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Out To Win - The Story of America in France
by Coningsby Dawson
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But the poverty of these people is not the worst condition that the Red Cross workers have to tackle; money can always replace money. Hope, trust, affection and a genial belief in the world's goodness cannot be transplanted into another man's heart in exchange for bitterness by even the most lavish giver. I can think of no modern parallel for their blank despair; the only eloquence which approximately expresses it is that of Job, centuries old, "Why is light given to a man whose way is hid and whom God hath hedged in? My sighing cometh before I eat. My roarings are poured out like waters. My harp is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came."

This hell which the Hun has created, beggars any description of Dante.[1] It is still more appalling to remember that the external hell which one sees, does not represent one tithe of the dreariness which lies hidden behind the eyes of the inhabitants. To imagine amid such scenes is to paralyse compassion with agony. The craving, never far from one's thoughts, is the age-old desire, "O that one might plead with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!"

[Footnote 1: Since this was written and just as I am returning to the front, the Hun has set to work to create this hell for the second time. Most of the places referred to below are once more within the enemy country and all the mercy of the American Red Cross has been wiped out.]

I started out on my trip in a staff-car from a city well behind the lines. In the first half hour of the journey the country was green and pleasant. We passed some cavalry officers galloping across a brown field; birds were battling against a flurrying wind; high overhead an aeroplane sailed serenely. There was a sense of life, motion and exhilaration abroad, but only for the first half hour of our journey. Then momentarily a depression grew up about us. Fields and trees were becoming dead, as if a swarm of locusts had eaten their way across them. Greenness was vanishing. Houses were becoming untenanted; there were holes in the walls of many of them, through which one gained glimpses of the sky. Here, by the road-side, we passed a cluster of insignificant graves. Then, almost without warning, the barbed-wire entanglements commenced, and the miles and miles of abandoned trenches. This, not a year ago from the day on which I write, was the Hun's country. Last spring, in an attempt to straighten his line, he retreated from it. Our offensives on the Somme had converted his Front into a dangerous salient.

We are slowing down; the road is getting water-logged and full of holes. The skull of a dead town grows up on the horizon. Even at this distance the light behind empty windows glares malevolently like the nothingness in vacant sockets. A horror is over everything. The horror is not so much due to the destruction as to the total absence of any signs of life. One man creeping through the landscape would make it seem more kindly. I have been in desolated towns often, but there were always the faces of our cheery Tommies to smile out from cellars and gaps in the walls. From here life is banished utterly. The battle-line has retired eastward; one can hear the faint rumble of the guns at times. No civilian has come to re-inhabit this unhallowed spot.

We enter what were once its streets. They are nothing now but craters with boards across them. On either side the trees lie flat along the ground, sawn through within a foot of the roots. What landmarks remain are the blackened walls of houses, cracked and crashed in by falling roofs. The entire place must have been given over to explosion and incendiarism before the Huns departed. One stands in awe of such completeness of savagery; one begins to understand what is meant by the term "frightfulness." As far as eye can reach there is nothing to be seen but decayed fangs, protruding from a swamp of filth, covered with a green slime where water has accumulated. This is not the unavoidable ruin of shell-fire. No battle was fought here. The demolition was the wanton spite of an enemy who, because he could not hold the place, was determined to leave nothing serviceable behind. With such masterly thoroughness has he done his work that the spot can never be re-peopled. The surrounding fields are too poisoned and churned up for cultivation. The French Government plans to plant a forest; it is all that can be done. As years go by, the kindliness of Nature may cause her to forget and cover up the scars of hatred with greenness. Then, perhaps, peasant lovers will wander here and refashion their dreams of a chivalrous world. Our generation will be dead by that time; throughout our lives this memorial to "frightfulness" will remain.

We have left the town and are out in the open country. It is clean and unharried. Man can murder orchards and habitations—the things which man plants and makes; he finds it more difficult to strangle the primal gifts of Nature. All along by the roadside the cement telegraph-posts have been broken off short; some of them lie flat along the ground, others hang limply in the bent shape of hairpins. Very often we have to make a detour where a steel bridge has been blown up; we cross the gulley over an improvised affair of struts and planks, and so come back into the main roadway. Every now and then we pass steam-tractors at work, ploughing huge fields into regular furrows. The French Department of Agriculture purchased in America nineteen teams of ten tractors apiece in the autumn of last year. The American Red Cross has supplied others. The fields of this district are unfenced—the farmers used to live together in villages; so the work is made easy. It is possible to throw a number of holdings together and to apply to France the same wholesale mechanical means of wheat-growing that are employed on the prairies of Canada. All the cattle and horses have been carried off into Germany. All the farm-implements have been destroyed—and destroyed with a surprising ingenuity. The same parts were destroyed in each instrument, so that an entire instrument could not be reconstructed. The farms could not have been brought under cultivation this year, had not the Government and the Red Cross lent their assistance.

We are approaching Noyon, the birthplace of Calvin. This is one of the few towns the Hun spared in his retreat; he spared it not out of a belated altruism, but purely to serve his own convenience. There were some of the French civilians who weren't worth transporting to Germany. They would be too weak, or too old, or too young to earn their keep when he got them there. These he sorted out, irrespective of their family ties, and herded from the surrounding districts into Noyon. They were crowded into the houses and ordered under pain of death not to come out until they were given permission. They were further ordered to shutter all their windows and not to look out.

