* * * * *
At the Front, Tuesday, October 13th. We left Paris last evening at half-past six and at first made only slow progress owing to heavy traffic, worn-out roads, and destroyed bridges. We stopped for supper in poor, wrecked Senlis. This town is no farther from the gates of Paris than Van Cortlandt Park in New York is from the Battery, and yet the German armies were in Senlis in September, battles raged in its streets, shells burst in its houses and destroyed whole blocks. Indeed, one of the fiercest fights of the war took place at night in its streets when, during the attack made by the garrison of Paris upon von Kluck's army, troops were hurriedly rushed out of Paris in trams, wagons, and taxicabs to fall pell-mell upon the Germans who occupied Senlis. French colonial infantry played a large part in this conflict. A weird and awful sight it must have been: taxicabs and automobiles from Paris charging up the streets vomiting bullets in all directions, houses catching fire from the bursting shells, and by the light of their flames the men of both armies fighting hand to hand, chasing one another through the doors and windows of burning and collapsing houses, or making desperate stands behind dead horses, street-barricades, or wrecked taxicabs. It is said that in every such melee Turcos were to be seen exulting in their favorite sport, close-range fighting.
* * * * *
After supper we passed through Fleurines, Pont Ste. Maxence, and Blincourt to Estrees-St. Denis, where we spent the night. Along this road had recently passed a great German army, and their engineers had constructed new roads to the right and left of the original one, so that their regiments had been able to march steadily three abreast, probably no small factor in their successful retreat.
* * * * *
This morning we got under way at half-past six. The day was hazy, threatening rain; mists rising from the ground made it impossible to see clearly for any great distance. The heavy atmosphere muffled the sound of guns so that it was difficult to judge their location even when we were fairly close upon them. The day was, however, a most advantageous one on which to move about near the front, provided one were careful to ascertain where, off in the mist, the enemy's batteries lay.
We first reached the front at Roye-sur-Matz, which we found was occupied by a French colonial brigade. This place is about three miles from Lassigny, which is far within the German lines, and from which they have recently organized heavy attacks against the French forces. In Roye-sur-Matz the German shells were bursting, punctuated by the muffled slump of falling walls. The place had been deserted by its inhabitants, but Turcos and black Senegalese wandered about the ruined streets indifferent to the shell fire. For a week past there has been heavy fighting in the vicinity of Roye and Lassigny, probably the heaviest that has taken place in the Battle of the Aisne since the latter part of September. We drove slowly down the main street of the village looking for an officer who could tell us about the local geography. We finally met the acting brigadier, a French colonel, who informed us that it was not safe for us to continue more than a block farther in the direction in which we were going, as the far end of the village was "between the lines" and we would there come under the observation of the German sharpshooters. This officer said that the best way to follow the battle-line would be to turn back through the village and take the first road to the right.
We stayed in the village for half an hour longer, and then, faithfully following directions, went back and took the "first turn to the right," which proved to be a narrow road whose existence the officer had forgotten and which was not at all the one he meant to recommend. We, ignorant of any mistake, went blindly on, down a little hill, across a small brook, and up a knoll opposite. In doing so we had actually passed out through the French lines and reached an elevation squarely between the two armies. The French positions were, as usual, concealed, and for the moment they were not firing, so that we remained blissfully unconscious of our dangerous position. Fortunately for us, the German lines were at this point half a mile away from the French, and owing to the mist and distance we were apparently unobserved, since we received no especial attention. As we reached the top of the knoll it began to rain, making us still less conspicuous and forcing us to stop and put up the top. We pulled up behind an isolated barn in order to be somewhat sheltered from stray shrapnel.
As we stood behind the barn, the bombarded village which we had just left lay below and behind us, and in front featureless fields sloped away toward some low wooded hills half a mile distant. Suddenly the constant rumbling of guns was interrupted by four quick, sharp explosions, and we perceived little wisps of smoke bluer than the mist trailing up through the tree tops of these hills. These explosions were French shells bursting over the German trenches, but we, naturally supposing ourselves to be within the French lines, at the moment thought it was a French battery firing a salvo.
While we were putting up the top, two French soldiers on picket duty came by and, lured by the unfailing bait of cigarettes, stopped to talk to us. Taking it for granted that we knew where we were, they did not mention our being between the lines, but told us of a great fight which had last Sunday taken place about two miles to the right of where we stood. They said that the German and French trenches there faced one another across a low field and were so near together that at night the French could hear the Germans singing. Some peculiarity in the contour of the land had led the enemy to think that here was a promising point to break through the French lines; consequently a series of violent attacks had been launched from Lassigny against this position. These attacks had repeatedly been repulsed with heavy losses and thousands of dead Germans lay in the field between the two sets of trenches.
I decided to ask permission to go over this recently contested area, and therefore turned back to Brigade headquarters in the village of Roye-sur-Matz, which we had just left. There, in a second talk with the officer who had previously directed us, I learned for the first time that we had taken the wrong road and been for a considerable time between the French and German armies, and only a few hundred yards from the German trenches. That we had there seen no signs of armies, guns, or entrenchments, indicates the curious characteristics of modern warfare, and the invisibility of all combatants even when actively engaged. The permission which I had desired to obtain to inspect the ground of the recent battle was refused as being too dangerous.
* * * * *
We later passed through the village of Guerbigny. Here, as at all times during our trip, the guns could be heard booming in the distance. At the farther end of the place a family of peasants, led by the grandfather, were packing their humble worldly goods into a big cart to which was hitched an exceedingly old white horse. They were very sad and explained simply, "C'est dur de partir." They pointed across a field to a little church tower about a mile away, only dimly visible through the haze, which still hung low over the landscape, saying pathetically: "On bombarde ce hameau; c'est la les avant-postes des Francais." Our maps showed that the church tower was in the village of Erches. A straight road ran down to it from where we stood. The mist seemed to favor the possibility of our reaching this village without being too quickly observed by the Germans. We therefore promptly put on all speed and in a few seconds drew up under the lee of a battered house, which was on the advance line of the French army, and were in the midst of the battle. A French officer, who appeared out of the house, informed us that we were then actually within two hundred yards of the German trenches, so near, he said, that his men "knew the Germans in the opposing trenches by their first names."
Seeing a modern battle demolishes all one's preconceived ideas derived from descriptions of previous wars. One at least expects some sort of rapid and exciting action. In reality, as we stood in the very midst of the Battle of the Aisne, there was, in our immediate neighborhood, only a dead silence. At intervals an angry rumbling would break out somewhere in the distance, but in the trenches close to our elbows there was no sound or movement. No birds, no beasts, no men were anywhere to be seen. This uncanny silence would continue for twenty or thirty interminable seconds and then a shrapnel would burst close by, with a sharp, ugly, threatening bang which had no echo; then all lapsed into silence again. Each shrapnel only made the subsequent silence more intense, just as a man's footsteps crunching through the snow-crust of a winter wilderness seem like a brutal intrusion on the absolute stillness.
We looked behind us and could see no signs of French troops; we peeped around the house corner and could perceive no indications of the enemy. It was a monotonous landscape which faded away through the mist to nothingness, and its only noticeable features were a few shell craters and two French soldiers sitting close by in the end of a trench. These men remained motionless so long before one of them moved that we began to think they were dead. Their comrades were all hidden in a bomb-proof trench which from any angle was invisible at a distance of a few yards. Several more officers came out of the house and chatted with us, or unconcernedly read newspapers which we distributed and made not the slightest break in their conversation when a shrapnel burst directly over our heads with ear-splitting nearness.
The shrapnel arrived without any forewarning scream. This is a sign that the guns are less than two thousand yards away. For the first one or two thousand yards of its flight a 3-inch shell travels faster than sound, but after that distance it so rapidly loses velocity that the sound of its screech travels faster than the shell and arrives ahead of it.
* * * * *
We visited the field headquarters of a General, commanding a division of twenty thousand men, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. Under a great haystack which stood alone in the center of an open field had been excavated several rooms used as the General's Headquarters. Some yards away from the haystack a stove-pipe projected out of the sod in a foolish unrelated manner; under it was the kitchen in which was cooking the evening meal for the staff officers. A clump of trees close by might be called the General's ante-room, for here hidden among the branches were several officers receiving and sending messengers and dispatches. Several telephone wires ran to the haystack and one of them connected the trees with the General's underground office. In a neighboring wood a troop of cavalry were encamped and numerous automobiles and motor-cycles were parked, all hidden from distant outlooks or from aeroplanes overhead.
* * * * *
The area immediately in the rear of the battle-lines is most interesting, for it is here that one really learns how a battle is fought. One sees the reserves of men and munitions all hidden carefully from the view of aeroplanes. Occasionally one catches a glimpse of the guns, which are usually a mile or so behind the infantry and are hidden and protected in the woods and valleys. The artillery seldom sees its enemy or even its own front battle-line, but fires across woods, hills, and valleys and over the heads of its own infantry at the enemy beyond. The guns are aimed from mathematical calculations and the results are checked and corrected by observations telephoned back from the front.
* * * * *
We arrived in Amiens in the middle of the afternoon and I went immediately to see the American Consular Agent, M. Tassancourt, for whom I had messages. I found him in splendid shape and very glad to welcome me. I discovered later in the day that he had done exceedingly effective work during the German occupation of the city, and was at least partly responsible for the fact that there had been no friction between the German invaders and the population. When our official business was finished he took me for an inspection of the military hospitals, which occupied several hours. The city is only fifteen miles distant from the present battle-line and contains base hospitals for some forty miles of battle front.
