The Note Book Of An Attache
Seven Months in the War Zone
By ERIC FISHER WOOD
With Illustrations from Photographs
A. L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers New York
Published by Arrangements with THE CENTURY COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY THE CENTURY CO.
Published, June, 1915
When the war-storm suddenly loomed over Europe at the end of July, 1914, I was quietly studying architecture in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at Paris. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 24th, the atmosphere of the city became so surcharged with excitement that to persist in study was difficult. Within a week I myself had been swept into the vortex of rushing events, from which I did not emerge until seven months later.
I became Attache at the American Embassy in Paris under the regime of Mr. Herrick, and as such lived through the first exciting months of the great war. During the months of September, October, and November, I made four different trips to the front, covering territory which extended along the battle-line from Vitry-le-Francois in the east to a point near Dunkirk in the west. I saw parts of the battles of the Marne and the Aisne, and the struggle for Calais.
The months of December and January I spent as a bearer of special dispatches between the American Embassies and went several times to France, England, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. I have seen French, British, Belgian, and German troops in action. I have seen French, Swiss, Dutch, German, Austrian, and Hungarian troops in manoeuvres. I spent the first week of February in Paris, leaving there for America on February 10th.
The following account of what I saw and heard is compiled from letters and diaries which I wrote day by day on the spot. Some of my experiences have had to be omitted for diplomatic reasons, and it has been necessary, in some cases, to give information without mentioning my authority. The higher the rank and the greater the reputation of my informant, the less right have I to mention his name.
Although my personal sympathies are with the French, I tried to observe dispassionately and accurately, and have scrupulously aimed to present my facts uncolored by preference or prejudice. In war, exaggeration and misrepresentation play an accepted part in the tactics of belligerents, but it should be the aim of a neutral to observe with an unbiased mind, no matter what the state of his emotions may be. Otherwise, the data he collects can have no value as historical material.
I.—AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY 3
II.—THE GERMANS NEARING PARIS 42
III.—WITH THE BRITISH ARMY. THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE 68
IV.—THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE 82
V.—ANALYSIS OF THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE 126
VI.—THE BATTLE OF THE AISNE 153
VII.—THE AMERICAN AMBULANCE 174
VIII.—GERMANY AND BERLIN 203
IX.—CARRYING DISPATCHES FROM BERLIN TO LONDON 234
XII.—A GERMAN PRISON CAMP 288
THE NOTE-BOOK OF AN ATTACHE
AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY
Paris, Tuesday, August 4th. I presented myself at the American Embassy today and offered my services to Mr. Herrick. They were promptly accepted. I was put to work with such suddenness that no time was spent in determining my official status. I cannot say whether I am a doorman or an Attache. At present the duties of the two seem to be identical.
Now, as in 1870, the German Embassy in leaving France turned over its affairs and the interests of German subjects remaining in France to the American Ambassador. When I arrived today the Chancellerie presented an astounding sight. Around the outer door were huddled a compact crowd of Germans, men and women; they pressed about the entrance; they glanced furtively over their shoulders and their blue eyes were filled with dumb apprehension. Inside the Chancellerie was chaos. Hundreds of Americans and Germans crowded together seeking audience and counsel. German women sank down in corners of the halls or on the stairs, weeping for joy to have found a haven of refuge. Scores of Sovereign American Citizens stood in the busiest spots and protested with American vehemence against fate and chance. Each S.A.C. was remonstrating about a separate grievance. Most of them reiterated from time to time their sovereignty, and announced to no one in particular that it was their right to see "their Ambassador" in person. They demanded information! They needed money! They wished to know what to do with letters of credit! What was "the government" going to do about sending them home? Was Paris safe? Would there be immediate attacks by Zeppelins? Could they deposit their jewels in the Embassy vaults? Were passports necessary? WHY were passports necessary? They asked the same questions over and over, and never listened to the answers.
Inspired by Mr. Herrick, the staff of the Embassy struggled bravely and coolly through this maelstrom, and accomplished as many things as possible each minute. No fifty men could have gone through with all the work that suddenly demanded attention. Without warning, virtually within one day, this great flood of humanity had rolled in upon the normally tranquil life of the Embassy, and yet its chief and his assistants took up the vast responsibility as quietly and acted as coolly as though it were all an everyday occurrence and not the emergency of a lifetime.
I was first assigned to work with the American problems. William Iselin, who had been one of my fellow-students in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, is Attache at the Embassy and he gave me a rapid summary of necessary information. I plunged into work with eagerness, but while attending to my own countrymen, my deepest personal sympathies went out to the mob of panic-stricken Germans. Poor creatures, they are in no way personally responsible for the war, and yet they bear no mean part in the suffering it is causing. It was decreed by the French government that all Germans who had not left Paris within twenty-four hours after the order of mobilization would on no condition be permitted to leave thereafter. Many of them had found it absolutely impossible to depart in time owing to the difficulty of obtaining money and to the disarrangement of the railway service caused by the mobilization of troops. The second day of mobilization, August 3d, caught them like rats in a trap and exposed them to the doubtful fate of being lost in an enemy's country during war time. Many of them were travelers who had been vacationing in the chateau country, visiting the cathedrals of Normandy, or enjoying the picturesque country of Brittany. Last week they were everywhere treated with respect and politeness, today they are looked upon with suspicion and hostility. They are hungry and they have no money. They are surrounded by looks of hatred and they are terror-stricken. No Frenchman but fears to be seen speaking to them. They have no place to sleep as no hotel or lodging-house dares harbor them. Many of them have lost all their worldly goods and possess nothing except the clothes in which they stand. Nearly all of them carried their funds in letters of credit on German banks and these are now worthless in France.
There are refined women who have slept in the streets and parks, nay, who have not been allowed to sleep, but have walked all night in their patent leather pumps. There are rich men who literally have not an available copper and whose eyes have taken on the nervous look of hunted animals. They realize that neither their sound reputation nor abundant wealth will alter their present condition by even one "petit pain de cinq centimes." One man who carried bank-books and deeds showing that he owned property to the amount of several hundred thousand francs had walked twelve miles to reach the Embassy, because he did not possess the coppers necessary to pay his carfare in a public conveyance.
Yesterday war was declared between France and Germany. One realizes how quickly it has come when in the American mail yesterday morning a copy of the New York Times dated only ten days ago devoted just a column and a quarter to the subject of possible friction between Austria and Serbia. When that newspaper left New York the whole world was at peace, but while it was crossing the ocean war has overwhelmed all Europe, and now when it reaches Paris twenty million men are rushing to arms.
Today peace-loving France realizes that she is attacked by a powerful and ambitious enemy. Today no man in all la Patrie regrets the sacrifices which he has made to maintain an army capable of defending his country; no man but gives fervent thanks to Heaven that he has been forced to pay taxes to support that army; no man regrets those three years of his life which he and each of his fellow-countrymen offered up in order that its number might not diminish, for now that army stands READY to prevent the ruin of his property, of his nation, of his women. It is Ready! At this moment—what a wonderful word! In modern wars little is of use which has not been prepared beforehand. Weeks only are necessary to ruin untrained and ill-armed forces, while years are needed to train an army and to manufacture arms. The victories of today are not won by Bravery armed with a rifle, but by Science supplemented by many complicated instruments.
Every hour of every day presents new sights or experiences unique in kind and all speaking dramatically of war. Each such sight is a surprise more vivid than the preceding one. Every day is a succession of startling novelties, each of which gives one a tingling shock. We are living so rapidly that some are benumbed, others intoxicated by the rush of events.
In the shops the prices of food staples have nearly doubled. The people are all anxious to lay in a little supply of provisions against sudden famine conditions, and the merchants are holding them up for all the traffic will bear. Articles that will keep indefinitely, such as flour, chocolate, dried fruits, potatoes, coffee, and preserved meats, are most in demand. Owing to the hand-to-mouth buying methods of the French, Paris is never more than three days ahead of famine. No one realizes this better than the French themselves, and therefore each and every one desires to lay in at least a small supply of provisions. A temporary shortage has consequently already occurred.
The newspapers have been emphatic in the denunciation of the merchants who, taking advantage of the national crisis, and making capital of the fear and need of the populace, have raised the prices of the necessaries of life, and have advised the people not to submit to the imposition. Today the poorer classes have adopted the policy of smashing anything for which an unreasonable price is demanded. I heard a big, broad "femme du peuple" ask the corner grocer the price of some prunes, several bushels of which were exhibited in front of the store. The reply indicating a rise of some fifty per cent. in the price, the woman suddenly picked up the basket in her strong arms, and before the astonished grocer could interfere, threw the whole lot into the gutter. Instantly a crowd collected which cheered the woman and jeered the grocer in so ugly a manner that he was thoroughly frightened. His confusion was made quite complete when a policeman arrived and declared that what the woman had done was well done. The results of this policy were immediately salutary and by this evening the shopkeepers of Paris are a very chastened lot, and prices are quite normal again.
