E-text prepared by Al Haines
SOLDIER SILHOUETTES ON OUR FRONT
WILLIAM L. STIDGER
Y. M. C. A. Worker with the A. E. F.
Illustrated by Jessie Gillespie
[Frontispiece: "Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"]
New York Charles Scribner's Sons 1918 Copyright, 1918, by Charles Scribner's Sons Published October, 1918
DOCTOR ROBERT FREEMAN
PIONEER RELIGIOUS WORK DIRECTOR OF THE Y. M. C. A.
AND THE HUNDREDS OF PREACHER-SECRETARIES WHO ARE SERVING SO BRAVELY AND EFFICIENTLY ON THE CRUSADE OF SERVICE IN FRANCE AND TO THE CHURCHES THAT SENT THEM
Some human experiences that one has in France stand out like the silhouettes of mountain peaks against a crimson sunset. I have tried in this book to set down some of those experiences. I have had but one object in so doing, and that object has been to give the father and mother, the brother and sister, the wife and child and friend of the boys "Over There" an accurate heart-picture. I have not attempted the too great task of showing the soul of the soldier, although I have tried to picture him at some of his great moments when he forgets himself and rises to glorious heights, just as he might do at home if the opportunity called.
I have tried to show his experiences on the transports, when he lands in France, his welcome there, the reactions of the trench life; something of his self-sacrifice, his willingness to serve even unto the end; his courage, his sunshine. I have also given some other pictures of France that aim to show his heart-relations to his allies and to the folks at home.
If I have done this, sufficient shall be my reward.
I. SILHOUETTES OF SONG II. SHIP SILHOUETTES III. SILHOUETTES OF SACRIFICE IV. SILHOUETTES SPIRITUAL V. SILHOUETTES OF SACRILEGE VI. SILHOUETTES OF SILENCE VII. SILHOUETTES OF SERVICE VIII. SILHOUETTES OF SORROW IX. SILHOUETTES OF SUFFERING X. SOLDIER SILHOUETTES XI. SKY SILHOUETTES XII. THE LIGHTS OF WAR XIII. SILHOUETTES OF SUNSHINE
"Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?" . . . . . . Frontispiece
"What are those dots on the sun?" Doctor Freeman shouted to me
The upturned roots of an old tree were just in front
"The last seen of Dale he was gathering together a crowd of little children"
"The boys call her 'The Woman with Sandwiches and Sympathy'"
What was the difference? He had gotten a letter
One night I had the privilege of seeing a plane caught by the search-light
The air-raid had not dampened her sense of humor
SILHOUETTES OF SONG
The great transport was cutting its sturdy way through three dangers: the submarine zone, a terrific storm beating from the west against its prow, and a night as dark as Erebus because of the storm, with no lights showing.
I had the midnight-to-four-o'clock-in-the-morning "watch" and on this night I was on the "aft fire-control." Below me on the aft gun-deck, as the rain pounded, the wind howled, and the ship lurched to and fro, I could see the bulky forms of the boy gunners. There were two to each gun, two standing by, with telephone pieces to their ears, and six sleeping on the deck, ready for any emergency. The greatcoats made them look like gaunt men of the sea as they huddled against their guns, watching, waiting. I wondered what they could see in that impenetrable darkness, if a U-boat could even survive in that storm; but Uncle Sam never sleeps in these days, and this transport was especially worth watching, for it carried a precious cargo of wounded officers and men back to the homeland, west bound.
For an hour I had heard no sound from the boys on the gun-deck below me. When I was on watch in the daylight I knew them to be just a great crowd of fine, buoyant, happy American lads, full of pranks and play and laughter, but they were strangely silent to-night as the ship ploughed through the storm. The storm seemed to have made men of them. They were just boys, but American boys in these days become men overnight, and acquit themselves like men.
I watched their silent forms below me with a great feeling of wonderment and pride. The ship lurched as it swung in its zigzag course. Then suddenly I heard a sweet sound coming from one of the boys below me. I think that it was big, raw-boned "Montana" who started it. It was low at first and, with the storm and the vibrations of the ship, I could not catch the words. The music was strangely familiar to me. Then the boy on the port gun beside "Montana" took the old hymn up, and then the two reserve gunners who were standing by, and then the gunners on the starboard side, and I caught the old words of:
"Jesus, Saviour, pilot me Over life's tempestuous sea; Unknown waves before me roll Hiding rock and treacherous shoal; Chart and compass came from Thee; Jesus, Saviour, pilot me."
Above the creaking and the vibrations of the great ship, above the beating of the storm, the gunners on the deck below, all unconsciously, in that storm-tossed night were singing the old hymn of their memories, and I think that I never heard that wonderful hymn when it sounded sweeter to me than it did then, as the second verse came sweetly from the lips and hearts of those gunners:
"As a mother stills her child Thou canst hush the ocean wild; Boistrous waves obey Thy will When Thou sayst to them, 'Be still.' Wondrous Sovereign of the sea, Jesus, Saviour, pilot me."
We hear a good deal of how our boys sing "Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here" and "Where Do We Go From Here, Boys?" as a ship is sinking. I know American soldiers pretty well. I do not know what they sang when the Tuscania went down, but I am glad to add my picture to the other and to say that I for one heard a crowd of American gunners singing "Jesus, Saviour, Pilot Me Over Life's Tempestuous Sea." The mothers and fathers of America must know that the average American boy will have the lighter songs at the end of his lips, but buried down deep in his heart there is a feeling of reverence for the old hymns, and whether he sings them aloud or not they are there singing in his heart; and sometimes, under circumstances such as I have described, he sings them aloud in the darkness and the storm.
If you do not believe this because you have been told so often by magazine correspondents, who see only the surface things, that all the boys sing is ragtime, let Bishop McConnell, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, tell you of that Sunday evening when, at the invitation of General Byng, he addressed, under the auspices of the Y. M. C. A., a great regiment of the Scottish Guards. That night, in a shell-destroyed stone theatre, he spoke to them on "How Men Die." In a week from that night more than two-thirds of them had been killed. When Bishop McConnell asked them what they would like to sing, this great crowd of sturdy, bare-kneed soldiers of democracy, who had borne the brunt of battle for three years, asked for "O God, Our Help in Ages Past."
Yes, I know that the boys sing the rag-time, but this must not be the only side of the picture. They sing the old hymns, too, and memories of nights "down the line," when I have heard them in small groups and in great crowds singing the old, old hymns of the church, have burned their silhouettes into my memory never to die.
One night I remember being stopped by a sentry at "Dead Man's Curve," because the Boche was shelling the curve that night, and we had to stop until he "laid off," as the sentry told us. Between shells there was a great stillness on the white road that lay like a silver thread under the moonlight. The shattered stone buildings, with a great cathedral tower standing like a gaunt ghost above the ruins, were tragically beautiful under that mellow light. One almost forgot there was war under the charm of that scene until "plunk! plunk! plunk!" the big shells fell from time to time. But the thing that impressed me most that waiting hour was not the beauty of the village under the moonlight, but the fact that the lone sentry who had stopped us, and who amid the shelling stood silently, was unconsciously singing an old hymn of the church, "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me." I got down from my truck and walked over to where he was standing.
"Great old hymn, isn't it, lad?"
"I'll say so," was his laconic reply.
"Belong to some church back home?" I asked him.
"Folks do; Presbyterians," he replied.
"Like the old hymns?" I asked.
"Yes, it seems like home to sing 'em."
I didn't get to talk with him for a few minutes, for he had to stop another truck. Then he came back.
"Folks at home, Sis and Bill and the kid, mother and father, used to gather around the piano every Sunday evening and sing 'em. Didn't think much of them then, but liked to sing. But they mean a lot to me over here, especially when I'm on guard at nights on this 'Dead Man's Curve.' Seems like they make me stronger." As I walked away I still heard him humming "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me."
One of the most vivid song silhouettes that I remember is that of a great crowd of negroes singing in a Y. M. C. A. hut. There must have been a thousand of them. I was to speak to them on "Lincoln Day." I remember how their white teeth shone through the semidarkness of that candle-lighted hut, and how their eyes gleamed, and how their bodies swayed as they sang the old plantation melodies.
The first song startled me with the universality of its simple expression. It was an adaptation of that old melody which the negroes have sung for years, "It's the Old-Time Religion."
A boy down front led the singing. A curt "Sam, set up a tune," from the Tuskegee colored secretary started it.
