- from the Sphere , December 12th 1914
- a Few Days Ago
- 'a Visit to Paris'
- By V. V. V.
A Short Impression in Time of War
The general impression to be gained in Paris a fortnight ago was of a city where it was always Sunday morning. Not afternoon, for that brings out the people, and the boulevards are then sedately full but Sunday morning. No theatres open, nothing but a few dangerously crowded cinemas; all restaurants closing at ten and many closed altogether; the Rue de la Paix with hardly a shop unshuttered (and where, one wonders, is the stock-in-trade of all the famous jewellers hidden from the foe ?); the Avenue de l'Opera largely shuttered too; no absinthe, and the riotous Abbaye of Montmartre a soup kitchen !
I saw few soldiers, and none as so often in London drunk. I had no sooner set foot in the Strand, on returning, than I had to dodge two staggering khaki revellers before lunch, too whose plight was the subject of general mirth. The difference between Paris and London seemed very evident at that moment, for Paris has no light hearts over this war. It was even more evident as I walked through London again and found how cheery it was and saw the busy shops and the restaurants and the theatres and music-halls, and the newspaper placards always mercifully forbidden in Paris and the pavements about Leicester Square thick with our soldiers, many of them with a girl on each arm and a broad grin. Well, it is good to be on an island surrounded by water and Sir John Jellicoe's ships, but I wish that a little more of the spirit of Paris to-day could be got into our nation.
One of the minor peculiarities of Paris under war is the chaotic condition of the clocks. Paris clocks have never been famous for accuracy, but with the exception of a very few those at the railway stations, for example they have now thrown up the sponge completely, and in a very short walk one can see every hour being recorded. I suppose all the clock-winders are mobilised.
I found Abbeville Station a busy military centre, on one side of our train being a train full of Indians watering their horses and themselves, and on the other a train of our regulars. Everybody was most stimulatingly cordial. An elderly officer in our train passed among the Indians, shaking hands and chattering with many of them; while every English soldier who cared to come near our carriages had an enthusiastic audience and went away loaded with papers, eatables, and tobacco. One of them dictated to an occupant of the next compartment to me a telegram to his home, which was to be sent off from Folkestone. No doubt about war as a leveller.
Boulogne is now a city of the Red Cross ambulances, stretchers, and men limping and bandaged. A big hospital ship was in the harbour, with a company of Indians shivering on the deck. Motor cars rushed about in all directions, impelled hither and thither by the various needs of the valiant red crusaders. If a few of our reluctant and sceptical stay-at-homes could only be induced to go as far afield as Boulogne they might see that there was something for them to do and come to believe that places at the front steadily need filling.
A propos of wounded soldiers, it seems to me that there might be special medals struck for those who have returned to the front after recovery. Some few, I believe, want to go back ; but with the majority it is duty only.
volunteers and reservists flocking to the French colors in August 1914
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