'On the Heels of Von Kluck'
by Frederick Palmer - American Journalist

After the Marne

repairing houses - all photos are original color photos taken in 1914 - 1915


THOUGH the Germans were going, the siege by the cordon of French guards around Paris had not been raised. To them every civilian was a possible spy. So they let no civilians by. Must one remain for ever in Paris, screened from any view of the great drama ? Was there no way of securing a blue card which would open the road to war for an atom of humanity who wanted to see Frenchmen in action and not to pry into generals' plans ?

Happily, an army winning is more hospitable than an army losing ; and bonds of friendship which stretch around the world could be linked with authority which has only to say the word, in order that one might have a day's glimpse of the fields where von Kluck's Germans were showing their heels to the French.

Ours, I think, was the pioneer of the sight-seeing parties which afterwards became the accepted form of war correspondence with the French. None could have been under more delightful auspices in companionship or in the event. Victory was in the hearts of our hosts, who included M. Paul Doumer, formerly President of the Chamber of Deputies and Governor of French Indo-China and now a senator, and General Febrier, of the French Medical Service, who was to have had charge of the sanitation of Paris in case of a siege.

M. Doumer was acting as Chef de Cabinet to General Gallieni, the commandant of Paris, and he and General Febrier and two other officers of Gallieni's staff, who would have been up to their eyes in work if there had been a siege, wanted to see something of that army whose valour had given them a holiday. Why should not Roberts and myself come along ? which is the pleasant way the French have of putting an invitation.

Oh, the magic of a military pass and the companionship of an officer in uniform! It separates you from the crowd of millions on the other side of the blank wall of military secrecy and takes you into the area of the millions in uniform ; it wins a nod of consent on a road from that middle-aged reservist whose bayonet has the police power of millions of bayonets in support of its authority.

At last one was to see ; the measure of his impressions was to be his own eyes and not written reports. Other passes I have had since, which gave me the run of trenches and shell-fire areas ; but this pass opened the first door to the war. That day we ran by Meaux and Chateau Thierry to Soissons and back by Senlis to Paris. We saw a finger's breadth of battle area ; a pin-point of army front. Only a ride along a broad, fine road out of Paris, at first; a road which our cars had all to themselves. Then at Claye we came to the high-water mark of the German invasion in this region. Thus close to Paris in that direction and no closer had the Germans come.


a French country lane after an artillery barrage


There was the field where their skirmishers had turned back. Farther on, the branches of the avenue of trees which shaded the road had been slashed as if by a whirlwind of knives, where the French soixante-quinze field-guns had found a target. Under that sudden bath of projectiles, with the French infantry pressing forward on their front, the German gunners could not wait to take away the cord of five-inch shells which they had piled to blaze their way to Paris. One guessed their haste and their irritation. They were within range of the fortifications ; within two hours' march of the suburbs ; of the Mecca of forty years' preparation. After all that march from Belgium, with no break in the programme of success, the thunders broke and lightning flashed out of the sky as Manoury's army rushed upon von Kluck's flank.

"It was not the way that they wanted us to get the shells," said a French peasant who was taking one of the shell-baskets for a souvenir. It would make an excellent umbrella stand.

For the French it had been the turn of the tide ; for that little British army which had fought its way back from Mons it was the sweet dream, which had kept men up on the retreat, come true. Weary Germans, after a fearful two weeks of effort, became the driven. Weary British and French turned drivers. A hypodermic of victory renewed their energy. Paris was at their back and the German backs in front. They were no longer leaving their dead and wounded behind to the foe ; they were sweeping past the dead and wounded of the foe.

But their happiness, that of a winning action, exalted and passionate, had not the depths of that of the refugees who had fled before the German hosts and were returning to their homes in the wake of their victorious army. We passed farmers with children perched on top of carts laden with household goods and drawn by broad-backed farm-horses, with usually another horse or a milch cow tied behind. The real power of France, these peasants holding fast to the acres they own, with the fire of the French nature under their thrifty conservatism. Others on foot were villagers who had lacked horses or carts to transport their belongings. In the packs on their backs were a few precious things which they had borne away and were now bearing back.

Soon they would know what the Germans had done to the homes. What the Germans had done to one piano was evident. It stood in the yard of a house where grass and flowers had been trodden by horses and men. In the sport of victory the piano had been dragged out of the little drawing-room, while Fritz and Hans played and sang in the intoxication of a Paris gained, a France in submission. They did not know what Joffre had in pickle for them. It had all gone according to programme up to that moment. Nothing can stop us Germans! Champagne instead of beer! Set the glass on top of the piano and sing! Haven't we waited forty years for this day ?

Captured diaries of German officers, which reflect the seventh heaven of elation suddenly turned into grim depression, taken in connection with what one saw on the battlefield, reconstruct the scene around that piano. The cup to the lips ; then dashed away. How those orders to retreat must have hurt!


destruction of homes and farms


The state of the refugees' homes all depended upon the chances of war. War's lightning might have hit your roof-tree and it might not. It plays no favourites between the honest and the dishonest; the thrifty and the shiftless. We passed villages which exhibited no signs of destruction or of looting. German troops had marched through in the advance and in the retreat without being billeted. A hurrying army with another on its heels has no time for looting. Other villages had been points of topical importance ; they had been in the midst of a fight. General Mauvaise Chance had it in for them. Shells had wrecked some houses ; others were burned. W^iere a German non-commissioned officer came to the door of a French family and said that room must be made for German soldiers in that house and if anyone dared to interfere with them he would be shot, there the exhausted human nature of a people trained to think that " Krieg ist Krieg " and that the spoils of war are to the victor had its way.

