from the book ‘At The Front With Three Armiews’
'Germany in War-Time'
by Granville Fortesque 1915

An American Journalist in Germany and Occupied Belgium

a 'cute patriotic' photo of a scene in Germany


After my return from the Belgian and French theatres of war The New York American, a newspaper which was anxious to get an accurate account of conditions in Germany, suggested to the Daily Telegraph that I might be sent to that country. It was arranged that my services should be transferred direct to the allied newspaper. It was as the military correspondent of The New York American that I made my journey to Berlin.

There were current in England at that time all sorts of rumours on the supposed state of affairs in Germany. It was said that the poorer classes were starving; that the country was on the verge of a revolution and that the war was highly unpopular. It was my mission to verify these rumours and incidentally get to the front if such a thing were possible.

I know there are partisans who will take exception to my simple statement of the facts as I found them, but it must be remembered that I am a neutral and try to see with an impartial eye. In Germany I found conditions during the first weeks of September almost normal. I say almost normal, because the railroad service was to some extent interrupted both by the supply trains moving to the front, and trains of wounded returning. Also, the population as a whole was responding to the electrifying stimulus of a popular war. The sentiments of the people are epitomized in the two German mottoes, "God, King and Fatherland," and "Deutschland über alles." From prince to pauper, the triumph of Germany was the thought of all. On my way to Berlin I travelled in a train loaded with wounded. They had been sent back from Namur and Mons. All were cases which are classified as slightly wounded, although it was apparent that some of them were grievously injured. One young soldier who could not have been more than twenty- two had been struck at an angle through the left eye. It may be said that he was lucky not to have had the bullet come straight at him, yet it seemed to me that this man at least had given his share of himself to his country. But the only thing which occupied him at the moment was the question whether he would be allowed to rejoin with only one eye. He was only a second lieutenant, and one rose quickly in time of war. He told me when he discovered my nationality, that he was one of the German Olympic Games' Team, and that he had been training under the American athletes who had been imported to Germany as instructors. Several others of the men had head wounds of minor importance, and one had been unfortunate enough to be shot through the jaw. More than fifty per cent, of the wounded, however, carried an arm in a sling. The few who had been hit in the leg sat with their limbs stretched out on the carriage seats, and it was plain that the jolting of the car was exquisite agony. But they had no complaints. All seemed to take their wounds as a matter of course. It was part of the business of war.

The plan of sending back the slightly wounded is a new departure in the German army. Sending the lightly hurt to recover in the care of their families has proved a great success. The men recover more quickly under congenial surroundings, and the government is relieved of considerable expense.

From the first I saw that in Germany war was a business proposition. Every detail was as carefully considered as it is by the American Car and Foundry Company. Nothing was too small not to be done well. I studied the bandages of these wounded, and saw that they were as skilfully applied as if the work had been done in a quiet hospital far removed from the conditions of warfare. To me the condition of those bandages told the story of an efficient field hospital: and an efficient field hospital is one of the tests of a well-organized army.

On the journey to Berlin what impressed me most was the matter-of-fact way in which the situation was accepted. There were no curious, cheering throngs at the different stations, no indulgence in cheap sentimentality. A few people stood gathered on the platform as the train stopped, but these were all volunteer nurses. The work was to render assistance to such of the wounded as needed it. They distributed hot soup, sandwiches, and even beer, to some of those hors de combat. But it was all done in a quiet way that suggested method and efficiency. I have journeyed extensively in three war areas, and from what I have seen I do not hesitate to say that in the matter of the evacuation of the wounded, no other organization can approach the German.

At one of the junction stops—Wunstorf—our train passed a contingent of Belgian prisoners. There were three train-loads of box cars filled with them. As the captives were penned in the cars, which were solid, save for a grating which was open for a few inches under the roof, they were not travelling in comfort. The cars were carpeted with clean straw, and the sentries, who sat at the doors with their wicked-looking bayonets pointing inward, joked with the men of our train as we passed.

I could only get fleeting glimpses of the faces of the prisoners. Here and there I looked into a pair of hungry eyes staring from the blackness of the box car. But I could not distinguish the numbers on their caps to see if I had any old friend among the captives. I estimated the number of prisoners at a thousand, and heard that they were part of the army which defended Namur. The German papers were constantly boasting of the number of English prisoners they had captured, so I was on the constant lookout for captives in khaki; but I saw none.

