- from various sources
- 'Crowds upon Declaration of War'
War is Declared
Kaiser Wilhelm II acclaimed in Berlin
On the evening of July 31 I started for Berlin. Down the midnight Channel the searchlights were turning and streaming in long, white wedges. Passing into Germany, we at once met trains full of working men in horse-trucks decked with flowers, and scribbled over with chalk inscriptions: "Nach Paris," "Nach Petersburg," but none so far "Nach London." They were cheering and singing, as people always cheer and sing when war is coming. We were only six hours late in Berlin, but my luggage was lost in the chaos of crowds rushing home from their summer holidays, and I never recovered it, though in the middle of the War I received a postcard that had somehow arrived through Holland, telling me that the porter, with whom I had left the "Schein," or registration ticket, had found the luggage, and what would I like done with it? A fine example of international honesty.
For two days I waited and watched. Up and down the wide road of Unter den Linden crowds paced incessantly by day and night, singing the German war songs: "Was blasen die Trompeten!" which is the finest; "Deutschland, Deutschland ueber Alles" which comes next, and "Die Wacht am Rhein," which was the most popular, because most clearly defensive against the secular enemy. As I walked to and fro among the patriot crowd, I came to know many of the circling and returning faces by sight, and I still have clearly in mind the face of one young working-woman who, with mouth that opened like a cavern, and with the rapt devotion of an ecstatic saint, was continuously chanting:
- "Lieb Vaterland kann ruhig sein / (bis)
- Fest steht und treu die Wacht,
- Die Wacht am Rhein."
So she passed me by. So the interminable crowds went past, a-tiptoe for war, because they had never known it. Sometimes a company of infantry, sometimes a squadron of horse went down the road westward, wearing the new grey uniforms in place of the familiar "Prussian blue." They passed to probable death amid cheering, handshaking, gifts of flowers and of food. Sometimes the Kaiser in full uniform swept along in his fine motor, the chauffeur clearing the way by perpetually sounding the four notes which wicked Socialists interpreted as saying " Das Volk bezahlt!" (" The People pays!"). Cheered he was certainly, but everyone believed or knew that the Kaiser himself had never wished for war. He claimed the title of "Friedens-Kaiser," just as many have chosen to call our Edward VII "The Peace-Maker." The most mighty storm of cheering was reserved for the Crown Prince, known to be at variance with his father in longing to test his imagined genius on the field. Him the people cheered, for they had never known war.
Henry W. Nevinson.
scene in Saint Petersburg on declaration of war
There was a crowd in front of a newspaper office. Every few minutes a momentous phrase scribbled in charcoal appeared in the window:
- ENGLAND GIVES UP PEACE NEGOTIATIONS
- GERMANY INVADES BELGIUM
Mobilization progressing with Great Enthusiasm and at 7.50 p.m.:
GERMANY DECLARES WAR ON RUSSIA
Spontaneously the crowd started singing the national anthem. The little pimply clerk who had pasted up the irrevocable announcement was still standing in the window, enjoying his vicarious importance. The people were staring at the sprawling words, as if trying to understand what they actually meant as far as each personal little life was concerned.
Then the edges of the crowd started breaking off and drifting in one direction, up the Nevsky Prospect. I heard the phrase "German Embassy" repeated several times. I walked slowly that way.
The mob pulled an officer from his cab and carried him in triumph.
I went into a telephone-box and called up Stana.
"Yes, it's been declared ... I don't know what I am going to do yet . . . All right, I'll be over about midnight."
I did not like the way her receiver clicked; there seemed to be contempt in it.
When I got to the St. Isaac Square it was swarming with people. It must have been about nine o'clock, for it was pretty light yet the enervating, exciting twilight of the northern nights.
The great greystone monstrosity of the German Embassy was facing the red granite of St. Isaac's Cathedral. The crowds were pressing around, waiting for something to happen. I was watching a young naval officer being pawed by an over-patriotic group when the steady hammering of axes on metal made me look up at the Embassy roof, which was decorated with colossal figures of overfed German warriors holding bloated cart-horses. A flagstaff supported a bronze eagle with spread wings.
Several men were busily hammering at the feet of the Teutons. The very first strokes pitched the mob to a frenzy: the heroic figures were hollow!
"They are empty! . . . A good omen! . . . Another German bluff! . . . We'll show them! . . . Hack them all down! . . . No, leave the horses standing! . . . The national anthem! . . . Lord, save Thy People!"
The axes were hammering faster and faster. At last one warrior swayed, pitched forward, and crashed to the pavement one hundred feet below. A tremendous howl went up, scaring a flock of crows off the gilded dome of St. Isaac's. The turn of the eagle came; the bird came hurtling down, and the battered remains were immediately drowned in the near-by Moika river.
