Kings, Queens And Pawns - An American Woman at the Front
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
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An American Woman at the Front













































March in England is spring. Early in the month masses of snowdrops lined the paths in Hyde Park. The grass was green, the roads hard and dry under the eager feet of Kitchener's great army. For months they had been drilling, struggling with the intricacies of a new career, working and waiting. And now it was spring, and soon they would be off. Some had already gone.

"Lucky beggars!" said the ones who remained, and counted the days.

And waiting, they drilled. Everywhere there were squads: Scots in plaid kilts with khaki tunics; less picturesque but equally imposing regiments in the field uniform, with officers hardly distinguishable from their men. Everywhere the same grim but cheerful determination to get over and help the boys across the Channel to assist in holding that more than four hundred miles of battle line against the invading hosts of Germany.

Here in Hyde Park that spring day was all the panoply of war: bands playing, the steady tramp of numberless feet, the muffled clatter of accoutrements, the homage of the waiting crowd. And they deserved homage, those fine, upstanding men, many of them hardly more than boys, marching along with a fine, full swing. There is something magnificent, a contagion of enthusiasm, in the sight of a great volunteer army. The North and the South knew the thrill during our own great war. Conscription may form a great and admirable machine, but it differs from the trained army of volunteers as a body differs from a soul. But it costs a country heavy in griefs, does a volunteer army; for the flower of the country goes. That, too, America knows, and England is learning.

They marched by gaily. The drums beat. The passers-by stopped. Here and there an open carriage or an automobile drew up, and pale men, some of them still in bandages, sat and watched. In their eyes was the same flaming eagerness, the same impatience to get back, to be loosed against the old lion's foes.

For King and Country!

All through England, all through France, all through that tragic corner of Belgium which remains to her, are similar armies, drilling and waiting, equally young, equally eager, equally resolute. And the thing they were going to I knew. I had seen it in that mysterious region which had swallowed up those who had gone before; in the trenches, in the operating, rooms of field hospitals, at outposts between the confronting armies where the sentries walked hand in hand with death. I had seen it in its dirt and horror and sordidness, this thing they were going to.

War is not two great armies meeting in a clash and frenzy of battle. It is much more than that. War is a boy carried on a stretcher, looking up at God's blue sky with bewildered eyes that are soon to close; war is a woman carrying a child that has been wounded by a shell; war is spirited horses tied in burning buildings and waiting for death; war is the flower of a race, torn, battered, hungry, bleeding, up to its knees in icy water; war is an old woman burning a candle before the Mater Dolorosa for the son she has given. For King and Country!



I started for the Continent on a bright day early in January. I was searched by a woman from Scotland Yard before being allowed on the platform. The pockets of my fur coat were examined; my one piece of baggage, a suitcase, was inspected; my letters of introduction were opened and read.

"Now, Mrs. Rinehart," she said, straightening, "just why are you going?"

I told her exactly half of why I was going. I had a shrewd idea that the question in itself meant nothing. But it gave her a good chance to look at me. She was a very clever woman.

And so, having been discovered to be carrying neither weapons nor seditious documents, and having an open and honest eye, I was allowed to go through the straight and narrow way that led to possible destruction. Once or twice, later on, I blamed that woman for letting me through. I blamed myself for telling only half of my reasons for going. Had I told her all she would have detained me safely in England, where automobiles sometimes go less than eighty miles an hour, and where a sharp bang means a door slamming in the wind and not a shell exploding, where hostile aeroplanes overhead with bombs and unpleasant little steel darts, were not always between one's eyes and heaven. She let me through, and I went out on the platform.

The leaving of the one-o'clock train from Victoria Station, London, is an event and a tragedy. Wounded who have recovered are going back; soldiers who have been having their week at home are returning to that mysterious region across the Channel, the front.

Not the least of the British achievements had been to transport, during the deadlock of the first winter of the war, almost the entire army, in relays, back to England for a week's rest. It had been done without the loss of a man, across a channel swarming with hostile submarines. They came in thousands, covered with mud weary, eager, their eyes searching the waiting crowd for some beloved face. And those who waited and watched as the cars emptied sometimes wept with joy and sometimes turned and went away alone.

Their week over, rested, tidy, eyes still eager but now turned toward France, the station platform beside the one-o'clock train was filled with soldiers going back. There were few to see them off; there were not many tears. Nothing is more typical of the courage and patriotism of the British women than that platform beside the one-o'clock train at Victoria. The crowd was shut out by ropes and Scotland Yard men stood guard. And out on the platform, saying little because words are so feeble, pacing back and forth slowly, went these silent couples. They did not even touch hands. One felt that all the unselfish stoicism and restraint would crumble under the familiar touch.

The platform filled. Sir Purtab Singh, an Indian prince, with his suite, was going back to the English lines. I had been a neighbour of his at Claridge's Hotel in London. I caught his eye. It was filled with cold suspicion. It said quite plainly that I could put nothing over on him. But whether he suspected me of being a newspaper writer or a spy I do not know.

Somehow, considering that the train was carrying a suspicious and turbaned Indian prince, any number of impatient officers and soldiers, and an American woman who was carefully avoiding the war office and trying to look like a buyer crossing the Channel for hats, the whistle for starting sounded rather inadequate. It was not martial. It was thin, effeminate, absurd. And so we were off, moving slowly past that line on the platform, where no one smiled; where grief and tragedy, in that one revealing moment, were written deep. I shall never forget the faces of the women as the train crept by.

And now the train was well under way. The car was very quiet. The memory of those faces on the platform was too fresh. There was a brown and weary officer across from me. He sat very still, looking straight ahead. Long after the train had left London, and was moving smoothly through the English fields, so green even in winter, he still sat in the same attitude.

I drew a long breath, and ordered luncheon. I was off to the war. I might be turned back at Folkstone. There was more than a chance that I might not get beyond Calais, which was under military law. But at least I had made a start.

This is a narrative of personal experience. It makes no pretensions, except to truth. It is pure reporting, a series of pictures, many of them disconnected, but all authentic. It will take a hundred years to paint this war on one canvas. A thousand observers, ten thousand, must record what they have seen. To the reports of trained men must be added a bit here and there from these untrained observers, who without military knowledge, ignorant of the real meaning of much that they saw, have been able to grasp only a part of the human significance of the great tragedy of Europe.

I was such an observer.

My errand was primarily humane, to visit the hospitals at or near the front, and to be able to form an opinion of what supplies were needed, of conditions generally. Rumour in America had it that the medical and surgical situation was chaotic. Bands of earnest and well-intentioned people were working quite in the dark as to the conditions they hoped to relieve. And over the hospital situation, as over the military, brooded the impenetrable silence that has been decreed by the Allies since the beginning of the war. I had met everywhere in America tales from both the German and the Allies' lines that had astounded me. It seemed incredible that such conditions could exist in an age of surgical enlightenment; that, even in an unexpected and unprepared-for war, modern organisation and efficiency should have utterly failed.

On the steamer crossing the Atlantic, with the ship speeding on her swift and rather precarious journey windows and ports carefully closed and darkened, one heard the same hideous stories: of tetanus in uncounted cases, of fearful infections, of no bandages—worst of all, of no anaesthetics.

I was a member of the American Red Cross Association, but I knew that the great work of the American Red Cross was in sending supplies. The comparatively few nurses they had sent to the western field of war were not at the front or near it. The British, French, Belgian and Dutch nursing associations were in charge of the field hospitals, so far as I could discover.

To see these hospitals, to judge and report conditions, then, was a part of my errand. Only a part, of course; for I had another purpose. I knew nothing of strategy or tactics, of military movements and their significance. I was not interested in them particularly. But I meant to get, if it was possible, a picture of this new warfare that would show it for the horror that it is; a picture that would give pause to that certain percentage of the American people that is always so eager to force a conservative government into conflict with other nations.

There were other things to learn. What was France doing? The great sister republic had put a magnificent army into the field. Between France and the United States were many bonds, much reciprocal good feeling. The Statue of Liberty, as I went down the bay, bespoke the kindly feeling between the two republics. I remembered Lafayette. Battle-scarred France, where liberty has fought so hard for life—what was France doing? Not saying much, certainly. Fighting, surely, as the French have always fought. For certainly England, with her gallant but at that time meagre army, was not fighting alone the great war.

But there were three nations fighting the allied cause in the west. What had become of the heroic Belgian Army? Was it resting on its laurels? Having done its part, was it holding an honorary position in the great line-up? Was it a fragment or an army, an entity or a memory?

The newspapers were full of details that meant nothing: names of strange villages, movements backward and forward as the long battle line bent and straightened again. But what was really happening beyond the barriers that guarded the front so jealously? How did the men live under these new and strange conditions? What did they think? Or fear? Or hope?

Great lorries and transports went out from the French coast towns and disappeared beyond the horizon; motor ambulances and hospital trains came in with the grim harvest. Men came and, like those who had gone before, they too went out and did not come back. "Somewhere in France," the papers said. Such letters as they wrote came from "somewhere in France." What was happening then, over there, beyond the horizon, "somewhere in France"?

And now that I have been beyond the dead line many of these questions have answered themselves. France is saying nothing, and fighting magnificently, Belgium, with two-thirds of her army gone, has still fifty thousand men, and is preparing two hundred thousand more.

