to go to England to
ask her friends there for chloroform, and to take it back on the next
boat. She was successful. She carried back with her, on numerous
journeys, dressings, chloroform, cotton, even a few instruments. She
is still doing this work. Others interested in isolated hospitals,
hearing of her success, appealed to her; and now regular, if small,
shipments of chloroform and dressings are going across the Channel.
Americans willing to take their own cars, and willing to work, will
find plenty to do in distributing such supplies over there. A request
has come to me to find such Americans. Surgeons who can spare a
scalpel, an artery clip or two, ligatures—catgut or silk—and
forceps, may be certain of having them used at once. Bandages rolled
by kindly American hands will not lie unclaimed on the quay at Havre
So many things about these little hospitals of France are touching,
without having any particular connection. There was a surgeon in one
of these isolated villages, with an X-ray machine but no gloves or
lead screen to protect himself. He worked on, using the deadly rays to
locate pieces of shell, bullets and shrapnel, and knowing all the time
what would happen. He has lost both hands.
Since my return to America the problems of those who care for the sick
and wounded have been further complicated, among the Allies, by the
inhuman use of asphyxiating gases.
Sir John French says of these gases:
"The effect of this poison is not merely disabling, or even painlessly
fatal, as suggested in the German press. Those of its victims who do
not succumb on the field and who can be brought into hospitals suffer
acutely and, in a large proportion of cases, die a painful and
lingering death. Those who survive are in little better case, as the
injury to their lungs appears to be of a permanent character and
reduces them to a condition that points to their being invalids for
I have received from the front one of the respirators given out to the
troops to be used when the gas clouds appear.
"It is prepared with hypophosphite of soda," wrote the surgeon who
sent it, "and all they have to do before putting it on is to dip it in
the water in the trenches. They are all supplied in addition with
goggles, which are worn on their caps,"
This is from the same letter:
"That night a German soldier was brought in wounded, and jolly glad he
was to be taken. He told us he had been turned down three times for
phthisis—tuberculosis—and then in the end was called up and put into
the trenches after eight weeks' training. All of which is very
significant. Another wounded German told the men at the ambulance that
they must move on as soon as they could, as very soon the Germans
would be in Calais.
"All the German soldiers write home now on the official cards, which
have Calais printed on the top of them!"
Not all. I have before me a card from a German officer in the trenches
in France. It is a good-natured bit of raillery, with something of
"'I nibble them'—Joffre. See your article in the Saturday Evening
Post of May 29th, 1915. Really, Joffre has had time! It is
September now, and we are not nibbled yet. Still we stand deep in
France. Au revoir à Paris, Madame."
He signs it "Yours truly," and then his name.
Not Calais, then, but Paris!
AN ARMY OF CHILDREN
It is undeniably true that the humanities are failing us as the war
goes on. Not, thank God, the broad humanity of the Red Cross, but that
individual compassion of a man for his wounded brother, of which the
very fabric of mercy is woven. There is too much death, too much
suffering. Men grow calloused. As yet the loss is not irretrievable,
but the war is still only a matter of months. What if it is to be of
France and Belgium were suffering from a wave of atheism before the
war. But there comes a time in the existence of nations, as in the
lives of individuals, when human endeavour seems useless, when the
world and the things thereof have failed. At such time nations and
individuals alike turn at last to a Higher Power. France is on her
knees to-day. Her churches are crowded. Not perhaps since the days of
chivalry, when men were shriven in the churches before going out to
battle, has France so generally knelt and bowed her head—but it is to
the God of Battles that she prays.
On her battlefields the priests have most signally distinguished
themselves. Some have exchanged the soutane for the uniform, and have
fought bravely and well. Others, like the priests who stood firm in
the midst of Jordan, have carried their message of hope to the dying
into the trenches.