It takes generations to lift a man up a single degree ; but so swift is the effect of war, when men live a year in a day, that he is demonized in a month. Before the occupants had to go, often windows were broken, crockery smashed, closets and drawers rifled. The soldiery which could not have its Paris "took it out" of the property of their hosts. Looting, destruction, one can forgive in the orgy of war which is organized destruction; one can even understand rapine and atrocities when armies, which include latent vile and criminal elements, are aroused to the kind of insane passion which war kindles in human beings. But some indecencies one could not understand in civilized men. All with a military purpose, it is said ; for in the nice calculations of a staff system which grinds so very fine, nothing must be excluded that will embarrass the enemy. A certain foully disgusting practice was too common not to have had the approval of at least some officers, whose conduct in several chateaux includes them as accomplices. Not all officers, not all soldiers. That there should be a few is enough to sicken you of belonging to the human species. Nothing worse in Central America ; nothing worse where civilized degeneracy disgraces savagery.

But do not think that destruction for destruction's sake was done in all houses where German soldiers were billeted. If the good principle was not sufficiently impressed, Belgium must have impressed it; a looting army is a disorderly army. The soldier has burden enough to carry in heavy marching order without souvenirs. That collector of the stoppers of carafes who had thirty on his person when taken prisoner was bound to be a laggard in the retreat.

To their surprise and relief, returning farmers found their big, conical haystacks untouched, though nothing could be more tempting to the wantonness of an army on enemy soil. Strike a match and up goes the harvest! Perhaps the Germans as they advanced had in mind to save the forage for their own horses, and either they were running too fast to stop or the staff overlooked the detail on the retreat.

It was amazing how few signs of battle there were in the open. Occasionally one saw the hastily-made shelter-trenches of a skirmish line ; and again, the emplacements for batteries — hurried field-emplacements, so puny beside those of trench warfare. It had been open fighting ; the tide of an army sweeping forward and then, pursued, sweeping back. One side was trying to get away ; the other to overtake. Here, a rearguard made a determined action which would have had the character of a battle in other days ; there, a rearguard was pinched as the French or the British got around it.

Swift marching and quick manoeuvres of the type which gave war some of its old sport and zest; the advance all the while gathering force like the neap tide! Crowds of men hurrying across a harvested wheatfield or a pasture after all leave few marks of passage. A day's rain will wash away bloodstains and liven trampled vegetation. Nature hastens with a kind of contempt of man to repair the damage done by his murderous wrath.

The cyclone past, the people turned out to put things in order. Peasants too old to fight, who had paid the taxes which paid for the rifles and guns and shell-fire, were moving across the fields with spades, burying the bodies of the young men and the horses that were war's victims. Long trenches full of dead told where the eddy of battle had been fierce and the casualties numerous ; scattered mounds of fresh earth where they were light; and, sometimes, when the burying was unfinished — well, one draws the curtain over scenes like that in the woods at Betz, where Frenchmen died knowing that Paris was saved and Germans died knowing that they had failed to take Paris.

Whenever we halted our statesman, M. Doumer, was active. Did we have difficulties over a culvert which had been hastily mended, he was out of the car and in command. Always he was meeting some man whom he knew and shaking hands like a senator at home. At one place a private soldier, a man of education by his speech, came running across the street at sight of him.

"Son of an old friend of mine, from my town," said our statesman. Being a French private meant being any kind of a Frenchman. All inequalities are levelled in the ranks of a great conscript army.


hasty burial grounds and destroyed villages


Be it through towns unharmed or towns that had been looted and shelled, the people had the smile of victory, the look of victory in their eyes.- Children and old men and women, the stay-at-homes, waved to our car in holiday spirit. The laugh of a sturdy young woman who threw some flowers into the tonneau as we passed, in her tribute to the uniform of the army that had saved France, had the spirit of victorious France — France after forty years' waiting throwing back a foe that had two soldiers to every one of hers. All the land, rich fields and neat gardens and green stretches of woods in the fair, rolling landscape, basked in victory. Dead the spirit of anyone who could not, for the time being, catch the infection of it and feel himself a Frenchman. Far from the Paris of gay show for the tourist one seemed ; in the midst of the France of the farms and the villages which had saved Paris and France.

The car sped on over the hard road. Staff officers in other cars whom we passed alone suggested that there was war somewhere ahead. Were we never going to reach the battle-line, the magnet of our speed when a French army chauffeur made all speed laws obsolete ?

Shooting out of a grove, a valley made a channel for sound that brought to our ears the thunder of guns, with firing so rapid that it was like the roll of some cyclopean snare-drum beaten with sticks the size of ship-masts. From the crest of the next hill we had a glimpse of an open sweep of park-like country toward wooded hills. As far as we could see against the back-ground of the foliage which threw it into relief was a continuous cloud of smoke from bursting shells, renewed with fresh, soft, blue puffs as fast as it was dissipated.

This, then, was a battle. No soldiers, no guns, in sight; only against masses of autumn green a diaphanous, man-made nimbus which was raining steel hail. Ten miles of this, one would say ; and under it lines of men in blue coats and red trousers and green uniforms hugging the earth, as unseen as a battalion of ants at work in the tall grass. Even if a charge swept across a field one would have been able to detect nothing except moving pin-points on a carpet.

