As the ferry neared the bank my heart beat fast, for I saw the waiting figures were soldiers! There were five of them and they seemed impatient. Before the barge had touched the shore they had jumped aboard, not noticing me walk off. They were without rifles, this struck me at the time as very significant, and the soldiers began to hurriedly work the ferry back again. I turned and watched the barge fade into the darkness, but hearing footsteps, looked up and saw more soldiers outlined on the skyline of the high bank. The road zig-zagged up the hill, and by keeping in the shadow of the cliff I passed along without trouble. From the hilltop I discovered to the left the light-dotted city of Coblenz. I took the road to the west and walked through the night. At times many people passed along that road to the river, including scattered bands of soldiers. I knew them by their spiked helmets silhouetted against the sky.
It must have been midnight when I struck the main Coblenz Road. A string of waggons and carts rumbled along towards Coblenz with many soldiers walking between. Close by a railway line ran parallel with the road and continuous trains slowly crawled, hissing and shrieking like wounded things. I plodded along the tree-screened roadside, the cloudy darkness of the night helping my security. And all through that night and early morning silent tramping figures passed along—all going in the one direction!
As dawn began to break I left the high road, tired and foot weary and struck into the bush to snatch some sleep.
I woke with the sun well up in the sky. I still could hear the squealing of the railway trains, and when I climbed to a distant ridge and looked around me I saw the Coblenz-Treves road stretching far to the south-west and dotted with figures—grey soldiers and others, hospital waggons and farm carts, all moving along like a great procession.
I felt that road was not safe for me.
Beyond the belt of timber between myself and the road were fenced paddocks with scattered farm houses. To the west the forest stretched where far ahead a speck of white caught my eye. I made it a guide mark and worked towards it.
Beyond the ridge I stumbled on to a small farm, and as I came in sight a barking dog brought a woman to the door. I felt hungry and took a chance. She watched me approach, then closed the door, and as I came up she opened it again, but held a gun in her hand and talked fiercely at me.
I pointed to my ear and tongue and shook my head; at the same time held out the sheet of paper. I remember the simple old lady put down her gun and pulled the spectacles from her forehead to her nose, read my note that I was 'going to the front' and—kissed me! Possibly this was because of the suggestion of a retreat, whilst I, a mute, was going to the fighting line. Then she pointed towards the road and went off into a temper, rattling off a torrent of excited German, and again looking towards the road, spat vigorously.
As she handed me bread and cheese there were tears in her eyes. I remember as I left I kissed her and as I made for the strip of white I had seen earlier in the day, I carried the vision of those tear-dimmed eyes. "Somebody's mother," I mused. "Somebody's mother."
From February to August.
It has been said that, if coincidences did not happen, stories would not be written, and what I am about to write seemed at first strange, and yet, as events proved, was only natural.
Before I reached the white mark upon the tree I heard the noise of the breaking of bushes, so I carefully reconnoitred, and before long a swishing near by caused me to drop beneath a shrub, as there passed me within one hundred yards a figure dragging two saplings. I clapped my hand over my mouth to prevent shouting. It looked like Nap!
In my excitement I had moved. A sun-ray struck my white jacket. The figure stood, dropped the bushes, drew his revolver and turned his face toward me. It was Nap!
I rushed out.
"Nap," I shouted—but the revolver was still pointed.
"Hands up," he called, nonplussed at the German-looking figure rushing towards him. I threw his old phrase at him: "Fly high and good luck, old man." Then his arm dropped.
"The voice is Jefson's, sure enough," he said, "but the darned mug licks me."
"Wait till I cover up the mo'," I said, putting my hand over my mouth.
"Well, old chap, shall we drop a 'cough drop'?" I asked; and he nearly wrung my arm off.
"I fell near here three nights ago," he explained, "engine trouble—and, although it's enemy's country I don't like to burn the old 'bus, so I've backed its tail as far as I could into the bush and am screening the exposed part with bushes so that it won't be spotted from aloft. There's not much wrong with it, rather a bad strip of the fabric ripped off as I was coming down, but I struck an abandoned farm yesterday a mile from here, and when I cover up the jigger, I'm just going over to see if I can fossick out something to patch her up."
"I guess I know where your strip of fabric is," I said.
I then told him of the white mark on the tree and how it led me to him, and as we went to salvage it, he told me of the mighty doings of the war.
"Let me see," he said, "you went out on your Zep. raid last February? Well, lots have happened since.
"Shortly after that Germany started to blockade England with submarines to starve her out, and began to sink all sorts of ships. They bagged a fine and large lot including some Americans—just sunk 'em on sight, asking no questions."
"Did America buck up, Nap?" I asked.
"Don't ask me, Jefson—that's the sick part. I want to dodge that. Let me get on—where was I? Oh, yes, Germany's submarine piracy; but that didn't do much harm, and she got tired of that stunt after a month or so. Then her fleet came out of Kiel to make a grand attack: at least, a bit of it came out, but only a bit of that bit got back again.
"Turkey, in the meantime had butted in and went for the Suez Canal, but your Australian fellows, who had been dropped at Egypt, made those bucks hike back quick and lively, then your Australians helped to chase them off the banks of the Dardanelles: and the British and French Fleets, smashing their way through, had threatened Constantinople—and then Turkey got the axe.
"All through February, March and April, Belgians, British and French held that line from Ostend to Nancy, getting a trench to-day and losing it to-morrow, all the while Kitchener was waiting for the winter to break and the Spring to come along and dry the roads for the cavalry and the big guns.
"In the east the Russian Army was just sitting like a rock. The Germans, relying on their idea of attack, were simply chucking themselves away on that Russian rock and smashing up like spray.
"Kitchener had six great armies waiting, but during May, June and July those armies doubled! The French and Russian Armies also practically doubled and streams increased from Australia and Canada.
"It was the most extraordinary thing of the war—and a young woman did it!
"She is a Belgian. She saw her mother being outraged by a German soldier. She slipped in, took up his bayonet, and skewered him, shot his companion, and with the weapon escaped to France. Through France and England she preached a crusade of Revenge. Crowds came to hear the sweet-faced woman speak frankly of unprintable horrors, and the fire of her tongue as she preached in her simple country dress with the bloodstained bayonet in her hand, won thousands of recruits. On top of her crusade out came the official report, that among other awful things, over 4000 Belgian women who had been maltreated by German soldiers would become mothers this year. Men with memories of dear mothers and sweet sisters tumbled over one another to hear and bless the world's new Joan of Arc, and marched in hundreds to recruiting stations with a fearful song of Revenge.
"Then she went to Italy! and though she spoke in a foreign tongue, the crowds understood and the Italians, passionate to the extreme, rose in storm—and Italy declared war!
"Italy got busy early in June, invading the Tyrol and smashing Pola on the Adriatic. Then its armies worked north, finding the great Austrian fortresses abandoned and destroyed, the big guns having been removed to be used against the Russians.
"Greece, when it found that Turkey was in danger of being smashed, joined with the Allies. It hung fire for a bit as its king was a relative of the Kaiser, but the people got sore, and at an election sent a popular Premier in who got the Greeks into the firing line.
"The principal Balkan States are also joining in the rumpus, as I guess they're anxious to be in the "top dog" so as to get some pickings after the scrap. Then in August we got the tip to get the big move on."
How the Great War Ended.
I remember how Nap sparked up as he described the happenings of the past fortnight.
"We got the tip to prepare for the 'Grand Advance,'" he said. "Our stunt was to thoroughly screen from German aerial reconnaissance all our movements between Rheims and Metz; and so for a week the air actually swarmed with our 'planes. Gee! but the smash-up of aircraft was awful. We lost quite a collection, but the Germans must have very few left. And the way we went about it was a caution! We had a real aerial fandango—smashing bridges, trains, railway stations and any old thing. You see our commandants untied us—let us loose. Why one of my 'goes' was the bust up of the big balloon and 'plane 'deepo' at Laon; but in chasing a Taube three days ago I came to grief right here—engine trouble, sure."
"But what was the game, Nap?" I asked excitedly. "What was the reason of your aerial razzle?"