The eagerness with which newspapers are bought and read is noteworthy. Each succeeding "extra" is snapped up with unfailing alacrity. The usual procedure is now reversed, for the newsboy is no longer seen racing at the beck of some haughty customer, but continues on his lordly way and allows the would-be purchaser to rush to him, or even run down the streets after him. The great journals seem unable to turn out enough editions or to get them out fast enough to meet the demand. The authorities, however, evidently consider this continual hawking of sensational news unnecessarily disturbing to the populace, and an ordinance is to be framed forbidding the crying of newspapers in the streets.
The Tour Eiffel, that plaything of a decade ago, has in this war become of supreme importance. It is the highest "wireless mast" in the world and from it messages have been exchanged with Washington, D.C. Its value as a sending station cannot be over-estimated. Russia may become isolated; indeed she is already virtually shut off by the curtain of hostile Germany and Austria-Hungary, stretching from the North Sea and the Baltic to the Adriatic. It is probable that wireless messages sent and received by the Tour Eiffel will soon be the only means of rapid communication between France and Russia. Fears for the safety of the tower have led to the most extraordinary precautions for its protection. It is assiduously guarded against the attack of spies by numerous sentries. Anti-aircraft guns are mounted upon its various stages to protect it against aeroplanes and Zeppelins, and heavy barbed-wire entanglements are to be built all around it.
A curfew regulation is now in force in Paris. No one is allowed in the streets after eight o'clock. Whoever is found out later than that hour is promptly conducted to his domicile by the first policeman he meets.
I received a cablegram tonight explaining that there is at the moment no means of forwarding money from New York to Paris. This makes my financial situation awkward, as I now have only three hundred francs. The worst of it is that one cannot even resort to the expedient of borrowing, because all one's friends are suffering a like stringency.
Today is, officially, the "third day of mobilization." From now on France will live not by calendar, but by mobilization, days. One speaks not of "Sunday, August 2d," but of the "first day of mobilization." Neither days of the week nor of the month exist any longer. All government decrees, railroad schedules, and military orders are dated by the new era. Events follow a schedule which has long since been prepared. When mobilization is announced the nation turns away from its everyday life and from the world's calendar, and starts a carefully rehearsed set of operations executed according to an arbitrary schedule. One dimly remembers that if it were "peace time" today would be Tuesday.
One sees everywhere on the sidewalk little knots of people talking in low, troubled voices, and each time just as their conversation is well started they are interrupted by a policeman who reminds them that it is not permitted to s'attrouper in the streets and that they must move on.
Everywhere one sees speeding taxicabs, each containing a young soldier, his family, and two or three bundles. The young man usually wears a brand new uniform. The women of the family are invariably weeping quietly as if to say: "I cannot help crying, because I am a woman, but everything is all right and just as it should be!" When the father is of the party, he has a calm face and sits beside his son with his arm around the son's shoulders, and always the taxi speeds madly, so that each time one gets only the most fleeting glimpse of the family within.
There are very few soldiers left in Paris,—not a fifth as many as usual; those that one does see are most of them driving heavily-loaded army wagons and appear most disgusted with the unheroic service. Auto-busses have completely disappeared from the streets, and this is a great inconvenience; they are all at Versailles being converted into meat wagons or ambulances. All the fast private automobiles are requisitioned for the army, and one sees them tearing along vying in speed with the flying taxis, each one driven by a sapper with another sapper in the footman's place, while one or two officers sit calmly behind, trying to smoke cigarettes in spite of the wind.
There are persistent rumors throughout Paris of battles "near Metz" or "on the borders of Luxembourg," of "two hundred and thirty thousand French troops already in Alsace," "ten thousand French killed at Belfort," or "forty thousand German prisoners taken."
The papers already announce a series of German depredations across the border into the ten kilometer strip of country between it and the French armies. It is reported that German foragers are infesting this strip, carrying off everything of value. Yesterday morning the papers printed the first "war story," which recounts how a patrol of Uhlans penetrating some ten kilometers into French territory were halted by a French sentinel, a soldier nineteen years old. The German in command, thinking the sentinel was alone, shot him through the head and was himself in turn immediately shot dead by the boy's comrades, who had been hidden near by in an improvised guard-house. The papers also announced that the president of the League of French Patriots in Alsace had been arrested and shot. These stories and others like them, coupled with the official report of the violation of Luxembourg and of the sending of a German ultimatum to Belgium, have intensely excited the French.
Until yesterday the people of Paris have been forbearing with such German subjects as are in the city. When these stories began to circulate certain elements of the population took prompt and drastic action against the German-owned shops of the city. During the day many such shops have been wrecked. The milk trust of Paris which sells "le Bon Lait Maggi" is popularly supposed to be owned by German capital. Its shops are in every quarter of the city, one might almost say on every street. They have today been the first objects of attack. One of these shops is in the Rue ——, not far from my apartment. I saw it wrecked this afternoon. There was no excitement, no hurry, no shouting. A crowd collected, apparently without concerted action, but as if by common impulse. There was no prearrangement or system about it and no "French" excitement. Most of the raiders were women. There was some jesting, and some dry wit, but mostly it was serious business.
The work of wrecking was carried forward painstakingly and thoroughly. The iron screen over the show-window was torn off and broken up and the window itself was smashed to bits, the door was broken open, every bit of glass or crockery was shivered to fragments against the sidewalk and the pieces were ground into powder under the heels of the raiders. Account books and bill-heads were torn sheet by sheet into the tiniest bits and strewn up and down the street for a block, and all woodwork was smashed into kindling. During the operations a patrol of policemen on bicycles went tearing by. They must have been on business of great and immediate importance since they had no time to stop nor to look either to the right or left. When the wrecking operations were quite completed another patrol came by. The sergeant in command dismounted. He wore a tremendous frown and with an authoritative sweep of his arm cried: "Qu'est ce que vous faites? Allez! Allez vous en! vous savez bien que nous sommes maintenant sous la loi militaire, et que c'est defendu de s'attrouper dans les rues! Allez! Allez!" ("What are you doing? Move along, get out of here! You know that we are now under martial law and that it is forbidden to collect in crowds in the streets. Move on, move on!").
The crowd instantly dispersed, wearing faces of great solemnity. It is evident that he could not possibly have arrested the wreckers, for he had himself seen nothing and it is not to be supposed that they would have been witnesses against one another.
By night time there were many shops, factories, and cafes of German ownership which had thus been raided. The crowds did not always take time to make careful investigation before breaking up an establishment. I shall never forget the plight of the French proprietor of a cafe on the Place de l'Opera who was standing in front of his completely wrecked shop using all the most eloquent French gestures, as he repeated over and over in helpless rage: "Sacre nom d'un nom, je suis caporal du cent-dixieme de reserve et je pars au front apres demain!" ("Sacred Name, I am Corporal of the 110th Reserve and I leave for the front the day after tomorrow.")
Last evening I repeatedly heard the following conversation between Frenchmen, wherever they met:
1st Frenchman: "Est-ce qu'on va boire du 'Bon Lait Maggi,' ce soir?"
2d Frenchman (with the solemnity of an owl): "Non, Monsieur!"
This formula of question and reply had travelled all over the city and was repeated time after time with always the same internal relish.
On all sides of Paris speedy aeroplanes and daring aviators hold themselves ready to dash upon any enemy who may approach by way of the air and, if necessary, fall with him to mutual destruction. All night the beams of searchlights comb the sky for invaders and cast a tragic reflected glow upon the city beneath.
* * * * *
Wednesday, August 5th. Yesterday an all too enterprising individual chartered one of the fast little Seine boats, always so beplastered with "Dubonnet" advertisements, which ply along the river between the Quai du Louvre and St. Cloud. He announced that since it was now no longer possible to reach London via the train to Havre, he would transport Americans on his little boat to England, going down the Seine past Rouen and across the Channel. For such service each person was to be charged an extravagant amount, payment strictly in advance. The scheme was widely advertised to have the approval of the American Ambassador, although no one at the Embassy knew anything about the matter until Americans came to the Chancellerie yesterday to ask for further information. Mr. Herrick sent me out to investigate. The promoter had evidently calculated that the Ambassador would not hear about it until too late to interfere.
I found the whole proposition most impractical. The boat was far too small for so dangerous a trip, there were no accommodations for so long a voyage, and the question of food supplies was a very serious one. Moreover, numerous and incalculable difficulties were involved in passing through a country in a state of war.
