"Liberty is like young wine—it mounts to your head sometimes, and liberty, as a force in the world, requires organisation and discipline.... There must be organisation, and there must be discipline. The Russian people are learning to-day the greatest lesson of life—that to be free you must work very hard and struggle very hard. They have the sensation of freedom, now that their bonds and shackles are gone, and no doubt they feel the joy, the intoxication, of their new experience; but they are living in a world which is not governed by formulas, however cleverly devised, but in a world of brute force, and unless that is smashed, even liberty itself will suffer and cannot live."
Will the newly-freed forget those that are still suffering and bound? Will Russia forget Belgium?—and forget Serbia?
"Serbia was the reason why we went to war. She was going to be crushed under the Austrian heel, and Russia said this shall not be allowed. Serbia has in that way become the occasion probably of the greatest movement for freedom the world has ever seen. Are we going to forget Serbia? No! We must stand by those martyr peoples who have stood by the great forces of the world. If the great democracies of the world become tired, if they become faint, if they halt by the way, if they leave those little ones in the lurch, then they shall pay for it in wars more horrible than human mind can foresee. I am sure we shall stand by those little ones. They have gone under, but we have not gone under. England and America, France and Russia, have not gone under, and we shall see them through, and shame on us if ever the least thought enters our minds of not seeing them through."
* * * * *
Noble and sincere words! One can but hope that the echoes of them may reach the ear and heart of Russia.
But if towards Russia the sky that seemed to have cleared so suddenly is at present clouded and obscure—"westward, look, the land is bright!"
A fortnight after the abdication of the Tsar, Congress met in Washington, and President Wilson's speech announcing war between Germany and America had rung through the world. All that you, sir, the constant friend and champion of the Allies, and still more of their cause, and all that those who feel with you in the States have hoped for so long, is now to be fulfilled. It may take some time for your country, across those thousand miles of sea, to realise the war, to feel it in every nerve, as we do. But in these seven weeks—how much you have done, as well as said! You have welcomed the British mission in a way to warm our British hearts; you have shown the French mission how passionately America feels for France. You have sent us American destroyers, which have already played their part in a substantial reduction of the submarine losses. You have lent the Allies 150 millions sterling. You have passed a Bill which will ultimately give you an army of two million men. You are raising such troops as will immediately increase the number of Americans in France to 100,000—equalling five German divisions. You are sending us ten thousand doctors to England and France, and hundreds of them have already arrived. You have doubled the personnel of your Navy, and increased your Regular Army by nearly 180,000 men. You are constructing 3,500 aeroplanes, and training 6,000 airmen. And you are now talking of 100,000 aeroplanes! Not bad, for seven weeks!
* * * * *
For the Allies also those seven weeks have been full of achievement. On Easter Monday, April 9th, the Battle of Arras began, with the brilliant capture by the Canadians of that very Vimy Ridge I had seen on March 2nd, from the plateau of Notre Dame de Lorette, lying in the middle distance under the spring sunshine. That exposed hill-side—those batteries through which I had walked—those crowded roads, and travelling guns, those marching troops and piled ammunition dumps!—how the recollection of them gave accent and fire to the picture of the battle as the telegrams from the front built it up day by day before one's eyes! Week by week, afterwards, with a mastery in artillery and in aviation that nothing could withstand, the British Army pushed on through April. After the first great attack which gave us the Vimy Ridge and brought our line close to Lens in the north, and to the neighbourhood of Bullecourt in the south, the 23rd of April saw the second British advance, which gave us Gravrelle and Guemappe, and made further breaches in the Hindenburg line. On April 16th the French made their magnificent attack in Champagne, with 10,000 prisoners on the first day (increased to 31,000 by May 24th)—followed by the capture of the immensely important positions of Moronvillers and Craonne. Altogether the Allies in little more than a month took 50,000 prisoners, and large numbers of guns. General Allenby, for instance, captured 150 guns, General Home 64, while General Byng formed three "Pan-Germanic groups" out of his. We recovered many square miles of the robbed territory of France—40 villages one day, 100 villages another; while the condition in which the Germans had left both the recovered territory and its inhabitants has steeled once more the determination of the nations at war with Germany to put an end to "this particular form of ill-doing on the part of an uncivilised race."