"Simple enough, Jefson," he replied, "we were screening a big transfer of our forces towards Metz. You see, the Germans, during June and July, had been pushed back to a line along the Lys, where they dug in on the right bank and waited.
"The great new armies Kitchener had in training during the winter were to be flung at that German line between Courtrai and Antwerp, to try and force their way through Belgium to Liege.
"We on the south were to put up a big bluff between Rheims and Metz in order to divert German attention from that big smashing attack on the Lys. Gee! How I'm itching to be back before the game starts!"
Then it all came back to me; the incident of the impatient German soldiers at the ferry on the Rhine; the tramp-tramp, rattle-clink of the German troops and carts on the Coblenz road; the anger of the little German woman at the farm—and one line of reasoning linked all the incidents.
"They've started," I said. "The Germans are retreating! That Coblenz road is a crowded procession of despair!"
He stopped and looked at me in surprise.
"How?" he queried. "Why we're 100 miles from Metz. Bless me, they must have started just after I lit out. Gee! but we must hustle."
So we stepped out briskly and reached the white strip on the tree. It was the piece of fabric from Nap's 'plane. That night we repaired the machine, and after many hours coaxed the engine back to sanity. Before the dawn the leafy screen was cleared, the 'plane wheeled into the open, the engine coughed, spluttered and "got busy"; and up to greet the morning sun we rose and turned southward with the sky clear of cloud, fog or 'plane.
As we climbed, we could discern the Coblenz road and the River Moselle below us, the former still a long length of moving figures. In half an hour, up came the sounds of big guns. Far to the south the opposing armies were evidently in touch. It was round Metz that the fighting was taking place, and we could see the "grey coats" retreating along at least five roads.
As we passed over Metz, I remembered my last crossing it in a fog and my dash to the Argonne Forest seven months before. Things had changed somewhat since.
We crossed the fighting lines and were lucky to descend without being hit, as several shots were fired as we volplaned down.
I remember, in those excitement-laden days, how for a while I was surprised that we were only welcomed back with a nod. There were evidently more important happenings to consider than the return of two lucky aviators, so we were soon again in operation with our squadron reconnoitring on our right to watch for any German reinforcements coming against our right flank.
It was evident that the Germans understood that our attack from the south was only a feint, as our advance was poorly retarded; in fact the German rearguard defence was so weak that our mounted forces began to push ahead rather quickly. The enemy was evidently concentrating on the Lys to oppose the Allies' main attack in West Belgium.
I remember that our forces to the left of Metz, the left wing of the southern armies, found an opening in the enemy's line at the Argonne Forest, and poured through: and being mostly French, Italian and Australian mounted troops, with artillery; speedily moved ahead, dashed into the Ardennes; and, being reinforced with our Metz forces joining them at Longwy, pushed on with a six road front through the Ardennes Forest. They concentrated in force at the edge of the forest on the left bank of the Lesse River to wait for the engineers.
Oh, what a mad dash that was! There seemed to be no thought of taking prisoners. It was a wild rush north, with, of course, every precaution taken for providing defence on both sides of our advance.
I remember that I wondered, at the time, why the Germans were almost without horses. Their dash across Belgium in the previous year explained the mobs of broken-backed, split-heeled and fleshless wrecks we met in the paddocks along the Meuse.
Within four days we occupied the whole of the country south of the Lesse River; with two railways, one a double line, feeding us with reinforcements and supplies.
Then our second dash began, and within a week our front was entrenched at the junction of the Meuse and Ourthe, with our artillery banging into the swarms of German infantry pouring into Liege!
What a sacrilege it seems to tell of this wonderful week in plain matter-of-fact language!
A week of feverish excitement, when one hardly remembered meals, sleep or rest, when our spirits raced in front of us pulling our responsive flesh!
I remember that when the French mounted troops, who led the way, lined the ridge beyond Nandrin and looked down upon the City of Liege between the hills they fairly screamed in their frenzied delight.
The main attack of the Allies had changed from the west to the south!
In the meantime our forces on our right extended along the Ourthe, with those on our left along the Meuse, two natural defensive positions, as the troops kept pouring in from the south to strengthen our attack.
We were as a spear-head at the heart of Germany, and great armies of French reinforcements were coming up behind us to drive that spear-head home!
Against that "spear-head" German reinforcements drawn from the eastern army flung themselves, but their attacks seemed spiritless. Russia had already broken their power.
Beneath a fearful fire from the Liege forts the Allies' armies poured across the Ourthe, climbed like cats on to the 200 foot ridge to the east of Liege; and within ten days all supplies for the German armies in Belgium were cut off!
On the second day of September, the main German armies in Belgium, that had held the line at the Lys, retired to their second line of defence at the Dendre, but almost before they could deploy the British were upon them and they unconditionally surrendered.
Thousands had fled to the Meuse, where the relentless French shells plowed passages through their ranks. Thousands had rushed, demoralised, northward, to be rounded up like wild cattle by the Dutch troops at the border line.
Then the British armies marched through Brussels and across the battle-blackened country easterly through Louvain; and at Liege joined hands with the armies from the south, as news came of the surrender of the German armies of the east.
The armies of Russia and Italy had been closing in on Vienna from the north and south.
Germany having no desire to get upon its own soil the awful devastation it had bestowed upon Belgium and France, through President Wilson, of the United States of America, asked the Allies for the terms of peace.
Then ensued a rather interesting situation.
The United States had not acted through the war with any admiration from the Allies.
Even when the German submarines had sunk the "Lusitania" and drowned over 1000 Americans, President Wilson did not take any action beyond practically asking Germany to frame any "old excuse." He was a man of peace. He seemed to have forgotten that the foundations of the U.S.A. were carved with a sword, and that Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence was militant and resistant. "For the support of this declaration," he wrote, "we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."
President Wilson had previously informed the Allies that he was "too proud to fight," so when the message requesting the terms of peace came through Wilson, the Allies received it in a cold and formal fashion.
There are some phrases in the world's history that will live for ever. There is Kitchener's reply to General Cronje in the Boer War: "Not a minute"—there is Nelson's immortal message on the "Victory" of "England expects——"; so the reply of the Allies to America will long endure:—
"They who conquer can dictate the terms of peace."
Next day Germany and Austria pleaded for cessation of war.
Within fifteen months a world's war had begun and ended, and the events at its close had moved as swiftly as those at its beginning.
A Campaign of Errors.
So the Great War had ended.
In fifteen months the greatest tragedy the world had ever known came and passed. One could now calmly review the awful affair with an unbiassed mind. When one studied events during the war, there was always a prejudice against the enemy. His virtues were only "accidents" or strokes of luck. Our successes were always "brilliant affairs."
Yet the Great War was a campaign of blunders.
Victor Hugo said: "Alexander blundered in India, Caesar blundered in Africa, Napoleon blundered in Russia."
After all, every book of war is a catalogue of errors, and the errors in a campaign, though unrealised at the time by those who make them, became palpable after the deed is done, and increase in notoriety as time passes.
British, French and German Generals blundered through the Great War. Only one nation came out of that awful clash of arms without criticism. It was Belgium.
The war opened with two mistakes on the part of Germany.
The first and greatest, as it proved now she was defeated, was the mistake of entering on a campaign that ended in her disaster.
Germany's second mistake was that of using heavy assaulting columns to charge the Liege forts, with the resultant horrible carnage. It was the old military rule of thumb. It went out at Liege, and the Mars of old, with his blood-dripping sword, had to stand aside as Modern Science stepped out of the Krupp factory with the great 42 centimeter gun. It took thirty horses to drag the first of these monsters out of that nest of the Prussian war eagle, and soldiers had to give way for that great weapon as it was drawn into place, accompanied by its retinue of mechanics and engineers, who set it up, armed, and fired it.
The monster required a concrete base; and concrete took 14 days to harden, but the Krupp experts brought a new concrete that hardened in 24 hours, and, within a week from leaving its home, the great Krupp demon began to batter a road through Liege.
France made the third blunder of the war as Belgium bravely held the gate at Liege and awaited aid from France and England.
France, mistaking the main line of the German advance, massed the main army of her forces along the upper Meuse from Belfort, two hundred miles away from the right position.
Britain's first blunder was in not being prepared to immediately help Belgium. So the Krupp monsters smashed that Belgian gate and the German hordes swept towards Paris.