Upon receiving the detailed report on the objections to the scheme, Mr. Herrick promptly sent to the Paris papers a statement that his alleged connection with or approval of the plan was a mistake. Notices to the same effect were also posted in the halls of the Embassy.
This morning the crowd of Germans who thronged to the Embassy was greatly increased, while the number of Americans was approximately the same as yesterday; consequently several of the staff were transferred from work with Americans to work with Germans, I being among them. It is strenuous business handling these panic-stricken people. Heretofore, the offices for the naval and military Attaches have been located on the ground floor of the Chancellerie, but in the present emergency this space is converted into an impromptu German Embassy, all German affairs being concentrated here, while the Americans are taken care of on the floor above. We are stationed two by two at desks ranged along the walls of the entrance hall and we dispose of each case as rapidly as possible as they are passed to us by the doorman.
All these Germans require four things: food, lodgings, protection, and proper police papers. We began by doling out to them from one to three francs each to be used to buy food. Our miserliness was due to the fact that, under existing economic conditions, even the Embassy could obtain only a limited amount of change, and it was essential that we make that go as far as possible. In order to obtain at one and the same time lodging and protection for our wards, Mr. Herrick arranged with the French government that the Lycee Condorcet in the Rue du Havre be set aside for the lodgment of German subjects. This building is guarded by a squad of police who allow no one to enter who is not the bearer of a certificate issued by the American Embassy. The Lycee Condorcet is a great barn of a place, from which nearly all the furniture has been removed, but it provides for the moment the two essentials, a roof and safety. No owner of an hotel or apartment will in these dangerous days harbor Germans, in each of whom he sees a possible spy, and the government, suddenly called upon to house thousands of aliens, responds to the appeal of the American Embassy as best it can. Hundreds of Germans will tonight sleep on the bare floor of the Lycee Condorcet, and be more thankful for that safe resting-place than ever they have been for the most comfortable bed or luxurious apartment.
No attempt was today made to provide Germans with the necessary police papers. We had indeed no time to consider anything but food, shelter, and safety. Tomorrow we shall attack that problem.
By three o'clock we had so systematized the work of handling the Germans that I found I could, with the aid of two assistants, attend to all the routine cases myself. This released the men at the other tables to reinforce the American office on the floor above, whose business had during the afternoon greatly increased. There was no means or time for estimating in advance just how many people could be crowded into the Lycee Condorcet, so I continued during the afternoon to issue certificates of admission to all the Germans whom I examined. On receiving their certificates most of them went at once to the Lycee to get off the streets. By six o'clock the place was so crowded that not another person could find room even to sit on the floor; therefore the late arrivals, after having wearily trudged two long miles from the Embassy to the Lycee, had to trudge back again from the Lycee to the Embassy. By eight o'clock there were nearly a hundred of these refugees huddled around the Chancellerie and it was late in the evening before I, by most desperate efforts, succeeded in making arrangements for them for the night.
The French police have promulgated a regulation that all Germans now in Paris are to be shut up in detention camps. They are ordered to report immediately to the nearest police station, where they will receive written notifications of the camps to which they have been assigned, and of the date of their departure. The detention camps are twelve in number and are located at Limoges, Gueret, Cahors, Libourne, Perigueux, Saintes, Le Blanc, La Roche-sur-Yon, Chateauroux, Saumur, Anger, and Flers. Several large trainloads will be shipped away from Paris each day for the next two weeks. Exceptions to this edict are to be made only in the case of Alsatians, and of those sick Germans who are possessors of a certificate from some French physician stating that they are too ill to endure transportation.
The frightened Germans find it difficult to understand the numerous details involved in this order, and are hopelessly confused by the various official papers they are required to obtain to safeguard them against the accusation of being spies. The Embassy endeavors to keep itself informed as to the latest police enactments, and these are clearly and courteously explained to all the Germans who apply to the Embassy for counsel or assistance.
* * * * *
Sunday, August 9th. During the past few days I have been absolutely absorbed with the affairs of the Germans. I am at present in charge of them and report results to the Second Secretary. I enter the Embassy before nine in the morning and it is after midnight before I leave its doors. None of the staff, not even Mr. Herrick himself, departs before that hour. If some of the peacefully sleeping Sovereign American Citizens who are so free with their criticisms during the daytime could see the members of the Embassy in the early hours of the morning at the end of our sixteen-hour day, they would perhaps pity themselves less. We work always at high pressure; meals are hurriedly swallowed at odd moments and at irregular hours. Each night I walk home across Paris, down the Rue Freycinet, over the Pont de l'Alma, through the Avenue Bosquet, Avenue Duquesne, Rue Oudinot to the Rue d'Olivet—and sleep. It is a long walk when one is dead tired, but there are no public conveyances at night and, indeed, few in the daytime. The walk takes nearly an hour, even at a fast gait, for at short intervals one is halted by policemen demanding explanations of this midnight journey. Few experiences have been more weird than this nightly trip through the familiar Paris streets, strangely dark and absolutely deserted.
Each day is now a haze of Germans and their troubles; of policemen, detectives, and soldiers, of tears and laughter, bits of the sublime and the ridiculous; of women who have been robbed and men who have been arrested as spies; of constant struggles to secure papers for poor hounded creatures, which one policeman demands and another refuses to grant; of beaten faces and tear-stained cheeks; of French women endlessly begging unobtainable news of sons lost in Germany, and of petty crookednesses on the part of those we are trying to help and protect.
Affairs are, however, running more smoothly. We have found means to get small change in large quantities, and I now know personally most of the police officials who are concerned in German affairs.
* * * * *
I have heard the Marseillaise sung upon hundreds of peaceful occasions; have risen when it was played in French theaters; have enthusiastically joined in singing it at students' dinners, and have been impressed by it in an unemotional and academic way. In peace times one feels that it is easily the greatest of national anthems, but fails to realize that it is primarily a battle song. This morning for the first time I heard it sung as such, and as such shall forever remember it. I was walking down the Rue de Sevres toward the Boulevard Montparnasse, hoping to pick up a stray taxicab which would carry me to the Embassy. Suddenly, and with startling abruptness, I was brought to a full stop by a wave of sharp, staccato vocal sound. Wave beat upon wave,—a great volume of male voices shouting in unison. There was something so strange, so startling, and so appalling in their quality that, without comprehending what was coming, a shiver ran up my spine. The sound swelled and came nearer, and suddenly the head of a column of infantry swung into view past a street corner just ahead and the dull "smash—smash—smash" of a thousand feet falling in unison could be heard through the volume of sound. It was the Marseillaise of war! The troops were marching to the Gare Montparnasse to entrain for the front, and in a few days would be in the battle-line. Their bayonets sloped backward, a waving thicket bent toward the morning sun. There was no music in their words, which were sharp and incisive. Each word was a threat, an imprecation, intense with ferocious meaning. Their intonation carried conviction that the men meant literally every impressive line they uttered. The words visualized for me the picture in their own minds. I could sense their desire to charge the Germans, to close in, to strike, to stab. Perhaps the deliberate, vengeful premeditation to destroy is more terrible than the act itself. I doubt if any battle could ever affect me as did the song of those men. The result was so disintegrating to one's psychology that for the rest of the day I completely lost balance of judgment. I felt exultantly certain that the French were going to smash Germany into tiny bits, and was equally sure that they could, if need be, demolish all creation.
* * * * *
Monday, August 10th. Today Austria and France are officially at war. The affairs of the Austro-Hungarian Embassy were turned over to us this evening. This probably means that a flood of Austrians and Hungarians will be tomorrow added to the Americans and Germans who already keep us so busy.
Today for the first time we were able to complete all the business brought to the Embassy. Previously we had to be content with accomplishing as much as could be done in a sixteen-hour day.
* * * * *
Wednesday, August 12th. I have witnessed so much suffering during the last week that to see people weep now no longer produces any emotional effect upon me. One's sympathies get numbed by the over-strain put upon them; the more keenly one feels, the more numb one ultimately becomes. Today during the long day about five hundred Austrians and Hungarians poured in upon the Embassy. I examined one hundred and sixty-four cases between two o'clock and half-past four, and gave monetary assistance to one hundred and twenty-one.
* * * * *
Friday, August 14th. During the past week six ten-dollar gold pieces which have been sent me in letters arrived safely. Snugly held in their pasteboard frames, they could not be detected by feeling the letters. When the first one arrived I had spent virtually all the money which I had on hand at the beginning of the war, and this good American gold will tide me over until drafts can be sent through to Paris. In New York in peace time sixty dollars seems a small amount, but in France in war three hundred francs in gold looks a small fortune. At least, it insures plenty of good food.
