TOWARDS THE GOAL
By MRS. HUMPHRY WARD Author of "ENGLAND'S EFFORT," etc.
With an introduction by THE HON. THEODORE ROOSEVELT
To ANDRE CHEVRILLON True Son of France True Friend of England I dedicate this book.
England has in this war reached a height of achievement loftier than that which she attained in the struggle with Napoleon; and she has reached that height in a far shorter period. Her giant effort, crowned with a success as wonderful as the effort itself, is worthily described by the author of this book. Mrs. Ward writes nobly on a noble theme.
This war is the greatest the world has ever seen. The vast size of the armies, the tremendous slaughter, the loftiness of the heroism shown, and the hideous horror of the brutalities committed, the valour of the fighting men, and the extraordinary ingenuity of those who have designed and built the fighting machines, the burning patriotism of the people who defend their hearthstones, and the far-reaching complexity of the plans of the leaders—all are on a scale so huge that nothing in past history can be compared with them. The issues at stake are elemental. The free peoples of the world have banded together against tyrannous militarism and government by caste. It is not too much to say that the outcome will largely determine, for daring and liberty-loving souls, whether or not life is worth living. A Prussianised world would be as intolerable as a world ruled over by Attila or by Timur the Lame.
It is in this immense world-crisis that England has played her part; a part which has grown greater month by month. Mrs. Ward enables us to see the awakening of the national soul which rendered it possible to play this part; and she describes the works by which the faith of the soul justified itself.
What she writes is of peculiar interest to the United States. We have suffered, or are suffering, in exaggerated form, from most (not all) of the evils that were eating into the fibre of the British character three years ago—and in addition from some purely indigenous ills of our own. If we are to cure ourselves it must be by our own exertions; our destiny will certainly not be shaped for us, as was Germany's, by a few towering autocrats of genius, such as Bismarck and Moltke. Mrs. Ward shows us the people of England in the act of curing their own ills, of making good, by gigantic and self-sacrificing exertion in the present, the folly and selfishness and greed and soft slackness of the past. The fact that England, when on the brink of destruction, gathered her strength and strode resolutely back to safety, is a fact of happy omen for us in America, who are now just awaking to the folly and selfishness and greed and soft slackness that for some years we have been showing.
As in America, so in England, a surfeit of materialism had produced a lack of high spiritual purpose in the nation at large; there was much confusion of ideas and ideals; and also much triviality, which was especially offensive when it masqueraded under some high-sounding name. An unhealthy sentimentality—the antithesis of morality—has gone hand in hand with a peculiarly sordid and repulsive materialism. The result was a soil in which various noxious weeds flourished rankly; and of these the most noxious was professional pacificism. The professional pacificist has at times festered in the diseased tissue of almost every civilisation; but it is only within the last three-quarters of a century that he has been a serious menace to the peace of justice and righteousness. In consequence, decent citizens are only beginning to understand the base immorality of his preaching and practice; and he has been given entirely undeserved credit for good intentions. In England as in the United States, domestic pacificism has been the most potent ally of alien militarism. And in both countries the extreme type has shown itself profoundly unpatriotic. The damage it has done the nation has been limited only by its weakness and folly; those who have professed it have served the devil to the full extent which their limited powers permitted.
There were in England—just as there are now in America—even worse foes to national honour and efficiency. Greed and selfishness, among capitalists and among labour leaders, had to be grappled with. The sordid baseness which saw in the war only a chance for additional money profits to the employer was almost matched by the fierce selfishness which refused to consider a strike from any but the standpoint of the strikers.
But the chief obstacle to be encountered in rousing England was sheer short-sightedness. A considerable time elapsed before it was possible to make the people understand that this was a people's war, that it was a matter of vital personal concern to the people as a whole, and to all individuals as individuals. In America we are now encountering much the same difficulties, due to much the same causes.
In England the most essential thing to be done was to wake the people to their need, and to guide them in meeting the need. The next most essential was to show to them, and to the peoples in friendly lands, whether allied or neutral, how the task was done; and this both as a reason for just pride in what had been achieved and as an inspiration to further effort.
Mrs. Ward's books—her former book and her present one—accomplish both purposes. Every American who reads the present volume must feel a hearty and profound respect for the patriotism, energy, and efficiency shown by the British people when they became awake to the nature of the crisis; and furthermore, every American must feel stirred with the desire to see his country now emulate Britain's achievement.
In this volume Mrs. Ward draws a wonderful picture of the English in the full tide of their successful effort. From the beginning England's naval effort and her money effort have been extraordinary. By the time Mrs. Ward's first book was written, the work of industrial preparedness was in full blast; but it could yet not be said that England's army in the field was the equal of the huge, carefully prepared, thoroughly coordinated military machines of those against whom and beside whom it fought. Now, the English army is itself as fine and as highly efficient a military machine as the wisdom of man can devise; now, the valour and hardihood of the individual soldier are being utilised to the full under a vast and perfected system which enables those in control of the great engine to use every unit in such fashion as to aid in driving the mass forward to victory.
Even the Napoleonic contest was child's play compared to this. Never has Great Britain been put to such a test. Never since the spacious days of Elizabeth has she been in such danger. Never, in any crisis, has she risen to so lofty a height of self-sacrifice and achievement. In the giant struggle against Napoleon, England's own safety was secured by the demoralisation of the French fleet. But in this contest the German naval authorities have at their disposal a fleet of extraordinary efficiency, and have devised for use on an extended scale the most formidable and destructive of all instruments of marine warfare. In previous coalitions England has partially financed her continental allies; in this case the expenditures have been on an unheard-of scale, and in consequence England's industrial strength, in men and money, in business and mercantile and agricultural ability, has been drawn on as never before. As in the days of Marlborough and Wellington, so now, England has sent her troops to the continent; but whereas formerly her expeditionary forces, although of excellent quality, were numerically too small to be of primary importance, at present her army is already, by size as well as by excellence, a factor of prime importance, in the military situation; and its relative as well as absolute importance is steadily growing.