I took special pains to learn the details of the German occupation and to search for any damage they might have done. There had been no fighting within the city and it had not been shelled by either side. The German armies had entered it unopposed and had retired from it unpursued, both as the result of decisive actions fought at distant points.
On entering the city the Germans had posted notices warning the inhabitants to refrain from hostile actions and threatening them with dire consequences if they did not obey orders. A considerable number of the leading citizens were taken as hostages for the good behavior of the populace and an exorbitant indemnity was demanded of the city. As a result of bargaining and protest this was finally cut down until the conquerors contented themselves with something like one hundred and fifty thousand francs in gold, and supplies to the value of about eight hundred thousand. All this levy was turned over within four days, after which the hostages were released, the populace having behaved in a manner satisfactory to the invaders.
* * * * *
The headquarters of the British Red Cross Field Ambulance train of the Section Beauvais-Lille were temporarily in Amiens. The Consul presented me to Mr. Fabian Ware, the Commissioner in command, who very kindly invited me to dine with him and his staff.
* * * * *
At the Front, Wednesday, October 14th. We spent last night in Amiens and after a day near the front returned again to Amiens in the afternoon. On the way from Pas to Amiens the machine was running rapidly down the slope of a hill toward a little village in the valley, when an old white-haired woman detached herself from a knot of peasants beside the road and suddenly threw herself in front of the wheels. By putting on the brakes the driver managed to stop just in time to prevent her being crushed. She then tried to crawl under the car and was dragged screaming away by the villagers. It seems that some twenty years ago this woman had been left a widow with one child, a boy. With endless labor she had brought him to manhood and given him more than an average education. When the war broke out her son was immediately called to the colors, while she remained caring for her tiny house, her chickens, and her cow. When the Germans came a battle took place in her village, her house was knocked down, her cow blown up by a shell, and finally her chickens disappeared down German throats. The poor old woman, refusing to leave the locality in which her life had been passed, had wandered about for days in the rain and mud, until cold, hunger, and sorrow had made her light-witted. Then while roaming aimlessly over the fields she had come upon the body of her dead son.
* * * * *
On this trip I have travelled along the front from Lassigny to a point near Arras, or about fifty-five miles of battle-line.
* * * * *
We left Amiens at six o'clock in the evening and passed through Abbeville on the coast, this being the point before mentioned from which the Germans were at the time only thirty-eight miles distant and which they might have reached in two days had they advanced as rapidly as they did at times during August, or as rapidly as they now seem to be doing farther north in Belgium. I continued up the coast some forty miles through Etaples to Paris-Plage, which I reached at ten o'clock. I went immediately to the residence of the Countess X. and found to my great satisfaction that the French chauffeur whom I had sent on ahead to prepare the family for the trip to Paris had arrived safely with the limousine the day previous and that the children and nurses were all ready to leave at daybreak tomorrow.
Before going to bed I called on the Mayor and after a long conference arranged for proper passes to get my charges out of the town the next morning.
* * * * *
Thursday, October 15th. We all got started this morning at half-past six. I had told the chauffeur to warn the nurses to provide milk, food, and everything the children would need for the long day's run, as I planned to make Paris in one day and did not wish to stop except for emergencies. I put the five youngest "kids" and the two nurses inside the limousine and took the English governess and the two older children in the back seat of my own car.
Despite my papers from the Mayor of Paris-Plage, my personal passes, and a large sign across the front of the automobile reading, "In the Service of the Ambassador of the United States," I had an exciting time getting past the gendarmes of the town and the Prefecture of Montreuil. The difficulty lay in the nationality of the children and of one of the nurses, all of whom were Hungarians and therefore officially enemies of France. As such they were not supposed to travel about, especially not behind the French battle-line. The details of my struggles are too numerous to relate, but finally we got through successfully and at good speed ran towards Paris. The day throughout proved a strenuous one with many detentions caused by suspicious sentries and over cautious prefects, together with four blow-outs and one breakdown. Each self-important petty official could see no reason why I should not spend several hours explaining things for his special benefit. It was manifestly impossible to keep the babies out over-night, and therefore I overrode objections, answered innumerable questions, and freely used the magic name of the American Ambassador.
The frequent tire trouble, which gave the rest of us much anxiety, filled the heart of little Count Paul, aged seven, with unalloyed delight, for when the machine stopped to shift tires, he could get out in the road and listen to the thrilling sound of guns booming off to the left.
In the end, what had to be done was done. We made Paris and "Mother" at eight o'clock after a fourteen-hour run—all dead tired, but no one the worse for the trip.
I obtained a very telling idea of the immensity of the Battle of the Aisne on this rapid run, for today the atmosphere had cleared and was in a sound-transmitting mood, so that all day long we could hear the cannon on our left booming, booming, without cessation—eighty miles of cannon, or fourteen hours of booming, a big measure. Our route lay through Etaples, Montreuil, Abbeville, Pont Remy, Aviames, Poix, where we stopped for luncheon, Grandvilliers, Pontoise, and through the Porte Maillot into Paris.
THE AMERICAN AMBULANCE
Paris, Thursday, October 15th. For the present the jottings in my diary grow farther and farther apart, as events worth recording have during the past weeks occurred with less and less frequency. The volume of Embassy work in the department of Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians has of late been steadily decreasing. Since the end of September our work has chiefly consisted of routine diplomatic correspondence relating to prisoners of war. Mr. Herrick's efforts have recently been successful in obtaining from the French government an order permitting interned civilians to return by way of Switzerland to their homes in Germany and Austria-Hungary. This achieves the last vital aim for which he has struggled and now that everything has been reduced to calm and routine it is probable that he will soon return to America. The volunteer Attaches, whose duty does not keep them permanently in the diplomatic service, begin to feel that since there is no longer pressing need of their assistance they must soon return to their several professions and to the peaceful occupations of civil life. They have worked under the inspiring leadership of a man with whom familiarity breeds respect, and have had the honor of knowing him as one knows those only with whom one has passed through dark days. Mr. Herrick has proved himself one of those rare men who are possessed of high ideals and far vision and who at the same time refuse to be impractical.
* * * * *
Lieutenant Donait and I are hoping that we may sometime in the near future have an opportunity to make a trip to Berlin with dispatches. We should greatly like to see the other side of the war. Lieutenant Donait is one of the military Attaches at the Embassy with whom I have become particularly friendly.
* * * * *
Tuesday, October 27th. I have finished my work with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians and turned over all my affairs in good order. Of the money sent by the German and Austro-Hungarian Governments for their indigent interned subjects, the Embassy has distributed more than a quarter of a million francs, all of which has passed through my hands. It is a relief to get the accounts balanced and into the charge of the professional bookkeeper whom the secretaries have at last succeeded in engaging.
Lieutenant Donait awaits orders from Washington releasing him from his work at the Embassy. It has been arranged that as soon as these arrive he and I are to go together to Germany as bearers of official dispatches.
For the interim I have offered my services to the Motor Ambulance Corps of the American Hospital. The existence of this hospital and of its ambulance trains is due to Mr. Herrick's efforts and its creation is one of his greatest diplomatic achievements. Its efficiency, size, and rapid growth have done more to promote friendly relations between France and the United States than any other single factor, excepting only the never-to-be-forgotten fact that the American Embassy remained in Paris when the Germans were approaching the city. The Ambulance Corps is under the guidance of the Ambassador and it was his energy which pushed it through the political and economic difficulties incidental to its inception.
Both the hospital and its Ambulance Corps are under the immediate direction of a committee of prominent Americans, the executive head of which is Dr. Winchester Dubouchet, who bears the title of Surgeon-in-chief. He is a man possessing the rare combination of tact and efficiency. He is thoroughly conversant with the technique of his profession and has in previous wars had large experience with field ambulance service. His ability and skill have proved as important in the organization and running of these institutions as were those of Mr. Herrick in their conception.
Under the wise leadership of Dr. Dubouchet, three other men, Mr. Laurence Benet, Dr. Edmond Gros, and Mr. A. Wellesley Kipling, have been powerful in promoting the phenomenal growth of the Ambulance Corps. Their titles are, respectively, Chairman of the Transportation Committee, Chief Ambulance Surgeon, and Captain of Ambulances. These gentlemen have worked together unselfishly and indefatigably, and the rapidity with which the manifold difficulties incidental to the construction and organization of automobile ambulance trains have been overcome is due to their untiring efforts.
* * * * *
The corps is now being greatly enlarged and I, as a staff officer, am to assist in its reorganization. Some twenty-five automobile ambulances are already in service and this number is soon to be increased to sixty or more cars.
* * * * *
There is in general such a lack of adequate service for the wounded that to work with the Ambulance Corps and thus contribute one's mite of helpfulness is almost a duty for any American who can spare even a few weeks of time. When one has seen thousands of wounded, as I saw them at the Battle of the Marne, lying for three and four days in the rain without food, drink, or any medical aid, one is irresistibly driven to do something to diminish such terrible suffering. Many young Americans are feeling the same impulse and volunteers for ambulance service are numerous. Appeals for additional ambulance cars, moreover, have received generous response from America. It is estimated that an ambulance costing $1500 will, before it wears out, carry two thousand wounded to hospitals and help the surgeons to save four hundred lives which otherwise must die from lack of prompt attention.