This boy sat with his back to the audience. He didn't even turn around to face them. Low and sweetly he started singing. You could hardly hear him at first. Then a few boys near him took up the music. Then a few more. Then it gradually swept back over that crowd of men until every single negro was swaying to that simple music, and then it was that I caught the almost startlingly appropriate words:
"It is good for a world in trouble; It is good for a world in trouble; It is good for a world in trouble; And it's good enough for me.
It's the old-time religion; It's the old-time religion; It's the old-time religion; And it's good enough for me.
It was good for my old mother; It was good for my old mother; It was good for my old mother; And it's good enough for me."
Then much to my astonishment they did something that I have since learned is the very way that these songs grew from the beginning. They extemporized a verse for the day, and they did it on the spot. I made absolutely certain of that by careful investigation. They sang this extra verse:
"It was good for ole Abe Lincoln; It was good for ole Abe Lincoln; It was good for ole Abe Lincoln; And it's good enough for me."
"That first verse, 'It is good for a world in trouble,' is certainly a most appropriate one for these times in France," I said aside to the secretary.
"Yes," he replied; "if ever this pore ole worl' needed the sustainin' power of the religion of the Christ, it does now; an' if ever this pore ole worl' was in trouble, that time suttinly is right now," he added with fervor.
And now I can never think of the world, nor of the folks back here at home, nor of the millions of our boys over there that I do not hear the sweet voices of that crowd of negroes singing reverently and fervently:
"It is good for a world in trouble; It is good for a world in trouble; It is good for a world in trouble; And it's good enough for me."
Another Silhouette of Song that stands out against the background of memory is that of a hymn that I heard in Doctor Charles Jefferson's church just before I sailed for France. I was lonely. I walked into that great city church a stranger, as thousands of boys who have sailed from New York have done. I never remember to have been so unutterably lonely and homesick. It was cold in the city, and I was alone. I turned to a church. Thousands of boys have done the same, may the mothers and fathers of America know, and they have found comfort. If the parents of this great nation could know how well their boys are guarded and cared for in New York City before they sail, they would have a feeling of comfort.
I sat down in this great church. I was thinking more of other Sabbath mornings at home, with my wife and baby, than anything else. A hymn was announced. I stood up mechanically, but there was no song in my throat. There was a great lump of loneliness only. But suddenly I listened to the words they were singing. Had they selected that hymn just for me? It seemed so. It so answered the loneliness in my heart with comfort and quiet. That great congregation was singing:
"Peace, perfect peace; With loved ones far away; In Jesus' keeping, we are safe; and they."
A great sense of peace settled over my heart, and I have quoted that old hymn all over France to the boys, and they have been comforted. Many a boy has asked me to write him a copy of that verse to stick in his note-book. It seemed to give a sense of comfort to the lads, for their loved ones, too, were "far away," and since I have come home I find that this, too, comes as a great comfort hymn to those who are here lonely for their boys "over there."
And who shall forget the silhouette of approaching the shores of France by night as they have sailed down along the coast, cautiously and carefully, to find the opening of the submarine nets? Who shall forget the sense of exhilaration that the news that land was near brought? Who shall forget the crowding to the railings by all on board to scan anxiously through the night for the first sight of land? Then who shall forget seeing that first light from shore flash out through the darkness of night? Who shall forget the red and green and white lights that began to twinkle, and gleam, and flash, and signal, and call? How beautiful those lights looked after the long, dangerous, eventful, and dark voyage, without a single light showing on the ship! And who shall forget the man along the railing who said, "I never knew before the meaning of that old song, 'The Lights Along the Shore'"? And then, who can forget the fact that suddenly somebody started to sing that old hymn, "The Lights Along the Shore," and of how it swept along the lower decks, and then to the upper decks, until a whole ship-load of people was singing it? And then who shall forget how somebody else started "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning"? Can such scenes ever be obliterated from one's memory? No, not forever. That silhouette remains eternally!
Five great transports were in. They were lined up along the docks in the locks. A Y. M. C. A. secretary was standing on the docks yelling up a word of welcome to the crowded railings of the great transports. The boats were not "cleared" as yet. It would take an hour, and the secretary knew that something must be done, so he started to lead first one ship and then another in singing.
"What shall we sing, boys?" he would shout up to them from the docks below. Some fellow from the railing yelled, "Keep the Home Fires Burning," and that fine song rang out from five thousand throats. I have heard it sung in the camps at home, I have heard it sung in great huts in France, but I never heard it when it sounded so significant and so sweet in its mighty volume as it sounded coming from that great khaki-lined transport, which had just landed an hour before in France. I stood beside the song-leader there on the docks looking up at that great mass of American humanity, a hundred feet above us, so far away that we could not recognize individual faces, on the high decks of one of the largest ships that sails the seas, and as that sweet song of war swept out over the docks and across the white town, and back across the Atlantic, I said to myself: "That volume sounds as if it could make itself heard back home."
The man beside me said: "The folks back home hear it all right, for they are eagerly listening for every sound that comes from that crowd of boys. Yes, the folks back home hear it, and they'll 'keep the home fires burning' all right. God bless them!"
The last Silhouette of Song stands out against a background of green trees and spring, and the odor of a hospital, and Red Cross nurses going and coming, and boys lying in white robes everywhere. My friend the song-leader had gone with me to hold the vesper service in the hospital. Then we visited in the wards in order to see those who were so severely wounded that they could not get to the service.
There was a little group of men in one room. The first thing I knew my friend had them singing. At first they took to it awkwardly. Then more courageously. Then sweetly there rang through the hospital the strains of "My Daddy Over There."
It melted my heart, for I have a baby girl at home who says to the neighbors, "My daddy is the prettiest man in the world," and believes it. I said to Cray: "Why did you sing that particular song?"
"Oh," he replied, "my baby's name is 'Betty,' and I found a guy whose baby's name is 'Betty' too, and we had a sort of club formed; and another guy had a baby boy, and then I just thought they'd like to sing 'My Daddy Over There.' But we ended up with 'Jesus, Lover of My Soul,' so that ought to suit you."
"Suit me, man? Why I got a 'Betty' baby of my own, and that 'Daddy Over There' song you sang is the sweetest thing I've heard in France, and it will help those daddies more than a hymn would. I'm glad you got them to singing."
And now I'm back home, and I thought the Silhouettes of Song were all over, but I stepped into a church the other Sunday. Up high above the sacred altars of that church fluttered a beautiful silk service flag. It was starred in the shape of a letter "S." In the circle of each "S" was a red cross. The church had two members in the Red Cross. Above the "S" and below it were two red triangles. The church had men in the service of the Y. M. C. A. Then grouped about the "S" were the stars of boys in the service.
As I looked up at this cross a flood of memories swept over me. I could not keep back the tears. All the love, all the loneliness, all the heartache, all the pride, all the hope of the folks at home, their reverence, their loyalty, was summed up in that flag. I stood to sing, my eyes brimming with tears. The great congregation started that beautifully sweet hymn that is being sung all over America in the churches in loving memory of the boys over there:
"God save our splendid men, Send them safe home again, God save our men. Make them victorious, Patient and chivalrous, They are so dear to us, God save our men.
God keep our own dear men, From every stain of sin, God keep our men. When Satan would allure, When tempted, keep them pure, Be their protection sure— God keep our men.
God hold our precious men, And love them to the end. God hold our men. Held in Thine arms so strong To Thee they all belong. This ever be our song: God hold our men."
I stood the pressure until that great congregation came to that line "They are so dear to us," and the voice of the mother beside me broke, and she had to stop. Then I had to stop, too, and we looked at each other through our tears and smiled and understood, so that when she sweetly said, "I have a boy over there," her words were superfluous. And so I have added another memory of song to the hours that will never die.
It was nearing the dawn, and flaming heralds gave promise of a brilliant day coming up out of France to the east. Three of us stood in the "crow's-nest" on an American transport, where we had been standing our "watch" since four o'clock that morning.
Suddenly as we peered through our glasses off to the west we saw the masts of a great cruiser creeping above the horizon of the sea. We reported it to the "bridge," where it was confirmed. Then in a few minutes we saw another mast, and then another, and another; four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, twenty—five, six—twenty-six ships coming up over the western horizon, bound for France, bearing the most precious burden that ever a caravan of the sea carried across the waters of the deep; American boys! Your boys!