Instead of merely an honorary position, she is holding tenaciously, against repeated onslaughts and under horrible conditions, the flooded district between Nieuport and Dixmude. England, although holding only thirty-two miles of front, beginning immediately south of Ypres, is holding that line against some of the most furious fighting of the war, and is developing, at the same time, an enormous fighting machine for the spring movement.[A]

[Footnote A: This is written of conditions in the early spring of 1915. Although the relative positions of the three armies are the same, the British are holding a considerably longer frontage.]

The British soldier is well equipped, well fed, comfortably transported. When it is remembered that England is also assisting to equip all the allied armies, it will be seen that she is doing much more than holding the high seas.

To see the wounded, then; to follow the lines of hospital trains to that mysterious region, the front; to see the men in the trenches and in their billets; to observe their morale, the conditions under which they lived—and died. It was too late to think of the cause of the war or of the justice or injustice of that cause. It will never be too late for its humanities and inhumanities, its braveries and its occasional flinchings, its tragedies and its absurdities.

It was through the assistance of the Belgian Red Cross that I got out of England and across the Channel. I visited the Anglo-Belgian Committee at its quarters in the Savoy Hotel, London, and told them of my twofold errand. They saw at once the point I made. America was sending large amounts of money and vast quantities of supplies to the Belgians on both sides of the line. What was being done in interned Belgium was well known. But those hospital supplies and other things shipped to Northern France were swallowed up in the great silence. The war would not be ended in a day or a month.

"Let me see conditions as they really are," I said. "It is no use telling me about them. Let me see them. Then I can tell the American people what they have already done in the war zone, and what they may be asked to do."

Through a piece of good luck Doctor Depage, the president, had come across the Channel to a conference, and was present. A huge man, in the uniform of a colonel of the Belgian Army, with a great military cape, he seemed to fill and dominate the little room.

They conferred together in rapid French.

"Where do you wish to go?" I was asked.


"Hospitals are not always cheerful to visit."

"I am a graduate of a hospital training-school. Also a member of the American Red Cross."

They conferred again.

"Madame will not always be comfortable—over there."

"I don't want to be comfortable," I said bravely.

Another conference. The idea was a new one; it took some mental readjustment. But their cause was just, and mingled with their desire to let America know what they were doing was a justifiable pride. They knew what I was to find out—that one of the finest hospitals in the world, as to organisation, equipment and results, was situated almost under the guns of devastated Nieuport, so close that the roar of artillery is always in one's ears.

I had expected delays, a possible refusal. Everyone had encountered delays of one sort and another. Instead, I found a most courteous and agreeable permission given. I was rather dazed. And when, a day or so later, through other channels, I found myself in possession of letters to the Baron de Broqueville, Premier and Minister of War for Belgium, and to General Melis, Inspector General of the Belgian Army Medical Corps, I realised that, once in Belgian territory, my troubles would probably be at an end.

For getting out of England I put my faith in a card given me by the Belgian Red Cross. There are only four such cards in existence, and mine was number four.

From Calais to La Panne! If I could get to Calais I could get to the front, for La Panne is only four miles from Nieuport, where the confronting lines of trenches begin. But Calais was under military law. Would I be allowed to land?

Such writers as reached there were allowed twenty-four hours, and were then shipped back across the Channel or to some innocuous destination south. Yet this little card, if all went well, meant the privilege of going fifty miles northeast to the actual front. True, it gave no chance for deviation. A mile, a hundred feet off the straight and tree-lined road north to La Panne, and I should be arrested. But the time to think about that would come later on.

As a matter of fact, I have never been arrested. Except in the hospitals, I was always practically where I had no business to be. I had a room in the Hotel des Arcades, in Dunkirk, for weeks, where, just round the corner, the police had closed a house for a month as a punishment because a room had been rented to a correspondent. The correspondent had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but had been released after five weeks. I was frankly a writer. I was almost aggressively a writer. I wrote down carefully and openly everything I saw. I made, but of course under proper auspices and with the necessary permits, excursions to the trenches from Nieuport to the La Bassee region and Bethune, along Belgian, French and English lines, always openly, always with a notebook. And nothing happened!

As my notebook became filled with data I grew more and more anxious, while the authorities grew more calm. Suppose I fell into the hands of the Germans! It was a large notebook, filled with much information. I could never swallow the thing, as officers are supposed to swallow the password slips in case of capture. After a time the general spy alarm got into my blood. I regarded the boy who brought my morning coffee with suspicion, and slept with my notes under my pillow. And nothing happened!

I had secured my passport vise at the French and Belgian Consulates, and at the latter legation was able also to secure a letter asking the civil and military authorities to facilitate my journey. The letter had been requested for me by Colonel Depage.

It was almost miraculously easy to get out of England. It was almost suspiciously easy. My passport frankly gave the object of my trip as "literary work." Perhaps the keen eyes of the inspectors who passed me onto the little channel boat twinkled a bit as they examined it.

The general opinion as to the hopelessness of my trying to get nearer than thirty miles to the front had so communicated itself to me that had I been turned back there on the quay at Folkstone, I would have been angry, but hardly surprised.

Not until the boat was out in the channel did I feel sure that I was to achieve even this first leg of the journey.

Even then, all was not well. With Folkstone and the war office well behind, my mind turned to submarines as a sunflower to the sun. Afterward I found that the thing to do is not to think about submarines. To think of politics, or shampoos, or of people one does not like, but not of submarines. They are like ghosts in that respect. They are perfectly safe and entirely innocuous as long as one thinks of something else.

And something went wrong almost immediately.

It was imperative that I get to Calais. And the boat, which had intended making Calais, had had a report of submarines and headed for Boulogne. This in itself was upsetting. To have, as one may say, one's teeth set for Calais, and find one is biting on Boulogne, is not agreeable. I did not want Boulogne. My pass was from Calais. I had visions of waiting in Boulogne, of growing old and grey waiting, or of trying to walk to Calais and being turned back, of being locked in a cow stable and bedded down on straw. For fear of rousing hopes that must inevitably be disappointed, again nothing happened.

There were no other women on board: only British officers and the turbaned and imposing Indians. The day was bright, exceedingly cold. The boat went at top speed, her lifeboats slung over the sides and ready for lowering. There were lookouts posted everywhere. I did not think they attended to their business. Every now and then one lifted his head and looked at the sky or at the passengers. I felt that I should report him. What business had he to look away from the sea? I went out to the bow and watched for periscopes. There were black things floating about. I decided that they were not periscopes, but mines. We went very close to them. They proved to be buoys marking the Channel.

I hated to take my eyes off the sea, even for a moment. If you have ever been driven at sixty miles an hour over a bad road, and felt that if you looked away the car would go into the ditch, and if you will multiply that by the exact number of German submarines and then add the British Army, you will know how I felt.

Afterward I grew accustomed to the Channel crossing. I made it four times. It was necessary for me to cross twice after the eighteenth of February, when the blockade began. On board the fated Arabic, later sunk by a German submarine, I ran the blockade again to return to America. It was never an enjoyable thing to brave submarine attack, but one develops a sort of philosophy. It is the same with being under fire. The first shell makes you jump. The second you speak of, commenting with elaborate carelessness on where it fell. This is a gain over shell number one, when you cannot speak to save your life. The third shell you ignore, and the fourth you forget about—if you can.

Seeing me alone the captain asked me to the canvas shelter of the bridge. I proceeded to voice my protest at our change of destination. He apologised, but we continued to Boulogne.

"What does a periscope look like?" I asked. "I mean, of course, from this boat?"

"Depends on how much of it is showing. Sometimes it's only about the size of one of those gulls. It's hard to tell the difference."

I rather suspect that captain now. There were many gulls sitting on the water. I had been looking for something like a hitching post sticking up out of the water. Now my last vestige of pleasure and confidence was gone. I went almost mad trying to watch all the gulls at once.

"What will you do if you see a submarine?'

"Run it down," said the captain calmly. "That's the only chance we've got. That is, if we see the boat itself. These little Channel steamers make about twenty-six knots, and the submarine, submerged, only about half of that. Sixteen is the best they can do on the surface. Run them down and sink them, that's my motto."

"What about a torpedo?"

"We can see them coming. It will be hard to torpedo this boat—she goes too fast."

Then and there he explained to me the snowy wake of the torpedo, a white path across the water; the mechanism by which it is kept true to its course; the detonator that explodes it. From nervousness I shifted to enthusiasm. I wanted to see the white wake. I wanted to see the Channel boat dodge it. My sporting blood was up. I was willing to take a chance. I felt that if there was a difficulty this man would escape it. I turned and looked back at the khaki-coloured figures on the deck below.

Taking a chance! They were all taking a chance. And there was one, an officer, with an empty right sleeve. And suddenly what for an enthusiastic moment, in that bracing sea air, had seemed a game, became the thing that it is, not a game, but a deadly and cruel war. I never grew accustomed to the tragedy of the empty sleeve. And as if to accentuate this thing toward which I was moving so swiftly, the British Red Cross ship, from Boulogne to Folkstone, came in sight, hurrying over with her wounded, a great white boat, garnering daily her harvest of wounded and taking them "home."

Land now—a grey-white line that is the sand dunes at Ambleteuse, north of Boulogne. I knew Ambleteuse. It gave a sense of strangeness to see the old tower at the water's edge loom up out of the sea. The sight of land was comforting, but vigilance was not relaxed. The attacks of submarines have been mostly made not far outside the harbours, and only a few days later that very boat was to make a sensational escape just outside the harbour of Boulogne.