* * * * *
Sunday, November 1st. The last four days have been spent in accomplishing as many as possible of the necessary preliminaries incidental to joining the American Ambulance. They include being vaccinated, certifying whether one has had typhoid, getting measured and fitted for a uniform, being presented to the various officers, going through a lot of formalities leading to the possession of a French chauffeur's license, filling out parentage and enlistment blanks, and getting proper written introductions and identifications. All these steps have entailed a good deal of rather necessary "red tape," for in war time it is essential to prove every step in order to avoid "mistakes."
The equipment of the members of the corps consists of a khaki uniform of very heavy woolen cloth, a khaki overcoat, a fatigue cap, heavy flannel shirts, a khaki necktie, tan puttees, tan shoes, and a tan slicker. The members of the Ambulance obtain this outfit for the surprisingly small sum of forty-seven dollars, each paying for his own equipment.
At odd moments I have been put through stretcher-drill and given rudimentary first-aid instruction. This afternoon and evening I was sent as an orderly on an ambulance running to the suburban station of Aubervilliers at which trains of wounded make a brief stop on their way from the front to the home hospitals in the south of France. It is from this station that the American Hospital receives its patients, invariably cases whose condition is so grave that they are thought to be incapable of enduring further travel without fatal results.
Upon entering the service of the Ambulance all volunteers, no matter what their ultimate position is to be, are required to attain a certain efficiency and practical knowledge in the actual handling of wounded. I am now taking my turn at this service. One train of ambulances is always stationed in Paris and carries wounded from the Aubervilliers station to the various city hospitals. This train is manned by the latest recruits, who there undergo training, being meanwhile carefully observed by the staff officers. The majority of them prove to be good material, and in from two to six weeks are sent to the front, while those who are not judged to be reliable are replaced by new volunteers. Candidates are not required to agree to any definite length of enlistment but are at liberty to leave whenever they so elect. On the other hand, the chiefs of the Ambulance Corps make no promises to send any volunteer to the front but reserve the right to select only those men who have first proved themselves fit for such great responsibility.
Field ambulances are virtually all alike and as a rule hold four stretchers in two tiers. In front are seats for the driver and his orderly, and behind is a boxlike body eight feet long with wooden roof and floor and canvas sides. From the back of the ambulance a wounded man on his stretcher is slid into place as a bread pan is slid into an oven, the feet of the stretcher running on wooden rails. In starting out to collect the wounded an ambulance carries its full quota of stretchers. When a man is picked up from the field of battle one of these is taken out and he is carefully lifted on it; if he is already lying on a stretcher he is not changed but, in order to save unnecessary suffering, put into the ambulance with the one on which he is already resting,—an empty one being left behind in exchange. In order that this process may always be feasible it is necessary that all stretchers should be interchangeable; the Minister of War has, therefore, decreed that a standard stretcher called "Branquard reglementaire," and no other, must be used throughout the French armies.
As the number of casualties has been overwhelmingly and unexpectedly large, the French have not up to date been able to give proper care to their wounded. It is not uncommon for wounded men en route from the front to be on trains for three and four days, virtually uncared for, and usually without anything to eat. Such trains finally arrive in Paris freighted with death and madness, with gangrene and lockjaw. I today saw two men who had been wounded a month ago and were still in the clothes in which they had fought.
The American Corps keeps ambulances at the Aubervilliers station day and night in relays, so that at any moment not less than two cars are there to receive wounded. Today I was assigned as orderly to an ambulance on the afternoon shift which begins at one o'clock and ends at nine. The receiving station for wounded is a huge express shed about three hundred feet long and sixty feet wide. A railway siding enters through a big door and within runs longitudinally along one wall. A large storage platform occupies the rest of the interior, on which are arranged four parallel benches running nearly the whole length of the shed. Each bench is about seven feet wide and has a slight slope for "drainage." When we arrived all the benches were crowded with wounded, who were packed side by side in four long ghastly rows. They were wrapped up in their clothes—the same old clothes in which they had fought. The French are, apparently, not sure that the Germans may not yet take Paris, for as a rule they do not permit wounded to be sent to that city. Only those who are slightly wounded in the hand or arm and able to walk, or, on the other hand, those too desperately wounded to survive being moved farther, are allowed to remain in Paris. All the others, although they have already taken two or three days to arrive from the front, are allowed only twelve hours "repose" before they are sent on to the south of France. This "repose" is taken on the benches described above or in similar situations. If the shed is already full and additional trains of wounded arrive, the late comers are left in their cars. Why anyone should consider a train which is standing still more reposeful than one which is moving I cannot imagine. In Paris the wounded at least get something to eat, usually coarse bread with meat and cheese. They arrive in those silly little freight cars marked "eight horses," each of which carries about eighteen wounded, twelve on stretchers in two tiers in each end and some six more standing or sitting in the aisle, which extends from door to door between the stretchers.
On arriving at the Aubervilliers station we were on duty all the afternoon, and as no trains happened to arrive this meant standing in the rain and doing nothing at all. After dark, however, three train loads of wounded, each of some fifty cars, came in at intervals of about an hour. The wounded are so many that one counts them by trains and the trains come so often that one loses count even of them. No one who has not seen them can possibly comprehend the human misery contained in one such unit. The first train arrived at five o'clock and brought five hundred cases. They had been two days on the way and had had nothing at all to eat for the last nineteen hours.
Seventy-five of their number were unwounded, but had reached such a state of nervous collapse that they could not endure life in the trenches a minute longer, and had therefore, perforce, been sent to the rear. I could not ascertain just how such cases were handled at the front for the French were reluctant to discuss the matter. Certain it is that the instances must have been numerous, for the punishment usually prescribed in war for such delinquency in the face of the enemy is death before a firing squad. The cases must have been so numerous and the ordeal withstood at the front so terrible that punishment became impracticable. In extenuation it may be pointed out that the French army, like any conscript army, contains every able-bodied man of the nation, a certain proportion of whom are inevitably mentally below par and have been sent to war against their will or inclination. The British are the only ones who have fought night and day from the beginning without relays and seem to thrive on it, a fact chiefly due to their being picked volunteers all of whom are soldiers by choice.
After the first train arrived a number of very desperate cases were immediately sorted out and given to our ambulances. The ambulance upon which I served was the last to leave. We departed at seven o'clock, carrying a lieutenant of Chasseurs Alpins who had had his hand shot off and who showed symptoms of lockjaw, and a little private of infantry, a boy with a delicate refined face, who had a bad gangrenous shell wound in the right thigh. His leg was rotting away in a most frightful manner. He was delirious and as weak as a kitten. He imagined he was a little child again and that his mother was causing him all the pain he suffered. He moaned to her reproachfully. We picked our way as slowly and carefully as possible, never making more than four miles an hour and actually avoiding every projecting stone and cobble. In spite of our efforts, our charges suffered frightfully and the delirious boy made this evident in a way which cast a silent spell upon the streets through which we passed. We went up over Montmartre and along the Boulevard Clichy, famous "wicked" street of Paris, because the road surfaces happened to be somewhat smoother. As we went we left behind us a trail of the intangible, all-permeating, sickly-sweetish odor of gangrene.
It is very curious to see how virtually all fatally wounded men know that they are going to die and how they grasp it with a certainty which exceeds the certainty of anything else in life. They often realize it sooner than the surgeons. It is most uncanny. Perhaps it is because their nervous system senses that its foundation has suddenly crumbled. It is very impressive to see the quiet, optimistic calm with which they face the end, and the bigness of it. It makes one feel confident that there is an after-life, or that it is at least right to die for an ideal.
* * * * *
Monday, November 2d. Francis Colby, who drove me when I went to get the children of the Countess X., has recently enlisted in the American Ambulance. He is at present organizing one of the new trains of ambulances of which he will probably have charge when it is complete. These new trains are to be made up of large cars, each carrying six sitting or four lying cases. They will be able to travel five hundred kilometers without taking on gasoline, oil, or other supplies and are to carry repair outfits and food supplies. Every man in service with these trains, no matter what his position, must have a French chauffeur's license, thus providing not only greater elasticity in action but enabling the men to drive in relays. The amount of detail connected with the preparation of such units is immense.
* * * * *
Saturday, November 7th. Two ambulances are being shipped from England to Boulogne, and Colby and myself with two other men are to be sent out to get them. The necessary permits from the General Staff have been applied for.
* * * * *
Monday, November 9th. We received this morning the permits for the trip to Boulogne. Dr. Walker and William Iselin are to accompany Colby and myself; we expect to leave early tomorrow morning. We are to drive an ambulance—a twenty horse-power (English rating) Daimler—and on our way shall follow close to the battle line in order to hunt suitable locations for the new ambulance trains. We go by way of Montdidier, Amiens, and Doullens, all of which contain base hospitals.
* * * * *
Tuesday, November 10th. We left Paris at ten this morning by the Porte St. Denis and proceeded through Aubervilliers and Ecuen to Chantilly, where we stopped for lunch. The motor had been running very badly, and as no one else seemed willing to try conclusions with it I undertook the task. The trouble proved to be in the carbureter. After I had taken this to pieces and put it together again everything went smoothly. While I was at work, the other members of the party wandered about the town and talked with the inhabitants, whose village had been occupied by the Germans for several days during their dash toward Paris. It was well that the most valuable articles in the museum of the chateau had been hidden away before the Germans arrived, as they carried off pretty much everything that was in sight.
The first Germans who had entered the town had not worn the characteristic spiked helmet and many of the inhabitants had mistaken them for English troops. Early in the war this error was frequently made by French peasants, to whom the British and Germans were equally unknown. The townspeople were still laughing at one old innkeeper who had freely given of his choicest supplies to the supposed Englishmen, and had spent the better part of an afternoon enthusiastically and vigorously grooming their horses, meanwhile keeping up a stream of frightfully abusive remarks "a propos de ces cochons des Boches," much to the amusement of his Teutonic audience.
