Some Thoughts of a Spanish Onlooker
a Tommy and a Poilu smiling together
The famous Spanish author and journalist). E. Gomez Cavrillo, who-contributed to our issue for September 9th an account of his visit to the British front, now sends me this valuable article on the Franco-British Alliance. As Paris correspondent of several important Spanish journals and periodicals,, his sympathetic presentation of the allied cause must serve as an effective foil to-the pro-German propaganda in his native land.
Of all the amazing spectacles that we have witnessed during these latter days in the vast theatre of the war none has given me more profound pleasure than that of the brotherhood of France and Britain. It is near St. Pol, among the flowering meads of Artois, in the sectors where the forces of the two great western Allies join hands, that one observes this fact which barely twenty years ago seemed impossible. Officers wearing khaki and officers wearing grey-blue, animated by a common spirit of sacrifice, vie with one another in courtesy and, like the knightly officers of Louis XV, point to the common enemy and say, "Gentlemen, pray take the first shot." In the land which is the traditional home of great culture officers are ever an aristocracy, so that it is rather to the simple and ingenuous soldiers that one must turn to ascertain the secret of inmost, intimate feeling.
Many a time, recalling the countless struggles fought throughout the ages by the French and British, have, we wondered whether the reconciliation imposed upon them some time ago by force of circumstances would ever develop into sincere and brotherly friendship.
From a psychological point of view there would seem to be any number of obstacles in the way of the accomplishment of such a miracle. With different temperaments, views of life almost diametrically opposed, with ideas which have nothing in common except love of justice and democracy, with manners and customs presenting continual contrast, the two peoples seem destined to live separated by a moral gulf much wider than the Channel which separates their two countries. Separation, of course, is not the same thing as enmity or antipathy. Even in the bad old days when they fought against one another, British and French always displayed the most chivalrous sympathy for each other and the noblest respect. We need not go back as far as Poitiers or refer again to the sublimity of courtesy at Fontenoy; we need only recall the relations maintained during the Napoleonic wars by the two great rival peoples to realise that not only did they not hate or despise each other, they ever felt mutual respect. "We fought and fought again," Kipling says. "We struck each other hard and our armour bears the marks of our weapons."
But, happily, these were not wars to the knife. They were duels of knights who, before measuring swords, saluted each other with grace. There was never any passionate bitterness of soul. Do you remember, the opening of the delightful "Sentimental Journey"? When he got to Paris Sterne took a room, engaged a servant, and settled down to a quiet life. One day the police-inspector of his district asked him for his passport. Sterne, who had not got one, says: "If I had remembered when I left London that we were at war with France I would have asked for a passport, but the truth is I did not think of that when I was leaving." The police inspector did not press the matter. War in those days was not what it is now.
Temperamental Differences of France and Britain
What then, is the point? It is not a question of mutual appreciation or admiration, or even affection. It is a question of fraternisation. And very naturally we said: "These cold, quiet, silent, fair, phlegmatic fellows will never be able to fraternise with their dark, vivacious, garrulous, nervous, smiling, merry allies." Is it not just the same with brothers, in family life?
It is temperament rather than relationship which determines intimacy. British humour, which associates the "humorous" with .laughter, and French humour, pure, true humour, with a thousand delicate repartees, have always been and always will be two utterly different things.
Try to imagine a dialogue between Swift and Rabelais and you will see that they are mutually unintelligible.
And yet this present war has accomplished the miracle of making the two peoples one.
At the outset there was friendship but not "matey-ness." The men were brothers-in- arms, sharing danger, heroism, suffering, hope, and ideals, but not sharing gaiety. They admired one another, but they did not seek each other out. Two long years of constant association were required, before the two sides gradually. learned that at bottom the gravity and the gaiety were really only national masks, due to climate or tradition, concealing a common fund of real good sense, immovable, resolute nobility, and healthy, wholesome pride.
I remember one day before the war someone said to a Briton:
"Which is the greatest nation in the world?"
"Britain," he replied.
"And next to Britain?"
A little while afterwards lie put the same question to a Frenchman, and the answer he got was, "We are the greatest nation, and the British come next to us."
Bonds of Sympathy and Understanding
With such a solid foundation of mutual esteem it is not very difficult ultimately to arrive at mutual comprehension, provided a few mutual superficial concessions are made.. Indeed, everything in life is superficial except where the soul is involved.'
And the soul of the two Allies who now are so intimately associated in the consecrated fields of Flanders and Artois is identical.
"It is only common hatred of the enemy that keeps these men together," some people say who have not seen them close.
Hatred! Well, perhaps that may be so. But not hatred alone. There is something much finer and stronger than that. There is daily companionship, brotherhood in danger, certainty of accomplishing the same work of salvation, and, finally, subconscious recognition of mutual fine qualities, all establishing the moral and spiritual alliance the fine fruit of which we see to-day in these Franco-British camps.
A friend of mine was touched by the sight of some British and French private soldiers walking arm-in-arm. It is touching, no doubt. But it is more than touching ; it is cheering, a hopeful symbol for the future of the peace of the world.; for just as Malherbe in the seventeenth century said, that France and Spain united held the peace of Europe in their clasped hands, we to-day may say that the unknown to-morrow rests with the brotherhood of France and Britain. Break the alliance between those two peoples and soon after peace is declared the conflagration will blaze up anew. Keep them united and the world will be able to breathe freely.
Both nations have the same interests to keep them united for ever, and have had them for the last fifty years. But the breath of sympathy was lacking, and love, andstill moreunderstanding of character. The war that Germany let loose upon the world has worked the miracle.
We must curse the war for all the horror it has wrought, the mourning it has caused, the blood it has shed, the rain of tears it has brought down, the hatred, the misery, the ghastly things that it has entailed. Above all, we must curse it as a war of barbarism against civilisation. But at the same time we may be grateful for it, for it has made of two age-long rivals a brotherhood in soul.
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