All at once it was twilight, the swift dusk of the sea. The boat warped in slowly. I showed my passport, and at last I was on French soil. North and east, beyond the horizon, lay the thing I had come to see.



Many people have seen Boulogne and have written of what they have seen: the great hotels that are now English hospitals; the crowding of transport wagons; the French signs, which now have English signs added to them; the mixture of uniforms—English khaki and French blue; the white steamer waiting at the quay, with great Red Crosses on her snowy funnels. Over everything, that first winter of the war, hung the damp chill of the Continental winter, that chill that sinks in and never leaves, that penetrates fur and wool and eats into the spirit like an acid.

I got through the customs without much difficulty. I had a large package of cigarettes for the soldiers, for given his choice, food or a smoke, the soldier will choose the latter. At last after much talk I got them in free of duty. And then I was footfree.

Here again I realise that I should have encountered great difficulties. I should at least have had to walk to Calais, or to have slept, as did one titled Englishwoman I know, in a bathtub. I did neither. I took a first-class ticket to Calais, and waited round the station until a train should go.

And then I happened on one of the pictures that will stand out always in my mind. Perhaps it was because I was not yet inured to suffering; certainly I was to see many similar scenes, much more of the flotsam and jetsam of the human tide that was sweeping back and forward over the flat fields of France and Flanders.

A hospital train had come in, a British train. The twilight had deepened into night. Under the flickering arc lamps, in that cold and dismal place, the train came to a quiet stop. Almost immediately it began to unload. A door opened and a British nurse alighted. Then slowly and painfully a man in a sitting position slid forward, pushing himself with his hands, his two bandaged feet held in the air. He sat at the edge of the doorway and lowered his feet carefully until they hung free.

"Frozen feet from the trenches," said a man standing beside me.

The first man was lifted down and placed on a truck, and his place was filled immediately by another. As fast as one man was taken another came. The line seemed endless. One and all, their faces expressed keen apprehension, lest some chance awkwardness should touch or jar the tortured feet. Ten at a time they were wheeled away. And still they came and came, until perhaps two hundred had been taken off. But now something else was happening. Another car of badly wounded was being unloaded. Through the windows could be seen the iron framework on which the stretchers, three in a tier, were swung.

Halfway down the car a wide window was opened, and two tall lieutenants, with four orderlies, took their places outside. It was very silent. Orders were given in low tones. The muffled rumble of the trucks carrying the soldiers with frozen feet was all that broke the quiet, and soon they, too, were gone; and there remained only the six men outside, receiving with hands as gentle as those of women the stretchers so cautiously worked over the window sill to them. One by one the stretchers came; one by one they were added to the lengthening line that lay prone on the stone flooring beside the train. There was not a jar, not an unnecessary motion. One great officer, very young, took the weight of the end as it came toward him, and lowered it with marvellous gentleness as the others took hold. He had a trick of the wrist that enabled him to reach up, take hold and lower the stretcher, without freeing his hands. He was marvellously strong, marvellously tender.

The stretchers were laid out side by side. Their occupants did not speak or move. It was as if they had reached their limit of endurance. They lay with closed eyes, or with impassive, upturned faces, swathed in their brown blankets against the chill. Here and there a knitted neck scarf had been loosely wrapped about a head. All over America women were knitting just such scarfs.

And still the line grew. The car seemed inexhaustible of horrors. And still the young lieutenant with the tender hands and the strong wrists took the onus of the burden, the muscles of his back swelling under his khaki tunic. If I were asked to typify the attitude of the British Army and of the British people toward their wounded, I should point to that boy. Nothing that I know of in history can equal the care the English are taking of their wounded in this, the great war. They have, of course, the advantage of the best nursing system in Europe.

France is doing her best, but her nursing had always been in the hands of nuns, and there are not nearly enough nuns in France to-day to cope with the situation. Belgium, with some of the greatest surgeons in the world, had no organised nursing system when war broke out. She is largely dependent apparently on the notable work of her priests, and on English and Dutch nurses.

When my train drew out, the khaki-clad lieutenant and his assistants were still at work. One car was emptied. They moved on to a second. Other willing hands were at work on the line that stretched along the stone flooring, carrying the wounded to ambulances, but the line seemed hardly to shrink. Always the workers inside the train brought another stretcher and yet another. The rumble of the trucks had ceased. It was very cold. I could not look any longer.

It took three hours to go the twenty miles to Calais, from six o'clock to nine. I wrapped myself in my fur coat. Two men in my compartment slept comfortably. One clutched a lighted cigarette. It burned down close to his fingers. It was fascinating to watch. But just when it should have provided a little excitement he wakened. It was disappointing.

We drifted into conversation, the gentleman of the cigarette and I. He was an Englishman from a London newspaper. He was counting on his luck to get him into Calais and his wit to get him out. He told me his name. Just before I left France I heard of a highly philanthropic and talented gentleman of the same name who was unselfishly going through the hospitals as near the front as he could, giving a moving-picture entertainment to the convalescent soldiers. I wish him luck; he deserves it. And I am sure he is giving a good entertainment. His wit had got him out of Calais!

Calais at last, and the prospect of food. Still greater comfort, here my little card became operative. I was no longer a refugee, fleeing and hiding from the stern eyes of Lord Kitchener and the British War Office. I had come into my own, even to supper.

I saw no English troops that night. The Calais station was filled with French soldiers. The first impression, after the trim English uniform, was not particularly good. They looked cold, dirty, unutterably weary. Later, along the French front, I revised my early judgment. But I have never reconciled myself to the French uniform, with its rather slovenly cut, or to the tendency of the French private soldier to allow his beard to grow. It seems a pity that both French and Belgians, magnificent fighters that they are, are permitted this slackness in appearance. There are no smarter officers anywhere than the French and Belgian officers, but the appearance of their troops en masse is not imposing.

Later on, also, a close inspection of the old French uniform revealed it as made of lighter cloth than the English, less durable, assuredly less warm. The new grey-blue uniform is much heavier, but its colour is questionable. It should be almost invisible in the early morning mists, but against the green of spring and summer, or under the magnesium flares—called by the English "starlights"—with which the Germans illuminate the trenches of the Allies during the night, it appeared to me that it would be most conspicuous.

I have before me on my writing table a German fatigue cap. Under the glare of my electric lamp it fades, loses colour and silhouette, is eclipsed. I have tried it in sunlight against grass. It does the same thing. A piece of the same efficient management that has distributed white smocks and helmet covers among the German troops fighting in the rigours of Poland, to render them invisible against the snow!

Calais then, with food to get and an address to find. For Doctor Depage had kindly arranged a haven for me. Food, of a sort, I got at last. The hotel dining room was full of officers. Near me sat fourteen members of the aviation corps, whose black leather coats bore, either on left breast or left sleeve, the outspread wings of the flying division. There were fifty people, perhaps, and two waiters, one a pale and weary boy. The food was bad, but the crisp French bread was delicious. Perhaps nowhere in the world is the bread average higher than in France—just as in America, where fancy breads are at their best, the ordinary wheat loaf is, taking the average, exceedingly poor.

Calais was entirely dark. The Zeppelin attack, which took place four or five weeks later, was anticipated, and on the night of my arrival there was a general feeling that the birthday of the German Emperor the next day would produce something spectacular in the way of an air raid. That explained, possibly, the presence so far from the front—fifty miles from the nearest point—of so many flying men.

As my French conversational powers are limited, I had some difficulty in securing a vehicle. This was explained later by the discovery the next day that no one is allowed on the streets of Calais after ten o'clock. Nevertheless I secured a hack, and rode blithely and unconsciously to the house where I was to spend the night. I have lost the address of that house. I wish I could remember it, for I left there a perfectly good and moderately expensive pair of field glasses. I have been in Calais since, and have had the wild idea of driving about the streets until I find it and my glasses. But a close scrutiny of the map of Calais has deterred me. Age would overtake me, and I should still be threading the maze of those streets, seeking an old house in an old garden, both growing older all the time.

A very large house it was, large and cold. I found that I was expected; but an air of unreality hung over everything. I met three or four most kindly Belgian people of whom I knew nothing and who knew nothing of me. I did not know exactly why I was there, and I am sure the others knew less. I went up to my room in a state of bewilderment. It was a huge room without a carpet, and the tiny fire refused to light. There was a funeral wreath over the bed, with the picture of the deceased woman in the centre. It was bitterly cold, and there was a curious odor of disinfectants in the air.

By a window was a narrow black iron bed without a mattress. It looked sinister. Where was the mattress? Had its last occupant died and the mattress been burned? I sniffed about it; the odour of disinfectant unmistakably clung to it. I do not yet know the story of that room or of that bed. Perhaps there is no story. But I think there is. I put on my fur coat and went to bed, and the lady of the wreath came in the night and talked French to me.

I rose in the morning at seven degrees Centigrade and dressed. At breakfast part of the mystery was cleared up. The house was being used as a residence by the chief surgeon of the Ambulance Jeanne d'Arc, the Belgian Red Cross hospital in Calais, and by others interested in the Red Cross work. It was a dormitory also for the English nurses from the ambulance. This explained, naturally, my being sent there, the somewhat casual nature of the furnishing and the odour of disinfectants. It does not, however, explain the lady of the wreath or the black iron bed.