* * * * *
We arrived in Amiens after dark and there encountered an old friend in Mr. Richard Norton, the American archeologist, who is at present commanding a British Red Cross unit in the field. We had dinner with him and obtained from him much valuable information.
* * * * *
Mr. Norton's train has its base at Doullens. He is tonight in Amiens on official business and has with him only his scout car and its driver. His train has received orders to report early tomorrow morning at a field hospital near the village of Bouzincourt which is only a little more than two miles from the "German" town of Albert. His train is to assist in the evacuation of some two hundred gravely wounded French soldiers who are threatened by heavy German infantry attacks and are even now under shell fire. At dawn he is to go direct to Bouzincourt in his scout car and there meet his ambulances. We have decided to accompany him to aid, if possible, in removing the wounded.
* * * * *
Wednesday, November 11th. After an early breakfast, we followed Mr. Norton's scout car through a deluge of rain as it proceeded at a dizzy pace toward the sound of battle. We passed through the villages of Querrieux, Lavieville, and Millencourt, getting into a "hot" neighborhood near the latter place.
* * * * *
On arriving at Bouzincourt we found that the German attacks had been decisively repulsed at sunrise this morning and the French surgeons in charge of the field hospital had reconsidered their decision to move the wounded, nearly all of whom were in a precarious condition. The ambulance train therefore returned empty to its base at Doullens, travelling by protected roads, while Mr. Norton's car, with our own, followed along the battle-line, his purpose being to scout for possible wounded in order better to direct the afternoon operations of his train.
* * * * *
Not far from Colincamps we stood upon the crest of a hill beside a group of nine French field guns. They were cleverly concealed in an artificial fence line carefully constructed in all its details along the hilltop. Fence posts had been erected and the artillerymen had also set up the trees, vines, and underbrush which normally follow and accentuate the boundaries between fields. The day was so windy and rainy that we had no fear of being observed by German aeroplanes, and therefore stood tranquilly behind the guns and talked with the commanding officer.
A mile below us in the valley we could through our field-glasses define the position of the French trenches and beyond them locate the German trenches. Between the two stretched that No Man's Land, called "between the lines," which runs from Ostend through Bethune, Albert, and Lassigny to Soissons and Rheims and from thence to the Swiss frontier. Following its twistings and turnings this strip of land is four hundred and fifty miles in length. It lies wrapt in uncanny solitude for in all its length there moves no living creature. It changes from beet-fields to plowed land, to pastures and back to the eternal beet-fields again. It runs across farms and over hills, through cities and under forest trees. It varies in width, here narrowing to a few feet, there widening to several hundred yards. Five minutes would be ample time to walk across it anywhere, and yet it is the most impassable frontier ever marked out by man anywhere on the surface of mother earth. No person may cross it, no matter how exalted his position nor how mighty his influence, for throughout its length hosts of trained men lie ever ready to let loose upon any intruder a thousand shells and a million bullets.
What sights one might behold if one could, himself invisible, follow this ribbon of scarred earth as it winds its way across Europe from the North Sea to the Alps! Its length is mazed with barbed wire and electric death, and menaced by pits and mines. Heaps of dead men lie in the sun or rain, and the wounded cry faintly and more faintly until they too are dead. The plants and trees are blasted and even the earth has been torn and tortured by explosions.
At some point along this line a moment comes when thousands of men start suddenly out of the bare earth like Sons of the Dragon's Teeth and as promptly charge forward. For a brief moment their shouts are heard through the stillness and then their voices are drowned by one great hellish din, made up of the roar of guns, the crash of cannon, the scream of shells, and the shock of ear-splitting explosions. The ground under their feet heaves and shakes and the air about them is filled with a confusion of flying dust and debris.
* * * * *
As we stood on the hill-crest and talked to the French officer a furious cannonade was going on around us. In our rear, hidden behind hills, three different French batteries were in intermittent action, and somewhere off beyond the valley in front lay the hidden German batteries which were returning their fire. Shells from both sides passed back and forth over our heads and the German shells banged and burst a thousand yards behind our backs.
The guns beside us were silent. They had, undetected, held their present position for a whole day. They watched the two lines in the valley as intently as these lines watched each other, for in front of us was one of those crucial points against which attacks are frequently launched by the enemy. The batteries beside which we stood waited hour after hour for that sudden critical moment when the Germans should attempt to launch any attack between the lines. These nine guns could together fire two hundred rounds a minute, which means seventy thousand shrapnel bullets. These batteries were connected by telephone with the trenches a mile in front, and also with various observation points from which the results of their fire could be accurately judged and cross-checked.
A few hundred yards to our right in plain view across the open fields was the little village of Auchonvillers. Suddenly a great German shell burst with an earth-shaking shock in the open fields about three hundred yards behind it, throwing up a great cloud of inky black smoke nearly as large as a city block. It made a crater more than a hundred feet in circumference. The French officers said that it was either a twelve-inch or an "eleven-point-two" and prophesied that a second and more accurate shot would soon follow and strike the village itself. We watched intently and some minutes later a great shell did fall squarely into the little hamlet. Again a great cloud of jet black smoke shot up into the air, but this time it was mixed with bits of houses and fragments of earth. The smoke drifted off slowly, and reluctantly floated away on the wind until some minutes later we were able to discern the town as it emerged from the cloud of dust, showing a great gap in its sky-line.
* * * * *
We had lunch in Doullens with the officers of Mr. Norton's train.
* * * * *
At one point in the front line we heard this story relative to barbed-wire entanglements. A week ago a lieutenant and several of his men ventured forth at night and succeeded in crawling unobserved under the entanglements. Reaching the German trenches they leapt in among their enemies and did much execution; but becoming too enthusiastic, they overstayed their leave, so that none of them ever returned. The Germans, not wishing to be again surprised in such a disagreeable manner, on the next dark night slipped out of their trenches and hung a great quantity of cowbells upon the lower strands of their wire entanglements. Before many nights had passed another party of daring Frenchmen again essayed to crawl to the German trenches but, ringing up the cowbells, were all killed in the resulting fusillade.
Not content to leave the matter as it stood, an intrepid Frenchman crept out on the following night, unwinding a ball of twine as he advanced. He succeeded in attaching the end of this to a cowbell without making any noise to betray his presence. He then made his way safely back to his own trenches and from their shelter vigorously pulled the string. A most ungodly clank and clatter resulted, wrecking the stillness of the night. This aroused the Teutons and led them into a solid hour of furious but futile shooting. The string was similarly pulled on several succeeding occasions and always produced the desired result of uproar and shooting, until it was finally severed by a bullet.
* * * * *
Our party arrived in Hesdin at half-past six this evening. It was raining furiously and the condition of the roads and the obscurity of the night made it extremely hazardous to proceed farther. The village was packed with British transports and we could find only one vacant bed in the whole place. Two of us slept in that and the other two on stretchers in the ambulance.
* * * * *
Thursday, November 12th. At eleven o'clock this morning we reached Boulogne, which is at present a British army base and almost deserves to be called an English city. It is filled with troops, with Red Cross and Royal Army Medical Corps, and with transport wagons, all British. English is heard on all sides and the London Times is by noon on sale in the streets. Bits of the front freshly arrived are much in evidence; one sees everywhere English Tommies on leave, wounded Ghurkas, and convoys of sullen German prisoners.
At present British wounded are being shipped to England at the rate of more than two thousand a day, which is probably one reason why their forces on the Continent have not, in spite of their strenuous recruiting and of the use of Colonial and Indian troops, exceeded two hundred thousand men.
* * * * *
The basins of the harbor at Boulogne are crammed with a heterogeneous mass of shipping—transports, warships, submarines, torpedo boats, Red Cross steamers, and great rafts of small sailing vessels which were tied up because of the war. The docks and wharves are piled mountain-high with great masses of supplies, and parks of ambulances and war automobiles await call to service.
Ambulances run hither and thither carrying wounded to the half dozen Red Cross boats which are tied up to the wharves. Each of these ships is painted white with a great red cross displayed upon either side.
* * * * *
Friday, November 13th. We did not succeed in finding the two ambulances for which we had come. Iselin left for London yesterday afternoon to try to trace them in England.
* * * * *
Saturday, November 14th. On our return trip to Paris we left Boulogne at half-past two yesterday afternoon and made a "forced march" of sixteen hours straight through to Paris, where we arrived this morning at six. It rained in torrents all day yesterday, all night long, and is still pouring today. We three worked in relays, one sleeping in the ambulance while another drove and the third read maps and showed passports to sentries. Dr. Walker and I slept while Colby drove alone over well-known roads as far as Abbeville, where we arrived at half-past seven. We left at eight after a hasty supper, and I drove the car straight through to Paris while Dr. Walker managed the maps.
I reported to the Ambulance Headquarters this morning and found that I had been assigned to duty in assisting Captain Kipling with the executive details of the organization of the new ambulance trains. In future every train is to be composed of five ambulances, one repair car, and one scout car, and is to be manned by an officer and thirteen men. Each such unit is to be complete in itself and is called a "squad." As such it will be assigned to duty with the Paris Hospital, with field hospitals, or with the French, British, or Belgian armies. The field work is to be controlled from Paris by Captain Kipling and a board of three staff officers. O. W. Budd is to be Chief of Staff, E. W. McKey, Adjutant, and during the remainder of my short time of service with the Corps I am to have charge of equipment and material.