Britain somewhat retrieved her delay by quickly rushing to block the triumphant tide of Germany. And two British army corps saved the war by holding up five of Germany's best armies at Mons; holding them whilst they waited for the French to move up from their first mistakenly-held position; till, finding that aid not forthcoming, they fought back to the Marne.
Germany now blundered once again. Its aerial scouts failed to see a great French army coming at its right flank; failed to note it, because it came so swiftly out from behind Paris. It drove the German right towards its centre, past the British forces, which, catching the Germans on their flank, smashed them back to the readied trenches on the Aisne Ridge.
Then the Germans came round the north of Belgium, and Britain blundered again in sending a force of marines and reserves to hold Antwerp. They had to ignominiously retire as they found the country too flat for offensive manoeuvring, and they had arrived too late to do the necessary extensive trenching which really meant the making of artificial land contours. That British force, however, helped to cover the retreat of the Belgian army.
Germany's final mistake was holding their position on the ridge of the Aisne. It could not have retreated without fearful loss as that ridge was the last conformation of any military value in the practically flat country between the Aisne and Liege.
After the war, experts maintained that it would, for many reasons, have been better strategy for Germany not to have crossed the Meuse in the first place.
The Germans were fired with the false idea that the capture of Paris meant the end of French aggression.
They had forgotten the lesson they learnt in 1870, when the capture of Paris did not end that campaign. They had forgotten the lessons of the Boer War, that the capture of the South African capitals did not terminate that long struggle.
They had their fixed plan. It had been prepared many years before and been put away till required, though military strategy had moved along in the meantime. At the first blast of war they blindly threw themselves across Belgium with their battle cry of 34 years before: "A Paris."
They could have occupied the country to the east of the Meuse, fortified the long length of high cliffs along its right bank, and sat there like a rock, letting the Allies smash themselves against it, whilst vast armies could have been free to push the Russians back to St. Petersburg, obtain supplies from Russia and so neutralise any British blockade.
Furthermore, having the fight nearer German soil would have given the German people a better idea of the actual state of the war and helped to stifle any lack of enthusiasm on the part of German Socialists which, later on, was to develop into serious trouble.
It was a war of surprises.
Science had laid its new-won gifts at the feet of Mars.
It brought as new factors into human warfare, wireless telegraphy, aeronautics and motor traction.
Wireless telegraphy, one of the greatest gifts to mankind in the saving of human life at sea, and in the sending of messages of peace, utterly failed during the stress of human strife.
It seemed that just as clashing human passions in war stultified all thoughts of brotherly love and goodwill, so the ether waves from military wireless plants clashed in the air and destroyed all intelligence in messages.
In aeronautics, the swift aeroplane asserted its superiority over the balloon, and where movements were in open country as between Liege and the Aisne, it furnished a new and wonderful aid for reconnaissance.
It failed when the movements took place beneath cover, as in the fighting in the thickly wooded country to the south of Compeigne; again, when the French army moved out under cover of the houses of Paris and environs before the battle of Marne; and finally when, in the conclusive phases of the war the Allies moved north beneath the screen of the forests of the Argonne and the Ardennes.
Motor traction counted most in the new aids of science. It brought into the war the most vital factor of all human element—speed.
The great smash on the German right at the Marne, which gave the first check to the German advance, was only possible because the French General, Gallieni, moved 70,000 soldiers out of Paris in taxicabs and other motor vehicles, and in six hours had them in action before even the German aerial reconnaissance knew about it.
The motor brought speed into the fighting in running the cheering soldiers to the front, and with auto hospitals brought the sorry wounded as speedily back again.
It was a triumph for the machine, and yet the machine, in the end, gave place to the hand to hand death grip of primitive man.
As Kipling wrote:—
"What I ha' seen since ocean steam began Leaves me no doot for the machine; what, what about the man?"
The Great War answered that question.
There was a doubt about the man—he dropped off the veneer of the human and became the animal once again.
When foe came face to face with foe the world dropped back ten thousand years.
And now the war was over—bar the shouting.
I remember the soldiers had strange emotions at the sudden ending to fifteen months' activity. At times they would be excited, and at others disappointed. It seemed like the feeling of the London 'busman who left off work for a week's holiday, but found himself on a 'bus next day asking the driver to "let him hold the ribbons for a bit."
The war fever had got into our blood, and the camps, instead of being orderly in arrangement, became moving masses of wandering soldiers. Discipline snapped as the news of Peace passed through the ranks. Some soldiers would cheer—they had loved ones awaiting their return. Others took it as a matter of little concern—they, no doubt, had cut all ties in enlisting, and, perhaps, wondered if their old places had been kept open for them.
Troops still poured in from the south, adding to the demoralisation.
I remember that the commandant of my air corps rose with me in the 'plane and surveyed the wonderful scene.
Around Liege troops were moving in a wonderful mass, not unlike the mixed crowd that one sees in a city street after a procession has passed along, but with the crowd increased a thousandfold.
Yet it was not a disorderly crowd. It seemed a crowd of good fellowship. The German soldiers in the west had fought against the British and found them brave enemies. The revulsion of feeling made them friends. The tension of hate snapped.
It has ever been thus. With a quarrel over, the greatest haters become the warmest friends.
For two days the armies at the Meuse fraternised.
Our soldiers learnt much from their former enemies. They found, through some papers that had slipped the eyes of the censors, that the Socialists of Germany were in revolt.
I could then understand the excitement of my religious friend, Brother Wilbrid, on the Rhine road, and his anxiety to get back to Berlin without loss of time.
It appears that the first public indication of the insurrection took place as far back as December 2, 1915, when a party of fifteen Socialist deputies in the Reichstag, led by Karl Leibknecht, refused to vote for the second war credits. Four of these members were from Berlin. One, Stadthagen, represented a popular workmen's suburb in Berlin, while another, Geyer, represented a workers' suburb in Leipsic. The Socialists of Bremen, Stuttgart and Hamburg endorsed the Socialist Deputies' refusal by a majority of two to one. Not only were the Socialist party rising in revolt, but the Moderates, under Bernstein, were opposed, because the war was entered into by Socialists exclusively as a war against Russia, whilst the authorities had cleverly turned the reason as a war against England. Though the Socialists may have hated England, the war proved that they were used as a cat's paw. So riots broke out in Berlin, Stuttgart and Hamburg.
In Berlin, down the Unter der Linden, a mighty mob of workers marched and stoned the Government offices. The military police dispersed them.
Fate helped the revolt.
At the surrender of the German armies, thousands of German soldiers, rather than surrender, had retreated along the roads leading into Germany, sullenly shouting the news of the defeat.
Bad news travels fast, and to the German people, who had been kept in ignorance of reverses, the news came with stunning effect.
Only a few days before had the authorities at Berlin announced to the Socialists that ultimate success was certain, and bade the people be of good cheer. Now, like a crash, came the news of defeat with the additional disgrace of being brought by retreating soldiers of the Empire!
Then the revolution crashed on Germany. It was a riot that rolled round the earth.
I remember it was a week after our arrival at Liege that the armies of the Allies began their march to the Rhine. They had not yet reached German soil, and the Peace terms would not be disclosed till the Allies were in Germany.
To my delight, the French army of the Argonne was given the post of honor. It must have been a wonderful sight to see the Air Squadron of twelve aeroplanes moving backward and forward over the heads of the moving columns. Nap accompanied me in my 'plane, and I remember I kept somewhat in advance of the rest to catch the first sight of Cologne Cathedral.
It came upon the horizon, its two great spires piercing the sky unscathed. How unlike the Churches of Rheims, Ypres and the other cities of France and Belgium. Germany well knew the value of its historical buildings to protect them, even at the price of peace. We flew low to give a more spectacular effect to our advance.
Soon the great piers of the familiar Rhine Bridge came into sight as the order was given to descend on a plain to the west of the river.
That night the army bivouacked on the outskirts of Aix la Chappele, but sleep did not come to my eyes. At times I desired to fly ahead to Cologne and tread the familiar ways—but strict regulations tied all troops to the camp lines.
I comforted myself that to-morrow I would reach Cologne and someone would be pleased to see me.