After breakfast some of the nurses came in from night duty at the ambulance. I saw their bedroom, one directly underneath mine, with four single beds and no pretence at comfort. It was cold, icy cold.

"You are very courageous," I said. "Surely this is not very comfortable. I should think you might at least have a fire."

"We never think of a fire," a nurse said simply. "The best we can do seems so little to what the men are doing, doesn't it?"

She was not young. Some one told me she had a son, a boy of nineteen, in the trenches. She did not speak of him. But I have wondered since what she must feel during those grisly hours of the night when the ambulances are giving up their wounded at the hospital doors. No doubt she is a tender nurse, for in every case she is nursing vicariously that nineteen-year-old boy of hers in the trenches.

That morning I visited the various Calais hospitals. It was a bright morning, sunny and cold. Lines of refugees with packs and bundles were on their way to the quay.

The frightful congestion of the autumn of 1914 was over, but the hospitals were all full. They were surgical hospitals, typhoid hospitals, hospitals for injured civilians, hospital boats. One and all they were preparing as best they could for the mighty conflict of the spring, when each side expected to make its great onward movement.

As it turned out, the terrible fighting of the spring failed to break the deadlock, but the preparations made by the hospitals were none too great for the sad by-products of war.

The Belgian hospital question was particularly grave. To-day, several months later, it is still a matter for anxious thought. In case the Germans retire from Belgium the Belgians will find themselves in their own land, it is true, but a land stripped of everything. It is for this contingency that the Allies are preparing. In whichever direction the line moves, the arrangements that have served during the impasse of the past year will no longer answer. Portable field hospital pavilions, with portable equipment, will be required. The destructive artillery fire, with its great range, will leave no buildings intact near the battle line.

One has only to follow the present line, fringed as it is with destroyed or partially destroyed towns, to realise what the situation will be if a successful offensive movement on the part of the Allies drives the battle line back. Artillery fire leaves no buildings standing. Even the roads become impassable,—masses of broken stone with gaping holes, over which ambulances travel with difficulty.



From Calais to La Panne is fifty miles. Calais is under military law. It is difficult to enter, almost impossible to leave in the direction in which I wished to go. But here again the Belgian Red Cross achieved the impossible. I was taken before the authorities, sharply questioned, and in the end a pink slip was passed over to the official of the Red Cross who was to take me to the front. I wish I could have secured that pink slip, if only because of its apparent fragility and its astounding wearing qualities. All told, between Calais and La Panne it was inspected—texture, weight and reading matter, front and reverse sides, upside down and under glass—by some several hundred sentries, officials and petty highwaymen. It suffered everything but attack by bayonet. I found myself repeating that way to madness of Mark Twain's:

Punch, brothers, punch with care, Punch in the presence of the passenjaire, A pink trip slip for a five-cent fare

and so on.

Northeast then, in an open grey car with "Belgian Red Cross" on each side of the machine. Northeast in a bitter wind, into a desolate and almost empty country of flat fields, canals and roads bordered by endless rows of trees bent forward like marching men. Northeast through Gravelines, once celebrated of the Armada and now a manufacturing city. It is curious to think that a part of the Armada went ashore at Gravelines, and that, by the shifting of the English Channel, it is now two miles inland and connected with the sea by a ship canal. Northeast still, to Dunkirk.

From Calais to Gravelines there had been few signs of war—an occasional grey lorry laden with supplies for the front; great ambulances, also grey, and with a red cross on the top as a warning to aeroplanes; now and then an armoured car. At Gravelines the country took on a more forbidding appearance. Trenches flanked the roads, which were partly closed here and there by overlapping earthworks, so that the car must turn sharply to the left and then to the right to get through. At night the passage is closed by barbed wire. In one place a bridge was closed by a steel rope, which a sentry lowered after another operation on the pink slip.

The landscape grew more desolate as the daylight began to fade, more desolate and more warlike. There were platforms for lookouts here and there in the trees, prepared during the early days of the war before the German advance was checked. And there were barbed-wire entanglements in the fields. I had always thought of a barbed-wire entanglement as probably breast high. It was surprising to see them only from eighteen inches to two feet in height. It was odd, too, to think that most of the barbed wire had been made in America. Barbed wire is playing a tremendous part in this war. The English say that the Boers originated this use for it in the South African War. Certainly much tragedy and an occasional bit of grim humour attach to its present use.

With the fortified town of Dunkirk—or Dunkerque—came the real congestion of war. The large square of the town was filled with soldiers and marines. Here again were British uniforms, British transports and ambulances. As a seaport for the Allied Armies in the north, it was bustling with activity. The French and Belgians predominated, with a sprinkling of Spahis on horseback and Turcos. An air of activity, of rapid coming and going, filled the town. Despatch riders on motor cycles, in black leather uniforms with black leather hoods, flung through the square at reckless speed. Battered automobiles, their glass shattered by shells, mud guards crumpled, coated with clay and riddled with holes, were everywhere, coming and going at the furious pace I have since learned to associate with war.

And over all, presiding in heroic size in the centre of the Square, the statue of Jean Bart, Dunkirk's privateer and pirate, now come into his own again, was watching with interest the warlike activities of the Square. Things have changed since the days of Jean Bart, however. The cutlass that hangs by his side would avail him little now. The aeroplane bombs that drop round him now and then, and the processions of French "seventy-five" guns that rumble through the Square, must puzzle him. He must feel rather a piker in this business of modern war.

Dunkirk is generally referred to as the "front." It is not, however. It is near enough for constant visits from German aeroplanes, and has been partially destroyed by German guns, firing from a distance of more than twenty miles. But the real line begins fifteen miles farther along the coast at Nieuport.

So we left Dunkirk at once and continued toward La Panne. A drawbridge in the wall guards the road out of the city in that direction. And here for the first time the pink slip threatened to fail us. The Red Cross had been used by spies sufficiently often to cover us with cold suspicion. And it was worse than that. Women were not allowed, under any circumstances, to go in that direction—a new rule, being enforced with severity. My little card was produced and eyed with hostility.

My name was assuredly of German origin. I got out my passport and pointed to the picture on it. It had been taken hastily in Washington for passport purposes, and there was a cast in the left eye. I have no cast in the left eye. Timid attempts to squint with that eye failed.

But at last the officer shrugged his shoulders and let us go. The two sentries who had kept their rifles pointed at me lowered them to a more comfortable angle. A temporary sense of cold down my back retired again to my feet, whence it had risen. We went over the ancient drawbridge, with its chains by which it may be raised, and were free. But our departure was without enthusiasm. I looked back. Some eight sentries and officers were staring after us and muttering among themselves.

Afterward I crossed that bridge many times. They grew accustomed to me, but they evidently thought me quite mad. Always they protested and complained, until one day the word went round that the American lady had been received by the King. After that I was covered with the mantle of royalty. The sentries saluted as I passed. I was of the elect.

There were other sentries until the Belgian frontier was passed. After that there was no further challenging. The occasional distant roar of a great gun could be heard, and two French aeroplanes, winging home after a reconnaissance over the German lines, hummed overhead. Where between Calais and Dunkirk there had been an occasional peasant's cart in the road or labourer in the fields, now the country was deserted, save for long lines of weary soldiers going to their billets, lines that shuffled rather than marched. There was no drum to keep them in step with its melancholy throbbing. Two by two, heads down, laden with intrenching tools in addition to their regular equipment, grumbling as the car forced them off the road into the mud that bordered it, swathed beyond recognition against the cold and dampness, in the twilight those lines of shambling men looked grim, determined, sinister.

"We are going through Furnes," said my companion. "It has been shelled all day, but at dusk they usually stop. It is out of our way, but you will like to see it."

I said I was perfectly willing, but that I hoped the Germans would adhere to their usual custom. I felt all at once that, properly conserved, a long and happy life might lie before me. I mentioned that I was a person of no importance, and that my death would be of no military advantage. And, as if to emphasise my peaceful fireside at home, and dinner at seven o'clock with candles on the table, the fire re-commenced.

"Artillery," I said with conviction, "seems to me barbarous and unnecessary. But in a moving automobile—"

It was a wrong move. He hastened to tell me of people riding along calmly in automobiles, and of the next moment there being nothing but a hole in the road. Also he told me how shrapnel spread, scattering death over large areas. If I had had an idea of dodging anything I saw coming it vanished.

We went into the little town of Furnes. Nothing happened. Only one shell was fired, and I have no idea where it fell. The town was a dead town, its empty streets full of brick and glass. I grew quite calm and expressed some anxiety about the tires. Although my throat was dry, I was able to enunciate clearly! We dared not light the car lamps, and our progress was naturally slow.

Furnes is not on the coast, but three miles inland. So we turned sharp to the left toward La Panne, our destination, a small seaside resort in times of peace, but now the capital of Belgium. It was dark now, and the roads were congested with the movements of troops, some going to the trenches, those out of the trenches going back to their billets for twenty-four hours' rest, and the men who had been on rest moving up as pickets or reserves. Even in the darkness it was easy to tell the rested men from the ones newly relieved. Here were mostly Belgians, and the little Belgian soldier is a cheery soul. He asks very little, is never surly. A little food, a little sleep—on straw, in a stable or a church—and he is happy again. Over and over, as I saw the Belgian Army, I was impressed with its cheerfulness under unparalleled conditions.

