from ‘the War Illustrated’ 9th September, 1916
'a Spaniard's Impression of the British Front'
by E. Gomez Carillo
the Famous Author and Traveller


Impressions of the British Front

left : coverpage of 'the Penny War Weekly'
right : coverpage of a British children's book


IT is at all times a wholesome tonic- to hear what an unprejudiced witness has to say about ourselves.

"To see ourselves as others see us," is an excellent antidote to self-satisfaction, and at no time in our national history has it been more necessary for us as a people to hearken to the foreign critic. Some of the opinions which the foreigner may entertain of us will probably seem absurd to the British reader — in the second paragraph of the following article there is an amusing instance of this—but let us remember that we are equally liable to harbour similar delusions concerning other peoples.

Senor Gomez Carrillo, who lives in Paris, is one of the most eminent Spanish authors of to-day, of a type that has no counterpart in literary England, being at once a brilliant novelist, essayist, travel writer, and journalist. He has wandered widely and written quite a library of works about many nations of the world. During the war his articles about the French front have had myriads of readers in the Press of Spain; Italy, and South America, and a collection of his most notable war sketches, "Among the Ruins," has just been issued in English.

Knowing that Senor Gomez Carrillo had recently been invited to visit the British front, I asked him to contribute to ‘the War Illustrated’ an impression of what he saw, and have just had the pleasure of receiving from him the following interesting and characteristic article.


author Gomez Carillo


Impressions of the British Front

To be perfectly frank, until three months ago I did not have a very high opinion of the British Army. Like everyone else, I knew that the officer in the Army of his Britannic Majesty was a perfect type of chivalry and courage, a kind of knight-errant or adventurer in the noblest sense of the word — a gentleman, in fine, who welcomed danger, strife, and sacrifice as an aristocratic sport. But I considered the great mass of ordinary soldiers little fitted to play an important part in the tragedy now being enacted.

The blame for these opinions of mine must be attributed to those in Britain and out of Britain who have popularised the idea of a Tommy endowed with more bravery than discipline, and fonder of his own comfort than of prolonged military efforts. Who has not heard the story of the famous khaki-clad. troops who dropped their rifles when the clock struck five, although the battle was at its height, because it was time to go and have tea ? Have we not all heard it affirmed that any self-respecting British trooper requires at least two servants, one for himself and the other for his horse ?

I know now that these are fairy-tales, but I did not know it until a short time ago, when I had the honour of paying a visit to the British front in the company of my friend, Lord. D—.

A Hurricane of Heroism

The Battle of the Somme, in which the warriors of Sir Douglas Haig reached the German second line at a single bound, was just commencing. Every day the Tommies. were gaining some ground in territory which the German strategists. considered absolutely impregnable. The whole world, somewhat surprised, paid well-merited tribute to that magnificent hurricane of heroism which, little by little was overthrowing the great barriers erected on French territory by the Kaiser's General Staff.

"This afternoon," said my companion, when we reached the neighbourhood of Albert, "you will see the regiments who have captured Pozieres after a wonderful fight." My mind went back to some other troops — French not British — which suddenly came in sight one spring morning, singing martial airs, as they returned from a victorious attack. Their faces showed how proud they felt at their success, and their eyes shone with the light of duty nobly done. But, Dios mio ! What a state they were in ; uniforms torn and covered with mud, helmets battered and dented; and how terribly weary they looked !

And I expected to see the same thing again. But what was my astonishment at seeing approach along the road a column of warriors apparently coming off parade ! The fighting helmets had been left behind in the trenches, and the regulation cap was set jauntily on their fair heads. Their uniforms were clean. Their faces looked as though they had shaved less than an hour ago.

"But," I asked my guide, " have they not been to some reserve camp since the battle ?"

"No," he replied, " these men are coming straight from the trenches they captured two days ago. There they have cleaned shaved, and tidied themselves as best they could." He explained better than any careful study the real psychology of the British fighter who, even in the most tragic moments of the campaign, preserves his smartness, sang-froid, and spirit of moral and material dandyism.

Shortly afterwards, when visiting a rest camp where two regiments were waiting their turn to go forward again into the fight, I was able to probe more deeply into the character of the Tommy. They were as calm and indifferent as though they had been enjoying a country holiday in peace time.

Democratic Camaraderie

All those young athletes, frank of eye and pleasant mannered, were engaged in their favourite amusements. , I saw tennis-courts, reading-rooms, mess-rooms, chapels, barbers' shops, bars, and even a concert-room. And as the officers have their quarters on the spot, I at once noticed the truly democratic camaraderie, such as exists in France, between plain soldiers and the higher ranks of all grades.

"This discipline does not resemble the German discipline," I said to Lord D——.

He merely smiled, and murmured, "Naturally-——"

And quite true. For a free race, a worthy race, a race of men conscious of their rights as citizens, would never submit to the regimen of terror and humiliation unending which makes the Germanic hordes into an iron machine. Read, for example, in the Paris newspapers the following telegram referring to one of the recent battles, and then say whether it would be possible for the Staff of General Joffre or of Sir. Douglas Haig to act in this way : "In the recent fighting round Metzeral the Germans were compelled to make a bayonet attack ; behind them were crouched a line of men with orders to turn their machine-guns on any columns which did not advance quickly."

No, neither British nor French could be treated in this way. Therefore, if the perfect military type is the German, the British are not and never will be a military nation. But, happily, the present war has shown that the superiority of Germany was only in her material preparedness, and never in her human elements.

How often have we heard asked; "Is there really a British Army ?"

The First 100,000

To this question there is. no clearer reply than the results of the Battle of the Somme. Would it, in fact, be possible to carry out so formidable an enterprise, fighting against the nation whose preparations for war were the cleverest, if no Army existed ? But I quite understand that military experts, when they ask this question, mean : Has Britain, in spite of her individualistic traditions and her antipathy to conscription — in fine, in spite of the spirit peculiar to her — has she already succeeded in creating the homogeneous nucleus of officers and men which constitutes what is called an army ?

Even in this sense there can be no doubt that the British should be extremely proud of what they have done. When the war broke out the British troops were not numerous. The book which tells the story of the campaigns in Belgium is entitled "The First 100,000." And this figure, in a tragedy like the present, is so insignificant that it would not suffice now to hold a sector. But when one remembers the enthusiasm with which men of all classes have voluntarily enlisted right from the beginning, until they have formed the present formidable nucleus of three or four million Tommies, one cannot but admire the real spirit of national and democratic discipline which animates this wonderful people.

Britain's Stupendous Achievement

That other countries, where conscription is the established system, should possess large armies is not to be wondered at. But that the necessary elements have been found from which to improvise what it has taken an empire like Austria centuries to accomplish, is indeed extraordinary. And this is what Great Britain has done, creating a stupendous Army while a war raged.

Naturally I saw something more than the mere size of the Army. During the few days I spent on the northern front I was able to appreciate the fighting qualities and chivalrous spirit of the British soldier. How many millions of soldiers are fighting there ? I cannot tell. How many new heavy guns are smashing the German lines ? I do not know. But this I do know : When we asked ourselves whether Kitchener's men could play an important part in this tragedy we showed supreme ignorance of the virtues of the British race.

With officers such as I saw, going into battle unmoved and fearless as if it were a friendly match, with generals such as received me, showing a tranquil consciousness of the duty they are doing, with soldiers like those who calmly performed their toilet after the Battle of Pozieres, a country can sleep peacefully, sure of victory.


a Spanish observer in a French trench


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