* * * * *
Sunday, August 16th. Until today I have had at the Embassy no definite status. I have laughingly been dubbed the "German Ambassador." Everyone has been much too busy to give thought to anything so personal as position or titles. This morning, however, time was found to send my name to the Minister of Foreign Affairs as "Attache Civil a l'Ambassade Americaine," and to request the customary "coup fil."
* * * * *
Monday, August 17th. I have at last received money from America. It came through Morgan, Harjes & Company. This firm has been the salvation of our countrymen in Paris. They announced that "until further notice" they would cash all American paper. They even take personal checks on American banks. The "further notice," fortunately, shows no signs of appearing.
* * * * *
Thursday, August 20th. The statue of Strasbourg on the Place de la Concorde has been constantly hung with mourning wreaths and crepe ever since the capture and annexation of the city of Strasbourg by the Germans forty-four years ago. Now it is piled with gay flowers and bedecked with streamers and the arms of the lady are filled with flags, conspicuous among which are those of Great Britain and Russia.
* * * * *
Friday, August 21st. Nearly all the Germans, Hungarians, and Austrians have by this time been interned in the detention camps; all ages and both sexes have been shipped away to a fate of which we as yet have no knowledge.
I have been arranging the details of an automobile tour of inspection to the various camps, in order to investigate the prisons and to disburse to the prisoners the funds which have been received for their benefit from their various governments. Such a trip will necessitate nearly twelve hundred miles of travel and will require at least two weeks' time.
Mr. Herrick sent for me today and questioned me as to the state of the preparations. He told me that he intended to select me to make the trip, and that I was to start as soon as the necessary permissions had been received from the French Government. Attache Herbert Hazeltine, who has been a fellow-worker in behalf of the Germans, is to take charge of the Paris office during my absence.
* * * * *
Saturday, August 22d. German affairs are now reduced to a system. The Embassy each day opens to Americans at ten o'clock. I begin with my Germans and Austrians at nine in order to get clear of the least desirable element before the Americans appear. In that first hour we dispose of about fifty per cent.; the half that need only routine assistance. At present I receive them in the entrance hall of the Embassy at the far end. I sit at the desk facing the door and have the money sent by the German Government for destitute cases on my left hand in a drawer against the wall. An Austrian, long resident in Paris, and president of the Austro-Hungarian Relief Society, is placed on my right to give me the benefit of his long experience in charity work. He already knows many of those who apply for aid and can judge whether or not they are really destitute. Beyond him is another assistant who fills out receipts for each sum distributed and obtains the signature of the recipient. Special appointments for the afternoon hours are made with those applicants who want information or help which cannot immediately be decided upon.
The crowd outside the door, often several hundred in number, is kept in order by two policemen. Assistants hand out numbers like those used for the Paris auto-busses, not given however for priority, but for undesirability; the least desirable getting in first so that we may be the sooner rid of them. These assistants also see that each applicant has the correct papers in his hand, and that three of them are waiting in line to facilitate the steady flow of the human current. The receipts and my entries form a double record and check to be used in the official accounts which are balanced every day and in the end will be transmitted in reports to the German and Austrian Governments. A stenographer keeps an indexed, alphabetical list of all the applicants, which enables me to find the past record of any case which reappears. In addition to this, I have a system of hieroglyphics which I write in on the lower right-hand corner of the police papers which every foreigner must at all times carry with him for identification. There is also an interpreter for those rare comers who speak neither French nor English. By this system I have managed to examine as many as one hundred and thirty-five cases in an hour, and once as high a number as seven hundred in a single day.
At the beginning of the war there were probably at least thirty thousand Germans and Austrians in or near Paris who became wards of the American Embassy when the affairs of the German and Austrian Embassies were turned over to us, all of them needing to be furnished with proper police papers and to be provided with a refuge until such time as they are shipped to detention camps in the south of France.
* * * * *
Sunday, August 23d. Here in Paris, extraordinary as it may seem, we have had no real news of the progress of the war. The Official Communiques carry to a fine point the art of saying nothing of any importance. The newspapers are so strictly censored that they are permitted to publish little except these communiques or editorials based upon them. Letters and papers from America really give us the first accounts of events which are happening at our very gates. We know by rumor that there has been heavy fighting somewhere and somewhen. Many German prisoners are being taken around Paris southward to the detention camps which I hope soon to visit, and the flags of three German regiments have been brought to Paris and exhibited with considerable ceremony. This should indicate that battles favorable to the French have been fought, since a German regiment numbers three thousand men and would defend its flag to the last.
Of late one sees everywhere numbers of women in mourning, increasing so rapidly as to attract the attention of even the least observing. Paris still maintains a strange calm. The stillness of the city is positively oppressive. Even the newsboys drag slowly along calling in a disheartened voice their wares which no longer contain any news and which, in consequence, find few buyers.
The people seem to realize from the very lack of news that this is to be a long and terrible war and that any decisive result cannot be at present expected.
Letters are constantly arriving at the Embassy, forwarded to us with great care by French soldiers who have found them on the bodies of dead Germans, or received them from the hands of the dying. They are sent to us in the hope that we may eventually find means to transmit them to Germany to the relatives of the dead for whom they were intended. Today came such a note written by a German airman who had been shot down out of the sky. He had evidently realized that his time was short and had hurriedly scribbled on the back of a sheet of instructions printed in German script the few words he could summon strength to write. The scrap of paper was torn and smudgy and a thumb-print in blood was impressed on one corner. Each word was more shaky and labored than the preceding one, as if each had been traced only by a supreme effort. On it was written in German, "Good-bye, Mother and Father. My leg is crushed. The French are very kind and...." A foot-note had been added by some French soldier explaining that the man had died while he was writing, and giving the means of identification which had been found on the body.
* * * * *
Monday, August 24th. Yesterday and this morning I have observed a very singular psychological phenomenon. Neither yesterday nor today have the authorities given out any military news of importance and the papers have been as non-committal as usual, yet all Paris believes that the Allies have suffered a great and terrible defeat at a place in Belgium called Charleroi. The whole city is as if it were under a pall. Every face wears a fatalistic expression terrible to behold. I have read of such mysterious spreading of evil tidings, but have never before witnessed anything of the kind. It is a very curious manifestation, whether or not it proves to have any foundation in fact.
[Footnote 1: The French and British armies suffered a crushing defeat at Charleroi on August 22d-23d. As a result they were driven back a distance of 150 miles and only succeeded in making a stand after they had reached a point southeast of Paris.]
* * * * *
The French find a superstitious encouragement in an acrostic which some ingenious journalist has constructed out of the names of the Commanders-in-Chief of the French and British armies. Here it is:
JOF FRE _ __ FRE NCH
* * * * *
With Paris unlighted at night, it is an uncanny experience to walk through a great city which is absolutely dark. The Champs-Elysees is probably at present the darkest avenue on earth. All those monumental lamp-posts which used to stand like beacons in the midst of the stream of traffic now shine no more. The sun seldom rises without revealing the ruins of one of these lamps and of an automobile, the two having mutually destroyed each other in the darkness. We do not know why the city is left in gloom. The common interpretation is a necessity to save gas and coal.
I do such a variety of things each day! This morning I managed to get away from the Embassy for an hour in one of the several automobiles which have been loaned to Attaches and which are driven by their American owners. During that time I arranged for the delivery of twenty thousand francs in small change which I shall take with me on my trip to the detention camps, ordered a lot of printing, and obtained fifteen hundred francs in change for tomorrow's crowd of German and Austrian indigents. I visited the editor of a newspaper and arranged for the correction of an article giving some misinformation about Embassy affairs, and then ended up by making a verbal report of the morning's work to Mr. Frazier.
* * * * *
Tuesday, August 25th. The Military Governor of Paris is now invested with absolute and autocratic powers. He makes what regulations he chooses and is authorized to punish any infraction of his rule with the death penalty. He has taken advantage of his position to institute various reforms which have for years been much needed but which have hitherto been persistently blocked by "politics." He is no longer required to argue with bureaucracies or to convince legislatures. He acts without hindrance. He has thus, out of hand, settled some of the great problems with which Paris has been struggling for years. With a stroke of the pen, for instance, he has made it illegal to buy, sell, or possess absinthe. He is said to have destroyed the long menace of the Apache gangs by summarily shooting down all that could be found in Paris. He has by drastic measures suppressed gambling, and has even done away with the slot machines of chance which have so long stood in all the cafes to catch the hard-earned sous of the workmen. It is probable that these reforms will be permanent and will stand even when martial law in Paris is abolished. It is always difficult to accomplish a great reform, but it is often impossible to undo it once it is an accepted fact. If we had real prohibition in America and Woman Suffrage, I hardly think that we should vote to have "whiskey" brought back or ever disfranchise our women.