There was hard fighting ; a lot of French and German were being killed in the direction of Compiegne and Noyon to-day. Another dip into another valley and the thir-r-r of a rapid-firer and the muffled firing of a line of infantry were audible. Yes, we were getting up with the army, with one tiny section of it operating along the road on which we were. Multiply this by a thousand and you have the whole.

Ahead was the army's larder on wheels; a procession of big motor transport trucks keeping their intervals of distance with the precision of a battleship fleet at sea. We should have known that they belonged to the army by the deafness of the-drivers to appeals to let us pass. All army transports are like that. What the deuced right has anybody to pass ? They are the transport, and only fighting men belong in front of them. Our car in trying to go by to one side got stuck in a rut that an American car, built for bad roads, would have made nothing of ; which proves again how closely European armies are tied to their fine highways. We got out, and here again was our statesman putting his shoulder to the wheel. That is the way of the French in war. Everybody tries to help. By this time the transport chauffeurs remembered that they also were Frenchmen ; and as Frenchmen are polite even in time of war, they let us by.

A motor-cyclist approached with his hand up.

" Stop here! " he called.

Those transport chauffeurs who were deaf to ex-premiers heard instantly and obeyed. In front of them was a line of single horse-drawn carts, with an extra horse in the rear. They could take paths that the motor trucks could not. Archaic they seemed, yet friendly, as a relic of how armies were fed in other days. For the first time I was realizing what the motor truck means to war. It brings the army impedimenta close up to the army's rear ; it means a reduction of road space occupied by transport by three-quarters ; ease in keep-ing pace with food with the advance, speed in falling back in case of retreat.

All that day I did not see a single piece of French army transport broken down. And this army had been fighting for weeks ; it had been an army on the road. The valuable part of our experience was exactly in this : a glimpse of an army in action after it had been through all the vicissitudes that an army may have in marching and counter-marching and attack. Order one expected afterwards, behind the siege line of trenches, when there had been time to establish a routine ; organization and smooth organization you had here at the climax of a month's strain. It told the story of the character of the French army and the reasons for its success other than its courage. The brains were not all with the German Staff.


a village destroyed


That winding road, with a new picture at every turn, now revealed the town of Soissons in the valley of the River Aisne. Soissons was ours, we knew, since yesterday. How much farther had we gone ? Was our advance still continuing ? For then, winter trench-fighting was unforeseen and the sightseers thought of the French army as following up success with success. Paris, rising from gloom to optimism, hoped to see the Germans speedily put out of France. The appetite for victory grew, after a week's bulletins which moved the flags forward on the map every day.

Another turn and Soissons was hidden from view by a woodland. Here we came upon what looked like a leisurely family party of reserves. The French army, a small section of French army, along a road! And thus, if one would see the whole it must be in bits along the roads, when not on the firing-line. They were sprawling in the fields in the genial afternoon sun, looking as if they had no concern except to rest. Uniforms dusty and faces tanned and bearded told their story of the last month.

The duty of a portion of a force is always to wait on what is being done by the others at the front. These were waiting near a fork which could take them to the right or the left, as the situation demanded. At the rear, their supply of small arms ammunition ; in front, caissons of shells for a battery speaking from the woods near by ; a troop of cavalry drawn up, the men dismounted, ready; and ahead of them more reserves ready ; everything ready.

This was where the general wanted the body of men and equipment to be, and here they were. There were no dragging ends in the rear, so far as I could see ; no-body complaining that food or ammunition was not up ; no aide looking for somebody who could not be found ; no excited staff officer rushing about shouting for somebody to look sharp for somebody had made a mistake. The thing was unwarlike ; it was like a particularly well-thought-out route march. Yet at the word that company of cavalry might be in the thick of it, at the point where they were wanted ; the infantry rushing to the support of the firing-line ; the motor transport facing around for withdrawal, if need be. It was only a little way, indeed, into the zone of death from the rear of that compact column.

Thousands of such compact bodies on many roads, each seemingly a force by itself and each a part of the whole, which could be a dependable whole only when every part was ready, alert, and where it belonged! Nothing can be left to chance in a battle-line three hundred miles long. The general must know what to depend on, mile by mile, in his plans. Millions of human units are grouped in increasingly larger units, harmonized according to set forms. The most complex of all machines is that of a vast army, which yet must be kept most simple. No unit acts without regard to the others ; every one must know how to do its part. The parts of the machine are standardized. One is like the other in training, uniform, and every detail, so that one can replace another. Oldest of all trades this of war ; old experts the French. What one saw was like manoeuvres. It must be like manoeuvres or the army would not hold together. Manoeuvres are to "teach armies coherence” ; war tries out that coherence, which you may not have if someone does not know just what to do ; if he is uncertain in his role. Haste leads to confusion ; haste is only for supreme moments. In order to know how to hasten when the hurry call comes, the mighty organism must move in its routine with the smoothness of a well-rehearsed play.

Joffre and the others who directed the machine must know more than the mechanics of staff-control. They must know the character of the man-material in the machine. It was their duty as real Frenchmen to understand Frenchmen, their verve, their restlessness for the offensive, their individualism, their democratic intelligence, the value of their elation, the drawback of their tendency to depression and to think for themselves. Indeed, the leader must counteract the faults of his people and make the most of their virtues.