When our train approached Berlin, one got a picture of another side of war. Many little pathetic scenes were enacted at the different stops. The news of the coming of the wounded had been wired ahead. Mothers, wives and daughters gathered to meet their loved ones. I remember one girl—she had the air of still being a bride—almost smothering her husband with kisses. Talking like a runaway phonograph, her eyes never left his face. Her own were lit with pride and love, yet while I watched she never let her glance wander to the shattered arm her husband covered in a sling. As the train pulled out I saw her still smiling up at him in rapture, oblivious to the world. At other stations, women with searching eyes hurried from window to window of the train. They have come to look for those dear to them; some are disappointed. Slowly despair creeps into the searching eyes as the train moves onward. They turn, the saddened women, the world shall not see their tears.

The first symptom I noticed of the war in Berlin was that the people were newspaper mad. The local sheets were selling like extras on election night; and this went on every hour in the day up till eleven o'clock at night. Not only did the newspapers sell like hot cakes, but a pushing mob stood all day and after the electric lights were lit, outside the offices of the local papers waiting for the latest bulletins. Every bulletin was greeted with cheers. It was the time of the Russian disaster in East Prussia. First it would be stated that thirty thousand prisoners were taken, then sixty thousand, and finally ninety thousand. This feverish thirst for news went on unabated all during my stay in the German capital. After the newspaper mania, the next symptom of conflict was the change of names of certain hotels and shops. Every English and French name disappeared in one night. The Hotel Bristol which has a name that is a considerable asset, became the Conrad Uhl, after the manager. The Westminster Hotel became the Station House and the Piccadilly Café did a thriving business under the title Vaterland; as perhaps more beer is consumed here than in any other beer-hall in Berlin, the name was justified. One of the amusing sides of this frantic effort to eliminate everything foreign comes to the surface, when a local jeweller who had the time of the world showing on several clocks proceeded to paste out the faces of the timepieces registering the hour in London, Paris, Petrograd and Brussels. Rather significant was the broad sea-map in the window of the North German Lloyd Office. Not a miniature vessel floated on the seascape.

In the confusion that has engulfed commerce, trade secrets are being stripped of their petty deceptions. It now comes to light that "Sheffield steel" has been for years manufactured and exported from Germany, and all the famous makes of English gloves are put together in Bavaria. It is the business man of Germany who feels the situation most. To him the war is a simple matter of economics. The more he reflects on this the more gloomy he becomes. Yet I cannot say that there was anything abnormal in the aspect of Berlin at the time of my visit. The streets were crowded, but it was with a holiday mob. Confidence was the note of all. In fact I may say of all the capitals, Berlin was easily the gayest I visited. The cafes were open till midnight, and some even later. They were filled most of the time, and among those crowding round the little tables sipping their beer, I could not find one with an anxious face. Even the famous night life of the German capital went on as usual. The only exception was that the branch of Maxim's was closed as well as the Palais de Glace, the notorious dancing-hall. As for any shortage of supplies, it existed only in the imagination of certain writers. I lived better at the Adlon Hotel than I did in Paris. What is more, the prices for rooms and food were more reasonable. At the Bristol the management were still serving an excellent luncheon for three marks. They could not possibly have done this if there had been any considerable advance in the price of eatables. I have been told that great misery existed among the submerged tenth. This is not peculiar, admitting that it is a fact. I cannot say that I noticed any striking lack of men in the crowds that marched up and down the Unter den Linden. There was one feature of life in Berlin that existed nowhere else; that was the continual passing of troops preceded by their bands. Why the band should have been suppressed in England in this war, is something I shall never pretend to understand. If the idea is to divorce soldiering from music, I can tell those who plan it that they will never succeed; not if they want to keep up the supply of soldiers. I noticed at once in Germany what a difference the notes of a playing band made both to the men marching and those gathered to cheer them on. Why I felt the thrill of the thing when- ever I marched a few paces with the columns myself, and soldiering is no treat to me. In London the troops might be marching to their own funerals. In Berlin they were going to a fete.

Even as early as September the story was circulated in England that Germany had called out her last man. It was said that the cities were denuded of males. This was not the fact. I saw plenty of men of the military age in the streets of the capital, too many in fact. It seemed to me that many of them might be better off in the army. Of course preparation and training was going on everywhere. One had only to take a trip out into the environs to see "cannon fodder" in the making on all sides. Potsdam was the great recruiting centre. Here the training of the embryo soldier went on from morning to night. From what little I was allowed to see, it was a very thorough process.