No article on the work of the Red Cross can be complete without a
reference to the work of these priests, not perhaps affiliated with
the society, but doing yeoman work of service among the wounded. They
are everywhere, in the trenches or at the outposts, in the hospitals
and hospital trains, in hundreds of small villages, where the entire
community plus its burden of wounded turns to the curé for
everything, from advice to the sacrament.
In prostrate Belgium the demands on the priests have been extremely
heavy. Subjected to insult, injury and even death during the German
invasion, where in one diocese alone thirteen were put to death—their
churches destroyed, or used as barracks by the enemy—that which was
their world has turned to chaos about them. Those who remained with
their conquered people have done their best to keep their small
communities together and to look after their material needs—which
has, indeed, been the lot of the priests of battle-scarred Flanders
for many generations.
Others have attached themselves to the hospital service. All the
Belgian trains of wounded are cared for solely by these priests, who
perform every necessary service for their men, and who, as I have said
before, administer the sacrament and make coffee to cheer the flagging
spirits of the wounded, with equal courage and resource.
Surgeons, nurses, priests, nuns, volunteer workers who substitute for
lack of training both courage and zeal, these are a part of the
machinery of mercy. There is another element—the boy scouts.
During the early days of the war the boy scouts of England, then on
school holiday, did marvellous work. Boys of fourteen made repeated
trips across the Channel, bringing back from France children,
invalids, timorous women. They volunteered in the hospitals, ran
errands, carried messages, were as useful as only willing boys can be.
They did scout service, too, guarding the railway lines and assisting
in watching the Channel coast; but with the end of the holiday most of
the English boy scouts were obliged to go back to school. Their
activities were not over, but they were largely curtailed.
There were five thousand boy scouts in Belgium at the beginning of the
war. I saw them everywhere—behind the battle lines, on the driving
seats of ambulances, at the doors of hospitals. They were very calm.
Because I know a good deal about small boys I smothered a riotous
impulse to hug them, and spoke to them as grown-up to grown-up. Thus
approached, they met my advances with dignity, but without excitement.
And after a time I learned something about them from the Chief Scout
of Belgium; perhaps it will show the boy scouts of America what they
will mean to the country in time of war. Perhaps it will make them
realise that being a scout is not, after all, only camping in the
woods, long hikes, games in the open. The long hikes fit a boy for
dispatch carrying, the camping teaches him to care for himself when,
if necessity arises, he is thrown on the country, like his older
brother, the fighting man.
A small cog, perhaps, in the machinery of mercy, but a necessary one.
A vital cog in the vast machinery of war—that is the boy scout
The day after the declaration of war the Belgian scouts were
mobilised, by order of the minister of war—five thousand boys, then,
ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, an army of children. What a
sight they must have been! How many grown-ups can think of it with dry
eyes? What a terrible emergency was this, which must call the children
They were placed at the service of the military authorities, to do any
and every kind of work. Some, with ordinary bicycles or motorcyles,
were made dispatch riders. The senior scouts were enlisted in the
regular army, armed, and they joined the soldiers in barracks. The
younger boys, between thirteen and sixteen, were letter-carriers,
messengers in the different ministries, or orderlies in the hospitals
that were immediately organised. Those who could drive automobiles
were given that to do.
Others of the older boys, having been well trained in scouting, were
set to watch points of importance, or given carbines and attached to
the civic guard. During the siege of Liège between forty and fifty boy
scouts were constantly employed carrying food and ammunition to the
The Germans finally realised that every boy scout was a potential spy,
working for his country. The uniform itself then became a menace,
since boys wearing it were frequently shot. The boys abandoned it, the
older ones assuming the Belgian uniform and the younger ones returning
to civilian dress. But although, in the chaos that followed the
invasion and particularly the fall of Liège, they were virtually
disbanded, they continued their work as spies, as dispatch riders, as
There are still nine boy scouts with the famous Ninth Regiment, which
has been decorated by the king.
One boy scout captured, single-handed, two German officers. Somewhere
or other he had got a revolver, and with it was patrolling a road. The
officers were lost and searching for their regiments. As they stepped
out of a wood the boy confronted them, with his revolver levelled.