As an old lady, who narrated the story, said, "We had no idea, Monsieur, what was to happen. Les Boches had been with us for nearly three years; it never entered our heads that they were leaving. When they took the last of our young girls from us and all who were strong among our men, it was something that they had done so often and so often. When they made us hide in our houses, we thought it was only to prevent a disturbance. It is not easy to see your boys and girls marched away into slavery—Monsieur will understand that. Sometimes, on former occasions, the mothers had attacked les Boches and the young girls had become hysterical; we thought that it was to avoid such scenes that we were shut up in our houses. When darkness fell, we sat in our rooms without any lights, for they also were forbidden. All night long through our streets we heard the endless tramping of battalions, the clattering wheels of guns and limbers, the sharp orders, the halting and the marching taken up afresh. Towards dawn everything grew silent. At first it would be broken occasionally by the hurried trot of cavalry or the shuffling footsteps of a straggler. Then it grew into the absolute silence of death. It was nerve-racking and terrible. One could almost hear the breathing of the listening people in all the other houses. I do not know how time went or what was the hour. I could endure the suspense no longer. They might kill me, but ... Ah well, at my age after nearly three years with 'les Boches,' killing is a little matter! I crept down the passage and drew back the bolts. I was very gentle; a sentry might hear me. I opened the door just a crack. I expected to hear a rifle-shot ring out, but nothing happened. I opened it wider, and saw that the street was empty and that it was broad daylight. Then I waited—I do not know how long I waited. I crouched against the wall, huddled with terror. All this took much longer in the doing than in the telling. At last I could bear myself no longer. I tiptoed out on to the pavement—and, Monsieur will believe me, I expected to drop dead. But no one disturbed me. Then I heard a rustling. Doors everywhere were opening stealthily, ah, so stealthily! Some one else tiptoed out, and some one else, and some one else. We stood there staring, aghast at our daring. Suddenly we realised what had happened. The brutes had gone. We were free. It was indescribable, what followed—we ran together, weeping and embracing. At first we wept for gladness; soon we wept for sorrow. Our youth had departed; we were all old women or very ancient men. Two hours later our poilus came, like a blue-grey wave of laughter, fighting their way through the burning country that those swine had left in a sea of smoke and flames."

And so that was why the Hun spared Noyon. But if he spared Noyon, he spared little else.[2] Every village between here and the present front line has been levelled; every fruit-tree cut down. The wilful wickedness and pettiness of the crime stir one's heart to pity and his soul to white-hot anger. The people who did this must make payment in more than money; to settle such a debt blood is required. American soldiers who came to Europe to do a job and with no decided detestation of the Hun, are being taught by such landscapes. They know now why they came. The wounds of France are educating them.

[Footnote 2: Goodness knows where the "present Front-line" may be by the time this book is published. I visited Noyon in February, 1918, just before the big Hun offensive commenced.]

There has been a scheme proposed in America under which certain individual cities and towns in the States shall make themselves responsible for the re-building of certain individual cities and towns in the devastated areas. The scheme is noble; it has only one drawback, namely that it specialises effort and tends to ignore the immensity of the problem as a whole. I visited one of these towns—it is a town for which Philadelphia has made itself responsible. I wish the people of Philadelphia might get a glimpse of the task they have undertaken. There is a church-spire still standing; that is about all. The rest is a pile of bricks. In the midst of this havoc some Philadelphia ladies are living, one of whom is a nurse. They run a dispensary for the people who keep house for the most part in cellars and holes in the ground. A doctor visits them to hold a clinic ever so often. They have a little warehouse, in which they keep the necessities for immediate relief work. They have a rest hut for soldiers. They employ whatever civilian labour they can hire for the roofing of some of the least damaged cottages; for this temporary reconstruction they provide the materials. When I was there, the place was well within range of enemy shell-fire. The approach had to be made by way of camouflaged roads. The sole anxiety of these brave women was that on account of their nearness to the front-line, the military might compel them to move back. In order to safeguard themselves against this and to create a good impression, they were making a strong point of entertaining whatever officers were billeted in this vicinity. Their effort to remain in this rural Gomorrah was as courageous as it was pathetic. "The people need us," they said, and then, "you don't think we'll be moved back, do you?" I thought they would, and I didn't think that the grateful officers would be able to prevent it—they were subalterns and captains for the most part. "But we once had a major to tea," they said. "A major!" I exclaimed, trying to look impressed, "Oh well, that makes a difference!"

There was one unit I wished especially to visit; it was a unit consisting entirely of women, sent over and financed by a women's college. When I was in America last October and heard that they were starting, I made up my mind that they were doomed to disappointment. I pictured the battlefield of the Somme as I had last seen it—a sea of mud stretching for miles, furrowed by the troughs of battered trenches, pitted every yard with shell-holes and smeared over with the wreckage of what once were human bodies. I could not imagine what useful purpose women could serve amid such surroundings. It seemed to me indecent that they should be allowed to go there. They were going to do reconstruction, I was told. Reconstruction! you can't reconstruct towns and villages the very foundations of which have been buried. There is a Bible phrase which expresses such annihilation, "The place thereof shall know it no more." Yes, only the names remain in one's memory—the very sites have been covered up and the contours of the landscape re-dug with high explosives. It took millions of pounds to work this havoc. Men tunnelled under-ground and sprung mines without warning. They climbed like birds of prey, into the heavens to hurl death from the clouds. They lined up their guns, tier upon tier, almost axle to axle in places, and at a given sign rained a deluge of corruption on a country miles in front, which they could not even discern. The infantry went over the top throwing bombs and piled themselves up into mounds of silence. Nations far away toiled day and night in factories—and all that they might achieve this repellant desolation. The innocence of the project made one smile—a handful of women sailing from America to reconstruct! To reconstruct will take ten times more effort than was required to destroy. More than eight hundred years ago William the Norman burnt his way through the North Country to Chester. Yorkshire has not yet recovered; it is still a wind-swept moorland. This women's college in America hoped to repair in our lifetime a ruin a million times more terrible. Their courage was depressing, it so exceeded the possible. They might love one village back to life, but.... That is exactly what they are doing.

