Project Gutenberg's Golden Lads, by Arthur Gleason and Helen Hayes Gleason

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Title: Golden Lads

Author: Arthur Gleason and Helen Hayes Gleason

Release Date: August 28, 2006 [EBook #19131]

Language: English

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[Pg 2]


Photo. Excelsior.
Photo. Excelsior.


The famous French Fusiliers Marins. These sailors from Brittany are called "Les demoiselles au pompon rouge," because of their youth and the gay red tassel on their cap.








"Golden Lads and Girls all must, As chimney sweepers, come to dust."



Copyright, 1916, by
The Century Co.

Copyright, 1915, by the
Curtis Publishing Company.
Copyright, 1916, by the
Butterick Publishing Company.
Copyright, 1915 and 1916, by the
Tribune Association.

Published, April, 1916
(Printed in the U. S. A.)

Profits from the sale of this book will go to "The American Committee [Pg vii]for Training in Suitable Trades the Maimed Soldiers of France."



It would be futile to publish one more war-book, unless the writer had been an eye-witness of unusual things. I am an American who saw atrocities which are recorded in the Bryce Report. This book grows out of months of day-by-day living in the war zone. I have been a member of the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps, which was permitted to work at the front because the Prime Minister of Belgium placed his son in military command of us. That young man, being brave and adventurous, led us along the first line of trenches, and into villages under shell fire, so that we saw the armies in action.

We started at Ghent in September, 1914, came to Furnes, worked in Dixmude, Pervyse, Nieuport and Ypres, during moments of pressure on those strategic points. In the summer of 1915, we were attached to the [Pg viii]French Fusiliers Marins. My wife's experience covers a period of twelve months in Belgium. My own time at the front was five months.

Observers at long-distance that are neutral sometimes fail to see fundamentals in the present conflict, and talk of "negotiations" between right and wrong. It is easy for people who have not suffered to be tolerant toward wrongdoing. This war is a long war because of German methods of frightfulness. These practices have bred an enduring will to conquer in Frenchman and Briton and Belgian which will not pause till victory is thorough. Because the German military power has sinned against women and children, it will be fought with till it is overthrown. I wish to make clear this determination of the Allies. They hate the army of Aerschot and Lorraine as a mother hates the defiler of her child.

There are two wars on the Western Front. One is the war of aggression. It was led up to by years of treachery. It was consummated in frightfulness. It is warfare by machine. Of that war, as carried on by the "Conquerors," the first half of this book tells. On points that have[Pg ix] been in dispute since the outbreak, I am able to say "I saw." When the Army of Invasion fell on the little people, I witnessed the signs of its passage as it wrote them by flame and bayonet on peasant homes and peasant bodies.

In the second half of the book, I have tried to tell of a people's uprising—the fight of the living spirit against the war-machine. A righteous defensive war, such as Belgium and France are waging, does not brutalize the nation. It reveals a beauty of sacrifice which makes common men into "golden lads."

Was this struggle forced on an unwilling Germany, or was she the aggressor?

I believe we have the answer of history in such evidences as I have seen of her patient ancient spy system that honeycombed Belgium.

Is she waging a "holy war," ringed around by jealous foes?

I believe we have the final answer in such atrocities as I witnessed. A hideous officially ordered method is proof of unrighteousness in the cause itself.

Are you indicting a nation?[Pg x]

No, only a military system that ordered the slow sapping of friendly neighboring powers.

Only the host of "tourists," clerks, waiters, gentlemanly officers, that betrayed the hospitality of people of good will.

Only an army that practised mutilation and murder on children, and mothers, and old people,—and that carried it through coldly, systematically, with admirable discipline.

I believe there are multitudes of common soldiers who are sorry that they have outraged the helpless.

An army of half a million men will return to the home-land with very bitter memories. Many a simple German of this generation will be unable to look into the face of his own child without remembering some tiny peasant face of pain—the child whom he bayoneted, or whom he saw his comrade bayonet, having failed to put his body between the little one and death.[Pg xi]




The Play-boys of the Western FrontFrontispiece
Peasants' cottages burned by Germans8
The home of a German spy near Coxyde Bains, Belgium13
The green pass, used only by soldiers and officers of the Belgian Army33
Church in Termonde which the writer saw42
One of the dangerous Belgian franc-tireurs51
Fifteenth century Gothic church in Nieuport69
Sailors lifting a wounded comrade into the motor-ambulance87
Door chalked by the Germans105
Street fighting in Alost123
Belgian officer on the last strip of his country134
A Belgian boy soldier in the uniform of the first army which served at Liège and Namur139
Belgians in their new Khaki uniform, in praise of which they wrote a song145
Breton sailors ready for their noon meal in a village under daily shell fire187
Sleeping quarters for Belgian soldiers206
Belgian soldiers telephoning to an anti-aircraft gun the approach of a German taube215
Postcards sketched and blocked by a Belgian workman, A. Van Doorne229

[Pg xv][Pg xiv]


By Theodore Roosevelt

On August 4, 1914, the issue of this war for the conscience of the world was Belgium. Now, in the spring of 1916, the issue remains Belgium. For eighteen months, our people were bidden by their representative at Washington to feel no resentment against a hideous wrong. They were taught to tame their human feelings by polished phrases of neutrality. Because they lacked the proper outlet of expression, they grew indifferent to a supreme injustice. They temporarily lost the capacity to react powerfully against wrongdoing.

But today they are at last becoming alive to the iniquity of the crushing of Belgium. Belgium is the battleground of the war on the western front. But Belgium is also the battleground of the struggle in our country between the forces of good and of evil. In the ranks of evil are ranged all the pacifist sentimentalists, the cowards who possess the gift of clothing their cowardice in soothing and attractive words, the materialists whose souls have been rotted by exclusive devotion to the things of the body, the sincere persons[Pg xvi] who are cursed with a deficient sense of reality, and all who lack foresight or who are uninformed. Against them stand the great mass of loyal Americans, who, when they see the right, and receive moral leadership, show that they have in their souls as much of the valor of righteousness as the men of 1860 and of 1776. The literary bureau at Washington has acted as a soporific on the mind and conscience of the American people. Fine words, designed to work confusion between right and wrong, have put them to sleep. But they now stir in their sleep.

The proceeds from the sale of this book are to be used for a charity in which every intelligent American feels a personal interest. The training of maimed soldiers in suitable trades is making possible the reconstruction of an entire nation. It is work carried on by citizens of the neutral nations. The cause itself is so admirable that it deserves wide support. It gives an outlet for the ethical feelings of our people, feelings that have been unnaturally dammed for nearly two years by the cold and timid policy of our Government.

The testimony of the book is the first-hand witness of an American citizen who was present when the Army of Invasion blotted out a little[Pg xvii] nation. This is an eye-witness report on the disputed points of this war. The author saw the wrongs perpetrated on helpless non-combatants by direct military orders. He shows that the frightfulness practiced on peasant women and children was the carrying out of a Government policy, planned in advance, ordered from above. It was not the product of irresponsible individual drunken soldiers. His testimony is clear on this point. He goes still further, and shows that individual soldiers resented their orders, and most unwillingly carried through the cruelty that was forced on them from Berlin. In his testimony he is kindlier to the German race, to the hosts of peasants, clerks and simple soldiers, than the defenders of Belgium's obliteration have been. They seek to excuse acts of infamy. But the author shows that the average German is sorry for those acts.

It is fair to remember in reading Mr. Gleason's testimony concerning these deeds of the German Army that he has never received a dollar of money for anything he has spoken or written on the subject. He gave without payment the articles on the Spy, the Atrocity, and the Steam Roller to the New York Tribune. The profits from the lectures he has delivered on the same subject have[Pg xviii] been used for well-known public charities. The book itself is a gift to a war fund.

Of Mr. Gleason's testimony on atrocities I have already written (see page 38).

What he saw was reported to the Bryce Committee by the young British subject who accompanied him, and these atrocities, which Mr. Gleason witnessed, appear in the Bryce Report under the heading of Alost. It is of value to know that an American witnessed atrocities recorded in the Bryce Report, as it disposes of the German rejoinders that the Report is ex-parte and of second-hand rumor.

His chapter on the Spy System answers the charge that it was Belgium who violated her own neutrality, and forced an unwilling Germany, threatened by a ring of foes, to defend herself.

The chapter on the Steam Roller shows that the same policy of injustice that was responsible for the original atrocities is today operating to flatten out what is left of a free nation.

The entire book is a protest against the craven attitude of our Government.

Theodore Roosevelt.
March 28, 1916.

[Pg 3]



Germany uses three methods in turning a free nation into a vassal state. By a spy system, operated through years, she saps the national strength. By sudden invasion, accompanied by atrocity, she conquers the territory, already prepared. By continuing occupation, she flattens out what is left of a once independent people. In England and North America, she has used her first method. France has experienced both the spy and the atrocity. It has been reserved for Belgium to be submitted to the threefold process. I shall tell what I have seen of the spy system, the use of frightfulness, and the enforced occupation.

It is a mistake for us to think that the worst thing Germany has done is to torture and kill many thousands of women and children. She[Pg 4] undermines a country with her secret agents before she lays it waste. In time of peace, with her spy system, she works like a mole through a wide area till the ground is ready to cave in. She plays on the good will and trustfulness of other peoples till she has tapped the available information. That betrayal of hospitality, that taking advantage of human feeling, is a baser thing than her unique savagery in war time.

During my months in Belgium I have been surrounded by evidences of this spy system, the long, slow preparedness which Germany makes in another country ahead of her deadly pounce. It is a silent, peaceful invasion, as destructive as the house-to-house burning and the killing of babies and mothers to which it later leads.

The German military power, which is the modern Germany, is able to obtain agents to carry out this policy, and make its will prevail, by disseminating a new ethic, a philosophy of life, which came to expression with Bismarck and has gone on extending its influence since the victories of 1870-'71. The German people believe they serve a higher God than the rest of us. We serve (very[Pg 5] imperfectly and only part of the time) such ideals as mercy, pity, and loyalty to the giver of the bread we eat. The Germans serve (efficiently and all the time) the State, a supreme deity, who sends them to spy out a land in peace time, to build gun foundations in innocent-looking houses, buy up poverty-stricken peasants, measure distances, win friendship, and worm out secrets. With that information digested and those preparations completed, the State (an entity beyond good and evil) calls on its citizens to make war, and, in making it, to practise frightfulness. It orders its servants to lay aside pity and burn peasants in their homes, to bayonet women and children, to shoot old men. Of course, there are exceptions to this. There are Germans of the vintage of '48, and later, many of them honest and peaceable dwellers in the country which shelters them. But the imperial system has little use for them. They do not serve its purpose.

The issue of the war, as Belgium and France see it, is this: Are they to live or die? Are they to be charted out once again through years till their hidden weakness is accurately located, and then is[Pg 6] an army to be let loose on them that will visit a universal outrage on their children and wives? Peace will be intolerable till this menace is removed. The restoration of territory in Belgium and Northern France and the return to the status quo before the war, are not sufficient guarantees for the future. The status quo before the war means another insidious invasion, carried on unremittingly month by month by business agents, commercial travelers, genial tourists, and studious gentlemen in villas. A crippled, broken Teutonic military power is the only guarantee that a new army of spies will not take the road to Brussels and Paris on the day that peace is signed. No simple solution like, "Call it all off, we'll start in fresh; bygones are bygones," meets the real situation. The Allied nations have been infested with a cloud of witnesses for many years. Are they to submit once again to that secret process of the Germans?



The separate flame in each cottage is clearly visible, proving that each house was separately set on fire. Radclyffe Dugmore took this photograph at Melle, where he and the writer were made prisoners.

The French, for instance, want to clear their country of a cloud which has been thick and black for forty-three years. They always said the Germans would come again with the looting and the[Pg 8][Pg 7] [Pg 9]torture and the foulness. This time they will their fight to a finish. They are sick of hate, so they are fighting to end war. But it is not an empty peace that they want—peace, with a new drive when the Krupp howitzers are big enough, and the spies in Paris thick enough, to make the death of France a six weeks' picnic. They want a lasting peace, that will take fear from the wife's heart, and make it a happiness to have a child, not a horror. They want to blow the ashes off of Lorraine. Peace, as preached by our Woman's Peace Party and by our pacifist clergy and by the signers of the plea for an embargo on the ammunitions that are freeing France from her invaders, is a German peace. If successfully consummated, it will grant Germany just time enough to rest and breed and lay the traps, and then release another universal massacre. How can the Allies state their terms of peace in other than a militant way? There is nothing here to be arbitrated. Pleasant sentiments of brotherhood evade the point at issue. The way of just peace is by "converting" Germany. There is only one cure for long-continued treachery, and that is[Pg 10] to demonstrate its failure. To pause short of a thorough victory over the deep, inset habits and methods of Germany is to destroy the spirit of France. It will not be well for a premier race of the world to go down in defeat. We need her thrifty Lorraine peasants and Brittany sailors, her unfailing gift to the light of the world, more than we need a thorough German spy system and a soldiery obedient to commands of vileness.

Very much more slowly England, too, is learning what the fight is about.

It is German violation of the fundamental decencies that makes it difficult to find common ground to build on for the future. It is at this point that the spy system of slow-seeping treachery and the atrocity program of dramatic frightfulness overlap. It is in part out of the habit of betraying hospitality that the atrocities have emerged. It isn't as if they were extemporized—a sudden flare, with no background. They are the logical result of doing secretly for years that which humanity has agreed not to do.

Some of the members of our Red Cross unit—the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps—worked for[Pg 11] a full year with the French Fusiliers Marins, perhaps the most famous 6000 fighting men in the western line. They were sailor boys. They covered the retreat of the Belgian army. They consolidated the Yser position by holding Dixmude for three weeks against a German force that outnumbered them. Then for a year, up to a few months ago, they helped to hold the Nieuport section, the last northern point of the Allied line. When they entered the fight at Melle in October, 1914, our corps worked with one of their doctors, and came to know him. Later he took charge of a dressing station near St. George. Here one day the Germans made a sudden sortie, drove back the Fusiliers for a few minutes, and killed the Red Cross roomful, bayoneting the wounded men. The Fusiliers shortly won back their position, found their favorite doctor dead, and in a fury wiped out the Germans who had murdered him and his patients, saving one man alive. They sent him back to the enemy's lines to say:

"Tell your men how we fight when you bayonet our wounded."

That sudden act of German falseness was the[Pg 12] product of slow, careful undermining of moral values.

One of the best known women in Belgium, whose name I dare not give, told me of her friends, the G——'s, at L—— (she gave me name and address). When the first German rush came down on Belgium the household was asked to shelter German officers, one of whom the lady had known socially in peace days. The next morning soldiers went through the house, destroying paintings with the bayonet and wrecking furniture. The lady appealed to the officer.

"I know you," she said. "We have met as equals and friends. How can you let this be done?"

"This is war," he replied.

No call of chivalry, of the loyalties of guest and host, is to be listened to. And for the perpetrating of this cold program years of silent spy treachery were a perfect preparation. It was no sudden unrelated horror to which Germans had to force themselves. It was an astonishing thing to simple Belgian gentlemen and gentlewomen to see the old friendly German faces of tourists and social[Pg 13] [Pg 15][Pg 14]guests show up, on horseback, riding into the cities as conquerors where they had so often been entertained as friends. Let me give you the testimony of a Belgian lady whom we know. She is now inside the German lines, so I cannot give her name.



He had a deep gun foundation, concealed by tiling, motors, hydraulic apparatus—a complete fortification inside his villa.

[This photograph would have been better if it had not been developed in the ambulance of one of the American Field Service, but it shows the solid construction of the hidden flooring, the supporting pillars, one of the motors and one of the gas pipes.]

"When the German troops entered Brussels," she states, "we suddenly discovered that our good friends had been secret agents and were now officers in charge of the invasion. As the army came in, with their trumpets and flags and goose-stepping, we picked out our friends entertained by us in our salons—dinner guests for years. They had originally come with every recommendation possible—letters from friends, themselves men of good birth. They had worked their way into the social-political life of Brussels. They had won their place in our friendly feeling. And here they had returned to us at the head of troops to conquer us, after having served as secret agents through the years of friendly social intercourse."

After becoming proficient in that kind of betrayal the officers found it only a slight wrench to pass on to the wholesale murder of the people[Pg 16] whose bread they had eaten and whom they had tricked. The treachery explains the atrocity. It is worth while to repeat and emphasize this point. Many persons have asked me, "How do you account for these terrible acts of mutilation?" The answer is, what the Germans did suddenly by flame and bayonet is only a continuation of what they have done for years by poison.

Here follows the testimony of a man whom I know, Doctor George Sarton, of the University of Ghent:

"Each year more Germans came to Belgian summer resorts; Blankenberghe, for instance, was full of them. They were all very well received and had plenty of friends in Belgian families, from the court down. When the war broke out, it immediately became evident that many of these welcomed guests had been spying, measuring distances, preparing foundations for heavy guns in their villas located at strategical points, and so on. It is noteworthy that this spying was not simply done by poor devils who had not been able to make money in a cleaner way—but by very successful German business men, sometimes men[Pg 17] of great wealth and whose wealth had been almost entirely built up in Belgium. These men were extremely courteous and serviceable, they spent much money upon social functions and in the promotion of charities, German schools, churches and the like; they had numerous friends, in some cases they had married Belgian girls and their boys were members of the special corps of our 'National Guard.' ... Yet at the same time, they were prying into everything, spying everywhere.

"When the Germans entered into Belgium, they were guided wherever they went by some one of their officers or men who knew all about each place. Directors of factories were startled to recognize some of their work people transformed into Uhlans. A man who had been a professor at the University of Brussels had the impudence to call upon his former 'friends' in the uniform of a German officer.

"When the war is over, when Belgium is free again, it will not be many years before the Germans come back, at least their peaceful and 'friendly' vanguard. How will they be received this time? It is certain that it will be extremely[Pg 18] difficult for them to make friends again. As to myself, when I meet them again in my country—I shall ask myself: 'Is he a friend, or is he a spy?' And the business men will think: 'Are they coming as faithful partners, or simply to steal and rob?' That will be their well deserved reward."

One mile from where we were billeted on the Belgian coast stood a villa owned by a German. It lay between St. Idesbald and Coxyde Bains, on a sand dune, commanding the Channel. After the war broke out the Belgians examined it and found it was a fortification. Its walls were of six-foot thickness, of heavy blocks of stone and concrete. Its massive flooring was cleverly disguised by a layer of fancy tiling. Its interior was fitted with little compartments for hydraulic apparatus for raising weights, and there was a tangle of wires and pipes. Dynamite cleared away the upper stories. Workmen hacked away the lower story, piece by piece, during several weeks of our stay. Two members of our corps inspected the interior. It lay just off the excellent road that runs from St. Idesbald to Coxyde Bains,[Pg 19] up which ammunition could be fed to it for its coast defense work. The Germans expected an easy march down the coast, with these safety stations ready for them at points of need.[A]

A Belgian soldier rode into a Belgian village one evening at twilight during the early days of[Pg 20] the war. An old peasant woman, deceived because of the darkness, and thinking him to be a German Uhlan, rushed up to him and said, "Look out—the Belgians are here." It was the work of these spies to give information to the marauding Uhlans as to whether any hostile garrison was stationed in the town. If no troops were there to resist, a band of a dozen Uhlans could easily take an entire village. But if the village had a protecting garrison the Germans must be forewarned.

Three days after arriving in Belgium, in the early fall of 1914, a friend and I met a German outpost, one of the Hussars. We fell into conversation with him and became quite friendly. He had no cigarettes and we shared ours with him. He could speak good English, and he let us walk beside him as he rode slowly along on his way to the main body of his troops. The Germans had won the day and there seemed to be nothing at stake, or perhaps he did not expect our little group would be long-lived, nor should we have been if the German plans had gone through. It was their custom to use civilian prisoners as a protective screen for their advancing troops. Whatever his[Pg 21] motive, after we had walked along beside his horse for a little distance, he pointed out to us the house of the spy whom the Germans had in that village of Melle. This man was a "half-breed" Englishman, who came out of his house and walked over to the Hussar and said:

"You want to keep up your English, for you'll soon be in London."

In a loud voice, for the benefit of his Belgian neighbors, he shouted out:

"Look out! Those fellows shoot! The Germans are devils!"

He brought out wine for the troops. We followed him into his house, where he, supposing us to be friends of the Germans, asked us to partake of his hospitality. That man was a resident of the village, a friend of the people, but "fixed" for just this job of supplying information to the invaders when the time came.

During my five weeks in Ghent I used to eat frequently at the Café Gambrinus, where the proprietor assured us that he was a Swiss and in deep sympathy with Belgians and Allies. He had a large custom. When the Germans captured[Pg 22] Ghent he altered into a simon pure German and friend of the invaders. His place now is the nightly resort of German officers.

In the hotel where I stayed in Ghent the proprietor, after a couple of days, believing me to be one more neutral American, told me he was a German. He went on to say what a mistake the Belgians made to oppose the Germans, who were irresistible. That was his return to the city and country that had given him his livelihood. A few hours later a gendarme friend of mine told me to move out quickly, as we were in the house of a spy.

Three members of our corps in Pervyse had evidence many nights of a spy within our lines. It was part of the routine for a convoy of motor trucks to bring ammunition forward to the trenches. The enemy during the day would get the range of the road over which this train had to pass. Of course, each night the time of ammunition moving was changed in an attempt to foil the German fire. But this was of no avail, for when the train of trucks moved along the road to the trenches a bright flash of light would go up[Pg 23] somewhere within our lines, telling the enemy that it was time to fire upon the convoy.

Such evidences kept reaching us of German gold at work on the very country we were occupying. Sometimes the money itself.

My wife, when stationed by the Belgian trenches at Pervyse, asked the orderly to purchase potatoes, giving him a five-franc piece. He brought back the potatoes and a handful of change that included a French franc, a French copper, a Dutch small coin, a Belgian ten-centime bit, and a German two-mark piece with its imperial eagle. This meant that some one in the ranks or among the refugees was peddling information to the enemy.

In early October my wife and I were captured by the Uhlans at Zele. Our Flemish driver, a Ghent man, began expressing his friendliness for them in fluent German. After weeks of that sort of thing we became suspicious of almost every one, so thorough and widespread had been the bribery of certain of the poorer element. The Germans had sowed their seed for years against the day when they would release their troops and have[Pg 24] need of traitors scattered through the invaded country.

The thoroughness of this bribery differed at different villages. In one burned town of 1500 houses we found approximately 100 houses standing intact, with German script in chalk on their doors; the order of the officer not to burn. This meant the dwellers had been friendly to the enemy in certain instances, and in other instances that they were spies for the Germans. We have the photographs of those chalked houses in safe-keeping, against such time as there is a direct challenge on the facts of German methods. But there has come no challenge of facts—we that have seen have given names, dates and places—only a blanket denial and counter charges of franc-tireur warfare, as carried on by babies in arms, white-haired grandmothers and sick women.

In October, 1914, two miles outside Ostend, I was arrested as a spy by the Belgians and marched through the streets in front of a gun in the hands of a very young and very nervous soldier. The Etat Major told me that German officers had been using American passports to enter the Allied lines[Pg 25] and learn the numbers and disposition of troops. They had to arrest Americans on sight and find out if they were masqueraders. A little later one of our American ambassadors verified this by saying to me that American passports had been flagrantly abused for German purposes.

All this devious inside work, misusing the hospitality of friendly, trustful nations, this buying up of weak individuals, this laying the traps on neutral ground—all this treachery in peace times—deserves a second Bryce report. The atrocities are the product of the treachery. This patient, insidious spy system, eating away at the vitality of the Allied powers, results in such horrors as I have witnessed.[Pg 26]


When the very terrible accounts of frightfulness visited on peasants by the invading German army crossed the Channel to London, I believed that we had one more "formula" story. I was fortified against unproved allegations by thirteen years of newspaper and magazine investigation and by professional experience in social work. A few months previously I had investigated the "poison needle" stories of how a girl, rendered insensible by a drug, was borne away in a taxicab to a house of ill fame. The cases proved to be victims of hysteria. At another time, I had looked up certain incidents of "white slavery," where young and innocent victims were suddenly and dramatically ruined. I had found the cases to be more complex than the picturesque statements of fiction writers implied. Again, by the courtesy of the United States Government, Department of Justice, I had studied investigations[Pg 27] into the relation of a low wage to the life of immorality. These had shown me that many factors in the home, in the training, in the mental condition, often contributed to the result. I had grown sceptical of the "plain" statement of a complex matter, and peculiarly hesitant in accepting accounts of outrage and cruelty. It was in this spirit that I crossed to Belgium. To this extent, I had a pro-German leaning.