It was a marvellous sight. We had been so intently watching this that we had forgotten about the dawn. Then we turned for a minute, and off to the east a brilliant red dawn was splashing its way out of the sea.
"What are those dots on the sun?" Doctor Freeman shouted to me.
"Why, I believe it's the convoy of destroyers coming out to meet those transports," I replied.
Then before our eyes, up out of the eastern horizon, just as we had watched the transports and the cruiser come up over the western horizon, those slender guardians of the deep came toward us in formation. There were ten of them, and they met the great American convoy just abreast our transport. We saw the American flag fly to the winds on each ship, and the flashing of signal-lights even in the dawning.
"Those destroyers coming out of the east against that sunrise remind me of the experiences one has in France in these vivid war days," I said to my fellow watcher in the "crow's-nest."
"How is that?"
"They stand out like the Silhouettes of Mountain Peaks against a crimson sunrise," I replied.
And so have many Silhouettes of the Sea stood out.
There was the afternoon that we stood on the deck of a ship bound for France. The voyage had been full of dangers. Submarines had harassed us for days. One night such a lurch came to the ship as threw everybody about in their staterooms. We thought it was a storm until the morning came, and we were informed that it was a sudden lurch to avoid a submarine. The voyage had been full of uneasiness, and now we were coming to the most dangerous part of it, the submarine zone.
Everybody was on deck. It was Sunday afternoon. Suddenly off to the east several spots appeared on the horizon. What were they, friendly craft or enemy ships?
Nobody knew, not even the captain. There was a wave of uneasiness over the boat.
Speculation was rife.
Then we saw the signal boy go aft, and in a moment the tricolor of France was fluttering in the winds, and we knew that the approaching craft were friendly. Then through powerful glasses we could make them out to be long, low-lying, lithe, swift destroyers coming out to meet us. They were a welcome sight. Like "hounds of the sea" they came, long and lean. Headed straight for us, they came like the winds. Then suddenly a slight mist began to fall, but not enough to obscure either the destroyers or the sun. Through this mist the sun burned its way, and almost as if a miracle had been performed by some master artist, a beautiful rainbow arched the sky to the east, and under the arch of this rainbow fleetly sailed those approaching destroyers.
It was a beautiful sight, a Silhouette of the Sea never to be forgotten while memory lasts. The French flag fluttered, the band started to play the "Marseillaise," and a ship-load of happy people sang it.
A sense of peace settled down over us all. The rainbow, covenant of old, promise of the eternal God to his people, seemed to have new significance that memorable day.
Another Silhouette of the Sea! Troops are expected in at a certain port of entry. The camp has been emptied of ten thousand men. That means but one thing, that new troops are expected. The great dirigibles sailed out a few hours ago. The sea-planes followed. Thousands of American men and women lined the docks waiting, peering with anxious eyes out toward the "point." Here at this point a great cape jutted out into the ocean, and around this cape we were accustomed to catch sight of the convoys first.
A sense of great expectancy was upon us. We had heard rumors of submarines off the shore for several days. Then suddenly we heard a terrific cannonading, and we knew that the transports and the convoys were in a battle with the U-boats that had lain in wait for them. An anxious hour passed. The sun was setting and the west was a great rose blanket.
Then a shout went up far down the line of waiting Americans as the first great transport swung around the cape. Then another, and a third and a fourth, and finally a fifth; great gray bulks, two of them camouflaged until you could not tell whether they were little destroyers or a group of destroyers on one big ship. Then they got near enough to see the American boys, thousands of them, lining the railings. Through the glasses we could make out the names of the transports. They were some of the largest that sail the Atlantic. When as they came slowly in on the full tide, with that rose sunset back of them, the bands on their decks playing across the waters, and five thousand boys on the first boat singing "Keep the Home Fires Burning," then the "Marseillaise," and finally "The Star-Spangled Banner," in which the crowd on the shore joined, there was a Silhouette of the Sea that burned its way into our souls.
There were the great ships, and beyond them the cape, and beyond that the hovering dirigibles, and beyond them the great bird seaplanes, and beyond them the background of a rose-colored sky, and beyond that the memories of home.
SILHOUETTES OF SACRIFICE
Every day for two months, February and March, sometimes when the roads were hub-deep with mud, and sometimes when the roads were a glare of ice and snow and driving the big truck was dangerous work, we passed the crucifix.
It was the guide-post where four roads forked. One road went up to the old monastery, where we had, in one corner, a canteen. Another road led down toward divisional headquarters. Another road led into Toul, and a fourth led directly toward the German lines, over which, if we had driven far enough, as we started to do one night in the dark, we could have gone straight to Berlin.
The first night that I went "down the line" alone with a truck-load I was trembling inside about directions. The divisional man said: "Go straight out the east gate of the city, down the road until you come to the cross at the forks of the road. Take the turn to the left."
But even with these directions I was not certain. I was frankly afraid, for I knew that a wrong turn would take me into German lines. I did not like that prospect at all.
I drove the big car cautiously through the night. There were no lights, and at best it was not easy driving. This night was impenetrably dark. When I came to the cross-roads I stopped the machine and climbed down. I wanted to make sure of the directions, and they were printed in French on the sign-board that was near the crucifix about which he had told me.
I got my directions all right, and then, moved by curiosity, flashed my pocket-light on the figure of the bronze Christ on the crucifix there at the crossroads guide-post. There was an inscription. Laboriously finding each small letter with my flash in the darkness, my engine panting off to the side of the road, I spelled it all out:
"Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
Off in the near distance the star-shells were lighting up No Man's Land. "Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?" they seemed to say to me.
I climbed into the machine and started on.
Suddenly I heard the purring of Boche planes overhead. One gets so that he can distinguish the difference between French planes and Boche planes. These were Boche planes, and they were bent on mischief. Then the search-lights began to play in the sky over me. But they were too late, for hardly had I started on my way when "Boom! boom! boom! boom!" one after another, ten bombs were dropped, and as each dropped it lighted up the surrounding country like a great city in flames.
As I saw this awful desecration of the land the phrase of the cross seemed to sing in unison with the beating of the engine of my truck:
"Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
Suddenly out of the night crept an ambulance train, which passed my slower and larger machine. They had no time to wait for me. They were American boys on their errands of mercy, and the front was calling them. I knew that something must be going on off toward the front lines, for the rumbling of the big guns had been going on for an hour. As these ambulances passed me—more than twenty-five of them passed as silent ships pass in the night—that phrase kept singing: "Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
Then I drove a bit farther on my way, and off across a field I saw the walls of a great hospital. It was an evacuation hospital, and I had visited in its wards many times after a raid, when hundreds of our boys had been brought in every night and day, with four shifts of doctors kept busy day and night in the operating-room caring for them. As I thought of all that I had seen in that hospital, again that singing phrase of the crucifix at the crossroads was on my lips: "Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
A mile farther, and just a few feet from the road, I passed a little "God's acre" that I knew so well. As its full meaning swept over me there in the darkness of that night, the heartache and loneliness of the folks at home whose American boys were lying there, some two hundred of them, the old crucifix phrase expressed it all:
"Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
And, somehow, as I drove back by the crucifix in the darkness of the next morning, about two o'clock, I had to stop again and with my flash-light spell out the lettering on the cross.
Then suddenly it dawned on me that this was France speaking to America:
"Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
And when I paused in the darkness of that night and thought of the one million and a quarter of the best manhood of France who had given their lives for the precious things that we hold most dear: our homes, our children, our liberty, our democracy; and when I thought that France had saved that for us; and when I remembered the funeral processions that I had seen every day since I had been in France, and when I remembered the women doing the work of men, handling the baggage of France, ploughing the fields of France; doing the work of men because the men were all either killed or at the front; when I remembered the little fatherless children that I had seen all over France, whose sad eyes looked up into mine everywhere I went; and when I remembered the young widows (every woman of France seems to be in black); and when I remembered the thousands of blind men and boys that I had seen being led helplessly about the streets of the cities and villages of France; and when I remembered that lonely wife that one Sunday afternoon in Toul I had watched go and kneel beside a little mound and place flowers there—the dates on the stone of which I later saw were "March, 1916," then I cried aloud in the darkness as I realized the tremendous sacrifice that France has made for the world, as well as England and Belgium. "No, France! No, England! No, little Belgium! this traveller has never seen so great a grief as thine!"