The Corps has recently been recognized by the French army, and from now on will virtually be a part of that army. It will receive orders direct from the Minister of War and from the General Staffs.
* * * * *
Friday, November 27th. Mr. Herrick leaves for America tomorrow. Today he was busy at his desk in the Embassy until late in the afternoon, during which time he dictated a personal letter to me thanking me for my services under his administration, a document that will ever be one of my most prized possessions.
* * * * *
Donait's leave of absence has arrived from Washington and I am leaving with him tomorrow via Switzerland with special dispatches for Berlin.
I received an indefinite "leave of absence" from the American Ambulance, nominally retaining my position as staff officer in hopes of rendering indirect service to the Corps after my return to America.
* * * * *
Saturday, November 28th. It is impossible for the French people to understand why the United States should remove Mr. Herrick from his post just when he has so valiantly proved himself equal to the great demands which have been made upon him in the present crisis. In the diplomacy of other countries a plenipotentiary is never replaced in times of great stress, except as a rebuke to him or as an intimation that the policies he has expressed are to be reversed by his government. That a valuable diplomat should at a critical time be replaced for reasons of mere party politics seems incomprehensible to European nations.
Note.—The French Government sent a representative to America on the same boat with Mr. Herrick. As the ship was approaching land and Mr. Herrick was again virtually a private citizen within the bounds of his native country, this representative of the French Republic conferred upon him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest order in the gift of France and one usually reserved for her rulers and her victorious marshals. As far as I have been able to ascertain, this is the only time that such an honor has ever been conferred upon an American.
GERMANY AND BERLIN
Berne, Saturday, November 28th. Donait and I left Paris at nine last evening for Lyons, Culoz, and Geneva with dispatches for Berlin. For many reasons we are particularly anxious to see Germany and Austria in war time, and look forward keenly to the experience which we face.
We arrived in Geneva at noon. We were very tired, for our train and compartment were overcrowded and we had to sit up all night. The responsibility of the sack of official papers which we carried, and on which one of us had constantly to keep his mind, hand, and eyes, was an additional element of fatigue.
* * * * *
We were forced to wait in Geneva until five o'clock for a train to Berne, where we finally arrived at nine this evening.
* * * * *
Sunday, November 29th. This morning Donait and I presented ourselves at the American Legation and delivered our dispatches. It is the custom to send all mail for the American Embassy in Berlin to the Legation in Berne, where it is opened, checked over, and re-forwarded. In the afternoon we paid our respects to the Military Attache, Major Lawton.
German newspapers are accessible to us this morning for the first time since July. It is most interesting to view the reverse of the shield.
* * * * *
Monday, November 30th. Berne is almost as much in a state of war as Paris. The whole Swiss army of 500,000 is mobilized and has been on the frontiers since the end of July. The nation is on a war footing and seems to be about equally suspicious of all the nations concerned in the "present unpleasantness." A certain quiet confidence, however, pervades Switzerland, a confidence which even a small nation may feel when it has an effective army. Every normal Swiss citizen is a trained soldier, for in his twentieth year he undergoes from sixty to ninety days of intensive military instruction.
I speak of the efficiency of the Swiss army. I might add that the Germans would undoubtedly have preferred to invade France through Switzerland rather than through Belgium. Their flank would then not have been exposed to the disastrous pressure of the British army and navy. The fact of the matter is that they feared the British and the Belgians combined less than the Swiss. So great are the advantages of reasonable military preparedness.
Preparedness and military system are not synonymous with a large standing army. A small, well-prepared army may be the nucleus around which an efficient military system can be built. The Swiss organization is at present most interesting, for it has saved that country from becoming involved in the present war. Had Belgium been as well prepared as was Switzerland, Germany would have observed sacred treaties and invaded France across the Franco-German border.
The efficient Swiss military system, which can put 500,000 trained and organized men into the field, costs less than ten million dollars a year. Our ineffective American standing army of 85,000 men costs us one hundred millions a year, on a peace footing. The difference is due to the fact that the frugal, thrifty Swiss, like most other nations, do not consider civilians competent to meddle with military matters—or that national defense should be subject to the vagaries of party politics—or that an army is a fit subject for the experiments of amateur social scientists.
In spite of the cruel calamities which have in the past overtaken the United States because of her perpetual unpreparedness, we still insist that because we do not believe in war we therefore need no military system. It is as if we held that since we do not wish to be ill we will abolish physicians—or as if we believed that because we do not desire to have our homes burn down we will do away with the fire department and with insurance. No matter how pacific a nation may be it cannot avoid war by signing peace treaties, either singly or by the bushel. Reasonable military preparedness is the only valid insurance against disastrous and ruinous war.
We did without this war insurance in the decade from 1850 to 1860, when we at that time needed insurance only to the amount of 100,000 trained soldiers. This would have cost about seventy-five millions. Had we possessed this insurance the Civil War would never have been fought. For the lack of it our country missed disintegration by a hair's breadth, and escaped disaster only because we happened to have one of the great men of history as President. The ultimate victory was won at a cost of which the following items were only a part:
750,000 lives. 10,000 million dollars in national debt and pensions. 25,000 million dollars in property damage.
All this would have been prevented by a protective expenditure of 75 millions a year.
No more fatal delusion was ever cherished than the belief that "it takes two to make a quarrel." In world history it has seldom needed two to make a quarrel. Did Belgium quarrel with Germany?
Our legation in Berne has always been the most isolated, humdrum spot on earth. People stationed here nearly died of ennui; nothing ever happened, until all Europe suddenly was plunged into the conflagration of war, and then Berne became, of necessity, the clearing house for the continent for dispatches, mail, telegrams, money, prisoners, and refugees. Every telegram which the American Embassy in Paris sends to the Embassies in Germany, Austria, or Italy is directed: "American Legation, Berne. Repeat to Gerard"—or Penfield or Page, as the case may be.
German prisoners in France are numbered in tens of thousands and for a long time the only means of communication from them and to them was by means of the two American Embassies through the American Legation in Berne. The little three-room Berne Legation with its small staff was simply overwhelmed with work.
Donait and I were sent by Minister Stovall to make a verbal report on the situation of the Germans in France to Baron Romberg, the German Minister to Switzerland. I was much impressed in this my first touch with a German official. He is rather small, slim of body, but keen of mind, with excellent repose and control. Like all German diplomats, he speaks faultless English. A startling evidence of the efficiency of the German Information Bureau was furnished by the fact that he already knew to the minutest details nearly as much about my work in Paris in caring for German subjects as did I myself.
He spoke quite unreservedly about many matters but did not attempt to draw us into indiscretions as do so many foreign diplomats when dealing with younger men.
This evening I walked out along the embankment in front of the Parliament Houses and watched a gorgeous sunset and Alpine glow upon the snow mountains of the Bernese Oberland.
* * * * *
One is not permitted to telephone in English or in any language except German or French (the native languages of Switzerland), and even then the telephone girls listen closely to one's conversation.
* * * * *
Donait and I have made all our preparations to depart for Berlin early tomorrow morning, our dispatches having been sorted out, checked, and re-pouched.
* * * * *
Tuesday, December 1st. We reached the Swiss-German frontier at noon today. We descended from the train at Basle and drove three miles to the frontier. Here there were two barriers straight across the road, the nearer one guarded by numerous Swiss soldiers; the farther, some twenty yards behind, by soldiers wearing the spiked helmet. Before we were allowed to pass the first barrier our papers and luggage were minutely examined by Swiss military and customs officers. We then walked across the twenty yards to the second, or German, barrier, where we were conducted into a little guard-house. Here some dozen soldiers were sleeping or playing cards on cots in the background along the walls. An efficient sergeant examined our papers and then allowed us to pass the second barrier into Germany, showing marked respect for the Herr Lieutenant and the Herr Attache.
We loaded our suit-cases in a second vehicle, a German one this time, and proceeded some two miles to the railroad station of Leopoldshoehe. While we stood on the station platform at Leopoldshoehe, heavy guns in battle could be heard off toward Muelhausen and once there came the typical crash of a big shell exploding much nearer, probably not more than three or four kilometers away. As near as that to a battle in France one sees a disorganized, deserted, wrecked countryside, with wagon trains going back and forth and wounded soldiers straggling toward the safety zone. Here in Germany everything was in the most perfect order, with no excitement or confusion, and passenger trains left on the minute by schedule time. It was difficult to realize that there was a battle within a thousand miles.
The moment one enters Germany one feels efficiency as if one had passed under a spell. The way the feeling immediately impresses itself upon one is a curious psychological phenomenon. One senses at once the wonderful civic consciousness of the nation and respects it. One does not throw waste paper out of a carriage window, nor take trivial short cuts, nor walk on the grass, nor attempt to pass through ticket gates before the proper time. Everything is regulated, all is done in order.
I was momentarily embarrassed and self-conscious when first I found myself rubbing shoulders with gentlemen in spiked helmets. During the past four months I had seen them only as prisoners or dead men, and their only greetings had been by way of their shells and bombs.
After an all-day trip from Leopoldshoehe down the Rhine Valley I arrived in Mannheim, where I am to remain over-night, as I have letters which I am instructed to leave with our Consul in this town. Donait stopped off en route for a day to visit the old family homestead from which his ancestors emigrated to America. I arrived safely in Mannheim about ten o'clock, went to the Park Hotel, which I selected from Baedeker, got an excellent room, and went immediately to bed.