Next day we crossed the Rhine, circled the city of Cologne, and parked our 'planes in the gardens I had left but three weeks previously.
The Allied troops were marched through the city and encamped two miles beyond it. A regiment of French soldiers were deputed as military police to take possession of the city; and within an hour, from the poles of the official buildings, French, Belgian, Russian and British flags fluttered, and an order was issued that all arms must be handed in.
I remember the happy feeling as Nap and I hastened through the city to Goche's house.
I was in my uniform and felt I would cut a smarter figure before my sweetheart, than I did in the ragged "cast-offs" I wore as a prisoner.
I walked on air when I entered the familiar street and saw, in the distance, the house I knew so well. The street was silent. I reached the house, pulled myself together and knocked at the door. Happiest of thoughts coursed through my mind. What a wealth of news I had to tell her!
The door slowly opened, and Grandpa Goche's whitened and aged face came to the light. His under jaw seemed to shiver in terror. He gave the impression that he was expecting some dreadful calamity. As he recognised me, his jaw fell and he retreated into the room, sank into a chair, gripped its arms with shaking clutch, looked at me with hollow eyes and said: "Ja wohl."
"Where is Helen?" I asked.
"Forgive me," he said, "forgive me," shaking his head. "They came to me and asked for the Englishman that escaped—'the English dog' they called you. I told them I knew not, but as I hated you and hated her, for I knew she cared for you, I told them she could tell, as she saw you leave. Then they took her," and he bowed his head in his hands, "took her away——"
"Where, where?" I almost shouted at him.
"To Berlin, a week ago," was all he said.
Footing the Bill.
It is difficult at this distant date to give in detail the story of the riot that began in Berlin and thundered round the earth toward the end of 1915.
While the Great War was under way the belligerents were like gamblers crowded round a table, as they threw down their millions in men and money to beat the whirling finger of Fate.
Great Britain and her Allies had 12,600,000 men and had spent L1,180,000,000. Germany, Austria and Turkey had 8,800,000 men and had spent L1,282,000,000. When the awful game was over there were over 18,000,000 people to go back to civil life, many of whom were crippled. Withal the belligerents had lost over L9,000,000,000 in direct expenditure, loss of production and capitalised value of the human sacrifice.
These 18,000,000 men were flung back into civil life at a time when almost all productive industry was crippled or paralysed. The world could not immediately reorganise her industries and taxation promised to be colossal.
When men came back to their homes, or what was left of them, took off their uniforms and put their guns behind the doors, they sat down and pondered. They began to count up the cost and wondered how to foot the bill.
One can, therefore, easily understand they did not form a high opinion of the wisdom of those who had governed them and exacted unquestioning obedience from them.
Was it any wonder then that they should consider they might as well take a hand in governing? They could not make a worse mess of things than those who claimed to have had a divine commission for the job. When the masses, who had furnished the bulk of the soldiers, began to think, the position became dangerous, especially as real thinking had stopped fifteen months before and there was a call for overtime in thinking to make up.
The man with the gun would remember that before Britain entered the war there was a heavy tax per head. He would find out that though Britain had been attempting to cheer herself up during the war with a motto of "Business as Usual," her exports had diminished by L50,000,000, and the actual cost had been L1,250,000,000!
Then he would think very hard.
If he were French he would remember that before the war opened France had a permanent debt of L1,269,223,600, or L32.05 for every man, woman and child.
If he were Russian he would remember that before the war the national debt was L1,461,000,000, with annual loss of revenue from the Vodka monopoly of L140,000,000.
If he were German he would remember that the war tax had been L74,700,000, and that the war had cost L2,770,000,000.
One question would come into the minds of those 18,000,000 thinkers. Who was going to pay for this loss of L9,000,000,000?
One answer came from Germany.
It was voiced by Wilbrid the Humanist.
The "psychological" had arrived for sounding the note of revolt. It was struck and echoed round the earth; even throughout America!
"Europe is filled with human wrecks," Wilbrid preached.
"All the time the physical stamina of Europe was being destroyed on the battlefield, national debts piled up, adding phenomenal burdens to the already crushing taxes cast on the toilers.
"Millions still unborn must toil the harder and live the meaner for every day of the monstrous lunacy.
"There is only one reason for the ocean of blood and tears.
"Eighty per cent. of the world's population belong to a class supported by its own exertions—the working class. It only gets back half the wealth it produces; the other half goes to the 20 per cent. that does not toil; but as that 20 per cent. cannot consume that half, markets must be found for what is over, and some nation must yield markets, colonies and dumping grounds to another nation able to put into the field stronger battalions and deadlier guns. Those conditions must be altered or this peace will be only an armed truce.
"War can be abolished by giving the 80 per cent. who produce the result of their efforts, instead of paying it to the 20 per cent.; in short, let all the results of labor go toward the Common Good.
"Men should work for humanity generally, not for an individual. That system would kill competition in manufacture between individuals and nations.
"All men should be prepared to fight for humanity, not for an individual. That would kill monarchy.
"The Great War debts can be paid by taxing those 20 per cent. non-workers who have been taking more than their share since time began.
"It is those non-workers that made the war by their competition for trade, for individual power and personal wealth. So let them pay for it.
"The age of individualism ended with the war. There will be no further need for that 'joke of the ages' at Hague. A 'Palace of Peace' erected by a 'millionaire'! No wonder the Hague conventions were 'scraps of paper.'"
It was such doctrines that brought about the revolution.
It was not a revolution of force, although at its outset a mob of irresponsibles stoned the Government offices in Berlin. The distinctive note preached by the Humanists was abolition of armed force and reform by constitutional means. So when Wilbrid's mighty "Army of Humanity" marched through Berlin as a demonstration of numbers, half of its ranks were soldiers. But they walked with arms reversed as a proof of the death of "Armed Force."
The presence of the soldiers in the crowd was evidently misunderstood at Potsdam, for that day the Kaiser and his staff fled and the Government resigned.
Then the wonderful organising ability of Brother Wilbrid asserted itself. Within a few days the socialistic doctrines of the Humanists covered Germany.
The doctrines found ready acceptance. The Humanists pointed out that their advocacy of the control of production by the Government for the Common Good was not so novel in its application.
They showed that, before the war, the railways were Government-owned, and it was ready to nationalise the electrical industry.
They showed that, during the war, every nation had taken over railway traction and was manufacturing and supplying to citizens certain necessaries of life.
They showed that in Britain for many years men who had argued that the Government should take over and operate the privately-owned railways were looked upon as revolutionaries, extremists and fanatics; yet on the very day war was declared the British Government reached out and seized every railroad and began to operate it.
"During the war Germany was manufacturing and supplying citizens with food, clothing and shelter," preached Wilbrid. "If Governments can do that for the sake of war they can do it for the sake of peace. If they can operate clothing factories to clothe soldiers, they can operate them to clothe citizens. If they can operate food factories to feed soldiers on the firing line, they can operate food factories to feed starving citizens. If such things can be done to destroy life, they can do these things to preserve it."
These fantastic phrases struck home.
The fact was that the masses foresaw colossal taxation following the war, and jumped at any opportunity of letting some one else pay it.
It was the old story of the "have-nots" and the "haves," with the result that the Reichstag became almost unanimously a Humanist assembly.
It seemed strange at the time that the Allies' forces were being kept out of Berlin till the elections were decided. The wisdom of it was afterwards ascertained, however.
The allied armies were kept out of Berlin because their presence there would have given opportunity for tumult, and perhaps seriously interrupted the course of events the Humanists were, perhaps unconsciously, shaping in favor of the Allies.
The change in German politics cleared out the Hohenzollern regime, deposed the Kaiser and his class, and as the chief policy doctrine of the Humanists was disarmament, it suited the Allies to let the people do the work for them.
The wisdom of this step was evident when news came through that the Humanist movement was spreading across France and England.
In Belgium and France it met with more opposition than it did in Germany. Strange to say the Belgian "Joan of Arc" was the leader. She preached the cause of "the capitalist" with much vigor. I do not know why she took up this political campaign. Maybe the wonderful response to her appeals for financial aid for the starving Belgians won her sympathy when she saw the capitalistic class that helped her in danger of being destroyed.