I arrived at Grecourt on an afternoon in January. It is here that the women of the Smith College Unit have taken up their tenancy. We had extraordinary difficulty in finding the place. The surrounding country had been blasted and scorched by fire. There was no one left of whom we could enquire. Everything had perished. Barns, houses, everything habitable had been blown up by the departing Hun. As a study in the painstaking completion of a purpose the scenes through which we passed almost called for admiration. Berlin had ordered her armies to destroy everything before withdrawing; they had obeyed with a loving thoroughness. The world has never seen such past masters in the art of demolition. Ever since they invaded Belgium, their hand has been improving. In the neighbourhood of Grecourt they have equalled, if not surpassed, their own best efforts. I would suggest to the Kaiser that this manly performance calls for a distribution of iron crosses. It is true that his armies were beaten and retiring; but does not that fact rather enhance their valour? They were retiring, yet there were those who were brave enough to delay their departure till they had achieved this final victory over old women and children to the lasting honour of their country. Such heroes are worthy to stand beside the sinkers of the Lusitania. It is not just that they should go unrecorded.

In the midst of this hell I came across a tumbled chateau. Its roof, its windows, its stairways were gone; only the crumbling shell of its former happiness was left standing. A high wall ran about its grounds. The place must have been pleasant with flower-gardens once. There was an impressive entrance of wrought-iron, a porter's lodge and a broad driveway. At the back I found rows of little wood-huts. There was a fragrance of log-fires burning. I was glad of that, for I had heard of the starving cold these women had had to endure through the first winter months of their tenure. On tapping at a door, I found the entire colony assembled. It was tea-time and Sunday. Ten out of the seventeen who form the colony were present. A box-stove, such as we use in our pioneer shacks in Canada, was throwing out a glow of cheeriness. Candles had been lighted. Little knicknacks of feminine taste had been hung here and there to disguise the bareness of the walls. A bed, in one corner, was carefully disguised as a couch. Save for the fact that there was no glass in the window—glass being unobtainable in France at present—one might easily have persuaded himself that he was back in America in the room of a girl-undergraduate.

The method of my greeting furthered this illusion. Americans, both men and women, have an extraordinary self-poise, a gift for remaining normal in the most abnormal surroundings. They refuse to allow themselves to be surprised by any upheaval of circumstances. "I should worry," they seem to be saying, and press straight on with the job in hand. There was one small touch which made the environment seem even more friendly and unexceptional. One of the girls, on being introduced, promptly read to me a letter which she had just received from my sister in America. It made this oasis in an encircling wilderness seem very much a part of a neighbourly world. This girl is an example of the varied experiences which have trained American women into becoming the nursemaids of the French peasantry.

She was visiting relations in Liege when the war broke out. On the Sunday she went for a walk on the embattlements and was turned back. Baulked in this direction, she strolled out towards the country and found men digging trenches. That was the first she knew that war was rumoured. On the Tuesday, two days later, Hun shells were detonating on the house-tops. She was held prisoner in Liege for some months after the Forts had fallen and saw more than all the crimes against humanity that the Bryce Report has recorded. At last she disguised herself and contrived her escape into Holland. From there she worked her way back to America and now she is at Grecourt, starting shops in the villages, educating the children, and behaving generally as if to respond to the "Follow thou me" of the New Testament was an entirely unheroic proceeding for a woman.

And what are these women doing at Grecourt? To condense their purpose into a phrase, I should say that by their example they are bringing sanity back into the lives of the French peasants. That is what the American Fund for French Wounded is doing at Blerancourt, what all these reconstruction units are doing in the devastated areas, and what the American Red Cross is doing on a much larger scale for the whole of France. At Grecourt they have a dispensary and render medical aid. If the cases are grave, they are sent to the American Hospital at Nesle. They hunt out the former tradespeople among the refugees and encourage them to re-start their shops, lending them the money for the purpose. If the men are captives in Germany, then their wives are helped to carry on the business in their absence and for their sakes. Groups of mothers are brought together and set to work on making clothes for themselves and their children. Schools are opened so that the children may be more carefully supervised. Two of the girls at Grecourt have learnt to plough, and are instructing the peasant women. Cows are kept and a dairy has been started to provide the under-nourished babies of the district. An automobile-dispensary is sent out from the hospital at Nesle to visit the remoter districts. It has a seat along one side for the patient and the nurse. Over the seat is a rack for medicine and instruments. On the opposite side is a rack for splints and surgical dressings. On the floor of the car a shower-bath is arranged, which is so compact that it can be carried into the house where the water is to be heated. The water is put into a tub on a wooden base; while the doctor manipulates the pump for the shower, the nurse does the scrubbing. Most of the diseases among the children are due to dirt; the importance of keeping clean, which such colonies as that at Grecourt are impressing on all the people whom they serve, is doing much to improve the general state of health. In this direction, as in so many others, the most valuable contribution that they are making to their districts is not material and financial, but mental—the contribution of example and suggestion. Seventeen women cannot re-build in a day an external civilisation which has been blotted out by the savagery of a nation; but they can and they are re-building the souls of the human derelicts who have survived the savagery. This war is going to be won not by the combination of nations which has most men and guns, but by the side which possesses the highest spiritual qualities. The same is true of the countries which will wipe out the effects of war most quickly when the war is ended. The first countries to recover will be those which fight on in a new way, after peace has been signed, for the same ideals for which they have shed their blood. The sight of these American women, living helpfully and voluntarily for the sake of others among hideous surroundings, is a perpetual reminder to the dispirited refugees that, whatever else is lost, valiance and loyalty still survive.

From Grecourt I went farther afield to Croix, Y and Matigny. Here a young architect is in charge of the reconstruction. No attempt is being made at present to re-build the farms entirely. Labour is difficult to obtain—it is all required for military purposes. The same applies to materials. Patching is the best that can be done. Just to get a roof over one corner of a ruin is as much as can be hoped for. Until that is done the people have to live in cellars, in shell-holes, in verminous dug-outs like beasts of prey or savages. Their position is far more deplorable than that of Indians, for they once knew the comforts of civilisation. For instance, I visited a farmer who before the war was a millionaire in French money. Many of the farmers of this district were; their acreages were large even by prairie standards. The American Red Cross has managed to reconstruct one room for him in a pile of debris which was once a spacious house. There he lives with his old wife, who, during the Hun occupation, became nearly blind and almost completely paralytic. His sons and daughters have been swept beyond his knowledge by the departing armies. Before the Huns left, he had to stand by and watch them uselessly lay waste his home and possessions. His trees are cut down. His barns are laid flat. His cattle are behind the German lines. At the age of seventy, he is starting all afresh and working harder than ever he did in his life. The young architect of the Red Cross visits him often. They sit in the little room of nights, erecting barns and houses more splendid than those that have vanished, but all in the green quiet of the untested future. They shall be standing by the time the captive sons come back. It is a game at which they play for the sake of the blinded mother; she listens smilingly, nodding her old head, her frail hands folded in her lap.