* * * * *
Mannheim, Wednesday, December 2d. At half-past seven this morning I was awakened from a sound sleep by a pounding at my door. I climbed sleepily out of bed and, in pajamas, opened the door to two extremely polite and suave Secret Service men who, nevertheless, examined my papers with the greatest thoroughness and as carefully cross-questioned me as to my race, color, and previous condition. They asked to see my dispatches, whose seals they studied in order to be certain that I was really carrying some sort of official messages. Having listened with close attention to my story, they asked me out of a clear sky where Donait was and why he had left me. They capped the climax by reminding me that at Leopoldshoehe I had told the sergeant we were bound for Berlin, which was exactly what I had told him, not having considered the brief stop at Mannheim of sufficient importance to be mentioned. When they had received a satisfactory explanation of the discrepancy (the conversation having staggered along in German, of which my knowledge is limited) they thanked me politely and withdrew. I dressed, had breakfast, and presented myself at the Consulate just before the opening hour at ten.
I was received by the Vice-Consul, Mr. Cochrane, and had not been in the Consulate five minutes when the police office called him up by telephone and asked politely if I was "all right." It was my first lesson with the German Secret Service, but the only one I needed to prove that while I was in Germany my every move was noted and that I was to be constantly under police surveillance.
After delivering my packages to the Consulate I waited until after dinner for Donait, with whom I am to leave for Berlin at nine o'clock. I took luncheon with Vice-Consul Cochrane, spent the afternoon sightseeing in the streets of the city, and dined with Consul Leishman and his wife.
* * * * *
Berlin, Thursday, December 3d. Donait and I had a whole compartment to ourselves last night, which shows how normally German railroads are running. We arrived in Berlin at eight o'clock this morning, bathed, dressed, and had breakfast, at eleven o'clock presented ourselves at the American Embassy and delivered our precious dispatch pouch to Mr. Grew, the First Secretary.
I was surprised and much pleased to find that an old playmate, Charles Russell, was Private Secretary to Ambassador Gerard, a position in which he has achieved a great success.
Our duty discharged, we hastened to take our first walk along the famous Unter den Linden. The city of Berlin is well laid out, with wide avenues and numerous and ample park spaces, some of them very large, but the architecture of the city is a jumble of heavy, clumsy, gloomy buildings, fussed up with most extraordinarily crude and grotesque details. For an architect to be in Berlin is next door to being in hell.
Our Military Attache, Major Langhorne, has been at the front almost continuously since the beginning of operations. In his absence, we called upon the Naval Attache. I also called at the American Consulate to leave dispatches and found that the Vice-Consul had been one of my classmates at Yale. He remembered me as "Fish Wood" the runner, and probably in true Yale spirit considered my occupation of Attache much less important.
The present conditions in Berlin are as unknown to the outside world as are the domestic affairs of China. In order not to make too many diplomatic faux pas, I spent the first day talking with the men whom I knew and in accumulating useful data as to danger points. As one in Germany senses efficiency, one as quickly becomes conscious of the all-seeing eye and the all-guiding hand of the Government. We have nothing like that in America, and for an American in France there is no such supervision. Life in Prussia is at present, for the diplomat of a neutral country, much like skating on thin ice. Several of the younger diplomats in Berlin have unconsciously committed acts considered indiscreet by the German Government, and so ended their usefulness in Germany.
* * * * *
It is a mistake to suppose that there are dissensions or differences of opinion in the German nation, or that the Kaiser or the military party has imposed war on the people. In modern times it would not be possible for even an absolute monarch to force an unwilling people into such a momentous step. The German Government is the product and expression of the German people. They have made it and, having created it, they are proud of their work. The Emperor is in popular estimation not much lower than God Almighty, and the two seem inextricably mingled in the public mind. The world-wide amusement created by "Me und Gott," or by the Emperor's firm conviction that he and he alone is worthy of divine aid and approval, is an amusement not shared by any Germans. If you say to them, "the Emperor seems to think the German people are the one race chosen of God and that He works only for them and their advancement," the Germans will promptly and emphatically reply: "why, of course; all our past history proves that." The God they appeal to, however, is the God of Battles of the Old Testament and of the ancient Hebrews, who slew His enemies, destroyed nations, and annihilated races, who was cruel and vindictive.
* * * * *
The German nation is, up to this date, but little cramped by the war. The people and the army lack for nothing. All the shops, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and dance halls in Berlin are open and well patronized. Several million men fit for military service have not yet been called out, because they are not needed. At the front they have such a great body of infantry that a certain proportion of them are by turns given a vacation and allowed to return to their homes. The German officers say that Germany did not count on a speedy termination of the war; they even believe that it may last four years and face this possibility with courage and with confidence of final victory. As for the famine conditions, I did not accept German opinion about the abundance or price of food supplies, but myself asked prices in shops and public markets and in various restaurants and hotels—all sure thermometers of any rise in the price of food.
If Germany ever pleads famine it will be for some purpose of diplomacy. In times of peace she raises each year more than she can herself consume and is an exporter of food-stuffs. This year she had a good crop, and, needless to say, it was, with characteristic efficiency, entirely harvested. She has retained for her own use the surplus usually exported. Every possible lack that war might bring had been anticipated and provided for, or a substitute suggested. The country does not produce as much wheat as she consumes, but German scientists have produced a potato flour which, when mixed with wheat, makes excellent bread, as I myself can testify. Potatoes are plentiful, as Germany usually exports large quantities.
The army appears to lack nothing. Military necessities like wool, lead, gasoline, nitrates, ammunition, accoutrements, and hospital supplies they seem to have in superabundance.
* * * * *
Berlin, Friday, December 4th. William Iselin left Paris with dispatches for London and Berlin at the same time that we started via Berne.
In Berlin, restaurants, cafes, theaters, and concerts are going at full blast. Donait, Iselin, and I, who have for months been working like dogs in Paris, which is as dull as a country village and where cafes close at eight and restaurants at nine and no places of amusement are open other than a few poor cinemas, are thoroughly enjoying the contrast. We three dined together at a splendid establishment where we ate many elaborate courses while listening to a good band and watching an excellent variety show, which lasted until eleven. From then until two we wandered about to various dance and supper establishments.
* * * * *
All the banks in Berlin are open and will pay out gold in certain limited quantities to anyone who wishes to go to a foreign country. Gold brings par and no more. Auto-busses are running everywhere and many private automobiles are seen on the street which have not been requisitioned by the government. Trams and subways also run at all hours. In short, the life of the city seems to be pretty nearly normal. The only signs of war disasters are the convalescent wounded soldiers who walk about the streets.
* * * * *
One is impressed by the virility and vigor of the Germans as a race. Their national spirit also is wonderful, exceeded only perhaps by that of the Japanese. People who one day read the announcement of the death of a son, a father, or a brother, are seen the next day in the streets or cafes going about quietly, expressing or betraying neither sorrow nor regret. The loved one has died "fuer Gott, fuer Koenig, und fuer Vaterland." That is glory enough, and neither the Emperor nor the people feel that it is appropriate to mourn for one who has died for his country.
* * * * *
Saturday, December 5th. I went this morning with Donait to inspect the prison camp at Zossen, which is about forty kilometers from Berlin and holds at present twenty thousand French soldiers, guarded by fifteen hundred of the Landsturm. Their camp was surrounded by three lines of very high and effective barbed-wire fences. In each of the alleys between these fences German sentinels paced back and forth. The prisoners seemed to me to be excellently cared for and were healthy, well-fed, and fairly contented. They were physically better off than they would be in muddy trenches at the front. They have all been given some kind of work to do, such as caring for their own prison camps, cooking, and building sheds for themselves or barracks for the German army. We saw a procession of about two thousand who came in from a near-by forest carrying tremendous bundles of faggots for firewood. As they marched they were singing, with a good deal of spontaneous gusto, a ribald French song. We considered their condition a great credit to their captors.
* * * * *
We were shown the famous great parade ground of Berlin. It is an immense field, quite flat, beautifully turfed, and about one and a half miles square. In one corner is about one-third of a square mile of pine woods with little rolling hills and an imitation forest country where troops can be drilled in skirmish formation. Young soldiers were being trained thereon in advancing in echelons and in taking up well-hidden firing-line positions.
The regular army of Germany as it has been recruited each year has absorbed just over half of the eligible men of the nation. Military service therefore has by no means been universal, and there are several million men of military age who have never been utilized. Over two million of the latter have volunteered since August, only two hundred and thirty thousand of whom have as yet been accepted for training. In addition not all of the regular army has yet been brought into service.
The German officers have, since the opening of the war, adapted themselves to changed conditions with unexpected flexibility. They immediately relaxed their ordinary overbearing manner and assumed a closer relationship with the private soldiers. They do not, as their enemies report, drive their men but they themselves lead to battle. They are idolized by the nation as a whole and by the army in particular. They do not address the soldiers of the rank and file in the second person singular, but in the more respectful second person plural.
The Kaiser has already awarded thirty-eight thousand iron crosses. He takes the ground that he is nevertheless maintaining the standard of 1870. He says that the numbers now involved are so much larger and the demands in courage and endurance so much greater that thousands deserve to be decorated in the present conflict where hundreds won the honor in the Franco-Prussian war.
I lunched today with Commander Gherardi, the Naval Attache, in order to discuss with him what we had each seen of the war on the western front. He is making an important study of operations on the eastern battle-lines and has several times been to the front.