Even their enemies must grant that the Germans know that art of the preparation for war better than any other people. The mobilization of the German force has been the theme of military epics. The striking feature of this almost magical summoning of the strength of the Empire was the appearance of every soldier with a complete new equipment. From helmet to boot he wore an outfit straight from the quartermaster's depot. Even the equipment for the artillery was replaced. Harness, shoes, extra wheels were all fresh from the Ordnance depot. No army the world has seen could boast such perfection of detail. In the matter of uniform the Germans sprang their first surprise. The invisible grey was a change of which the French and English knew nothing. Personally I think it the best colour for campaigning I have ever seen. Every professional soldier will enlarge on the few sentences I give to the military organization of the Germans. Without going into technicalities it is admittedly the best in the world.

Although I made diligent effort I was never permitted to see one of the famous 17-inch howitzers. It was always said that they were all in the field. I did see a photograph of one. I do not believe that there were many of these Brobdingnagian guns ready when hostilities opened. Even now, I doubt if more than six are being used against the Allies. A great deal of capital has been made out of these cannon. ... I do not believe it is yet proved that they justify themselves. Used against forts they are invaluable, but beyond this their value is problematical. To move them is a matter of immense effort of an incidental nature. Every bridge over which they pass has to be specially strengthened, every road specially prepared. In siege operations no weapon designed by man is more formidable, but sieges will be rare incidents in future wars.

I was in Berlin on the anniversary of the battle of Sedan. It was made the occasion for a tremendous celebration and display of cannon captured from the enemy. I have never seen a greater concourse of people in a given area. From the Brandenburg Gate to the Emperor's Palace the sidewalks and the two outside roadways of Unter den Linden were jammed with people as thick as caviar. From an upper window of my hotel, which was near the Gate, as far as I could see, this river of humanity stretched. They had come to see some eighteen field pieces taken from the enemy. All Berlin was surely there. On this day what ordinarily would be called confidence became arrogance. The Fall of Sedan is a proud day in German history.

The Fall of Paris would be a prouder one. You must remember that at that time the army of von Kluck was marching relentlessly and swiftly towards the capital of France. It was even hoped that the celebration would be made a joint event. When the first of the captured artillery appeared under the Gate the cheer that rose was the sound of the sea in a storm. Two long, slender, grey French guns were given the place of honour in the procession. German soldiers mounted the horses, German soldiers sat on the caissons. After the French came some of the Bull-dog Belgian pieces. I wondered if any of my friends had manned them. Then came some machine-guns that had been taken in the fighting in East Prussia. As each new type of cannon came into view the cheering broke out anew. Soon this enormous concourse could no longer voice their emotion in mere shouting, so they burst into song. A few voices took up the words at first, then others, until the notes of "Deutschland Ueber Alles " swelled to a wave of sound that seemed to rock the walls of the houses. From the human point of view this was the most impressive thing of the war. Here I heard literally the voice of the people. They cried that their enemies should be trampled in the dust; they gloated over the mute evidence of their enemies' downfall.

The most significant bit of information on the hopes of the military party came to my knowledge about this time. With some other correspondents, I was discussing the probable duration of the war with Lieutenant von L------, of the King's Hussars attached to the General Staff.

Lieutenant von L------ had put the question—

"How long do you think the war will last?" Remember this conversation took place the first week in September. Guesses were ventured ranging in time from three months to three years. Lieutenant von L------'s surprise increased at every answer. Finally, when three years seemed to be the limit, he smiled and said, "I will let you into a secret. The war will be over in two weeks. I do not say that there may not be some guerilla fighting along different frontiers after that time, but hostilities between great armies will end within two weeks." Obviously he believed that Germany was going to repeat the campaign of 1870. When several of the correspondents tried to argue that this was too much to hope for, and pointed out pregnant reasons for thinking that France and England were not so nearly beaten, the Lieutenant relapsed into moody silence.


Perhaps the most interesting personality I met in Germany was Lieutenant Werner. He is the man who was the first to fly over Paris and drop bombs on the defenceless inhabitants. Yet he is not a ferocious-looking character, quite otherwise. His gaze as he looks at you through his monocle is mild; he is almost fat. I was told that he was something of a tennis player, but he must have been a bit out of condition when I saw him. Never have I seen a more harmless-looking pirate, for no doubt he is a pirate.

Lieutenant Werner—I am sorry to say he forgot to write his initials for me—of the Imperial Flying Corps, comes from Hanover, where he is well known in sporting circles, and at the outbreak of the war he had taken up flying as an amateur. At this time he had been running his machine about six months. He was immediately enrolled in the ranks of the German aviators and began his duties at once. He followed the first army to Brussels and saw his first action at the Battle of Mons. His description of the pictures one got of the fighting from a height of two thousand feet was fascinating. It must be the ideal position for a war correspondent. He hovered over the contending armies throughout the day, watching every phase of the fighting.