On September 7, 1914, with two companions, I was present at the skirmish between Germans and Belgians at Melle, a couple of miles east of Ghent. We walked to the German line, where a blue-eyed young Hussar officer, Rhinebeck, of Stramm, Holstein, led us into a trap by permitting us to walk along after him and his men as they rode back to camp beyond Melle. We walked for a quarter mile. At our right a barn was burning brightly. On our left the homes of the peasants of Melle were burning, twenty-six little yellow brick houses, each with a separate fire. It was not a conflagration, by one house burning and gradually lighting the next. The fires were well started and at equal intensity in each house. The[Pg 28] walls between the houses were still intact. The twenty-six fires burned slowly and thoroughly through the night.

These three thousand German soldiers and their officers were neither drunk nor riotous. The discipline was excellent. The burning was a clean-cut, cold-blooded piece of work. It was a piece of punishment. Belgian soldiers had resisted the German army. If Belgian soldiers resist, peasant non-combatants must be killed. That inspires terror. That teaches the lesson: "Do not oppose Germany. It is death to oppose her—death to your wife and child."

We were surrounded by soldiers and four sentries put over us. Peasants who walked too close to the camp were brought in and added to our group of prisoners, till, all told, we numbered thirty. A peasant lying next to me watched his own house burn to pieces.

Another of the peasants was an old man, of weak mind. He kept babbling to himself. It would have been obvious to a child that he was foolish. The German sentry ordered silence. The old fellow muttered on in unconsciousness[Pg 29] of his surroundings. The sentry drew back his bayonet to run him through. A couple of the peasants pulled the old man flat to the ground and stifled his talking.

At five o'clock in the morning German stretcher bearers marched behind the burned houses. Out of the house of the peasant lying next to me three bodies were carried. He broke into a long, slow sobbing.

At six o'clock a monoplane sailed overhead, bringing orders to our detachment. The troops intended for Ghent were turned toward Brussels. The field artillery, which had been rolled toward the west, was swung about to the east. An officer headed us toward Ghent and let us go. If the Germans had marched into Ghent we would have been of value as a cover for the troops. But for the return to Brussels we were only a nuisance. We hurried away toward Ghent. As we walked through a farmyard we saw a farmer lying at full length dead in his dooryard. We passed the convent school of Melle, where Catholic sisters live. The front yard was strewed with furniture, with bedding, with the contents of the rooms.[Pg 30] The yard was about four hundred feet long and two hundred feet deep. It was dotted with this intimate household stuff for the full area. I made inquiry and found that no sister had been violated or bayoneted. The soldiers had merely ransacked the place.

One of my companions in this Melle experience was A. Radclyffe Dugmore, formerly of the Players Club, New York, a well-known naturalist, author of books on big game in Africa, the beaver, and the caribou. For many years he was connected with Doubleday, Page & Co. His present address is Crete Hill, South Nutfield, Surrey.

At other times and places, German troops have not rested content with the mere terrorization and humiliation of religious sisters. On February 12, 1916, the German Wireless from Berlin states that Cardinal Mercier was urged to investigate the allegation of German soldiers attacking Belgian nuns, and that he declined. As long as the German Government has seen fit to revive the record of their own brutality, I present what follows.

A New York physician whom I know sends me this statement:[Pg 31]

"I was dining in London in the middle of last April with a friend, a medical man, and I expressed doubt as to the truth of the stories of atrocity. I said I had combatted such stories often in America. In reply, he asked me to visit a house which had been made over into an obstetrical hospital for Belgian nuns. I went with him to the hospital. Here over a hundred nuns had been and were being cared for."

On a later Sunday in September I visited the Municipal Hospital of Ghent. In Salle (Hall) 17, I met and talked with Martha Tas, a peasant girl of St. Gilles (near Termonde). As she was escaping by train from the district, and when she was between Alost and Audeghem, she told me that German soldiers aimed rifle fire at the train of peasants. She was wounded by a bullet in the thigh. My companion on this visit was William R. Renton, at one time a resident of Andover, Massachusetts. His present address is the Coventry Ordnance Works, Coventry.

A friend of mine has been lieutenant in a battery of 75's stationed near Pervyse. His summer home is a little distance out from Liège. His[Pg 32] wife, sister-in-law, and his three children were in the house when the Germans came. Peasants, driven from their village, hid in the cellar. His sister took one child and hid in a closet. His wife took the two-year-old baby and the older child and hid in another closet. The troops entered the house, looted it and set it on fire. As they left they fired into the cellar. The mother rushed from her hiding place, went to her desk and found that her money and the family jewels, one a gift from the husband's family and handed down generation by generation, had been stolen. With the sister, the baby in arms, the two other children and the peasants, she ran out of the garden. They were fired on. They hid in a wood. Then, for two days, they walked. The raw potatoes which they gathered by the way were unfit for the little one. Without money, and ill and weakened, they reached Holland. This lady is in a safe place now, and her testimony in person is available.



It gives passage to the trenches at any hour. The writer, by holding this, and working under the Prime Minister's son, became stretcher-bearer in the Belgian Army.

The apologists of the widespread reign of frightfulness say that war is always "like that," that individual drunken soldiers have always broken loose and committed terrible acts. This[Pg 33] [Pg 34]defense does not meet the facts. It meets neither the official orders, nor the cold method, nor the immense number of proved murders. The German policy was ordered from the top. It was carried out by officers and men systematically, under discipline. The German War Book, issued by the General Staff, and used by officers, cleverly justifies these acts. They are recorded by the German soldiers themselves in their diaries, of which photographic reproductions are obtainable in any large library. The diaries were found on the persons of dead and wounded Germans. The name of the man and his company are given.

On Sunday, September 27, I was present at the battle of Alost, where peasants came running into our lines from the German side of the canal. In spite of shell, shrapnel, rifle, and machine fire, these peasants crossed to us. The reason they had for running into fire was that the Germans were torturing their neighbors with the bayonet. One peasant, on the other side of the canal, hurried toward us under the fire, with a little girl on his right shoulder.

On Tuesday, September 29, I visited Wetteren[Pg 35] Hospital. I went in company with the Prince L. de Croy, the Due D'Ursel, a senator; the Count de Briey, Intendant de la Liste Civile du Roy, and the Count Retz la Barre (all of the Garde du General de Wette, Divisions de Cavalerie). One at least of these gentlemen is as well and as favorably known in this country as in his own. I took a young linguist, who was kind enough to act as secretary for me. In the hospital I found eleven peasants with bayonet wounds upon them—men, women and a child—who had been marched in front of the Germans at Alost as a cover for the troops, and cut with bayonets when they tried to dodge the firing. A priest was ministering to them, bed by bed. Sisters were in attendance. The priest led us to the cot of one of the men. On Sunday morning, September 27, the peasant, Leopold de Man, of No. 90, Hovenier-Straat, Alost, was hiding in the house with his sister, in the cellar. The Germans made a fire of the table and chairs in the upper room. Then, catching sight of Leopold, they struck him with the butts of their guns and forced him to pass through the fire. Then, taking him[Pg 36] outside, they struck him to the ground and gave him a blow over the head with a gunstock and a cut of the bayonet, which pierced his thigh all the way through.

"In spite of my wound," said he, "they made me pass between their lines, giving me still more blows of the gun-butt in the back in order to make me march. There were seventeen or eighteen persons with me. They placed us in front of their lines and menaced us with their revolvers, crying out that they will make us pay for the losses they have suffered at Alost. So we march in front of the troops.

"When the battle began we threw ourselves on our faces to the ground, but they forced us to rise again. At a certain moment, when the Germans were obliged to retire, we succeeded in escaping down side streets."

The priest led the way to the cot of a peasant whose cheeks had the spot of fever. He was Frans Meulebroeck, of No. 62, Drie Sleutelstraat, Alost. Sometimes in loud bursts of terror, and then falling back into a monotone, he talked with us.[Pg 37]

"They broke open the door of my home," he said, "they seized me and knocked me down. In front of my door the corpse of a German lay stretched out. The Germans said to me: 'You are going to pay for that to us.' A few moments later they gave me a bayonet cut in my leg. They sprinkled naphtha in my house and set it afire. My son was struck down in the street and I was marched in front of the German troops. I do not know even yet the fate of my son."

Gradually as the peasant talked the time of his suffering came on him. His eyes began to see it again in front of him. They became fixed and wild, the white of them visible. His voice was shrill and broken with sobs.

"My boy," he said, "I haven't seen him." His body shook with sobbing.

At my request the young man with me took down the statements of these two peasants, turning them into French from the Flemish, with the aid of the priest. In the presence of the priest and one of the sisters the two peasants signed, each man, his statement, making his mark.

Our group passed into the next room, where the[Pg 38] wounded women were gathered. A sister led us to the bedside of a very old woman, perhaps eighty years old. She had thin white hair, that straggled across the pillow. There was no motion to the body, except for faint breathing. She was cut through the thigh with a bayonet.

I went across the room and found a little girl, twelve years old. She was propped up in bed and half bent over, as if she had been broken at the breast bone. Her body whistled with each breath. One of our ambulance corps went out next day to the hospital—Dr. Donald Renton. He writes me:

"I went out with Davidson, the American sculptor, and Yates, the cinema man, and there had been brought into the hospital the previous day the little girl you speak of. She had a gaping wound on, I think, the right side of her back, and died the next day."

Dr. Renton's address is 110 Hill Street, Garnet Hill, Glasgow.

The young man who took down the record is named E. de Niemira, a British subject. He made the report of what we had seen to the Bryce Com[Pg 39]mittee. These cases which I witnessed appear in the Bryce Report under the heading of "Alost."[B][Pg 40] Of such is the Bryce Report made: first-hand witness by men like myself, who know what they know, who are ready for any test to be applied, who made careful notes, who had witnesses.

"Why do the Germans do these things? It is not war. It is cruel and wrong," that is a remark I heard from noblemen and common soldiers alike. Such acts are beyond the understanding of the Belgian people. Their soldiers are kindly, good-humored, fearless. Alien women and children would be safe in their hands. They do not see why the Germans bring suffering to the innocent.

A few understand. They know it is a scientific panic which the German army was seeking to cultivate. They see that these acts are not done in[Pg 41] the wilful abandon of a few drunken soldiers, beyond discipline, but that they belong to a cool, careful method by means of which the German staff hoped to reduce a population to servitude. The Germans regard these mutilations as pieces of necessary surgery. The young blond barmaid of the Quatrecht Inn told us on October 4 that a German captain came and cried like a baby in the taproom on the evening of September 7, after he had laid waste Quatrecht and Melle. To her fanciful, untrained mind he was thinking of his own wife and children. So, at least, she thought as she watched him, after serving him in his thirst.

One of the sentries patted the shoulder of the peasant at Melle when he learned that the man had had the three members of his family done to death. Personally, he was sorry for the man, but orders were orders.



The Germans burned this church and four others, a hospital, an orphanage, and 1,100 homes, house by house. Priests, nuns and churches irritated the German Army. This photograph was taken by Radclyffe Dugmore, who accompanied the writer, to witness the methodical destruction.

I spent September 13 and September 23 in Termonde. Ten days before my first visit Termonde was a pretty town of 11,000 inhabitants. On their first visit the Germans burned eleven hundred of the fifteen hundred houses. They burned[Pg 43][Pg 42] [Pg 44]the Church of St. Benedict, the Church of St. Rocus, three other churches, a hospital, and an orphanage. They burned that town not by accident of shell fire and general conflagration, but methodically, house by house. In the midst of charred ruins I came on single houses standing, many of them, and on their doors was German writing in chalk—"Nicht Verbrennen. Gute Leute wohnen hier." Sometimes it would be simply "Nicht Verbrennen," sometimes only "Gute Leute," but always that piece of German script was enough to save that house, though to the right and left of it were ruins. On several of the saved houses the name of the German officer was scribbled who gave the order to spare. About one hundred houses were chalked in the way I have described. All these were unscathed by the fire, though they stood in streets otherwise devastated. The remaining three hundred houses had the good luck to stand at the outskirts and on streets unvisited by the house-to-house incendiaries.

Four days after my first visit the Germans burned again the already wrecked town, turning[Pg 45] their attention to the neglected three hundred houses. I went in as soon as I could safely enter the town, and that was on the Wednesday after.

As companions in Termonde I had Tennyson Jesse, Radclyffe Dugmore, and William R. Renton. Mr. Dugmore took photographs of the chalked houses.

"Build a fence around Termonde," suggested a Ghent manufacturer, "leave the ruins untouched. Let the place stand there, with its burned houses, churches, orphanage, hospital, factories, to show the world what German culture is. It will be a monument to their methods of conducting war. There will be no need of saying anything. That is all the proof we need. Then throw open the place to visitors from all the world, as soon as this war is over. Let them draw their own conclusions."[Pg 46]


In Wetteren Hospital, Flanders, the writer saw a little peasant girl dying from the bayonet wounds in her back which the German soldiers had given her.

Cain slew only a brother,
A lad who was fair and strong,
His murder was careless and honest,
A heated and sudden wrong.

And Judas was kindly and pleasant,
For he snared an invincible man.
But you—you have spitted the children,
As they toddled and stumbled and ran.

She heard you sing on the high-road,
She thought you were gallant and gay;
Such men as the peasants of Flanders:
[Pg 47]The friends of a child at play.

She saw the sun on your helmets,
The sparkle of glancing light.
She saw your bayonets flashing,
And she laughed at your Prussian might.

Then you gave her death for her laughter,
As you looked on her mischievous face.
You hated the tiny peasant,
With the hate of your famous race.

You were not frenzied and angry;
You were cold and efficient and keen.
Your thrust was as thorough and deadly
As the stroke of a faithful machine.

You stabbed her deep with your rifle:
You had good reason to sing,
As you footed it on through Flanders
Past the broken and quivering thing.

Something impedes your advancing,
A dragging has come on your hosts.
And Paris grows dim now, and dimmer,
[Pg 48]Through the blur of your raucous boasts.

Your singing is sometimes broken
By guttural German groans.
Your ankles are wet with her bleeding,
Your pike is blunt from her bones.

The little peasant has tripped you.
She hangs to your bloody stride.
And the dimpled hands are fastened
Where they fumbled before she died.
[Pg 49]


The Steam Roller, the final method, now operating in Belgium to flatten her for all time, is the most deadly and universal of the three. It is a calculated process to break the human spirit. People speak as if the injury done Belgium was a thing of the past. It is at its height now. The spy system with its clerks, waiters, tourists, business managers, reached directly only some thousands of persons. The atrocities wounded and killed many thousands of old men, women, and children. But the German occupation and sovereignty at the present moment are denationalizing more than six million people. The German conquerors operate their Steam Roller by clever lies, thus separating Belgium from her real friends; by taxation, thus breaking Belgium economically; by enforced work on food supplies, railways, and ammunition, thus forcing Belgian peasants to feed their enemy's army and[Pg 50] destroy their own army, and so making unwilling traitors out of patriots; by fines and imprisonment that harass the individual Belgian who retains any sense of nationality; by official slander from Berlin that the Belgians are the guilty causes of their own destruction; and finally by the fact of sovereignty itself, that at one stroke breaks the inmost spirit of a free nation.

I was still in Ghent when the Germans moved up to the suburbs.

"I can put my artillery on Ghent," said the German officer to the American vice-consul.

That talk is typical of the tone of voice used to Belgians: threat backed by murder.

The whole policy of the Germans of late is to treat the Belgian matter as a thing accomplished.

"It is over. Let bygones be bygones."

It is a process like the trapping of an innocent woman, and when she is trapped, saying,

"Now you are compromised, anyway, so you had better submit."

A friend of mine who remained in Ghent after the German occupation, had German officers billetted in his home. Daily, industriously, they[Pg 51] said to him that the English had been poor friends of his country, that they had been late in coming to the rescue. Germany was the friend, not England. In the homes throughout Belgium, these unbidden guests are claiming slavery is a beneficent institution, that it is better to be ruled by the German military, and made efficient for German ends, than to continue a free people.

For a year, our Red Cross Corps worked under the direction and authority of the Belgian prime minister, Baron de Broqueville. The prime minister in the name of his government has sent to this country an official protest against the new tax levied by the Germans on his people. The total tax for the German occupation amounts to $192,000,000. He writes:

"The German military occupation during the last fifteen months has entirely prevented all foreign trade, has paralyzed industrial activity, and has reduced the majority of the laboring classes to enforced idleness. Upon the impoverished Belgian population whom Germany has unjustly attacked, upon whom she has brought want and distress, who have been barely saved from starva[Pg 54][Pg 53][Pg 52]tion by the importation of food which Germany should have provided—upon this population, Germany now imposes a new tax, equal in amount to the enormous tax she has already imposed and is regularly collecting."


One of the dangerous Belgian franc-tireurs, who made it necessary for the German Army to burn and bayonet babies and old women. His name is Gaspar. He is three years old.

The Belgian Legation has protested unavailingly to our Government that Germany, in violation of The Hague Conventions, has forced Belgian workmen to perform labor for the German army. Belgian Railway employees at Malines, Luttre and elsewhere refused to perform work which would have released from the transportation service and made available for the trenches an entire German Army Corps. These Belgian workmen were subjected to coersive measures, which included starvation and cruel punishments. Because of these penalties on Belgians refusing to be traitors, many went to hospitals in Germany, and others returned broken in health to Belgium.

After reading the chapter on the German spy system, a Belgian wrote me:

"That spying business is not yet the worst. Since then, the Germans have succeeded in outdo[Pg 55]ing all that. The basest and the worst that one can dream of is it not that campaign of slander and blackmail which they originated after their violation of Belgium's neutrality? Of course they did it—as a murderer who slanders his victim—in the hope to justify their crime."

It is evil to murder non-combatants. It is more evil to "rationalize" the act—to invent a moral reason for doing an infamous thing. First, Belgium suffered a vivisection, a veritable martyrdom. Now, she is officially informed by her executioners that she was the guilty party. She is not allowed to protest. She must sit quietly under the charge that her sacrifice was not a sacrifice at all, but the penalty paid for her own misbehavior. This is a more cruel thing than the spying that sapped her and the atrocities practised upon her, because it is more cruel to take a man's honor than his property and his life.

"If the peasants had stayed in their houses, they would have been safe."

When they stayed in their houses they were burned along with the houses. I saw this done on September 7, 1914, at Melle.[Pg 56]

"The peasants shot from their houses at the advancing German army."

I saw German atrocities. The peasants did not shoot. It is the old familiar formula of the franc-tireur. That means that the peasant, not a soldier, dressed in the clothing of a civilian, takes advantage of his immunity as a noncombatant, to secrete a rifle, and from some shelter shoot at the enemy army. The Bishop of Namur writes:

"It is evident that the German army trod the Belgian soil and carried out the invasion with the preconceived idea that it would meet with bands of this sort, a reminiscence of the war of 1870. But German imagination will not suffice to create that which does not exist.

"There never existed a single body of francs-tireurs in Belgium.

"No 'isolated instance' even is known of civilians having fired upon the troops, although there would have been no occasion for surprise if any individual person had committed an excess. In several of our villages the population was exterminated because, as the military authorities alleged, a major had been killed or a young girl had[Pg 57] attempted to kill an officer, and so forth.... In no case has an alleged culprit been discovered and designated by name."

This lie—that the peasants brought their own death on themselves—was rehearsed before the war, as a carefully learned lesson. The army came prepared to find the excuse for the methodical outrages which they practised. In the fight in the Dixmude district, a German officer of the 202,e Infantry had a letter with this sentence on his body:

"There are a lot of francs-tireurs with the enemy."

There were none. He had found what he had been drilled to find, in the years of preparedness. The front lines of the Yser were raked clear by shell, rifle, and machine-gun fire. The district was in ruins. I know, because I worked there with our Red Cross Corps through those three weeks. The humorous explanation of this is given by one of the Fusilier Marin Lieutenants—that the blue cap and the red pompon of the famous fighting sailors of France looked strangely to the Germans, who took the wearers for francs-[Pg 58]tireurs, terror suggesting the idea. But this is the kindly humor of Brittany. The saucy sailor caps could not have looked strangely to German eyes, because a few weeks earlier those "Girls with the red pompon" had held the German army corps at Melle, and not even terror could have made them look other than terribly familiar. No. The officers had been faithfully trained to find militant peasants under arms, and to send back letters and reports of their discovery, which could later be used in official excuses for frightfulness. This letter is one that did not get back to Berlin, later to appear in a White Paper, as justification for official murder of non-combatants.

The picture projected by the Great German Literary Staff is too imaginative. Think of that Army of the Invasion with its army corps riding down through village streets—the Uhlan cavalry, the innumerable artillery, the dense endless infantry, the deadly power and swing of it all—and then see the girl-child of Alost, and the white-haired woman, eighty years old—aiming their rifles at that cavalcade. It is a literary creation, not a statement of fact. I have been in[Pg 59] villages when German troops were entering, had entered, and were about to enter. I saw helpless, terror-stricken women huddled against the wall, children hiding in their skirts, old men dazed and vague.

Then, as the blue-gray uniforms appeared at the head of the street, with sunlight on the pikes and helmets, came the cry—half a sob, "Les Allemands."

The German fabrications are unworthy. Let the little slain children, and the violated women, sleep in honor. Your race was stern enough in doing them to death. Let them alone, now that you have cleared them from your path to Paris.

Doctor George Sarton, of the University of Ghent writes me:

"During the last months, the Germans have launched new slanders against Belgium. Their present tactics are more discreet and seem to be successful. Many 'neutral' travelers—especially Americans and Swiss—have been to Belgium to see the battlefields or, perhaps, to get an idea of what such an occupation by foreign soldiers exactly amounts to. Of course, these men can see[Pg 60] nothing without the assistance of the German authorities, and they can but see what is shown to them. The greater their curiosity, the more courtesy extended to them, the more also they feel indebted to their German hosts. These are well aware of it: the sightseers are taken in their net, and with a very few exceptions, their critical sense is quickly obliterated. We have recently been shown one of the finest specimens of these American tourists: Mr. George B. McCellan, professor of History at Princeton, who made himself ridiculous by writing a most superficial and inaccurate article for the "Sunday Times Magazine".

"When the good folks of Belgium recollect the spying business that was carried on at their expense by their German 'friends,' they are not likely to trust much their German enemies. They know that the Germans are quite incapable of keeping to themselves any fact that they may learn—in whatever confidential and intimate circumstances—if this fact is of the smallest use to their own country. As it is perfectly impossible to trust them, the best is to avoid them, and that is what most Belgians are doing.[Pg 61]

"American tourists seeing Belgium through German courtesy are considered by the Belgians just as untrustworthy as the Germans themselves. This is the right attitude, as there is no possibility left to the Belgians (in Belgium) of testing the morality and the neutrality of their visitors. The result of which is that these visitors are entirely given up to their German advisers; all their knowledge is of German origin. Of course, the Germans take advantage of this situation and make a show of German efficiency and organization.—'Don't you know: the Germans have done so much for Belgium! Why, everybody knows that this country was very inefficient, very badly managed ... a poor little country without influence.... See what the Germans have made of it.... There was no compulsory education, and the number of illiterates was scandalously high,' (I am sorry to say that this at least is true.) 'They are introducing compulsory and free education. In the big towns, sexual morality was rather loose, but the Germans are now regulating all that.' (You should hear German officers speak of prostitution in Antwerp and[Pg 62] Brussels.) 'The evil was great, but fortunately the Germans came and are cleaning up the country.'—That is their way of doing and talking. It does not take them long to convince ingenuous and uncritical Americans that everything is splendidly regulated by German efficiency, and that if only the Belgians were complying, everything would be all right in Belgium. Are not the Belgians very ungrateful?

"The Belgians do appreciate American generosity; they realize that almost the only rays of happiness that reach their country come from America. They will never forget it; that disinterested help coming from over the seas has a touch of romance; it is great and comforting; it is the bright and hopeful side of the war. The Belgians know how to value this. But, as to what the Germans are doing, good or not, they will never appreciate that—what does it matter? The Belgians do not care one bit for German reforms; they do not even deign to consider them; they simply ignore them. There is one—only one—reform that they will appreciate; the German evacuation. All the rest does not count.[Pg 63] When the Germans speak of cleaning the country, the Belgians do not understand. From their point of view, there is only one way to clean it—and that is for the Germans to clear out.

"The Germans are very disappointed that a certain number of Belgians have been able to escape, either to enlist in the Belgian army or to live abroad. Of course, the more Belgians are in their hands, the more pressure they can exert. They are now slandering the Belgians who have left their country—all the 'rich' people who are 'feasting' abroad while their countrymen are starving.

"The fewer Belgians there are in German hands, the better it is. The Belgians whose ability is the most useful, are considered useful by the Germans for the latter's sake. Must it not be a terrible source of anxiety for these Belgians to think that all the work they manage to do is directly or indirectly done for Germany? It is not astonishing that she wants to restore 'business, as usual' in Belgium, and that in many cases she has tried to force the Belgian workers to earn for her. Let[Pg 64] me simply refer to the protest recently published by the Belgian Legation. But for the American Commission for Relief, the Belgians would have had to choose between starvation and work—work for Germany—starvation or treason. Nothing shows better the greatness and moment of the American work. Without the material and moral presence of the United States, Belgium would have simply been turned into a nation of slaves—starvation or treason.