"No, mothers and fathers, little children, wives, brothers, sisters of France, and England, and Belgium, this traveller, America, has never seen so great a grief as thine!"
And later I learned, after living in the Toul sector for two months, that the challenging sentence on the crucifix had been read by nearly every boy who had passed it; and all had. Either he had read it himself or it had been quoted to him, and this one crucifix question had much to do with challenging the boys who passed it to a new understanding of all that France had passed through in the war.
The American boys have learned to respect the French soldier because of the sacrifice that he has made. The American soldier remembers that crowd of men called "Kitchener's Mob," which Kitchener sent into the trenches of France to stem the tide of inhumanity, and to whom he gave a message: "Go! Sacrifice yourselves while I raise an army in England!" The American soldier knows all of this. He knows that little Belgium might have said to all the world, "The forces were too great for us," and she could have stepped aside and the world would have forgiven her.
But instead she chose deliberately to sacrifice herself for the cause of freedom, and sacrifice herself she did. And that sentence on the crossroads crucifix in the Toul sector, day after day, sends its reminder into the heart of the American soldiers, who stop their trucks and their ammunition wagons, pause their weary marches to read it; sends its reminder of the sacrifices that our allies have already made, and the sacrifices that we may be called upon to make. "Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
And the American officer and soldier must admit that he has not; and he prays God silently in the night as he rides by on his horse, or as he drives by on his motor-truck, or as he flashes by on his motor-cycle, though they may be willing to suffer as France has suffered, if need be, prays God that that may never be necessary, for the American soldier, since he has been in France, has seen what suffering means.
And so that crossroads crucifix stands out against the lurid night of France, with its reminder constantly before the American soldier, and it tends to make him more gentle with French children and women, and more kindly with French men. There is a new understanding of each other, a new cement of friendship binding our allies together in France; there is a new world-wide brotherhood breaking across the horizon of time, coming through sacrifice.
The world is once again being atoned for. Its sin is being washed away. Innocent men are suffering that humanity may be saved.
The last time I saw this cross was by night. I had seen it first at night, and fitting it was that I should see it last at night. There was a terrible bombardment down the lines. Hundreds of American boys had been killed. One was wounded who was a son of one of the foremost Americans. News of the fight had been coming in to us all day long. Night came and "runners" were still bringing in the gruesome details. The ambulances were running in a continuous procession. We had seen things that day and night that made our hearts sick. We had seen American boys white and unconscious. We had seen every available room in the great evacuation hospital crowded. We had been told that a hundred surgical cases were in the hospital, mostly shrapnel wounds, and that every available doctor and nurse was working night and day.
We had seen, under one snow-covered canvas, six boys who had been killed by one shell early that morning—boys that the night before we had talked with down in a front-line hut—boys who had been killed in their billet in one room. We had seen a captain come staggering into our hut wet to the skin, soaked with blood, his hair dishevelled, his face haggard. He had been fighting since three o'clock that morning. He had been shell-shocked, and had been sent into the hospital.
"My God!" he cried, "I saw every officer in my company killed. First it was my first lieutenant. They got him in the head. Then about ten o'clock I saw my second lieutenant fall. Then early in the afternoon my top-sergeant got a bayonet, and a hand-grenade got a group of my non-commissioned officers. Half of my boys are gone."
Then he sat down and we got him some hot chocolate. This seemed to revive his spirits, and he said: "But, thank God, we licked them! We licked them at their own game! We got them six to one, and drove them back! No Man's Land is thick with their beastly bodies. They are hanging on the wires out there like trapped rabbits!"
Then the thoughts of his own officers came back.
"My God! Now we know what war means. We've been playing at war up to this time. Now we've got to suffer! Then we'll know what it all means." He was half-delirious, we could see, and sent for an ambulance.
As I drove home that night I passed the crossroads crucifix. This time I needed no lights to guide me. The whole horizon was alight with bursting shells and Very lights. Long before I got to it I could see the gaunt form of the cross reaching its black but comforting arms up against the background of lurid light along the front where I knew that American men were dying for me. The picture of that wayside cross, looming against the lurid light of battle, shall never die in my memory.
It was the silhouette of France and America suffering together, a silhouette standing out against a livid horizon of fire.
I needed no tiny pocket search-light to read the words on the cross. They had already burned their way into my heart and into the hearts of that whole division of American soldiers, that division which has since so distinguished itself at Belleau Woods! But now America has a new understanding of the meaning of that sentence, for America, too, is suffering, and she is sacrificing.
"Traveller, hast thou ever seen so great a grief as mine?"
"Yes, France; we understand now."
It was the gas ward. I had held a vesper service that evening and had had a strange experience. Just before the service I had been introduced to a lad who said to the chaplain who introduced me that he was a member of my denomination.
The boy could not speak above a whisper. He was gassed horribly, and in addition to his lungs being burned out and his throat, his face and neck were scarred.
"I have as many scars on my lungs as I have on my face," he said quite simply. I had to bend close to hear him. He could not talk loud enough to have awakened a sleeping child.
He said to me: "I used to be leader of the choir at home. At college I was in the glee-club, and whenever we had any singin' at the fraternity house they always expected me to lead it. Since I came into the army the boys in my outfit have depended upon me for all the music. In camp back home I led the singing. Even the Y. M. C. A. always counted on me to lead the singing in the religious meetings. Many's the time I have cheered the boys comin' over on the transport and in camp by singin' when they were blue. But I can't sing any more. Sometimes I get pretty blue over that. But I'll be at your meeting this evening, anyway, and I'll be right down on the front seat as near the piano as I can get. Watch for me."
And sure enough that night, when the vesper service started, he was right there. I smiled at him and he smiled back.
I announced the first hymn. The crowd started to sing. Suddenly I looked toward him. We were singing "Softly Now the Light of Day Fades Upon My Sight Away." His book was up, his lips were moving, but no sound was coming. That sight nearly broke my heart. To see that boy, whose whole passion in the past had been to sing, whose voice the cruel gas had burned out, started emotions throbbing in me that blurred my eyes. I couldn't sing another note myself. My voice was choked at the sight. A lump came every time I looked at him there with that book up in front of him, a lump that I could not get out of my throat. I dared not look in his direction.
After the service was over I went up to him. I knew that he needed a bit of laughter now. I knew that I did, too. So I said to him: "Lad, I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't helped us out on the singing this evening."
He looked at me with infinite pathos and sorrow in his eyes. Then a look of triumph came into them, and he looked up and whispered through his rasped voice: "I may not be able to make much noise any more, and I may never be able to lead the choir again, but I'll always have singing in my soul, sir! I'll always have singing in my soul!"
And so it is with the whole American army in France—it always has singing in its soul, and courage, and manliness, and daring, and hope. That kind of an army can never be defeated. And no army in the world, and no power, can stand long before that kind of an army.
That kind of an army doesn't have to be sent into battle with a barrage of shells in front of it and a barrage of shells back of it to force it in, as the Germans have been doing during the last big offensive, according to stories that boys at Chateau-Thierry have been telling me. The kind of an army that, in spite of wounds and gas, "still has singing in its soul" will conquer all hell on earth before it gets through.
Then there is the memory of the boys in the shell-shock ward at this same hospital. I had a long visit with them. They were not permitted to come to the vesper service for fear something would happen to upset their nerves. But they made a special request that I come to visit them in their ward. After the service I went. I reached their ward about nine, and they arose to greet me. The nurse told me that they were more at ease on their feet than lying down, and so for two hours we stood and talked on our feet.
"How did you get yours?" I asked a little black-eyed New Yorker.
"I was in a front-line trench with my 'outfit,' down near Amiens," he said. "We were having a pretty warm scrap. I was firing a machine-gun so fast that it was red-hot. I was afraid it would melt down, and I would be up against it. They were coming over in droves, and we were mowing them down so fast that out in front of our company they looked like stacks of hay, the dead Germans piled up everywhere. I was so busy firing my gun, and watching it so carefully because it was so hot, that I didn't hear the shell that suddenly burst behind me. If I had heard it coming it would never have shocked me."
"If you hear them coming you're all right?" I asked.
"Yes. It's the ones that surprise you that give you shell-shock. If you hear the whine you're ready for them; but if your mind is on something else, as mine was that day, and the thing bursts close, it either kills you or gives you shell-shock, so it gets you both going and coming." He laughed at this.