"The English fight very well; they have held their positions until I could no longer see them because of the smoke of the shells of the heavy German artillery." Lieutenant Werner speaks with considerable accent. ("Our soldiers came on them from three sides.) I hoped they would be all captured; but at last they began to go, slowly, very slowly." The aviator followed the retreating armies to Le Cateau, sending back messages of their every move. Here he says the English were again attacked, and when taken in the flank by heavy German fire they were compelled to retire in haste.

His very extraordinary story was of his flight over Paris. Attached to the army of General von Kluck, Lieutenant Werner was directed to fly over the French capital and drop bombs where they would do the most damage. The Eiffel Tower with its wireless apparatus was to be an especial objective.

In flights of this character, safety requires that the aviator maintains a height of from five to six thousand feet. Werner says that at that height it is impossible to distinguish buildings. Also the smoke which always accumulates in a haze above cities adds to the difficulty of locating fixed points. But there is no trouble in distinguishing the crowds that always gather in the streets when an aviator makes his appearance over a hostile city.

"To these people I dropped many papers saying that the report that the Russian army was at the gates of Berlin was a lie. This story many French papers had published at that time. Then when I find my little machine going over the Eiffel Tower, I drop two bombs." "Did the bombs fall near the Tower?" "No, I think not. I could not stay to see. Two other flying-machines were approaching, one a Blériot and one a double-decker Bristol. I go up at once. I know I can beat the Bristol, but the Blériot may catch me. He is coming at an angle across the course to my lines. When I am on a higher plane I make straight for home. I must pass that Frenchman; it is a blood-hot race, but I win. We are so close though, that we fire at one another with our Brownings; but neither hits. It is difficult to shoot when you are flying. Soon I am well back in my own lines. The Frenchman turns. The next day I go back to Paris and drop more bombs."

There is the story that comes as near being a realization of Mr. Wells' War in the Air as anything that has happened in modern conflict.

What was in my mind during this conversation was, "Does this man know the cowardice of his deeds?" The dropping of a mangling, death-dealing projectile on defenceless women and children was not my idea of soldiering.

"Do you not sometimes drop your bombs on non-combatants?" I was trying to phrase the question diplomatically, when my pirate was called away peremptorily.

To me it was an extraordinary revelation of what discipline would do. Here was a mild- mannered, blue-eyed, fat Teuton, the type you expect to see drinking beer and rearing a large family, doing the most blood-thirsty deeds all at the call of the Kaiser. There was nothing in the outward aspect of Lieutenant Werner to make you suspect that he was the murderer of women and children, yet reduced to plain words, that is what he was. Germany is trying to hide too many crimes under the name of war; she cannot succeed in this case. How she can get her sons to do such things I cannot explain.

During the first week of my stay in Berlin, the "magnificent" plan of campaign of the Kaiser was made known to me. It was not told me in confidence, so I have no hesitation in repeating it here. I think my informant, who held an official position, was trying to impress me.

Germany was preparing to invade England with a Zeppelin armada. As many as sixteen of the monsters of the air were at that moment ready tugging at their moorings like hounds in leash. When the French army was disposed of, which was only a matter of a week or so (this conversation took place in September, 1914), a strong German force would be sent to take Calais. This accomplished, a new "Krupp surprise" surpassing the 17-inch howitzer would then appear. This is a gun of a longer range than any in existence. It is also 17-inch calibre; but while the howitzer can throw a shell only five miles, it is solemnly affirmed that the new "surprise" can hurl a ton of explosive from Calais to Dover. Six of them mounted at the French port would play havoc with the English Fleet in those waters, and permit the aerial armada to approach the English coast undisturbed. In the consternation that would ensue the German Fleet would emerge. Here another surprise was in store for the foe. All the ships of the Hamburg American Line and the North German Lloyd Line carried guns and were protected with armour plate. This was to be expected; but they had been altered in outline so that at a distance it was impossible to distinguish them from super-Dreadnoughts of the German type. Thus when this enormous fleet appeared the English would not know on what ships to concentrate their fire. In the confusion, the Germans would have the British warships completely at their mercy. The Fleet destroyed, the German army would then invade England at its leisure. If I may be permitted the phrase, it was "some plan."


an ethnic mix of Allied prisoners in Germany


While in Berlin, I visited the prison camp at Alten Grabow. There were in captivity about three thousand French soldiers, two thousand Belgians and some English civilians. Alten Grabow is one of the permanent practice manoeuvre grounds for the different army corps scattered all over Germany.