"If I were in Belgium, I could say nothing; I would have to choose between silence and prison, or silence and death. Remember Edith Cavell. An enthusiastic, courageous man is running as many risks in Belgium now, as he would have in the sixteenth century under the Spanish domination. The hundred eyes of the Spanish Inquisition were then continually prying into everything—bodies and souls; one felt them even while one was sleeping. The German Secret Service is not less pitiless and it is more efficient.

"The process of slander and lie carried on by the Germans to 'flatten' Belgium is, to my judg[Pg 65]ment, the worst of their war practices. It is very efficient indeed. But, however efficient it may be, it will be unsuccessful as to its main purpose. The Germans will not be able to bow Belgian heads. As long as the Belgians do not admit that they have been conquered, they are not conquered, and in the meanwhile the Germans are merely aggravating their infamy. It was an easy thing to over-run the unprepared Belgian soil—but the Belgian spirit is unconquerable.

"Belgium may slumber, but die—never."

When men act as part of an implacable machine, they act apart from their humanity. They commit unbelievable horrors, because the thing that moves them is raw force, untouched by fine purpose and the elements of mercy. When I think of Germans, man by man, as they lay wounded, waiting for us to bring them in and care for them as faithfully as for our own, I know that they have become human in their defeat. We are their friends as we break them. In spite of their treachery and cruelty and cold hatred, we shall save them yet. Cleared of their evil dream and restored to our common humanity, they will have[Pg 66] a more profound sorrow growing out of this war than any other people, for Belgium and France only suffered these things, but the great German race committed them.[Pg 67]


When I went to Belgium, friends said to me, "You must take 'Baedeker's Belgium' with you; it is the best thing on the country." So I did. I used it as I went around. The author doesn't give much about himself, and that is a good feature in any book, but I gathered he was a German, a widely traveled man, and he seems to have spent much time in Belgium, for I found intimate records of the smallest things. I used his guide for five months over there. I must say right here I was disappointed in it. And that isn't just the word, either. I was annoyed by it. It gave all the effect of accuracy, and then when I got there it wasn't so. He kept speaking of buildings as "beautiful," "one of the loveliest unspoiled pieces of thirteenth century architecture in Europe," and when I took a lot of trouble and visited the building, I found it half down, or a butt-end, or sometimes ashes. I[Pg 68] couldn't make his book tally up. It doesn't agree with the landscape and the look of things. He will take a perfectly good detail and stick it in where it doesn't belong, and leave it there. And he does it all in a painstaking way and with evident sincerity.

His volume had been so popular back in his own country that it had brought a lot of Germans into Belgium. I saw them everywhere. They were doing the same thing I was doing, checking up what they saw with the map and text and things. Some of them looked puzzled and angry, as they went around. I feel sure they will go home and give Baedeker a warm time, when they tell him they didn't find things as he had represented.

For one thing, he makes out Belgium a lively country, full of busy, contented people, innocent peasants, and sturdy workmen and that sort of thing. Why, it's the saddest place in the world. The people are not cheery at all. They are depressed. It's the last place I should think of for a holiday, now that I have seen it. And that's the way it goes, all through his work. Things are the opposite of what he says with so much[Pg 69] meticulous care. He would speak of "gay café life" in a place that looked as if an earthquake had hit it, and where the only people were some cripples and a few half-starved old folks. If he finds that sort of thing gay as he travels around, he is an easy man to please. It was so wherever I went. It isn't as if he were wrong at some one detail. He is wrong all over the place, all over Belgium. It's all different from the way he says it is. I know his fellow-countrymen who are there now will bear me out in this.

Let me show one place. I took his book with me and used it on Nieuport. That's a perfectly fair test, because Nieuport is like a couple of hundred other towns.

"Nieuport," says Herr Baedeker, "a small and quiet place on the Yser."

It is one of the noisiest places I have ever been in. There was a day and a half in May when shells dropped into the streets and houses, every minute. Every day at least a few screaming three-inch shells fall on the village. Aëroplanes buzz overhead, shrapnel pings in the sky. Rifle bullets sing like excited telegraph wires. If[Pg 70] [Pg 72][Pg 71]Baedeker found Nieuport a quiet place, he was brought up in a boiler factory.


Baedeker, the distinguished German writer, states that this Fifteenth Century Gothic church in Nieuport has "a modern timber roof." We looked for it.

His very next phrase puzzled me—"with 3500 inhabitants," he says.

And I didn't see one. There were dead people in the ruins of the houses. The soldiers used to unearth them from time to time. I remember that the poet speaks of "the poor inhabitant below," when he is writing of a body in a grave. It must be in that sense that Baedeker specifies those 3500 inhabitants. But he shouldn't do that kind of imaginative touch. It isn't in his line. And it might mislead people.

Think of a stranger getting into Nieuport after dark on a wet night, with his mind all set on the three hotels Baedeker gives him a choice of.

"All unpretending," he says.

Just the wrong word. Why, those hotels are brick dust. They're flat on the ground. There isn't a room left. He means "demolished." He doesn't use our language easily. I can see that. It is true they are unpretending, but that isn't the first word you would use about them, not if you were fluent.[Pg 73]

Then he gives a detail that is unnecessary. He says you can sleep or eat there for a "franc and a half." That exactitude is out of place. It is labored. I ask you what a traveler would make of the "1½ fr. pour diner," when he came on that rubbish heap which is the Hotel of Hope—"Hotel de l'Espérance." That is like Baedeker, all through his volume. He will give a detail, like the precise cost of this dinner, when there isn't any food in the neighborhood. It wouldn't be so bad if he'd sketch things in general terms. That I could forgive. But it is too much when he makes a word-picture of a Flemish table d'hôte for a franc and a half in a section of country where even the cats are starving.

His next statement is plain twisted. "Nieuport is noted for its obstinate resistance to the French."

I saw French soldiers there every day. They were defending the place. His way of putting it stands the facts on their head.

"And (is noted) for the 'Battle of the Dunes' in 1600."

That is where the printer falls down. I was[Pg 74] there during the Battle of the Dunes. The nine is upside down in the date as given.

I wouldn't object so much if he were careless with facts that were harmless, like his hotels and his dinner and his dates. But when he gives bad advice that would lead people into trouble, I think he ought to be jacked up. Listen to this:

"We may turn to the left to inspect the locks on the canals to Ostend."

Baedeker's proposal here means sure death to the reader who tries it. That section is lined with machine guns. If a man began turning and inspecting, he would be shot. Baedeker's statement is too casual. It sounds like a suggestion for a leisurely walk. It isn't a sufficient warning against doing something which shortens life. The word "inspect" is unfortunate. It gives the reader the idea he is invited to nose around those locks, when he had really better quiet down and keep away. The sentries don't want him there. I should have written that sentence differently. His kind of unconsidered advice leads to a lot of sadness.[Pg 75]

"The Rue Longue contains a few quaint old houses."

It doesn't contain any houses at all. There are some heaps of scorched rubble. "Quaint" is word painting.

"On the south side of this square rises the dignified Cloth Hall."

There is nothing dignified about a shattered, burned, tottering old building. Why will he use these literary words?

"With a lately restored belfry."

It seems as if this writer couldn't help saying the wrong thing. A Zouave gave us a piece of bronze from the big bell. It wasn't restored at all. It was on the ground, broken.

"The church has a modern timber roof."

There he goes again—the exact opposite of what even a child could see were the facts. And yet in his methodical, earnest way, he has tried to get these things right. That church, for instance, has no roof at all. It has a few pillars standing. It looks like a skeleton. I have a good photograph of it, which the reader can see on page 69. If Baedeker would stand under[Pg 76] that "modern timber roof" in a rainstorm, he wouldn't think so much of it.

"The Hotel de Ville contains a small collection of paintings."

I don't like to keep picking on what he says, but this sentence is irritating. There aren't any paintings there, because things are scattered. You can see torn bits strewed around on the floor of the place, but nothing like a collection.

I could go on like that, and take him up on a lot more details. But it sounds as if I were criticising. And I don't mean it that way, because I believe the man is doing his best. But I do think he ought to get out another edition of his book, and set these points straight.

He puts a little poem on his title page:

Go, little book, God send thee good passage,
And specially let this be thy prayer
Unto them all that thee will read or hear,
Where thou art wrong, after their help to call,
Thee to correct in any part or all.

That sounds fair enough. So I am going to send him these notes. But it isn't in "parts" he is "wrong." There is a big mistake somewhere.[Pg 78][Pg 77]


"Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust."
[Pg 80][Pg 79]



At times in my five months at the front I have been puzzled by the sacrifice of so much young life; and most I have wondered about the Belgians. I had seen their first army wiped out; there came a time when I no longer met the faces I had learned to know at Termonde and Antwerp and Alost. A new army of boys has dug itself in at the Yser, and the same wastage by gun-fire and disease is at work on them. One wonders with the Belgians if the price they pay for honor is not too high. There is a sadness in the eyes of Belgian boy soldiers that is not easy to face. Are we quite worthy of their sacrifice? Why should the son of Ysaye die for me? Are you, comfortable reader, altogether sure that Pierre Depage and André Simont are called on to spill their blood for your good name?[Pg 81]

Then one turns with relief to the Fusiliers Marins—the sailors with a rifle. Here are young men at play. They know they are the incomparable soldiers. The guns have been on them for fifteen months, but they remain unbroken. Twice in the year, if they had yielded, this might have been a short war. But that is only saying that if Brittany had a different breed of men the world and its future would contain less hope. They carry the fine liquor of France, and something of their own added for bouquet. They are happy soldiers—happy in their brief life, with its flash of daring, and happy in their death. It is still sweet to die for one's country, and that at no far-flung outpost over the seas and sands, but just at the home border. As we carried our wounded sailors down from Nieuport to the great hospital of Zuydcoote on the Dunkirk highway, there is a sign-board, a bridge, and a custom-house that mark the point where we pass from Belgium into France. We drove our ambulance with the rear curtain raised, so that the wounded men, lying on the stretchers, could be cheered by the flow of scenery. Sometimes, as we crossed that border-line, one of the[Pg 82] men would pick it up with his eye, and would say to his comrade: "France! Now we are in France, the beautiful country."

"What do you mean?" I asked one lad, who had brightened visibly.

"The other countries," he said, "are flat and dirty. The people are of mixed races. France is not so."

It has been my fortune to watch the sailors at work from the start of the war. I was in Ghent when they came there, late, to a hopeless situation. Here were youngsters scooped up from the decks, untrained in trenches, and rushed to the front; but the sea-daring was on them, and they knew obedience and the hazards. They helped to cover the retreat of the Belgians and save that army from annihilation by banging away at the German mass at Melle. Man after man developed a fatalism of war, and expressed it to us.

"Nothing can hit you till your time," was often their way of saying it; "it's no use dodging or being afraid. You won't be hit till your shell comes." And another favorite belief of theirs that brought them cheer was this: "The shell[Pg 83] that will kill you you won't hear coming. So you'll never know."

These sailor lads thrive on lost causes, and it was at Ghent they won from the Germans their nickname of "Les demoiselles au pompon rouge." The saucy French of that has a touch beyond any English rendering of "the girls with the red pompon." "Les demoiselles au pompon rouge" paints their picture at one stroke, for they thrust out the face of a youngster from under a rakish blue sailor hat, crowned with a fluffy red button, like a blue flower with a red bloom at its heart. I rarely saw an aging marin. There are no seasoned troops so boyish. They wear open dickies, which expose the neck, full, hard, well-rounded. The older troops, who go laggard to the spading, have beards that extend down the collar; but a boy has a smooth, clean neck, and these sailors have the throat of youth. We must once have had such a race in our cow-boys and Texas rangers—level-eyed, careless men who know no masters, only equals. The force of gravity is heavy on an old man. But marins are not weighted down by equipment nor muffled with clothing. They go[Pg 84] bobbing like corks, as though they would always stay on the crest of things. And riding on top of their lightness is that absurd bright-red button in their cap. The armies for five hundred miles are sober, grown-up people, but here are the play-boys of the western front.

From Ghent they trooped south to Dixmude, and were shot to pieces in that "Thermopylæ of the North."

"Hold for four days," was their order.

They held for three weeks, till the sea came down and took charge. During those three weeks we motored in and out to get their wounded. Nothing of orderly impression of those days remains to me. I have only flashes of the sailor-soldiers curved over and snaking along the battered streets behind slivers of wall, handfuls of them in the Hotel de Ville standing around waiting in a roar of noise and a bright blaze of burning houses—waiting till the shelling fades away.[C][Pg 85]

Then for over twelve months they held wrecked Nieuport, and I have watched them there week after week. There is no drearier post on earth. One day in the pile of masonry thirty feet from our cellar refuge the sailors began throwing out the bricks, and in a few minutes they uncovered the body of a comrade. All the village has the smell of desolation. That smell is compounded of green ditch-water, damp plaster, wet clothing, blood, straw, and antiseptics. The nose took it as we crossed the canal, and held it till we shook ourselves on the run home. Thirty minutes a day in that soggy wreck pulled at my spirits for hours afterward. But those chaps stood up to it for twenty-four hours a day, lifting[Pg 86] a cheery face from a stinking cellar, hopping about in the tangle, sleeping quietly when their "night off" comes. As our chauffeur drew his camera, one of them sprang into a bush entanglement, aimed his rifle, and posed.

I recollect an afternoon when we had word of an attack. We were grave, because the Germans are strong and fearless.

"Are they coming?" grinned a sailor. "Let them come. We are ready."

We learned to know many of the Fusiliers Marins and to grow fond of them. How else could it be when we went and got them, sick and wounded, dying and dead, two, six, ten of them a day, for many weeks, and brought them in to the Red Cross post for a dressing, and then on to the hospital? I remember a young man in our ambulance. His right foot was shot away, and the leg above was wounded. He lay unmurmuring for all the tossing of the road over the long miles of the ride. We lifted him from the stretcher, which he had wet with his blood, into the white cot in "Hall 15" of Zuydcoote Hospital. The wound and the journey had gone deeply into[Pg 87] his vitality. As he touched the bed, his control ebbed, and he became violently sick at the stomach. I stooped to carry back the empty stretcher. He saw I was going away, and said, "Thank you." I knew I should not see him again, not even if I came early next day.

There is one unfading impression made on me by those wounded. If I call it good nature, I have given only one element in it. It is more than that: it is a dash of fun. They smile, they wink, they accept a light for their cigarette. It is not stoicism at all. Stoicism is a grim holding on, the jaws clenched, the spirit dark, but enduring. This is a thing of wings. They will know I am not making light of their pain in writing these words. I am only saying that they make light of it. The judgment of men who are soon to die is like the judgment of little children. It does not tolerate foolish words. Of all the ways of showing you care that they suffer there is nothing half so good as the gift of tobacco. As long as I had any money to spend, I spent it on packages of cigarettes.



When the Marin officers found out we were the[Pg 88] [Pg 90][Pg 89]same people that had worked with them at Melle five months before, they invited my wife and three other nurses to luncheon in a Nieuport cellar. Their eye brightens at sight of a woman, but she is as safe with them as with a cowboy or a Quaker. The guests were led down into a basement, an eighteen foot room, six feet high. The sailors had covered the floor and papered the walls with red carpet. A tiny oil stove added to the warmth of that blazing carpet. More than twenty officers and doctors crowded into the room, and took seats at the table, lighted by two lamps. There were a dozen plates of patisserie, a choice of tea, coffee, or chocolate, all hot, white and red wine, and then champagne. An orderly lifted in a little wooden yacht, bark-rigged, fourteen inches long, with white painted sails. A nurse spilled champagne over the tiny ship, till it was drenched, and christened. The chief doctor made a speech of thanks. Then the ship went around the table, and each guest wrote her name on the sails. The party climbed out into the garden, where the shells were going high overhead like snowballs. In amongst the blackened flowers, a 16-inch shell had[Pg 91] left a hole of fifty feet diameter. One could have dropped two motor cars into the cavity.

Who but Marins would have devised a celebration for us on July 4? The commandant, the captain, and a brace of lieutenants opened eleven bottles of champagne in the Café du Sport at Coxyde in honor of our violation of neutrality. It was little enough we were doing for those men, but they were moved to graceful speech. We were hard put to it, because one had to tell them that much of the giving for a hundred years had been from France to us, and our showing in this war is hardly the equal of the aid they sent us when we were invaded by Hessian troops and a German king.

Marins whom we know have the swift gratitude of simple natures, not too highly civilized to show when they are pleased. After we had sent a batch of their wounded by hospital train from Adinkerke, the two sailors, who had helped us, invited my American friend and me into the estaminet across the road from the station, and bought us drinks for an hour. We had been good to their mates, so they wanted to be good to us.[Pg 92]

When we lived in barraquement, just back of the admiral's house, our cook was a Marin with a knack at omelettes. If we had to work through the night, going into black Nieuport, and down the ten-mile road to Zuydcoote, returning weary at midnight, a brave supper was laid out for us of canned meats, wines, and jellies—all set with the touch of one who cared. It was no hasty, slapped-down affair. We were carrying his comrades, and he was helping us to do it.

It was an officer of a quite other regiment who, one time when we were off duty, asked us to carry him to his post in the Dunes. We made the run for him, and, as he jumped from the car, he offered us a franc. Marins pay back in friendship. The Red Cross station to which we reported, Poste de Secours des Marins, was conducted by Monsieur le Docteur Rolland, and Monsieur Le Doze. Our workers were standing guests at their officers' mess. The little sawed-off sailor in the Villa Marie where I was billetted made coffee for two of us each morning.

Our friends have the faults of young men, flushed with life. They are scornful of feeble[Pg 93] folk, of men who grow tired, who think twice before dying. They laugh at middle age. The sentries amuse them, the elderly chaps who duck into their caves when a few shells are sailing overhead. They have no charity for frail nerves. They hate races who don't rally to a man when the enemy is hitting the trail. They must wait for age to gain pity, and the Bretons will never grow old. They are killed too fast. And yet, as soon as I say that, I remember their rough pity for their hurt comrades. They are as busy as a hospital nurse in laying a blanket and swinging the stretcher for one of their own who has been "pinked." They have a hovering concern. I have had twenty come to the ambulance to help shove in a "blessé," and say good-by to him, and wave to him as long as the road left him in their sight. The wounded man, unless his back bound him down, would lift his head from the stretcher, to give back their greetings. It was an eager exchange between the whole men and the injured one. They don't believe they can be broken till the thing comes, and there is curiosity to see just what has befallen one like themselves.[Pg 94]

When it came my time to say good-by, my sailor friend, who had often stopped by my car to tell me that all was going well, ran over to share in the excitement. I told him I was leaving, and he gave me a smile of deep-understanding amusement. Tired so soon? That smile carried a live consciousness of untapped power, of the record he and his comrades had made. It showed a disregard of my personal feelings, of all adult human weakness. That was the picture I carried away from the Nieuport line—the smiling boy with his wounded arm, alert after his year of war, and more than a little scornful of one who had grown weary in conditions so prosperous for young men.

I rode away from him, past the Coxyde encampment of his comrades. There they were as I had often seen them, with the peddlers cluttering their camp—candy men, banana women; a fringe of basket merchants about their grim barracks; a dozen peasants squatting with baskets of cigarettes, fruit, vegetables, foolish, bright trinkets. And over them bent the boys, dozens of them in blue blouses, stooping down to pick up trays, fingering red apples and shining charms, chaffing,[Pg 95] dickering, shoving one another, the old loves of their childhood still tangled in their being.

So when I am talking about the sailors as if they were heroes, suddenly something gay comes romping in. I see them again, as I have so often seen them in the dunes of Flanders, and what I see is a race of children.

"Don't forget we are only little ones," they say. "We don't die; we are just at play."[Pg 96]


Where does the comfort of the trenches lie? What solace do the soldiers find for a weary life of unemployment and for sudden death? Of course, they find it in the age-old things that have always sufficed, or, if these things do not here altogether suffice, at least they help. For a certain few out of every hundred men, religion avails. Some of our dying men were glad of the last rites. Some wore their Catholic emblems. The quiet devout men continued faithful as they had been at home. Art is playing the true part it plays at all times of fundamental need. The men busy themselves with music, with carving, and drawing. Security and luxury destroy art, for it is no longer a necessity when a man is stuffed with foods, and his fat body whirled in hot compartments from point to point of a tame world. But when he tumbles in from a gusty night out of a trenchful of mud, with the patter from slivers of shell, then he turns to song and color, odd tricks[Pg 97] with the knife, and the tales of an ancient adventure. After our group had brought food and clothing to a regiment, I remember the pride with which one of the privates presented to our head nurse a sculptured group, done in mud of the Yser.

But the greatest thing in the world to soldiers is plain comradeship. That is where they take their comfort. And the expression of that comradeship is most often found in the social smoke. The meager happiness of fighting-men is more closely interwoven with tobacco than with any other single thing. To rob them of that would be to leave them poor indeed. It would reduce their morale. It would depress their cheery patience. The wonder of tobacco is that it fits itself to each one of several needs. It is the medium by which the average man maintains normality at an abnormal time. It is a device to soothe jumping nerves, to deaden pain, to chase away brooding. Tobacco connects a man with the human race, and his own past life. It gives him a little thing to do in a big danger, in seeping loneliness, and the grip of sharp pain. It brings back his café evenings, when black horror is reaching out for him.[Pg 98]

If you have weathered around the world a bit, you know how everywhere strange situations turn into places for plain men to feel at home. Sailors on a Nova Scotia freight schooner, five days out, sit around in the evening glow and take a pipe and a chat with the same homely accustomedness, as if they were at a tavern. It is so in the jungle and at a lumber camp. Now, that is what the millions of average men have done to war. They have taken a raw, disordered, muddied, horrible thing, and given it a monotony and regularity of its own. They have smoked away its fighting tension, its hideous expectancy. They refuse to let mangling and murder put crimps in their spirit. Apparently there is nothing hellish enough to flatten the human spirit. Not all the sprinkled shells and caravans of bleeding victims can cow the boys of the front line. In this work of lifting clear of horror, tobacco has been a friend to the soldiers of the Great War.

"I wouldn't know a good cigarette if I saw it," said Geoffrey Gilling, after a year of ambulance work at Fumes and Coxyde. He had given up all that makes the life of an upper-class English[Pg 99]man pleasant, and I think that the deprivation of high-grade smoking material was a severe item in his sacrifice.

Four of us in Red Cross work spent weary hours each day in a filthy room in a noisy wine-shop, waiting for fresh trouble to break loose. The dreariness of it made B—— petulant and T—— mournfully silent, and finally left me melancholy. But sturdy Andrew MacEwan, the Scotchman with the forty-inch barrel chest, would reach out for his big can of naval tobacco, slipped to him by the sailors at Dunkirk when the commissariat officer wasn't looking, and would light his short stocky pipe, shaped very much like himself, and then we were all off together on a jaunt around the world. He had driven nearly all known "makes" of motor-car over most of the map, apparently about one car to each country. Twelve months of bad roads in a shelled district had left him full of talk, as soon as he was well lit.

Up at Nieuport, last northern stand of the Allied line, a walking merchant would call each day, a basket around his throat, and in the hamper chocolate, fruit, and tobacco. A muddy, un[Pg 100]shaven Brittany sailor, out of his few sous a week, bought us cigars. The less men have, the more generous they are. That is an old saying, but it drove home to me when I had poor men do me courtesy day by day for five months. As we motored in and out of Nieuport in the dark of the night, we passed hundreds of silent men trudging through the mud of the gutter. They were troops that had been relieved who were marching back for a rest. As soon as they came out of the zone where no sound can be made and no light shown, we saw here and there down the invisible ranks the sudden flare of a match, and then the glow in the cup of the hand, as the man prepared to cheer himself.

A more somber and lonely watch even than that of these French sailors was the vigil kept by our good Belgian friend, Commandant Gilson, in the shattered village of Pervyse. With his old Maltese cat, he prowled through the wrecked place till two and three of the morning, waiting for Germans to cross the flooded fields. For him cigarettes were an endless chain that went through his life. From the expiring stub he lit his fresh[Pg 101] smoke, as if he were maintaining a vestal flame. He kept puffing till the live butt singed his upturned mustache. He squinted his eyes to escape the ascending smoke.

Always the cigarette for him and for the other men. Our cellar of nurses in Pervyse kept a stock of pipes and of cigarettes ready for tired soldiers off duty. The pipes remained as intact as a collection in a museum. The cigarettes never equaled the demand. We once took out a carful of supplies to 300 Belgian soldiers. We gave them their choice of cigarettes or smoking tobacco, and about 250 of them selected cigarettes. That barrack vote gives the popularity of the cigarette among men of French blood. Some cigars, some pipes, but everywhere the shorter smoke. Tobacco and pipe exhaust precious pocket room. The cigarette is portable. Cigars break and peel in the kneading motion of walking and crouching. But the cigarette is protected in its little box. And yet, rather than lose a smoke, a soldier will carry one lonesome cigarette, rained on and limp and fraying at the end, drag it from the depths of a kit, dry it out, and have a go. For, after all,[Pg 102] it isn't for theoretical advantages over larger, longer smokes he likes it, but because it is fitted to his temperament. It is a French and Belgian smoke, short-lived and of a light touch, as dear to memory and liking as the wines of La Champagne.