And to her report of the present stage of Great Britain's effort in the war, Mrs. Ward has added some letters describing from her own personal experience the ruin wrought by the Germans in towns like Senlis and Gerbeviller, and in the hundreds of villages in Northern, Central, and Eastern France that now lie wrecked and desolate. And she has told in detail, and from the evidence of eye-witnesses, some of the piteous incidents of German cruelty to the civilian population, which are already burnt into the conscience of Europe, and should never be forgotten till reparation has been made.
Mrs. Ward's book is thus of high value as a study of contemporary history. It is of at least as high value as an inspiration to constructive patriotism.
May 1st, 1917.
England's Effort—Rapid March of Events—The Work of the Navy—A Naval Base—What the Navy has done—The Jutland Battle—The Submarine Peril—German Lies—Shipbuilding—Disciplined Expectancy—Crossing the Channel—The Minister of Munitions—Dr. Addison—Increase of Munitions—A Gigantic Task—Arrival in France—German Prisoners—A Fat Factory—A Use for Everything—G.H.Q.—Intelligence Department—"The Issue of the War"—An Aerodrome—The Task of the Aviators—The Visitors' Chateau.
A French School—Our Soldiers and French Children—Nissen Huts—Tanks—A Primeval Plough—A Division on the March—Significant Preparations —Increase of Ammunition—"The Fosses"—A Sacred Spot—Vimy Ridge—The Sound of the Guns—A Talk with a General—Why the Germans Retreat—Growth of the New Armies—Soldiers at School.
America Joins the Allies—The British Effort—Creating an Army—L'Union Sacree—Registration—Accommodation—Clothing—Arms and Equipment—A Critical Time—A Long-continued Strain—Training—O.T.C.'S—Boy Officers—The First Three Armies—Our Wonderful Soldiers—An Advanced Stage—The Final Result—Spectacle of the Present—Snipers and Anti-snipers—The Result.
Vimy Ridge—The Morale of our Men—Mons. le Maire—Ubiquitous Soldiers—The Somme—German Letters—German Prisoners—Amiens—"Taking Over" a Line—Poilus and Tommies—"Taking Over" Trenches—French Trenches—Unnoticed Changes—Amiens Cathedral—German Prisoners —Confidence.
German Fictions—Winter Preparation—Albert—La Boisselle and Ovillers—In the Track of War—Regained Ground—Enemy Preparations—German Dug-outs—"There were no Stragglers" —Contalmaison—Devastation—Retreating Germans—Death, Victory, Work—Work of the R.E.—A Parachute—Approaching Victory.
German Retreat—Enemy Losses—Need of Artillery—Awaiting the Issue—Herr Zimmermann—Training—A National Idea—Training—Fighting for Peace—Stubbornness and Discipline—Training of Officers —Responsibility—The British Soldier—Soldiers' Humour—A Boy Hero—"They have done their job"—Casualties—Reconnaissance—Air Fighting—Use of Aeroplanes—Terms of Peace.
Among the French—German Barbarities—Beauty of France—French Families—Paris—To Senlis—Senlis—The Cure of Senlis—The German Occupation—August 30th, 1914—Germans in Senlis—German Brutality—A Savage Revenge—A Burning City—Murder of the Mayor—The Cure in the Cathedral—The Abbe's Narrative—False Charges—Wanton Destruction—A Sudden Change—Return of the French—Ermenonville—Scenes of Battle—Vareddes.
Battle of the Ourcq—Von Kluck's Mistake—Anniversary of the Battle—Wreckage of War—A Burying Party—A Funeral—A Five Days' Battle—Life-and-Death Fighting—"Salut au Drapeau"—Meaux —Vareddes—Murders at Vareddes—Von Kluck's Approach—The Turn of the Tide—The Old Cure—German Brutalities—Torturers —The Cure's Sufferings—"He is a Spy"—A Weary March—Outrages —Victims—Reparation—To Lorraine.
Epernay-Chalons—Snow—Nancy—The French People—L'Union Sacree—France and England—Nancy—Hill of Leomont—The Grand Couronne—The Lorraine Campaign—Taubes—Vitrimont—Miss Polk—A Restored Church—Society of Friends—Gerbeviller—Soeur Julie—Mortagne—An Inexpiable Crime—Massacre of Gerbeviller—"Les Civils ont tire"—Soeur Julie—The Germans come—German Wounded—Barbarities in Hospital—Soeur Julie and Germans—The French Return—Germans at Nancy—Nancy saved—A Warm Welcome—Adieu to Lorraine
Doctrine of Force—Disciplined Cruelty—German Professors—Professor von Gierke—An Orgy of Crime—Return Home—Russia—The Revolution—Liberty like Young Wine—What will Russia do?—America joins—America and France—The British Advance—British Successes—The Italians—A Soldier's Letter—Aircraft and Guns—The German Effort—April Hopes—Submarines—Tradition of the Sea—Last Threads—The Food Situation—More Arable Land—Village Patriotism—Food Prices—The Labour Outlook—Finance—Messines—The Tragedy of War—A Celtic Legend—Europe and America
TOWARDS THE GOAL
March 24th, 1917.
DEAR MR. ROOSEVELT,—It may be now frankly confessed—(you, some time ago, gave me leave to publish your original letter, as it might seem opportune)—that it was you who gave the impulse last year, which led to the writing of the first series of Letters on "England's Effort" in the war, which were published in book form in June 1916. Your appeal—that I should write a general account for America of the part played by England in the vast struggle—found me in our quiet country house, busy with quite other work, and at first I thought it impossible that I could attempt so new a task as you proposed to me. But support and encouragement came from our own authorities, and like many other thousands of English women under orders, I could only go and do my best. I spent some time in the Munition areas, watching the enormous and rapid development of our war industries and of the astonishing part played in it by women; I was allowed to visit a portion of the Fleet, and finally, to spend twelve days in France, ten of them among the great supply bases and hospital camps, with two days at the British Headquarters, and on the front, near Poperinghe, and Richebourg St. Vaast.
The result was a short book which has been translated into many foreign tongues—French, Italian, Dutch, German, Russian, Portuguese, and Japanese—which has brought me many American letters from many different States, and has been perhaps most widely read of all among our own people. For we all read newspapers, and we all forget them! In this vast and changing struggle, events huddle on each other, so that the new blurs and wipes out the old. There is always room—is there not?—for such a personal narrative as may recall to us the main outlines, and the chief determining factors of a war in which—often—everything seems to us in flux, and our eyes, amid the tumult of the stream, are apt to lose sight of the landmarks on its bank, and the signs of the approaching goal.