The prisoners of war were housed in long stables. There were sixteen of these, and in each not more than three hundred prisoners were confined. Stalls divide the stables, and each stall is floored, carpeted with two sacks of straw which serve the captives as beds. In the mangers at the heads of the stalls were ranged such few knick-knacks as the soldiers still possessed.

The sixteen long stable buildings are surrounded by a barbed-wire fence 8 feet high. Every few yards along this wall of wire stands a sentry, his bayonet glittering in the sun. Inside the barbed-wire fence the prisoners are free to wander as they will, but they hardly ever move a dozen yards from the particular stable to which they are assigned. For the most part they sit in little groups, spiritless and dejected.


Belgian prisoners


I first visited the Belgian captives. They were the men of the Fourth Division who had been taken at Namur. The German officer with me, Lieutenant von Leusner, King of Prussia's Hussars, had been stationed in Washington, and only returned to Germany in time for the war. He made no objection to my questioning the prisoners.

"How long had the fight at Namur lasted?" I asked a corporal of the 13th Line Regiment.

"Not more than two hours," he replied.

"Why did you put up such a feeble resistance?"

"We were too few; outnumbered three or four to one, we were alone. The Germans overran us from three sides."

"Were there no French troops in Namur?"

"No, monsieur, not one."

"And the forts, why did they fall so quickly?"

"They were old. Three shots from the great German guns and they were finished. The Germans were too many for us and their guns were too great."

This last sentence summarized all the explanations of the feeble defence of Namur.

I crossed to the French, and in the first stables I entered saw the slightly wounded. All told, there were about seven hundred hit, but none here showed a severe hurt. They lay stretched on their straw sacks staring straight before them with unseeing eyes. All were gaunt and yellow with privation. Not one moved as I passed down the aisle. Only their glittering eyes showed that they were alive. One remarkable feature of all the wounds was the absence of infection. In all great wars of the past, previous to the Japanese- Russian War, it was rare that wounds would heal cleanly. Gangrene appeared almost immediately, and this infection so complicated the original hurt that a bullet wound in the leg or arm meant the loss of the limb. In the thorax the appearance of gangrene meant death. To-day a man may be struck as often as five times—I have seen such cases— and yet not be classed as dangerously wounded. With ordinary care the bullet-holes heal rapidly.

Here I had a chance to contrast the uniforms. Not only does the German soldier fade into the dust, but his uniform is well adapted to the needs of his work. The French soldier is not only as conspicuous as a windmill on the sky line, but his long coat and baggy trousers make the lightest work around camp a heavy, physical strain.

I questioned a soldier of the Hundred and Ninetieth French Infantry about the fighting at Mons and Charleroi; here is his description.

"It was Saturday, August 22nd, and very foggy. We did not know we were being attacked until the shells began falling from the sky. We took our places in the trenches, but could see nothing, for the fog surrounded us. Out of this invisibility bullets began to come. We could see nothing, but we knew the Germans were in front; so we too, fired.

"For a time the fire slackened, and we were confident we had driven them back, then, like ghosts, there came thundering down on our flank a squadron of Hussars. On their hats were the skull and cross-bones of Death. They stumbled on our trenches, and our guns drove them back. Then the artillery commenced again. We could hear the shells singing overhead.

"All day long the fighting lasted. We shot and shot until I no longer had any feeling in my shoulder. Still the Germans came. We knew there were more and more of them from the downpour of their bullets; yet even when the fog lifted we saw only a very few. It was fighting the unseen. Then came the order to fall back, but before we could move they had surrounded us. Then they brought us here."

When I questioned him as to his treatment as a prisoner, he had but one complaint—the ration of bread was short. He had soup and coffee, all that soldiers could expect, but not enough bread. Lieutenant von Leusner overheard this. It was explained that the bakery had broken down for the day. A full allowance was promised shortly.

Conspicuous among the French prisoners were the "Turcos." The Germans made little secret that they hated the black soldiers. I had been told that they were shown no quarter; but here was evidence to the contrary. The prison officer stated that they made more trouble than all the other prisoners combined. Among the captives were a number of alleged franc-tireurs. They were caught not actually firing—in that case there would have been short shrift for them— but under circumstances that pointed to their having aided the French. Some of these were wounded.

The sanitary arrangements of the camp were primitive but safe. Down the central open space between the stables were placed a number of washing troughs supplied with running water. Here the men could bathe if they wished, and under certain restrictions, wash their clothes.