Her eloquence, spiced by anecdote and parable, won many followers. She pointed out that the doctrine of the Humanist in abolishing world competition hit at the fundamental principle that made for initiative and made man utilise thought and self-improvement.
"Abolish competition or distinction," she said, "and all men come under the one rule, like so many animals."
She pointed to Joffre and Kitchener as successful examples of the old and well-tried system.
She pointed to Belgium's King, Albert, who fought throughout the war in the fighting line, sharing the lot of the soldier. She was joined in her campaign by many of her own sex, even from Berlin, whence many had departed, at the advent of the Humanist campaign which was spreading throughout Germany.
When the Reichstag elections were decided, a force from each of the Allied armies entrained for Berlin and, to my delight, my company was among those favored.
It is difficult for one accustomed to plain writing to tell in fitting phrases the wonderful enthusiasm that reigned as our troop-trains slowly rolled into Berlin.
Along ten lines, crowded with continuous trains, we were conveyed to our destination. Our trains were preceded by slow trains which dropped guards at each bridge and station.
As our train steamed into the depot outside Berlin, I saw the wonderful system of getting away troops. As soon as a train arrived columns poured into a great park adjoining and took up allotted places.
As we passed along the streets the populace did not show any of the fright and fear we fancied our presence would cause. They chatted, smiled and pointed at us as if it were an ordinary parade of troops and not the triumphant conquerors of their country.
Truth to tell, they were mighty sick of the war and the long preparation, and our presence proved it was all over.
I remember, best of all, the frenzied welcome we received from the Russian forces who had trained in from the south east.
They had kept the enemy busy on the east whilst we were moving up. It was like the meeting of many friends who had come through adversity together.
I can only picture one simile. I remember a story of two miners imprisoned in a mine. They were cut off from all help and separated, but began digging to meet one another. After many hours they cut through the wall of clay that stood between them. Their hand-grip must have been as ours was on that wonderful day in August.
It would take three days for all troops to detrain, so I sought the earliest opportunity of finding Miss Goche. Nap came with me. The only clue I had was that she had been removed to a concentration camp at Berlin. I found that camp. A military officer who could speak English saluted as we approached and informed us that all foreign military prisoners had been transferred to Belgium and given their liberty.
"Was a Miss Goche among them?" I anxiously asked.
"I cannot say," he replied.
My heart sank. I felt that it was a difficult task for a stranger unacquainted with German and a former enemy to attempt to trace the information.
Nap tapped me on the shoulder, and in order to cheer me said: "You've got a friend here, come and look him up."
There would be little difficulty in finding Wilbrid, he was now a public character. So we took a car for the Humanist headquarters and there we found him seated at a large desk in his shirt sleeves. On either side of him were two dictaphones, and into the cylinders he was alternatively dictating his correspondence. As one cylinder would fill it would automatically ring, and he would turn to the other, an assistant removing the filled cylinder.
We stood behind him at the end of the room afraid to interrupt, but he turned and, seeing me, rose and came with outstretched hand.
"My brother Jefson," he said. "I know your first desire. You have been to the concentration camp. I found your friend there. When I returned to Cologne I found she had been arrested for assisting your escape. I traced her to the camp, gave her your letter and saw much of her for your sake. But she has gone—to Belgium. She was high-spirited. I talked much to her of the Humanist creed, but she would have none of it: so on her release she left for Belgium and she joined the woman called the Belgian "Joan of Arc."
The Great Combine.
"Your war has ended at last," said Wilbrid, after a long pause. "Ours is but beginning; and our conquest will not be limited by an empire's boundaries, or even by those of a continent. It will embrace the earth." Having spoken he turned to the window and peered at the blood-red sunset contemplatively.
I surveyed his tall, spare figure, his steel grey hair and sharply-cut features, the latter pinked by the evening glow.
Here is a new Kaiser, I thought.
"You said a 'world conquest,'" I remarked to him. "Don't you think the days have gone when persons should 'talk big'? The great war should henceforth limit the ambitions of those who dream of world's dominion by conquest."
"Do not misunderstand me," he said. "We shall conquer the world because of the human appeal of our creed. Its basis is that the strength of a nation lies in the welfare of its producers—the working class, and not in its mighty armaments or individual wealth. There is not an atom of national strength in the accumulation of much money by any individual. Where wealth is in the hands of the few, misery stalks among the many; and, where the masses are ill-fed and hopeless, moral and physical strength cannot exist."
Then he walked from the window to his desk and back again; his arms still behind him, flinging his phrases at us as he passed to and fro.
"Great things can only be achieved by combination," he went on. "The victory of the Allies is proof of that. We are going to combine all workers, and, in order to make our combination supreme, we will not only organise those at work, but, also, those out of work. It is going to be a combination of all who can labor," he snapped out.
"Up till now," he continued, "there have been more men in the world than there have been jobs to go round; so there have always been many unemployed. Those unemployed are the men who keep down the wages of the workers. If there were no men or women to take the jobs from those who work, then the workers could demand shorter hours and a better share of the wealth they produce. It is the unemployed who have been keeping up the competition in wages. That is where they have been useful to the employer.
"Up till now the workers have struggled to hold their jobs; and have fought to maintain or raise their wages without taking into account the thousands of unemployed who need work.
"Those out of work are humans after all, and when hunger drives them to take the work at lower wages, they're called 'scabs' and other vile names; and we have treated them as our bitterest enemies.
"Can you blame a man whose wife is sinking and whose children cry for food, if he is willing to take a job at less than the wage you get?
"Would not any man lower the wages scale and take another man's job for less, in order to save the life of his wife and the new baby? Should any union principles stand between him and his wife's life? That is why we are going to combine with the unemployed."
It had grown dark, so he stepped to the wall and touched a switch. As the light flooded the room I ventured a reply.
"Don't you think the human appeal in your creed is rather one-sided," I remarked. "Why not purge your workers' unions first! You know there are certain trade unions that make the entrance fees so high, that many of their own trade are excluded."
"There is a Wharf Laborers' Union in Australia that has an entrance fee that is considered to prohibit new membership, and it has as its secretary a Federal Minister of the Crown."
"I guess you're right just there," Nap put in. "The Union of Glass Blowers of the U.S.A. demand 1000 dollars as initiation fee; so they get fine pay and they're 'some' people, I guess."
"There are unions in Australia," I rejoined, "that not only demand a high entrance fee, but, in order to continue a monopoly of employment, are limiting the number of apprentices who desire to learn their trade.
"There are unionists who, when work is slack and members are unemployed, will advocate shorter hours at the same rate of pay so as to make room for their unemployed mates.
"And, perhaps, you are not aware that Australia is a land where Nature is so generous that in its short history it has reached the highest level in the world's wheat and wool production. Yet in that land, twenty times the size of your Germany and with one-thirteenth of your population, the workers discourage immigration of people of their own British race, because they foolishly fancy the newcomers would create competition in their high-priced work; and that is in a wonderful land crying out for development and only having an average population of one person to the square mile."
I finished in a highly-strung manner, but Wilbrid came forward and put his hands on my shoulders.
"My boy," he said calmly, "you are right, and I am also right. That selfishness on the part of the workers is but the fear of having their wages cut and becoming unemployed with the advent of further competition. Remove that fear and keep the unemployed from cutting wages and the selfishness will disappear. The Humanist creed recognises all men as sparks of Divinity. There will be no 'scabs,' 'pimps,' 'blacklegs,' or other vile, cruel epithets. The men and women who work will combine with those unemployed. The result will be such a world's combination of labor that all sources of profit-winning will be in the hands of the men who toil. It will indeed be a conquest of the world.
"Already we control the Governments of Germany and Austria. France and England will certainly follow at the next elections. The French workers do not forget that, during the war, their Government successfully organised the whole of the industries; and the English toilers remember how the Asquith Government successfully controlled all the great munition factories and limited the employers' profits to 10 per cent., giving the surplusage to the State. Now I note that the British workers are demanding that just as the State successfully controlled great works during the war and claimed the profits in excess, so it should control all works now and let the profits go also to the Common Good—yes, that's the term. It's almost a divine inspiration. The Common Good is the doctrine of the Humanist! Watch the cause! It will sweep the earth!"