"I was all right for a while after the thing fell, for I was unconscious for a half-hour. When I came to I began to shake, and I've been shaking ever since."
"How did you get yours?" I asked another lad, from Kansas, for I saw at once that it eased them to talk about it.
"I was in a trench when a big Jack Johnson burst right behind me. It killed six of the boys, all my friends, and buried me under the dirt that fell from the parapet back of me. I had sense and strength enough to dig myself out. When I got out I was kind of dazed. The captain told me to go back to the rear. I started back through the communication-trench and got lost. The next thing I knew I was wandering around in the darkness shakin' like a leaf."
Then there was the California boy. I had known him before. It was he who almost gave me a case of shell-shock. The last time I saw him he was standing on a platform addressing a crowd of young church people in California. And there he was, his six foot three shaking from head to foot like an old man with palsy, and stuttering every word he spoke. He had been sent to the hospital at Amiens with a case of acute appendicitis. The first night he was in the hospital the Germans bombed it and destroyed it. They took him out and put him on a train for Paris. This train had only gotten a few miles out of Amiens when the Germans shelled it and destroyed two cars.
"After that I began to shake," he said simply.
"No wonder, man; who wouldn't shake after that?" I said. Then I asked him if he had had his operation yet.
"It can't be done until I quit shaking."
"When will you quit?" I asked, with a smile.
"Oh, we're all getting better, much better; we'll be out of here in a few months; they all get better; 90 per cent of us get back in the trenches."
And that is the silver lining to this Silhouette Spiritual. The doctors say that a very large percentage of them get back.
"We call ourselves the 'First American Shock Troops,'" my friend from the West said with a grin.
"I guess you are 'shock troops,' all right. I know one thing, and that is that you would give your folks back home a good shock if they saw you."
Then we all laughed. Laughter was in the air. I have never met anywhere in France such a happy, hopeful, cheerful crowd as that bunch of shell-shocked boys. It was contagious. I went there to cheer them up, and I got cheered up. I went there to give them strength, and came away stronger than when I went in. It would cheer the hearts of all Americans to take a peep into that room; if they could see the souls back of the trembling bodies; if they could get beyond the first shock of those trembling bodies and stuttering tongues. And, after all, that is what America must learn to do, to get beyond, and to see beyond, the wounds, into the soul of the boy; to see beyond the blinded eyes, the scarred faces, the legless and armless lads, into the glory of their new-born souls, for no boy goes through the hell of fire and suffering and wounds that he does not come out new-born. The old man is gone from him, and a new man is born in him. That is the great eternal compensation of war and suffering.
I have seen boys come out of battles made new men. I have seen them go into the line sixteen-year-old lads, and come out of the trenches men. I saw a lad who had gone through the fighting in Belleau Woods. I talked with him in the hospital at Paris. His face was terribly wounded. He was ugly to look at, but when I talked with him I found a soul as white as a lily and as courageous as granite.
"I may look awful," he said, "but I'm a new man inside. What I saw out there in the woods made me different, somehow. I saw a friend stand by his machine-gun, with a whole platoon of Germans sweeping down on him, and he never flinched. He fired that old gun until every bullet was gone and his gun was red-hot. I was lying in the grass where I could see it all. I saw them bayonet him. He fought to the last against fifty men, but, thank God, he died a man; he died an American. I lay there and cried to see them kill him, but every time I think of that fellow it makes me want to be more of a man. When I get back home I'm going to give up my life to some kind of Christian service. I'm going to do it because I saw that man die so bravely. If he can die like that, in spite of my face I can live like a man."
The boys in the trenches live a year in a month, a month in a week, a week in a day, a day in an hour, and sometimes an eternity in a second. No wonder it makes men of them overnight. No wonder they come out of it all with that "high look" that John Oxenham writes about. They have been reborn.
Another wounded boy who had gone through the fighting back of Montdidier said to me in the hospital:
"I never thought of anybody else at home but myself. I was selfish. Sis and mother did everything for me. Everything at home centred in me, and everything was arranged for my comfort. With this leg gone I might have some right now, according to the way they think, to that attention, but I don't want it any longer. I can't bear the thoughts of having people do for me. I want to spend the rest of my life doing things for other folks.
"Back of Noyon I saw a friend sail into a crowd of six Germans with nothing but his bayonet and rifle. They had surrounded his captain, and were rushing him back as a prisoner. They evidently had orders to take the officers alive as prisoners. That big top-sergeant sailed into them, and after killing two of them, knocking two more down, and giving his captain a chance to escape, the last German shot him through the head. He gave his life for the captain. That has changed me. I shall never be the same again after seeing that happen. There's something come into my heart. I'm going back home a Christian man."
Yes, America must learn to see beyond the darkness, beyond the disfigured face, to the soul of the boy. And America will do it. America is like that. And so back of these shaking bodies and these stuttering tongues of the shell-shocked boys I saw their wonderful souls. And after spending that two hours with them I can never be the same man again.
I could, as Donald Hankey says, "get down on my knees and shine their boots for them any day," and thank God for the privilege. I think that this is the spirit of any non-combatant in France who has any immediate contact with our men on the battle-front or in the hospitals. They are so brave and so true.
"How do the Americans stand dressing their wounds and the suffering in the hospitals?" a friend of mine asked a prominent surgeon.
"They bear their suffering like Frenchmen. That is the highest compliment I can pay them," he replied.
And so back of their wounds are their immortal, undying, unflinching souls. And back of the tremblings of these boys that night, thank God, I had the glory of seeing their immortal souls, and to me the soul of an American boy under fire and pain is the biggest, finest, most tremendous thing on earth. I bow before it in humility. It dazzled mine eyes. All I could think of as I saw it was:
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
That night I said, just before I left: "Boys, it's Sunday evening, and they wouldn't let you come to my meeting! Would you like for me to have a little prayer with you?"
"Yes! Sure! That's just what we want!" were the stammered words that followed.
"All right; we'll just stand, if it's easier for you."
Then I prayed the prayer that had been burning in my heart every minute as we stood there in that dimly lit ward, talking of home and battle and the folks we all loved across the seas. All that time there had been hovering in the background of my mind a picture of a cool body of water named Galilee, and of a Christ who had been sleeping in a boat on that water with some of his friends, when a storm came up. I had been thinking of how frightened those friends had been of the storm; of the tossing, tumbling, turbulent waves. I had thought of how they had trembled with fear, and then of how they had appealed to the Master. I told the boys simply that story, and then I prayed:
"O Thou Christ who stilled the waves of Galilee, come Thou into the hearts of these boys just now, and still their trembling limbs and tongues. Bring a great sense of peace and quiet into their souls."
"Oh, ye of little faith!" When I looked up from that prayer, much to my own astonishment, and to the astonishment of the friend who was with me, the tremblings of those fine American boys had perceptibly ceased. There was a great sense of quiet and peace in the ward.
The nurse told me the next day that after I had gone the boys went quietly to bed; that there was little tossing that night and no walking the floors, as there had been before. A doctor friend said to me: "After all, maybe your medicine is best, for while we are more or less groping in the dark as to our treatment of shell-shock, we do know that the only cure will be that something comes into their souls to give them quiet of mind and peace within."
"I know what that medicine is," I told him. "I have seen it work."
"What is it?" he asked.
Then I told him of my experience.
"You may be right."
And so it is all over France; where I have worked in some twenty hospitals—from the first-aid dressing-stations back through the evacuation hospitals to the base hospitals—and have found that the reaction of our boys to wounds and suffering is always a spiritual reaction. I know as I know no other thing, that the boys of America are to come back, wounded or otherwise, a better crowd of men than they went away. They are men reborn, and when they come back, when it's "over, over there," there is to be a nation reborn because of the leaven that is within their souls.
SILHOUETTES OF SACRILEGE
During the last year there has come into French art a new era of the silhouette. In every art store in Paris one sees wonderful silhouettes which tell the story of the horror of the Hun better than any words can paint it, and when one attempts to paint it he must attempt it in word silhouettes.
The silhouette catches the picture better than color. Gaunt, naked, ruined cathedrals, homes, towers, and forests are better pictured in black silhouettes than any other way. There is nothing much left in some places in France but silhouettes.