Twice, in dramatic setting, I have seen tobacco intervene to give men a release from overstrained nerves. Once it was at a skirmish. Behind a street defense, crouched thirty Belgian soldiers. Shrapnel began to burst over us, and the bullets tumbled on the cobbles. With each puff of the shrapnel, like a paper bag exploding, releasing a handful of white smoke, the men flattened against the walls and dove into the open doors. The sound of shrapnel is the same sound as hailstones, a crisp crackle as they strike and bounce. We ran and picked them up. They were blunted by smiting on the paving. Any one of them would have plowed into soft flesh and found the bone and shattered it. They seem harmless because they make so little noise. They don't scream and wail and thunder. Our guns, back on the hillocks of the Ghent road, grew louder and more frequent. Each minute now was cut into by a roar, or a[Pg 103] fainter rumble. The battle was on. Our barricaded street was a pocket in the storm, like the center of a typhoon.

Yonder we could see the canal, fifty feet away, at the foot of our street. On the farther side behind the river front houses lay the Germans, ready to sally out and charge. It would be all right if they came quickly. But a few hours of waiting for them on an empty stomach, and having them disappoint us, was wearing. We wished they would hurry and have it over with, or else go away for good. Civilians stumbling and bleeding went past us.

And that was how the morning went by, heavy footed, unrelieved, with a sense of waiting for a sudden crash and horror. It was peaceful, in a way, but, at the heart of the calm, a menace. So we overlaid the tension with casual petty acts. We made an informal pool of our resources in tobacco, each man sharing with his neighbor, till nearly every one of us was puffing away, and deciding there was nothing to this German attack, after all. A smoke makes just the difference between sticking it out or acting the coward's part.[Pg 104]

Each one of us in a lifetime has a day of days, when external event is lively, and our inner mood dances to the tune. Some of us will perhaps always feel that we spent our day on October 21, 1914. For we were allowed to go into a town that fell in that one afternoon and to come out again alive. It was the afternoon when Dixmude was leveled from a fair upstanding city to a heap of scorched brick and crumbled plaster. The enemy guns from over the Yser were accurate on its houses.

We received our first taste of the dread to come, while we were yet a little way out. In the road ahead of us, a shell had just splashed an artillery convoy. Four horses, the driver, and the splintered wood of the wagon were all worked together into one pulp, so that our car skidded on it. We entered the falling town of Dixmude. It was a thick mess into which we rode, with hot smoke and fine masonry dust blowing into the eyes. Houses around us crumpled up at one blast, and then shot a thick brown cloud of dust, and out of the cloud a high central flame that leaped and spread. With the wailing of shells in the[Pg 105] air, every few seconds, the thud and thunder of their impact, the scattering of the shattered metal, it was one of the hot, thorough bombardments of the war. It cleared the town of troops, after tearing their ranks. But it left wounded men in the cellar of the Hotel de Ville. The Grand Place and the Hotel were the center of the fire. Here we had to wait fifteen minutes, while the wounded were made ready for our two cars. It was then we turned to tobacco as to a friend. I remember the easement that came when I found I had cigars in my waistcoat pocket. The act of lighting a cigar, and pulling at it briskly, was a relief.

There was a second of time when we could hear a shell, about to burst close, before it struck. It came, sharpening its nose on the air, making a shrill whistle with a moan in it, that gathered volume as it neared. There was a menace in the sound. It seemed to approach in a vast enveloping mass that can't be escaped, filling all out-doors, and sure to find you. It was as if the all-including sound were the missile itself, with no hiding place offered. And yet the shell is generally a[Pg 106] [Pg 108][Pg 107]little three-or-four inch thing, like a flower-pot, hurtling through the scenery. But bruised nerves refuse to listen to reason, and again and again I ducked as I heard that high wail, believing I was about to be struck.



One of the 100 houses in Termonde with the direction "Do not Burn" written in German. One thousand one hundred houses were burned, house by house. Photograph by Radclyffe Dugmore.

In that second of tension, it was a pleasant thing to draw in on a butt—to discharge the smoke, a second later, carelessly, as who should say, "It is nothing." The little cylinder was a lightning conductor to lead away the danger from a vital part. It let the nervousness leak off into biting and puffing, and making a play of fingering the stub, instead of striking into the stomach and the courage. It gave the troubled face something to do, and let the writhing hand busy itself. It saved me from knowing just how frightened I was.

But what of the wounded themselves? They have to endure all that dreariness of long waiting, and the pressure of danger, and then, for good measure, a burden of pain. So I come to the men who are revealing human nature at a higher pitch than any others in the war. The trench-digging, elderly chaps are patient and long-enduring, and[Pg 109] the fighting men are as gallant as any the ballad-mongers used to rime about.

But it is of the wounded that one would like to speak in a way to win respect for them rather than pity. I think some American observers have missed the truth about the wounded. They have told of the groaning and screaming, the heavy smells, the delays and neglect. It is a picture of vivid horror. But the final impression left on me by caring for many hundred wounded men is that of their patience and cheeriness. I think they would resent having a sordid pen picture made of their suffering and letting it go at that. After all, it is their wound: they suffered it for a purpose, and they conquer their bodily pain by will power and the Gallic touch of humor. Suffering borne nobly merits something more than an emphasis on the blood and the moan. To speak of these wounded men as of a heap of futile misery is like missing the worthiness of motherhood in the details of obstetrics.

It was thought we moderns had gone soft, but it seems we were storing up reserves of stoic strength and courage. This war has drawn on[Pg 110] them more heavily than any former test, and they have met all its demands. Sometimes, being tired, I would drop my corner of the stretcher, a few inches suddenly. This would draw a quick intake of the breath from the hurt man and an "aahh"—but not once a word of blame. I should want to curse the careless hand that wrenched my wound, but these soldiers of France and Belgium whom I carried had passed beyond littleness.

Once we had a French Zouave officer on the stretcher. He was wounded in the right arm and the stomach. Every careen of the ambulance over cobble and into shell-hole was a thrust into his hurt. We had to carry him all the way from the Nieuport cellar to Zuydcoote Hospital, ten miles. The driver was one more of the American young men who have gone over into France to pay back a little of what we owe her. I want to give his name, Robert Cardell Toms, because it is good for us to know that we have brave and tender gentlemen. On this long haul, as always, he drove with extreme care, changing his speed without the staccato jerk, avoiding bumps and holes of the trying road. When we reached the hospital, he ran[Pg 111] ahead into the ward to prepare the bed. The officer beckoned me to him. He spoke with some difficulty, as the effort caught him in the wound of his stomach.

"Please be good enough," he said, "to give my thanks to the chauffeur. He has driven me down with much consideration. He cares for wounded men."

Where other races are grateful and inarticulate, the French are able to put into speech the last fine touch of feeling.

My friend kept a supply of cigarettes for his ambulance cases, and as soon as the hour-long drive began we dealt them out to the bandaged men. How often we have started with a groaning man for the ride to Zuydcoote, and how well the trip went, when we had lighted his cigarette for him. It brought back a little of the conversation and the merriment which it had called out in better days. It is such a relief to be wounded. You have done your duty, and now you are to have a little rest. With a clear conscience, you can sink back into laziness, far away from noise and filth. Luck has come along and pulled the pack off your[Pg 112] back, and the responsibility from your sick mind. No weary city clerk ever went to his seashore holiday with more blitheness than some of our wounded showed as they came riding in from the Nieuport trenches at full length on the stretcher, and singing all the way. What is a splintered forehead or a damaged leg compared to the happiness of an honorable discharge? Nothing to do for a month but lie quietly, and watch the wholesome, clean-clad nurse. I am not forgetting the sadness of many men, nor the men hurt to death, who lay motionless and did not sing, and some of whom died while we were on the road to help. I am only trying to tell of the one man in every four who was glad of his enforced rest, and who didn't let a little thing like agony conquer his gaiety. Those men were the Joyous Wounded. I have seldom seen men more light hearted.

Word came to my wife one day that several hundred wounded were side-tracked at Furnes railway station. With two nurses she hurried to them, carrying hot soup. The women went through the train, feeding the soldiers, giving[Pg 113] them a drink of cold water, and bringing some of them hot water for washing. Then, being fed, they were ready for a smoke, and my wife began walking down the foul-smelling ambulance car with boxes of supplies, letting each man take out a cigarette and a match. The car was slung with double layers of stretcher bunks. Some men were freshly wounded, others were convalescent. A few lay in a stupor. She provided ten or a dozen soldiers with their pleasure, and they lighted up and were well under way. She had so many patients that day that she was not watching the individual man in her general distribution. She came half way down the car, and held out her store to a soldier without looking at him. He glanced up and grinned. The men in the bunks around him laughed heartily. Then she looked down at him. He was flapping the two stumps of his arms and was smiling. His hands had been blown off. She put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it for him. Only his hands were gone. Comradeship was left for him, and here was the lighted cigarette expressing that comradeship.[Pg 114]


The man was an old-time friend. In the days of our youth, we had often worked together. He was small and nervous, with a quick eye. He always wore me down after a few hours, because he was restless and untiring. He was named Romeyn Rossiter—one of those well-born names. We had met in times before the advent of the telescopic lens, and he used a box camera, tuned to a fiftieth of a second. Together we snapped polo ponies, coming at full tilt after the ball, riding each other off, while he would stand between the goal-posts, as they zigzagged down on him. I had to shove him out of the way, at the last tick, when the hoofs were loud. I often wondered if those ponies didn't look suddenly large and imminent on the little glass rectangle into which he was peering. That was the kind of person he was. He was glued to his work. He was a curious man, because that nerve of fear, which is well developed in most of us, was left out of his[Pg 115] make-up. No credit to him. It merely wasn't there. He was color-blind to danger. He had spent his life everywhere by bits, so he had the languages. I used to admire that in him, the way he could career along with a Frenchman, and exchange talk with a German waiter: high speed, and a kind of racy quality.

I used to write the text around his pictures, captions underneath them, and then words spilled out over the white paper between his six by tens. We published in the country life magazines. They gave generous big display pages. In those days people used to read what I wrote, because they wanted to find out about the pictures, and the pictures were fine. You must have seen Rossiter's work—caribou, beavers, Walter Travis coming through with a stroke, and Holcombe Ward giving a twist delivery. We had the field to ourselves for two or three years, before the other fellows caught the idea, and broke our partnership. I turned to literature, and he began drifting around the world for long shots. He'd be gone six months, and then turn up with big game night pictures out of Africa—a lion drinking un[Pg 116]der a tropical moon. Two more years, and I had lost him entirely. But I knew we should meet. He was one of those chaps that, once in your life, is like the motif in an opera, or like the high-class story, which starts with an insignificant loose brick on a coping and ends with that brick smiting the hero's head.

It was London where I ran into him at last.

"Happy days?" I said, with a rising inflection.

"So, so," he answered.

He was doing the free-lance game. He had drifted over to England with his $750 moving-picture machine to see what he could harvest with a quiet eye, and they had rung in the war on him. He wasn't going to be happy till he could get the boys in action. Would I go to Belgium with him? I would.

Next day, we took the Channel ferry from Dover to Ostend, went by train to Ghent, and trudged out on foot to the battle of Alost.

Those were the early days of the war when you could go anywhere, if you did it nicely. The Belgians are a friendly people. They can't bear to say No, and if they saw a hard-working man[Pg 117] come along with his eye on his job, they didn't like to turn him back, even if he was mussing up an infantry formation or exposing a trench. They'd rather share the risk, as long as it brought him in returns.

When we footed it out that morning, we didn't know we were in for one of the Famous Days of history. You never can tell in this war. Sometimes you'll trot out to the front, all keyed up, and then sit around among the "Set-Sanks" for a month playing pinochle, and watching the flies chase each other across the marmalade. And then a sultry dull day will suddenly show you things....

Out from the Grand Place of Alost radiate narrow little streets that run down to the canal, like spokes of a wheel. Each little street had its earthworks and group of defenders. Out over the canal stretched footbridges, and these were thickly sown with barbed wire.

"Great luck," said Rossiter. "They're making an old-time barricade. It's as good as the days of the Commune. Do you remember your street-fighting in Les Miserables?"[Pg 118]

"I surely do," I replied. "Breast high earthworks, and the 'citizens' crouched behind under the rattle of bullets."

"This is going to be good," he went on in high enthusiasm. The soldiers were rolling heavy barrels to the gutter, and knocking off the heads. The barrels were packed with fish, about six inches long, with scales that went blue and white in the fresh morning light. The fish slithered over the cobbles, and the soldiers stumbled on their slippery bodies. They set the barrels on end, side by side, and heaped the cracks between and the face with sods of earth, thick-packed clods, with grass growing. The grass was bright green, unwilted. A couple of peasant hand-carts were tilted on end, and the flooring sodded like the barrels.

"Look who's coming," pointed Rossiter, swiveling his lens sharply around.

Steaming gently into our narrow street from the Grand Place came a great Sava mitrailleuse—big steel turret, painted lead blue, three men sitting behind the swinging turret. One of the men, taller by a head than his fellows, had a white rag bound round his head, where a bullet had clipped[Pg 119] off a piece of his forehead the week before. His face was set and pale. Sitting on high, in the grim machine, with his bandage worn as a plume, he looked like the presiding spirit of the fracas.

"It's worth the trip," muttered Romeyn, grinding away on his crank.

There was something silent and efficient in the look of the big man and the big car, with its slim-waisted, bright brass gun shoving through.

"Here, have a cigarette," said Rossiter, as the powerful thing glided by.

He passed up a box to the three gunners.

"Bonne chance," said the big man, as he puffed out rings and fondled the trim bronze body of his Lady of Death. They let the car slide down the street to the left end of the barricade, where it came to rest.

Over the canal, out from the smoke-misted houses, came a peasant running. In his arms he carried a little girl. Her hair was light as flax, and crested with a knot of very bright red ribbon. Hair and gay ribbon caught the eye, as soon as they were borne out of the doomed houses.[Pg 120] The father carried the little one to the bridge at the foot of our street, and began crossing towards us. The barbed wire looked angry in the morning sun. He had to weave his way patiently, with the child held flat to his shoulder. Any hasty motion would have torn her face on the barbs. Shrapnel was sailing high overhead between the two forces, and there, thirty feet under the crossfire, this man and his child squirmed their way through the barrier. They won through, and were lifted over the barricade. As the father went stumbling past me, I looked into the face of the girl. Her eyes were tightly closed. She nestled contentedly.

"Did you get it, man? Did you get it?" I asked Rossiter.

"Too far," he replied, mournfully, "only a dot at that distance."

Now, all the parts had fitted into the pattern, the gay green grass growing out of the stacked barrels and carts, and the sullen, silent, waiting mitrailleuse which can spit death in a wide swathe as it revolves from side to side, like the full stroke of a scythe on nodding daisies. The bark of it is[Pg 121] as alarming as its bite—an incredibly rapid rat-tat that makes men fall on their faces when they hear, like worshipers at the bell of the Transubstantiation.

"She talks three hundred words to the minute," said Romeyn to me.

"How are you coming?" I asked.

"Great," he answered, "great stuff. Now, if only something happens."

He had planted his tripod fifty feet back of the barricade, plumb against a red-brick, three-story house, so that the lens raked the street and its defenses diagonally. Thirty minutes we waited, with shell fire far to the right of us, falling into the center of the town with a rumble, like a train of cars heard in the night, when one is half asleep. That was the sense of things to me, as I stood in the street, waiting for hell to blow off its lid. It was a dream world, and I was the dreamer, in the center of the strange unfolding sight, seeing it all out of a muffled consciousness.

Another quarter hour, and Rossiter began to fidget.

"Do you call this a battle?" he asked.[Pg 122]

"The liveliest thing in a month," replied the lieutenant.

"We've got to brisk it up," Rossiter said. "Now, I tell you what we'll do. Let's have a battle that looks something like. These real things haven't got speed enough for a five-cent house."

In a moment, all was action. Those amazing Belgians, as responsive as children in a game, fell to furiously to create confusion and swift event out of the trance of peace. The battered giant in the Sava released a cloud of steam from his car. The men aimed their rifles in swift staccato. The lieutenant dashed back and forth from curb to curb, plunging to the barricade, and then to the half dozen boys who were falling back, crouching on one knee, firing, and then retreating. He cheered them with pats on the shoulder, pointed out new unsuspected enemies. Then, man by man, the thirty perspiring fighters began to tumble. They fell forward on their faces, lay stricken on their backs, heaved against the walls of houses, wherever the deadly fire had caught them. The street was littered with Belgian bodies. There[Pg 123] stood Rossiter grinding away on his handle, snickering green-clad Belgians lying strewn on the cobbles, a half dozen of them tense and set behind the barricade, leveling rifles at the piles of fish. Every one was laughing, and all of them intent on working out a picture with thrills.

The enemy guns had been growing menacing, but Rossiter and the Belgians were very busy.

"The shells are dropping just back of us," I called to him.

"Good, good," he said, "but I haven't time for them just yet. They must wait. You can't crowd a film."

Ten minutes passed.

"It is immense," began he, wiping his face and lighting a smoke, and turning his handle. "Gentlemen, I thank you."

"Gentlemen, we thank you," I said.

"There's been nothing like it," he went on. "Those Liège pictures of Wilson's at the Hippodrome were tame."

He'd got it all in, and was wasting a few feet for good measure. Sometimes you need a fringe in order to bring out the big minute in your action.[Pg 124]



This is part of the motion-picture which we took while the Germans were bombarding the town.][Pg 126][Pg 125]

Suddenly, we heard the wailing overhead and louder than any of the other shells. Louder meant closer. It lasted a second of time, and then crashed into the second story of the red house, six feet over Rossiter's head. A shower of brown brick dust, and a puff of gray-black smoke settled down over the machine and man, and blotted him out of sight for a couple of seconds. Then we all coughed and spat, and the air cleared. The tripod had careened in the fierce rush of air, but Rossiter had caught it and was righting it. He went on turning. His face was streaked with black, and his clothes were brown with dust.

"Trying to get the smoke," he called, "but I'm afraid it won't register."

Maybe you want to know how that film took. We hustled it back to London, and it went with a whizz. One hundred and twenty-six picture houses produced "Street Fighting in Alost." The daily illustrated papers ran it front page. The only criticism of it that I heard was another movie man, who was sore—a chap named Wilson.

"That picture is faked," he asserted.

"I'll bet you," I retorted, "that picture was[Pg 127] taken under shell fire during the bombardment of Alost. That barricade is the straight goods. The fellow that took it was shot full of gas while he was taking it. What's your idea of the real thing?"

"That's all right," he said; "the ruins are good, and the smoke is there. But I've seen that reel three times, and every time the dead man in the gutter laughed."[Pg 128]


Here at home I am in a land where the wholesale martyrdom of Belgium is regarded as of doubtful authenticity. We who have witnessed widespread atrocities are subjected to a critical process as cold as if we were advancing a new program of social reform. I begin to wonder if anything took place in Flanders. Isn't the wreck of Termonde, where I thought I spent two days, perhaps a figment of the fancy? Was the bayoneted girl child of Alost a pleasant dream creation? My people are busy and indifferent, generous and neutral, but yonder several races are living at a deeper level. In a time when beliefs are held lightly, with tricky words tearing at old values, they have recovered the ancient faiths of the race. Their lot, with all its pain, is choicer than ours. They at least have felt greatly and thrown themselves into action. It is a stern fight that is on in Europe, and few of our coun[Pg 129]trymen realize it is our fight that the Allies are making.

Europe has made an old discovery. The Greek Anthology has it, and the ballads, but our busy little merchants and our clever talkers have never known it. The best discovery a man can make is that there is something inside him bigger than his fear, a belief in something more lasting than his individual life. When he discovers that, he knows he, too, is a man. It is as real for him as the experience of motherhood for a woman. He comes out of it with self-respect and gladness.

The Belgians were a soft people, pleasure-loving little chaps, social and cheery, fond of comfort and the café brightness. They lacked the intensity of blood of unmixed single strains. They were cosmopolitan, often with a command over three languages and snatches of several dialects. They were easy in their likes. They "made friends" lightly. They did not have the reserve of the English, the spiritual pride of the Germans. Some of them have German blood, some French, some Dutch. Part of the race is gay and volatile, many are heavy and inarticulate;[Pg 130] it is a mixed race of which any iron-clad generalization is false. But I have seen many thousands of them under crisis, seen them hungry, dying, men from every class and every region; and the mass impression is that they are affectionate, easy to blend with, open-handed, trusting.

This kindly, haphazard, unformed folk were suddenly lifted to a national self-sacrifice. By one act of defiance Albert made Belgium a nation. It had been a mixed race of many tongues, selling itself little by little, all unconsciously, to the German bondage. I saw the marks of this spiritual invasion on the inner life of the Belgians—marks of a destruction more thorough than the shelling of a city. The ruins of Termonde are only the outward and visible sign of what Germany has attempted on Belgium for more than a generation.

Perhaps it was better that people should perish by the villageful in honest physical death through the agony of the bayonet and the flame than that they should go on bartering away their nationality by piece-meal. Who knows but Albert saw in his silent heart that the only thing to weld his[Pg 131] people together, honeycombed as they were, was the shedding of blood? Perhaps nothing short of a supreme sacrifice, amounting to a martyrdom, could restore a people so tangled in German intrigue, so netted into an ever-encroaching system of commerce, carrying with it a habit of thought and a mouthful of guttural phrases. Let no one underestimate that power of language. If the idiom has passed into one, it has brought with it molds of thought, leanings of sympathy. Who that can even stumble through the "Marchons! Marchons!" of the "Marseillaise" but is a sharer for a moment in the rush of glory that every now and again has made France the light of the world? So, when the German phrase rings out, "Was wir haben bleibt Deutsch"—"What we are now holding by force of arms shall remain forever German"—there is an answering thrill in the heart of every Antwerp clerk who for years has been leaking Belgian government gossip into German ears in return for a piece of money. Secret sin was eating away Belgium's vitality—the sin of being bought by German money, bought in little ways, for small bits of service, amiable passages destroy[Pg 132]ing nationality. By one act of full sacrifice Albert has cleared his people from a poison that might have sapped them in a few more years without the firing of one gun.

That sacrifice to which they are called is an utter one, of which they have experienced only the prelude. I have seen this growing sadness of Belgium almost from the beginning. I have seen thirty thousand refugees, the inhabitants of Alost, come shuffling down the road past me. They came by families, the father with a bag of clothes and bread, the mother with a baby in arms, and one, two, or three children trotting along. Aged women were walking, Sisters of Charity, religious brothers. A cartful of stricken old women lay patiently at full length while the wagon bumped on. They were so nearly drowned by suffering that one more wave made little difference. All that was sad and helpless was dragged that morning into the daylight. All that had been decently cared for in quiet rooms was of a sudden tumbled out upon the pavement and jolted along in farm-wagons past sixteen miles of curious eyes. But even with the sick and the very old there was[Pg 133] no lamentation. In this procession of the dispossessed that passed us on the country road there was no one crying, no one angry.

I have seen 5000 of these refugees at night in the Halle des Fêtes of Ghent, huddled in the straw, their faces bleached white under the glare of the huge municipal lights. On the wall, I read the names of the children whose parents had been lost, and the names of the parents who reported a lost baby, a boy, a girl, and sometimes all the children lost.

A little later came the time when the people learned their last stronghold was tottering. I remember sitting at dinner in the home of Monsieur Caron, a citizen of Ghent. I had spent that day in Antwerp, and the soldiers had told me of the destruction of the outer rim of forts. So I began to say to the dinner guests that the city was doomed. As I spoke, I glanced at Madame Caron. Her eyes filled with tears. I turned to another Belgian lady, and had to look away. Not a sound came from them.



When the handful of British were sent to the rescue of Antwerp, we went up the road with[Pg 135][Pg 134] [Pg 136]them. There was joy on the Antwerp road that day. Little cottages fluttered flags at lintel and window. The sidewalks were thronged with peasants, who believed they were now to be saved. We rode in glory from Ghent to the outer works of Antwerp. Each village on all the line turned out its full population to cheer us ecstatically. A bitter month had passed, and now salvation had come. It is seldom in a lifetime one is present at a perfect piece of irony like that of those shouting Flemish peasants.