And now again—after a year—I have been attempting a similar task, with renewed and cordial help from our authorities at home and abroad. And I venture to address these new Letters directly to yourself, as to that American of all others to whom this second chapter on England's Effort may look for sympathy. Whither are we tending—your country and mine? Congress meets on April 1st. Before this Letter reaches you great decisions will have been taken. I will not attempt to speculate. The logic of facts will sweep our nations together in some sort of intimate union—of that I have no doubt.
How much further, then, has Great Britain marched since the Spring of last year—how much nearer is she to the end? One can but answer such questions in the most fragmentary and tentative way, relying for the most part on the opinions and information of those who know, those who are in the van of action, at home and abroad, but also on one's own personal impressions of an incomparable scene. And every day, almost, at this breathless moment, the answer of yesterday may become obsolete.
I left our Headquarters in France, for instance, some days before the news of the Russian revolution reached London, and while the Somme retirement was still in its earlier stages. Immediately afterwards the events of one short week transformed the whole political aspect of Europe, and may well prove to have changed the face of the war—although as to that, let there be no dogmatising yet! But before the pace becomes faster still, and before the unfolding of those great and perhaps final events we may now dimly foresee, let me try and seize the impressions of some memorable weeks and bring them to bear—so far as the war is concerned—on those questions which, in the present state of affairs, must interest you in America scarcely less than they interest us here. Where, in fact, do we stand?
Any kind of answer must begin with the Navy. For, in the case of Great Britain, and indeed scarcely less in the case of the Allies, that is the foundation of everything. To yourself the facts will all be familiar—but for the benefit of those innumerable friends of the Allies in Europe and America whom I would fain reach with the help of your great name, I will run through a few of the recent—the ground—facts of the past year, as I myself ran through them a few days ago, before, with an Admiralty permit, I went down to one of the most interesting naval bases on our coast and found myself amid a group of men engaged night and day in grappling with the submarine menace which threatens not only Great Britain, not only the Allies, but yourselves, and every neutral nation. It is well to go back to these facts. They are indeed worthy of this island nation, and her seaborn children.
To begin with, the personnel of the British Navy, which at the beginning of the war was 140,000, was last year 300,000. This year it is 400,000, or very nearly three times what it was before the war. Then as to ships,—"If we were strong in capital ships at the beginning of the war"—said Mr. Balfour, last September, "we are yet stronger now—absolutely and relatively—and in regard to cruisers and destroyers there is absolutely no comparison between our strength in 1914 and our strength now. There is no part of our naval strength in which we have not got a greater supply, and in some departments an incomparably greater supply than we had on August 4th, 1914.... The tonnage of the Navy has increased by well over a million tons since war began."
So Mr. Balfour, six months ago. Five months later, it fell to Sir Edward Carson to move the naval estimates, under pressure, as we all know, of the submarine anxiety. He spoke in the frankest and plainest language of that anxiety, as did the Prime Minister in his now famous speech of February 22nd, and as did the speakers in the House of Lords, Lord Lytton, Lord Curzon and Lord Beresford, on the same date. The attack is not yet checked. The danger is not over. Still again—look at some of the facts! In two years and a quarter of war—
Eight million men moved across the seas—almost without mishap.
Nine million and a half tons of explosives carried to our own armies and those of our Allies.
Over a million horses and mules; and—
Over forty-seven million gallons of petrol supplied to the armies.
And besides, twenty-five thousand ships have been examined for contraband of war, on the high seas, or in harbour, since the war began.
And at this, one must pause a moment to think—once again—what it means; to call up the familiar image of Britain's ships, large and small, scattered over the wide Atlantic and the approaches to the North Sea, watching there through winter and summer, storm and fair, and so carrying out, relentlessly, the blockade of Germany, through every circumstance often of danger and difficulty; with every consideration for neutral interests that is compatible with this desperate war, in which the very existence of England is concerned; and without the sacrifice of a single life, unless it be the lives of British sailors, often lost in these boardings of passing ships, amid the darkness and storm of winter seas. There, indeed, in these "wave-beaten" ships, as in the watching fleets of the English Admirals outside Toulon and Brest, while Napoleon was marching triumphantly about Europe, lies the root fact of the war. It is a commonplace, but one that has been "proved upon our pulses." Who does not remember the shock that went through England—and the civilised world—when the first partial news of the Battle of Jutland reached London, and we were told our own losses, before we knew either the losses of the enemy or the general result of the battle? It was neither fear, nor panic; but it was as though the nation, holding its breath, realised for the first time where, for it, lay the vital elements of being. The depths in us were stirred. We knew in very deed that we were the children of the sea!
And now again the depths are stirred. The development of the submarine attack has set us a new and stern task, and we are "straitened till it be accomplished." The great battle-ships seem almost to have left the stage. In less than three months, 626,000 tons of British, neutral and allied shipping have been destroyed. Since the beginning of the war we—Great Britain—have lost over two million tons of shipping, and our Allies and the neutrals have lost almost as much. There is a certain shortage of food in Great Britain, and a shortage of many other things besides. Writing about the middle of February, an important German newspaper raised a shout of jubilation. "The whole sea was as if swept clean at one blow"—by the announcement of the intensified "blockade" of the first of February. So the German scribe. But again the facts shoot up, hard and irreducible, through the sea of comment. While the German newspapers were shouting to each other, the sea was so far from being "swept clean," that twelve thousand ships had actually passed in and out of British ports in the first eighteen days of the "blockade." And at any moment during those days, at least 3,000 ships could have been found traversing the "danger zone," which the Germans imagined themselves to have barred. One is reminded of the Hamburger Nachrichten last year, after the Zeppelin raid in January 1916. "English industry lies in ruins," said that astonishing print. "The sea has been swept clean," says one of its brethren now. Yet all the while, there, in the danger zone, whenever, by day or night, one turns one's thoughts to it, are the three thousand ships; and there in the course of a fortnight, are the twelve thousand ships going and coming.