Today I was told that although it was impossible to go into Belgium to observe operations, it was probable that I would soon be sent to Brussels with dispatches to the American Minister, Brand Whitlock.
I have recently been introduced to many very interesting Germans, both diplomats and officers, and have obtained many valuable ideas. The reply I receive whenever I ask Germans what they want and expect to gain in this war, and what terms of peace they, at present, hope to secure, is almost invariably the same. They all say: "we will never give up Belgium; we mean to keep Poland; we would like to have Calais and hope eventually to get it, but...." They point out that they have so far constantly taken the offensive role, which must often fail in modern war, being by far the more difficult part to play. They declare with conviction that when once they take the defensive they can never be beaten back. They cite the fact that for the last three months they have on the Aisne in temporary positions maintained an unbroken front, despite the persistent efforts of the Allies to drive them back. They add that except Calais and Warsaw they now hold virtually everything they want, and to keep it permanently they need only to stand on the defensive.
A few weeks of victory or defeat will naturally modify their present ambitions. From a material standpoint it is difficult to refute their argument, but moral and sentimental reasons have before now turned the tide against the "strongest battalions," despite Napoleon's verdict. Germany herself begins to suspect that her brutal invasion of Belgium has turned the moral sentiment of the world against her, and that her defeat would grieve few people not of German birth.
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Berlin, Sunday, December 6th. About the atrocities in Belgium there is, apparently, no question, but considering the way the Germans controlled themselves in France, some explanation of their brutality farther north in Belgian Flanders is necessary. The Germans say that the cruelties were not all on one side; that the Belgians practised sniping, impeded the German army, and mutilated German wounded. The only one of these charges that seems to have been proved is that of sniping, but even if other cruelties were committed it must be remembered that the moral status of the Belgians was entirely different from that of the Germans. The Belgians were aroused to blind fury by the disregard of their neutrality rights and the unwarranted invasion of their peaceful country. Even from Germans I have heard no excuses for the violation of Belgium which might not have been equally well put forward by a needy burglar who breaks into an unprotected house and plunders it after bludgeoning its helpless inmates. Is it remarkable that the liberty-loving Belgian peasant who saw his home destroyed or his family abused, knew no sufficient reason why he should stand supinely by and welcome the destroyer? More brave than wise, too furious to reason calmly, he did what he could to retaliate, which is against the rules of war. Consequently a merciless foe inflicted the uttermost penalty upon him, his family, and the whole region in which he lived. The world has never witnessed more frightful and disproportionate punishments.
The Germans on the other hand were morally in quite a different case. They were the aggressors, the treaty breakers, and the invaders of a peaceful country of neighbors and friends. Their part was to be tolerant and to make allowance for individual violations of the rules of war. The world at large will never concede that occasional instances of sniping can justify the destruction of whole villages, the execution of thousands of men, and the violation of thousands of women. When our American marines occupied Vera Cruz similar instances of sniping were frequent. Our men did not, however, burn, kill, rape, and pillage. They were forced to fire at the custom-house because it was occupied by snipers and in so doing they incidentally damaged the tower of the building. After the fighting was over, the Americans felt such regret for even this necessary bit of destruction that they rebuilt what their shells had damaged. Their only retaliatory action was to shoot snipers when they were caught red-handed.
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Monday, December 7th. The German infantry, after spending a certain length of time at the front, are given a vacation and sent home. I could not ascertain the exact length of their stay in the trenches although it seems to be about a month. The artillery stay continuously on the battle-line as their work is less arduous and nerve-racking, since they are always somewhat toward the rear and usually well housed. Moreover, they fire only occasionally and have long periods of inactivity. The cavalry spends one week in action and then one week in the rear, some ten or fifteen miles behind the firing-line.
Recently I had a long conversation with a German statesman of ambassadorial rank, who spoke with intense feeling of the plight of the thousands of German subjects, men, women, and children, who had been caught in France at the opening of the war and interned in detention camps. He said: "It is ridiculous for the French to suspect any of these people of being spies, for German spies are not weak or unprotected, but strong, picked men and women, highly trained to make technical observations. In the present scientific age untechnical observations are valueless. When I was Minister Plenipotentiary at —— there were many thousands of German subjects in that city and not one of them could have given me information of any possible value to our great General Staff. German spies in France are neutral or French in nationality, or pretend to be such, and they all carry unimpeachable papers. For a man to admit frankly and openly that he is a German is proof enough that he is not a spy. We in Germany recognize this and do not shut up alien enemies who frankly announce their nationality."
It was not fitting that I should enter into diplomatic discussion with a high German official, but if I had been talking as man to man, I could have reminded him that the spy panic which seized Paris at the outbreak of the war was entirely the fault of Germany herself, for it is an open secret that her spy system is her pet weapon of offense; her enemies therefore, naturally, see a spy in every Teuton. It is also well understood that, spy or no spy, every German man, woman, and child is admonished, when traveling in foreign countries, to "watch, record, and report anything of interest to the German Government."
All the accusations that have been brought against France, that she did not properly provide for her interned prisoners, that she did not adequately care for her own wounded or the wounded of her enemy, that she did not give efficient support to her English allies on the retreat from Mons to Compiegne, resolve themselves into one conclusion, that she did not want or expect instant war and was not prepared for all the emergencies which the German attack precipitated. But all the world knows that she speedily supplied deficiencies and remedied defects with great ability and indomitable courage.
In saying that alien civilians in Germany were not interned in prison camps the German diplomat evidently thought I knew nothing about the vile detention camps at Ruhleben and of the English men and women who are there incarcerated to suffer beyond anything that the Germans ever endured in France.
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Tuesday, December 8th. I went to the American Embassy this morning to obtain the necessary paper for my departure tomorrow for Vienna. Mr. Grew called me into his private office and said that Ambassador Gerard was particularly anxious that I should go to London instead as he had dispatches of the utmost importance to send and would feel indebted to me if I could take them. He warned me that the undertaking would not be pleasant or altogether safe. I promptly accepted the mission,—indeed such requests are, in the Army, the Navy, and the Diplomatic Service, made only to be accepted. I am to leave Berlin Thursday morning at 8:59 and go through Germany and Holland to Flushing, where I shall take a boat across the North Sea to Folkestone and thence to our Embassy in London.
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This evening I looked over the casualty lists posted on the walls of an official building. These lists are published on numerous very large sheets of white paper. Each sheet has three columns in fine print. The names are grouped by regiments and companies, so that all the casualties of one company appear together; each name is given in full, is prefixed by the rank, and followed by the nature of the casualty, which is one of five things: Gefallen (fallen, killed); schwer verwundet (badly wounded); verwundet (wounded); leicht verwundet (lightly wounded); vermisst (missing). A casualty list is published every day, comprising from forty to fifty of the above-mentioned sheets, each sheet containing nearly three hundred names.
The last seven sheets were as follows:
No. 90 published Dec. 1—40 sheets 91 " " 2—50 " 92 " " 3—52 " 93 " " 4—44 " 94 " " 5—52 " 95 " " 6—48 " 96 " " 8—48 "
This gives a rate of more than 12,000 casualties a day. The lists are complete up to October 30th. Only the last ten lists are kept posted and thus tonight there were numbers 87-96. The sheets of these ten lists were posted in a double row on the outside wall of the building along the sidewalk. They extended the length of a block and then around the corner another block. As the columns of one regiment finished, those of the next commenced. I copied the record of a battalion chosen at random.
Eighty-second Bavarian Casualty List 11th Infantry Regiment of Regensburg Third Battalion
(Here followed a list of places and dates of actions in which the Regiment had taken part):
Faxe, August 20th; Manhoue, August 23d; Maize and Drouville, August 25th; Tourbeffeaus, Sept. 7th to 9th; Spada, Sept. 24th; St. Mihiel, Sept. 28th and Oct. 7th to 24th; Ailly, Oct. 1st and 2d; Han-sur-Meuse (date illegible).
(Then followed a detailed list of casualties suffered by the four companies of the battalion):
Company 9 had a list of 148 casualties, of which 18 were killed, 35 missing, 42 wounded, and badly wounded, and 43 slightly wounded;
Company 10 followed with a list of 146 names, of which 19 were killed, 51 missing, 66 wounded and badly wounded, and 46 slightly wounded;
The Eleventh Company with a list of 188 names.
The Twelfth Company with a list of 143 names;
A German battalion is composed of four companies of 250 men each. Thus among one thousand men there were more than six hundred casualties in the first three months of the war, and this seemed to be about an average list. These lists take no account of those who "died of wounds," and "missing" is usually a polite way of saying "dead." It means that the man was too badly hurt to escape, to be helped by his comrades, or to crawl back, and probably was left "between the lines" to die. This explains what at first appears to be a singularly small percentage of killed.
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Berlin, Wednesday, December 9th. This afternoon I made my final arrangements for the trip to London. Whenever a special messenger departs with dispatches from the Embassy a Jaeger accompanies him to the train, carries the mail-bags and pouch, and sees him safely settled in his compartment. When he arrives at his final destination another Jaeger from the Embassy to which he is going meets him at the station.
CARRYING DISPATCHES FROM BERLIN TO LONDON
Thursday, December 10th. Soon after the train left Berlin this morning I judged that I was being shadowed. When it pulled out of the station there were four people, including myself, in the six-place compartment, the two middle seats being vacant, one on my left as I sat next the window and the other diagonally facing me. Soon after the train was well started two men came in and occupied these seats. This in itself was suspicious, since people do not seek seats while a train is in motion. Both moreover had the air of being detectives. I, by this time, know the type well, for I have been constantly shadowed ever since my arrival in Germany and am perfectly certain that my rooms have several times been searched while I was absent. I simply continued to behave with the greatest possible circumspection, the two detectives meanwhile staring at me constantly with fixed intensity.