Thus, we had a French army's historical part reversed : a French army falling back and concentrating on the Marne to receive the enemy blow. Equally alive to German racial traits, the German Staff had organized in their mass offensive the élan which means fast marching and hard blows. So, we found the supposedly excitable French digging in to receive the onslaught of the supposedly phlegmatic German. When the time came for the charge — ah, you can always depend on a Frenchman to charge!

Those reserves were pawns on a chessboard. They appeared like it; one thought that they realized it. Their individual intelligence and democracy had reasoned out the value of obedience and homogeneity, rather than accepted it as the dictum of any war lord. Difficult to think that each one had left a vacancy at a family board ; difficult to think that all were not automatons in a process of endless routine of war ; but not difficult to learn that they were Frenchmen once we had thrown our bombs in the midst of the group.

Of old, one knew the wants of soldiers. One needed no hint of what was welcome at the front. Never at any front were there enough newspapers or tobacco. Men smoke twice as much as usual in the strain of waiting for action; men who do not use tobacco at all get the habit. Ask the G.A.R. men who fought in our great war if this is not true. Then, too, when your country is at war, when back at home hands stretch out for every fresh edition and you at the front know only what happens in your alley, think what a newspaper from Paris means out on the battle-line seventy miles from Paris! So I had brouglit a bundle of newspapers and many packets of cigarettes.

Monsieur, the sensation is beyond even the French language to express — the sensation of sitting down by the roadside with this morning's edition and the first cigarette for twenty-four hours.

"C'est epatant! C'est chic, (a ! C'est magnifique ! Alors, nom de Dieu ! Tiens ! Hélas ! Voila ! Merci, milles remerciments ! " — it was an army of Frenchmen with ready words, quick, telling gestures, pouring out their volume of thanks as the car sped by and we tossed out our newspapers at intervals, so that all should have a look.

An Echo de Paris that fell into the road was the centre of a flag-rush, which included an officer. Most unmilitary — an officer scrambling at the same time as his men! In the name of the Kaiser, what discipline !

Then the car stopped long enough for. me to see a private give the paper to his officer, who was plainly sensible of a loss of dignity, with a courtesy which said, "A thousand pardons, mon capitaine !" and the capitaine began reading the newspaper aloud to his men. Scores of human touches which were French, republican, democratic !

With half our cigarettes gone, we fell in with some brown-skinned, native African troops, the Mohammedan Turcos. Their white teeth gleaming, their black eyes devilishly eager, they began climbing on to the car. We gave them all the cigarettes in sight; but fortunately our reserve supply was not visible, and an officer's sharp command saved us from being invested by storm.

As we came into Soissons we left the reserves behind. They were kept back out of range of the German shells, making the town a dead space between them and the firing-line, which was beyond. When the Germans retreated through the streets the French had taken care, as it was their town, to keep their fire away from the cathedral and the main square to the outskirts and along the river. Not so the German guns when the French infantry passed through. Soissons was not a German town.

We alighted from the car in a deserted street, with all the shutters of shops that had not been torn down by shell-fire closed. Soissons was as silent as the grave, within easy range of many enemy guns. War seemed only for the time being in this valley bottom shut in from the roar of artillery a few miles away, except for a French battery which was firing methodically and slowly, its shells whizzing toward the ridge back of the town.

The next thing that one wanted most was to go into that battery and see the soixante-quinze and their skilful gunners. Our statesman said that he would try to locate it. We thought that it was in the direction of the river, that famous Aisne which has since given its name to the longest siege-line in history ; a small, winding stream in the bottom of an irregular valley. Both bridges across it had been cut by the Germans. If that battery were on the other side under cover of any one of a score of blots of foliage we could not reach it. Another shot — and we were not sure that the battery was not on the opposite side of the, town ; a crack out of the landscape : this was modern artillery fire to one who faced it. Apparently the guns of the battery were scattered, according to the accepted practice, and from the central firing-station word to fire was being passed first to one gun and then to another.




Beside the buttress of one bridge lay two still figures of Algerian Zouaves. These were fresh dead, fallen in the taking of the town. Only two men! There were dead by thousands which one might see in other places. These two had leaped out from cover to dash forward and bullets were waiting for them. They had rolled over on their backs, their rigid hands still in the position of grasping their rifles after the manner of crouching skirmishers.

Our statesman said that we had better give up trying to locate the battery ; and one of the officers called a halt to trying to go up to the firing-line on the part of a personally-conducted party, after we stopped a private hurrying back from the front on some errand. With his alertness, the easy swing of his walk, his light step, and his freedom of spirit and appearance, he typified the thing which the French call élan. Whenever one asked a question of a French private you could depend upon a direct answer. He knew or he did not know. This definiteness, the result of military training as well as of Gallic lucidity of thought, is not the least of the human factors in making an efficient army, where every man and every unit must definitely know his part. This young man, you realized, had tasted the "salt of life," as Lord Kitchener .calls it. He had heard the close sing of bullets ; he had known the intoxication of a charge.

"Does everything go well ? " M. Doumer asked.

"It is not going at all, now. It is sticking," was the answer. "Some Germans were busy up there in the stone quarries while the others were falling back. They have a covered trench and rapid-fire-gun positions to sweep a zone of fire which they have cleared."

Famous stone quarries of Soissons, providing ready-made dug-outs as shelter from shells !

There is a story of how before Marengo Napoleon heard a private saying : "Now this is what the general ought to do! " It was Napoleon's own plan revealed. "You keep still !" he said. "This army has too many generals."