Yet all the same, as I have said before, there is danger and there is anxiety. The neutrals—save America—have been intimidated; they are keeping their ships in harbour; and to do without their tonnage is a serious matter for us. Meanwhile, the best brains in naval England are at work, and one can feel the sailors straining at the leash. In the first eighteen days of February, there were forty fights with submarines. The Navy talks very little about them, and says nothing of which it is not certain. But all the scientific resources, all the fighting brains of naval England are being brought to bear, and we at home—well, let us keep to our rations, the only thing we can do to help our men at sea!
How this grey estuary spread before my eyes illustrates and illuminates the figures I have been quoting! I am on the light cruiser of a famous Commodore, and I have just been creeping and climbing through a submarine. The waters round are crowded with those light craft, destroyers, submarines, mine-sweepers, trawlers, patrol boats, on which for the moment at any rate the fortunes of the naval war turns. And take notice that they are all—or almost all—new; the very latest products of British ship-yards. We have plenty of battle-ships, but "we must now build, as quickly as possible, the smaller craft, and the merchant ships we want," says Sir Edward Carson. "Not a slip in the country will be empty during the coming months. Every rivet put into a ship will contribute to the defeat of Germany. And 47 per cent, of the Merchant Service have already been armed." The riveters must indeed have been hard at work! This crowded scene carries me back to the Clyde where I was last year, to the new factories and workshops, with their ever-increasing throng of women, and to the marvellous work of the ship-yards. No talk now of strikes, of a disaffected and revolutionary minority, on the Clyde, at any rate, as there was twelve months ago. Broadly speaking, and allowing for a small, stubborn, but insignificant Pacifist section, the will of the nation, throughout all classes, has become as steel—to win the war.
Throughout England, as in these naval officers beside me, there is the same tense yet disciplined expectancy. As we lunch and talk, on this cruiser at rest, messages come in perpetually; the cruiser itself is ready for the open sea, at an hour and a half's notice; the seaplanes pass out and come in over the mouth of the harbour on their voyages of discovery and report, and these destroyers and mine-sweepers that he so quietly near us will be out again to-night in the North Sea, grappling with every difficulty and facing every danger, in the true spirit of a wonderful service, while we land-folk sleep and eat in peace;—grumbling no doubt, with our morning newspaper and coffee, when any of the German destroyers who come out from Zeebrugge are allowed to get home with a whole skin. "What on earth is the Navy about?" Well, the Navy knows. Germany is doing her very worst, and will go on doing it—for a time. The line of defensive watch in the North Sea is long; the North Sea is a big place; the Germans often have the luck of the street-boy who rings a bell and runs away, before the policeman comes up. But the Navy has no doubts. The situation, says one of my cheerful hosts, is "quite healthy" and we shall see "great things in the coming months." We had better leave it at that!
Now let us look at these destroyers in another scene. It is the last day of February, and I find myself on a military steamer, bound for a French Port, and on my way to the British Headquarters in France. With me is the same dear daughter who accompanied me last year as "dame secretaire" on my first errand. The boat is crowded with soldiers, and before we reach the French shore we have listened to almost every song—old and new—in Tommy's repertory. There is even "Tipperary," a snatch, a ghost of "Tipperary," intermingled with many others, rising and falling, no one knows why, started now here, now there, and dying away again after a line or two. It is a draft going out to France for the first time, north countrymen, by their accent; and life-belts and submarines seem to amuse them hugely, to judge by the running fire of chaff that goes on. But, after a while, I cease to listen. I am thinking first of what awaits us on the further shore, on which the lights are coming out, and of those interesting passes inviting us to G.H.Q. as "Government Guests," which lie safe in our handbags. And then, my thoughts slip back to a conversation of the day before, with Dr. Addison, the new Minister of Munitions.
A man in the prime of life, with whitening hair—prematurely white, for the face and figure are quite young still—and stamped, so far as expression and aspect are concerned, by those social and humane interests which first carried him into Parliament. I have been long concerned with Evening Play Centres for school-children in Hoxton, one of the most congested quarters of our East End. And seven years ago I began to hear of the young and public-spirited doctor and man of science, who had made himself a name and place in Hoxton, who had won the confidence of the people crowded in its unlovely streets, had worked for the poor, and the sick, and the children, and had now beaten the Tory member, and was Hoxton's Liberal representative in the new Parliament elected in January 1910, to deal with the Lords, after the throwing out of Lloyd George's famous Budget. Once or twice since, I had come across him in matters concerned with education—cripple schools and the like—when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, immediately before the war. And now here was the doctor, the Hunterian Professor, the social worker, the friend of schools and school-children, transformed into the fighting Minister of a great fighting Department, itself the creation of the war, only second—if second—in its importance for the war, to the Admiralty and the War Office.
I was myself, for a fortnight of last year, the guest of the Ministry of Munitions, while Mr. Lloyd George was still its head, in some of the most important Munition areas; and I was then able to feel the current of hot energy, started by the first Minister, running—not of course without local obstacles and animosities—through an electrified England. That was in February 1916. Then, in August, came the astonishing speech of Mr. Montagu, on the development of the Munitions supply in one short year, as illustrated by the happenings of the Somme battlefield. And now, as successor to Mr. Montagu and Mr. Lloyd George, Dr. Addison sat in the Minister's chair, continuing the story.
What a story it is! Starting from the manufacture of guns, ammunition and explosives, and after pushing that to incredible figures, the necessities of its great task has led the Ministry to one forward step after another. Seeing that the supply of munitions depends on the supply of raw material, it is now regulating the whole mineral supply of this country, and much of that of the Allies; it is about to work qualities of iron ore that have never been worked before; it is deciding, over the length and breadth of the country, how much aluminium should be allowed to one firm, how much copper to another; it is producing steel for our Allies as well as for ourselves; it has taken over with time the whole Motor Transport of the war, and is now adding to it the Railway Transport of munitions here and abroad, and is dictating meanwhile to every engineering firm in the country which of its orders should come first, and which last. It is managing a whole gigantic industry with employes running into millions, half a million of them women, and managing it under wholly new conditions of humanity and forethought; it is housing and feeding and caring for innumerable thousands; transforming from day to day, as by a kind of by-work, the industrial mind and training of multitudes, and laying the foundations of a new, and surely happier England, after the War. And, finally, it is adjusting, with, on the whole, great success, the rival claims of the factories and the trenches, sending more and more men from the workshops to the fighting line, in proportion as the unskilled labour of the country—men and women, but especially women—is drawn, more and more widely, into the service of a dwindling amount of skilled labour, more and more "diluted."