By mistake, a number of severely wounded prisoners were sent to Alten Grabow. These were housed in little lazarettos near the entrance to the camp. Their plight was pitiful. They lay very quiet. One does not move when a cruel bit of iron has torn its jagged way across your chest. While everything possible was being done for them, yet their wounds demanded all the conveniences of a modern hospital.

Despondency—that was the dominant note of these prisoners of war. They sat about in listless groups hardly talking, each one busy with his own thoughts. A few played cards, but the game went on perfunctorily. Time and again they would turn their eyes to the high fence of barbed-wire and the helmeted Prussian with his gun, pacing behind it. Then, hopelessly, their glances would come back. Escape was not to be dreamed of, and they had no news; only story after story of French defeats with which their captors fed them. This was the true refinement of cruelty.

It seems curious that with all the improvement in the general conditions of warfare, the prisoner is still as badly off as he was during the Civil War. Once captured he becomes something of an outcast. His own people take almost no further interest in him. It is simpler to enlist new men than to exchange captives. Then there is always a stigma attached to a surrender. So the position of the prisoners of war does not excite the sympathy it should. This is not fair. From what I have seen of them they are entitled at least to a square deal. Their existence should not be forgotten. The machinery of an exchange is, I know, complicated and slow, but that is an evil which could be cured. The intervention of neutrals is always possible. In justice to the men that fill the war prisons on all sides, a simpler and quicker method of exchange should be devised.

In Germany I found the same prejudice against allowing correspondents in the zone of operations as existed in France. I cannot leave the prisoners without mentioning an incident which might have brought me into uncomfortable complications. While I was inspecting the different French quarters I soon found myself among troops with the familiar 148 on their collars. This told me that things had gone badly with my friends after I had left Dinant. I was talking with Lieutenant von Leusner when I noticed that two of the French soldiers were regarding me fixedly. Suddenly I heard one of them whisper to the other.

"C'est le journaliste qui était avec nous, n'est-ce pas?"

The soldier addressed studied me for a minute—luckily I was dressed differently—then after a pause he replied:

"Non, pas possible."

I have often wondered what would have been the effect on my German officer guide if these former comrades had openly greeted me. Yet the officials in Berlin were infinitely more considerate and courteous in their treatment of the newspaper man than the officials of the other nations. I will not discuss the general attitude of the military towards the correspondent here. I reserve that for a later chapter. I take this occasion to thank Baron von Mumm for the invariably polite reception he gave me at the time of my visits. While I never reached the actual "front" from the German side I was allowed to visit the forts of Liege. As I had seen the German assaults on the famous Belgian city, I was delighted with this chance of seeing the ground from the German side.

Eight of the correspondents who were in Berlin at the time made up the party bound for Liege, and in the stock phrase everything was done for our comfort. It was during this trip that I met Mr. Irwin Cobb of the Saturday Evening Post, Mr. Louis of the "Associated Press," and Mr. John McCutcheon of the Chicago Tribune. These gentlemen, under the advice of a German military doctor, were taking the waters at Aix-la-Chapelle. Not that they were prisoners. No, even when they were in the guardhouse with a sentry standing over them, they were assured that they were nothing so low as prisoners, they were guests. Mr. Cobb told the story of their chase after an elusive battle, and it is the only bit of humour the war has yet afforded. I see in his published article that he suppresses much that was amusing in his adventures. After all, war is not a joking matter.

We went by motor from Aix to Liege. That motor trip told me more than all the stories of atrocities I had read in the Brussels papers. Here was the evidence of a crime that still cries to heaven for vengeance. Whole villages given to the flames. Towns once sheltering ten thousand peaceful people, now no more than blackened walls and rubble. God knows what had become of the inhabitants.

What proved to me more than anything else that the accusation made by Germany that Belgium was preparing for war was false, was the evidence of the feeble resistance put up by the Belgian troops along the line of the frontier. They did destroy sections of the railroads and dynamite certain tunnels, but this is not actively holding the invader in check. The country hereabouts is full of splendid defensive positions. Every road is commanded by higher ground that would have been favourable to the defenders, and every ford and bridge offers the same chance. For some reason I am not able to understand, the Belgians preferred to make their stands in the towns along the roads. Perhaps they thought the walls of the houses preferable protection to the positions that might easily have been fortified in the open country. It was unfortunate both from a military point of view and a civil one, that the towns were made the rallying points of defence. Naturally the enemy turned his artillery against the houses where the Belgians were posted. Then when they had gained a town, they utterly destroyed it on the ground that it had sheltered fighting soldiers. It did not matter to the Germans that a citizen might have his home occupied by the soldiery through force majeure and that he himself wished only to avoid the actual conflict. Now, in their policy of spreading terror through the peace-loving population of the country they were going to over-ride, they put all to fire and sword. If there is a just God, Germany must pay heavily for this crime.