These pictures which I have painted are typical of some of the things that the American Red Cross is doing. They are isolated examples, which by no means cover all its work. There are the rolling canteens which it has instituted, which follow the French armies. There are the rest houses it has built on the French line of communications for poilus who are going on leave or returning. There is the farm for the mutilated, where they are taught to be specialists in certain branches of agriculture, despite their physical curtailments. There is the great campaign against tuberculosis which it is waging. There are its well-conceived warehouses, stored with medical supplies and military and relief necessities, spreading in a great net-work of usefulness and connected by ambulance transport throughout the whole of the stricken part of France. There are its hospitals, both military and civil. There is the "Lighthouse" for men wounded in battle, founded by Miss Holt in Paris.

I visited this Lighthouse; it is a place infinitely brave and pathetic. Most of the men were picked heroes at the war; they wear their decorations in proof of it. They are greater heroes than ever now. Nothing has more deeply moved me than my few hours among those sightless eyes. In many cases the faces are hideously marred, the eyelids being quite grown together. In several cases besides the eyes, the arms or legs have gone. I have talked and written a good deal about the courage which this war has inspired in ordinary men; but the courage of these blinded men, who once were ordinary, leaves me silent and appalled. They are happy—how and why I cannot understand. Most of them have been taught at the Lighthouse how to overcome their disability and are earning their living as weavers, stenographers, potters, munition-workers. Quite a number of them have families to support. The only complaint that is made against them by their brother-workmen is that they are too rapid; they set too strenuous a pace for the men with eyes. It is a fact that in all trades where sensitiveness of touch is an asset, blindness has increased their efficiency. This is peculiarly so at the Sevres pottery-works where I saw them making the moulds for retorts. A soldier, who was teaching a seeing person Braille, explained his own quickness of perception when he exclaimed, "Ah, madame, it is your eyes which prevent you from seeing!"

I heard some of the stories of the men. There was a captain who, after he had been wounded and while there was yet time to save his sight, insisted on being taken to his General that he might inform him about a German mine. When his mission was completed, his chance of seeing was forever ended.

There was a lieutenant who was blinded in a raid and left for dead out in No Man's Land. Just before he became unconscious, he placed two lumps of earth in line in the direction which led back to his own trenches. He knew the direction by the sound of the retreating footsteps. Whenever he came to himself he groped his way a little nearer to France and before he fainted again, registered the direction with two more lumps of earth placed in line. It took him a day to crawl back.

There was another man who illustrated in a finer way that saying, "It is your eyes which prevent you from seeing." This man before the war was a village-priest, and no credit to his calling. He had a sister who had spent her youth for him and worshipped him beyond everything in the world. He took her adoration brutally for granted. At the outbreak of hostilities he joined the army, serving bravely in the ranks till he was hopelessly blinded. Having always been a thoroughly selfish man, his privation drove him nearly to madness. He had always used the world; now for the first time he had been used by it. His viciousness broke out in blasphemy; he hated both God and man. He made no distinction between people in the mass and the people who tried to help him. His whole desire was to inflict as much pain as he himself suffered. When his sister came to visit him, he employed every ingenuity of word and gesture to cause her agony. Do what she would, he refused to allow her love either to reach or comfort him. She was only a simple peasant woman. In her grief and loneliness she thought matters out and arrived at what seemed to her a practical solution. On her next visit to the hospital she asked to see the doctor. She was taken to him and made her request. "I love my brother," she said; "I have always given him everything. He has lost his eyes and he cannot endure it. Because I love him, I could bear it better. I have been thinking, and I am sure it is possible: I want you to remove my eyes and to put them into his empty sockets."

When the priest was told of her offer, he laughed derisively at her for a fool. Then the reason she had given for her intended sacrifice was told to him, "Because I love him, I could bear it better." He fell silent. All that day he refused food; in the eternal darkness, muffled by his bandages, he was arriving at the truth: she had been willing to suffer what he was now suffering, because she loved him. The hand of love would have made the burden bearable and, if for her, why not for himself? At last, after years of refusal, the simplicity of her tenderness reached and touched him. Presently he was discharged from hospital and taken in hand by the teachers of the blind, who taught him to play the organ. One day his sister came and led him back to his village-parish. Before the war, by his example, he was a danger to God and man; now he sets a very human example of sainthood, labouring without ceasing for others more fortunate than himself. He has increased his efficiency for service by his blindness. Of him it is absolutely true that it was his eyes that prevented him from seeing—from seeing the splendour that lay hidden in himself, no less than in his fellow creatures.

So far I have sketched in the main what the war of compassion is doing for the repatries—the captured French civilians sent back from Germany—and for the refugees of the devastated areas, who have either returned to their ruined farms and villages or were abandoned as useless when the Hun retired. To complete the picture it remains to describe what is being done for the civilian population which has always lived in the battle area of the French armies.

The question may be asked why civilians have been allowed to live here. Curiously enough it is due to the extraordinary humanity of the French Government which makes allowances for the almost religious attachment of the peasant to his tiny plot of land; it is an attachment which is as instinctive and fiercely jealous as that of a cat for her young. He will endure shelling, gassing and all the horrors that scientific invention has produced; he will see his cottage and his barns shattered by bombs and siege-guns, but he will not leave the fields that he has tilled and toiled over, unless he is driven out at the point of the bayonet. I have been told, though I have never seen it, that behind quiet parts of the line, French peasants will gather in their harvest actually in full sight of the Hun. Shells may be falling, but they go stolidly on with their work. There is another reason for this leniency of the Government: they have enough refugees on their hands already and are not going in search of further trouble, until the trouble is forced upon them by circumstances.