Most of them have been fighting since Liege. Of a hundred and fifty thousand men only fifty thousand remain. Their ration is meagre compared with the English and the French, their clothing worn and ragged. They are holding the inundated district between Nieuport and Dixmude, a region of constant struggle for water-soaked trenches, where outposts at the time I was there were being fought for through lakes of icy water filled with barbed wire, where their wounded fall and drown. And yet they are inveterately cheerful. A brave lot, the Belgian soldiers, brave and uncomplaining! It is no wonder that the King of Belgium loves them, and that his eyes are tragic as he looks at them.

La Panne at last, a straggling little town of one street and rows of villas overlooking the sea. La Panne, with the guns of Nieuport constantly in one's ears, and the low, red flash of them along the sandy beach; with ambulances bringing in their wounded now that night covers their movements; with English gunboats close to the shore and a searchlight playing over the sea. La Panne, with just over the sand dunes the beginning of that long line of trenches that extends south and east and south again, four hundred and fifty miles of death.

It was two weeks and four days since I had left America, and less than thirty hours since I boarded the one-o'clock train at Victoria Station, London. Later on I beat the thirty-hour record twice, once going from the Belgian front to England in six hours, and another time leaving the English lines at Bethune, motoring to Calais, and arriving in my London hotel the same night. Cars go rapidly over the French roads, and the distance, measured by miles, is not great. Measured by difficulties, it is a different story.




LA PANNE, January 25th, 10 P.M.

I am at the Belgian Red Cross hospital to-night. Have had supper and have been given a room on the top floor, facing out over the sea.

This is the base hospital for the Belgian lines. The men come here with the most frightful injuries. As I entered the building to-night the long tiled corridor was filled with the patient and quiet figures that are the first fruits of war. They lay on portable cots, waiting their turn in the operating rooms, the white coverings and bandages not whiter than their faces.

11 P.M. The Night Superintendent has just been in to see me. She says there is a baby here from Furnes with both legs off, and a nun who lost an arm as she was praying in the garden of her convent. The baby will live, but the nun is dying.

She brought me a hot-water bottle, for I am still chilled from my long ride, and sat down for a moment's talk. She is English, as are most of the nurses. She told me with tears in her eyes of a Dutch Red Cross nurse who was struck by a shell in Furnes, two days ago, as she crossed the street to her hospital, which was being evacuated. She was brought here.

"Her leg was shattered," she said. "So young and so pretty she was, too! One of the surgeons was in love with her. It seemed as if he could not let her die."

How terrible! For she died.

"But she had a casket," the Night Superintendent hastened to assure me. "The others, of course, do not. And two of the nurses were relieved to-day to go with her to the grave."

I wonder if the young surgeon went. I wonder—

The baby is near me. I can hear it whimpering.

Midnight. A man in the next room has started to moan. Good God, what a place! He has shell in both lungs, and because of weakness had to be operated on without an anaesthetic.

2 A.M. I cannot sleep. He is trying to sing "Tipperary."

English battleships are bombarding the German batteries at Nieuport from the sea. The windows rattle all the time.

6 A.M. A new day now. A grey and forbidding dawn. Sentries every hundred yards along the beach under my window. The gunboats are moving out to sea. A number of French aeroplanes are scouting overhead.

The man in the next room is quiet.

* * * * *

Imagine one of our great seaside hotels stripped of its bands, its gay crowds, its laughter. Paint its many windows white, with a red cross in the centre of each one. Imagine its corridors filled with wounded men, its courtyard crowded with ambulances, its parlours occupied by convalescents who are blind or hopelessly maimed, its card room a chapel trimmed with the panoply of death. For bathchairs and bathers on the sands substitute long lines of weary soldiers drilling in the rain and cold. And over all imagine the unceasing roar of great guns. Then, but feebly, you will have visualised the Ambulance Ocean at La Panne as I saw it that first winter of the war.

The town is built on the sand dunes, and is not unlike Ostend in general situation; but it is hardly more than a village. Such trees as there are grow out of the sand, and are twisted by the winds from the sea. Their trunks are green with smooth moss. And over the dunes is long grass, then grey and dry with winter, grass that was beaten under the wind into waves that surge and hiss.

The beach is wide and level. There is no surf. The sea comes in in long, flat lines of white that wash unheralded about the feet of the cavalry horses drilling there. Here and there a fisherman's boat close to the line of villas marks the limit of high tide; marks more than that; marks the fisherman who has become a soldier; marks the end of the peaceful occupations of the little town; marks the change from a sea that was a livelihood to a sea that has become a menace and a hidden death.

The beach at La Panne has its story. There are guns there now, waiting. The men in charge of them wait, and, waiting, shiver in the cold. And just a few minutes away along the sands there was a house built by a German, a house whose foundation was a cemented site for a gun. The house is destroyed now. It had been carefully located, strategically, and built long before the war began. A gun on that foundation would have commanded Nieuport.

Here, in six villas facing the sea, live King Albert and Queen Elisabeth and their household, and here the Queen, grief-stricken at the tragedy that has overtaken her innocent and injured people, visits the hospital daily.

La Panne has not been bombarded. Hostile aeroplanes are always overhead. The Germans undoubtedly know all about the town; but it has not been touched. I do not believe that it will be. For one thing, it is not at present strategically valuable. Much more important, Queen Elisabeth is a Bavarian princess by birth. Quite aside from both reasons, the outcry from the civilised world which would result from injury to any member of the Belgian royal house, with the present world-wide sympathy for Belgium, would make such an attack inadvisable.

And yet who knows? So much that was considered fundamental in the ethics of modern warfare has gone by the board; so certainly is this war becoming one of reprisals, of hate and venom, that before this is published La Panne may have been destroyed, or its evacuation by the royal family have been decided.

The contrast between Brussels and La Panne is the contrast between Belgium as it was and as it is. The last time I was in Belgium, before this war, I was in Brussels. The great modern city of three-quarters of a million people had grown up round the ancient capital of Brabant. Its name, which means "the dwelling on the marsh," dates from the tenth century. The huge Palais de Justice is one of the most remarkable buildings in the world.

Now in front of that great building German guns are mounted, and the capital of Belgium is a fishing village on the sand dunes. The King of Belgium has exchanged the magnificent Palais du Roi for a small and cheaply built house—not that the democratic young King of Belgium cares for palaces. But the contrast of the two pictures was impressed on me that winter morning as I stood on the sands at La Panne and looked at the royal villa. All round were sentries. The wind from the sea was biting. It set the long grey grass to waving, and blew the fine sand in clouds about the feet of the cavalry horses filing along the beach.

I was quite unmolested as I took photographs of the stirring scenes about. It was the first daylight view I had had of the Belgian soldiers. These were men on their twenty-four hours' rest, with a part of the new army that was being drilled for the spring campaign. The Belgian system keeps a man twenty-four hours in the trenches, gives him twenty-four hours for rest well back from the firing line, and then, moving him up to picket or reserve duty, holds him another twenty-four hours just behind the trenches. The English system is different. Along the English front men are four days in the trenches and four days out. All movements, of course, are made at night.

The men I watched that morning were partly on rest, partly in reserve. They were shabby, cold and cheery. I created unlimited surprise and interest. They lined up eagerly to be photographed. One group I took was gathered round a sack of potatoes, paring raw potatoes and eating them. For the Belgian soldier is the least well fed of the three armies in the western field. When I left, a good Samaritan had sent a case or two of canned things to some of the regiments, and a favoured few were being initiated into the joys of American canned baked beans. They were a new sensation. To watch the soldiers eat them was a joy and a delight.

I wish some American gentleman, tiring of storing up his treasures only in heaven, would send a can or a case or a shipload of baked beans to the Belgians. This is alliterative, but earnest. They can heat them in the trenches in the cans; they can thrive on them and fight on them. And when the cans are empty they can build fires in them or hang them, filled with stones, on the barbed-wire entanglements in front of the trenches, so that they ring like bells on a herd of cows to warn them of an impending attack.

And while we are on this subject, I wish some of the women who are knitting scarfs would stop,[B] now that winter is over, and make jelly and jam for the brave and cheerful little Belgian army. I am aware that it is less pleasant than knitting. It cannot be taken to lectures or musicales. One cannot make jam between the courses of a luncheon or a dinner party, or during the dummy hand at bridge. But the men have so little—unsweetened coffee and black bread for breakfast; a stew of meat and vegetables at mid-day, taken to them, when it can be taken, but carried miles from where it is cooked, and usually cold. They pour off the cold liquor and eat the unpalatable residue. Supper is like breakfast with the addition of a ration of minced meat and potatoes, also cold and not attractive at the best.

[Footnote B: This was written in the spring. By the time this book is published knitted woollens will be again in demand. Socks and mittens, abdominal belts and neck scarfs are much liked. A soldier told me he liked his scarf wide, and eight feet long, so he can carry it around his body and fasten it in the back.]

Sometimes they have bully beef. I have eaten bully beef, which is a cooked and tinned beef, semi-gelatinous. The Belgian bully beef is drier and tougher than the English. It is not bad; indeed, it is quite good. But the soldier needs variety. The English know this. Their soldiers have sugar, tea, jam and cheese.