Those who have seen Rheims know that the best reproduction of its ruins has been conveyed by the simple silhouette of the artist. There it stands outlined against the sky. Rheims that was once the wonder of the world is now naked ruins, tottering walls, with its towers still standing, looming against the sky like tottering trees. And when, during the past year, the walls fell, they:
"Left a lonesome place against the sky"
of all the world.
The church at Albert was like that. Only a silhouette can describe or picture it. There it stood against the sky by day and night, with the figure on its top leaning. The old legend of the soldiers that when the figure of the Virgin fell to the earth the war would end has been dissipated, for during the last drive that figure fell, and the tower with it. But forever (although it has fallen to dust and debris, because of descriptions we have seen of it) it shall stand out in our memories like a lonely, toppling tree against a crimson sunset!
Every day on the Toul line we used to drive through a village that had been shelled until it was in ruins. Only the tower and the walls of a beautiful little church remained. Every other house in the village was razed to the ground. Nothing else remained.
There it stands to this day, for when I saw it last in June it was still standing as it was in January. Every evening about sunset we used to drive down that way, taking supplies to the front-line huts. Many things stand out in one's memory of a certain road over which he drives night after night and day after day. There is the cross at the forks of the roads. There is the old monastery, battered and in ruins, that stood out like a gaunt ghost of the vandal Hun. There was the little God's acre along the road which we passed every day. There were always the observation-balloons against the evening sky. There were always the fleet-winged birds of the air outlined against the evening. There were always the marching men and the ambulance trains. But standing out above them all, etched with the acid of regret and anger and horror, stood that lonely tower. Night after night we approached it with a beautiful sunset off to the west where the Germans lay buried in their trenches. Coming back from the German lines we would see this church-tower outlined against the crimson sky like a finger pointing God-ward, and declaring to all the world that the God above would avenge this silent, accusing Silhouette of Sacrilege.
There has been a good deal of discussion over a certain book entitled "I Accuse." I never saw that finger pointing into the sky as we drove through this village that it did not cry out to the heavens and across the short miles to the German Huns, looking down, as it did, at its feet where the ruined homes lay, the village that it had mothered and fathered, the village that had worshipped within its simple walls, the village that had brought its joys and sorrows there, the village that had buried the dead within its shadows, the village that had brought its young there to be married and its aged to be buried; there it stood, night after night, against the crimson sky sometimes, against the golden sky at other times; against the rose, against the blue, against the purple sunsets; and ever it thundered: "I accuse! I accuse! I accuse!"
Then there is that Silhouette of Sacrilege up on the Baupaume Road. This is called "the saddest road in Christendom," because more men have been killed along its scarred pathway than along any other road in all the world. Not even the road to Calvary was as sad as this road.
Along this road when the French held it, during the first year of the war, they gathered their dead together and buried them in a little cemetery. Above the sacred remains of their comrades these French soldiers erected a simple bronze cross as a symbol not only of the faith of the nation, but a symbol also of the cause in which they had died.
A few months later when the Germans had recaptured this spot, and it had been fought over, and the bronze cross still stood, the Hun, too, gathered his dead together and buried them side by side with the French. Then he did a characteristic thing. He got a large stone as a base and mounted a cannon-ball on top of this stone, and left it there, side by side with the French cross.
Whether he meant it or not, his sacrilege stands as a fitting expression of his philosophy, the philosophy of the brute, the religion of the granite rock and the iron cannon-ball.
He told his own story here. Side by side in those two monuments the contrast is made, the causes are placed. One is the cause of the cross, the cause of men willing to die for brotherhood; the other is the cause of those who are willing to kill to conquer.
And these two monuments, side by side on the Baupaume Road, stand out as one of the Silhouettes of Sacrilege.
Then there is St. Gervais. On Good Friday afternoon a Hun shell pierced the side of this beautiful cathedral as the spear-thrust pierced the side of the Master so long ago. On the very hour that Jesus was crucified back on that other and first Good Friday the Hun threw his bolt of death into the nave of this church, and crucified seventy-five people kneeling in memory of their Saviour's death.
I was in that church an hour after this terrible sacrilege happened. Never can one forget the scene. I dare not describe it here in its awful details.
The entire arches of stone that held up the roof had fallen in from the concussion of the gases of the shell. Three feet of solid stones covered the floor. Men and women were being carried out. Silk hats, canes, shoes, hats, baby clothes, an expensive fur, lay buried in the stone and dirt.
As I stood horrified, looking on this scene of death and destruction, the phrase came into my heart:
"And the veil of the temple was rent in twain."
And this scene, too, shall remain as one of the Silhouettes of Sacrilege.
But perhaps the worst Silhouette of Sacrilege that the film of one's memory has brought away from France is that of a certain afternoon in Paris.
I happened to be walking along the Boulevard to my hotel. The big gun had been throwing its shells into the city all day. Suddenly one fell so close to where I was walking that it broke the windows around me, and I was nearly thrown to my feet. In my soul I cursed the Hun, as all who have lived in Paris finally come to be doing as each shell bursts. But I had more reason to curse than I knew at that moment.
The people were running into a side street, the next one toward which I was approaching. I followed the crowd. My uniform got me past the gendarmes in through a little court, up a pair of stairs where the shell had penetrated the walls of a maternity hospital.
What I saw there in that room shall make me hate the Hun forever.
New-born babes had been killed, a nurse and two mothers. When I thought of the expectant homes into which those babes had come, when I thought of the fathers at the front who would never see again either their wives or those new babies, when I saw the blood that smeared the plaster and floors of that room, when I saw the little twisted baby beds, a flush of hatred swept over me, as it did over all who saw it, a new birth of hatred that could never die until those little babies and those mothers and the nurse are avenged. That is a Silhouette of Sacrilege that makes the gamut complete.
There was the desecration of the holy sanctuaries; there was the desecration of the graves of brave soldiers of France; there was the derision of his bronze cross; there was the desecration of the most sacred day in Christendom, Good Friday, and then the desecration of little children, mothers of new-born babes, and nurses. Could the case be more complete? Could Silhouettes of Sacrilege cover a wider gamut of hatred and disgust than these silhouettes picture?
SILHOUETTES OF SILENCE
Two o'clock in the morning on the sea is sometimes cold and disagreeable, and sometimes it is glorious with wonder and beauty. But whether it is beautiful or whether it is cold and disagreeable, at that exact hour in the war zone on every American transport, now, every boy is summoned on deck until daylight. This is only one of the many precautions that the navy is taking to save life in case of a U-boat attack. One thing that ought to comfort every mother and father in America is the care that is manifested and the precautions that are taken by the navy in getting the soldiers to France. One of the most thrilling chapters of the history of this war, when it is written, will be that chapter. And one of the most wonderful, the most colossal feats will be the safe transportation overseas of those millions of soldiers with so little loss of life while doing it.
And one of the best precautions is this of getting every boy up out of the hold and out of the staterooms, officers and all, on deck, standing by the assigned life-boats and rafts. Not a single boy remains below in the war zone.
Day is just breaking across the sea. It is a beautiful dawning. Five thousand American boys line the railings of a certain great transport. They are not allowed to smoke. They do not sing. They do not talk much. Some of them are sleepy, for the average American boy is not used to being awakened at two in the morning. They just stand and wait and watch through five hours of silence as the great ship plunges its way defiantly through the danger zone, saying in so many words: "We're ready for you!"
And the silhouette of that great ship, lined with khaki-clad American boys, waiting, watching, as seen from another transport, where the watcher who writes this story stands, is a sight never to be equalled in art or story. To see the huge bulk of a great transport just a stone's throw away, moving forward, without a sound from its rail-lined, soldier-packed deck, is one of the striking Silhouettes of Silence.
Thomas Carlyle once said of man: "Stands he not thereby in the centre of Immensities, in the conflux of Eternities?" One day I saw the American army standing "in the centre of immensities, in the conflux of eternities," at the focus of histories. One day I saw the American army in France march in answer to General Pershing's offer to the Allies at the beginning of the big drive, march to its place in history beside its Allies, the English and the French.
The news came. The first division of American troops was to leave overnight and march overland into the Marne line. Our Allies needed us. They had called. We were answering.
As a tribute to the efficiency of the American army, may I say that the one well-trained, seasoned division of troops that we had in a certain quiet sector picked up bag and baggage overnight and, like the Arabs, "silently stole away," and did it so well and so efficiently that not even the Y. M. C. A. secretaries, who had been living with this division intimately for months, knew that they were gone, and that a new division had taken its place, until the next morning. Talk about German efficiency—that phrase, "German efficiency," has become a bugaboo to frighten the world. American efficiency is just as great, if not greater.