As may be imagined, these people live under physical conditions that are terrible. They consist for the most part of women and children; the women are over-worked and the children are neglected. Skin diseases and vermin abound. Clothes are negligible. Washing is a forgotten luxury. Much havoc is wrought by asphyxiating gases which drift across the front-line into the back-country. To the adults are issued protective masks like those that the soldiers wear, but the children do not know how to use them. Many of them are orphans, and live like little animals on roots and offal; for shelter they seek holes in the ground. The American Red Cross is specialising on its efforts to reclaim these children, realising that whatever happens to the adults, the children are the hope of the world.

The part of the Front to which I went to study this work was made famous in 1914 by the disembowellings, shootings and unspeakable indecencies that were perpetrated there. Near by is the little village in which Sister Julie risked her life by refusing to allow her wounded to be butchered. She wears the Legion of Honour now. In the same neighbourhood there lives a Mayor who, after having seen his young wife murdered, protected her murderers from the lynch-law of the mob when next day the town was recaptured. In the same district there is a meadow where fifteen old men were done to death, while a Hun officer sat under an oak-tree, drinking mocking toasts to the victims of each new execution.

The influence of more than three years of warfare has not been elevating, as far as these peasants are concerned. As early as July, a little over a month from its arrival in France, an S.O.S. was sent out by the Prefet of the department, begging the American Red Cross to come and help. In addition to the refugees of old standing, 350 children had been suddenly put into his care. He had nothing but a temporary shelter for them and his need for assistance was acute. Within a few hours the Red Cross had despatched eight workers—a doctor, nurse, bacteriologist, an administrative director and two women to take charge of the bedding, food and clothing. A camionette loaded with condensed milk and other relief necessities was sent by road. On the arrival of the party, they found the children herded together in old barracks, dirty and unfurnished, with no sanitary appliances whatsoever. The sick were crowded together with the well. Of the 350 children, twenty-one were under one year of age, and the rest between one and eight years. The reason for this sudden crisis was that the Huns were bombing the villages behind the lines with asphyxiating gas. The military authorities had therefore withdrawn all children who were too young to adjust their masks themselves, at the same time urging their mothers to carry on the patriotic duty of gathering in the harvest. It was the machinery of mercy which had been built up in six months about this nucleus of eight persons that I set out to visit.

The roads were crowded with the crack troops of France—the Foreign Legion, the Tailleurs, the Moroccans—all marching in one direction, eastward to the trenches. There were rumours of something immense about to happen—no one knew quite what. Were we going to put on a new offensive or were we going to resist one? Many answers were given: they were all guesswork. Meanwhile, our progress was slow; we were continually halting to let brigades of artillery and regiments of infantry pour into the main artery of traffic from lanes and side-roads. When we had backed our car into hedges to give them room to pass, we watched the sea of faces. They were stern and yet laughing, elated and yet childish, eloquent of the love of living and yet familiar with their old friend, Death. They knew that something big was to be demanded of them; before the demand had been made, they had determined to give to the ultimate of their strength. There was a spiritual resolution about their faces which made all their expressions one—the uplifted expression of the unconquered soul of France. That expression blotted out their racial differences. It did not matter that they were Arabs, Negroes, Normans, Parisians; they owned to one nationality—the nationality of martyrdom—and they marched with a single purpose, that freedom might be restored to the world.

When we reached the city to which we journeyed, night had fallen. There was something sinister about our entry; we were veiled in fog, and crept through the gate and beneath the ramparts with extinguished head lights. Scarcely any one was abroad. Those whom we passed, loomed out of the mist in silence, passed stealthily and vanished.

This city is among the most beautiful in France; until recently, although within range of the Hun artillery, it had been left undisturbed. In return the French had spared an equally beautiful city on the other side of the line. This clemency, shown towards two gems of architecture, was the result of one of those silent bargains that are arranged in the language of the guns. But the bargain had been broken by the time I arrived. Bombing planes had been over; the Allied planes had retaliated. Houses, emptied like cart-loads of bricks into the street, were significant of the ruin that was pending. Any moment the orchestra of destruction might break into its overture. Without cessation one could hear a distant booming. The fiddlers of death were tuning up.

Early next morning I went to see the Prefet. He is an old man, whose courage has made him honoured wherever the French tongue is spoken. Others have thought of their own safety and withdrawn into the interior. Never from the start has his sense of duty wavered. Night and day he has laboured incessantly for the refugees, whom he refers to always as "my suffering people." He kept me waiting for some time. Directly I entered he volunteered the explanation: he had just received word from the military authorities that the whole of his civil population must be immediately evacuated. To evacuate a civil population means to tear it up and transplant it root and branch, with no more of its possession than can be carried as hand-baggage. Some 75,000 people would be made homeless directly the Prefet published the order.

It was a dramatic moment, full of tragedy. I glanced out into the square filled with wintry sunlight. I took note of the big gold gates and the monuments. I watched the citizens halting here and there to chat, or going about their errands with a quiet confidence. All this was to be shattered; it had been decided. The same thing was to happen here as had happened at Ypres. The bargain was off. The enemy city, the other side of the line, was to be shelled; this city had to take the consequences. The bargain was off not only as far as the city was concerned, but also as regards its inhabitants' happiness. They had homes to-day; they would be fugitives to-morrow. Then I looked at the old Prefet, who had to break the news to them. He was sitting at his table in his uniform of office, supporting his head in his tired hands.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"I have called on the Croix Rouge Americaine to help me," he said. "They have helped me before; they will help me again. These Americans—I have never been to America—but they are my friends. Since they came, they have looked after my babies. Their doctors and nurses have worked day and night for my suffering people. They are silent; but they do things. There is love in their hands."