* * * * *
Friday, August 28th. Public vehicles are now almost unobtainable. Taxicabs are to be secured only after much delay and at exorbitant prices. It has become more and more a waste of time for me to cross Paris on foot each morning and evening and to do much of my Embassy work at the same disadvantage. I have attempted to solve the difficulty by engaging by the week one of those archaic old horse chaises called fiacres. London has placed a hansom in the British Museum with the other obsolete and historic styles of equipages, but frugal Paris has kept her out-of-date vehicles on exhibition in active use on the boulevards. These conveyances, so recently looked down upon for their slow pace as compared with the speed of taxis, are now restored to something of their former prestige.
The fiacre I have acquired is navigated by Paul, who has been a Paris cocher for thirty-five years, and its one-horse power is furnished by his faithful old horse Grisette. True to type, Paul is stout and jovial. He considers it a great honor to drive for a member of an Embassy and always sits up very straight on his box, for to come and go on missions concerning "les affaires des Etats-Unis" has imbued him with a great sense of dignity and importance. When waiting in front of the Embassy among the limousines he maintains a rigid and dignified position and insists that Grisette, for her part, shall hold up her head and stand on all four feet.
Each noon Paul drives Hazeltine and myself down the nearly deserted Champs-Elysees for lunch at the Cafe Royal. We must make an absurd spectacle with so much dignity on the box and a total lack of it behind, for Hazeltine and I, relaxing from the strenuous work of the morning, lounge in the seat with our feet far out in front, as we discuss with great vehemence affairs connected with our Embassy work. The pleasure and pride which Paul experiences in his present "position" he shares with Grisette, with whom and of whom he speaks as if she were human. He perorates upon her manifold good qualities, usually ending with the statement that she is "bonne comme du bon pain," while Grisette modestly pretends that she does not hear herself thus praised.
THE GERMANS NEARING PARIS
Saturday, August 29th. Paris feels the oppression of war more and more each day. There have been so many "morts pour la patrie" that everywhere there are families who have been stricken by the loss of a member. This leaven of sorrow gives to the population as a whole a somber tone.
Perfectly frightful stories of German barbarities are circulating. They are almost unbelievable, but seem to have some confirmation.
Many of the wounded Frenchmen when returning from the front bring trophies of battle, such as German swords, bayonets, and buttons. The most prized possession of all is the German spiked helmet. Barring only the scalp of the American Indian, a more significant trophy could not be imagined. It is not only significant but gorgeously handsome. Moreover, it is everywhere on earth accepted as the symbol of the Prussian militarism.
Today Mr. Herrick sent an Attache with a fast automobile out toward Compiegne, which is thirty-eight miles from the Porte St. Denis. The man was not permitted to approach the town, but from hills on this side he could hear the constant rumble of heavy guns. He returned to Paris giving it as his opinion that a battle was being fought at Compiegne. This, however, is so improbable that he can find no one to credit his report. The idea is really too preposterous! The truth might be that manoeuvres of the French army were in progress, or that the forts around Paris were practising. We have been warned that this might occur. The war was not declared four weeks ago; how then would it be possible for the Germans already to be at Compiegne? Before they could reach a point so near Paris they must first reduce the triple line of the French frontier fortifications, which are the product of more than forty years of study and labor and form a greater barrier than any ocean. Even were these reduced, the Germans would have to beat back the French active army numbering one and a half million men. Compiegne is no farther from Paris than Peekskill is from New York.
* * * * *
Sunday, August 30th. The rumors of evil which yesterday all refused to believe as absolutely incredible are today accepted as facts. No bad news has yet appeared in print, the censor having suppressed even the slightest hint of misfortune. This lack of any definite information has had a disintegrating effect upon the public morale. Since all official news is denied them, the people add to their previous personal anxiety a ghastly terror of the unknown, multiplied and intensified as it manifests itself in the masses, already in a high state of excitement.
[Footnote 2: I have been informed by American officials on duty in Berlin that they have never observed any misstatement of fact, or any essential omission in the communiques of the German Government. This, during my brief visits within the borders of the Empire, was certainly borne out by my own experience. Defeats are announced as automatically as victories. An illustration of the advantageous effect of this procedure upon public morale and of the disadvantageous effect of the opposite occurred after the Battle of the Marne. The French, who should logically have gained the greatest encouragement, had so learned to distrust their official communiques, that they gained no advantage of this kind whatsoever, while the Germans, who ought to have received no moral stimulus from so material a disaster, underwent a fresh accroissement of their patriotic determination as a result of the frank announcement that the war was no longer going "according to specifications."]
Paris knows with a conviction that nothing can alter that the French armies have met defeat at all points along the line. They do not need dates, or names, or numbers; the one terrible fact that the Germans are again nearing the gates of Paris stands out with greater intensity because all details are withheld.
The Bank of Paris has begun to move. I felt it was an historically memorable day when I stood this morning before its great doors and watched the nervous, hurrying messengers endlessly streaming in and out as they loaded a row of trucks with France's money bags. The bearers looked for all the world like a stream of ants carrying their larvae to safety when an ant-hill is broken open.
It is commonly reported that the French Government is planning to flee from Paris. If that actually occurs the papers will doubtless announce it as a "strategic retreat." The members of the various Embassies are becoming frightfully nervous and most of them will probably leave at the same time.
At the American Chancellerie all goes on quite as usual, partly because we are so busy that there is no time to worry, but principally because Mr. Herrick is so calm and confident that he sets all the other members a compelling example.
Early this afternoon it was reported at the Embassy that a German aeroplane had flown over Paris and had dropped several bombs, one of which had fallen near the St. Lazare Hospital. Mr. Herrick sent me out to investigate. I found that there had really been an aeroplane and that it had thrown three bombs, all of which had exploded. Many windows had been broken and one old woman had been killed. Few people, however, had actually seen the aeroplane.
The censor allowed details of the affair to be published in the evening papers, including what purported to be a translation of a note dropped by the German, saying: "The German army is at the gates of Paris. Nothing remains for you but to surrender.—Lieutenant von Heidssen." This is an example of the inexplicable working of the censorship. The people tonight all seemed to believe that the German's note is authentic.
The papers recently published an account of the arrival at a Paris hospital of a wounded Turco who had brought as trophy a German spiked helmet. The peculiar element reported was that the head was still in the helmet. I doubt the truth of this story. It is, however, another example of the extraordinary workings of the censor's mind. He suppresses every vestige of harmless war news on the plea that it might "assist the enemy," and then permits the publication of such a hate-breeding tale as this.
* * * * *
Monday, August 31st. Another German aeroplane flew over the city today and again threw bombs. It arrived at six in the evening. The psychological effect on Paris has been incalculable. Yesterday's Taube went virtually unobserved; it did not seem to need explanation, and its visit could be interpreted as a freakish exploit—the solitary one of its kind. The attack of another Taube today put an entirely different face upon the matter. Nothing better could have been calculated to disquiet the French. They have always considered themselves kings of the air and have felt that, whatever else might be found wanting, at least the French aviators would always rule that element. Today every soul in Paris saw the Taube. Until now anything about the Germans' approach has been rumor and hearsay, but now comes this plain fact for all the world to see; and what more convincing or spectacular evidence of their nearness could be set before the Parisians than a German aeroplane flying over their heads? I think it will prove the spark to light one of the historical explosions of the French people, and that this will probably show itself in extreme panic conditions.
* * * * *
Tuesday, September 1st. Panic conditions of the most pronounced order exist today. Everyone seems possessed with the single idea of escaping from Paris. A million people must be madly trying to leave at the present moment. There are runs on all the banks. The streets are crowded with hurrying people whose faces wear expressions of nervous fright. The railroad stations are packed with tightly jammed mobs in which people and luggage form one inextricable, suffocating, hopeless jumble.
Cabs are nearly unobtainable. When anyone is seen to alight from a vehicle, a flock of men and women instantly gather round it like vultures and there stand poised to see if the cabby is to be paid off. If the "fare" makes a motion toward his pocket, the mob piles into the carriage, swearing and scrambling. The matter is then arbitrated by the driver who accepts as client the one who offers the largest pourboire. In the Rue Condorcet today I saw such a dispute settled with a twenty-franc tip. One of the defeated candidates was a poor dejected woman who had fought like a tigress for the cab and had been ejected with considerable force. She now wept copiously and hopelessly. She explained that she had her baggage and three children to take to the station and that she had been endlessly trying to get a vehicle since the night before, and announced that this was the nine hundredth vehicle "qu'on m'a vole." For one in her emergency I considered this an excusable exaggeration, so I lent her my cocher, Paul, and hurriedly went on foot to the Embassy. My faithful Paul does not desert me, even now when the streets run gold for cochers. Last evening an auto carried a family to Tours, returning this morning. For this it received 1500 francs. Thousands upon thousands of refugees from the north are fleeing across Paris by any and every means of transportation left in the city.