During May there has been no such striking advance on either the French or British fronts, though Roeux and Bullecourt, both very important points, from their bearing on the Drocourt-Queant line, behind which lie Douai and Cambrai, have been captured by the British, and the French have continuously bettered their line and defied the most desperate counter-attacks. But May has been specially Italy's month! The Italian offensive on the Isonzo, and the Carso, beginning on May 14th, in ten days achieved more than any onlooker had dared to hope. In the section between Tolmino and Gorizia where the Isonzo runs in a fine gorge, the western bank belonging to Italy, and the eastern to Austria, all the important heights on the eastern bank across the river, except one that may fall to them any day, have been carried by the superb fighting of the Italians, amongst whom Dante's fellow citizens, the Florentine regiment, and regiments drawn from the rich Tuscan hills have specially distinguished themselves. While on the Carso, that rock-wilderness which stretches between Gorizia and Trieste, where fighting, especially in hot weather, supplies a supreme test of human endurance, the Italians have pushed on and on, from point to point, till now they are within ten miles of Trieste. British artillery is with the Italian Army, and British guns have been shelling military quarters and stores in the outskirts of Trieste, while British monitors are co-operating at sea. The end is not yet, for the Austrians will fight to their last man for Trieste; and owing to the Russian situation the Austrians have been able to draw reinforcements from Galicia, which have seriously stiffened the task of Italy. But the omens are all good, and the Italian nation is more solidly behind its army than ever before.
So that in spite of the apparent lull in the Allied offensive on the French front, during the later weeks of May, all has really been going well. The only result of the furious German attempts to recover the ground lost in April has been to exhaust the strength of the attackers; and the Allied cause is steadily profited thereby. Our own troops have never been more sure of final victory. Let me quote a soldier's plain and graphic letter, recently published:
"This break-away from trench war gives us a much better time. We know now that we are the top dogs, and that we are keeping the Germans on the move. And they're busy wondering all the time; they don't know where the next whack is coming from. Mind you, I'm far from saying that we can get them out of the Hindenburg line without a lot of fighting yet, but it is only a question of time. It's a different sensation going over the top now from what it was in the early days. You see, we used to know that our guns were not nearly so many as the Germans', and that we hadn't the stuff to put over. Now we just climb out of a trench and walk behind a curtain of fire. It makes a difference. It seems to me we are steadily beating the Boche at his own game. He used to be strong in the matter of guns, but that's been taken from him. He used gas—do you remember the way the Canadians got the first lot? Well, now our gas shells are a bit too strong for him, and so are our flame shells. I bet he wishes now that he hadn't thought of his flame-throwers! ... Then there's another thing, and that's the way our chaps keep improving. The Fritzes are not so good as they used to be. You get up against a bunch now and again that fight well, but we begin to see more of the 'Kamerad' business. It's as much up to the people at home to see this thing through as it is to the men out here. We need the guns and shells to blow the Germans out of the strong places that they've had years to build and dig, and the folks at home can leave the rest to us. We can do the job all right if they back us up and don't get tired. I think we've shown them that too. You'll get all that from the papers, but maybe it comes better from a soldier. You can take it from me that it's true. I've seen the beginning, and I've been in places where things were pretty desperate for us, and I've seen the start of the finish. The difference is marvellous. I've only had an army education, and it might strike you that I'm not able to judge. I'm a soldier though, and I look at it as a soldier. I say, give us the stuff, keep on giving us the tools and the men to use them, and—it may be soon or it may be long—we'll beat the Boche to his knees."
The truth seems to be that the Germans are outmatched, first and foremost, in aircraft and in guns. You will remember the quiet certainty of our young Flight-Commander on March 1st—"When the next big offensive comes, we shall down them, just as we did on the Somme." The prophecy has been made good, abundantly good!—at the cost of many a precious life. The air observation on our side has been far better and more daring than that on the German side; and the work of our artillery has been proportionately more accurate and more effective.