While I was still with him the Red Cross officials arrived. They had already wired to Paris. Their lorries and ambulances were converging from all points to meet the emergency. They undertook at once to place all their transport facilities at his disposal. They had started their arrangements for the handling of the children. Extra personnel were being rushed to the spot. There was one unit already in the city. They had hoped to go nearer to the Front, but on arriving had learnt that their permission had been cancelled. It was a bit of luck. They could set to work at once.

I knew this unit and went out to find it. It was composed of American society girls, who had been protected all their lives from ugliness. They had sailed from New York with the vaguest ideas of the war conditions they would encounter; they believed that they were needed to do a nurse-maid's job for France. Their original purpose was to found a creche for the babies of women munition-workers. When they got to Paris they found that such institutions were not wanted. They at once changed their programme, and asked to be allowed to take their creche into the army zone and convert it into a hospital for refugee children. There were interminable delays due to passport formalities—the delays dragged on for three months. During those three months they were called on for no sacrifice; they lived just as comfortably as they had done in New York and, consequently, grew disgusted. They had sailed for France prepared to give something that they had never given before, and France did not seem to want it. At last their passports came; without taking any chances, they got out of Paris and started for the Front. Their haste was well-timed; no sooner had they departed than a message arrived, cancelling their permissions. They had reached the doomed city in which I was at present, two days before its sentence was pronounced. Within four hours of their arrival they had had their first experience of being bombed. Their intention had been to open their hospital in a town still nearer to the front-line. The hospital was prepared and waiting for them. But in the last few days the military situation had changed. A hospital so near the trenches stood a good chance of being destroyed by shell-fire; so once again the unit was held up. It volunteered to abandon its idea of running the hospital for children; it would run it as a first aid hospital for the armies. The offer was refused. These girls, whose gravest interest a year ago had been the season's dances and the latest play, were determined to experience the thrill of sacrifice. So here they were in the doomed city, as the Red Cross officials said, "by luck"—the very place where they were most needed.

When I visited them, after leaving the Prefet's, they had not yet heard that they were to be allowed to stay. They had heard nothing of the city's sentence or of the evacuation of the civil population. All they knew was that the hospital, which had been appointed with their money, was only a few kilometres away and that they were forbidden even to see it. They were gloomy with the fear that within a handful of days they would be again walking the boulevards of Paris. When the news was broken to them of the part they were to play, the full significance of it did not dawn on them at once. "But we don't want anything easy," they complained; "this isn't the Front." "It will be soon," the official told them. When they heard that they cheered up; then their share in the drama was explained. In all probability the city would soon be under constant shell-fire. Refugees would be pouring back from the forward country. The people of the city itself had to be helped to escape before the bombardment commenced. They would have to stay there taking care of the children, packing them into lorries, driving ambulances, rendering first aid, taking the wounded and decrepit out of danger and always returning to it again themselves. As the certainty of the risk and service was impressed on them their faces brightened. Risk and service, that was what they most desired; they were girls, but they hungered to play a soldier's part. They had only dreamt of serving when they had sailed from New York. Those three months of waiting had stung their pride. It was in Paris that the dream of risk had commenced. They would make France want them. Their chance had come.

When I came out into the streets again the word was spreading. Carts were being loaded in front of houses. Everything on wheels, from wagons to perambulators, was being piled up. Everything on four legs, dogs, cattle, horses, was being harnessed and made to do its share in hauling. We left the city, going back to the next point where the refugees would be cared for. On either side of the road, as far as eye could stretch, trenches had been dug, barricades thrown up, blockades and wire-entanglements constructed. It all lay very quiet beneath the sunlight. It seemed a kind of preposterous pretence. One could not imagine these fields as a scene of battle, sweating torture and agony and death. I looked back at the city, one of the most beautiful in France, growing hazy in the distance with its spires and its ramparts. Impossible! Then I remembered the carts being hurriedly loaded and the uplifted faces of those American girls. Where had I seen their expression before? Yes. Strange that they should have caught it! Their expression was the same as that which I had noticed on the Tailleurs, the Foreign Legion and the Moroccans—the crack troops of France.... So they had become that already! At the first hint of danger, their courage had taken command; they had risen into soldiers.

Through villages swarming with troops and packed with ordnance we arrived at an old caserne, which has been converted into the children's hospital of the district. It is in charge of one of the first of America's children's specialists. While he works among the refugees, his wife, who is a sculptress, makes masks for the facially mutilated. He has brought with him from the States some of his students, but his staff is in the main cosmopolitan. One of his nurses is an Australian, who was caught at the outbreak of hostilities in Austria and because of her knowledge, despite her nationality, was allowed to help to organise the Red Cross work of the enemy. Another is a French woman who wears the Croix de Guerre with the palm. She saved her wounded from the fury of the Hun when her village was lost, and helped to get them back to safety after it had been recaptured. The Matron is Swedish and Belgian. The ambulance-drivers are some of the American boys who saw service with the French armies. In this group of workers there are as many stories as there are nationalities.

If the workers have their stories, so have the five hundred little patients. This barrack, converted into a hospital, is full of babies, the youngest being only six days old when I was there. Many of the children have no parents. Others have lost their mothers; their fathers are serving in the trenches. It is not always easy to find out how they became orphans; there are such plentiful chances of losing parents who live continually under shell-fire. One little boy on being asked where his mother was, replied gravely, "My Mama, she is dead. Les Boches, they put a gun to 'er 'ead. She is finished; I 'ave no Mama."