But obviously the destruction of the symbols was not enough. A quickly organized gang smashed a side-door of the Embassy.
I could see flashlights and torches moving inside, flitting to the upper stories. A big window opened and spat a great portrait of the Kaiser at the crowd below. When it reached the cobble-stones, there was just about enough left to start a good bonfire. A rosewood grand piano followed, exploding like a bomb; the moan of the broken strings vibrated in the air for a second and was drowned:
too many people were trying to outshout their own terror of the future.
"Deploy! . . . Trot! . . . Ma-a-arch!"
A troop of mounted gendarmes was approaching from the other end of the square. The crowd opened up like the Red Sea for the Israelites. A new crowd carrying the portrait of the Emperor and singing a hymn was advancing slowly towards the gendarmes. Their officer halted the men and stiffened at the salute; this was the only thing he did towards restoring order. The bonfire was being fed by the furniture, books, pictures, and papers which came hurtling through the windows of the Embassy.
The emblazoned crockery of state came crashing, and the shattering sound whipped the crowd into a new wave of hysteria.
A woman tore her dress at the collar, fell on her knees with a shriek, and pressed her naked breasts against the dusty boots of a young officer in campaign uniform.
"Take me! Right here, before these people! Poor boy . . . you will give your life ... for God ... for the Tsar ... for Russia!"
Another shriek, and she fainted. Men and women were running aimlessly around the bonfire ... Is it an effect of light and shadow, or do I really see high cheek-bones, slanting eyes, and the conic fur caps of Aladin Mirza's horde?
Whew! . . . I let out the breath I had been holding unconsciously during the entire bacchanal.
It was Saturday afternoon. [2nd August.] Everybody was waiting in the streets. The beach was empty. At midday the news had already gone round that the order for mobilization would arrive any moment. I went once more to the post office to enquire. The five hundred francs which that morning had been despatched by wire from Budapest did not arrive.
About half-past two the clerk of the Mairie arrived on a bicycle, with ceaseless bell- ringing, from the direction of Morlaix. He was hugging a black portfolio under his arm. The mobilization order.
At three o'clock the tocsin shrieked. The senseless clanging of the village church bell was a worthy heralding of the world's gloomy change of scenery. To feverish imagination everything was now a play-acting or the pictures of a dream.
Old women in black with white head-dresses came hurrying. Suddenly they were all over the space round the platform which had been set up in front of the church, like big, white-crested, black birds. Then the men, as many of them as were at home, arrived in their Sunday clothes.
The holiday-makers silently made way for the assembling villagers. They had first right to hear the news.
In deathly silence the mayor read out the order for general mobilization.
Then petrified dumbness. Not a voice applauded. Someone sobbed, once, and the crowd stirred, and everyone went their various ways home.
In the hotel there was a never-ceasing buzz of excitement. The men were looking at time-tables. The father, husband and three brothers of the hotel proprietress set off to join their units. For the rest there were few Frenchmen among the holiday-makers. They should have arrived by the Saturday evening train from the neighbouring towns, but now they did not come, nor even later.
WeOrbok, Jeanette, a Russian sculptor and his mistress, and Iheld a despairing council of action in the drawing-room of the Bon Accueil. None of us had any money, but we had somehow to reach Paris, and it was said that not even the evening express from Morlaix was to leave. But if it went it would undoubtedly be the last train to Paris.
We should have to go to Morlaix by the motor-bus. Even by that means it took a good three-quarters of an hour.
I decided to ask the hotel proprietress for money for the journey. But she, poor thing, was beside herself with grief. It was quite useless rattling at her door or trying to open it. From inside only her despairing sobbing came in answer.
Meanwhile the bus had gone.
We were already discussing walking all the way to Paris when a clean-shaven, knickerbockered man in the lounge addressed us in German and asked us, if we were going to Paris would we take him with us. He had heard we were Hungarians. He was German,
he could not speak French and he was afraid he might meet with unpleasantness on the way.
"Haben Sie Geld?" we shouted at him all together.
"Das schon," the Prussian said, grinning, and pulled out a handful of gold from his pocket.
We all provided ourselves with money and agreed that we should meet within a quarter of an hour in front of the hotel and from there set off on foot in all haste for Morlaix. The Russian sculptor and his mistress also helped themselves from the gold on the Prussian's palm, but, probably on the woman's advice, they thought it better not to come with us.
I arrived panting in my room. From the next room came the rattle of sewing- machines, and singing. The sewing-girls sang:
"Allons, partons, belles, Partons pour la guerre, Partons, Il est temps . . ."