If I were asked to-day what the Belgian army needs, now that winter is over and they need no longer shiver in their thin clothing, I should say, in addition to the surgical supplies that are so terribly necessary, portable kitchens, to give them hot and palatable food. Such kitchens may be bought for two hundred and fifty dollars, with a horse to draw them. They are really sublimated steam cookers, with the hot water used to make coffee when they reach the trenches. I should say, then, surgical supplies and hospital equipment, field kitchens, jams of all sorts, canned beans, cigarettes and rubber boots! A number of field kitchens have already been sent over. A splendid Englishman attached to the Belgian Army has secured funds for a few more. But many are needed. I have seen a big and brawny Belgian officer, with a long record of military bravery behind him, almost shed tears over the prospect of one of these kitchens for his men.

I took many pictures that morning—of dogs, three abreast, hauling mitrailleuse, the small and deadly quick-firing guns, from the word mitraille, a hail of balls; of long lines of Belgian lancers on their undipped and shaggy horses, each man carrying an eight-foot lance at rest; of men drilling in broken boots, in wooden shoes stuffed with straw, in carpet slippers. I was in furs from head to foot—the same fur coat that has been, in turn, lap robe, bed clothing and pillow—and I was cold. These men, smiling into my camera, were thinly dressed, with bare, ungloved hands. But they were smiling.

Afterward I learned that many of them had no underclothing, that the blue tunics and trousers were all they had. Always they shivered, but often also they smiled. Many of them had fought since Liege; most of them had no knowledge of their families on the other side of the line of death. When they return to their country, what will they go back to? Their homes are gone, their farm buildings destroyed, their horses and cattle killed.

But they are a courageous people, a bravely cheery people. Flor every one of them that remained there, two had gone, either to death, captivity or serious injury. They were glad to be alive that morning on the sands of La Panne, under the incessant roaring of the guns. The wind died down; the sun came out. It was January. In two months, or three, it would be spring and warm. In two months, or three, they confidently expected to be on the move toward their homes again.

What mattered broken boots and the mud and filth of their trenches? What mattered the German aeroplane overhead? Or cold and insufficient food? Or the wind? Nothing mattered but death, and they still lived. And perhaps, beyond the line—

That afternoon, from the Ambulance Ocean, a young Belgian officer was buried.

It was a bright, sunny afternoon, but bitterly cold. Troops were lined up before the hospital in the square; a band, too, holding its instruments with blue and ungloved fingers.

He had been a very brave officer, and very young. The story of what he had done had been told about. So, although military funerals are many, a handful of civilians had gathered to see him taken away to the crowded cemetery. The three English gunboats were patrolling the sea. Tall Belgian generals, in high blue-and-gold caps and great cape overcoats, met in the open space and conferred.

The dead young officer lay in state in the little chapel of the hospital. Ten tall black standards round him held burning candles, the lights of faith. His uniform, brushed of its mud and neatly folded, lay on top of the casket, with his pathetic cap and with the sword that would never lead another charge. He had fought very hard to live, they said at the hospital. But he had died.

The crowd opened, and the priest came through. He wore a purple velvet robe, and behind him came his deacons and four small acolytes in surplices. Up the steps went the little procession. And the doors of the hospital closed behind it.

The civilians turned and went away. The soldiers stood rigid in the cold sunshine, and waited. A little boy kicked a football over the sand. The guns at Nieuport crashed and hammered.

After a time the doors opened again. The boy picked up his football and came closer. The musicians blew on their fingers to warm them. The dead young officer was carried out. His sword gleamed in the sun. They carried the casket carefully, not to disorder the carefully folded tunic or the pathetic cap. The body was placed in an ambulance. At a signal the band commenced to play and the soldiers closed in round the ambulance.

The path of glory, indeed!

But it was not this boyish officer's hope of glory that had brought this scene to pass. He died fighting a defensive war, to save what was left to him of the country he loved. He had no dream of empire, no vision of commercial supremacy, no thrill of conquest as an invaded and destroyed country bent to the inevitable. For months since Liege he had fought a losing fight, a fight that Belgium knew from the beginning must be a losing fight, until such time as her allies could come to her aid. Like the others, he had nothing to gain by this war and everything to lose.

He had lost. The ambulance moved away.

I was frequently in La Panne after that day. I got to know well the road from Dunkirk, with its bordering of mud and ditch, its heavy transports, its grey gunboats in the canals that followed it on one side, its long lines of over-laden soldiers, its automobiles that travelled always at top speed. I saw pictures that no artist will ever paint—of horrors and beauties, of pathos and comedy; of soldiers washing away the filth of the trenches in the cold waters of canals and ditches; of refugees flying by day from the towns, and returning at night to their ruined houses to sleep in the cellars; of long processions of Spahis, Arabs from Algeria, silhouetted against the flat sky line against a setting sun, their tired horses moving slowly, with drooping heads, while their riders, in burnoose and turban, rode with loose reins; of hostile aeroplanes sailing the afternoon breeze like lazy birds, while shells from the anti-aircraft guns burst harmlessly below them in small balloon-shaped clouds of smoke.

But never in all that time did I overcome the sense of unreality, and always I was obsessed by the injustice, the wanton waste and cost and injustice of it all. The baby at La Panne—why should it go through life on stumps instead of legs? The boyish officer—why should he have died? The little sixteen-year-old soldier who had been blinded and who sat all day by the phonograph, listening to Madame Butterfly, Tipperary, and Harry Lauder's A Wee Deoch-an'-Doris—why should he never see again what I could see from the window beside him, the winter sunset over the sea, the glistening white of the sands, the flat line of the surf as it crept in to the sentries' feet? Why? Why?

All these wrecks of boys and men, where are they to go? What are they to do? Blind and maimed, weak from long privation followed by great suffering, what is to become of them when the hospital has fulfilled its function and they are discharged "cured"? Their occupations, their homes, their usefulness are gone. They have not always even clothing in which to leave the hospital. If it was not destroyed by the shell or shrapnel that mutilated them it was worn beyond belief and redemption. Such ragged uniforms as I have seen! Such tragedies of trousers! Such absurd and heart-breaking tunics!

When, soon after, I was presented to the King of the Belgians, these very questions had written lines in his face. It is easy to believe that King Albert of Belgium has buried his private anxieties in the common grief and stress of his people.



The letter announcing that I was to have an audience with the King of the Belgians reached me at Dunkirk, France, on the evening of the day before the date set. It was brief and to the effect that the King would receive me the next afternoon at two o'clock at the Belgian Army headquarters.

The object of my visit was well known; and, because I wished an authoritative statement to give to America, I had requested that the notes of my conversation with His Majesty should be officially approved. This request was granted. The manuscript of the interview that follows was submitted to His Majesty for approval. It is published as it occurred, and nothing has been added to the record.

A general from the Ministry of War came to the Hotel des Arcades, in Dunkirk, and I was taken in a motor car to the Belgian Army headquarters some miles away. As the general who conducted me had influenza, and I was trying to keep my nerves in good order, it was rather a silent drive. The car, as are all military cars—and there are no others—was driven by a soldier-chauffeur by whose side sat the general's orderly. Through the narrow gate, with its drawbridge guarded by many sentries, we went out into the open country.

The road, considering the constant traffic of heavy transports and guns, was very fair. It is under constant repair. At first, during this severe winter, on account of rain and snow, accidents were frequent. The road, on both sides, was deep in mud and prolific of catastrophe; and even now, with conditions much better, there are numerous accidents. Cars all travel at frightful speed. There are no restrictions, and it is nothing to see machines upset and abandoned in the low-lying fields that border the road.

Conditions, however, are better than they were. Part of the conservation system has been the building of narrow ditches at right angles to the line of the road, to lead off the water. Every ten feet or so there is a gutter filled with fagots.

I had been in the general's car before. The red-haired Fleming with the fierce moustache who drove it was a speed maniac, and passing the frequent sentries was only a matter of the password. A signal to slow down, given by the watchful sentry, a hoarse whisper of the password as the car went by, and on again at full speed. There was no bothering with papers.

On each side of the road were trenches, barbed-wire entanglements, earthen barriers, canals filled with barges. And on the road were lines of transports and a file of Spahis on horseback, picturesque in their flowing burnouses, bearded and dark-skinned, riding their unclipped horses through the roads under the single rows of trees. We rode on through a village where a pig had escaped from a slaughterhouse and was being pursued by soldiers—and then, at last, army headquarters and the King of the Belgians.

There was little formality. I was taken in charge by the King's equerry, who tapped at a closed door. I drew a long breath.

"Madame Rinehart!" said the equerry, and stood aside.

There was a small screen in front of the door. I went round it. Standing alone before the fire was Albert I, King of the Belgians. I bowed; then we shook hands and he asked me to sit down.

It was to be a conversation rather than an interview; but as it was to be given as accurately as possible to the American people, I was permitted to make careful notes of both questions and answers. It was to be, in effect, a statement of the situation in Belgium as the King of the Belgians sees it.

I spoke first of a message to America.

"I have already sent a message to America," he informed me; "quite a long message. We are, of course, intensely appreciative of what Americans have done for Belgium."

"They are anxious to do what they can. The general feeling is one of great sympathy."

"Americans are both just and humane," the King replied; "and their system of distribution is excellent. I do not know what we should have done without the American Relief Committees."

"Is there anything further Your Majesty can suggest?"