As to guns and ammunition, "the number of heavy shells fired in the first week of the present offensive"—says an official account—"was nearly twice as great as it was in the first week of the Somme offensive, and in the second week it was 6-1/2 times as great as it was in the second week of the Somme offensive. As a result of this great artillery fire, which had never been exceeded in the whole course of the war, a great saving of British life has been effected." And no praise can be too high for our gunners. In a field where, two years ago, Germany had the undisputed predominance, we have now beaten her alike in the supply of guns and in the daring and efficiency of our gunners.
Nevertheless, let there be no foolish underestimate of the still formidable strength of the Germans. The British and French missions will have brought to your Government all available information on this point. There can be no doubt that a "wonderful" effort, as one of our Ministers calls it, has been made by Germany during the past winter. She has mobilised all her people for the war as she has never done yet. She has increased her munitions and put fresh divisions in the field. The estimates of her present fighting strength given by our military writers and correspondents do not differ very much.
Colonel Repington, in The Times, puts the German fighting men on both fronts at 4,500,000, with 500,000 on the lines of communication, and a million in the German depots. Mr. Belloc's estimate is somewhat less, but not materially different. Both writers agree that we are in presence of Germany's last and greatest effort, that she has no more behind, and that if the Allies go on as they have begun—and now with the help of America—this summer should witness the fulfilment at least of that forecast which I reported to you in my earlier letters as so general among the chiefs of our Army in France—i.e. "this year will see the war decided, but may not see it ended." Since I came home, indeed, more optimistic prophecies have reached me from France. For some weeks after the American declaration of war, "We shall be home by Christmas!" was the common cry—and amongst some of the best-informed.
But the Russian situation has no doubt: reacted to some extent on these April hopes. And it is clear that, during April and early May, under the stimulus of the submarine successes, German spirits have temporarily revived. Never have the Junkers been more truculent, never have the Pan-Germans talked wilder nonsense about "annexation" and "indemnities." Until quite recently at any rate, the whole German nation—except no doubt a cautious and intelligent few at the real sources of information—believed that the submarine campaign would soon "bring England to her knees." They were so confident, that they ran the last great risk—they brought America into the War!
How does it look now? The situation is still critical and dangerous. But I recall the half-smiling prophecy of my naval host, in the middle of March, as we stood together on the deck of his ship, looking over his curtseying and newly-hatched flock of destroyers gathered round him in harbour. Was it not, perhaps, as near the mark as that of our airmen hosts on March 1st has proved itself to be? "Have patience and you'll see great things! The situation is serious, but quite healthy." Two months, and a little more, since the words were spoken:—and week by week, heavy as it still is, the toll of submarine loss is at least kept in check, and your Navy, now at work with ours—most fitting and welcome Nemesis!—is helping England to punish and baffle the "uncivilised race," who, if they had their way, would blacken and defile for ever the old and glorious record of man upon the sea. You, who store such things in your enviable memory, will recollect how in the Odyssey, that kindly race of singers and wrestlers, the Phaeacians, are the escorts and conveyers of all who need and ask for protection at sea. They keep the waterways for civilised men, against pirates and assassins, as your nation and ours mean to keep them in the future. It is true that a treacherous sea-god, jealous of any interference with his right to slay and drown at will, smote the gallant ship that bore Odysseus safely home, on her return, and made a rock of her for ever. Poseidon may stand for the Kaiser of the story. He is gone, however, with all his kin! But the humane and civilising tradition of the sea, which this legend carries back into the dawn of time—it shall be for the Allies—shall it not?—in this war, to rescue it, once and for ever, from the criminal violence which would stain the free paths of ocean with the murder and sudden death of those who have been in all history the objects of men's compassion and care—the wounded, the helpless, the woman, and the child.
* * * * *
For the rest, let me gather up a few last threads of this second instalment of our British story.
Of that vast section of the war concerned with the care and transport of the wounded, and the health of the Army, it is not my purpose to speak at length in these Letters. Like everything else it has been steadily and eagerly perfected during the past year. Never have the wounded in battle, in any war, been so tenderly and skilfully cared for;—never have such intelligence and goodwill been applied to the health conditions of such huge masses of men. Nor is it necessary to dwell again, as I did last year, on the wonderful work of women in the war. It has grown in complexity and bulk; women-workers in munitions are now nearly a fifth of the whole body; but essentially the general aspect of it has not changed much in the last twelve months.