* * * * *
But the light is failing and the shore is nearing. Life-belts are taken off, the destroyers have disappeared. We are on the quay, kindly welcomed by an officer from G.H.Q. who passes our bags rapidly through the Custom House, and carries us off to a neighbouring hotel for the night, it being too late for the long drive to G.H.Q. We are in France again!—and the great presence of the army is all about us. The quay crowded with soldiers, the port alive with ships, the grey-blue uniforms mingling with the khaki—after a year I see it again, and one's pulses quicken. The vast "effort of England" which last year had already reached so great a height, and has now, as all accounts testify, been so incredibly developed, is here once more in visible action, before me.
Next day, the motor arrives early, and with our courteous officer who has charge of us, in front, we are off, first, for one of the great camps I saw last year, and then for G.H.Q. itself. On the way, as we speed over the rolling down country beyond the town, my eyes are keen to catch some of the new signs of the time. Here is the first—a railway line in process of doubling—and large numbers of men, some of them German prisoners, working at it; typical both of the immense railway development all over the military zone, since last year, and of the extensive use now being made of prisoners' labour, in regions well behind the firing line. They lift their heads, as we pass, looking with curiosity at the two ladies in the military car. Their flat round caps give them an odd similarity. It is as if one saw scores of the same face, differentiated here and there by a beard. A docile hard-working crew, by all accounts, who give no trouble, and are managed largely by their N.C.O.'s. Are there some among them who saw the massacre at Dinant, the terrible things in Lorraine? Their placid, expressionless faces tell no tale.
But the miles have flown, and here already are the long lines of the camp. How pleasant to be greeted by some of the same officers! We go into the Headquarters Office, for a talk. "Grown? I should think we have!" says Colonel——. And, rapidly, he and one of his colleagues run through some of the additions and expansions. The Training Camp has been practically doubled, or, rather, another training camp has been added to the one that existed last year, and both are equipped with an increased number of special schools—an Artillery Training School, an Engineer Training School, a Lewis Gun School, a Gas School, with an actual gas chamber for the training of men in the use of their gas helmets,—and others, of which it is not possible to speak. "We have put through half a million of reinforcements since you were here last." And close upon two million rations were issued last month! The veterinary accommodation has been much enlarged, and two Convalescent Horse Depots have been added—(it is good indeed to see with what kindness and thought the Army treats its horses!). But the most novel addition to the camp has been a Fat Factory for the production of fat,—from which comes the glycerine used in explosives—out of all the food refuse of the camp. The fat produced by the system, here and in England, has already provided glycerine far millions of eighteen-pounder shells; the problem of camp refuse, always a desperate one, has been solved; and as a commercial venture the factory makes 250 per cent. profit.
Undeterred by what we hear of the smells! we go off to see it, and the enthusiastic manager explains the unsavoury processes by which the bones and refuse of all the vast camp are boiled down into a white fat, that looks almost eatable, but is meant, as a matter of fact, to feed not men but shells. Nor is that the only contribution to the fighting line which the factory makes. All the cotton waste of the hospitals, with their twenty thousand beds—the old dressings and bandages—come here, and after sterilisation and disinfection go to England for gun-cotton. Was there ever a grimmer cycle than this, by which that which feeds, and that which heals, becomes in the end that which kills! But let me try to forget that side of it, and remember, rather, as we leave the smells behind, that the calcined bones become artificial manure, and go back again into the tortured fields of France, while other bye-products of the factory help the peasants near to feed their pigs. And anything, however small, that helps the peasants of France in this war, comforts one's heart.
We climb up to the high ground of the camp for a general view before we go on to G.H.Q. and I see it, as I saw it last year, spread under the March sunshine, among the sand and the pines—a wonderful sight. "Everything has grown, you see, except the staff!" says the Colonel, smiling, as we shake hands. "But we rub along!"
Then we are in the motor again, and at last the new G.H.Q.—how different from that I saw last year!—rises before us. We make our way into the town, and presently the car stops for a minute before a building, and while our officer goes within, we retreat into a side street to wait. But my thoughts are busy. For that building, of which the side-front is still visible, is the brain of the British Army in France, and on the men who work there depend the fortunes of that distant line where our brothers and sons are meeting face to face the horrors and foulnesses of war. How many women whose hearts hang on the war, whose all is there, in daily and nightly jeopardy, read the words "British Headquarters" with an involuntary lift of soul, an invocation without words! Yet scarcely half a dozen Englishwomen in this war will ever see the actual spot. And here it is, under my eyes, the cold March sun shining fitfully on it, the sentry at the door, the khaki figures passing in and out. I picture to myself the rooms within, and the news arriving of General Gough's advance on the Ancre, of that German retreat as to which all Europe is speculating.
But we move on—to a quiet country house in a town garden—the Headquarters Mess of the Intelligence Department. Here I find, among our kind hosts, men already known to me from my visit of the year before, men whose primary business it is to watch the enemy, who know where every German regiment and German Commander are, who through the aerial photography of our airmen are now acquainted with every step of the German retreat, and have already the photographs of his second line. All the information gathered from prisoners, and from innumerable other sources, comes here; and the department has its eye besides on everything that happens within the zone of our Armies in France. For a woman to be received here is an exception—perhaps I may say an honour—of which I am rather tremulously aware. Can I make it worth while? But a little conversation with these earnest and able men shows plainly that they have considered the matter like any other incident in the day's work. England's Effort has been useful; therefore I am to be allowed again to see and write for myself; and therefore, what information can be given me as to the growth of our military power in France since last year will be given. It is not, of course, a question of war correspondence, which is not within a woman's powers. But it is a question of as much "seeing" as can be arranged for, combined with as much first-hand information as time and the censor allow. I begin to see my way.