"They mean to make a stand," the private went on. "It's an ideal place for it. There is no use of an attack in front. We'd be mowed down by machine-guns."

The br-r-r of a dozen shots from a German machine- gun gave point to his conclusion. "Our infantry is hugging what we have and intrenching. You'd better not go up. One has to know the way, or he'll walk right into a sharpshooter's bullet " — instructions that would have been applicable a year later when one was about to visit a British trench in almost the same location.

The siege-warfare of the Aisne line had already begun. It was singular to get the first news of it from a private in Soissons and then to return to Paris and London, on the other side of the curtain of secrecy, where the public thought that the Allied advance would continue.

"Allons ! " said our statesman, and we went to the town square, where German guns had carpeted the ground with branches of shade trees and torn off the fronts of houses, revealing sections of looted interior which had been further messed by shell-bursts. Some women and children and a crippled man came out of doors at sight of us. M. Doumer introduced himself and shook hands all around. They were glad to meet him in much the same way as if he had been on an election campaign.

"A German shell struck there across the square only half an hour ago," said one of the women.

"What do you do when there is shelling ? " asked M. Doumer.

"If it is bad we go into the cellar," was the answer ; an answer which implied that peculiar fearlessness of women, who get accustomed to fire easier than men. These were the fatalists of the town, who would not turn refugee ; helpless to fight, but grimly staying with their homes and accepting what came with an incomprehensible stoicism, which possibly had its origin in a race-feeling so proud and bitter that they would not admit that they could be afraid of anything German, even a shell.

"And how did the Germans act ? "

"They made themselves at home in our houses and slept in our beds, while we slept in the kitchen," she answered. "They said that if we kept indoors and gave them what they wanted we should not be harmed. But if anyone fired a shot at their troops or any arms were found in our houses, they would burn the town. When they were going back in a great hurry — how they scattered from our shells! We went out in the square to see our shells, monsieur! "

What mattered the ruins of her home ? "Our" shells had returned vengeance.

Arrows with directions in German, " This way to the river," '"This way to Villers- Cotteret," were chalked on the standing walls ; and on door-casings the names of the detachments of the Prussian Guard billeted there, all in systematic Teutonic fashion.

"Prince Albrecht Joachim, one of the Kaiser's sons, was here and I talked with him," said the Mayor, who thought we would enjoy a morsel from court circles in exchange for a copy of the Echo de Paris, which contained the news that Prince Albrecht had been wounded later. The Mayor looked tired, this local man of the people, who had to play the shepherd of a stricken flock. Afterwards, they said that he deserted his charge and a lady, Mme. Macherez, took his place. All I know is that he was present that day ; or, at least, a man who was introduced to me as mayor ; and he was French enough to make a bon mot by saying that he feared there was some fault in his hospitality because he had been unable to keep his guest.

"May I have this confiture?" asked a battle-stained French orderly, coming up to him. " I found it in that ruined house there — all the Germans had left. I haven't had a confiture for a long time, and, monsieur, you cannot imagine what a hunger I have for confitures."

All the while the French battery kept on firing slowly, then again rapidly, their cracks trilling off like the drum of knuckles on a table-top. Another effort to locate one of the guns before we started back to Paris failed. Speeding on, we had again a glimpse of the landscape toward Noyon, sprinkled with shell-bursts. The reserves were around their camp-fires making savoury stews for the evening meal. They would sleep where night found them on the sward under the stars, as in wars of old. That scene remains indelible as one of many while the army was yet mobile, before the contest became one of the mole and the beaver.

Though one had already seen many German prisoners in groups and convoys, the sight of two on the road fixed the attention because of the surroundings and the contrast suggested between French and German natures. Both were young, in the very prime of life, and both Prussian. One was dark-complexioned, with a scrubbly beard which was the product of the war. He marched with such rigidity that I should not have been surprised to see him break into a goose-step. The other was of that mild, blue-eyed, tow-haired type from the Baltic provinces, with the thin, white skin which does not tan but burns. He was frailer than the other and he was tired! He would lag and then stiffen back his shoulders and draw in his chin and force a trifle more energy into his steps.

A typical, lively French soldier was escorting the pair. He looked pretty tired, too, but he was getting over the ground in the natural, easy way in which man is meant to walk. The aboriginal races, who have a genius for long distances on foot, do not march in the German fashion, which looks impressive, but lacks endurance. By the same logic, the cowboy pony's gait is better for thirty miles day in and day out than the gait of the high-stepping carriage horse.

You could realize the contempt which those two martial Germans had for their captor. Four or five peasant women refugees by the roadside loosened their tongues in piercing feminine satire and upbraiding.

"You are going to Paris, after all! This is what you get for invading our country; and you'll get. more of it!"

The little French soldier held up his hand to the women and shook his head. He was a chivalrous fellow, with imagination enough to appreciate the feelings of an enemy who has fought hard and lost. Such as he would fight fair and hold this war of the civilizations up to something like the standards of civilization.

The very tired German stiffened up again, as his drill sergeant had taught him, and both stared straight ahead, proud and contemptuous, as their Kaiser would wish them to do. I should recognize the faces of those two Germans and of that little French guard if I saw them ten years hence. In ten years, what will be the Germans' attitude toward this war and their military lords ?