I saw that division marching overland. It was a thrilling sight. Coming on it suddenly, and looking down upon its marching columns from the brow of a hill, and then riding past it in a Ford camionet all day long with Irving Cobb, riding past its ammunition-wagons, past its machine-gun battalion, past its great artillery company, past its hundreds of infantrymen, past its trucks, past its clean-cut officers astride their horses, past its supply-trains, past its flags and banners, past its kitchen-wagons, seeing it stop to eat, seeing it shoulder its rifles, seeing its ambulances and its Red Cross groups, seeing its khaki-clad American boys wind through the valleys and up the hills and over the bridges (the white stone bridge), through its villages, many in which American soldiers had never been seen before; welcomed by the people as the saviors of France, seeing its way strewn with the flowers of spring by little children, and with the welcome and the tears of French mothers and daughters clad in black, seeing it march along the French streams from early morning until late at night, this was a sight to stir the pride of any American to the point of reverence.
But all day as we rode along that winding trail I thought of the song that the soldiers are singing, "There's a Long, Long Trail Awinding to the Land of Our Dreams," and when I looked into the faces of those American boys I saw there the determination that the trail that they were taking was a trail that, although it was leading physically directly away from home, and toward Berlin, yet it was, to their way of thinking, the shortest way home. The trail that the American army took that day as it marched into the Marne line was the "home trail," and every boy marched that road with the determination that the sooner they got that hard job ahead over with, the sooner they would get home. I talked with many of them as they stopped to rest and found this sentiment on every lip.
But it was a silent army. I heard no singing all day long—not a song. Men may sing as they are marching into training-camps; they may sing when they board the boats for France now; they may sing as they march into rest-billets, but they were not singing that day as they marched into the great battle-line of Europe.
I heard no laughter. I heard no loud talking, I heard no singing; I heard only the tramp, tramp, tramp of marching feet, and the crunching of the great motor-trucks, and the patter of horses as the officers galloped along their lines. That army of American men knew that the job on which they were entering was not child's play. They knew that democracy depended upon what they did in that line. They knew that many of them would never come back. They knew that at last the real thing was facing them. They were not like dumb, driven beasts. They were men. They were American men. They were thinking men. They were silent men. They were brave men.
They were marching to their place in history unafraid, and unflinching, but thoughtful and silent.
Another Silhouette of Silence. It was after midnight on the Toul line. We were driving back from the front. The earth was covered with a blanket of snow. Everything was white. We were moving cautiously because with the snow over everything it was hard to tell where the icy road left off and the ditches began; and those ditches were four feet deep, and a big truck is hard to get out of a hole. Then there were no lights, for we were too near the Boche batteries.
"Halt!" rang out suddenly in the night, and a sentry stepped into the middle of the road.
I got down to see what he wanted.
"There are fifty truck-loads of soldiers going into the trenches to-night, and they are coming this way. Drive carefully, for it is slippery."
In a few moments we came to the first truck filled with soldiers, and passed it. A hundred yards farther we came to the second one, loaded down with American boys. Their rifles were stacked in the front of the truck, and their helmets made a solid steel covering over the trucks. One by one, fifty trucks loaded with American soldiers passed us. One can hardly imagine that many American boys anywhere without some noise, but the impressive thing about that scene was that not a single word, not a sound of a human voice, came from a single one of those fifty trucks. The only sound to be heard breaking the silence of the night was the crunching of the chained wheels of the heavy trucks in the snow. We watched that strangely silent procession go up over a snow-covered hill and disappear. Not a single sound of a human voice had broken the silence.
Another Silhouette of Silence: It is an operating-room in an evacuation hospital. The boy was brought in last night. An operation was immediately imperative. I had known the boy, and was there by courtesy of the major in charge of the hospital. The boy had asked that I come.
For just one hour they worked, two skilled American surgeons, whose names, if I were to mention them, would be recognized as two of America's greatest specialists. France has many of them who have given up their ten-thousand-dollar fees to endure danger to save our boys. During that hour's stress and strain, with sweat pouring from their brows, they worked. Now and then there was a nod to a nurse, who seemed to understand without words, and a motion of a hand, but not three words were spoken. It made a Silhouette of Silence that saved a boy's life.
The next scene is a listening-post. Two men are stretched on their stomachs in the brown grass. A little hole, just enough to conceal their bodies, has been dug there. The upturned roots of an old tree that a bursting shell had desecrated was just in front. "Tap! Tap! Tap!" came the sounds of Boches at work somewhere near and underground. It is needless to say that this was a Silhouette of Silence, and that a certain Y. M. C. A. secretary was glad when it was all over and he got back where he belonged.
The beautiful columns of the Madeleine bask under the moonlight. Paris was never so quiet. The silence of eternity seemed to have settled down over her. As one looked at the Madeleine under that magical white moonlight he imagined that he had been transported back to Athens, and that he was no longer living in modern times and in a world at war. It was all so quiet and peaceful, with a great moon floating in the skies——
But what is that awful wail that suddenly smites the stillness as with a blow? It seems like the wailing of all the lost souls of the war. It sounds like the crying of the more than five million sorrowing women there are left comfortless in Europe. It is the siren. An air-raid is on. The "alert" is sounding. The bombs begin to fall. The Boches have gotten over even before the barrage is up. Hell breaks loose for an hour. No battle on the front ever heard more terrific cannonading than the next hour. The barrage was the heaviest ever sent up over Paris. The six Gothas that got over the city dropped twenty-four bombs.
The terrific bombardment, however, now as one looks back, only serves to make the preceding silence stand out more emphatically, and the Madeleine, basking in the moonlight the hour before, more beautiful in its silhouette of grace and bulk against the golden light.
A month on the front lines with thunder beating always, a month of machine-gun racket, a month of bombing by Gothas every night, a month of crunching wheels, a month of pounding motors and rumbling trucks, a month of marching men, a month of the pounding of horses' hoofs on the hard roads of France, a month of sirens and clanging church-bells in the tocsin, and then a day in the valley of vision, down at Domremy where Jeanne d'Arc was born, was a contrast that gave a Silhouette of Silence to me.
One day on the Toul line, a train by night, and the next morning so far away that all you could hear was the singing of birds. Peasants quietly tended their flocks. Children played in the roads. The valley was beautiful under the sunlight of as warm and as beautiful a spring day as ever fell over the fields of France. I stood on the very spot where the peasant girl of Orleans caught her vision. I looked down over the valley with "the green stream streaking through it," with silence brooding over it, a bewildering contrast with the day and the month that had just preceded; and it all stands out as one of the Silhouettes of Silence.
Another day, another hour, another part of France. They call it "Calvaire." It covers several acres. The peasants go there to worship in pilgrimage every year. There is a Garden of Gethsemane, with marvellous statues built life-size. Then through the woods there is a worn pathway to the Sanhedrin. This is of marble. Jesus is here before his accusers in marble statuary.
As his accusers question him and he answers them not, they wonder. But those who have seen "Calvaire" in France do not wonder, for from that room there is a clean swath of trees cut, and a quarter of a mile away looms, on a hill, a real Calvary, with the tree crosses silhouetted against the sky, and Jesus is seeing down the pathway the hill of the cross.
Then there is "The Way of the Cross," built by peasant hands. It is a road covered with flintstones as sharp as knives. This flint road must be a mile long, and it winds here and there leading to Calvary, and along its way are the various stations of the cross in life-size figures. Jesus is seen at every step of this agony bearing his cross until relieved by Simon. Over this flintstone every year the people come by thousands, and crawl on their naked knees or walk on their naked feet. Every stone is stained with blood; stumbling, cruelly hurt, bleeding, they go "The Way of the Cross," and I have no doubt but that they go back to their homes better men and women for having done so.
The day that we went to "Calvaire" it was a fitful June afternoon. As we walked along "The Way of the Cross," across the field, past the living, almost breathing, statues of the Master bearing his cruel cross, past the sneering figures of those who hated him, and past the weeping figures of those who loved and would aid him, and as we came to the hill itself, suddenly black clouds gathered behind it and rain began to pour.
"I am glad the clouds are there back of Calvary. I am glad it is raining as we climb the hill of Calvary. I am willing to be soaked. It seems more fitting so, with the black clouds there and all. It reminds me of 'The Return from Calvary' in the painting," one of the party said impressively.