It was a bit unpleasant because I did not certainly know the nature of the dispatches I carried, but realized that they were extremely important. They were in a small leather mail pouch, padlocked and sealed, which I had set on the floor between my feet and knees. Everything went quietly for some two hours. I could not look out of the window in towns and yards because I might have seen troop-trains, factories, etc., and that would have been "indiscreet." The part of Germany from Berlin to Holland is utterly flat and uninteresting, so that there was no pleasure in looking at the countryside between stations. I pretended to doze, or read three German weeklies which I had bought. One of these finally precipitated matters. It was the Fliegende Blaetter, a comic paper of about the class of Life or Punch. There was in it a joke in German argot which had been too much for my scant knowledge of the language and the courier who had escorted me from the Embassy had by the merest hazard translated it for me. In my desperate efforts to amuse myself I was looking through this sheet again and encountering this joke thought, "If I don't write down the English I shall forget it." Whereupon I took out a pencil and wrote the translation interlinearly.
Soon afterwards one of the detectives got up, went out into the corridor, and came back with three conductors who, in Germany, of course, are military officials. The three civilians who had shared the compartment left us as if they had been rehearsed. One of the detectives then suddenly burst into a perfect berserker rage, getting quite purple in the face, and snatching up the Fliegende Blaetter proceeded carefully to turn over the pages again and again, holding each page against the light. It was altogether melodramatically ridiculous. Taking the paper from me in this way, although offensive, was perhaps within his rights since it concerned me only in a personal and not in an official way, and so I sat quite calmly in my seat and, biding my time, made no move of any kind. I paid no attention to the conductors, judging the detective to be the kingpin and the conductors merely dragged in as a matter of routine. None of them could read English and they chose to regard the interlineation (one line of about ten words) as extraordinarily suspicious.
The detective asked me for my passports and did so without going through the customary formality of showing his police card. I demanded as a matter of routine that he do this and began to draw out of my pocket the large envelope in which I keep all my documents in order to take out my Eagle-stamped German courier's paper. Without complying with my request he grabbed for this envelope, while at the same moment someone jerked at the bag which was between my knees. All this was an affair totally different from that of the Fliegende Blaetter. I had thoroughly thought out what I would do in an emergency if German officials should attempt to take my pouch from me, and had decided that I should make enough of a resistance so that there should be no possibility of disputing the fact that physical force had been used and an assault committed. This would "let me out," since a dispatch-bearer cannot be expected successfully to defend himself against the whole Germany army. Incidentally I might add that interference in any way with the dispatch-bearer of a neutral country is a very heinous international and diplomatic sin. I therefore jerked my envelope of papers rudely out of the detective's hand and gave him a vigorous shove, resisting an almost overwhelming temptation to hit him with all my might on his fat, unprotected jaw. I had half risen to my feet, meanwhile keeping a grip on the dispatch bag with my knees, and at the same time I vigorously swung my hips and freed myself from the man below. The detective struck the opposite wall of the compartment and bounced off toward the doorway, where he and the conductors stood jabbering and waving their arms and ever getting more and more purple in the face.
Finally the detective showed his police card, and I then extended to them my Eagle-stamped courier passport, following it with my Embassy credential and my certificate of identity or personal passport. These three made a complete case and I refused to show anything more, insisting that my status had been adequately established. The officials continued to jabber and argue, having been continuously impolite during the entire episode, a mode of behavior which was a notable divergence from my previous experiences with agents of the Imperial Secret Service. The chief detective, whose name was Werther, continued to hang around, trying to talk with me, evidently determined to get further information about my plans.
I do not pretend to judge whether all this was mere accidental clumsiness and rudeness on the part of stupid detectives or if it was something very much deeper, prompted by someone higher up. One is, however, inclined to doubt inefficiency in the Prussian Secret Service and there may have been reasons why German authorities would count it of great importance to know the contents of my pouch.
At the Embassy in Berlin I had been told to change trains at a place called Loehne where I was to arrive at two o'clock. Just before reaching this point, the conductor came through and told me that it would be much more convenient for me to stay on the train until Essen, that this would give me one less change in my journey to Flushing, and that it was altogether a better route. (I must remark that, besides the bag in hand, I had in the baggage car all the routine mail for the State Department in Washington, amounting to some two hundred and fifty pounds in two big leather mail-sacks.) Although I replied that I thought it better to change at Loehne anyway, the conductor insisted upon my following his plan. He was backed up by the detective, who, except for various goings out and in, had remained facing me. They informed me that in any event my mail-bags in the baggage car would go through to Essen. As by this time the train was already slowing up for the station at Loehne, I accepted the inevitable.
Essen is not on the most direct route to Goch where one crosses the German border into Holland, and in consequence I arrived in Goch via Essen much too late to catch the last train from there to Flushing. Since boats leave Flushing only once a day, early in the morning, I had to lose one whole day and was compelled to remain another night on German soil.
I do not pretend to offer any explanation for these strange happenings. I was followed constantly thereafter, as previously, the men being cleverly changed at every opportunity. My every step was dogged. At Wesel a detective sat at the same table in the station restaurant while I ate dinner. Such being the case I was, to say the least, a bit annoyed.
At Essen during a fifteen-minute wait for a change of trains, I withdrew to one end of the platform after having rechecked the two big mail-sacks. I was standing alone, with a detective, as usual, off in the background, when a man who looked a typical raw-boned Englishman drew near and hung around, staring at me. I looked him up and down and then turned my back thinking, "Another detective!" It was impossible to believe that an Englishman could be, of all places, in Essen. He finally approached me, saying in English of a most perfect and pronounced British accent, "Are you an American?" I replied, "Yes, are you a police officer? If so, please show me your card." He replied, "No, I am in a delicate position. I am trying to go to England this evening. I have American papers. You must see me through. I am ——." I cut him short by saying that I regretted, etc., and deliberately walked away. From that time on this man dogged me everywhere, trying to pass through gates with me and to get into the same compartments, even following me to the same hotels and restaurants, and trying to make anything he could out of my presence. I never lost sight of him for long until we finally set foot in England, where he did finally arrive, in spite of some very close shaves. I last saw him giving me a very ugly look as I landed at Folkestone. Whatever his nationality, he certainly was a spy in the German service.
An uneventful journey of some four hours across Holland brought me to Vlissingen, as the Dutch call Flushing, and there I spent the afternoon, wandering about in boredom, trying to pass away the slow hours until the boat arrived and I could climb into my berth.
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London, Saturday, December 12th. We had an exciting trip across the North Sea, taking zigzag courses to avoid mine-fields and sighting numerous destroyers and one sunken ship. We successfully avoided either hitting a mine or running into a torpedo. The boat was packed down with Belgian and French refugees. One Luxembourger had been a whole month getting to Flushing from his home in Belgium. I was much relieved when I arrived at Victoria Station with my pouch and found a clerk from the Embassy waiting for me, and still more relieved when we had deposited all the bags safely at their destination.
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Sunday, December 13th. I went to the Embassy this morning for a conference with the American Military Attaches; and later took luncheon with one of the Secretaries. I had cabled to Paris to have my mail sent on to meet me in London, but it did not arrive; I have, therefore, had no letters from home in some weeks. I cannot telegraph to America details of my future plans. Imagine the face of any British telegraph operator if I were to hand him a cable saying: "I am leaving again for Berlin and Vienna," which is exactly what I am to do. I return immediately with dispatches from England to our Embassies in Germany and Austria. My plans are subject to modification by official orders, but I shall probably remain in Berlin only one day and then go to Vienna and Budapest. The bag I am to take to Berlin contains not only official dispatches, but a large sum of money.
England has well prepared herself for a Zeppelin raid. Every skylight and the top of every street lamp in London is painted black.
* * * * *
Tuesday, December 15th. An officer of the staff has given me an interesting theory as to the disconcerting effect produced by the bursting of the big German shells on the morale of the troops—how disconcerted no one can imagine who has not himself experienced it. He was himself near such a shell when it exploded. It rendered him unconscious. He was blind for some time, deaf for two weeks, and suffered from loss of memory for over a month,—and all this without any surgical wound. He thinks the nervous effect produced by the explosions at a distance is due in a lesser degree to the same sort of shock. On one occasion a number of big shells exploded in succession a hundred yards from a trench; and although no one was wounded or suffered any physical injury, such was the demoralizing effect of the nervous shock that all the men in the trench fled and did not recover balance until they had run a quarter of a mile. Meeting a staff officer and receiving from him a stiff reprimand they all returned to their posts. The whole episode took place without any casualties.
I leave for Folkestone this evening, where I spend the night on board ship. The boat sails for Flushing after daybreak.
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On the North Sea, December 16th. It has been a wonderful stormy day today; as an officer said: "a typical North Sea winter day"—a leaden sky, roaring wind, smothers of rain, great black-green waves all flecked and blotched in white, big sea birds and little gulls dipping down the wave valleys and soaring up the wave mountains, and the ship taking the most foolish and impossible angles. It was an odd thing to see the gulls which followed the ship, all pointing the other way, in order to maintain their position relatively to the boat and against the heavy wind coming up from astern. At lunch the dishes jumped the racks and smashed along the floor; on the return heave all the fragments rushed back the entire width of the dining saloon. Eating was difficult.