As Germany has been the chief war-like power she has had the making of the rules of the game. From a military point of view I see the course of German reasoning in this matter. Brutally, it is that in order to advance through an enemy's country with the minimum of loss, the civil population must be terrorized. In Germany I heard circumstantial stories of the attacks made by civilian men and even women on the German detachments advancing through Belgium. I do not know whether the stories were true or untrue. I think some of them were true; but what did the Germans expect when they threw two hundred thousand of the most brutal soldiers the world has seen, into what was at the time the most peace-loving nation of Europe. It was the most conspicuous example of Might overriding Right that history records. When one reflects on the course of Germany in this war, how trivial the tomes of platitudes published from the Hague Peace Bureau seem.

Coming on Liege from the east, I realized that the difficulties of the attack were not as great as I had imagined them to be. There were plenty of gun positions, and what surprised me, a good deal of cover for troops advancing against the forts. As I have said here the country is higher than along the valley of the river. It forms a sort of tableland.


post-bombardment photo of a fort at Liege


Our inspection was confined to the Forts Pontisse and Loncin. In this last fort General Leman had his headquarters during the fighting. The forts in Belgium are nothing like the popular conception of such defences. At a little distance they look like hills dotted here and there with Brobdingnagian mushrooms. The hills are the forts proper, actually subterranean chambers where the main garrison live, and from which the turrets, the mushrooms referred to above, protrude. Of course the outline of the fort is cut with trench and sap where infantry can be placed in order to repel assaulting infantry, but all the artillery operations take place underground. Tunnels lead from one section to the other, reminding one of the cross section of an ant-heap, while faint incandescent lights show the path ahead. I had the same feeling, not altogether a pleasant one, that I had when I visited the Catacombs in going through these forts. The thought of the Catacombs came back to me more vividly at Loncin. Here, about six hundred of the garrison had been trapped underground.

Our guides took us through the magazines, and I saw that the Belgians had plenty of ammunition when they were compelled to surrender. The German officers, however, pointed out that the forts were not in a proper condition for effective defence. One of the most important features of forts of this character is the system of fire control. A telephone connexion is established leading to all the different points—offensive and defensive—of the periphery. Without this the commander is in the dark. At Pontisse the telephone system was being arranged while the attack was going on.

The turrets are the unique feature of this type of forts. From the outside they resemble a huge iron mushroom. From the inside they almost duplicate the gun chamber of a battleship. Here are all the mechanical devices used on shipboard—the ammunition hoist, the sighting mechanism, a bewildering battery of levers and screws and electrical switches. Right beside the position of the gun-pointer hangs a telephone receiver. Through this receiver he gets his orders and clamps his piece accordingly. Projectile and powder come up out of the darkness below. One follows the other into the breech. It is closed and locked, then the turret-turning and lifting mechanism is put into operation. The iron mushroom revolves—pushes out from the side of the hill—comes to a stop : a bursting explosion, and it sinks back like a turtle withdrawing his head.

All of the turrets I saw contained two six-inch guns. I did not see any piece of larger calibre. I do not think that there are any guns of larger size at Liege. If this is so it makes the resistance put up by the Belgians all the more praiseworthy. When we were surveying the country from the tops of the fort, the German major of artillery who was in charge of the party pointed out the different positions occupied by their gun batteries. The emplacement of their seventeen-inch howitzers was not more than five miles distant. The whole hillside which composed the face of the fort was peppered with huge craters marking where the attackers' shell had struck. At Pontisse I did not see any evidence of extraordinary damage done. The dents made in the turret covers were of no importance, while projectiles landing on the hillside must have exploded harmlessly.


post-bombardment photos of a fort at Liege


At Fort Loncin one got a very different picture of the effect of German artillery fire. Here a shell had penetrated to the magazine, and wrecked the fort more thoroughly than an earthquake could have done. Nothing now remains but a mass of iron and rubble. The cement walls of the underground passages were reduced to so much slag. The conning towers were tossed about like old stove-pipes. The face of the hill looked as if it had suffered a landslide. As I made my way cautiously over the debris I recognized a smell I have come to know too well—the odour of corruption. Under ruins over which I climbed were the bodies of the entrapped garrison. Here and there I saw a bit of uniform—a cap, a torn coat, a shoe—mute evidence of the human side of this struggle. For the six hundred brave soldiers of Belgium who lie here entombed, Fort Loncin is a glorious monument. I have not been able to reconcile the differences in the date given by the Belgian staff and that given by the Germans for the fall of Liege. The Germans told me that they were in full possession on the eighth of August. The Belgians insisted that the forts were still holding out as late as the fifteenth.