This happened near Liège.
Trust a boy to use his wits in emergency! Here is another lad, aged
fifteen, who found himself in Liège after its surrender, and who
wanted to get back to the Belgian Army. He offered his services as
stretcher-bearer in the German Army, and was given a German Red Cross
pass. Armed with this pass he left Liège, passed successfully many
sentries, and at last got to Antwerp by a circuitous route. On the way
he found a dead German and, being only a small boy after all, he took
off the dead man's stained uniform and bore it in his arms into
There is no use explaining about that uniform. If you do not know boys
you will never understand. If you do, it requires no explanation.
Here is a fourteen-year-old lad, intrusted with a message of the
utmost importance for military headquarters in Antwerp. He left
Brussels in civilian clothing, but he had neglected to take off his
boy scout shirt—boy-fashion! The Germans captured him and stripped
him, and they burned the boy scout shirt. Then they locked him up, but
they did not find his message.
All day he lay in duress, and part of the night. Perhaps he shed a few
tears. He was very young, and things looked black for him. Boy scouts
were being shot, remember! But it never occurred to him to destroy the
message that meant his death if discovered.
He was clever with locks and such things, after the manner of boys,
and for most of the night he worked with the window and shutter lock.
Perhaps he had a nail in his pocket, or some wire. Most boys have. And
just before dawn he got window and shutter opened, and dropped, a long
drop, to the ground. He lay there for a while, getting his breath and
listening. Then, on his stomach, he slid away into the darkest hour
that is just before the dawn.
Later on that day a footsore and weary but triumphant youngster
presented himself at the headquarters of the Belgian Army in Antwerp
and insisted on seeing the minister of war. Being at last admitted, he
turned up a very travel-stained and weary little boy's foot and
proceeded to strip a piece of adhesive plaster from the sole.
Underneath the plaster was the message!
* * * * *
War is a thing of fearful and curious anomalies. It has shown that
humane units may comprise a brutal whole; that civilisation is a shirt
over a coat of mail. It has shown that hatred and love are kindred
emotions, boon companions, friends. It has shown that in every man
there are two men, devil and saint; that there are two courages, that
of the mind, which is bravest, that of the heart, which is greatest.
It has shown that government by men only is not an appeal to reason,
but an appeal to arms; that on women, without a voice to protest, must
fall the burden. It is easier to die than to send a son to death.
It has shown that a single hatred may infect a world, but it has shown
that mercy too may spread among nations. That love is greater than
cannon, greater than hate, greater than vengeance; that it triumphs
over wrath, as good triumphs over evil.
Direct descendant of the cross of the Christian faith, the Red Cross
carries onto every battlefield the words of the Man of Mercy:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
On a day in March I went back to England. March in England is spring.
Masses of snowdrops lined the paths in Hyde Park. The grass was green,
the roads hard and dry under the eager feet of Kitchener's great army.
They marched gayly by. The drums beat. The passers-by stopped. Here
and there an open carriage or an automobile drew up, and pale men,
some of them still in bandages, sat and watched. In their eyes was the
same flaming eagerness, the same impatience to get back, to be loosed
against the old lion's foes.
All through England, all through France, all through the tragic corner
of Belgium that remains to her, were similar armies drilling and
waiting, equally young, equally eager, equally resolute. And the thing
that they were going to I knew. I had seen it in that mysterious
region that had swallowed up those who had gone before; in the
trenches, in the operating rooms of field hospitals, at outposts where
the sentries walked hand in hand with death.
War is not two great armies meeting in the clash and frenzy of battle.
War is a boy carried on a stretcher, looking up at God's blue sky with
bewildered eyes that are soon to close; war is a woman carrying a
child that has been injured by a shell; war is spirited horses tied in
burning buildings and waiting for death; war is the flower of a race,
battered, hungry, bleeding, up to its knees in filthy water; war is an
old woman burning a candle before the Mater Dolorosa for the son she
For King and Country!