* * * * *
Three days ago we doubted the possibility of a battle as near as Compiegne. Today already we feel it quite possible that the Germans will capture Paris, and that within a few days. It is almost certain that our Embassy will have a tremendous part to play in the capture, for Mr. Herrick will stay in Paris, come what may, unless Washington orders him to leave. It is probable that France will turn over to him her interests in Paris—one might almost say, the city itself.
Another Taube came today and left the usual consignment of three bombs. The aviator arrived promptly at six, just as he did yesterday. I was amused to see two French policemen rush out of a cafe and fire their revolvers at the so-far-away speck.
* * * * *
Wednesday, September 2d. The German bomb-dropping aeroplane arrives each day as regularly as sunset. It is considerate of him to come always at the same hour—six o'clock. One knows when to expect him and is thus able to be promptly on hand to watch the show. It was especially thrilling today. We all stood in the Rue Chaillot in front of the Chancellerie, and being on the side of the Trocadero Hill we enjoyed a good view off over the city. The Taube passed almost directly over our heads on its way to attack the Tour Eiffel; it flew at an altitude of about 5000 feet and looked very like a bug crawling across the sky. With our glasses we could see the German aviator looking down at us, and could distinguish on the under side of each wing the black Maltese cross which all German aeroplanes carry as "uniform."
Off to the east a French machine was slowly mounting above the housetops to give battle. The German sailed over the Tour Eiffel and dropped a bomb. We caught sight of it, a tiny speck floating downwards. After waiting what seemed an unreasonably long time, we heard the faint, muffled "boom" of its explosion. All this time, guns in various parts of the city were shooting at the aeroplane; it sounded like firecrackers on the Fourth of July. There are anti-aircraft guns on the different platforms of the Tour Eiffel. These seemed to be rapid-fire guns which spouted ten shots in about five seconds, and then, after taking a long breath, spouted another ten shots, and so on. The din was extraordinary, but the German aeroplane went serenely on as if utterly unconscious of the thousands of shots of which it was the target.
After throwing his first bomb near the Tour Eiffel, the German described a graceful, sweeping curve off over the Ecole Militaire, and threw another bomb which struck the roof of a house in the Avenue Bosquet. He then turned northward and sailed off in triumph over Montmartre, apparently unscathed. The French machine had meanwhile reached about half the altitude at which the German was flying. The whole affair was extremely dramatic. All Paris stood open-mouthed in the streets, utterly oblivious to everything but the machine which was creeping across the sky.
The French already take their daily Taube as much as a matter of course as their daily cafe. They cannot help exclaiming in admiration "quel aplomb!" It is now the fourth day that a German aeroplane has passed over the French armies, eluded the French machines, and braved a murderous fire from the waiting guns of Paris.
The incidents have been marked by singularly ineffective shooting on both sides. The aeroplanes have thrown a dozen bombs; they have broken windows and roof slates and have killed one old woman. But this has been, as far as I know, the only casualty. On the other hand, the Taubes likewise have escaped unwrecked, in spite of the fact that enough ammunition has been expended against them to have smashed all the aeroplanes in the world. The psychological effect on the Parisians has been immense.
For two weeks now, I have been entirely ready to start on my first tour of the detention camps. The need has seemed so pressing that I have been prepared to start immediately on the receipt of permission from the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Herrick rightly refuses to allow me to start without this permission. The reason for the delay seems to be that France insists that she will accord us only those privileges with regard to her German prisoners that the German government gives to the Spanish Embassy in Berlin with regard to the French prisoners in Germany. The hitch is that each takes exactly the same ground, so neither side does anything definite.
Such is European "diplomacy." The onus of the prisoners' condition cannot be said to rest upon our shoulders. Mr. Herrick or Mr. Bliss has made demarches in the matter almost every day.
Diplomacy is a trade which I find extremely hard to learn. Its principal rule seems to be never to do anything that you can possibly avoid. Such principles naturally give rise to a great deal of futile routine. When a diplomat must act, he methodically follows a well-trodden and known-to-be-safe path; when he is forced to take a new direction he invariably makes some superior take the responsibility. I know that on one occasion a trivial question was asked of a Jaeger at the door of a European Chancellerie; it was passed through eight people of increasing rank and finally reached the ruler of a great nation. I wonder if the applicant was kept waiting at the door by the Jaeger during the months necessary for the working out of the process.
The Government of France has announced, officially, that it will depart from Paris tonight and that Bordeaux is to be the new capital. In point of fact, many officials have already gone, while those who still remain are to leave tonight on a series of diplomatic trains. The Embassies of England and Russia and the Legation of Belgium will go also. There is a rumor that several of the neutral ambassadors and consuls will flee, but this I cannot credit. They could have no sufficient excuse for deserting Paris so precipitately, and if they did they would appear arrant cowards. Mr. Herrick is sending Captain Pope, one of the military Attaches, and Mr. Sussdorf, the third secretary, to Bordeaux, in order that we may have some official representation with the French Government in its temporary exile, but feels that the Embassy as a whole should stay in Paris. Bordeaux is in the midst of the districts which contain the detention camps for German and Austrian prisoners, and I therefore rather expected to be sent with Captain Pope and Mr. Sussdorf when I heard at noon that they were to leave for Bordeaux. Mr. Frazier, however, told me that I was to stay in Paris, work here being so pressing that the German prisoners will have to get on without me. I hurriedly turned over to Captain Pope much data I had collected concerning the camps and a satchel containing twenty thousand francs in small change which I had in hand for distribution among the internes.
* * * * *
Thursday, September 3d. Now that part of the Embassy corps has departed for Bordeaux, the following remain at the Chancellerie to face the exciting events of an impending German invasion. Besides Mr. Herrick and the secretaries, Messrs. Bliss and Frazier, there are Majors Cosby, Hedekind, and Henry; Captains Parker, Brinton, and Barker; Lieutenants Donait, Hunnicutt, Boyd, and Greble, all of the United States Army; Major Roosevelt of the Marine Corps; Commander Bricker and Lieutenants Smith and Wilkinson of the Navy. Herbert Hazeltine, William Iselin, and myself are civil Attaches, and Harry Dodge and Lawrence Norton private secretaries to the Ambassador. The Treasurer, Mr. Beazle, was at the Embassy as long ago as the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune, and has already lived through one siege and capture of Paris. There are, of course, innumerable stenographers, bookkeepers, and the like.
The other embassies and most of the consulates have fled. Their members have left Paris more precipitately and with less dignity than has been shown even by the civil population. They all seemed to lose their wits when the Germans drew near Paris; they made their preparations to depart in the most frantic haste; they were white of face and perspiring with nervousness. It is not a pleasant sight to see strong men palsied with fright, but we have seen many such these days. Not a soul remains in the British Embassy or consulate to take care of England's manifold interests. It seems strange that when thousands of British heroes of the army are dying brave deaths on the fields of battle, not a single British hero was to be found in the diplomatic corps with nerve enough to risk the inconveniences of a siege. The Ambassador of another country, who fled with the crowd, left in spite of orders from his king absolutely directing him to remain. Apparently he has sacrificed his career to his fright, for this king was so determined that his embassy at least should remain in Paris that he has replaced this ambassador by another who has more courage,—the new one is a soldier.
These fleeing diplomats insult France by assuming that she is already conquered, and insult the Germans by assuming that the lives of the accredited plenipotentiaries of foreign nations would not be safe in the hands of German soldiers. They also leave their own subjects in Paris without a soul to represent them at a moment when they really need a representative for the first time in decades. When these magnates have recomposed their minds in Bordeaux and have time to formulate excuses, they will probably say that they left Paris because it was their solemn duty to accompany the French Government; but yesterday, when they were asked why they were departing so swiftly, they could only cry: "The Germans are coming."
Mr. Herrick looks on with calm amazement. Three days ago he telegraphed Washington to ask for authorization to stay in Paris. The reply left the matter to his own discretion. Thirty minutes later he was in the cabinet of M. Delcasse to say that he would stay in Paris no matter what might come. It must have been a wonderful tableau when those two men faced each other across M. Delcasse's big desk. As Mr. Herrick stated that the American Embassy was positively to remain in Paris, M. Delcasse's expression of calm dignity vanished in a flash. He stepped around his desk and shook Mr. Herrick eagerly by the hand. He said there were many precious memorials and many rare objects which might have their habitation in one spot like Paris, but which nevertheless belonged to all civilized humanity, and that no diplomat could perform a greater service to France and to mankind than to stay in Paris and do what could be done to protect these precious memorials and objects from destruction—a destruction which might be avoided if an authorized spokesman of that humanity were present to protest.