But what has changed is the food situation, owing partly to submarine attack, and partly to the general shortage in the food-supply of the world. In one of my earlier letters I spoke with anxiety of the still unsettled question—Will the house-wives and mothers of the nation realise—in time—our food necessities? Will their thrift-work in the homes complete the munition-work of women in the factories? Or must we submit to the ration-system, with all its cumbrous inequalities, and its hosts of officials; because the will and intelligence of our people, which have risen so remarkably to the other tasks of this war, are not equal to the task of checking food consumption without compulsion?
It looks now as though they would be equal. Since my earlier letter the country has been more and more generally covered with the National War Savings Committees which have been carrying into food-economy the energy they spent originally on the raising of the last great War Loan. The consumption of bread and flour throughout the country has gone down—not yet sufficiently—but enough to show that the idea has taken hold:—"Save bread, and help victory!" And since your declaration of war it strengthens our own effort to know that America with her boundless food-supplies is standing by, and that her man-and sea-power are now to be combined with ours in defeating the last effort of Germany to secure by submarine piracy what she cannot win on the battle-field.
Meanwhile changes which will have far-reaching consequences after the war are taking place in our own home food-supply. The long neglect of our home agriculture, the slow and painful dwindling of our country populations, are to come to an end. The Government calls for the sowing of three million additional acres of wheat in Great Britain; and throughout the country the steam tractors are at work ploughing up land which has either never borne wheat, or which has ceased to bear it for nearly a century. Thirty-five thousand acres of corn land are to be added to the national store in this county of Hertfordshire alone. The wages of agricultural labourers, have risen by more than one-third. The farmers are to be protected and encouraged as they never have been since the Cobdenite revolution; and the Corn Production Bill now passing through Parliament shows what the grim lesson of this war has done to change the old and easy optimism of our people.
As to the energy that has been thrown into other means of food-supply, let the potatoes now growing in the flower-beds in front of Buckingham Palace stand for a symbol of it! The potato-crop of this year—barring accidents—will be enormous; and the whole life of our country villages has been quickened by the effort that has been made to increase the produce of the cottage gardens and allotments. The pride and pleasure of the women and the old men in what they have been able to do at home, while their sons and husbands are fighting at the front, is moving to see. Food prices are very high; life in spite of increased wages is hard. But the heart of England is set on winning this war; and the letters which pass between the fathers and mothers in this village where I live, and the sons at the front, in whom they take a daily and hourly pride, would not give Germany much comfort could she read them. I take this little scene, as an illustration, fresh from the life of my own village:
Imagine a visitor, on behalf of the food-economy movement, endeavouring to persuade a village mother to come to some cookery lessons organised by the local committee.
Mrs. S. is discovered sitting at a table on which are preparations for a meal. She receives the visitor and the visitor's remarks with an air—quite unconscious—of tragic meditation; and her honest labour-stained hand sweeps over the things on the table.
"Cheese!"—she says, at last—"eightpence the 'arf pound!"
A pause. The hand points in another direction.
"Lard—sevenpence—that scrubby little piece! Sugar! sixpence 'a'penny the pound. The best part of two shillin's gone! Whatever are we comin' to?"
Gloom descends on the little kitchen. The visitor is at a loss—when suddenly the round, motherly face changes.—"But there now! I'm goin' to smile, whatever 'appens. I'm not one as is goin' to give in! And we 'ad a letter from Arthur [her son in the trenches] this morning, to say 'is Company's on the list for leave, and 'e's applied.—Oh dear, Miss, just to think of it!"
Then, with a catch in her voice:
"But it's not the comin' home, Miss—it's the goin' back again! Yes, I'll come to the cookin', Miss, if I possibly can!"
There's the spirit of our country folk—patriotic, patient, true.
As to labour conditions generally. I spoke, perhaps, in my first letter rather too confidently, for the moment, of the labour situation. There has been one serious strike among the engineers since I began to write, and a good many minor troubles. But neither the Tyne nor the Clyde was involved, and though valuable time was lost, in the end the men were brought back to work quite as much by the pressure of public opinion among their own comrades, men and women, as by any Government action. The Government have since taken an important step from which much is hoped, by dividing up the country into districts and appointing local commissioners to watch over and, if they can, remove the causes of "unrest"—causes which are often connected with the inevitable friction of a colossal transformation, and sometimes with the sheer fatigue of the workers, whose achievement—munition-workers, ship-wrights, engineers—during these three years has been nothing short of marvellous.