Up the winding hill we climbed, and there gaunt and cruel against a sombre sky stood the three crosses, just as we have always imagined them. The hill was so high that it overlooked as beautiful a valley as I had seen in all France. It was in Brittany, as yet untouched by the war as far as its fields are concerned (not so its men and its women and its homes); but on that spring day as we looked down from the hill of Calvary we could see off in the distance the tomb, with the stone rolled away, and life-size angels standing there with uplifted wings. Then farther along the road, perhaps another quarter mile away, on another hill, were the figures of the disciples, and the women watching the ascension with rapt faces, and a glory shone round about them all.
And as we stood there on that Calvary, built in memory of the crucifixion and resurrection and ascension of their Master by the peasants, and looked down over the earth, bright with crimson poppies everywhere in field and hill, brilliant with the old-gold blossom of the broom flower, as we stood there, our hearts subdued to awe and wonder, looking down, suddenly the rain ceased and the sun shone in its full glory and lighted anew the white marble of the figures of the ascension far below us in the field.
As we stood there the thought came to me:
"So is the Christian world standing today on the hill of 'Calvaire.' The storms have been black about the Christian world. The clouds have seemed impenetrable. The earth has been desolate. We have walked on our hands and knees and in our bare feet up the flinty road of Baupaume, 'the saddest road in Christendom,' and along this road we have borne the cross. We, the Christian world, the mothers, the fathers, the little children, have bled. We have stumbled and fallen along the way. And when we climbed the hill of Calvary, as we have been doing for these years of war, the clouds darkened and we saw only the ominous silhouettes of the three crosses.
"But the sun is now breaking the clouds, and it shall burn its way to a glorious day. Across the fields we see the open tomb and the resurrection is about to dawn; the day of brotherhood, democracy, justice, love, and peace forever.
"Hope is in the world, hope brooding, hope dominant, hope triumphant, hope in its supreme ascension."
One could not see this Silhouette of Silence, this "Calvaire" of the French nation, and not come away knowing the full meaning of the war. It is "The New Calvary" of the world.
SILHOUETTES OF SERVICE
A newspaper paragraph in a Paris paper said: "Dale was last seen in a village just before the Germans entered it, gathering together a crowd of little French children, trying to get them to a place of safety."
Dale has never been seen since, and that was two months ago. Whether he is dead or alive we do not know, but those who knew this manly American lad best, say unanimously: "That was just like Dale; he loved kids, and he was always talking about his own and showing us their pictures."
No monument will ever be erected to Dale, for he was just a common soldier; but I for one would rather have had the monument of that simple paragraph in the press despatches; I for one would rather have it said of me, "The last seen of Dale he was gathering together a crowd of little children"; I would rather have died in such a service than to have lived to be a part of the marching army that is one day to enter the streets of Berlin. That was a man's way to die; dying while trying to save a crowd of little children from the cowardly Hun.
If I had died in that kind of service, in my dying moments I could have heard the words of John Masefield from "The Everlasting Mercy" singing in my heart:
"Whoever gives a child a treat Makes joybells ring in Heaven's street; Whoever gives a child a home, Builds palaces in Kingdom Come; Whoever brings a child to birth, Brings Saviour Christ again to earth."
Or, better, I would have seen the Master blessing little children, taking them up in His arms and saying to the Hebrew mothers that stood about with wondering eyes: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
And perhaps I should have heard the echo of Joaquin Miller's sweet interpretation of that scene, for when men die, strange, sweet memories, old hymns and verses, old faces, all come back:
"Then lifting His hands He said lowly, Of such is my Kingdom, and then Took the little brown babes in the holy White hands of the Savior of men; Held them close to His breast and caressed them; Put His face down to theirs as in prayer; Put His cheek to their cheeks; and so blessed them With baby hands hid in His hair."
And I am certain that last of all I should have heard the voice of the Master himself saying:
"Insomuch as ye have done it unto the least of one of these little ones, my children, ye have done it unto me."
Thank God for a death like that. One could envy such a passing, a passing in the service to little children.
I have seen some of the most magnificent episodes of service on the part of men in France, scenes that have thrilled me to the bone.
I know a Protestant clergyman in France who walked five miles on a rainy February day to find a rosary for a dying Catholic boy.
I know a Y. M. C. A. secretary who in America is the general secretary of one of the largest organizations in one of the largest Eastern cities. He has always had two hobbies: one is seeing men made whole, and the other has been fighting cigarettes. Never bigger fists or more determined fists pounded down the walls that were building themselves up around American youth in the cigarette industry. He was militant from morning till night in his crusade against cigarettes. Some of his friends thought he was a fanatic. He even lost friends because of his uncompromising antagonism to the cigarette.
But the last time I heard of him he was in a front-line dugout. This was near Chateau-Thierry. The boys were coming and going from that awful fight. Men would come in one day and be dead the next. He had been with them for months, and they had come to love him in spite of his fighting their favorite pastime. They knew him for his uncompromising antagonism to cigarettes. They loved him none the less for that because he did not flinch. Neither was he narrow about selling them. He sold them because it was his duty, but he hated them.
Then for three days in the midst of the Chateau-Thierry fighting the matches played out. Not a match was to be had for three days. The boys were frantic for their smokes, for the nervous strain was greater than anything they had suffered in their lives. The shelling was awful. The noise never ceased. Machine-gun fire and bombing by planes at night kept up every hour. They saw lifelong friends fall by their sides every hour of the day and night. They needed the solace of their smokes.
Their secretary found two matches in his bag. He lit a cigarette for a boy, and the match was gone. Then he used the other one. Then he did a magnificent piece of service for which his name shall go down forever in the memory of those lads. Forever shall he hold their affections in the hollow of his hands. He proved to those boys that his sense of service was greater than his prejudices. He kept three cigarettes going for two days and two nights on the canteen beside him, smoking them himself in order that that crowd of boys, coming and going into the battle, in and out of the underground dugout, might have a light for the cigarettes during the few moments of respite that they had from the fight.
What a thrill went down the line when that news got to the boys out there in the woods fighting. One boy told me that a fellow he told wept when he heard it. Another said: "Good old ——! I knew he had the guts!" Another said: "I'll say he's a man!" Another came in one evening and said: "I'm going to quit cigarettes from now. If you're that much of a man, you're worth listening to!" Another said: "If I get out of this it's me for the church forever if it has that kind of men in it!"
Is it any wonder that they brought their last letters to him before they went into the trenches? Is it any wonder that they asked him for a little prayer service one night before they went into the trenches? Is it any wonder that they love him and swear by him?
Is it any wonder that when one of them was asked how they liked their secretary, the boy said: "Great! He's a man!"
Is it any wonder that when another boy was asked if their secretary was very religious, responded in his own language: "Yes, he's as religious as hell, but he's a good guy anyhow!"
That kind of service will win anybody, and that is exactly the kind of service that the boys of the American army, your boys, are getting all over France from big, heroic, unprejudiced, fatherly, brotherly men, who are willing to die for their boys as well as to live for them and with them down where the shells are thickest and the dangers are constant.
More than a hundred Y. M. C. A. men gassed and wounded to date, and more than six killed. One friend of mine stepped down into his cellar one morning, got a full breath of gas, and was dead in two minutes. There had been a gas-raid the day before, and the gas had remained in the cellar. Another I know stayed in his hut and served his men even though six shell fragments came through the hut while he was doing it. Another I know lived in a dugout for three months, under shell fire every day. One day a shell took off the end of the old chateau in which he was serving the men. His dugout was in the cellar. But he did not leave. Another day another shell took off the other end of the chateau, but he did not leave. He had no other place to go, and the boys couldn't leave, so why should he go just because he could leave if he wished? That was the way he looked at it. One man whom I interviewed in Paris, a Baptist clergyman, crawled four hundred yards at the Chateau-Thierry battle with a young lieutenant, dragging a litter with them across a stubble wheat-field under a rain of machine-gun bullets and shells, in plain view of the Germans, and rescued a wounded colonel. When they brought him back they had to crawl the four hundred yards again, pushing the litter before them inch by inch. It took them two hours to get across that field. A piece of shrapnel went through the secretary's shoulder. He is nearly sixty years of age, but he did not stop when a service called him that meant the almost certain loss of his own life.