* * * * *
The stampede out of Paris grows hour by hour. It is a contagion and seizes all classes. A week ago it was a short street indeed which did not boast at least one Red Cross Hospital; now most of them are deserted, for the fashionable women who followed the fashion in joining hospitals have now again followed the fashion and fled, pell-mell.
The newspaper men and the "war correspondents" have been particularly concerned for their own safety. By supreme efforts, I today managed to obtain conveyances to transport several of them out of the city—men with sweat on their brows and hands that trembled. There is an element of humor in it all, despite the sadness. One of the staff remarked, "Do you notice how all the newspaper men, who for weeks have been pestering us with requests to be sent to the front, now demand as insistently to be sent away, when the front is at last coming to them?" In time of peace diplomats and war correspondents are easily the most pugnacious people in the world. If one has taken them at their own estimation the resulting contrast is painful.
Today we took over the interests of Great Britain, Japan, and Guatemala. We have represented Germany, Austria, and Hungary since the beginning of August, so that, including the United States, we are now seven embassies in one.
* * * * *
Friday, September 4th. Last evening all Paris awaited the "six o'clock Taube" which has become for the French a regular and almost welcome feature of each day's happenings. At four o'clock a French aviator in a monoplane took the air and mounted up, up, up, in slow wide circles whose center was the Tour Eiffel, until he finally reached an altitude of some 10,000 feet. Then, a mere speck in the cold, thin air, he circled slowly around and around, waiting for the German—who never came. Even without this climax the situation was thrilling enough. The Frenchman descended sadly from his lofty beat just as night fell, while waiting Paris was distinctly disappointed. That night in the restaurants one heard Frenchmen express the extraordinary hope that nothing too terrible had happened to brave Lieutenant von Heidssen.
This morning Paris is informed that the Lieutenant had been punctually on his way to his daily appointment when, in flying over the Bois de Vincennes, a rifle bullet had passed through his heart. Strange to say, he planed down on a long steep slant, this man-bird, just as game birds do when similarly stricken, and landed without serious damage to his machine. He was found sitting stone dead, strapped up in his seat. Such is the quick generosity of the French temperament that today he is mourned by all Paris, this Lieutenant von Heidssen, who died on his lonely way to keep his fifth punctual appointment with the city of his enemies. Paris actually regrets that he no longer comes at six each evening to throw bombs at her.
* * * * *
Mr. Herrick's remaining in Paris has been greeted with wonderful appreciation and enthusiasm by the whole French nation. His picture is in all the newspapers and shop windows, and even the most humble member of the Embassy shines by reflected glory.
The diplomatic responsibilities resting on our Embassy become more and more important, but everyone acknowledges that in each emergency Mr. Herrick shows himself equal to the situation. When the first German aeroplane threw bombs at Paris, a wave of indignation and protestation swept over the city. It was one of those waves of excitement which carry judgment before it. Citizens and officials, newspapers and posters, Frenchmen and Americans, all besought and begged Mr. Herrick, "the courageous, the noble Mr. Herrick," to make formal protest to Washington. Everywhere one heard in angry tones the phrases: "brutality," "contrary to the Hague Convention," "killing non-combatants," "barbarians." Mr. Herrick decided that there was more danger in protesting too soon than of protesting too late. He delayed long enough to consult his books and to confer with his legal and military advisers. I was fortunate enough to be present when he read the final summing-up of his conclusions. He had discovered that neither Germany nor France had signed the clause of the Hague Convention forbidding aircraft to drop bombs on cities. Therefore, the law that non-combatants of a city must be warned before any bombardment is begun did not, in the case of these two nations, technically apply, whatever the considerations of humanity might dictate.
Mr. Herrick did not protest, for there was legally nothing to protest about. He forwarded verbatim to Washington the protests of the French Government.
One now sees many British and Belgian soldiers about Paris. They have come in on the edges of the great retreat. Their morale is exactly the reverse of what one would expect in troops who have been badly beaten. They express great contempt for the German soldier. They describe him as a stupid, brutal, big-footed creature, who does not know how to shoot and who has a distaste for the bayonet. They seem unable to understand why they have been beaten by the Germans and try to explain it by saying, "There are so many of them."
The Belgians, nearly all of whom have come from Liege and Namur, speak in the most awe-stricken terms of the effects of the big German siege guns, which fire a shell 11.2 inches in diameter. These guns were placed in distant valleys and could not be located by the Belgians. Moreover, they outranged the guns of the forts and could not have been injured even if they had been located. The forts thus lay hopeless and awaited their doom, which came suddenly enough in the shape of great shells dropping out of the sky upon their cupolas. The explosions might have been approximated by combining an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, and a cyclone.
Namur was surrounded by twelve forts. The bombardment began on a Wednesday night and three of the forts were reduced to scrap in two days. The Germans marched through the gap thus made and took the other forts in the rear, so that in less than three days Namur was completely in their possession. This will undoubtedly be the system used against Paris, and apparently there is no antidote. The forts cannot reply, for they cannot determine where the big guns are located; but meanwhile the big guns know the exact position of the forts, and they, moreover, outrange the forts.
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Today I had an opportunity to talk with three British officers recently arrived in Paris from that part of the front just this side of Chantilly. They were incredibly grimy, dirty, and sweaty and were greatly embarrassed thereby. They were of the first body of British troops landed in France; they had met the Germans at Charleroi and had been through the whole retreat of nearly one hundred and fifty miles, having been constantly in action for some two weeks. They summed up their experiences by saying that they had received "a hell of a licking." This statement is rather over-modest since within a day or so we have learned that the British, numbering about sixty thousand, were opposed by four or five German army corps, amounting to two hundred thousand men, and that in spite of this the British had retreated stubbornly, contesting every mile.
A most extraordinary thing which these officers told me was that, during their whole retreat from Charleroi to Compiegne, they had never seen a single French soldier nor received any assistance from the French army. One is tempted to wonder what would have happened if there had been no British army to help check the retreat toward Paris.
British soldiers agree that they have received most extraordinary hospitality from the civilians and peasantry of Belgium and France. Whole villages, themselves facing starvation, gave their last crumb of bread and their last drop of wine to the British troops and cheerfully slept in the fields in order that the soldiers might snatch a bit of rest in their houses.
All the officers with whom I have had the opportunity to talk agree that the German losses have been enormous. I do not think that this is entirely patriotic exaggeration, since British officers are not particularly prone to flights of fancy. One of them prefaced his remarks on the retreat from Charleroi by saying, "The truth of the matter is, we got damn well licked," and went on to say that his men shot and shot and shot until they became sick of killing, and that the Germans kept coming, always coming, their ranks riddled and smashed by bullets and shells. The British all agree that the German troops have an unflinching, dogged, brutal courage, which nothing seems to daunt. They come on and on, climbing over the bodies of the regiments which have gone before. The German tactics are those of Napoleon. They attack a position and they keep on attacking it until they take it, no matter what it costs; regiments and brigades are wiped out without any wavering in the commander's resolve or in the dogged persistence of his troops.
In spite of the fact that they have been constantly beaten by German tactics, the officers of the Allies persist in considering them antiquated and barbarous. They ascribe the German successes to their big guns and to the wonderfully efficient way in which their bad tactics are carried out. They all agree that the German skill in concentrating troops before an attack is wonderful. So far they have never failed to have overwhelming numbers at any point of offense.
WITH THE BRITISH ARMY. THE NIGHT BEFORE THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE
Paris, Sunday, September 6th. Since the French Government left Paris we have been totally ignorant of all that is going on outside of the city walls. For the past few days everything has been hazy rumor. During all last week we expected the Germans to march into Paris any day; for their headquarters were at Compiegne, their heavy advance at Senlis and Coulomiers, and their cavalry at Pontoise and Chantilly.
With the Germans only fifteen miles from the gates of Paris, the newspapers make no definite mention of the fact, but fill their space with accounts of the great victories which the Russians think to win in Silicia. Rumor has it that the Germans have even encircled Paris and are at Fontainebleau to the south-southeast. This is highly improbable, but we have already seen that the wildest improbability of one day becomes an actuality the next. Everyone at the Embassy, and indeed all Paris, is desperately anxious for news. Even unfavorable news would be better than this prolonged suspense. Everyone inquires and wonders and queries, but no one knows what the real situation is—where the German army is stationed, what its next move may be, or if any of the Allied army is between it and Paris.