As to finance, the colossal figures of last year, of which I gave a summary in England's Effort, have been much surpassed. The Budget of Great Britain for this year, including advances to our Allies, reaches the astounding figure of two thousand three hundred million sterling. Our war expenditure is now close upon six million sterling a day (L5,600,000). Of this the expenditure on the Army and Navy and munitions has risen from a daily average of nearly three millions sterling, as it stood last year, to a daily average of nearly five millions.
But the nation has not spent in vain!
"Compare the first twenty-four days of the fighting on the Somme last year,"—said Mr. Bonar Law in a recent speech—"with the first twenty-four days of the operations of this spring. Four times as much territory had been taken from the enemy in this offensive as was taken in the Somme, against the resistance of double the number of German divisions. And of those divisions just one-half have had to be withdrawn—shattered—from the fighting line while the British casualties in the offensive have been from 50 to 75 per cent, less than the casualties in the Somme fighting."
Consider, too, the news which is still fresh as I finish this letter—(June 11th)—of the victory of Messines; perhaps the most complete, the most rounded success—so far—that has fallen to the British armies in the war! Last year, in three months' fighting on the Somme, we took the strongly fortified Albert ridge, and forced the German retreat of last February. On April 8th of this year began the battle of Arras which gave us the Vimy Ridge, and a free outlook over the Douai plain. And finally, on June 7th, four days ago, the Messines ridge, which I saw last year on March 2nd—apparently impregnable and inaccessible!—from a neighbouring hill, with the German trenches scored along its slopes, was captured by General Plumer and his splendid army in a few hours, after more than twelve months' preparation, with lighter casualties than have ever fallen to a British attack before, with heavy losses to the enemy, large captures of guns, and 7,000 prisoners. Our troops have since moved steadily forward; and the strategic future is rich in possibilities. The Germans have regained nothing; and the German press has not yet dared to tell the German people of the defeat. Let us remember also the victorious campaign of this year in Mesopotamia; and the welcome stroke of the past week in Greece, by which King "Tino" has been at last dismissed, and the Liberal forces of the Greek nation set free.
* * * * *
Aye, we do consider—we do remember—these things! We feel that the goal is drawing slowly but steadily nearer, that ultimate victory is certain, and with victory, the dawn of a better day for Europe. But who, least of all a woman, can part from the tragic spectacle of this war without bitterness of spirit?
"Who will give us back our children?"
Wickedness and wrong will find their punishment, and the dark Hours now passing, in the torch-race of time, will hand the light on to Hours of healing and of peace. But the dead return not. It is they whose appealing voices seem to be in the air to-day, as we think of America.
Among the Celts of ancient Brittany there was a belief which still survives in the traditions of the Breton peasants and in the name of part of the Breton coast. Every All Souls' Night, says a story at least as old as the sixth century, the souls of the dead gather on the cliffs of Brittany, above that bay which is still called the "Bai des Trepasses," waiting for their departure across the ocean to a far region of the west, where the gods sit for judgment, and the good find peace. On that night, the fishermen hear at midnight mysterious knockings at their doors. They go down to the water's edge, and behold, there are boats unknown to them, with no visible passengers. But the fishermen take the oars, and though they see nothing, they feel the presence of the souls crowding into the boats, and they row, on and on, into the west, past the farthest point of any land they know. Suddenly, they feel the boats lightened of all that weight of spirits, and the souls are gone—streaming out with solemn cries and longing into the wide illimitable ocean of the west, in search of some invisible shore.
So now the call of those hundreds of thousands who have given their young lives—so beloved, so rich in promise!—for their country and the freedom of men, is in your ears and ours. The dead are witnesses of the compact between you and us. For that cause to which they brought their ungrudged sacrifice has now laid its resistless claim on you. Together, the free peoples of Europe and America have now to carry it to victory —victory, just, necessary, and final.
MARY A. WARD.