As he shook hands with me, I could feel his nerves twitching.
Nap and I walked back to the great camp almost in silence, and little sleep came to me that night.
The Terms of Peace.
I shall never forget the grand march of the Allies through Berlin, and the sealing of the Treaty of Peace.
There had been much delay regarding what the Terms of Peace should be. Great Britain was the stumbling block.
Eighty years before, Washington Irving wrote of "John Bull":—
"Though no one fights with more obstinacy to carry a contested point, yet when the battle is over and he comes to reconciliation, he is so much taken up with the mere shaking of hands, that he is apt to let his antagonists pocket all they have been fighting about."
England proved that once again in South Africa, for after fighting five years with the Boers, she actually gave them what they were fighting for—their independence.
With Germany she was inclined to be generous, but the French, Belgian and Russian delegates urged firmness, and the Terms of Peace were finally settled.
It was estimated that the actual expenditure of the Allies was L1,180,000,000, and the loss in shipping L250,000,000, a total loss of L1,430,000,000.
Germany and Austria had to hand over to the Allies the whole of their Navies to be held for the protection of the world's peace, and each nation had to pay an indemnity of L1,000,000,000. The German prisoners had to be kept in Belgium for nine months to repair damage done to Belgian towns. The boundaries of France and Belgium were to be extended to the Rhine. Holland was to be absorbed by a joint protectorate that took in the Schleswig-Holstein Peninsula. Poland was to go back to Russia, Servia and Italy being allotted the shorelines of the Adriatic. The Dardanelles was to be an open, undefended waterway. Bulgaria was to absorb Turkey in Europe, Russia obtaining further concessions in Caucasia.
There were other details of the terms that need not be here mentioned. But on the 1st day of December, 1915, the Treaty of Berlin confirmed them.
There was little demonstration in Germany. The new political party in power, the Humanists, had already agreed to disarmament; so the first part of the treaty did not trouble. The policy of "universal brotherhood" subdued any qualms that might have arisen regarding loss of territory. Regarding the indemnity: it could be met by imposing a heavy income tax on all incomes over 3000 marks (L150). By this means the Humanists would make the capitalists pay for the war.
The Humanist Government readily accepted the demand of the Allies that the German prisoners should not be returned to Germany for nine months. They were drafted into great work-camps in Belgium, and were put to replacing bridges, reconstructing buildings, and making good all they had devastated.
I remember at the time, how the world jeered at the so-called "Humanist" Government in Germany, because it so readily agreed to the harsh treatment of the "Sons who fought for the German Empire." But the Berlin officials were wise. For nine months an army of 800,000 men were being fed and kept at the Allies' expense. That mob was thus prevented from returning to an overstocked manufacturing nation. They were being held back to give their country nine months' opportunity to "put its house in order."
What Happened in England.
On leaving Berlin our squadron was part of the force that had to return to England. I had hoped to break the journey at Brussels, to meet Helen Goche, but Fate stepped in. To my disappointment the troop-trains passed on to Ostend along a line to the south of Brussels.
On arrival in England, the Flying Corps were not disbanded, but were attached to the permanent forces.
Nap, however, desired to return to the United States, and as we shook hands in "good-bye," I felt I was losing a friend to whom adventurous days had linked me by heart-grips.
"I'm going along through to that country of yours," he said to me as he swung into the train. "From what you tell me, it must be 'some place.' We'll grip again there, sure." And the train pulled out and tore him out of my life for many days.
The months succeeding the Declaration of Peace were troublesome times for England. Troops were pouring back from the Continent and being dismissed to return to jobs they found had disappeared.
During the war a fine spirit of "cheer up" generally prevailed. People tried to put vim into themselves by tacking the motto over their shops: "Business as Usual." They knew full well that business was nearly dead; but they were like the boy who whistled going through the graveyard in order to keep up his courage.
Apart from the trades making munitions of war, few factories maintained their full output. Recruiting lessened the number of employees, and those who stayed behind fought for shorter hours and higher wages. Investors generally eased off, as money was too high in value to risk in new concerns in such uncertain times. Even the highly boosted scheme to bring back to England from Germany the Aniline dye industry failed for the want of the necessary capital.
Then a great movement was inaugurated throughout the British Empire. "Trade only with the Allies." It seemed a fine idea in theory, but when Russia, in desiring to place an order for L1,400,000 worth of railway plant, found English prices inflated by labor demands and placed the order with America, the "Trade-only-with-the-Allies" movement began to wobble.
Then the troops began to pour back into England in thousands. Manufacturers and investors kept off of any new enterprises as they saw the Asquith Government, always rather radical, lending a sympathetic ear to the workers' demand that the State should control all industries.
Cities and towns now began to fill with unemployed and riots broke out everywhere.
Then the Government took action. All steel and woollen industries were placed under military control with "preference to returned soldiers."
The outcries of the owners were pacified by the promise of 10 per cent. of all profits on work done, with proportional profits according to the value of the plant and enterprise. But under the military control, as increased wages were given and shorter hours worked in order to absorb all unemployed, profits diminished rapidly.
The General Elections in February, 1916, divided the country into two parties. The Humanist party, headed by Lloyd-George and Blatchford, aiming at Government control of all production, and the Individualist party, in which Winston Churchill was prominent, standing for "private enterprise." Though the latter had behind it the full force of British capitalists, the Humanist party, elected on a general franchise, swept the poll. Thus England became Socialistic. Heavy land and income taxes followed with high wages ruling for the working classes. It was a bloodless revolution!
Belgium Holds the Gate Again.
It was shortly after the Humanist Government assembled in London that considerable disbandment in the British military forces took place, my squadron, amongst others, being marked out. I lost no time in crossing to Brussels. I remember when I again met Helen Goche I felt, at first, a strange reserve, fearing that our short friendship in Cologne had no deeper meaning for her; but we both realised that henceforward our paths would be together; so I joined her in her work with the Belgian "Joan of Arc."
I never knew the name of this wonderful woman. We simply called her "Madame"; but her power of organising was remarkable and recalled to my mind the similar success of Wilbrid in Germany.
Madame was the head of an organisation that had a branch in every town in Belgium.
Tall and somewhat thin, without any striking personal beauty, she stood erect before her audience, and, with the sincerity of her purpose, carried all before her.
The second night of my return, I went with Helen to a great assembly where, for two hours, ten thousand Belgians absorbed the purpose of her phrases.
"Men of Belgium," she said, "we are asked, in these days of peace, to forget and forgive; but can you ever forget those terrible days of 'frightfulness' the German swine inflicted upon us and our beloved country?
"Return to your homes, your farms and your factories, but take with you a hate for the Huns—a hate that time can never heal. To forgive may be divine, but justice is the prime attribute to divinity. Justice in this case calls for our undying hate. And now these Germans, not content with having tried to subjugate our flesh, are trying to subjugate our minds and our very souls. Think well upon the tempting creed of the Humanists that was 'Made in Germany.'
"It is a creed that calls for State control of all production; a creed that cuts out all private enterprise and initiative; a creed that forces men to shut down upon their self-development and independence and to rely upon employment by the State.
"I ask you, men of Belgium, to look at those whom the State employs to-day. Eight hundred thousand Germans are under State control to make good the works they have wantonly destroyed. They may repair the bridges and the highways, but there are broken hearts they cannot heal, and—there are many empty chairs in Belgian homes.
"Do any of you wish to have the brand of shame those wastrels wear? Do any of you wish to have broken that national independent spirit that made our brothers bravely hold the Gate at Liege?
"To-day this German-made Humanist creed has gripped Germany, England, France and Austria. It stands for the levelling of the human being. None can rise above the common level. They call it the gospel of the Common Good, but there is nothing good in anything that clips the wings of those who would dare to excel; that baulks the aspirations of those who would use the brains their God has given them that they may rise.
"I tell you this 'Humanist' creed, rating all men as equal, and only recognising each man and each woman as one in a mob of similar animals, will lower the race till even your name will be replaced with a numeral. It is a creed akin to the German ideal of the man-animal that dragged a bloody trail across our country.