The unchildlike stoicism of these children is appalling. I spent two days among them and heard no crying. Those who are sick, lie motionless as waxen images in their cots. Those who are supposedly well, sit all day brooding and saying nothing. When first they arrive, their faces are earth-coloured. The first thing they have to be taught is how to be children. They have to be coaxed and induced to play; even then they soon grow weary. They seem to regard mere playing as frivolous and indecorous; and so it is in the light of the tragedies they have witnessed. Children of seven have seen more of horror in three years than most old men have read about in a life-time. Many of them have been captured by and recaptured from the Huns. They have been in villages where the dead lay in piles and not even the women were spared. They have been present while indecencies were worked upon their mothers. They have seen men hanged, shot, bayoneted and flung to roast in burning houses. The pictures of all these things hang in their eyes. When they play, it is out of politeness to the kind Americans; not because they derive any pleasure from it.

Night is the troublesome time. The children hide under their beds with terror. The nurses have to go the rounds continually. If the children would only cry, they would give warning. But instead, they creep silently out from between the sheets and crouch against the floor like dumb animals. Dumb animals! That is what they are when first they are brought in. Their most primitive instincts for the beginnings of cleanliness seem to have vanished. They have been fished out of caves, ruined dug-outs, broken houses. They are as full of skin-diseases as the beggar who sat outside Dives' gate, only they have had no dogs to lick their sores. They have lived on offal so long that they have the faces of the extremely aged. And their hatred! Directly you utter the word "Boche," all the little night-gowned figures sit up in their cots and curse. When they have done cursing, of their own accord, they sing the Marseillaise.

Surely if God listens to prayers of vengeance, He will answer the husky petitions of these victims of Hun cruelty! The quiet, just, deep-seated venom of these babies will work the Hun more harm than many batteries. Their fathers come back from the trenches to see them. On leaving, they turn to the American nurses, "We shall fight better now," they say, "because we know that you are taking care of them."

When those words are spoken, the American Red Cross knows that it is achieving its object and is winning its war of compassion. The whole drive of all its effort is to win the war in the shortest possible space of time. It is in Europe to save children for the future, to re-kindle hope in broken lives, to mitigate the toll of unavoidable suffering, but first and foremost to help men to fight better.



IV

THE LAST WAR

The last war! I heard the phrase for the first time on the evening after Great Britain had declared war. I was in Quebec en route for England, wondering whether my ship was to be allowed to sail. There had been great excitement all day, bands playing the Marseillaise, Frenchmen marching arm-in-arm singing, orators, gesticulating and haranguing from balconies, street-corners and the base of statues.

Now that the blue August night was falling and every one was released from work, the excitement was redoubled. Quebec was finding in war an opportunity for carnival. Throughout all the pyramided city the Tri-colour and the Union Jack were waving. At the foot of the Heights, the broad basin of the St. Lawrence was a-drift in the dusk with fluttering pennons. They looked like homing birds, settling in dovecotes of the masts and rigging.

As night deepened, Chinese lanterns were lighted and carried on poles through the narrow streets. Troops of merry-makers followed them, blowing horns, dragging bells, tin-cans, anything that would make a noise and express high spirits. They linked arms with girls as they marched and were lost, laughing in the dusk. If a French reservist could be found who was sailing in the first ship bound for the slaughter, he became the hero of the hour and was lifted shoulder high at the head of the procession. War was a brave game at which to play. This was to be a short war and a merry one. Down with the Germans! Up with France! Hurrah for the entente cordiale!

Beneath the coronet of stars on the Heights of Abraham the spirit of Wolfe kept watch and brooded. It was under these circumstances, that I heard the phrase for the first time—the last war.

The street was blocked with a gaping crowd. All the faces were raised to an open window, two storeys up, from which the frame had been taken out. Inside the building one could hear the pounding of machinery, for it was here that the most important paper of Quebec was printed. Across a huge white sheet a man on a hanging platform painted the latest European cables. A cluster of electric lights illuminated him strongly; but he was not the centre of the crowd's attention. In the window stood another man. Like myself he was waiting for his ship to sail, but not to England—to France. He was a returning French reservist. Across the many miles of ocean the hand of duty had stretched and touched him; he was ecstatically glad that he was wanted. In those first days this ecstasy of gladness was a little hard to understand. Thank God we all share it instinctively now. He was speaking excitedly, addressing the crowd. They cheered him; they were in a mood to cheer anybody. His face was thin with earnestness; he was a spirit-man. He waved aside their applause with impatience. He was trying to inspire them with his own intensity. In the intervals between the shouting, I caught some of his words, "I am setting out to fight the last war—the war of humanity which will bring universal peace and friendship to the world."

A sailor behind me spat. He was drunk and feeling the need of sympathy. He began to explain to me the reason. He was a fireman on one of the steamers in the basin and a reservist in the British Navy. He had received his orders that day to report back in England for duty; he knew that he was going to be torpedoed on his voyage across the Atlantic. How did he know? He had had a vision. Sailors always had visions before they were drowned. It was to combat this vision that he had got drunk.

I shook him off irritably. One didn't require the superstitions of an alcoholic imagination to emphasize the new terror which had overtaken the world. There was enough of fear in the air already. All this spurious gaiety—what was it? Nothing but the chatter of lonely children who were afraid to listen to the silence—afraid lest they might hear the creaking footstep of death upon the stairs. And these candles, lighting up the fringes of the night—they were nothing but a vain pretence that the darkness had not gathered.

But this spirit-man framed in the window, he was genuine and different. Yesterday we should have passed him in the street unnoticed; to-day the mantle of prophecy clothed him. Within two months he might be dead—horribly dead with a bayonet through him. That thought was in the minds of all who watched him; it gave him an added authority. Yet he was not thinking of himself, of wounds, of death; he was not even thinking of France. He was thinking of humanity: "I am setting out to fight the last war—the war of humanity which will bring universal peace and friendship to the world."

Since the war started, how often have we heard that phrase—the last war! It became the battle-cry of all recruiting-men, who would have fought under no other circumstances, joined up now so that this might be the final carnage. Nations left their desks and went into battle voluntarily, long before self-interest forced them, simply because organised murder so disgusted them that they were determined by weight of numbers to make this exhibition of brutality the last.