After several days of great tension, desperately trying to the active American temperament, I decided that the easiest way to find out what was happening outside the city was to go and see. It was first absolutely necessary to obtain permission from the authorities of Paris to pass out of the gates—as without proper papers I would certainly be arrested. I, by this time, knew personally many of the police officials in the city, having interviewed them hundreds of times in regard to German and Austrian internes. Finally I found one who thought he knew me well enough to trust me with a pass. He explained that the garrison of Paris occupied a zone which extended out from the walls ten miles in all directions. Outside this were the moving armies, and once beyond the defensive zone we could, at our own risk, go where we chose. My permit stated that we were bound for Lagny, which is about twelve miles from the gates and well outside the circle of defense. I took one of the Embassy automobiles driven by a skillful American amateur, Melvin Hall. He drove his own six-cylinder high-power car, carrying a light touring body.
We left the city about four o'clock in the afternoon by the Porte de Vincennes. Immediately we left the walls behind us, we found all the roads guarded by French troops and barred by elaborate obstructions. Every two or three minutes we were brought to a stop by little gated forts built across the highway, which were loopholed for rifles and commanded the road in both directions. These were designed to retard German scouting parties or halt German mitrailleuse automobiles. The barriers were built of an extraordinary variety of material: trees, paving-stones, barrels, carts, hen-coops, sandbags, boxes, and fence-rails. At each barrier were stationed a score or more of soldiers, and as one approached, one saw the gleam of bayonets and heard a sharp, imperative "Halte-la!" When we came to a full stop, two or three of the sentinels would step out cautiously and suspiciously, their rifles all ready for action, while in a gingerly way they examined our papers.
The barriers were usually placed in positions of strategic importance, on hills or ridges, and always one was found at each end of the main thoroughfare of every village. All the side streets of the villages were closed and fortified, and any opening between the outermost houses was piled high with obstructions. Each little town within the fortified zone thus became itself a small fort, a complete circle of defense. We travelled along slowly for some ten miles, being halted and examined about every half mile. Finally we came to a great trench which ran across the fields on either side of the road. Facing away from Paris, one looked over a valley, and in the distance could distinctly hear the boom of guns in action.
We were now at the outer line of the defense zone, within which all the roads, bridges, and valleys were held by infantry working in conjunction with the large forts placed at intervals in the great circle. Outside of this zone is open country in which battles are being fought; where and when, it was our aim to discover.
At the trench where we halted, the men on guard were very much on the qui vive and the officers were busy with their field-glasses, for they had just received warning that German cavalry were in front of them in the valley over which we looked. We stopped to talk for a few minutes with the commanding officer, and then, releasing our brakes, slid quietly out in front of the trench, down the hill.
It was silent and lonely in the valley; the whole countryside was desolate. We saw neither soldier nor civilian. The very air seemed charged with disaster. In a few minutes we ran into Lagny, which was absolutely deserted. A curious sensation it is to enter a town having all the marks of being inhabited and yet to sense the utter absence of human beings. On the village square, however, we found the Mayor, who, like so many brave French officials throughout the country, had felt it his first duty to stand by his community, come what might to him personally. He told us that the Germans were spread all over the country between Lagny and the Meaux, ten miles away, and added that their cavalry had been through the town recently and might return any minute. He then warned us that we could not cross the Marne, which ran through the village, because the bridges were all down. We, therefore, turned south toward Ferrieres, at right angles to our original course, and parallel to the walls of Paris.
Before reaching Ferrieres, we again touched the outer lines of the fortified camp. Here a big standing trench was occupied by French infantry which had been in action with some German cavalry only a few minutes before. The captain in command asked us to take a soldier who had been wounded back to the brigade hospital some two or three miles to the rear. This we did gladly and found the hospital located in the schoolhouse of a small village. Here we also encountered a wounded English private who was manifestly grateful to hear the sound of his own language. The village was occupied by a large body of French Hussars who were there encamped. Some of them were rubbing down their horses, others were cooking supper. The gray smoke of the fires ascending through the poplar trees, the bare-armed soldiers laboring over their mounts, the deserted houses, the litter of saddles and equipment, made a picture not soon to be forgotten.
We returned to the entrenchments again, crossed them, and proceeded to Ferrieres, where we at last found a road which turned off to the east. We followed this for two miles, passing through the grounds of a large chateau only to find the road barred by an impassable combination of ditches, barriers, and barbed wire. We went back again to Ferrieres, which we learned had been the seat of the British General Staff only that morning, and from there continued southward for several miles to another village called Pontcarre. Here at last we found a straight and open road to the east. We turned down it at top speed, not having the faintest idea of what was ahead, and ran for ten miles through deserted farming country in which the only signs of life were two French cavalry patrols scouting through the woods.
Just as night was falling, we approached Villeneuve-le-Comte. Watchful sentries in khaki surrounded the village, and the fields around it on all sides were packed with British troops, who had just arrived and were in the act of bivouacking for the night. From them we learned that the German army was less than three miles away at Crecy and that on the morrow at dawn a great battle was to be staged. All the Allies had been force-marching to get there in time.
On every side camp fires gleamed out through the gray of the gloaming and their smoke mounted upward to mingle with the gray of the evening sky above. Everywhere one saw men and horses blissfully resting after the long, hot, and dusty march. The men lay upon the ground with every muscle relaxed, while the horses, with drooped heads, stood first on one tired hind foot and then upon the other. Long lines of motor trucks loaded with ammunition were parked along the gutters of all the roads and byways. Along the crowded highway a lane was, however, sacredly kept open, and men looked twice before they ventured to cross it. From time to time an orderly on a motor-cycle, carrying instructions to subordinate commanders, would zip at a dizzy speed down this narrow path which was flanked by almost unbroken walls of men, wagons, and lorries.
The streets of the little French village were crowded full with khaki-clad soldiers. A battalion of Highlanders were going through inspection in the dusk. They now numbered only three hundred odd, but two weeks ago in Belgium they had been eleven hundred strong. An officer of another regiment informed us that he knew of no British battalion in all history which had sustained such heavy losses and yet been able to maintain its formation and fight on. We watched with interest the Scotchmen of that regiment file by after dismissal. They were incredibly tattered and torn, their kilts dirty and frayed; many of them wore big, battered straw hats. The only things about them which were neat were their rifles, their bayonets, and their clean-shaven faces. One could certainly have no doubts as to the excellent state of their morale; we were, indeed, much impressed by the morale of all these British troops who, notwithstanding the fact that they had been beaten back during two long weeks across a hundred and fifty miles of country and had been retreating until that very morning, in no sense felt themselves defeated but eagerly awaited the word to advance and attack.
We spent a profitable and long-to-be-remembered hour and a half talking with the British officers and watching the troops. We had brought with us a supply of the two things they most craved—matches and newspapers, and whenever any of these were distributed it nearly produced a riot. When a box of matches was handed out, two matches would, as long as they lasted, be given to each man of a company.
Word was passed around that we were to return to Paris that evening, and first and last we were given some fifty notes written hurriedly by the men who wished to send a last word to their homes before the battle which was to begin on the morrow. We, of course, accepted these notes only with the permission of the officers.
It was long after dark before we started back toward Paris. Mist and fog hung close to the ground, and it was a weird ride as we felt our way through lonely woods and deserted villages, being continually stopped by ditches or barbed wire or a barrier across the road. Often ahead of us we would suddenly see bayonets flickering through the mist as our head-lights shone out upon them, and immediately the terse cry of "Halte-la!" followed; a sergeant would come forward, lantern in hand, to examine our papers and suspiciously look us over. All the time we felt that a dozen unseen rifles were leveled at us from somewhere out in the dark.
We re-entered Paris through the Porte de Vincennes at half-past eight. After dinner I made a report of our trip to Mr. Herrick, saying that a great battle was about to begin; that the German armies formed a right angle, the apex of which was near Meaux, while one side extended north through Senlis and the other ran almost due east; that between this German army and Paris were stationed the British and French troops who would retreat no farther but expected themselves to open the attack in the morning. After the suspense of the past few days it is a tremendous relief to have definite news.
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Monday, September 7th. For me all the world was this morning electric with excitement. That Paris should go calmly about her daily routine, unconscious and unconcerned, seemed monstrous. I wanted to grasp everyone I met and cry: "The Germans are only twenty miles away! A great battle is even now being fought just outside the gates!—a battle on the issue of which hangs the fate of France—and much more than France. If the thin line which stands between Paris and her enemies does not hold, this day sees France reduced to a second-rate Power and Paris will again hear the tramp of German armies marching down the Champs-Elysees!" My feet walked the familiar streets, but every pulse-beat, every conscious thought was with the Allied armies of defense with which I had so recently been in touch. The sense of their near presence and of their great conflict was much more vivid to me than the objects passing before my physical eyes.