The conversation at luncheon—the simplest of meals—and during a stroll afterwards, is thrilling indeed to us newcomers. "The coming summer's campaign must decide the issue of the war—though it may not see the end of it." "The issue of the war"—and the fate of Europe! "An inconclusive peace would be a victory for Germany." There is no doubt here as to the final issue; but there is a resolute refusal to fix dates, or prophesy details. "Man for man we are now the better army. Our strength is increasing month by month, while that of Germany is failing. Men and officers, who a year ago were still insufficiently trained, are now seasoned troops with nothing to learn from the Germans; and the troops recruited under the Military Service Act, now beginning to come out, are of surprisingly good quality." On such lines the talk runs, and it is over all too soon.
Then we are in the motor again, bound for an aerodrome forty or fifty miles away. We are late, and the last twenty-seven kilometres fly by in thirty-two minutes! It is a rolling country, and there are steep descents and sharp climbs, through the thickly-scattered and characteristic villages and small old towns of the Nord, villages crowded all of them with our men. Presently, with a start, we find ourselves on a road which saw us last spring—a year ago, to the day. The same blue distances, the same glimpses of old towns in the hollows, the same touches of snow on the heights. At last, in the cold sunset light, we draw up at our destination. The wide aerodrome stretches before us—great hangars coloured so as to escape the notice of a Boche overhead—with machines of all sizes, rising and landing—coming out of the hangars, or returning to them for the night. Two of the officers in charge meet us, and I walk round with them, looking at the various types—some for fighting, some for observation; and understanding—what I can! But the spirit of the men—that one can understand. "We are accumulating, concentrating now, for the summer offensive. Of course the Germans have been working hard too. They have lots of new and improved machines. But when the test comes we are confident that we shall down them again, as we did on the Somme. For us, the all-important thing is the fighting behind the enemy lines. Our object is to prevent the German machines from rising at all, to keep them down, while our airmen are reconnoitering along the fighting line. Awfully dangerous work! Lots don't come back. But what then? They will have done their job!"
The words were spoken so carelessly that for a few seconds I did not realise their meaning. But there was that in the expression of the man who spoke them which showed there was no lack of realisation there. How often I have recalled them, with a sore heart, in these recent weeks of heavy losses in the air-service—losses due, I have no doubt, to the special claims upon it of the German retreat.
The conversation dropped a little, till one of my companions, with a smile, pointed overhead. Three splendid biplanes were sailing above us, at a great height, bound south-wards. "Back from the line!" said the officer beside me, and we watched them till they dipped and disappeared in the sunset clouds. Then tea and pleasant talk. The young men insist that D. shall make tea. This visit of two ladies is a unique event. For the moment, as she makes tea in their sitting-room, which is now full of men, there is an illusion of home.
Then we are off, for another fifty miles. Darkness comes on, the roads are unfamiliar. At last an avenue and bright lights. We have reached the Visitors' Chateau, under the wing of G.H.Q.
March 31st, 1917.
DEAR MR. ROOSEVELT,—My first letter you will perhaps remember took us to the Visitors' Chateau of G.H.Q. and left us alighting there, to be greeted by the same courteous host, Captain——, who presided last year over another Guest House far away. But we were not to sleep at the Chateau, which was already full of guests. Arrangements had been made for us at a cottage in the village near, belonging to the village schoolmistress; the motor took us there immediately, and after changing our travel-stained dresses, we went back to the Chateau for dinner. Many guests—all of them of course of the male sex, and much talk! Some of the guests—members of Parliament, and foreign correspondents—had been over the Somme battlefield that day, and gave alarmist accounts of the effects of the thaw upon the roads and the ground generally. Banished for a time by the frost, the mud had returned; and mud, on the front, becomes a kind of malignant force which affects the spirits of the soldiers.
The schoolmistress and her little maid sat up for us, and shepherded us kindly to bed. Never was there a more strangely built little house! The ceilings came down on our heads, the stairs were perpendicular. But there was a stove in each room, and the beds though hard, and the floor though bare, were scrupulously clean. In the early morning I woke up and looked out. There had been a white frost, and the sun was just rising in a clear sky. Its yellow light was shining on the whitewashed wall of the next cottage, on which a large pear-tree was trained. All round were frost-whitened plots of garden or meadow—preaux—with tall poplars in the hedges cutting the morning sky. Suddenly, I heard a continuous murmur in the room beneath me. It was the schoolmistress and her maid at prayer. And presently the house door opened and shut. It was Mademoiselle who had gone to early Mass. For the school was an ecole libre, and the little lady who taught it was a devout Catholic. The rich yet cold light, the frosty quiet of the village, the thin French trees against the sky, the ritual murmur in the room below—it was like a scene from a novel by Rene Bazin, and breathed the old, the traditional France.
We were to start early and motor far, but there was time before we started for a little talk with Mademoiselle. She was full of praise for our English soldiers, some of whom were billeted in the village. "They are very kind to our people, they often help the women, and they never complain." (Has the British Tommy in these parts really forgotten how to grouse?) "I had some of your men billeted here. I could only give them a room without beds, just the bare boards. 'You will find it hard,' I said. 'We will get a little straw,' said the sergeant. 'That will be all right.' Our men would have grumbled." (But I think this was Mademoiselle's politesse!) "And the children are devoted to your soldiers. I have a dear little girl in the school, nine years old. Sometimes from the window she sees a man in the street, a soldier who lodges with her mother. Then I cannot hold her. She is like a wild thing to be gone. 'Voila mon camarade!—voila mon camarade!' Out she goes, and is soon walking gravely beside him, hand in hand, looking up at him." "How do they understand each other?" "I don't know. But they have a language. Your sergeants often know more French than your officers, because they have to do the billeting and the talking to our people."
The morning was still bright when the motor arrived, but the frost had been keen, and the air on the uplands was biting. We speed first across a famous battlefield, where French and English bones lie mingled below the quiet grass, and then turn south-east. Nobody on the roads. The lines of poplar-trees fly past, the magpies flutter from the woods, and one might almost forget the war. Suddenly, a railway line, a steep descent and we are full in its midst again. On our left an encampment of Nissen huts—so called from their inventor, a Canadian officer—those new and ingenious devices for housing troops, or labour battalions, or coloured workers, at an astonishing saving both of time and material. In shape like the old-fashioned beehive, each hut can be put up by four or six men in a few hours. Everything is, of course, standardised, and the wood which lines their corrugated iron is put together in the simplest and quickest ways, ways easily suggested, no doubt, to the Canadian mind, familiar with "shacks" and lumber camps. We shall come across them everywhere along the front. But on this first occasion my attention is soon distracted from them, for as we turn a corner beyond the hut settlement, which I am told is that of a machine-gun detachment, there is an exclamation from D——.