Before Europe burst into flames in 1914, we believed that the last war had been already fought. The most vivid endorsement of this belief came out of Germany in a book which, to my mind, up to that time was the strongest peace-argument in modern literature. It was so strong that the Kaiser's Government had the author arrested and every copy that could be found destroyed. Nevertheless, over a million were secretly printed and circulated in Germany, and it was translated into every major European language. The book I refer to was known under its American title as, The Human Slaughter-House. It told very simply how men who had played the army game of sticking dummies, found themselves called upon to stick their brother-men; how they obeyed at first, then sickened at sight of their own handiwork, until finally the rank and file on both sides flung down their arms, banded themselves together and refused to carry out the orders of their generals. There was no declaration of peace; in that moment national boundaries were abolished.

In 1912 this sounded probable. I remember the American press-comments. They all agreed that national prejudices had been broken down to such an extent by socialism and friendly intercourse, that never again would statesmen be able to launch attacks of nations against nations. Governments might declare war; the peoples whom they governed would merely overthrow them. The world had become too common-sense to commit murder on so vast a scale.

Had it? The world in general might have: but Germany had not. The argument of The Human Slaughter-House proposed by a German in protest against what he foresaw was surely coming, turned out to be a bad guess. It made no allowance for what happens when a mad dog starts running through the world. One may be tender-hearted. One may not like killing dogs. One may even be an anti-vivisectionist; but when a dog is mad, the only humanitarian thing to do is to kill it. If you don't, the women and children pay the penalty.

We have had our illustration in Russia of what occurs when one side flings away its arms, practising the idealistic reasonings which this book propounds: the more brutal side conquers. While the Blonde Beast runs abroad spreading rabies, the only idealist who counts is the idealist who carries a rifle on his shoulder—the only gospel to which the world listens is the gospel which saviours are dying for.

The last war! It took us all by surprise. We had believed so utterly in peace; now we had to prove our faith by being prepared to die for it. If we did not die, this war would not be the last; it would be only the preface to the next. To paraphrase the words of Mr. Wells, "We had been prepared to take life in a certain way and life had taken us, as it takes every generation, in an entirely different way. We had been prepared to be altruistic pacifists, and ..."

And here we are, in this year of 1918, engaged upon the bloodiest war of all time, harnessing the muscle and brain-power of the universe to one end—that we may contrive new and yet more deadly methods of butchering our fellow men. The men whom we kill, we do not hate individually. The men whom we kill, we do not see when they are dead. We scald them with liquid fire; we stifle them with gas; we drop volcanoes on them from the clouds; we pull firing-levers three, ten, even fifteen miles away and hurl them into eternity unconfessed. And this we do with pity in our hearts, both for them and for ourselves. And why? Because they have given us no choice. They have promised, unless we defend ourselves, to snatch our souls from us and fashion them afresh into souls which shall bear the stamp of their own image. Of their souls we have seen samples; they date back to the dark ages—the souls of Cain, Judas and Caesar Borgia were not unlike them. Of what such souls are capable they have given us examples in Belgium, captured France and in the living dead whom they return by way of Evian. We would rather forego our bodies than so exchange our souls. A Germanised world is like a glimpse of madness; the very thought strikes terror to the heart. Yet it is to Germanise the world that Germany is waging war to-day—that she may confer upon us the benefits of her own proved swinishness. There is nothing left for us but to fight for our souls like men.

The last war! We believed that at first, but as the years dragged on the certainty became an optimism, the optimism a dream which we well-nigh knew to be impossible. We have always known that we would beat Germany—we have never doubted that. But could we beat her so thoroughly that she would never dare to reperpetrate this horror? Could we prove to her that war is not and never was a paying way of conducting business? Men began to smile when we spoke of this war as the last. "There have always been wars," they said; "this one is not the last—there will be others."

If it is not to be the last, we have cheated ourselves. We have cheated the men who have died for us. Our chief ideal in fighting is taken away. Many a lad who moulders in a stagnant trench, laid down his life for this sole purpose, that no children of the future ages should have to pass through his Gethsemane. He consciously gave himself up as a scapegoat, that the security of human sanity should be safeguarded against a recurrence of this enormity. The spirit-man, framed in the dusky window above the applauding crowds in Quebec, was typical of all these men who have made the supreme sacrifice. His words utter the purpose that was in all their hearts, "I am setting out to fight the last war—the war of humanity which will bring universal peace and freedom to the world."

That promise was becoming a lie; it is capable of fulfilment now. The dream became possible in April, 1917, when America took up her cross of martyrdom. Great Britain, France and the United States, the three great promise-keeping nations, are standing side by side. They together, if they will when the war is ended, can build an impregnable wall for peace about the world. The plunderer who knew that it was not Great Britain, nor France, nor America, but all three of them united as Allies that he had to face, no matter how tempted he was to prove that armed force meant big business, would be persuaded to expand his commerce by more legitimate methods. Whether this dream is to be accomplished will be decided not upon any battlefield but in the hearts of the civilians of all three countries—particularly in those of America and Great Britain. The soldiers who have fought and suffered together, can never be anything but friends.

My purpose in writing this account of America in France has been to give grounds for understanding and appreciation; it has been to prove that the highest reward that either America or Great Britain can gain as a result of its heroism is an Anglo-American alliance, which will fortify the world against all such future terrors. There never ought to have been anything but alliance between my two great countries. They speak the same tongue, share a common heritage and pursue the same loyalties. Had we not blundered in our destinies, there would never have been occasion for anything but generosity.

The opportunity for generosity has come again. Any man or woman who, whether by design or carelessness, attempts to mar this growing friendship is perpetrating a crime against humanity as grave as that of the first armed Hun who stepped across the Belgian threshold. It were better for them that mill-stones were hung about their necks and they were cast into the sea, than ...

God is giving us our chance. The magnanimities of the Anglo-Saxon races are rising to greet one another. If those magnanimities are welcomed and made permanent, our soldier-idealists will not have died in vain. Then we shall fulfil for them their promise, "We are setting out to fight the last war."

THE END

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