"They seem to have thought of everything," the King said simply. "The food is invaluable—particularly the flour. It has saved many from starvation."

"But there is still need?"

"Oh, yes—great need."

It was clear that the subject was a tragic one. The King of the Belgians loves his people, as they love him, with a devotion that is completely unselfish. That he is helpless to relieve so much that they are compelled to endure is his great grief.

His face clouded. Probably he was seeing, as he must always see, the dejected figures of the peasants in the fields; the long files of his soldiers as they made their way through wet and cold to the trenches; the destroyed towns; the upheaval of a people.

"What is possible to know of the general condition of affairs in that part of Belgium occupied by the Germans?" I asked. "I do not mean in regard to food only, but the general condition of the Belgian people."

"It is impossible to say," was the answer. "During the invasion it was very bad. It is a little better now, of course; but here we are on the wrong side of the line to form any ordered judgment. To gain a real conception of the situation it would be necessary to go through the occupied portions from town to town, almost from house to house. Have you been in the other part of Belgium?"

"Not yet; I may go."

"You should do that—see Louvain, Aerschot, Antwerp—see the destroyed towns for yourself. No one can tell you. You must see them."

I was not certain that I should be permitted to make such a journey, but the King waved my doubts aside with a gesture.

"You are an American," he said. "It would be quite possible and you would see just what has happened. You would see open towns that were bombarded; other towns that were destroyed after occupation! You would see a country ruthlessly devastated; our wonderful monuments destroyed; our architectural and artistic treasures sacrificed without reason—without any justification."

"But as a necessity of war?" I asked.

"Not at all. The Germans have saved buildings when it suited their convenience to do so. No military necessity dictated the destruction of Louvain. It was not bombarded. It was deliberately destroyed. But, of course, you know that."

"The matter of the violation of Belgium's neutrality still remains an open question," I said. "I have seen in American facsimile copies of documents referring to conversations between staff officers of the British and Belgian armies—documents that were found in the ministerial offices at Brussels when the Germans occupied that city last August. Of course I think most Americans realise that, had they been of any real importance, they would have been taken away. There was time enough. But there are some, I know, who think them significant."

The King of the Belgians shrugged his shoulders.

"They were of an unofficial character and entirely without importance. The German Staff probably knew all about them long before the declaration of war. They themselves had, without doubt, discussed and recorded similar probabilities in case of war with other countries. It is a common practice in all army organisations to prepare against different contingencies. It is a question of military routine only."

"There was no justification, then, for the violation of Belgian neutrality?" I inquired.

"None whatever! The German violation of Belgian neutrality was wrong," he said emphatically. "On the fourth of August their own chancellor admitted it. Belgium had no thought of war. The Belgians are a peace-loving people, who had every reason to believe in the friendship of Germany."

The next question was a difficult one. I inquired as to the behaviour of the Germans in the conquered territory; but the King made no sweeping condemnation of the German Army.

"Fearful things have been done, particularly during the invasion," he said, weighing his words carefully; "but it would be unfair to condemn the whole German Army. Some regiments have been most humane; but others behaved very badly. Have you seen the government report?"

I said I had not seen it, though I had heard that a careful investigation had been made.

"The government was very cautious," His Majesty said. "The investigation was absolutely impartial and as accurate as it could be made. Doubts were cast on all statements—even those of the most dependable witnesses—until they could be verified."

"They were verified?"

"Yes; again and again."

"By the victims themselves?"

"Not always. The victims of extreme cruelty do not live to tell of it; but German soldiers themselves have told the story. We have had here many hundreds of journals, taken from dead or imprisoned Germans, furnishing elaborate details of most atrocious acts. The government is keeping these journals. They furnish powerful and incontrovertible testimony of what happened in Belgium when it was swept over by a brutal army. That was, of course, during the invasion—such things are not happening now so far as we know."

He had spoken quietly, but there was a new note of strain in his voice. The burden of the King of the Belgians is a double one. To the horror of war has been added the unnecessary violation and death of noncombatants.

The King then referred to the German advance through Belgian territory.

"Thousands of civilians have been killed without reason. The execution of noncombatants is not war, and no excuse can be made for it. Such deeds cannot be called war."

"But if the townspeople fired on the Germans?" I asked.

"All weapons had been deposited in the hands of the town authorities. It is unlikely that any organised attack by civilians could have been made. However, if in individual cases shots were fired at the German soldiers, this may always be condoned in a country suffering invasion. During an occupation it would be different, naturally. No excuse can be offered for such an action in occupied territory."

"Various Belgian officers have told me of seeing crowds of men, women and children driven ahead of the German Army to protect the troops. This is so incredible that I must ask whether it has any foundation of truth."

"It is quite true. It is a barbarous and inhuman system of protecting the German advance. When the Belgian soldiers fired on the enemy they killed their own people. Again and again innocent civilians of both sexes were sacrificed to protect the invading army during attacks. A terrible slaughter!"

His Majesty made no effort to conceal his great grief and indignation. And again, as before, there seemed to be nothing to say.

"Even now," I said, "when the Belgians return the Grerman artillery fire they are bombarding their own towns."

"That is true, of course; but what can we do? And the civilian population is very brave. They fear invasion, but they no longer pay any attention to bombs. They work in the fields quite calmly, with shells dropping about. They must work or starve."

He then spoke of the morale of the troops, which is excellent, and of his sympathy for their situation.

"Their families are in Belgium," he said. "Many of them have heard nothing for months. But they are wonderful. They are fighting for life and to regain their families, their homes and their country. Christmas was very sad for them."

"In the event of the German Army's retiring from Belgium, do you believe, as many do, that there will be more destruction of cities? Brussels, for instance?"

"I think not."

I referred to my last visit to Belgium, when Brussels was the capital; and to the contrast now, when La Panne a small seaside resort hardly more than a village, contains the court, the residence of the King and Queen, and of the various members of his household. It seemed to me unlikely that La Panne would be attacked, as the Queen of the Belgians is a Bavarian.

"Do you think La Panne will be bombarded?" I asked.

"Why not?"

"I thought that possibly, on account of Your Majesty and the Queen being there, it would be spared.

"They are bombarding Furnes, where I go every day," he replied. "And there are German aeroplanes overhead all the time."

The mention of Furnes brought to my mind the flooded district near that village, which extends from Nieuport to Dixmude.

"Belgium has made a great sacrifice in flooding her lowlands," I said. "Will that land be as fertile as before?"

"Not for several years. The flooding of the productive land in the Yser district was only carried out as a military necessity. The water is sea water, of course, and will have a bad effect on the soil. Have you seen the flooded district?"

I told His Majesty that I had been to the Belgian trenches, and then across the inundated country to one of the outposts; a remarkable experience—one I should never forget.

The conversation shifted to America and her point of view; to American women who have married abroad. His Majesty mentioned especially Lady Curzon. Two children of the King were with Lord Curzon, in England, at the time. The Crown Prince, a boy of fourteen, tall and straight like his father, was with the King and Queen.

The King had risen and was standing in his favourite attitude, his elbow on the mantelpiece. I rose also.

"I was given some instructions as to the ceremonial of this audience," I said. "I am afraid I have not followed them!"

"What were you told to do?" said His Majesty, evidently amused. Then, without waiting for a reply;

"We are very democratic—we Belgians," he said. "More democratic than the Americans. The President of the United States has great power—very great power. He is a czar."

He referred to President Wilson in terms of great esteem—not only as the President but as a man. He spoke, also, with evident admiration of Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. McKinley, both of whom he had met.

I looked at the clock. It was after three and the interview had begun at two. I knew it was time for me to go, but I had been given no indication that the interview was at an end. Fragments of the coaching I had received came to my mind, but nothing useful; so I stated my difficulty frankly, and again the King's serious face lighted up with a smile.

"There is no formality here; but if you are going we must find the general for you."

So we shook hands and I went out; but the beautiful courtesy of the soldier King of the Belgians brought him out to the doorstep with me.

That is the final picture I have of Albert I, King of the Belgians—a tall young man, very fair and blue-eyed, in the dark blue uniform of a lieutenant-general of his army, wearing no orders or decorations, standing bareheaded in the wind and pointing out to me the direction in which I should go to find the general who had brought me.

He is a very courteous gentleman, with the eyes of one who loves the sea, for the King of the Belgians is a sailor in his heart; a tragic and heroic figure but thinking himself neither—thinking of himself not at all, indeed; only of his people, whose griefs are his to share but not to lighten; living day and night under the rumble of German artillery at Nieuport and Dixmude in that small corner of Belgium which remains to him.

He is a King who, without suspicion of guilt, has lost his country; who has seen since August of 1914 two-thirds of his army lost, his beautiful and ancient towns destroyed, his fertile lands thrown open to the sea.

I went on. The guns were still at work. At Nieuport, Dixmude, Furnes, Pervyse—all along that flat, flooded region—the work of destruction was going on. Overhead, flying high, were two German aeroplanes—the eyes of the war.

* * * * *

Not politically, but humanely, it was time to make to America an authoritative statement as to conditions in Belgium.

The principle of non-interference in European politics is one of national policy and not to be questioned. But there can be no justification for the destruction of property and loss of innocent lives in Belgium. Germany had plead to the neutral nations her necessity, and had plead eloquently. On the other hand, the English and French authorities during the first year of the war had preserved a dignified silence, confident of the justice of their cause.