"I tell you, the creed must fail that cannot recognise any degrees of mental capacity; that cannot understand that man has a soul that cannot be confined within any man-drawn boundaries. This German-creed sweeps the earth with all the bombast of a war-mad Kaiser. It is going to fail, but not till men who think will rise and fight for recognition of their immortality. It will be the War of the Ages!
"And in the fight Belgium will stand firm once again as the Buffer State of Civilisation. It will hold the gate for the future of Humanity."
I came away from that meeting impressed with the air of prophecy in the discourse, for Belgium was standing firm for Individualism. A lonely State in a developing world of Socialism, and though Kings in other lands began to fear the safety of their crowns, Albert of Belgium was still the beloved sovereign of a prosperous people.
It was strange how Belgium quickly recovered from the war!
The energy generated by that conflict, the confidence engendered by success, and the adaptability and resourcefulness taught by the war, set off the loss of many of her manhood.
The war was a forerunner of a vigorous period of expansion of Belgian industry, for the employment of 800,000 German prisoners on national works set free the population to develop various enterprises.
Another incentive to excel was the practical sympathy the world had shown to Belgium in her days of distress. It put such stimulation into the nation that it felt it had to make good to merit the world's high regards.
I write at length on this remarkable sequel to the war on the part of Belgium, as other nations did not rise to the occasion like it did. The Socialistic doctrines of the Humanist countries sapped at the initiative of the worker, advanced his wages, but crushed the men of wealth and forced them to seek new fields for their enterprise.
It is a trait of the human nature that he, desiring to excel, will eventually rise; so the men of enterprise, the men of initiative, the men who do things, came to Belgium though many sought wider fields of enterprise across the seas.
What a Letter from Australia Told Me.
Australia had sent 100,000 men to the front at a cost of L18,000,000, which was covered by a loan from Britain.
Though the decline in trade on account of the war caused widespread unemployment, the sending off of 75,000 men eased matters considerably. As these men were paid at almost the same rate as their ordinary wage, and as a big proportion of their pay was held in Australia, the war did not hit the Commonwealth so very hard in this respect.
So people did not trouble much. They went about their business almost as usual and enjoyed the many entertainments arranged by "society people" for any object, however remotely connected with the war—"Sheepskin Waistcoat Funds," "Comfort for Horses Fund," "Knitted Socks Fund," and others. It was all so much work and gave people opportunity to have a busy time, flavored with the knowledge that it was an act of patriotism.
Six months before the war had ended the manufacturers began to get busy. When public bodies begin to get busy in Australia, the first thing they say is: "Let's have a Dinner."
The manufacturers saw a chance of influencing High Protection by the use of a new gag: "Don't buy German-made goods." They, of course, wanted people to buy only the Australian made, but they were cute.
They put it this way:
"Only trade with the Empire and its Allies. Every pound," it was said, "that is spent with Germany means another gun to our future menace." So the public were exhorted to confine business to the Empire and its Allies—with Britain, Africa, India, Canada, France, Belgium, Russia, Servia and Japan, and to cut the rest of the world. That is to say, to trade with three quarters of the world!
Their decision practically meant free trade with nearly the whole world, and so their hands were tied so long as Britain was joined up with foreign allies!
A striking proof that this slogan, "Trade with the Allies," was only an after-dinner sentiment was given when, in May, 1915, the Australian Postmaster-General rejected a Japanese tender for electric insulators, although its price was L1000 cheaper than a local tender, the total amount of which was L3281/6/8—a thirty-three per cent. preference being given against the work of an allied nation.
In the meantime the N.S.W. Government found their system of State Socialism so expensive that the Treasury began to rapidly empty. The war, with its upsetting of the British money market, stopped the usual method of loan-raising, but some smart English capitalists, more experienced in finance than the average labor politician, offered to take over the public works of New South Wales if they were paid 10 per cent. on their expenditure.
They 'cutely pointed out that by the system of State Socialism, the N.S.W. Government had gathered an immense army of laborers. It had built up an enormous civil service, and if men were thrown on the market consequent on the State's lack of funds, they would make it uncomfortable for the Government. That action would bring home to the workers the utter fallacy of State control of industries. They also whispered, with their tongues in their cheeks, that "private enterprise" would then become prosperous and the Labor movement would be thrown back for "years and years and years."
The temptation proved too strong and the compact was signed.
"Of course," said the Government, "you will give preference to unionists, the maximum wage, and all that?"
"Oh, of course," said the Syndicate, rubbing its hands with glee.
It was getting 10 per cent. on all the expenditure!
What though the men loafed through the work, the percentage of the outlay went on just the same!
So the N.S.W. Government signed the compact, practically threw over State Socialism, so far as public works were concerned, thanked goodness for the riddance, and sat back for a while, stripped of responsibility, a Syndicate's collection of "rubber stamps."
Some of the Ministers, however, tired of the "nothin'-doin' policy," hankered after the tinpot glory they had when in charge of men, so they began to look for new fields of enterprise not touched by the Syndicate.
They saw an opportunity in Government bread-making.
The Government had heard a good deal about the profit possibilities of great American "combines." Why not introduce the thing into Australia as a great Government scheme, and combine all the small bakery establishments into one big concern, in which great automatic baking machinery would supplant the small ovens of the small employers?
This would not only knock out the "hated employers," but it would capture all their profits—and the Government wanted money rather badly.
So, immense bread-making factories were built. A standard price was put on wheat the Government wanted, which knocked the farmer rather hard and hundreds of employees were thrown out of the bakehouses.
It was an awkward situation for a Government pledged to Socialism. The unionists had shouted for Socialism, yet when Socialism brought in labor-saving machines, when, in fact, it hit the chap who shouted, he objected. Socialism seemed alright "for the other fellow." It was like the old story of the Irishman's pigs. He believed in sharing alike, except regarding pigs—he happened to have a few.
The Socialist Government was in a quandary with its mob of unemployed baker unionists, till the voice of the tempter came again.
The Syndicate quietly whispered, "Give us a little more power and we'll absorb them."
They got it, and got further power as the Government installed labor-saving machinery into other concerns; and for a while the Syndicate proved a fine "haven of rest" for the out-of-work unionists, so that the Government encouraged it even to the extent of absolving it from having to pay income tax.
"You see," whispered the Syndicate in the ear of a harassed Premier, "it would be unjust to have to pay you income tax on what you have to pay us."
The "syndicate" idea began to appeal to the Governments of the other States, which were now all Labor ruled. The fact that the British Government had taken over private factories and distributed all profits over 10 per cent., gave Socialism such an advertisement that before the war had ended, Queensland and Victoria had joined the other Australian States and declared for Labor.
The Syndicate idea appealed to Labor Governments.
It seemed an easy way to get rid of responsibility. Of course, the time would come when the bill would have to be paid—but that was a matter posterity would have to look at—and besides, as one Minister blatantly shouted: "What has posterity done for us?"
The Rise of the "Syndicate."
The failure of the Australian manufacturers' campaign had its ludicrous side.
Prior to the termination of the war, all their talk was based upon these war-cries—"German manufacturers must be wiped off the earth." "Kill German trade and you kill their capacity for mischief." "Smash Germany now for all time." So "Trade only with the Empire and its brave Allies."
It was noticeable what fraternal consideration the manufacturers gave "the brave Allies."
As they put it ... "Those brave brothers of freedom are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the sons of the Empire, mingling their blood upon the fields of Europe in the battle for the world's civilisation."
So the "Brave Allies" were mentioned on every pamphlet issued during the war.
Of course, there were a few oversights regarding the Allies.
For instance, in an exhibition of manufactured goods, only the "Australian-made" were given any prominence. There may have been some "made by the brave Allies," but they were not very conspicuous.
It was also an oversight forgetting the "Brave Allies" when the U.S.A., taking the occasion of the stoppage of trade with Europe, joined hands with the Australian Governments in encouraging trade across the Pacific.
But the "Brave Allies" were mentioned in all the after dinner speeches—till the end of the war.
Then came a change. The manufacturers dropped their cloak of hypocrisy and made a straight-out appeal—"Only Buy Goods Made in Australia." The "Brave Allies" were dropped. Heavy duties were requested on all imported goods, whether they were made in Britain, Belgium, Bagdad or Beloochistan.