As Antwerp was falling, a letter was given to me by a friend. It was written by Aloysius Coen of the artillery, Fort St. Catherine Wavre, Antwerp. He died in the bombardment, thirty-four years old. He wrote:

Dear wife and children:

At the moment that I am writing you this the enemy is before us, and the moment has come for us to do our duty for our country. When you will have received this I shall have changed the temporary life for the eternal life. As I loved you all dearly, my last breath will be directed toward you and my darling children, and with a last smile as a farewell from my beloved family am I undertaking the eternal journey.[Pg 137]

I hope, whatever may be your later call, you will take good care of my dear children, and always keep them in mind of the straight road, always ask them to pray for their father, who in sadness, though doing his duty for his country, has had to leave them so young.

Say good-by for me to my dear brothers and sisters, from whom I also carry with me a great love.

Farewell, dear wife, children, and family.

Your always remaining husband, father, and brother.


Then Antwerp fell, and a people that had for the first time in memory found itself an indivisible and self-conscious state broke into sullen flight, and its merry, friendly army came heavy-footed down the road to another country. Grieved and embittered, they served under new leaders of another race. Those tired soldiers were like spirited children who had been playing an exciting game which they thought would be applauded. And suddenly the best turned out the worst.

Sing, Belgians, sing, though our wounds are bleeding.

writes the poet of Flanders; but the song is no earthly song. It is the voice of a lost cause that[Pg 138] cries out of the trampled dust as it prepares to make its flight beyond the place of betrayal.

For the Belgian soldiers no longer sang, or made merry in the evening. A young Brussels corporal in our party suddenly broke into sobbing when he heard the chorus of "Tipperary" float over the channel from a transport of untried British lads. The Belgians are a race of children whose feelings have been hurt. The pathos of the Belgian army is like the pathos of an orphan-asylum: it is unconscious.

They are very lonely, the loneliest men I have known. Back of the fighting Frenchman, you sense the gardens and fields of France, the strong, victorious national will. In a year, in two years, having made his peace with honor, he will return to a happiness richer than any that France has known in fifty years. And the Englishman carries with him to the stresses of the first line an unbroken calm which he has inherited from a thousand years of his island peace. His little moment of pain and death cannot trouble that consciousness of the eternal process in which his people have been permitted to play a continu[Pg 139]ing part. For him the present turmoil is only a ripple on the vast sea of his racial history. Behind the Tommy is his Devonshire village, still secure. His mother and his wife are waiting for him, unmolested, as when he left them. But the Belgian, schooled in horror, faces a fuller horror yet when the guns of his friends are put on his bell-towers and birthplace, held by the invaders.

"My father and mother are inside the enemy lines," said a Belgian officer to me as we were talking of the final victory. That is the ever-present thought of an army of boys whose parents are living in doomed houses back of German trenches. It is louder than the near guns, the noise of the guns to come that will tear at Bruges and level the Tower of St. Nicholas. That is what the future holds for the Belgian. He is only at the beginning of his loss. The victory of his cause is the death of his people. It is a sacrifice almost without a parallel.



In the summer of 1915 this costume was exchanged for khaki (see page 148). The present Belgian Army is largely made up of boys like this.

And now a famous newspaper correspondent has returned to us from his motor trips to the front and his conversations with officers to tell us that he does not highly regard the fighting qual[Pg 142][Pg 141][Pg 140]ities of the Belgians. I think that statement is not the full truth, and I do not think it will be the estimate of history on the resistance of the Belgians. If the resistance had been regarded by the Germans as half-hearted, I do not believe their reprisals on villages and towns and on the civilian population would have been so bitter. The burning and the murder that I saw them commit throughout the month of September, 1914, was the answer to a resistance unexpectedly firm and telling. At a skirmish in September, when fifteen hundred Belgians stood off three thousand Germans for several hours, I counted more dead Germans than dead Belgians. The German officer in whose hands we were as captives asked us with great particularity as to how many Belgians he had killed and wounded. While he was talking with us, his stretcher-bearers were moving up and down the road for his own casualties. At Alost the street fighting by Belgian troops behind fish-barrels, with sods of earth for barricade, was so stubborn that the Germans felt it to be necessary to mutilate civilian men, women, and children with the bayonet to express in terms at all[Pg 143] adequate their resentment. I am of course speaking of what I know. Around Termonde, three times in September, the fighting of Belgians was vigorous enough to induce the Germans on entering the town to burn more than eleven hundred homes, house by house. If the Germans throughout their army had not possessed a high opinion of Belgian bravery and power of retardation, I doubt if they would have released so widespread and unique a savagery.

At Termonde, Alost, Balière, and a dozen other points in the Ghent sector, and, later, at Dixmude, Ramscappelle, Pervyse, Caeskerke, and the rest of the line of the Yser, my sight of Belgians has been that of troops as gallant as any. The cowards have been occasional, the brave men many. I still have flashes of them as when I knew them. I saw a Belgian officer ride across a field within rifle range of the enemy to point out to us a market-cart in which lay three wounded. On his horse, he was a high figure, well silhouetted. Another day, I met a Belgian sergeant, with a tousled red head of hair, and with three medals for valor on his left breast. He kept[Pg 144] going out into the middle of the road during the times when Germans were reported approaching, keeping his men under cover. If there was risk to be taken, he wanted first chance. My friend Dr. van der Ghinst, of Cabour Hospital, captain in the Belgian army, remained three days in Dixmude under steady bombardment, caring unaided for his wounded in the Hospital of St. Jean, just at the Yser, and finally brought out thirty old men and women who had been frightened into helplessness by the flames and noise. Because he was needed in that direction, I saw him continue his walk past the point where fifty feet ahead of him a shell had just exploded. I watched him walk erect where even the renowned fighting men of an allied race were stooping and hiding, because he held his life as nothing when there were wounded to be rescued. I saw Lieutenant Robert de Broqueville, son of the prime minister of Belgium, go into Dixmude on the afternoon when the town was leveled by German guns. He remained there under one of the heaviest bombardments of the war for three hours, picking up the wounded who lay on curbs and in cellars and under debris.[Pg 145] The troops had been ordered to evacuate the town, and it was a lonely job that this youngster of twenty-seven years carried on through that day.

I have seen the Belgians every day for several months. I have seen several skirmishes and battles and many days of shell-fire, and the impression of watching many thousand Belgians in action is that of excellent fighting qualities, starred with bits of sheer daring as astonishing as that of the other races. With no country left to fight for, homes either in ruin or soon to be shelled, relatives under an alien rule, the home Government on a foreign soil, still this second army, the first having been killed, fights on in good spirit. Every morning of the summer I have passed boys between eighteen and twenty-five, clad in fresh khaki, as they go riding down the poplar lane from La Panne to the trenches, the first twenty with bright silver bugles, their cheeks puffed and red with the blowing. Twelve months of wounds and wastage, wet trenches and tinned food, and still they go out with hope.



Albert's son, the Crown Prince Leopold, has been a common soldier in this regiment.

And the helpers of the army have shown good heart. Breaking the silence of Rome, the splen[Pg 148][Pg 147][Pg 146]did priesthood of Belgium, from the cardinal to the humblest curé, has played the man. On the front line near Pervyse, where my wife lived for three months, a soldier-monk has remained through the daily shell-fire to take artillery observations and to comfort the fighting men. Just before leaving Flanders, I called on the sisters in the convent school of Furnes. They were still cheery and busy in their care of sick and wounded civilians. Every few days the Germans shell the town from seven miles away, but the sisters will continue there through the coming months as through the last year. The spirit of the best of the race is spoken in what King Albert said recently in an unpublished conversation to the gentlemen of the English mission:

"The English will cease fighting before the Belgians. If there is talk of yielding, it will come from the English, not from us."

That was a playful way of saying that there will be no yielding by any of the Western Allies. The truth is still as true as it was at Liège that the Belgians held up the enemy till France was ready to receive them. And the price Belgium[Pg 149] paid for that resistance was the massacre of women and children and the house-to-house burning of homes.

Since rendering that service for all time to France and England, through twenty months of such a life as exiles know, the Belgians have fought on doggedly, recovering from the misery of the Antwerp retreat, and showing a resilience of spirit equaled only by the Fusiliers Marins of France. One afternoon in late June my friend Robert Toms was sitting on the beach at La Panne, watching the soldiers swimming in the channel. Suddenly he called to me, and aimed his camera. There on the sand in the sunlight the Belgian army was changing its clothes. The faithful suits of blue, rained on and trench-worn, were being tossed into great heaps on the beach and brand-new yellow khaki, clothes and cap, was buckled on. It was a transformation. We had learned to know that army, and their uniform had grown familiar and pleasant to us. The dirt, ground in till it became part of the texture; the worn cloth, shapeless, but yet molded to the man by long association—all was an expression of the[Pg 150] stocky little soldier inside. The new khaki hung slack. Caps were overlarge for Flemish heads. To us, watching the change, it was the loss of the last possession that connected them with their past; with homes and country gone, now the very clothing that had covered them through famous fights was shuffled off. It was as if the Belgian army had been swallowed up in the sea at our feet, like Pharaoh's phalanx, and up from the beach to the barracks scuffled an imitation English corps.

We went about miserable for a few days. But not they. They spattered their limp, ill-fitting garments with jest, and soon they had produced a poem in praise of the change. These are the verses which a Belgian soldier, clad in his fresh yellow, sang to us as we grouped around him on a sand dune:



Depuis onze mois que nous sommes partis en guerre,
A tous les militaires,
[Pg 151]On a décidé de plaire.
Aussi depuis ce temps là, à l'intendance c'est dit,
De nous mettr' tous en khaki.
Maint'nant voilà l'beau temps qui vient d' paraître
Aussi répètons tous le cœur en fête.


Regardez nos p'tits soldats,
Ils ont l'air d'être un peu là,
D'la tête jusqu'aux pieds
En khaki, en khaki,
Ils sont contents de servir,
Mais non pas de mourir,
Et cela c'est parce qu' on leur a mis,
En quelque sorte, la t'nue khaki.


Maintenant sur toutes les grand's routes vous pouvez voir
Parcourant les trottoirs
Du matin jusqu'au soir
Les défenseurs Belges, portant tous la même tenue
Depuis que l'ancienne a disparue,
Aussi quand on voit I'9e défiler
C' n'est plus régiment des panachés.
Même Refrain.


Nous sommes tous heureux d'avoir le costume des Anglais
Seul'ment ce qu'il fallait,
[Pg 152]Pour que ça soit complet.
Et je suis certain si l'armée veut nous mettre à l'aise
C'est d'nous donner la solde Anglaise.
Le jour qu'nous aurions ça, ah! quell' affaire
Nous n' serions plus jamais dans la misère.


Vous les verriez nos p'tits soldats,
J'vous assure qu'ils seraient un peu là,
D'la tête jusqu'aux pieds,
En khaki, en khaki,
Ils seraient fiers de repartir,
Pour le front avec plaisir,
Si les quatre poches étaient bien games
De billets bleus couleur khaki.
[Pg 153]


Outside the window stretched the village street, flat, with bits of dust and dung rising on the breaths of wind and volleying into rooms upon the tablecloth and into pages of books. It was a street of small yellow brick houses, a shapeless church, a convent school—freckled buildings, dingy. Up and down the length of it, it was without one touch of beauty. It gave back dust in the eyes. It sounded with thunder of transports, rattle of wagons, soft whirr of officers' speed cars, yelp of motor horns, and the tap-tap of wooden shoes on tiny peasants, boys and girls. A little sick black dog slunk down the pavement, smelling and staring. A cart bumped over the cobbles, the horse with a great tumor in its stomach, the stomach as if blown out on the left side, and the tumor with a rag upon it where it touched the harness.

Inside the window, a square room with a[Pg 154] litter of six-penny novels in a corner, fifty or sixty books flung haphazard, some of them open with the leaves crushed back by the books above. In another corner, a heap of commissariat stuff, tins of bully beef, rabbit, sardines, herring, and glasses of jam, and marmalade. On the center table, a large jug of marmalade, ants busy in the yellow trickle at the rim. Filth had worked its way into the red table-cover. Filth was on every object in the room, like a soft mist, blurring the color and outlines of things. In the corners, under books and tins, insects moved, long, thin, crawling. A hot noon sun came dimly through the dirty glass of the closed window, and slowly baked a sleeping man in the large plush armchair. Around the chair, as if it were a promontory in a heaving sea, were billows of stale crumpled newspapers, some wadded into a ball, others torn across the page, all flung aside in ennui.

The face of the man was weary and weak. It showed all of his forty-one years, and revealed, too, a great emptiness. Flies kept rising and settling again on the hands, the face, and the head[Pg 155] of the man—moist flies whose feet felt damp on the skin. They were slow and languid flies which wanted to settle and stay. It was his breathing that made them restless, but not enough to clear them away, only enough to make a low buzzing in the sultry room. Across the top of his head a bald streak ran from the forehead, and it was here they returned to alight, after each twitching and heave of the sunken body.

In the early months he had fought a losing fight with them. The walls and ceiling and panes of glass were spotted with the marks of his long battle. But his foes had advanced in ever-fresh force, clouds and swarms of them beyond number. He had gone to meet them with a wire-killer, and tightly rolled newspapers. He had imported fly paper from Dunkirk. But they could afford to sacrifice the few hundreds, which his strokes could reach, and still overwhelm him. Lately, he had given up the struggle, and let them take possession of the room. They harassed him when he read, so he gave up reading. They got into the food, so he ate less. Between his two trips to the front daily at 8 A.M. and 2 P.M., he[Pg 156] slept. He found he could lose himself in sleep. Into that kingdom of sleep, they could not enter. As the weeks rolled on, he was able to let himself down more and more easily into silence. That became his life. A slothfulness, a languor, even when awake, a half-conscious forcing of himself through the routine work, a looking forward to the droning room, and then the settling deep into the old plush chair, and the blessed unconsciousness.

He drove a Red Cross ambulance to the French lines at Nieuport, collected the sick and wounded soldiers and brought them to the Poste de Secours, two miles back of the trenches. He lived a hundred feet from the Poste, always within call. But the emergency call rarely came. There were only the set runs, for the war had settled to its own regularity. A wonderful idleness hung over the lines, where millions of men were unemployed, waiting with strange patience for some unseen event. Only the year before, these men were chatting in cafés, and busy in a thousand ways. Now, the long hours of the day were lived without activity in thoughtless routine.[Pg 157] Under the routine there was always the sense of waiting for a sudden crash and horror.

The man was an English gentleman. It was his own car he had brought, paid for by him, and he had offered his car and services to the Fusiliers Marins. They had been glad of his help, and for twelve months he had performed his daily duty and returned to his loneliness. The men under whom he worked were the French doctors of the Poste—the chief doctor, Monsieur Claude-Marie Le Bot, with four stripes on his arm, and the courteous, grave administrator, Eustache-Emmanuel Couillandre, a three-stripes man, and a half dozen others, of three stripes and two. They had welcomed him to their group when he came to them from London. They had found him lively and likable, bringing gossip of the West End with a dash of Leicester Square. Then slowly a change had come on him. He went moody and silent.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Doctor Le Bot one day.

"Nothing's the matter with me," answered the man. "It's war that's the matter."[Pg 158]

"What do you mean by that?" put in one of the younger doctors.

"The trouble with war," began the man slowly, "isn't that there's danger and death. They are easy. The trouble with war is this. It's dull, damned deadly dull. It's the slowest thing in the world. It wears away at your mind, like water dripping on a rock. The old Indian torture of letting water fall on your skull, drop by drop, till you went raving crazy, is nothing to what war does to the mind of millions of men. They can't think of anything else but war, and they have no thoughts about that. They can't talk of another blessed thing, and the result is they have nothing to say at all."

As he talked a flush came into his face. He gathered speed, while he spoke, till his words came with a rush, as if he were relieving himself of inner pain.

"Have you ever heard the true inside account of an Arctic expedition?" he went on. "There's a handful of men locked up inside a little ship for thirteen or fourteen months. Nothing to look out on but snow and ice, one color and a horizon[Pg 159]ful of it. Nothing to dream of but arriving at a Pole—and that is a theoretical point in infinite space. There's no such thing. The midnight sun and the frozen stuff get on their nerves—same old sun in the same old place, same kind of weather. What happens? The natural thing, of course. They get so they hate each other like poison. They go around with a mad on. They carry hate against the commander and the cook and the fellow whose berth creaks every time he shifts. Each man thinks the shipload is the rottenest gang ever thrown together. He wonders why they didn't bring somebody decent along. He gets to scoring up grudges against the different people, and waits his chance to get back."

He stopped a minute, and looked around at the doctors, who were giving him close attention. Then he went on with the same intensity.

"Now that's war, only war is more so. Here you are in one place for sixteen months. You shovel yourself into a stinking hole in the ground. At seven in the morning, you boil yourself some muddy coffee that tastes like the River Thames at Battersea Bridge. You take a knife that's had[Pg 160] knicks hacked out of it, and cut a hunk of dry bread that chews like sand. You eat some 'bully beef out of a tin, same tinned stuff as you've been eating ever since your stomach went on strike a year ago. Once a week for a treat, you cut a steak off the flank of a dead horse. That tastes better, because it's fresh meat. When you're sent back a few miles, en 'piquet, you sleep in a village that looks like Sodom after the sulphur struck it. Houses singed and tumbled, dead bodies in the ruins, a broken-legged dog, trailing its hind foot, in front of the house where you are. Tobacco—surely. You'd die if you didn't have a smoke. But the rotten little cigarettes with no taste to them that smoke like chopped hay. And the cigars made out of rags and shredded toothpicks—"

"Here, have a cigarette," suggested the youngest doctor.

But the man was too busy in working out his own thoughts.

"The whole thing," he continued, "is a mixture of a morgue and a hospital—only those places have running water, and people in white[Pg 161] aprons to tidy things up. And a battle—Three days under bombardment, living in the cellar. The guns going off five, six times to the minute, and then waiting a couple of hours and dropping one in, next door. The crumpling noise when a little brick house caves in, like a man when you hit him in the stomach, just going all together in a heap. And the sick smell that comes out of the mess from plaster and brick dust.

"And getting wounded, that's jolly, isn't it? Rifle ball through your left biceps. Dick walks you back to the dressing station. Doctor busy at luncheon with a couple of visiting officers. Lie down in the straw. Straw has a pleasant smell when it's smeared with iodine and blood. Wait till the doctor has had his bottle of wine.

"'Nothing very much,' he says, when he gets around to you. Drops some juice in, ties the white rag around, and you go back to your straw. Three, four hours, and along come the body snatchers—the chauffeur chap doesn't know how to drive, bumps into every shell hole for seven miles. Every half mile, drive down into the ditch mud, to get out of the way of some ammunition wagons[Pg 162] going to the front. The wheel gets stuck. Put on power, in jumps, to bump the car out. Every jerk tears at your open sore, as if the wheel had got stuck in your arm and was being pulled out. Two hours to do the seven miles. Get to the field hospital. No time for you. Lie on your stretcher in the court, where the flies swarm on you. Always flies. Flies on the blood of the wounded, glued to the bandage. Flies on the face of the dead."

So he had once spoken and left them wondering. But that whirling burst of words was long before, in those earlier days of his work. Nothing like that had happened in weeks. No such vivid pictures lighted him now. The man slept on.

There was a scratching at the window, then a steady tapping, then a resounding fist on the casement. Gradually, the sleeping man came up through the deep waters of unconsciousness. His eyes were heavy. He sat a moment, brooding, then turned toward the insistent noise.

"Monsieur Watts!" said a voice.

"Yes," answered the man. He stretched him[Pg 163]self, and raised the sash. A brisk little French Marin was at the window.

"The doctors are at luncheon. They are waiting for you," the soldier said in rapid Breton French; "today you are their guest."

"Of course," replied the man, "I had forgotten. I will come at once."

He stretched his arms over his head—a tall figure of a man, but bent at the shoulders, as if all the dreariness of his surroundings had settled there. He had the stoop of an old man, and the walk. He stepped out of his room, into the street, and stood a moment in the midday sunshine, blinking. Then he walked down the village street to the Poste, and pushed through the dressing-rooms to the dining-room at the rear. The doctors looked up as he entered. He nodded, but gave no speech back for their courteous, their cordial greeting. In silence he ate the simple relishes of sardines and olives. Then the treat of the luncheon was brought in by the orderly. It was a duckling, taken from a refugee farm, and done to a brown crisp. The head doctor carved and served it.[Pg 164]

"See here," said Watts loudly. He lifted his wing of the duckling where a dead fly was cooked in with the gravy. He pushed his chair back. It grated shrilly on the stone floor. He rose.

"Flies," he said, and left the room.

Watts was the guest at the informal trench luncheon. The officers showed him little favors from time to time, for he had served their wounded faithfully for many months. It is the highest honor they can pay when they admit a civilian to the first line of trenches. Shelling from Westend was mild and inaccurate, going high overhead and falling with a mutter into the seven-times wrecked and thoroughly deserted houses of Nieuport village. But the sound of it gave a gentle tingle to the act of eating. There was occasional rifle fire, the bullet singing close.

"They're improving," said the Commandant, "a fellow reached over the trench this morning for his Billy-can, and they got him in the hand."

Two Marins cleared away the plank on which bread and coffee and tinned meat had been served.[Pg 165]

The hot August sun cooked the loose earth, and heightened the smells of food. A swarm of flies poured over the outer rim and dropped down on squatting men and the scattered commissariat. Watts was sitting at a little distance from the group. He closed his eyes, but soon began striking methodically at the settling flies. He fought them with the right arm and the left in long heavy strokes, patiently, without enthusiasm. The soldiers brought out a pack of cards, and leaned forward for the deal. Suddenly Watts rose, lifted his arms above the trench, and deliberately stretched. Three faint cracks sounded from across the hillock, and he tumbled out at full length, as if some one had flung him away. The men hastened to him, coming crouched over but swiftly.

"Got him in the right arm," said the Commandant.

"Thank God," muttered Watts, sleepily.

It was the Convent Hospital of Furnes. There was quiet in the ward of twenty-five beds,[Pg 166] where side by side slept the wounded of France and Germany and Belgium and England. Suddenly, a resounding whack rang through the ward. A German boy jumped up sitting in his cot. The sound had awakened memories. He looked over to the tall Englishman in the next cot, who had struck out at one of the heavy innumerable flies, who hover over wounded men, and pry down under bandages.

"Let me tell you," said the youth eagerly, "I have a preparation—I'm a chemist, you know—I've worked out a powder that kills flies."

Watts looked up from his pillow. His face was weary.

"It's sweet, you know, and attracts them," went on the boy, "then the least sniff of it finishes them. They trail away, and die in a few minutes. You can clear a room in half an hour. Then all you have to do is to sweep up."

"See here," he said, "I'll show you. Sister," he called. The nurse hurried to his side.

"Sister? You were kind enough to save my kit. May I have it a moment?"

He took out a tin flask, and squeezed it—a[Pg 167] brown powder puffed through the pin-point holes at the mouth. It settled in a dust on the white coverlet.

"Please be very quiet," he said. He settled back, as if for sleep, but his half-shut eyes were watchful. A couple of minutes passed, then a fly circled his head, and made for the spot on the spread. It nosed its way in, crawled heavily a few inches up the coverlet, and turned its legs up. Two more came, alighted, sniffed and died.

"You see," he said.

Next day, the head of the Coxyde Poste motored over to Furnes for a call on his wounded helper.

"Where does all that chatter come from?" he asked.

Sister Teresa smiled.

"It's your silent friend," she said. "He is the noisiest old thing in the ward."

"Talking to himself?" inquired the doctor.

"Have a look for yourself," urged the nurse. They stepped into the ward, and down the stone[Pg 168] floor, till they came to the supply table. Here they pretended to busy themselves with lint.

"Most interesting," Watts was saying. "That is a new idea to me. Here they've been telling me for a year that there's no way but the slow push, trench after trench—"

"Let me say to you," interrupted the Saxon lad.

"You will pardon me, if I finish what I am saying," went on Watts in full tidal flow. "What was it I was saying? Oh, yes, I remember—that slow hard push is not the only way, after all. You tell me—"

"That's the way it is all day long," explained the sister. "Chatter, chatter, chatter. They are telling each other all they know. You would think they would get fed up. But as fast as one of them says something, that seems to be a new idea to the other. Mr. Watts acts like a man who has been starved."

Watts caught sight of his friend.

"We've killed all the flies," he shouted.[Pg 169]


This war has been a revelation of womanhood. To see one of these cool, friendly creatures, American and English, shove her motor car into shell-fire, make her rescue of helpless crippled men, and steam back to safety, is to watch a resourceful and disciplined being. They may be, they are, "ministering angels," but there is nothing meek in their demeanor. They have stepped to a vantage from which nothing in man's contemptuous philosophy will ever dislodge them. They have always existed to astonish those who knew them best, and have turned life into a surprise party from Eden to the era of forcible feeding. But assuredly it would make the dogmatists on the essentially feminine nature, like Kipling, rub their eyes, to watch modern women at work under fire. They haven't the slightest fear of being killed. Give them a job under bombardment, and they unfold the stretcher, place the pillow and tuck in the blanket, without a quiver[Pg 170] of apprehension. That, too, when some of the men are scampering for cover, and ducking chance pellets from the woolly white cloud that breaks overhead. The women will eat their luncheon with relish within three hundred feet of a French battery in full blaze. Is there a test left to the pride of man that the modern woman does not take lightly and skilfully? Gone are the Victorian nerves and the eighteenth-century fainting. All the old false delicacies have been swamped. She has been held back like a hound from the hunting, till we really believed we had a harmless household pet, who loved security. We had forgotten the pioneer women who struck across frontiers with a hardihood that matched that of their mates. And now the modern woman emerges from her protected home, and pushes forward, careless and curious.