Tanks! The officer in front points smiling to a field just ahead. There is one of them—the monster!—taking its morning exercise; practising up and down the high and almost perpendicular banks by which another huge field is divided. The motor slackens, and we watch the creature slowly attack a high bank, land complacently on the top, and then—an officer walking beside it to direct its movements—balance a moment on the edge of another bank equally high, a short distance away. There it is!—down!—not flopping or falling, but all in the way of business, gliding unperturbed. London is full of tanks, of course—on the films. But somehow to be watching a real one, under the French sky, not twenty miles from the line, is a different thing. We fall into an eager discussion with Captain F. in front, as to the part played by them in the Somme battle, and as to what the Germans may be preparing in reply to them. And while we talk, my eye is caught by something on the sky-line, just above the tank. It is a man and a plough—a plough that might have come out of the Odyssey—the oldest, simplest type. So are the ages interwoven; and one may safely guess that the plough—that very type!—will outlast many generations of tanks. But, for the moment, the tanks are in the limelight, and it is luck that we should have come upon them so soon, for one may motor many miles about the front without meeting with any signs of them.
Next, a fine main road and an old town, seething with all the stir of war. We come upon a crowded market-place, and two huge convoys passing each other in the narrow street beyond—one, an ammunition column, into which our motor humbly fits itself as best it can, by order of the officer in charge of the column, and the other, a long string of magnificent lorries belonging to the Flying Corps, which defiles past us on the left. The inhabitants of the town, old men, women and children, stand to watch the hubbub, with amused friendly faces. On we go, for a time, in the middle of the convoy. The great motor lorries filled with ammunition hem us in till the town is through, and a long hill is climbed. At the top of it we are allowed to draw out, and motor slowly past long lines of troops on the march; first, R.E.'s with their store waggons, large and small; then a cyclist detachment; a machine-gun detachment; field kitchens, a white goat lying lazily on the top of one of them; mules, heavily laden; and Lewis guns in little carts. Then infantry marching briskly in the keen air, while along other roads, visible to east and west, we see other columns converging. A division, apparently, on the march. The physique of the men, their alert and cheerful looks, strike me particularly. This pitiless war seems to have revealed to England herself the quality of her race. Though some credit must be given to the physical instructors of the Army!—who in the last twelve months especially have done a wonderful work.
At last we turn out of the main road, and the endless columns pass away into the distance. Again, a railway line in process of doubling; beyond, a village, which seems to be mainly occupied by an Army Medical detachment; then two large Casualty Clearing Stations, and a Divisional Dressing Station. Not many wounded here at present; the section of the line from which we are only some ten miles distant has been comparatively quiet of late. But what preparations everywhere! What signs of the coming storm! Hardly a minute passes as we speed along without its significant sight; horse-lines, Army Service depots bursting with stores,—a great dump of sandbags—another of ammunition.
And as I look out at the piles of shells, I think of the most recent figures furnished me by the Ministry of Munitions. Last year, when the Somme offensive began, and when I was writing England's Effort, the weekly output of eighteen-pounder shells was 17-1/2 times what it was during the first year of the war. It is now 28 times as much. Field howitzer ammunition has almost doubled since last July. That of medium guns and howitzers has more than doubled. That of the heaviest guns of all (over six-inch) is more than four times as great. By the growth of ammunition we may guess what has been the increase in guns, especially in those heavy guns we are now pushing forward after the retreating Germans, as fast as roads and railway lines can be made to carry them. The German Government, through one of its subordinate spokesmen, has lately admitted their inferiority in guns; their retreat, indeed, on the Somme before our pending attack, together with the state of their old lines, now we are in and over them, show plainly enough what they had to fear from the British guns and the abundance of British ammunition.
But what are these strange figures swarming beside the road—black tousled heads and bronze faces? Kaffir "boys," at work in some quarries, feeling the cold, no doubt, on this bright bitter day, in spite of their long coats. They are part of that large body of native labour, Chinese, Kaffir, Basuto, which is now helping our own men everywhere to push on and push up, as the new labour forces behind them release more and more of the fighting men for that dogged pursuit which is going on there—in that blue distance to our right!—where the German line swings stubbornly back, south-east, from the Vimy Ridge.
The motor stops. This is a Headquarters, and a staff officer comes out to greet us—a boy in looks, but a D.S.O. all the same! His small car precedes us as a guide, and we keep up with him as best we may. These are mining villages we are passing through, and on the horizon are some of those pyramidal slag-heaps—the Fosses—which have seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war. But we leave the villages behind, and are soon climbing into a wooden upland. Suddenly, a halt. A notice-board forbids the use of a stretch of road before us "from sun-rise to sunset." Evidently it is under German observation. We try to find another, parallel. But here, too, the same notice confronts us. We dash along it, however, and my pulses run a little quicker, as I realise, from the maps we carry, how near we are to the enemy lines which lie hidden in the haze, eastward; and from my own eyes, how exposed is the hillside. But we are safely through, and a little further we come to a wood—a charming wood, to all seeming, of small trees, which in a week or two will be full of spring leaf and flower. But we are no sooner in it, jolting up its main track, than we understand the grimness of what it holds. Spring and flowers have not much to say to it! For this wood and its neighbourhood—Ablain St. Nazaire, Carency, Neuville St. Vaast—have seen war at its cruellest; thousands of brave lives have been yielded here; some of the dead are still lying unburied in its furthest thickets, and men will go softly through it in the years to come. "Stranger, go and tell the Lacedaemonians that we lie here, obedient to their will:"—the immortal words are in my ears. But how many are the sacred spots in this land for which they speak!