And official Belgium had made no complaint. She had bowed to the judgment of her allies, knowing that a time would come, at the end of the war, to speak of her situation and to demand justifiable redress.

But a million homeless Belgians in England and Holland proclaimed and still proclaim their wretchedness broadcast. The future may bring redress, but the present story of Belgium belongs to the world. America, the greatest of the neutral countries, has a right to know now the suffering and misery of this patient, hard-working people.

This war may last a long time; the western armies are at a deadlock. Since November of 1914 the line has varied only slightly here and there; has been pushed out or back only to straighten again.

Advances may be counted by feet. From Nieuport to Ypres attacks are waged round solitary farms which, by reason of the floods, have become tiny islands protected by a few men, mitrailleuses, and entanglements of barbed wire. Small attacking bodies capture such an outpost, wading breast-deep—drowning when wounded—in the stagnant water. There are no glorious charges here, no contagion of courage; simply a dogged and desperate struggle—a gain which the next day may see forfeited. The only thing that goes on steadily is the devastating work of the heavy guns on each side.

Meantime, both in England and in France, there has been a growing sentiment that the government's policy of silence has been a mistake. The cudgel of public opinion is a heavy one. The German propaganda in America has gone on steadily. There is no argument where one side only is presented. That splendid and solid part of the American people, the German population, essentially and naturally patriotic, keeping their faith in the Fatherland, is constantly presenting its case; and against that nothing official has been offered.

England is fighting heroically, stoically; but her stoicism is a vital mistake. This silence has nothing whatever to do with military movements, their success or their failure. It is more fundamental, an inherent characteristic of the English character, founded on reserve—perhaps tinged with that often misunderstood conviction of the Britisher that other persons cannot be really interested in what is strictly another's affairs.

The Allies are beginning to realise, however, that this war is not their own affair alone. It affects the world too profoundly. Mentally, morally, spiritually and commercially, it is an upheaval in which all must suffer.

And the English people, who have sent and are sending the very flower of their country's manhood to the front, are beginning to regret the error in judgment that has left the rest of the English-speaking world in comparative ignorance of the true situation.

They are sending the best they have—men of high ideals, who, as volunteers, go out to fight for what they consider a just cause. The old families, in which love of country and self-sacrifice are traditions, have suffered heavily.

The crux of the situation is Belgium—the violation of her neutrality; the conduct of the invading army; her unnecessary and unjustifiable suffering. And Belgium has felt that the time to speak has come.



The Belgian Red Cross may well be proud of the hospital at La Panne. It is modern, thoroughly organised, completely equipped. Within two weeks of the outbreak of the war it was receiving patients. It was not at the front then. But the German tide has forced itself along until now it is almost on the line.

Generally speaking, order had taken the place of the early chaos in the hospital situation when I was at the front. The British hospitals were a satisfaction to visit. The French situation was not so good. The isolated French hospitals were still in need of everything, even of anaesthetics. The lack of an organised nursing system was being keenly felt.

But the early handicaps of unpreparedness and overwhelming numbers of patients had been overcome to a large extent. Scientific management and modern efficiency had stepped in. Things were still capable of improvement. Gentlemen ambulance drivers are not always to be depended on. Nurses are not all of the same standard of efficiency. Supplies of one sort exceeded the demand, while other things were entirely lacking. Food of the kind that was needed by the very ill was scarce, expensive and difficult to secure at any price.

But the things that have been done are marvellous. Surgery has not failed. The stereoscopic X-ray and antitetanus serum are playing their active part. Once out of the trenches a soldier wounded at the front has as much chance now as a man injured in the pursuit of a peaceful occupation.

Once out of the trenches! For that is the question. The ambulances must wait for night. It is not in the hospitals but in the ghastly hours between injury and darkness that the case of life or death is decided. That is where surgical efficiency fails against the brutality of this war, where the Red Cross is no longer respected, where it is not possible to gather in the wounded under the hospital flag, where there is no armistice and no pity. This is war, glorious war, which those who stay at home say smugly is good for a nation.

But there are those who are hurt, not in the trenches but in front of them. In that narrow strip of No Man's Land between the confronting armies, and extending four hundred and fifty miles from the sea through Belgium and France, each day uncounted numbers of men fall, and, falling, must lie. The terrible thirst that follows loss of blood makes them faint; the cold winds and snows and rains of what has been a fearful winter beat on them; they cannot have water or shelter. The lucky ones die, but there are some that live, and live for days. This too is war, glorious war, which is good for a nation, which makes its boys into men, and its men into these writhing figures that die so slowly and so long.

I have seen many hospitals. Some of the makeshifts would be amusing were they not so pathetic. Old chapels with beds and supplies piled high before the altar; kindergarten rooms with childish mottoes on the walls, from which hang fever charts; nuns' cubicles thrown open to doctors and nurses as living quarters.

At La Panne, however, there are no makeshifts. There are no wards, so called. But many of the large rooms hold three beds. All the rooms are airy and well lighted. True, there is no lift, and the men must be carried down the staircases to the operating rooms on the lower floor, and carried back again. But the carrying is gently done.

There are two operating rooms, each with two modern operating tables. The floors are tiled, the walls, ceiling and all furnishings white. Attached to the operating rooms is a fully equipped laboratory and an X-ray room. I was shown the stereoscopic X-ray apparatus by which the figure on the plate stands out in relief, like any stereoscopic picture. Every large hospital I saw had this apparatus, which is invaluable in locating bullets and pieces of shell or shrapnel. Under the X-ray, too, extraction frequently takes place, the operators using long-handled instruments and gloves that are soaked in a solution of lead and thus become impervious to the rays so destructive to the tissues.

Later on I watched Doctor DePage operate at this hospital. I was put into a uniform, and watched a piece of shell taken from a man's brain and a great blood clot evacuated. Except for the red cross on each window and the rattle of the sash under the guns, I might have been in one of the leading American hospitals and war a century away. There were the same white uniforms on the surgeons; the same white gauze covering their heads and swathing their faces to the eyes; the same silence, the same care as to sterilisation; the same orderly rows of instruments on a glass stand; the same nurses, alert and quiet; the same clear white electric light overhead; the same rubber gloves, the same anaesthetists and assistants.

It was twelve minutes from the time the operating surgeon took the knife until the wound was closed. The head had been previously shaved by one of the assistants, and painted with iodine. In twelve minutes the piece of shell lay in my hand. The stertorous breathing was easier, bandages were being adjusted, the next case was being anaesthetised and prepared.

I wish I could go further. I wish I could follow that peasant-soldier to recovery and health. I wish I could follow him back to his wife and children, to his little farm in Belgium. I wish I could even say he recovered. But I cannot. I do not know. The war is a series of incidents with no beginning and no end. The veil lifts for a moment and drops again.

I saw other cases brought down for operation at the Ambulance Ocean. One I shall never forget. Here was a boy again, looking up with hopeful, fully conscious eyes at the surgeons. He had been shot through the spine. From his waist down he was inert, helpless. He smiled. He had come to be operated on. Now all would be well. The great surgeons would work over him, and he would walk again.

When after a long consultation they had to tell him they could not operate, I dared not look at his eyes.

Again, what is he to do? Where is he to go? He is helpless, in a strange land. He has no country, no people, no money. And he will live, think of it!

I wish I could leaven all this with something cheerful. I wish I could smile over the phonograph playing again and again A Wee Deoch-an'-Doris in that room for convalescents that overlooks the sea. I wish I could think that the baby with both legs off will grow up without missing what it has never known. I wish I could be reconciled because the dead young officer had died the death of a patriot and a soldier, or that the boy I saw dying in an upper room, from shock and loss of blood following an amputation, is only a pawn in the great chess game of empires. I wish I could believe that the two women on the floor below, one with both arms gone, another with one arm off and her back ripped open by a shell, are the legitimate fruits of a holy war. I cannot. I can see only greed and lust of battle and ambition.

In a bright room I saw a German soldier. He had the room to himself. He was blue eyed and yellow haired, with a boyish and contagious smile. He knew no more about it all than I did. It must have bewildered him in the long hours that he lay there alone. He did not hate these people. He never had hated them. It was clear, too, that they did not hate him. For they had saved a gangrenous leg for him when all hope seemed ended. He lay there, with his white coverlet drawn to his chin, and smiled at the surgeon. They were evidently on the best of terms.

"How goes it?" asked the surgeon cheerfully in German.

"Sehr gut," he said, and eyed me curiously.

He was very proud of the leg, and asked that I see it. It was in a cast. He moved it about triumphantly. Probably all over Germany, as over France and this corner of Belgium, just such little scenes occur daily, hourly.

The German peasant, like the French and the Belgian, is a peaceable man. He is military but not militant. He is sentimental rather than impassioned. He loves Christmas and other feast days. He is not ambitious. He fights bravely, but he would rather sing or make a garden.

It is over the bent shoulders of these peasants that the great Continental army machines must march. The German peasant is poor, because for forty years he has been paying the heavy tax of endless armament. The French peasant is poor, because for forty years he has been struggling to recover from the drain of the huge war indemnity demanded by Germany in 1871. The Russian peasant toils for a remote government, with which his sole tie is the tax-gatherer; toils with childish faith for The Little Father, at whose word he may be sent to battle for a cause of which he knows nothing.

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