It is not often that one has a senator for a guide ; and I never knew a more efficient one than our statesman. His own curiosity was the best possible aid in satisfying our own. Having seen the compactness and simplicity of an army column at the front, we were to find that the same thing applied to high command. A sentry and a small flag at the doorway of a village hotel: this was the headquarters of the Sixth Army, which General Manoury had formed in haste and flung at von Kluck with a spirit which crowned his white hairs with the audacity of youth. He was absent, but .we might see something of the central direction of one hundred and fifty thousand men in the course of one of the most brilliant manoeuvres of the war, before staffs had settled down to office existence in permanent quarters. That is, we might see the little there was to see : a soldier telegrapher in one bedroom, a soldier typewritist in another, officers at work in others. One realized that they could pack up everything and move in the time it takes to toss enough clothes into a bag to spend a night away from home. Apparently, when the French fought they left red tape behind with the bureaucracy.

From his seat before a series of maps on a sitting-room table an officer of about thirty-five rose to receive us. It struck me that he exemplified self-possessed intelligence and definite knowledge ; that he had coolness and steadiness plus that acuteness of perception and clarity of statement which are the gift of the French. You felt sure that no orders which left his hand wasted any words or lacked explicitness. The Staff is the brains of the army, and he had brains.

"All goes well !" he said, as if there were no more to say. All goes well! He would say it when things looked black or when they looked bright, and in a way that would make others believe it.


a village church


Outside the hotel were no cavalry escorts or commanders, no hurrying orderlies, none of the legendary activity that is associated with an army headquarters. A motor-car drove up, an officer got out; another officer descended the stairs to enter a waiting car. The wires carry word faster than the cars. Each subordinate commander was in his place along that line where we had seen the puffs of smoke against the landscape, ready to answer a question or obey an order. That simplicity, like art itself, which seems so easy is the most difficult accomplishment of all in war.

After dark, in a drizzling rain, we came to what seemed to be a town, for our motor-car lamps spread their radiant streams over wet pavements. But these were the only lights. Tongues of loose bricks had been shot across the cobblestones and dimly the jagged skyline of broken walls of buildings on either side could be discerned. It was Senlis, the first town I had seen which could be classified as a town in ruins. Afterwards, one became a sort of specialist in ruins, comparing the latest with previous examples of destruction.

Approaching footsteps broke the silence. A small, very small, French soldier — he was not more than five feet two — appeared, and we followed him to an ambulance that had broken down for want of petrol. It belonged to the Societé de Femmes de France. The little soldier had put on a uniform as a volunteer for the only service his stature would permit. In those days many volunteer organizations were busy seeking to "help." There was a kind of competition among them for wounded. This ambulance had got one and was taking him to Paris, off the regular route of the wounded who were being sent south. The boot-soles of a prostrate figure showed out of the dark recess of the interior. This French officer, a major, had been hit in the shoulder. He tried to control the catch in his voice which belied his assertion that he was suffering little pain. The drizzling rain was chilly. It was a long way to Paris yet.

"We will make inquiries," said our kindly general.

A man who came out of the gloom said that there was a hospital kept by some Sisters of Charity in Senlis which had escaped destruction. The question was put into the recesses of the ambulance :

"Would you prefer to spend the night here and go on in the morning ?"

"Yes, monsieur, I — should — like — that — better!" The tone left no doubt of the relief that the journey in a car with poor springs was not to be continued after hours of waiting, marooned in the street of a ruined town.

Whilst the ambulance passed inside the hospital gate, I spoke with an elderly woman who came to a near-by door. Cool and definite she was as a French soldier, bringing home the character of the women of France which this war has made so well known to the world.

"Were you here during the fighting ?"

"Yes, monsieur, and during the shelling and the burning. The shelling was not enough. The Germans said that someone fired on their soldiers — a boy, I believe — so they set fire to the houses. One could only look and hate and pray as their soldiers passed through, looking so unconquerable, making all seem so terrible for France. Was it to be '70 over again ? One's heart was of stone, monsieur. Tiens ! They came back faster than they went. A mitrailleuse was down there at the end of the street, our mitrailleuse! The bullets went cracking by. They crack, the bullets ; they do not whistle like the stories say. Then the street was empty of Germans who could run. The dead they could not run, nor the wounded. Then the French came up the street, running too — running after the Germans. It was good, monsieur, good, good! My heart was not of stone then, monsieur. It could not beat fast enough for happiness. It was the heart of a girl. I remember it all very clearly. I always shall, monsieur."

"Allons !" said our statesman. "The officer is well cared for."

The world seemed normal again as we passed through other towns unharmed and swept by the dark countryside, till a red light rose in our path and a sharp "Qui vive ?" came out of the night as we slowed down. This was not the only sentry call from a French Territorial in front of a barricade.

At a second halt we found a chain as well as a barricade across the road. For a moment it seemed that even the suave parliamentarism of our statesman and the authority of our general and our passes could not convince one grizzled reservist, doing his duty for France at the rear whilst the young men were at the front, that we had any right to be going into Paris at that hour of the night. The password, which was "Paris," helped, and we felt it a most appropriate password as we came to the broad streets of the city that was safe.