But the manufacturers were too late. They should have played that trump-card nine months before. Their first duty should have been to Australia. Their battle-cries from the beginning should have been—"Australia First"; and: "By being true to ourselves we can best contribute to Empire solidarity"; also: "The increased strength of the units will mean the more powerful whole."
Then the soldiers began to return from Europe. They found the same trouble their comrades were meeting in England, most of the jobs they had left had disappeared.
Many of the employers who had loudly boasted that the jobs of those who enlisted would be kept waiting for them, had done practically nothing to keep their promise.
During the war, when they should have been busy keeping the wheels moving, they had lost confidence.
They had forgotten that the times called for the best in every man and woman; that the first duty of those who could not go to the fighting line of Europe was to get in the fighting line of business at home; that full speed at home was absolutely necessary not only to keep a level of prosperity that would, at the end of the war, find the country well prepared to meet the inevitable heavy taxation, but to keep business at full strength so that when our soldiers returned they would have found places ready to be filled.
They had forgotten that slump is often only a mental attitude, and that even bad times can be bettered by putting an extra ounce into every pound of business energy. They had forgotten that if everyone made a move business would shift along at a faster pace. But they had done nothing but talk; so trade slackened generally and lack of business made many other vacant places besides those vacated by the men who went to the Front.
Australia wanted a commercial Kitchener, to get together business managers and labor leaders, and talk them into a better business output.
Instead of uniting together for the one common end to speedily end the war with credit to the Empire, politicians still kept up their bitter contentious legislation.
Instead of concentrating the whole of Australia's political machinery on the defence of the Empire and heartening the men with the knowledge of whole-souled support and sympathy, Australian Labor Governments devoted most of their attention to paltry party politics.
Instead of inviting workers to put in a little extra vim in time of stress; in fact, to be a bit more generous in their output, the labor leaders urged the workers to be more militant, to grip bad times as a fitting occasion to demand more wages and less hours. So the employers sat entrenched behind their desks, watching the political moves of the workers, as the Allies peered at the Germans across the trench edges of the Aisne—sat there till the soldiers came home and found no work to do.
There were cheers for them when they went out and they got some more when they came back, but they did not get much else. And they kept on coming back. A foolish politician blurted out: "Those unemployed soldiers are becoming a public nuisance."
The Federal Prime Minister, by whose Ministry the military forces were controlled, was in a quandary.
On one side, the manufacturers were telling him how to solve the problem.
"Put on thumping big taxes and help our factories to get busy, then we can take on the unemployed soldiers."
On the other side, the importers were advising the Prime Minister to drop the customs tariff and allow imports free. That, they explained, would cheapen the cost of living, and those out of work would have a better chance to live.
Then the "Syndicate," which had now grown to a great size, which, in fact, was controlling Government work in all the States, had a long consultation with the Prime Minister.
"Never mind the manufacturer," it said. "Remember, there are three stages in this country's development—Pastoral, Agricultural, and Manufacturing. The latter should be the last considered by Australia, which is a pastoral and agricultural country. We can develop Australia as it should be developed, by constructing irrigation schemes and opening agricultural areas. We could solve your unemployed problem, give your soldiers a good living wage and increase your country's prosperity. All we ask is that the Federal Government follow the States' example, and pay us 10 per cent. on the first five years expenditure, the whole amount of which we shall return at the end of that period with five per cent. added, provided you arrange with the States to give us, free of taxation, land they do not require."
A hurried conference of State Premiers was called and the situation was carefully studied. Unemployed were crowding Australian cities. Private enterprise was being crippled by the heavy income taxes imposed by State Governments to pay the increasing cost of the "Syndicates" controlling the Public Works of the various States. It was admitted that these works were being efficiently carried out, and being mostly railway and developmental constructions, they would be productive when completed. Still, with private enterprise choked off, investment was at a low level. The manufacturer was also being hard hit, for although some of the tariff duties imposed by the Federal Government helped him, each State appointed a Necessary Commodities Commission to regulate prices. The manufacturer, who was being helped by the tariff, had to pay high wages to manufacture his goods, but the Commodities Commission prevented him raising his prices so that he could not sell at a profitable figure. He, therefore, shut down and threw another mob of unemployed on the market.
Another factor that affected the matter was the great flow of immigration forwarded to Australia from Europe.
The Great War had put a sort of terror into the souls of men, and the fear of heavy taxation that threatened to follow drove them across the seas.
Every boat carried its full complement; so that when the "Syndicate" declared its intention to open up agricultural areas, each State recognised that this would not only absorb the unemployed, but as land development meant development in other quarters, a general prosperity would naturally follow. Hence they vied with each other in offering free of charge the choicest Crown lands.
The States recognised that the Crown lands had cost them nothing, and that the Commonwealth, having control of customs and land taxation, could easily raise the money for the cost of developing them.
So the "Syndicate" idea began to develop, and many capitalists who were being driven out of Europe by the uprising of Socialism, came to Australia and quietly invested in the "Syndicate" until the world saw the anomaly of a Socialistic country having all its public works and great armies of workers under the control of a capitalistic syndicate, which was now getting the opportunity to extend its scope of action by being offered tax-free land areas!
* * * * *
I will not soon forget the joy of having that letter from Australia. It was the second I had received since the Great War began.
I read it to Helen in a pretty little house which was perched upon the cliff above the Meuse, at Dinant, and which was our honeymoon home. Madame had come in to spend some days with us, and as I read the letter before the glowing fire, for it was in the winter of 1916, I could see her eyes sparkle with interest.
The Age of Brain Passes.
The war was a blessing to Germany. In cutting out the old military system it gave wider opportunity for manufacturing. Young men, instead of spending their days in military training, went into business, and things boomed.
The war had caused a great outcry against German-made goods, yet when peace came and dropped the barriers, the manufactures of Germany began to flood the world.
Germany's indemnity of L1,000,000,000 could only be paid from its manufactures, so the Allied nations took every opportunity to see that those goods got into circulation.
Though British, Russian and French merchants during the war had tried to "kill German trade," as money was urgently required the Allies had to let it live, and see that it had a vigorous life in order to get their indemnity without delay. That was why Australia, as well as other parts of the British Empire, was advised to lift tariff restrictions on German goods. It was an extraordinary request, and later on was to have a world-wide effect.
I remembered a remark Nap once made to me during one of our yarns whilst waiting behind the fighting lines on the Aisne for the dawn to call us into the air.
"It's blamed hard," he said, "to have this war in our life time. It's going to throw the world back thirty years, and thirty years in a fellow's life is a mighty big hunk. This war had to come. The world had been moving too quickly during the last ten years, which saw wireless, flying, radium, and other marvellous stunts—in fact, the world had rushed ahead so swiftly that it had to pull up to take breath. This war is giving the earth breathing space, but it's going to take thirty years to clear up the mess, wipe the stains away and patch mankind up physically and mentally."
But time proved that Nap, like all the other gloomy prophets of bad times, was wrong. The war speeded up things. Men, flushed with the activity of the battlefield, came back quick-witted. Country louts and city boys, who had been taken in hand and trained to physical perfection for the battlefield, came back in twelve months—men.
There was prosperity everywhere. All Western Europe, with the exception of Belgium had declared for Socialism. The Humanist (Socialist) trend of things made high wages for the workers everywhere. But the capitalists were being hit hard. Their factory profits were dwindling away under Humanist rule, and as each one went under, the Government would take over his business. Great estates were taxed and super-taxed, till the owners had to relinquish them.
The Socialistic ideal of "all sharing the wealth of the wealthy" was rapidly approaching, but bringing with it a social cataclysm.
There was no doubt of that. It was being hastened by the lessened output of the workers. The ca-canny system ruled everywhere. With good pay for little work there was no incentive to excel, and from "little work" to "no work" was an easy step for many, as under the Humanist rule the unemployed were also paid.
The people were rapidly losing self-respect. With their false idea of equality, discipline was difficult to maintain, and lawlessness was rife.
People were so sick of war that in most of the nations disarmament was an easy matter. Even the German Navy, that was passed over to the Allied nations at the termination of the war rapidly deteriorated from lack of discipline and reduced votes for upkeep.