"What are women going to do about this war?" That question my wife and I asked each other at the outbreak of the present conflict. There were several attitudes that they might take. They could deplore war, because it destroyed their own best products. They could[Pg 171] form peace leagues and pass resolutions against war. They could return to their ancient job of humble service, and resume their familiar location in the background. They did all these things and did them fervently; but they did something else in this war—they stepped out into the foreground, where the air was thick with danger, and demonstrated their courage. The mother no longer says: "Return, my gallant one, with your shield or on it," and goes back to her baking. She packs her kit and jumps into a motor ambulance headed for the dressing station.

We have had an excellent chance to watch women in this war. Our corps have had access to every line from Nieuport on the sea, down for twenty miles. We were able to run out to skirmishes, to reach the wounded where they had fallen. We have gone where the fighting had been at such close range that in one barnyard in Ramscappelle lay thirteen dead—Germans, French and Belgians. We brought back three wounded Germans from the stable. We were in Dixmude on the afternoon when the Germans destroyed the town by artillery fire. We were in Ypres on No[Pg 172]vember first, the day after the most terrible battle in history, when fifty thousand English out of a hundred and twenty thousand fell. For three months my wife lived in Pervyse, with two British women. Not one house in the town itself is left untouched by shell-fire. The women lived in a cellar for the first weeks. Then they moved into a partially demolished house, and a little later a shell exploded in the kitchen. The women were at work in the next room. We have had opportunity for observing women in war, for we have seen several hundred of them—nurses, helpers, chauffeurs, writers—under varying degrees of strain and danger.

The women whom I met in Belgium were all alike. They refused to take "their place." They were not interested in their personal welfare. There have been individual men, a few of them—English, French and Belgian, soldiers, chauffeurs and civilians—who have turned tail when the danger was acute. But the women we have watched are strangely lacking in fear. I asked a famous war writer, whose breast was gay with the ribbons of half a dozen campaigns, what[Pg 173] was the matter with all these women, that they did not tremble and go green under fire, as some of us did. He said:

"They don't belong out here. They have no business to be under fire. They ought to be back at the hospitals down at Dunkirk. They don't appreciate danger. That's the trouble with them; they have no imagination."

That's an easy way out. But the real reasons lie deeper than a mental inferiority. These women certainly had quite as good an equipment in mentality as the drivers and stretcher bearers. They could not bear to let immense numbers of men lie in pain. They wished to bring their instinct for help to the place where it was needed.

The other reason is a product of their changed thinking under modern conditions. "I want to see the shells," said a discontented lady at Dunkirk. She was weary of the peace and safety of a town twenty miles back from the front. Women suddenly saw their time had come to strip man of one more of his monopolies. For some thousand years he had been bragging of his carriage and bearing in battle. He had told the[Pg 174] women folks at home how admirable he had been under strain, and he went on to claim special privileges as the reward for his gallant behavior. He posed as their protector. He assumed the right to tax them because they did not lend a hand when invasion came. Now women are campaigning in France and Belgium to show that man's much-advertised quality of courage is a race possession.

They had already shown it while peace was still in the land, but their demonstration met with disfavor. Just before the war broke out I saw a woman suffragist thrown into a pond of water at Denmark Hill. I saw another mauled and bruised by a crowd of men in Hyde Park. They were the same sort of women as these hundreds at the front, who are affirming a new value. The argument is hotly contended whether women belong in the war zone. Conservative Englishmen deem them a nuisance, and wish them back in London. Meanwhile, they come and stay. English officials tried to send home the three of our women who had been nursing within thirty yards of the trenches at Pervyse. But the King of the Belgians, and Baron de Broqueville, Prime[Pg 175] minister of Belgium, had been watching their work, and refused to move them.

One morning we came into the dining-room of our Convent Hospital at Furnes, and there on a stretcher on the floor was a girl sleeping profoundly. We thought at first we had one more of our innumerable wounded who overflowed the beds and wards during those crowded days. She rested through the morning and through the noon meal. The noise about did not disturb her. She did not stir in her heavy sleep, lying under the window, her face of olive skin, with a touch of red in the right cheek, turned away from the light. She awoke after twenty hours. Silently, she had come in the evening before, wearied to exhaustion after a week of nursing in the Belgian trenches.

That was the thing you were confronted with—woman after woman hurling herself at the war till spent. They wished to share with men the hardship and peril. If risks were right for the men, then they were right for women. If the time had come for nations to risk death, these women refused to claim the exemptions of sex[Pg 176] difference. If war was unavoidable, then it was equally proper for women to be present and carry on the work of salvage.

Of a desire to kill they have none. A certain type of man under excitement likes to shoot and reach his mark. I have had soldiers tell me with pride of the number of enemies they have potted. It sounds very much like an Indian score-card of scalps or a grouse hunter's bag of game. Our women did not talk in these terms, nor did they act so. They gave the same care to German wounded as to Belgian, French and English wounded, and that though they knew they would not receive mercy if the enemy came across the fields and stormed the trenches. A couple of machine guns placed on the trench at Pervyse could have raked the ruined village and killed our three nurses. They shared the terms of peril with the soldiers; but they had no desire for retaliation, no wish to wreak their will on human life. Their instinct is to help. The danger does not excite them to a nervous explosion where they grab for a gun and shoot the other fellow.[Pg 177]

I was with an English physician one day before he was seasoned. We were under the bank at Grembergen, just across the river from Termonde. The enemy were putting over shells about one hundred yards from where we were crawling toward a machine-shop sheltering wounded men. The obus were noisy and the dirt flew high. Scattered bits of metal struck the bank. As we heard the shell moaning for that second of time when it draws close, we would crawl into one of the trenches scooped out in the green bank, an earthen cave with a roof of boughs.

"Let's get out of this," said the doctor. "It's too hot for our kind of work. If I had a rifle and could shoot back I shouldn't mind it. But this waiting round and doing nothing in return till you are hit, I don't like it."

But that is the very power that women possess. They can wait round without wishing to strike back. Saving life gives them sufficient spiritual resource to stand up to artillery. They have no wish to relieve their nervousness by sighting an alien head and cracking it.

One of our corps was the daughter of an earl.[Pg 178] She had all the characteristics of what we like to think is the typical American girl. She had a bonhomie that swept class distinctions aside. Her talk was swift and direct. She was pretty and executive, swift to act and always on the go.

One day, as we were on the road to the dressing stations, the noise of guns broke out. The young Belgian soldier who was driving her stopped his motor and jumped out.

"I do not care to go farther," he said.

Lady ——, who is a skilful driver, climbed to the front seat, drove the car to the dressing station and brought back the wounded. I have seen her drive a touring car, carrying six wounded men, from Nieuport to Furnes at eight o'clock on a pitch-dark night, no lights allowed, over a narrow, muddy road on which the car skidded. She had to thread her way through silent marching troops, turn out for artillery wagons, follow after tired horses.

She was not a trained nurse, but when Dr. Hector Munro was working over a man with a broken leg she prepared a splint and held the leg while he set it and bound it. She drove a motor into[Pg 179] Nieuport when the troops were marching out of it. Her guest for the afternoon was a war correspondent.

"This is a retreat," he said. "It is never safe to enter a place when the troops are leaving it. I have had experience."

"We are going in to get the wounded," she replied. They went in.

At Ypres she dodged round the corner because she saw a captain who doesn't believe in women at the front. A shell fell in the place where she had been standing a moment before. It blew the arm from a soldier. Her nerve was unbroken, and she continued her work through the morning.

Her notion of courage is that people have a right to feel frightened, but that they have no right to fail to do the job even if they are frightened. They are entitled to their feelings, but they are not entitled to shirk the necessary work of war. She believes that cowardice is not like other failings of weakness, which are pretty much man's own business. Cowardice is dangerous to the group.[Pg 180]

Lady ——'s attitude at a bombardment was that of a child seeing a hailstorm—open-eyed wonder. She was the purest exhibit of careless fearlessness, carrying a buoyancy in danger. Generations of riding to hounds and of big game shooting had educated fear out of her stock. Her ancestors had always faced uncertainty as one of the ingredients of life: they accepted danger in accepting life. The savage accepted fear because he had to. With the English upper class, danger is a fine art, a cult. It is an element in the family honor. One cannot possibly shrink from the test. The English have expressed themselves in sport. People who are good sportsmen are, of course, honorable fighters. The Germans have allowed their craving for adventure to seethe inside themselves, and then have aimed it seriously at human life. But the English have taken off their excess vitality by outdoor contests.

What Lady —— is the rest of the women are. Miss Smith, an English girl nurse, jumped down from the ambulance that was retreating before the Germans, and walked back into Ghent, held by the Germans, to nurse an English officer[Pg 181] till he died. A few days later she escaped, by going in a peasant's cart full of market vegetables, and rejoined us at Furnes.

Sally Macnaughtan is a gray-haired gentlewoman of independent means who writes admirable fiction. She has laid aside her art and for months conducted a soup kitchen in the railway station at Furnes. She has fed thousands of weakened wounded men, working till midnight night after night. She remained until the town was thoroughly shelled.

The order is strict that no officer's wife must be near the front. The idea is that she will divert her husband's mind from the work in hand. He will worry about her safety. But Mrs. B——, a Belgian, joined our women in Pervyse, and did useful work, while her husband, a doctor with the rank of officer, continued his work along the front. She is a girl of twenty-one years.

Recently the Queen of the Belgians went into the trenches at a time when there was danger of artillery and rifle fire breaking loose from the enemy. She had to be besought to keep back where the air was quieter, as her life was of more[Pg 182] value to the Belgian troops and the nation than even a gallant death.

One afternoon most of the corps were out on the road searching for wounded. Mairi Chisholm, a Scotch girl eighteen years old, and a young American woman had been left behind in the Furnes Hospital. With them was a stretcher bearer, a man of twenty-eight. A few shells fell into Furnes. The civilian population began running in dismay. The girls climbed up into the tower of the convent to watch the work of the shells. The man ordered the women to leave the town with him and go to Poperinghe. The two girls refused to go.

For weeks Furnes was under artillery fire from beyond Nieuport. One of our hospital nurses was killed as she was walking in the Grand Place.

I saw an American girl covered by the pistol of an Uhlan officer. She did not change color, but regarded the incident as a lark. I happened to be watching her when she was sitting on the front seat of an ambulance at Oudecappelle, eating luncheon. A shell fell thirty yards from her in the road. The roar was loud. The dirt flew[Pg 183] high. The metal fragments tinkled on the house walls. The hole it dug was three feet deep. She laughed and continued with her luncheon.

I saw the same girl stand out in a field while this little drama took place: The French artillery in the field were well covered by shrubbery. They had been pounding away from their covert till the Germans grew irritated. A German Taube flew into sight, hovered high overhead and spied the hidden guns. It dropped three smoke bombs. These puffed out their little clouds into the air, and gave the far-away marksmen the location for firing. Their guns broke out and shrapnel shells came overhead, burst into trailing smoke and scattered their hundreds of bullets. The girl stood on the arena itself. Of concern for her personal safety she had none. It was all like a play on the stage to her. You watch the blow and flash but you are not a part of the action.

Each night the Furnes Hospital was full with one hundred wounded. In the morning we carried out one or two or one-half dozen dead. The wounds were severe, the air of the whole countryside was septic from the sour dead in the fields,[Pg 184] who kept working to the surface from their shallow burial. There was a morning when we had gone early to the front on a hurry call. In our absence two girl nurses carried out ten dead from the wards into the convent lot, to the edge of the hasty graves made ready for their coming.

There is one woman whom we have watched at work for twelve months. She is a trained nurse, a certified midwife, a licensed motor-car driver, a veterinarian and a woman of property. Her name is Mrs. Elsie Knocker, a widow with one son. She helped to organize our corps. I was with her one evening when a corporal ordered her to go up a difficult road. He was the driver of a high-power touring car which could rise on occasion to seventy miles an hour. He carried a rifle in his car, and told us he had killed over fifty Germans since Liège. He dressed in bottle green, the uniform of a cyclist, and he looked like a rollicking woodlander of the Robin Hood band. It was seven o'clock of the evening. The night was dark. He pitched a bag of bandages into the motor ambulance.

"Take those to the dressing station that lies two[Pg 185] miles to the west of Caeskerke," he ordered Mrs. Knocker. I cranked up the machine; Mrs. Knocker sat at the wheel. We were at Oudecappelle. The going was halfway decent as far as the crossroads of Caeskerke. Here we turned west on a road through the fields which had been intermittently shelled for several days. The road had shell holes in it from one to three feet deep. We could not see them because we carried no lights and the sky overhead was black. A mile to our right a village was burning. There were sheets of flame rising from the lowland, and the flame revealed the smoke that was thick over the ruins. We bumped in and out of the holes. All roads in Belgium were scummy with mud. It is like butter on bread. The big brown-canopied ambulance skidded in this paste.

We reached the dressing station and delivered one bag of bandages. In return we received three severely wounded men, who lay at length on the stretched canvas and swung on straps. Then we started back over the same mean road. This was the journey that tested Mrs. Knocker's[Pg 186] driving, because now she had helpless men who must not be jerked by the swaying car. Motion tore at their wounds. Above all, they must not be overturned. An overturn would kill a man who was seriously wounded. Driving meant drawing all her nervous forces into her directing brain and her two hands. A village on fire at night is an eerie sight. A dark road, pitted with shell holes and slimy with mud, is chancy. The car with its human freight, swaying, bumping, sliding, is heavy on the wrist. The whole focused drive of it falls on the muscles of the forearm. And when on the skill of that driver depends the lives of three men the situation is one that calls for nerve. It was only luck that the artillery from beyond the Yser did not begin tuning up. The Germans had shelled that road diligently for many days and some evenings. Back to the crossroads Mrs. Knocker brought her cargo, and on to Oudecappelle, and so to the hospital at Furnes, a full ten miles. Safely home in the convent yard, the journey done, the wounded men lifted into the ward, she broke down. She had[Pg 187] put over her job, and her nerves were tired. Womanlike she refused to give in till the work was successfully finished.

How would a man have handled such a strain? I will tell you how one man acted. Our corporal drove his touring car toward Dixmude one morning. He ordered Tom, the cockney driver, to follow with the motor ambulance. In it were Mrs. Knocker and Miss Chisholm, sitting with Tom on the front of the car. Things looked thick. The corporal slowed up, and so did Tom just behind him. Now there is one sure rule for rescue work at the front—when you hear the guns close, always turn your car toward home, away from the direction of the enemy. Turn it before you get your wounded, even though they are at the point of death, and leave your power on, even when you are going to stay for a quarter of an hour. Pointed toward safety, and under power, the car can carry you out of range of a sudden shelling or a bayonet charge. The enemy's guns began to place shrapnel over the road. The cloud puffs were hovering about a hundred feet overhead a little farther down the way. The bullets[Pg 188] [Pg 190][Pg 189]clicked on the roadbed. The corporal jumped out of his touring car.



Throughout this Yser district British nurses drove their ambulances and rescued the wounded.

"Turn my car," he shouted to Tom. Tom climbed from the ambulance, boarded the touring car and turned it. The corporal peered out from his shelter, behind the ambulance, saw the going was good and ran to his own motor. He jumped in and sped out of range at full tilt. The two women sat quietly in the ambulance, watching the shrapnel. Tom came to them, turned the car and brought them beyond the range of fire.

But the steadiest and most useful piece of work done by the women was that at Pervyse. Mrs. Knocker and two women helpers, one Scotch and one American, fitted up a miniature hospital in the cellar of a house in ruined Pervyse. They were within three minutes of the trenches. Here, as soon as the soldiers were wounded, they could be brought for immediate treatment. A young private had received a severe lip wound. Unskilful army medical handling had left it gangrened, and it had swollen. His face was on the way to being marred for life. Mrs. Knocker treated him every few hours for ten days—and[Pg 191] brought him back to normal. A man came in with his hand a pulp from splintered shell. The glove he had been wearing was driven into the red flesh. Mrs. Knocker worked over his hand for half an hour, picking out the shredded glove bit by bit.

Except for a short walk in the early morning and another after dark, these women lived immured in their dressing station, which they moved from the cellar to a half-wrecked house. They lived in the smell of straw, blood and antiseptic. The Germans have thrown shells into the wrecked village almost every day. Some days shelling has been vigorous. The churchyard is choked with dead. The fields are dotted with hummocks where men and horses lie buried. Just as I was sailing for America in March, 1915, the house where the women live and work was shelled. They came to La Panne, but later Mrs. Knocker and Miss Chisholm returned to Pervyse to go on with their work, which is famous throughout the Belgian army.

As regiment after regiment serves its turn in the trenches of Pervyse it passes under the hands[Pg 192] of these women. "The women of Pervyse" are known alike to generals, colonels and privates who held steady at Liège and who have struggled on ever since. For many months these nurses have endured the noise of shell fire and the smells of the dead and the stricken. The King of the Belgians has with his own hands pinned upon them the Order of Leopold II. The King himself wears the Order of Leopold I. They have eased and saved many hundreds of his men.

"No place for a woman," remarked a distinguished Englishman after a flying visit to their home.

"By the law of probabilities, your corps will be wiped out sooner or later," said a war correspondent.

Meantime the women will go on with their cool, expert work. The only way to stop them is to stop the war.[Pg 193]


(By Mrs. Arthur Gleason)

Life at the front is not organized like a business office, with sharply defined duties for each worker. War is raw and chaotic, and you take hold wherever you can lock your grip. We women that joined the Belgian army and spent a year at the front, did duty as ambulance riders, "dirty nurses," in a Red Cross rescue station at the Yser trenches, in relief work for refugees, and in the commissariat department. We tended wounded soldiers, sick soldiers, sick peasants, wounded peasants, mothers, babies, and colonies of refugees.

This war gave women one more chance to prove themselves. For the first time in history, a few of us were allowed through the lines to the front trenches. We needed a man's costume, steady masculine nerves, physical strength. But the work itself became the ancient work of woman[Pg 194]—nursing suffering, making a home for lonely, hungry, dirty men. This new thrust of womanhood carried her to the heart of war. But, once arriving there, she resumed her old job, and became the nurse and cook and mother to men. Woman has been rebelling against being put into her place by man. But the minute she wins her freedom in the new dramatic setting, she finds expression in the old ways as caretaker and home-maker. Her rebellion ceases as soon as she is allowed to share the danger. She is willing to make the fires, carry the water, and do the washing, because she believes the men are in the right, and her labor frees them for putting through their work.

It all began for me in Paris. I was studying music, and living in the American Art Students' Club, in the summer of 1914. That war was declared meant nothing to me. There was I in a comfortable room with a delightful garden, the Luxembourg, just over the way. That was the first flash of war. I went down to the Louvre to see the Venus, and found the building "Fermé." I went over to the Luxembourg Galleries[Pg 195]—"Fermé," again—and the Catacombs. Then it came into my consciousness that all Paris was closed to me. The treasures had been taken away from me. The things planned couldn't be done. War had snatched something from me personally.

Next, I took solace in the streets. I had to walk. Paris went mad with official speed—commandeered motors flashed officers down the boulevards under martial law. They must get a nation ready, and Paris was the capital. War made itself felt, still more, because we had to go through endless lines,—permis de sejours at little police stations—standing on line all day, dismissed without your paper, returning next morning. Friends began to leave Paris for New York. I was considered queer for wishing to stay on. The chance to study in Paris was the dream of a lifetime. But, now, the sound of the piano was forbidden in the city, and that made the desolation complete. Work and recreation had been taken away, and only war was left. And when Marie, our favorite maid in the club, sent her husband, our doorkeeper, to the front, that brought war inside our household.[Pg 196]

As the Germans drew near Paris, many of the club girls thought that they would be endangered. Every one was talking about the French Revolution. People expected the horrors of the Revolution to be repeated. Jaures had just been shot, the syndicalists were wrecking German milk shops, and at night the streets had noisy mobs. People were fearing revolution inside Paris, more than the enemy outside the city gates. War was going to let loose that terrible thing which we believed to be subliminal in the French nature.

Women had to be off the streets before nine o'clock. By day we went up the block to the Boulevard, and there were the troops—a band, the tricolor, the officers, the men in sky blue. Their sweethearts, their wives and children went marching hand in hand with them, all singing the "Marseillaise." In a time like that, where there is song, there is weeping. The marching, singing women were sometimes sobbing without knowing it, and we that were watching them in the street crowd were moved like them.

When I crossed to England, I found that I wanted to go back and have more of the wonder[Pg 197] of war, which I had tasted in Paris. The wonder was the sparkle of equipment. It was plain curiosity to see troops line up, to watch the military pageant. There I had been seeing great handsome horses, men in shining helmets with the horsehair tail of the casque flowing from crest to shoulder, the scarlet breeches, the glistening boots with spurs. It was pictures of childhood coming true. I had hardly ever seen a man in military uniform, and nothing so startling as those French cuirassiers. And I knew that gay vivid thing was not a passing street parade, but an array that was going into action. What would the action be? It is what makes me fond of moving pictures—variety, color, motion, and mystery. The story was just beginning. How would the plot come out?

Those pictures of troops and guns, grouping and dissolving, during all the twelve months in Flanders, never failed to grip. But rarely again did I see that display of fine feathers. For the fighting men with whom I lived became mud-covered. Theirs was a dug-in and blown-out existence, with the spatterings of storm and black nights on them.[Pg 198] Their clothing took on the soberer colors and weather-worn aspect of the life itself which was no sunny boulevard affair, but an enduring of wet trenches and slimy roads. Those people in Paris needed that high key to send them out, and the early brilliance lifted them to a level which was able to endure the monotony.

I went to the war because those whom I loved were in the war. I wished to go where they were.

Finally, there was real appeal in that a little unprotected lot of people were being trampled.

I crossed in late September to Ostend as a member of the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps. With us were two women, Elsie Knocker, an English trained nurse, and Mairi Chisholm Gooden-Chisholm, a Scotch girl. There were a round dozen of us, doctors, chauffeurs, stretcher bearers. Our idea of what was to be required of women at the front was vague. We thought that we ought to know how to ride horseback, so that we could catch the first loose horse that galloped by and climb on him. What we were to do with the wounded wasn't clear, even in our own minds. We bought funny little tents and[Pg 199] had tent practice in a vacant yard. The motor drive from Ostend to Ghent was through autumn sunshine and beauty of field flowers. It was like a dream, and the dream continued in Ghent, where we were tumbled into the Flandria Palace Hotel with a suite of rooms and bath, and two convalescing soldiers to care for us. We looked at ourselves and smiled and wondered if this was war. My first work was the commissariat for our corps.

Then came the English Naval Reserves and Marines en route to Antwerp. They had been herded into the cars for twelve hours. They were happy to have great hunks of hot meat, bread, and cigarettes. Just across the platform, a Belgian Red Cross train pulled in—nine hundred wounded men, bandaged heads with only the eyes showing, stumps of arms flapping a welcome. The Belgians had been shot to pieces, holding the line. And, now, here were the English come to save them.

This looked more like war to us. From the Palace windows we hung out over the balcony to see the Taubes. I knew that at last we were on[Pg 200] the fringes of war. Later, we were to be at the heart of it. It was at Melle that I learned I was on the front lines.

We went up the road from Ghent to Melle in blithe ignorance, we three women. The day before, the enemy had held the corner with a machine gun.

"Let's go on foot, and see where the Germans were," suggested "Scotch." We came to burned peasants' houses. Inside the wreckage, soldiers crouched with rifles ready at the peek-holes. A Reckitt's bluing factory was burning, and across the field were the Germans. The cottages without doors and windows were like toothless old women. Piles of used cartridges were strewed around. There stood a gray motor-car, a wounded German in the back seat, his hands riddled, the car shot through, with blood in the bottom from two dead Germans. I realized the power of the bullet, which had penetrated the driver, the padded seat, the sheet metal and splintered the wood of the tonneau. We saw a puff of white smoke over the field from a shrapnel. That was the first shell I had seen close. It meant nothing[Pg 201] to me. In those early days, the hum of a shell seemed no more than the chattering of sparrows. That was the way with all my impressions of war—first a flash, a spectacle; later a realization, and experience.

I went into Alost during a mild bombardment. The crashing of timbers was fascinating. It is in human nature to enjoy destruction. I used to love to jump on strawberry boxes in the woodshed and hear them crackle. And with the plunge of the shells, something echoed back to the delight of my childhood. I enjoyed the crash, for something barbaric stirred. There was no connection in my mind between the rumble and wounded men. The curiosity of ignorance wanted to see a large crash. Shell-fire to me was a noise.