There is a popular idea that Napoleon was a super-genius who won his battles single-handed. It is wrong, He had a lot of Frenchmen along to help. Much the same kind of Frenchmen live to-day. Not until they fought again would the world believe this. It seems that the excitable Gaul, whom some people thought would become demoralized in face of German organization, merely talks with his hands. In a great crisis he is cool, as he always was. I like the French for their democracy and humanity. I like them, too, for leaving their war to France and Marianne ; for not dragging in God as do the Germans. For it is just possible that God is not in the fight. We don't know that He even approved of the war.


a cavalry bugler


Calais Waits

To the traveller, Calais had been the symbol of the shortest route from London to Paris, the shortest spell of torment in crossing the British Channel. It was a point where one felt infinite relief or sad physical anticipations. In the last days of November Calais became the symbol of a struggle for world-power. The British and the French were fighting to hold Calais ; the Germans to get it. In Calais, Germany would have her foot on the Atlantic coast. She could look across only twenty-two miles of water to the chalk cliffs of Dover. She would be as near her rival as twice the length of Manhattan Island ; within the range of a modern gun ; within an hour by steamer and twenty minutes by aeroplane.

The long battle-front from Switzerland to the North Sea had been established. There was no getting around the Allied flank ; there had ceased to be a flank. To win Calais, Germany must crush through by main force, without any manoeuvre. From the cafes where the British journalists gathered England received its news, which they gleaned from refugees and stragglers and passing officers. They wrote something every day, for England must have something about that dizzy, head-on wrestle in the mud, that writhing line of changing positions of new trenches rising behind the old destroyed by German artillery. The British were fighting with their last reserves on the Ypres-Armentieres line. The French divisions to the north were suffering no less heavily, and beyond them the Belgians were trying to hold the last strip of their land which remained under Belgian sovereignty. Cordons of guards which kept back the observer from the struggle could not keep back the truth. Something ominous was in the air.

It was worth while being in that old town as it waited on the issue in the late October rains. Its fishermen crept out in the mornings from the shelter of its quays, where refugees gathered in crowds hoping to get away by steamer. Like lost souls, carrying all the possessions they could on their backs, these refugees. There was numbness in their movements and their faces were blank — the paralysis of brain from sudden disaster. The children did not cry, but mechanically munched the dry bread given them by their parents.

“The newspaper men said that". Refugee stuff was already stale ; eviction and misery were stale. Was Calais to be saved ? That was the only question. If the Germans came, one thought that madame at the hotel would still be at her desk, unruffled, businesslike, and she would still serve an excellent salad for dejeuner ; the fishermen would still go to sea for their daily catch.

What was going to happen? What might not happen? It was human helplessness to the last degree for all behind the wrestlers. Fate was in the battle-line. There could be no resisting that fate. If the Germans came, they came. Belgian staff officers with their high-crowned, gilt-braided caps went flying by in their cars. There always seemed a great many Belgian staff officers back of the Belgian army in the restaurants and cafés. Habit is strong, even in war. They did not often miss their dejeuners. On the Dixmude line all that remained of the active Belgian army was in a death struggle in the rain and mud. To these "schipperkes" honour without stint, as to their gallant king.

Slightly-wounded Belgians and Belgian stragglers roamed the streets of Calais. Some had a few belongings wrapped up in handkerchiefs. Others had only the clothes they wore. Yet they were cheerful; this was the amazing thing. They moved about, laughing and chatting in groups. Perhaps this was the best way. Possibly relief at being out of the hell at the front was the only emotion they could feel. But their cheerfulness was none the less a dash of sunlight for Calais.

The French were grim. They were still polite ; they went on with their work. No unwounded French soldiers were to be seen, except the old Territorials guarding the railroad and the highways. The military organization of France, which knew what war meant and had expected war, had drawn every man to his place and held him there with the inexorable hand of military and racial discipline. Calais had never considered caring for wounded, and the wounded poured in. I saw a motor-car with a wounded man stop at a crowded corner, in the midst of refugees and soldiers ; a doctor was leaning over him, and he died whilst the car waited.

But the journalists were saying that stories of wounded men were likewise stale. So they were, for Europe was red with wounded. Train after train brought in its load from the front, and Calais tried to care for them. At least, it had buildings which would give shelter from the rain. On the floor of a railway freight shed the wounded lay in long rows, with just enough space between them to make an alley. Those in the row against one of the walls were German prisoners. Their green uniforms melted into the stone of the wall and did not show the mud stains. Two slightly wounded had their heads together whispering. They were helplessly tired, though not as tired as most of the others, those two stalwart young men ; but they seemed to be relieved, almost happy. It did not matter what happened to them, now, so long as they could rest.

Next to them a German was dying, and others badly hit were glassy-eyed in their fatigue and exhaustion. This was the word, exhaustion, for all the wounded.

They had not the strength for passion or emotion. The fuel for those fires was in ashes. All they wanted in this world was to lie quiet; and some fell asleep not know- ing or caring probably whether they were in Germany or in France. In the other rows, in contrast with this chameleon, baffling green, were the red trousers of the French and the dark blue of the Belgian uniforms, sharing the democracy of exhaustion with their foe.

A misty rain was falling. In a bright spot of light through a window one by one the wounded were being lifted up on to a seat, if they were not too badly hit, and on to an operating-table if their condition were serious. A doctor and a sturdy Frenchwoman of about thirty, in spotless white, were in charge. Another woman undid the first-aid bandage and still another applied a spray. No time was lost; there were too many wounded to care for. The thing must be done as rapidly as possible before another train-load came in. If these attendants were tired, they did not know it any more than the wounded had realized their fatigue in the passion of battle. The improvized arrangement to meet an emergency had an appeal which more elaborate arrangements of organization which I had seen lacked. It made war a little more red ; humanity a little more human and kind and helpless under the scourge which it had brought on itself.