The amount of damage done to the city of Liege was inconsiderable. A number of shells had fallen into the central portion of the town, but as they were from the smaller German field guns they left little mark. A few houses had been destroyed. These, our guide told us, had belonged to a band of Russian students who had defied German authority. One saw the burnt houses ; one could picture what had happened to the students.

It was easy to see that the people here were a conquered race. Sullen looks followed the grey motors of the Germans everywhere. The women did not attempt to disguise their glances of hate and rancour. Woe betide the Germans if this civil population gets the chance to pay off old scores.

In Liege I saw the arrogance of the German to his enemy. The attitude of the swaggering junkers must have been particularly galling to these people. Not only had they been compelled to pay an enormous ransom, but now they must harbour the enemy who had made the city an advanced base, and watch in impotence the many preparations going forward for the making of war against their own kin and their allies.

Here it was that the German major showed his brutality by violently upbraiding the waiter who served us at lunch for misunderstanding his order given in German. He stormed and swore in the proverbial fashion of the trooper, insisting that the poor Fleming knew German perfectly and only pretended ignorance in order to show his hatred of the conquerors. In fairness I cannot say that I saw many similar incidents.

The two things which met the visitor on all sides at this time in Germany was first the supreme confidence of the whole population in their ultimate success, and next the virulent hatred of the English. Nothing was too vile to say of the British people, no adjective too contemptible for the little army from England which had checked them. This hatred showed itself in the ridicule heaped on the prisoners of the Scottish regiments, and distinction in the treatment given to the English captives and that given to the French and Belgians.

The last two days of my stay in Berlin saw a startling change in the aspect of the city. The singing, shouting, enthusiastic mob that had thronged the streets during the previous fortnight suddenly divided into hundreds of little groups that stood about discussing the news of the day in low, concerned: voices. The stream of humanity that nightly coursed up and down Unter den Linden had changed its character. It had lost its boisterousness. Some subtle alchemy was at work.

The change came about slowly. It began with the news of the Battle of Lemberg. Despite the claims of the bulletins from Austria, it was soon whispered about that the army of Franz Josef had been smashed. The bulletin which stated that "for strategic and humane reasons the Austrian forces had been withdrawn to a stronger position in the rear," told its own story. Why they should withdraw for "humane'' reasons except through concern for the lives of their own soldiers, was not explained.

Shortly after the battle of Lemberg the Austrian cavalry officers, General von Uexhel, and General Paar, an aide-de-camp of the Emperor, passed through Berlin on their way to the Great General Staff. They carried the Austrian cry for help against the Russians, and it was the answer to this call, the transposition of certain army corps from the West to the Eastern theatre of operations, that ruined the German campaign in France.

Immediately there followed a change in the dispositions of the armies of the North. Two corps from General von Bulow's army entrained and were hurried across the Empire. Every other railroad in Germany stood still while this movement was carried out. The depleting of the forces in France at this time was a vital error. It is said that it saved Vienna. This is doubtful, as Vienna was not in imminent danger, but it surely lost the Germans Paris.

The news of von Kluck's reverse came at the very moment when the Berliners were expecting to read of the capture of the French capital. The wording of the bulletin from the General Staff on the subject, while not alarming, was significant. But it came as a shock. The people had been told that von Kluck's cavalry patrols were under the walls of Paris. Why then had it not fallen? Accustomed as the populace were to the accounts of success following success, the news of a check was doubly disquieting. Bulletins stating the total number of prisoners of war—some two hundred and twenty thousand—brought no cheers from the crowds outside the newspaper offices. They wanted Paris.

There is another side to the picture of life in Berlin. Mourning is more and more in evidence, and I noticed each day more and more death-cards "For King and Fatherland" among the advertisements in the newspapers. A son, a husband, a brother was lamented. These cards appeared in the journals throughout the Empire. I saw them in newspapers published in Hanover, Cologne, and Aix-la-Chapelle, all using almost the same phraseology. The Germans had a rather cruel way of sending news of a soldier's death. One morning a mother, a wife, or a sister would receive back a letter she had sent to the loved one in the firing line. In red ink across the face of the envelope was written the one pregnant word, "Gefallen."


Back to Index