I listened unconsciously as I hurriedly packed together a change of linen, stuffed my toilet necessities into my bag. ... It was six o'clock in the evening. We had two hours and a half to cover a distance which usually required four hours to walk.
We set off running. The holiday-makers, still clustered in groups, made way for us with hostile stares. The Bretons standing in front of their low houses glowered at us. No one waved us goodbye.
Then came the declaration of war, most dramatically. Tuesday night, five minutes after the ultimatum had expired, the Admiralty telegraphed to the fleet "Go." In a few minutes the answer came back "Off." Soldiers began to march through the city going to the railway stations. An indescribable crowd so blocked the streets about the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Foreign Office, that at one o'clock in the morning I had to drive in my car by other streets to get home.
The next day the German Embassy was turned over to me. I went to see the German Ambassador at three o'clock in the after-noon. He came down in his pyjamas, a crazy man. I feared he might literally go mad. He is of the anti-war party and he had done his best and utterly failed. This interview was one of the most pathetic experiences of my life. The poor man had not slept for several nights. Then came the crowds of frightened Germans, afraid that they would be arrested. They besieged the German Embassy and our Embassy. I put one of our naval officers in the German Embassy, put the United States seal on the door to protect it, and we began business there, too. Our naval officer has moved insleeps there. He has an assistant, a stenographer, a messenger: and I gave him the German automobile and chauffeur and two English servants that were left there. . . . All London has been awake for a week. Soldiers are marching day and night; immense throngs block the streets about the government offices. But they are all very orderly. Every day Germans are arrested on suspicion; and several of them have committed suicide. Yesterday one poor American woman yielded to the excitement and cut her throat. I find it hard to get about much. People stop me on the street, follow me to luncheon, grab me as I come out of any committee meeting to know my opinion of this or thathow can they get home? Will such-and-such a boat fly the American flag? Why did I take the German Embassy? I have to fight my way about and rush to an automobile. I have had to buy me a second one to keep up the racket. Buy?no only bargain for it, for I have not any money. But everybody is considerate, and that makes no matter for the moment.
I shall never forget Sir Edward Grey's telling me of the ultimatum while he wept; nor the poor German Ambassador who has lost in his high gamealmost a demented man; nor the King as he declaimed at me for half an hour and threw up his hands and said, "My God, Mr. Page, what else could we do?" Nor the Austrian Ambassador's wringing his hands and weeping and crying out, "My dear Colleague, my dear Colleague."
Walter H. Page (U.S. Ambassador)
In the Wilds of Central Asia
Away back in the third week of August, 1914, I found myself marching just after midnight out from the walled city of Yarkand through the desert of Takla Makan, straight into the North Star. Sometimes my Pathan henchman and I marched and trotted over the hard track of the gravel plain, and sometimes floundered through the soft sands of the dunes. In the morning, before the first dawn, my little caravan had settled down for the night on the plastered earthen shelves that serve for beds in Turkistan. I woke up in full daylight, and, walking out into the little muddy courtyard, was surprised by the sight of the khaki blouse and the blue breeches with the broad sky-blue stripe of the Orenburg Cossacks. This was a patrol under a young Sotnik, a troop leader. We breakfasted together, and haltingly and with great difficulty in scrappy Russian I learnt a vague rumour that some great war was impending in Europe. This was indeed news, but we still had no idea about whom the bickering was between. The Sotnik had an idea that Germany and Russia were going to be the principal participants.
Two days later I reached Kashgar, and on the road met a jigit, a mounted messenger, sent out by Sir George Macartney to confirm the news of the war; but still there was no mention of a British participation, though that was anticipated. Instead of marching on northward and north-eastward across the desert to Maralbashi and Aksu to the Tian-Shan, the objective I had marked out for myself, I waited three days in Kashgar for more news from Europe. Sure enough, two days later, another jigit arrived from Irkeshtam, the telegraph office on the Russian frontier, with his great leathern saddlebags bulging with newspapers, telegrams and despatches. This, indeed, was the Great War.
That night I was the guest of the two sotnias of the Orenburg Cossacks, and the event was celebrated till well after the milk came round in the morning. That same morning after a very few hours' sleep I packed off my young Khatak orderly, Ghulam Ali, giving him a pony and telling him to march southward the forty or fifty days' march over the Pamirs to the Punjab. I little guessed that the next time I should see him would be in the bight of a blood-clotted stretcher in the Salient. I myself marched on through the Southern Tian-Shan to the Russian railhead at Andijan.
Capt. L. V. S. Blacker (The Guides)
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