Though Calais was not prepared for wounded, when they came the women of energy and courage turned to the work without jealousy, without regard to red tape, without fastidiousness. I have in mind half a dozen other women about the streets that day in uniforms of short skirts and helmets, who belonged to a volunteer organization which had taken some care as to its regimentals. They were types not characteristic of the whole, of whom one practical English doctor said :

"We don't mind as long as they do not get in the way."

Their criticisms of Calais and the arrangements were outspoken ; nothing was adequate ; conditions were filthy ; it was shameful. They were going to write to the English newspapers about it and appeal for money. When they had organized a proper hospital, one should see how the thing ought to be done. Meantime, these volunteer Frenchwomen were doing the best they knew how and doing it now.

A fine-looking young Frenchman who had a shell-wound in the thigh was being lifted on to the table. He shuddered with pain, as he clenched his teeth ; yet when the dressing was finished he was able to breathe his thanks. On the seat was a Congo negro who had been with one of the Belgian regiments, coal black and thick-lipped, with bloodshot eyes; an unsensitized human organism, his face as expressionless as his bare back with holes made by shell-fragments. A young Frenchwoman — she could not have been more than nineteen — with a face of singular refinement, sprayed his wounds with the definiteness of one trained to such work, though two days before it had probably never occurred to her as being within the possibilities of her existence. Her coolness and the coolness of the other women in their silent activity had a charm that added to one's devout respect.

The French wounded, too, were silent, as if in the presence of a crisis which overwhelmed personal thoughts. Help was needed at the front; they knew it. On sixty trains in one day sixty thousand French passed through Calais. With a pass from the French commandant at Calais, I got on board one of these trains down at the railroad yards at dawn. This lot were Turcos, under the command of a white-haired veteran of African campaigns. Anutter change of atmosphere from the freight shed! Perhaps it is only the wounded who have time to think. My companions in the officers' car were as cheery as the brown devils whom they led. They had come from the trenches on the Marne, and their commissariat was a boiled ham, some bread and red wine. Enough! It was war time, as they said.

"We were in the Paris railroad yards. That is all we saw of Paris — and in the night. Hard luck !"

They had left the Marne the previous day. By night they could be in the fight. It did not take long to send reinforcements when the line was closed to all except military traffic and one train followed close on the heels of another.

They did not know where they .were going; one never knew. Probably they would get orders at Dunkirk. Father Joffre, when there was a call for reinforcements, never was in a panicky hurry. He seemed to understand that the general who made the call could hold out a little longer; but the reinforcements were always up on time. A long head had Father Joffre.

Now I am going to say that life was going on as usual at Dunkirk ; that is the obvious thing to say. The nearer the enemy, the more characteristic that trite observation of those who have followed the roads of war in Europe. At Dunkirk you might have a good meal within sound of the thunder of the guns of the British monitors which were helping the Belgians to hold their line. At Dunkirk most excellent patisserie was for sale in a confectionery shop. Why shouldn't tartmakers go on making tarts and selling them ? The British naval reserve officers used to take tea in this shop. Little crowds of citizens who had nothing to do, which is the most miserable of vocations in such a crisis, gathered to look at armoured motor-cars which had come in from the front with bullet dents, which gave them the atmosphere of battle.

Beyond Dunkirk, one might see wounded Belgians, fresh from the field of battle, staggering in, crawling in, hobbling in from the havoc of shell-fire, their first-aid bandages saturated with mud, their ungainly and impracticable uniforms oozing mud, ghosts of men — these "schipperkes" of the nation that was unprepared for war who had done their part, when the only military thought was for more men, unwounded men, British, French, Belgian, to stem the German tide. Yet many of these Belgians, even these, were cheerful. They could still smile and say, "Bonne chance !"

Indeed, there seemed no limit to the cheerfulness of Belgians. At a hospital in Calais I met a Belgian professor with his head a white ball of bandages, showing a hole for one eye and a slit for the mouth. He had been one of the cyclist force which took account of many German cavalry scouts in the first two weeks of the war. A staff motor-car had run over him on the road.

"I think the driver of the car was careless," he said mildly, as if he were giving a gentle reproof to a student.

By contrast, he had reason to be thankful for his lot. Looked after by a brave man attendant in another room were the wounded who were too horrible to see ; who must die. Then, in another, you had a picture of a smiling British regular, with a British nurse and an Englishwoman of Calais to look after him. They read to him, they talked to him, they vied with each other in rearranging his pillows or bedclothes. He was a hero of a story ; but it rather puzzled him why he should be. Why were a lot of people paying so much attention to him for doing his duty ?

In the cavalry, he had been separated from his regiment on the retreat from Mons. Wandering about the country, he came up with a regiment of cuirassiers and asked if he might not fight with them. A number of the cuirassiers spoke English. They took him into the ranks. The regiment went far over on the Marne, through towns with French names which he could not pronounce, this man in khaki with the French troopers. He was marked. C'est un Anglais ! People cheered him and threw flowers to him in regions which had never seen one of the soldiers of the Ally before.

Yes, officers and gentlemen invited him to dine, like he was a gentleman, he said, and not a Tommy, and the French Government had given him a decoration called the Legion of Honour or something like that. This was all very fine ; but the best thing was that his own colonel, when he returned, had him up before his company and made a speech to him for fighting with the French when he could not find his own regiment. He was supremely happy, this Tommy. In waiting Calais one might witness about all the emotions and contrasts of war — and many which one does not find at the front.


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