I still had no idea of war. Of course I knew that there would be hideous things which I didn't have in home life. I knew I could stand up to dirty monotonous work, but I was afraid I should faint if I saw blood. When very young, I had seen a dog run over, and I had seen a boy playmate mutilate a turtle. I was sickened. Years later, I came on a little child crying, holding up its[Pg 202] hand. The wrist was bent back double, and the blood spurting till the little one was drenched. Those shocks had left a horror in me of seeing blood. But this thing that I feared most turned out not to have much importance. I found that the man who bled most heavily lay quiet. It was not the bloodshed that unnerved me. It was the writhing and moaning of men that communicated their pain to me. I seemed to see those whom I loved lying there. I transferred the wound to the ones I love. Sometimes soldiers gave me the address of wife and mother, to have me write that they were well. Then when the wounded came in, I thought of these wives and mothers. I knew how they felt, because I felt so. I knew, as the Belgian and French women know, that the war must be waged without wavering, and yet I always see war as hideous. There was no glory in those stricken men. I had no fear of dying, but I had a fear of being mangled.

One evening I walked into the Convent Hospital where the wounded lay so thickly that I had to step over the stretcher loads. The beds were full, the floor blocked, only one door open. There[Pg 203] was a smell of foul blood, medicines, the stench of trench clothes. It came on an empty stomach, at the end of a tired day.

"Sister, will you hold this lamp?" a nurse said to me.

I held it over a man with a yawning hole in his abdomen. He lay unmurmuring. When the doctor pressed, the muscles twitched. I asked some one to hold the lamp. I went into the courtyard, and fainted. Hard work would have saved me.

One other time, there had been a persistent fire all day. A boy of nineteen was brought in screaming. He wanted water and he wanted his mother. In our dressing station room were crowded two doctors, three women, two stretcher bearers, a chauffeur, and ten soldiers. They cut away his uniform and boots. His legs were jelly, with red mouths of wounds. His leg gave at the knee, like a piece of limp twine. I went into the next room, and recovered myself. Then I returned, and stayed with the wounded. The greatest comfort was a doctor, who said it was a matter of stomach, not of nerve. A sound woman[Pg 204] doesn't faint at the sight of blood any quicker than a man does. Those two experiences were the only times when the horror was too much for me. I saw terrible things and was able to see them. With the dead it seems different. They are at peace. It is motion in the wounded that transfers suffering to oneself. A red quiver is worse than a red calm.

Antwerp fell. The retreating Belgian army swarmed around us, passed us. In the excitement every one lost her kit and before two days of actual warfare were over we had completely forgotten those little tents that we had practised pitching so carefully, and that we had meant to sleep in at night. Little, dirty, unkempt, broken-hearted men came shuffling in the dust of the road by day, shambling along the road at night. Thousands of them passed. No sound, save the fall of footsteps. No contrast, save where a huddle of refugees passed, their children beside them, their household goods, or their old people, on their backs. We picked up the wounded. There was no time for the dead. In and out and among that army of ants, retreating to the edge[Pg 205] of Belgium and the sea, we went. There seemed nothing but to return to England.

The war minister of Belgium saw us. He placed his son, Lieutenant Robert de Broqueville, in military command of us. We had access to every line, all the way to the trench and battlefield. We became a part of the Belgian army. We made our headquarters at Furnes. Luckily, a physician's house had been deserted, with china and silver on the table, apples, jellies and wines in the cellar. We commandeered it.

Winter came. The soldiers needed a dressing station somewhere along the front from Nieuport to Dixmude. Mrs. Knocker established one thirty yards behind the front line of trenches at Pervyse. Miss Chisholm and I joined her. In its cellar we found a rough bedstead of two pieces of unplaned lumber, with clean straw for a mattress, awaiting us. Any Englishwoman is respected in the Belgian lines. The two soldiers who had been living in our room had given it up cheerily. They had searched the village for a clean sheet, and showed it to us with pride. They lumped the straw for our pillows, and stood out[Pg 208][Pg 207][Pg 206]side through the night, guarding our home with fixed bayonets. It was the most moving courtesy we had in the twelve months of war. The air in the little room was both foul and chilly. We took off our boots, and that was the extent of our undressing.



Disguised as a haystack, this shelter stands out in a field within easy shell fire of the enemy. A concealed battery, in which these boys are gunners, is near by. In their spare time they smoke, read, swim, carve rings out of shrapnel, play cards and forget the strain of war.

The dreariness of war never came on us till we went out there to live behind the trenches. To me it was getting up before dawn, and washing in ice-cold water, no time to comb the hair, always carrying a feeling of personal mussiness, with an adjustment to dirt. It is hard to sleep in one's clothes, week after week, to look at hands that have become permanently filthy. One morning our chauffeur woke up, feeling grumpy. He had slept with a visiting doctor. He said the doctor's revolver had poked him all night long in the back. The doctor had worn his entire equipment for warmth, like the rest of us. I suffered from cold wet feet. I hated it that there was never a moment I could be alone. The toothbrush was the one article of decency clung to. I seemed never to go into the back garden to clean my teeth without bringing on shell-fire. I got a sense of[Pg 209] there being a connection between brushing the teeth and the enemy's guns. You find in roughing it that a coating of dirt seems to keep out chill. We women suffered, but we knew that the boys in tennis shoes suffered more in that wet season, and the soldiers without socks, just the bare feet in boots.

In the late fall, we rooted around in the deserted barns for potatoes. Once, creeping into a farm, which was islanded by water, "Jane Pervyse," our homeless dog, led us up to the wrecked bedroom. A bonnet and best dress were in the cupboard. A soldier put on the bonnet and grimaced. Always after that, in passing the house, "Jane Pervyse" trembled and whined as if it had been her home till the destruction came.

In our house, we cleaned vegetables. There was nothing romantic about our work in these first days. It was mostly cooking, peeling hundreds of potatoes, slicing bushels of onions, cutting up chunks of meat, until our arms were aching. These bits were boiled together in great black pots. Our job, when it wasn't to cook the stew, was to take buckets of it to the trenches.[Pg 210] Here we ladled it out to each soldier. Always we went early, while mist still hung over the ground, for we could see the Germans on clear days. It was an adventure, tramping in the freezing cold of night to the outposts and in early morning to the trenches, back to the house to refill the buckets, back to the trenches. The mornings were bitterly cold. Very early in my career as a nurse, I rid myself of skirts. Boots, covered with rubber boots to the knees in wet weather, or bound with puttees in warm; breeches; a leather coat and as many jerseys as I could walk in—these were my clothes. But, as I slept in them, they didn't keep me very warm in the early morning.

We had one real luxury in the dressing station—a piano. While we cooked and scrubbed and pared potatoes, men from the lines played for us.

There were other things, necessities, that we lacked. Water, except for the stagnant green liquid that lay in the ditches where dead men and dead horses rotted, we went without—once for as long as three days. During that time we boiled the ditch water and made tea of it. Even then, it was a deep purplish black and tasted bitter.[Pg 211]

All we could do to help the wounded was to wash off mud and apply the simplest of first-aids, iodine and bandages. We burned bloody clothing and scoured mackintoshes and scrubbed floors. The odors were bad, a mixture of decaying matter and raw flesh and cooking food and disinfectant.

Pervyse was one more dear little Flemish village, with yawning holes in the houses, and through the holes you saw into the home, the precious intimate things which revealed how the household lived—the pump, muffled for winter, the furniture placed for occupancy, a home lately inhabited. In the burgomaster's house, there were two old mahogany frames with rare prints, his store of medicines, the excellent piano which cheered us, in his attic a skeleton. So you saw him in his home life as a quiet, scholarly man of taste and education. You entered another gaping house, with two or three bits of inherited mahogany—clearly, the heirlooms of an old family. Another house revealed bran new commonplace trinkets. Always the status of the family was plain to see—their mental life, their tastes, and ambitions. You would peek in through a broken[Pg 212] front and see a cupboard with crotched mahogany trimmings, one door splintered, the other perfect. You would catch a glimpse of a round center table with shapely legs, a sofa drawn up in front of a fireplace. When we went, Pervyse was still partly upstanding, but the steady shelling of the winter months slowly flattened it into a wreck. It is the sense of sight through which war makes its strongest impression on me.

The year falls into a series of pictures, evenings of song when a boy soldier would improvise verses to our head nurse; a fight between a Belgian corporal and an English nurse with seltzer bottles; the night when our soldiers were short of ammunition and we sat up till dawn awaiting the attack that might send us running for our lives; the black nights when some spy back of our lines flashed electric messages to the enemy and directed their fire on our ammunition wagons.

And deeper than those pictures is the consciousness of how adaptable is the human spirit. Human nature insists on creating something. Under hunger and danger, it develops a wealth of resource—in art and music, and carving, mak[Pg 213]ing finger-rings of shrapnel, playing songs of the Yser. Something artistic and playful comes to the rescue. Instead of war getting us as Andreieff's "Red Laugh" says it does, making regiments of men mad, we "got" war, and remained sane. If we hadn't conquered it by spells of laughing relief, we shouldn't have had nerve when the time came. Too much strain would break down the bravest Belgian and the gayest Fusilier Marin.

I came to feel I would rather get "pinked" in Pervyse than retire to Furnes, seven miles back of the trenches. Pervyse seemed home, because we belonged there with necessary work to do. Then, too, there was a certain regularity in the German gun-fire. If they started shelling from the Château de Vicoigne, they were likely to continue shelling from that point. So we lived that day in the front bedroom. If they shelled from Ramscappelle, the back kitchen became the better room, for we had a house in between. We were so near their guns, that we could plot the arc of flight. Pervyse seemed to visitors full of death, simply because it received a daily dose of shell-fire, like a little child sitting up and gulping its[Pg 214] medicine. With what unconcern in those days we went out by ambulance to some tight angle, and waited for something to happen.

"We're right by a battery." But the battery was interesting.

"If this is danger, all right. It's great to be in danger." I have sat all day writing letters by our artillery. Every time a gun went off my pencil slid. The shock was so sudden, my nerves never took it on. Yet I was able to sleep a few yards in front of a battery. It would pound through the night, and I never heard it. The nervous equipment of an American would ravel out, if it were not for sound sleep. If shells came no nearer than four hundred yards, we considered it a quiet day.

One day I learned the full meaning of fear. We had had several quiet safe hours. Night was coming on, and we were putting up the shutters, when a shell fell close by in the trench. Next, our floor was covered with dripping men, five of them unbandaged. Shells and wounds were connected in my mind by that close succession.[Pg 215]

No one was secure in that wrecked village of Pervyse. Along the streets, homeless dogs prowled, pigeons circled, hungry cats howled. Behind the trenches, the men had buried their dead and had left great mounds where they had tried to bury the horses. Shells dropped every day, some days all day. I have seen men running along the streets, flattening themselves against a house whenever they heard the whirr of a shell.

It is not easy to eat, and sleep, and live together in close quarters, sometimes with rush work, sometimes through severer hours of aimless waiting. Again and again, we became weary of one another, impatient over trifles.



These lookout posts for observing and directing gun fire carry a portable telephone, adapted to sudden changes of position.

What war does is to reveal human nature. It does not alter it. It heightens the brutality and the heroism. Selfishness shines out nakedly and kindliness is seen clearer than in routine peace days. War brings out what is inside the person. Sentimental pacifists sit around three thousand miles away and say, "War brutalizes men," and when I hear them I think of the English Tommies giving me their little stock of cigarettes for the[Pg 216] [Pg 218][Pg 217]Belgian soldiers. Then I read the militarists and they say, "Be hard. Live dangerously. War is beneficent," and I see the wrecked villages of Belgium, with the homeless peasants and the orphaned babies. War ennobles some men by sacrifice, by heroism. It debases other men by handing over the weak to them for torture and murder. What is in the man comes out under the supreme test, where there are no courts of appeal, no public opinion, no social restraint; only the soldier alone with helpless victims.

You can't share the chances of life and death with people, without feeling a something in common with them, that you do not have even with life-long friends. The high officer and the cockney Tommy have that linking up. There was one person whom I couldn't grow to like. But with him I have shared a ticklish time, and there is that cord of connection. Then, too, one is glad of a record of oneself. There is some one to verify what you say. You have passed through an unbelievable thing together, and you have a witness.

Henri, our Belgian orderly, has that feeling[Pg 219] for us, and we for him. It isn't respect, nor fondness, alone. Companionship meant for him new shirts, dry boots, more chocolate, a daily supply of cigarettes. It meant our seeing the picture of wife and child in Liège, hearing about his home. It was the sharing of danger, the facing together of the horror that underlies life, and which we try to forget in soft peace days. The friendships of war are based on a more fundamental thing than the friendships of safe living. In the supreme experience of motherhood, the woman goes down alone into the place of suffering, leaving the man, however dear, far away. But in this supreme experience of facing death to save life, you go together. The little Belgian soldier is at your side. Together you sit tight under fire, put the bandages on the wounded, and speed back to a safer place.

Once I went to the farthest outpost. A Belgian soldier stepped out of the darkness.

"Come along, miss, I've a good gun. I'll take you."

Walking up the road, not in the middle where machine guns could rake us, but huddled up by[Pg 220] the trees at the siding, we went. It will be a different thing to meet him one day in Antwerp, than it will be to greet again the desk-clerk of the La Salle Hotel in Chicago. It lies deeper than doing you favors, and assigning a sunny room.

The men are not impersonal units in an army machine. They become individuals to us, with sharply marked traits. It is impossible to see them as cases. Out of the individuals, we built our types—we constructed our Belgian soldier, out of the hundreds who had told us of their work and home.

"You must have met so many you never came to know their stories."

It was the opposite. Paul Collaer, who played beautifully; Gilson, the mystic; Henri of Liège; the son of Ysaye, they were all clear to us. There was a splendid fat doctor who felt physical fear, but never shirked his job. He used to go and hide behind the barn, with his pipe, till there was work for him. His wasn't the fear that spreads disaster through a crowd. He was fat and funny. A fat man is comfortable to have around, at any time, even when he is unhappy. No one[Pg 221] lost respect for this man. Every one enjoyed him thoroughly.

Commandant Gilson of the Belgian army was one of our firm friends. My introduction to him was when I heard a bit of a Liszt rhapsody floating into the kitchen from our piano, the fingers rapid and fluent, and long nails audible on the keys. I remember the first meal with him, a luncheon of fried sardines, fruit cake, bread and cheese. The doctor across the way had sent a bottle of champagne. After luncheon he received word of an attack. He kissed the hand of each of us, said good-by, and went out to clean his gun. We did not think we should see him again. He retook the outpost and had many more meals with us. He would rise from broken English into swift French—stories of the Congo, one night till 2 a.m. Always smoking a cigarette—his mustache sometimes singed from the fire of the diminishing butt. For orderly, he had a black fat Congo boy, in dark blue Belgian uniform, flat-nosed, with wrinkles down the forehead. He was Gilson's man, never looking at him in speaking, and using an open vowel dialect. Before[Pg 222] one of the attacks, a soldier came to Gilson with his wife's picture, watch, ring, and money, and his home address.

"I'm not going to come out," said the soldier.

It happened so.

The Commandant's pockets were heavy with these mementoes of the predestined—the letters of boys to their mothers. He had that tenderness and agreeable sentiment which seem to go with bravery. He filled his uniform with souvenirs of pleasant times, a china slipper—our dinner favor to him—a roadside weed, a paper napkin from a happy luncheon—a score or more little pieces of sentimental value. When he went into dangerous action, he never ordered any one to follow him. He called for volunteers, and was grieved that it was the lads of sixteen and seventeen years that were always the first to offer.

We had grown to care for these men. From the first, soldiers of France and Belgium had given us courtesy. In Paris, it was a soldier who stood in line for me, and got the paper. It was a soldier who shared his food and wine on the fourteen-hour trip from Paris to Dieppe—four[Pg 223] hours in peace days, fourteen hours in mobilization. It was a soldier who left the car and found out the change of train and the hour—always a soldier who did the helpful thing. It did not require war to create their quality of friendliness and unselfish courtesy.

How could Red Cross work be impersonal? No one would go over to be shot at on an impersonal errand of mercy. You risk yourself for individual men, for men in whose cause you believe. Surely, the loyal brave German women feel as we felt. Red Cross work is not only a service to suffering flesh. It is work to remake a soldier, who will make right prevail. The Red Cross worker is aiming her rifle at the enemy by every bandage she ties on wounded Belgians. She is rebuilding the army. She is as efficient and as deadly as the workman that makes the powder, the chauffeur that drives it to the trench in transports, and the gunner that shoots it into the hostile line. The mother does not extend her motherliness to the destroyer of her family. There is no hater like the mother when she faces that which violates her brood. The[Pg 224] same mother instinct makes you take care of your own, and fight for your own. We all of us would go for a Belgian first, and tend to a Belgian first. We would take one of our own by the roadside in preference, if there was room only for one. But if you brought in a German, wounded, he became an individual in need of help. There was a high pride in doing well by him. We would show them of what stuff the Allies were made. Clear of hate and bitterness, we had nothing but good will for the gallant little German boys, who smiled at us from their cots in Furnes hospital. And who could be anything but kindly for the patient German fathers of middle age, who lay in pain and showed pictures of "Frau" and the home country, where some of them would never return. Two or three times, the Queen of the Belgians stopped at our base hospital. She talked with the wounded Germans exactly as she talked to her own Belgians—the same modest courtesy and gift of personal caring.

I think the key to our experience was the mother instinct in the three women. What we tried to do was to make a home out of an emergency sta[Pg 225]tion at the heart of war. We took hold of a room knee-high with battered furniture and wet plaster, cleaned it, spread army blankets on springs, found a bowl and jug, and made a den for the chauffeur. In our own room, we arranged an old lamp, then a shade to soften the light. On a mantel, were puttees, cold cream and a couple of books; in the wall, nails for coats and scarfs. The soldiers, entering, said it was homelike. It was a rest after the dreariness of the trench. We brought glass from Furnes, and patched the windows. We dined, slept, lived, and tended wounded men in the one room. In another room, a shell had sprayed the ceiling, so we had to pull the plaster down to the bare lathing. We commandeered a stove from a ruined house. Night after night, we carried a sick man there and had a fire for him. We treated him for a bad throat, and put him to bed. A man dripping from the inundations, we dried out. For a soldier with bruised feet, we prepared a pail of hot water, and gave a thorough soaking.

In the early morning we took down the shutters, carried our own coal, built our own fires,[Pg 226] brought water from a ditch, scrubbed table tops and swept the floor, prepared tincture of iodine, the bandages, and cotton wool. We went up the road around 8.30, for the Germans had a habit of shelling at 9 o'clock. Sometimes they broke their rule, and began lopping them in at half-past eight. Then we had to wait till ten. We kept water hot for sterilizing instruments. We sat around, reading, thinking, chatting, letter-writing, waiting for something to happen. There would be long days of waiting. There were days when there was no shelling. Besides the wounded, we had visits from important personages—the Mayor of Paris, the Queen of the Belgians, officers from headquarters, Maxine Elliott. For a very special supper, we would jug a Belgian hare or cook curry and rice, and add beer, jam, and black army bread. An officer gave us an order for one hundred kilos of meat, and we could send daily for it. On Christmas Day, 1914, for eight of us, we had plum puddings, a bottle of port, a bottle of champagne, a tiny pheasant and a small chicken, and a box of candies. We had a steady stream of shells, and[Pg 227] a few wounded. It was a day of sunshine on a light fall of snow.

I learned in the Pervyse work that an up-to-date skirt is no good for a man's work. With rain five days out of seven, rubber boots, breeches, raincoat, two pairs of stockings, and three jerseys are the correct costume. We were criticized for going to Dunkirk in breeches. So I put on a skirt one time when I went there for supplies. I fell in alighting from the motor-car, collecting a bigger crowd by sprawling than any of us had collected by our uniform. Later, again in a skirt, I jumped on a military motor-car, and couldn't climb the side. I had to pull my skirt up, and climb over as a man climbs. If women are doing the work of a man, they must have the dress of a man.

That way of dressing and of living released me from the sense of possession, once and for all. When I first went to Belgium with a pair of fleece-lined gloves, I was sure, if I ever lost that pair, that they were irreplaceable. I lost them. I lost article after article, and was freed from the clinging. I lost a pin for the bodice. I left[Pg 228] my laundry with a washerwoman. Her village was bombarded, and we had to move on. I lost my kit. A woman has a tie-in with those material things, and the new life brought freedom from that.

I put on a skirt to return to London for a rest. I found there people dressed modishly, and it looked uncomfortable. Styles had been changing: women were in funny shoes and hats. I went wondering that they could dress like that.

And then an overpowering desire for pretty things came on me—for a piece of old lace, a pink ribbon. After sleeping by night in the clothes worn through the day, wearing the same two shirts for four months, no pajamas, no sheets, with spots of grease and blood on all the costume, I had a longing for frivolous things, such as a pink tea gown. Old slippers and a bath and shampoo seemed good. I had a wholesome delight in a modest clean blouse and in buying a new frock.

I returned to Pervyse. The Germans changed their range: an evening, a morning and an afternoon—three separate bombardments with heavy shells. The wounded were brought in. Nearly[Pg 229] every one died. We piled them together, anywhere that they wouldn't be tripped over. To the back kitchen we carried the bodies of two boys. One of the orderlies knew them. He went in with us to remove the trinkets from their necks. Every now and then, he went back again, to look at them. They were very beautiful, young, healthy, lying there together in the back kitchen. It was a quiet half hour for us, after luncheon. The doctors and nurses were reading or smoking. I was writing a letter.

A shell drove itself through the back kitchen wall and exploded over the dead boys, bringing rafters and splintered glass and bricks down on them. My pencil slid diagonally across the sheet, and I got up. Our two orderlies and three soldiers rushed in, holding their eyes from the blue fumes of the explosion. When one shell comes, the chances are that it will be followed by three more, aimed at the same place. It had always been my philosophy that it is better to be "pinked" in the house than on the road, but not on this particular day. An army ambulance was standing opposite our door, with its nose turned[Pg 230] [Pg 232][Pg 231]toward the trenches. The Belgian driver rushed for the door, slammed it shut because of the shells, opened it again. He ran to the car, cranked it, turned it around. We stood in the doorway and waited, watching the shells dropping with a wail, tearing up the road here, then there. After that we moved back to La Panne.




Belgium suffering, but united, is the idea he brings out in his work.

There I stayed on with Miss Georgie Fyfe, who is doing such excellent work among the Belgian refugees. She is chief of the evacuation of civilians who still remain in the bombarded villages and farms. She brings the old and the sick and the children out of shell fire and finds them safe homes. To the Refugee House she takes the little ones to be cared for till there are fifty. Then she sends them to Switzerland, where brothers and sisters are kept unseparated in family groups until the war is over. The Queen busies herself with these children. For the newest generation of Belgians Miss Fyfe has established a Maternity Hospital. Nearly one hundred babies have come to live there.

It was my work to keep track of clothes and supplies. On a flying trip to Paris, I told the[Pg 233] American Relief Committee the story of this work, and Geoffrey Dodge sent thirty complete layettes, bran-new, four big cases, four gunny-sack bags, full of clothing for men, women, and children, special brands of milk for young mothers in our maternity hospital. Later, he sent four more sacks and four great wooden cases.

We used to tramp through many fields, over a single plank bridging the ditches, to reach the lonely shelled farm, and persuade the stubborn, unimaginative Flemish parents to give up their children for a safe home. One mother had a yoke around her neck, and two heavy pails.

"When can I send my child?" she asked.

She had already sent two and had received happy letters from them. Other mothers are suspicious of us, and flatly refuse, keeping their children in the danger zone till death comes. During a shelling, the curé would telephone for our ambulance. He would collect the little ones and sick old people. Miss Fyfe could persuade them to come more easily when the shells were falling. At the moment of parting, everybody cries. The children are dressed. The one best thing they[Pg 234] own is put on—a pair of shoes from the attic, stiff new shoes, worked on the little feet unused to shoes. Out of a family of ten children we would win perhaps three. Back across the fields they trooped to our car, clean faces, matted dirty hair, their wee bundle tied up in a colored handkerchief, no hats, under the loose dark shirt a tiny Catholic charm. We lifted the little people into the big yellow ambulance—big brother and sister, sitting at the end to pin them in. We carried crackers and chocolate. They are soon happy with the sweets, chattering, enjoying their first motor-car ride, and eager for the new life.[Pg 235]


The boy soldier is willing to make any day his last if it is a good day. It is not so with the middle-aged man. He is puzzled by the war. What he has to struggle with more than bodily weakness is the malady of thought. Is the bloody business worth while?

