'Berlin a-Tiptoe for War in August 1914'
by H. W. Nevinson
‘Daily News' War Correspondent

A British Reporter in the Enemy Capital

German cavalry in Berlin


Already one of the most notable journalists of his time, Mr. H. W. Nevinson was in Berlin as correspondent for the London 'Daily News' during the first days of August 1914. His magnificently graphic description of his experiences in an enemy city ranks high in the literature of those stirring days

Mr. Nevinson's first experience as a war correspondent dates back to the war between Greece and Turkey in 1897, and includes the Boer War and other campaigns. During the Great War he represented the "Daily News" on the Western Front and for a time in the East.


crowds in Berlin at the declaration of war


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 should 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. 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.

Held by the Enemy

Every moment a new rumour whirled through the maddened city. Every hour a new edition of the papers appeared. All day long, and far through the night into the next day, I went backward and forward to the telegraph office, trying to send home all the descriptive news I could. How much of it went I never knew, but when at last I succeeded in reaching the head censor himself, he received me politely and said that in future I might telegraph in English instead of my German, if I came direct to him. I think he was too serious and too courteous to be mocking me, but telegrams had already ceased to run, and no more went.

On the morning of the fatal 4th, I drove to the Schloss, where the Deputies of the Reichstag were gathered to hear

the Kaiser's address. Refused permission to enter, I waited outside, and gathered only rumours of the speech that declared the unity of all Germany and all German parties in face of the common peril. A few hours later, in the Reichstag, the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, announced that under the plea of necessity the neutrality of Belgium had almost certainly already been violated. Then I knew that the long- dreaded moment had come.

In the afternoon I heard that our Ambassador, Sir Edward Goschen, had demanded his papers, and war was declared. I was at the Adlon, having been turned out of the Bristol the day before as a dangerous foreigner.

While I was dining Iheard the yells of a crowd shouting outside our Embassy in the neighbouring street, and breaking the windows with loud crashes. Soon the noise came nearer, and in front of the hotel entrance I could distinguish shouts for the English correspondents to be brought out. The wild outcries were chiefly directed against a prominent American correspondent who, in support of his London paper's policy, had been sending messages far from conciliatory. He and my colleague, who was acting with me for the Daily News, were given up to the police by the hotel director, and as I was passing into the front hall to see what was happening, he pointed me out as well. Two of the armed police seized me at once and dragged me out, holding an enormous revolver at each ear. "If you try to run away," they kept shouting, "we will shoot you like a dog!" To which I kept repeating in answer that, under such circumstances, I was not such a pure fool ("keiner Narr," a rapid reminiscence of Parsifal) as to try to run away. During this conversation they flung me out into the mob, who savagely set upon me with sticks, fists, and umbrellas. But I did not pay much attention to their onslaughts, for I had often suffered worse at Suffrage demonstrations.

Seated beside me, and holding the revolvers still in uncomfortable proximity to my skull, the police then took me, with a Dutch correspondent, by taxi to the Praesidium, or central police court (a kind of Scotland Yard). There our treatment became more courteous, and after we had made our statements and shown our passports we were dismissed, with a note insuring protection. But as a scrap of paper seemed insufficient insurance against the fury of a mob inflamed, as German, British, French, and all mobs then were, by the raging patriotism of war, I demanded to be sent back protected as I had come. So back in a taxi I was sent, though protected by only one policeman, who kept his revolver in a more respectful position, and convoyed me to the backdoor of the hotel, uttering mystic words at intervals when we had to pass through the cordons of cavalry drawn up for defence of our Embassy.

Last Friendly Words

On my return the director of the hotel was much moved, and wrung my hand with protestations of sorrow and regard, declaring that only by allowing his patriotism to supersede his reason had he charged me with instigating the war, which was absurd. The chambermaid was also much moved, refusing to be comforted because her three brothers and her lover were already on the march. So, imitating to myself the saying of the herald who proclaimed the beginning of the long war between Athens and Sparta — "This day sees the beginning of many sorrows for the most civilised peoples of the world" — I slept as best I could, and next morning I went about the city purchasing a few necessary things. All was quiet, and life seemed going on much as usual but for the excited crowds gathered round the newspaper offices, and the removal of all English and French names from the shops and banks. Even the sacred name of Cook was gone. In the evening, however, I received a kindly invitation from Sir Edward Goschen to come into the Embassy, which had been barricaded. As the Adlon was getting cleared for German officers, I gladly went, and was welcomed with amazing courtesy.

My Way Of Escape

Before dawn on August 6 a string of motors was waiting outside the Embassy, sent by the Kaiser's orders to convey the Ambassador and his staff to a local station, a few miles away from Berlin. Again by the courtesy of Sir Edward Goschen, a few of us correspondents were invited to join the staff, and I hardly realized at the time from what a hideous destiny that invitation preserved me. I suppose I should have been kept shut up in Ruhleben or some similar camp for four and a half years ; I should have seen nothing of the war in Belgium and France at its beginning ; I should not have shared the splendour and the tragedy of the Dardanelles campaign ; I should not have known the intrigues in Athens, or the disastrous uselessness of the early attempt at Salonika, or the meaning of the advance from Egypt upon Palestine ; nor should I have been present at the final advance of the Allied Armies on the Western Front in August, 1918, or have heard the trumpet sound for the armistice in the market-square of Mons, or have accompanied our vanguard in the march up to the Rhine at Cologne. Of all those historic scenes I should have remained ignorant.

But from such loss our Ambassador saved me, and for twenty-four hours his train carried us all slowly lumbering through North Germany to the Dutch frontier.

On our way we passed or were impeded by uncounted vans decorated with boughs of trees and crammed with reservists going to the Belgian front. The men had now chalked "Nach Bruxelles" or "Nach London" as well as " Nach Paris " on the vans, and at every station they were met by bands of Red Cross girls bringing coffee, wine, and food.

At all the larger stations, too, the news of our train's approach had been signalled, and to cheer us on our way all the old men, boys and women of the place had flocked down with any musical instruments they could collect, and, standing thick on the platform, they played for us the German national tunes, "Deutschland, Deutschland" predominating. They played with the persistence of the " German bands" known to me in childhood. Sometimes, to impress their patriotism more distinctly upon us, they brought their instruments close up to the carriage windows, and the shitting tubes of the trombones came right into the carriage. Silent and unmoved, as an Englishman should, sat Sir Edward Goschen, looking steadily in front of him, with hands on his knees, making as though no sight or sound had reached his senses.


Russian citizens are escorted into internment


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