I SAW him first, my middle-aged man, one afternoon on the boards of an improvised stage in the sand-dunes of Belgium. On that last thin strip of the shattered kingdom English and French and Belgians were grimly massed. He was a Frenchman, and he was cheering up his comrades. With shining black hair and volatile face, he played many parts that day. He recited sprightly verses of Parisian life. He carried on amazing twenty-minute dialogues with himself, mimicking the voice of girl and woman, bully and dandy. His audience had come in stale from the everlasting spading and marching. They brightened visibly under his gaiety. If he cared to make that effort in the saddened place, they[Pg 236] were ready to respond. When he dismissed them, the last flash of him was of a smiling, rollicking improvisator, bowing himself over to the applause till his black hair was level with our eyes.

And then next day as I sat in my ambulance, waiting orders, he trudged by in his blue, "the color of heaven" once, but musty now from nights under the rain. His head of hair, which the glossy black wig had covered, was gray-white. The sparkling, pantomimic face had dropped into wrinkles. He was patient and old and tired. Perhaps he, too, would have been glad of some one to cheer him up. He was just one more territorial—trench-digger and sentry and filler-in. He became for me the type of all those faithful, plodding soldiers whose first strength is spent. In him was gathered up all that fatigue and sadness of men for whom no glamour remains.

They went past me every day, hundreds of them, padding down the Nieuport road, their feet tired from service and their boots road-worn—crowds of men beyond numbering, as far as one could see into the dry, volleying dust and beyond the dust; men coming toward me, a nation of[Pg 237] them. They came at a long, uneven jog, a cluttered walk. Every figure was sprinkled and encircled by dust—dust on their gray temples, and on their wet, streaming faces, dust coming up in puffs from their shuffling feet, too tired to lift clear of the heavy roadbed. There was a hot, pitiless sun, and every man of them was shrouded in the long, heavy winter coat, as soggy as a horse blanket, and with thick leather gaiters, loose, flapping, swathing their legs as if with bandages. On the man's back was a pack, with the huge swell of the blanket rising up beyond the neck and generating heat-waves; a loaf of tough black bread fastened upon the knapsack or tied inside a faded red handkerchief; and a dingy, scarred tin Billy-can. At his shapeless, rolling waist his belt hung heavy with a bayonet in its casing. On the shoulder rested a dirt-caked spade, with a clanking of metal where the bayonet and the Billy-can struck the handle of the spade. Under a peaked cap showed the bearded face and the white of strained eyes gleaming through dust and sweat. The man was too tired to smile and talk. The weight of the pack, the weight of the clothes, the dust, the[Pg 238] smiting sun—all weighted down the man, leaving every line in his body sagging and drooping with weariness.

These are the men that spade the trenches, drive the food-transports and ammunition-wagons, and carry through the detail duties of small honor that the army may prosper. When has it happened before that the older generation holds up the hands of the young? At the western front they stand fast that the youth may go forward. They fill in the shell-holes to make a straight path for less-tired feet. They drive up food to give good heart to boys.

War is easy for the young. The boy soldier is willing to make any day his last if it is a good day. It is not so with the middle-aged man. He is puzzled by the war. What he has to struggle with more than bodily weakness is the malady of thought. Is the bloody business worth while? Is there any far-off divine event which his death will hasten? The wines of France are good wines, and his home in fertile Normandy was pleasant.

As we stood in the street in the sun one hot[Pg 239] afternoon, four men came carrying a wounded man. The stretcher was growing red under its burden. The man's face was greenish white, with a stubble of beard. The flesh of his body was as white as snow from loss of blood. It was torn at the chest and sides. They carried him to the dressing-station, and half an hour later lifted him into our car. We carried him in for two miles. Four flies fed on the red rim of his closed left eye. He lay silent, motionless. Only a slight flutter of the coverlet, made by his breathing, gave a sign of life. At the Red Cross post we stopped. The coverlet still slightly rose and fell. The doctor, brown-bearded, in white linen, stepped into the car, tapped the man's wrist, tested his pulse, put a hand over his heart. Then the doctor muttered, drew the coverlet over the greenish-white face, and ordered the marines to remove him. In the moment of arrival the wounded man had died.

In the courtyard next our post two men were carrying in long strips of wood. This wood was for coffins, and one of them would be his.

A funeral passes our car, one every day, some[Pg 240]times two: a wooden cross in front, carried by a soldier; the white-robed chaplain chanting; the box of light wood, on a frame of black; the coffin draped in the tricolor, a squad of twenty soldiers following the dead. That is the funeral of the middle-aged man. There is no time wasted on him in the brisk business of war; but his comrades bury him. One in particular faithful at funerals I had learned to know—M. Le Doze. War itself is so little the respecter of persons that this man had found himself of value in paying the last small honor to the obscure dead as they were carried from his Red Cross post to the burial-ground. One hopes that he will receive no hasty trench burial when his own time comes.

I cannot write of the middle-aged man of the Belgians because he has been killed. That first mixed army, which in thin line opposed its body to an immense machine, was crushed by weight and momentum. Little is left but a memory. But I shall not forget the veteran officer of the first army, near Lokeren, who kept his men under cover while he ran out into the middle of the road to see if the Uhlans were coming. The only Bel[Pg 241]gian army today is an army of boys. Recently we had a letter from André Simont, of the "Obusiers Lourdes, Beiges," and he wrote:

If you promise me you will come back for next summer, I won't get pinked. If I ever do, it doesn't matter. I have had twenty years of very happy life.

If he were forty-five, he would say, as a French officer at Coxyde said to me:

"Four months, and I haven't heard from my wife and children. We had a pleasant home. I was well to do. I miss the good wines of my cellar. This beer is sour. We have done our best, we French, our utmost, and it isn't quite enough. We have made a supreme effort, but it hasn't cleared the enemy from our country. La guerre—c'est triste."

He, too, fights on, but that overflow of vitality does not visit him, as it comes to the youngsters of the first line. It is easy for the boys of Brittany to die, those sailors with a rifle, the stanch Fusiliers Marins, who, outnumbered, held fast at Melle and Dixmude, and for twelve months made Nieuport, the extreme end of the western battle-[Pg 242]line, a great rock. It is easy, because there is a glory in the eyes of boys. But the older man lives with second thoughts, with a subdued philosophy, a love of security. He is married, with a child or two; his garden is warm in the afternoon sun. He turns wistfully to the young, who are so sure, to cheer him. With him it is bloodshed, the moaning of shell-fire, and harsh command.

One afternoon at Coxyde, in the camp of the middle-aged—the territorials—an open-air entertainment was given. Massed up the side of a sand-dune, row on row, were the bearded men, two thousand of them. There were flashes of youth, of course—marines in dark blue, with jaunty round hat with fluffy red centerpiece; Zouaves with dusky Algerian skin, yellow-sorrel jacket, and baggy harem trousers; Belgians in fresh khaki uniform; and Red Cross British Quakers. But the mass of the men were middle-aged—territorials, with the light-blue long-coat, good for all weathers and the sharp night, and the peaked cap. Over the top of the dune where the soldiers sat an observation balloon was suspended in a cloudless blue sky, like a huge yellow caterpillar.[Pg 243] Beyond the pasteboard stage, high on a western dune, two sentries stood with their bayonets touched by sunlight. To the south rose a monument to the territorial dead. To the north an aëroplane flashed along the line, full speed, while gun after gun threw shrapnel at it.

As I looked on the people, suddenly I thought of the Sermon on the Mount, with the multitude spread about, tier on tier, hungry for more than bread. It was a scene of summer beauty, with the glory of the sky thrown in, and every now and then the music of the heart. Half the songs of the afternoon were gay, and half were sad with long enduring, and the memory of the dear ones distant and of the many dead. Not in lightness or ignorance were these men making war. When I saw the multitude and how they hungered, I wished that Bernhardt could come to them in the dunes and express in power what is only hinted at by humble voices. I thought how everywhere we wait for some supreme one to gather up the hope of the nations and the anguish of the individual, and make a music that will send us forward to the Rhine.[Pg 244]

But a better thing than that took place. One of their own came and shaped their suffering into song. And together, he and they, they made a song that is close to the great experience of war. A Belgian, one of the boy soldiers, came forward to sing to the bearded men. And the song that he sang was "La valse des obus"—"The Dance of the Shells."

"Dear friends, I'm going to sing you some rhymes on the war at the Yser."

The men to whom he was singing had been holding the Yser for ten months.

"I want you to know that life in the trenches, night by night, isn't gay."

Two thousand men, unshaved and tousled, with pain in their joints from those trench nights, were listening.

"As soon as you get there, you must set to work. It doesn't matter whether it's a black night or a full moon; without making a sound, close to the enemy, you must fill the sand-bags for the fortifications."

Every man on the hill had been doing just that thing for a year.[Pg 245]

Then came his chorus:

"Every time we are in the trenches, Crack! There breaks the shell."

But his French has a verve that no literal translation will give. Let us take it as he sang it:

"Crack! Il tombe des obus," sang the slight young Belgian, leaning out toward the two thousand men of many colors, many nations; and soon the sky in the north was spotted with white clouds of shrapnel-smoke.

"There we are, all of us, crouching with bent back—Crack! Once more an obus. The shrapnel, which try to stop us at our job, drive us out; but the things that bore us still more—Crack!—are just those obus."

With each "Crack! Il tombe des obus," the big bass-drum boomed like the shell he sang of. His voice was as tense and metallic as a taut string, and he snapped out the lilting line in swift staccato as if he were flaying his audience with a whip. Man after man on the hillside took up the irresistible rhythm in an undertone, and "Cracked" with the singer. In front of me was being created a folk-song. The bitterness and[Pg 246] glory of their life were being told to them, and they were hearing the singer gladly. Their leader was lifting the dreary trench night and death itself into a surmounting and joyous thing.

"When you've made your entrenchment, then you must go and guard it without preliminaries. All right; go ahead. But just as you're moving, you have to squat down for a day and a night—yes, for a full twenty-four hours—because things are hot. Somebody gives you half a drop of coffee. Thirst torments you. The powder-fumes choke you."

Here and there in the crowd, listening intently, men were stirring. The lad was speaking to the exact intimate detail of their experience. This was the life they knew. What would he make of it?

"Despite our sufferings, we cherish the hope some day of returning and finding our parents, our wives, and our little ones. Yes, that is my hope, my joyous hope. But to come to that day, so like a dream, we must be of good cheer. It is only by enduring patience, full of confidence, that we shall force back our oppressors. To chase[Pg 247] away those cursed Prussians—Crack! We need the obus. My captain calling, 'Crack! More, still more of those obus!' Giving them the bayonet in the bowels, we shall chase them clean beyond the Rhine. And our victory will be won to the waltz of the obus."

It was a song out of the heart of an unconquerable boy. It climbed the hillock to the top. The response was the answer of men moved. His song told them why they fought on. There is a Belgium, not under an alien rule, which the shells have not shattered, and that dear kingdom is still uninvaded. The mother would rather lose her husband and her son than lose the France that made them. Their earthly presence is less precious than the spirit that passed into them out of France. That is why these weary men continue their fight. The issue will rest in something more than a matter of mathematics. It is the last stand of the human spirit.

What is this idea of country, so passionately held, that the women walk to the city gates with son and husband and send them out to die? It is the aspect of nature shared in by folk of one[Pg 248] blood, an arrangement of hill and pasture which grew dear from early years, sounds and echoes of sound that come from remembered places. It is the look of a land that is your land, the light that flickers in an English lane, the bells that used to ring in Bruges.



Chers amis, je vais
Vous chanter des couplets,
Sur la guerre,
A l'Yser.
Pour vous faire savoir,
Que la vie, tous les soirs,
Aux tranchées,
N'est pas gaie.
A peine arrivé,
'l Faut aller travailler.
Qu'il fasse noir' ou qu'il y ait clair de lune,
Et sans fair' du bruit,
Nous allons près de l'ennemi,
Remplir des sacs pour fair' des abris.

Ir et IIe Refrain

Chaqu' fois que nous sommes aux tranchées,
[Pg 249]Crack! Il tombe des obus.

Nous sommes tous là, le dos courbée
Crack! Encore un obus.
Les shrapnels pour nous divetir,
Au travail, nous font déguerpir.
Mais, et qui nous ennuie le plus,
Crack! se sont les obus.


L'abri terminé,
'l Faut aller l'occuper,
Sans façons.
Pas moyen d' se bouger
Donc, on doit y rester
Jour et nuit,
Pendant la chaleur,
Pour passer vingt-quatr' heures.
On nous donn' une d'mi gourde de café.
La soif nous tourmente,
Et la poudre asphyxiante,
Nous étouffe au dessus du marché.


Malgré nos souffrances,
Nous gardons l'espérance
D' voir le jour,
De notr' retour
[Pg 250]De r'trouver nos parents,
Nos femmes et nos enfants.
Plein de joie,
Oui ma foi,
Mais pour arriver,
A ce jour tant rêvé,
Nous devons tous y mettre du cœur,
C'est avec patience,
Et plein de confiance,
Que nous repouss'rons les oppresseurs.


Pour chasser ces maudits All'mands
Crack! Il faut des obus.
En plein dedans mon commandant,
Crack! Encore des obus.
Et la baionnett' dans les reins,
Nous les chass'rons au delà du Rhin.
La victoire des Alliés s'ra dûe
A la valse des obus.
[Pg 252][Pg 251]

There is little value in telling of suffering unless something can be done about it. So I close this book with an appeal for help in a worthy work.[Pg 254][Pg 253]


There was a young peasant farmer who went out with his fellows, and stopped the most powerful and perfectly equipped army of history. He saved France, and the cause of gentleness and liberty. He did it by the French blood in him—in gay courage and endurance. He was happy in doing it, or, if not happy, yet glorious. But he paid the price. The enemy artillery sent a splinter of shell that mangled his arm. He lay out through the long night on the rich infected soil. Then the stretcher bearers found him and lifted him to the car, and carried him to the field hospital. There they had to operate swiftly, for infection was spreading. So he was no longer a whole man, but he was still of good spirit, for he had done his bit for France. Then they bore him to a base hospital, where he had white sheets and a wholesome nurse. He lay there weak and content. Every one was good to him. But there came a day when they told[Pg 255] him he must leave to make room for the fresher cases of need. So he was turned loose into a world that had no further use for him. A cripple, he couldn't fight and he couldn't work, for his job needed two arms, and he had given one, up yonder on the Marne. He drifted from shop to shop in Paris. But he didn't know a trade. Life was through with him, so one day, he shot himself.

That, we learn from authoritative sources, is the story of more than one broken soldier of Joffre's army.

To be shot clean dead is an easier fate than to be turned loose into life, a cripple, who must beg his way about. Shall these men who have defended France be left to rot? All they ask is to be allowed to work. It is gallant and stirring to fight, and when wounded the soldier is tenderly cared for. But when he comes out, broken, he faces the bitterest thing in war. After the hospital—what? Too bad, he's hurt—but there is no room in the trades for any but a trained man.

Why not train him? Why not teach him a[Pg 256] trade? Build a bridge that will lead him from the hospital over into normal life. That is better than throwing him out among the derelicts. Pauperism is an ill reward for the service that shattered him, and it is poor business for a world that needs workers. If these crippled ones are not permitted to reconstruct their working life, the French nation will be dragged down by the multitude of maimed unemployable men, who are being turned loose from the hospitals—unfit to fight, untrained to work: a new and ever-increasing Army of The Miserable. The stout backbone and stanch spirit of even France will be snapped by this dead-weight of suffering.

In our field hospital at Fumes, we had one ward where a wave of gaiety swept the twenty beds each morning. It came when the leg of the bearded man was dressed by the nurse. He thrust it out from under the covering: a raw stump, off above the ankle. It was an old wound, gone sallow with the skin lapped over. The men in the cots close by shouted with laughter at the look of it, and the man himself laughed till he brought pain to the wound. Then he[Pg 257] would lay hold of the sides of the bed to control his merriment. The dressing proceeded, with brisk comment from the wardful of men, and swift answers from the patient under treatment. The grim wound had so obviously made an end of the activity of that particular member and, as is war's way, had done it so evilly, with such absence of beauty, that only the human spirit could cover that hurt. So he and his comrades had made it the object of gaiety.

For legless men, there are a dozen trades open, if they are trained. They can be made into tailors, typists, mechanicians. The soldiers' schools, already established, report success in shoemaking, for instance. The director sends us this word:—

"From the first we had foreseen for this the greatest success—the results have surpassed our hopes. We are obliged to double the size of the building, and increase the number of professors.


"Because, more than any other profession, that of shoemaking is the most feasible in the country, in the village, in the small hamlet. This is the one desire of most of these wounded soldiers:[Pg 258] before everything, they wish to be able to return to their homes. And all the more if a wife and children wait them there, in a little house with a patch of garden. Out of our fifty men now learning shoemaking, twenty-nine were once sturdy farm laborers. The profession is not fatiguing and, in spite of our fears, not one of our leg-amputated men has given up his apprenticeship on account of fatigue or physical inability."

Very many of the soldiers are maimed in hand or arm. On the broad beach of La Panne, in front of the Ocean Hospital of Dr. Depage, a young soldier talked with my wife one afternoon. Early in the war his right arm had been shot through the bicep muscle. He had been sent to London, where a specialist with infinite care linked the nerves together. Daily the wounded boy willed strength into the broken member, till at last he found he could move the little finger. It was his hope to bring action back to the entire hand, finger by finger.

"You can't do anything—you can't even write," they said to him. So he met that, by schooling his left hand to write.[Pg 259]

"Your fighting days are over," they said. He went to a shooting gallery, and with his left arm learned how to hold a rifle and aim it. Through the four months of his convalescence he practised to be worthy of the front line. The military authorities could not put up an objection that he did not meet. So he won his way back to the Yser trenches. And there he had received his second hurt and this time the enemy wounded him thoroughly. And now he was sitting on the sands wondering what the future held for him.

Spirit like that does not deserve to be broken by despair. Apparatus has been devised to supply the missing section of the arm, and such a trade as toy-making offers a livelihood. It is carried on with a sense of fun even in the absence of all previous education. One-armed men are largely employed in it. Let us enter the training shop at Lyon, and watch the work. The wood is being shot out from the sawing-machine in thin strips and planed on both sides. This is being done by a man, who used to earn his living as a packer, and suffered an amputation of his right leg. The boards are assembled in thick[Pg 260]nesses of twenty, and cut out by a "ribbon saw." This is the occupation of a former tile layer, with his left leg gone. Others employed in the process are one-armed men.

Of carpentry the report from the men is this: "This work seems to generate good humor and liveliness. For this profession two arms are almost necessary. It can be practised by a man whose leg has been amputated, preferably the right leg, for the resting point, in handling the plane, is on the left leg. However, we cannot forget that one-armed men have achieved wonderful results."

The profits of the work are divided in full among the pupils as soon as they have reached the period of production. Each section has its individual fund box. The older members divide among themselves two thirds of the gain. The more recently trained take the remainder. The new apprentices have nothing, because they make no finished product as yet. That was the rule of the shop. But certain sections petitioned that the profits should be equally divided among all, without distinction. They said that among the new[Pg 261]comers there were many as needy as the older apprentices.

The director says:

"This request came from too noble a sentiment not to be granted, especially as in this way we are certain that our pupils will see to the discipline of the workshops, being the first concerned that no one shall shirk."

He adds:

"I wish to cite an incident. One of the pupils of the group of shoemakers, having been obliged to remain over a month in the hospital, had his share fall to nothing. His comrades got together and raised among themselves a sum equal to their earnings, so that his enforced absence would not cause him to suffer any loss. These are features one is happy to note, because they reveal qualities of heart in our pupils, much to be appreciated in those who have suffered, and because they show that our efforts have contributed to keep around them an atmosphere where these qualities can develop."

The war has been ingenious in devising cruel hurts, robbing the painter of his hand, the musician of his arm, the horseman of his leg. It has taken the peasant from his farm, and the mason from his building. Their suffering has enriched them with the very quality that will make them useful citizens, if they can be set to work, if only some one will show them what to do. For each of these men there is an answer for his wrecked life, and the answer is found in these workshops where disabled soldiers can learn the new trade fitted to their crippled condition.

It costs only four to five francs a day to support the man during his period of education. The length of time of his tuition depends on the man and his trade—sometimes three months, sometimes six months. One hundred dollars will meet the average of all cases. The Americans in Paris raised $20,000 immediately on learning of this need. In our country we are starting the "American Committee for Training in Suitable Trades the Maimed Soldiers of France." Mrs. Edmund Lincoln Baylies is chairman for the United States. Her address is Room B, Plaza Hotel, New York.

We have been owing France through a hun[Pg 262]dred years for that little matter of first aid in our American Revolution. Here is an admirable chance to show we are still warmed by the love and succor she rendered us then.

At this moment 30,000 maimed soldiers are asking for work; 30,000 jobs are ready for them. The employers of France are holding the positions open, because they need these workers. Only the training is lacking. This society to train maimed soldiers is not in competition with any existing form of relief work: it supplements all the others—ambulances and hospitals and dressing stations. They are temporary, bridging the month of calamity. This gives back to the men the ten, twenty, thirty years of life still remaining. They must not remain the victims of their own heroism. They ask only to be permitted to go on with their work for France. They will serve in the shop and the factory as they have served at the Aisne and the Yser. This is a charity to do away with the need of charity. It is help that leads directly to self-help.



[A] When I first published these statements the following letter appeared in the "New York Tribune":—


To the Editor of "The Tribune."

Sir: I was particularly interested in the article by Mr. Gleason in this morning's "Tribune" because, having spent several months in this region in ambulance work, I am able to support several of his statements from personal observation.

The house he mentions on the beach near Coxyde Bains was beyond doubt intended for the purpose he describes. I visited it several times before it was completely destroyed, and have now in my possession photographs which show the nature of the building, besides a tile from the flooring.

Two instances in which spies were detected came to my knowledge; in one case the person in question was the mayor of the town, in the other a peasant woman. One other time I know of information was given undetected which resulted in the shelling of a road at a time when a convoy of motors was about to pass.

The high esteem in which the Red Cross flag is held by German gunners (as a target) is only too forcibly impressed upon one in that service.

Malcolm T. Robertson.

Mr. Robertson is a member of the Junior Class in Princeton University.

[B] When this record was first made public the "New York Tribune" stated editorially:—

"The writer of the foregoing communication was for several years a member of 'The Tribune' staff. For the utter trustworthiness of any statement made by Mr. Gleason, this newspaper is willing to vouch. Mr. Gleason was at the front caring for the Belgian wounded. He speaks with full knowledge and complete authority and 'The Tribune' is glad to be able to submit to its readers a first-hand, eye-witness account of atrocities written by an American. It calls attention again to the fact, cited by Mr. Gleason, that his testimony is included in the Bryce Report, which should give Americans new insight into the value of this document."

When Theodore Roosevelt read this record of German atrocity, he made the following public statement:

"Remember, there is not the slightest room for honest question either as to the dreadful, the unspeakably hideous, outrages committed on the Belgians, or as to the fact that these outrages were methodically committed by the express command of the German Government in order to terrorize both the Belgians and among neutrals those men who are as cold and timid and selfish as our governmental leaders have shown themselves to be. Let any man who doubts read the statement of an American eye-witness of these fearful atrocities, Mr. Arthur H. Gleason, in the 'New York Tribune' of November 25, 1915."

From the Bryce Report, English edition, Page 167.

British subject:—

"The girl was at the point of death. Mr. G—— was with me and can corroborate me as to this and also as to the other facts mentioned below. On the same day at the same place I saw one L. de M——. I took this statement from him.... He signed his statement in my pocket book, and I hold my pocket book at the disposal of the Belgian and English authorities.

"I also saw at the hospital an old woman of eighty who was run clean through by a bayonet thrust.

"I next went up to another wounded Belgian in the same ward. His name was F. M——. I wrote his statement in my pocket book and he signed it after having read it."

The full statement in the Bryce Report of the atrocities which I witnessed covers a page. The above sentences are extracts. Mr. Niemira had neglected to make a note of the exact date in his pocket book, and calls it "about the 15th of September." It was September 29.

[C] If any one wants a history of them, and the world ought to want it, the book of their acts, is it not written in singing prose in Le Goffic's "Dixmude, un Chapitre de l'histoire des Fusiliers Marins"? Le Goffic is a Breton and his own son is with the fighting sailors. He deals with their autumn exploits in Dixmude on the Yser, that butt-end of wreck. Legends will spring out of them and the soil they have reddened. We have heard little of the French in this war—and almost nothing at all from them. And yet it is the French that have held the decisive battle line. Unprepared and peace-loving, they have stood the shock of a perfectly equipped and war-loving army.

Monsieur Le Goffic is the official historian of the Fusiliers Marins. His book has gone through forty-nine editions. He is a poet, novelist and critic. That American sympathy is appreciated is proved by this sentence from a letter of Le Goffic to an American who had expressed admiration for the Breton sailors:—"Merci, Monsieur, au nom de mon pays, merci pour nos marins, et merci pour moi meme."

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