We leave the motor and walk on through the wood to the bare upland beyond. The wood is still a wood of death, actual or potential. Our own batteries are all about us; so too are the remains of French batteries, from the days when the French still held this portion of the line. We watch the gunners among the trees and presently pass an encampment of their huts. Beyond, a high and grassy plateau—fringes of wood on either hand. But we must not go to the edge on our right so as to look down into the valley below. Through the thin leafless trees, however, we see plainly the ridges that stretch eastward, one behind the other, "suffused in sunny air." There are the towers of Mont St. Eloy—ours; the Bertonval Wood—ours; and the famous Vimy Ridge, blue in the middle distance, of which half is ours and half German. We are very near the line. Notre Dame de Lorette is not very far away, though too far for us to reach the actual spot, the famous bluff, round which the battle raged in 1915. And now the guns begin!—the first we have heard since we arrived. From our left—as it seemed—some distance away, came the short sharp reports of the trench mortars, but presently, as we walked on, guns just behind us and below us, began to boom over our heads, and we heard again the long-drawn scream or swish of the shells, rushing on their deadly path to search out the back of the enemy's lines in the haze yonder, and flinging confusion on his lines of communication, his supplies and reserves. He does not reply. He has indeed been strangely meek of late. The reason here cannot be that he is slipping away from our attack, as is the case farther south. The Vimy Ridge is firmly held; it is indeed the pivot of the retreat. Perhaps to-day he is economising. But, of course, at any moment he might reply. After a certain amount of hammering he must reply! And there are some quite fresh shell-holes along our path, some of them not many hours old. Altogether, it is with relief that as the firing grows hotter we turn back and pick up the motor in the wood again.
And yet one is loath to go! Never again shall I stand in such a scene—never again behold those haunted ridges, and this wood of death with the guns that hide in it! To have shared ever so little in such a bit of human experience is for a woman a thing of awe, if one has time to think of it. Not even groups of artillery men, chatting or completing their morning's toilet, amid the thin trees, can dull that sense in me. They are only "strafing" Fritz or making ready to "strafe" him; they have had an excellent midday meal in the huts yonder, and they whistle and sing as they go about their work, disappearing sometimes into mysterious regions out of sight. That is all there is in it for them. They are "doing their job," like the airmen, and if a German shell finds them in the wood, why, the German will have done his job, and they will bear no grudge. It is simple as that—for them. But to the onlooker, they are all figures in a great design—woven into the terrible tapestry of war, and charged with a meaning that we of this actual generation shall never more than dimly see or understand.
Again we rush along the exposed road and back into the mining region, taking a westward turn. A stately chateau, and near it a smaller house, where a General greets us. Lunch is over, for we are late, but it is hospitably brought back for us, and the General and I plunge into talk of the retreat, of what it means for the Germans, and what it will mean for us. After luncheon, we go into the next room to look at the General's big maps which show clearly how the salients run, the smaller and the larger, from which the Germans are falling back, followed closely by the troops of General Gough. News of the condition of the enemy's abandoned lines is coming in fast. "Let no one make any mistake. They have gone because they must—because of the power of our artillery, which never stops hammering them, whether on the line or behind the line, which interferes with all their communications and supplies, and makes life intolerable. At the same time, the retreat is being skilfully done, and will of course delay us. That was why they did it. We shall have to push up roads, railways, supplies; the bringing up of the heavy guns will take time, but less time than they think! Our men are in the pink of condition!"
On which again follows very high praise of the quality of the men now coming out under the Military Service Act. "Yet they are conscripts," says one of us, in some surprise, "and the rest were volunteers." "No doubt. But these are the men—many of them—who had to balance duties—who had wives and children to leave, and businesses which depended on them personally. Compulsion has cut the knot and eased their consciences. They'll make fine soldiers! But we want more—more!" And then follows talk on the wonderful developments of training—even since last year; and some amusing reminiscences of the early days of England's astounding effort, by which vast mobs of eager recruits without guns, uniforms, or teachers, have been turned into the magnificent armies now fighting in France.
The War Office has lately issued privately some extremely interesting notes on the growth and training of the New Armies, of which it is only now possible to make public use. From these it is clear that in the Great Experiment of the first two years of war all phases of intellect and capacity have played their part. The widely trained mind, taking large views as to the responsibility of the Army towards the nation delivered into its hands, so that not only should it be disciplined for war but made fitter for peace; and the practical inventive gifts of individuals who, in seeking to meet a special need, stumble on something universal, both forces have been constantly at work. Discipline and initiative have been the twin conquerors, and the ablest men in the Army, to use a homely phrase, have been out for both. Many a fresh, and valuable bit of training has been due to some individual officer struck with a new idea, and patiently working it out. The special "schools," which are now daily increasing the efficiency of the Army, if you ask how they arose, you will generally be able to trace them back to some eager young man starting a modest experiment in his spare time for the teaching of himself and some of his friends, and so developing it that the thing is finally recognised, enlarged, and made the parent of similar efforts elsewhere.
Let me describe one such "school"—to me a thrilling one, as I saw it on a clear March afternoon. A year ago no such thing existed. Now each of our Armies possesses one.
But this letter is already too long!
Easter Eve, 1917.
DEAR MR. ROOSEVELT,—Since I finished my last letter to you, before the meeting of Congress, great days have come and gone.
America is with us!
At last, we English folk can say that to each other, without reserve or qualification, and into England's mood of ceaseless effort and anxiety there has come a sudden relaxation, a breath of something canning and sustaining. What your action may be—whether it will shorten the war, and how much, no one here yet knows. But when in some great strain a friend steps to your side, you don't begin with questions. He is there. Your cause, your effort, are his. Details will come. Discussion will come. But there is a breathing space first, in which feeling rests upon itself before it rushes out in action. Such a breathing space for England are these Easter days!
Meanwhile, the letters from the Front come in with their new note of joy. "You should see the American faces in the Army to-day!" writes one. "They bring a new light into this dismal spring." How many of them? Mayn't we now confess to ourselves and our Allies that there is already, the equivalent of an American division, fighting with the Allied Armies in France, who have used every honest device to get there? They have come in by every channel, and under every pretext—wavelets, forerunners of the tide. For now, you too have to improvise great armies, as we improvised ours in the first two years of war. And with you as with us, your unpreparedness stands as your warrant before history, that not from American minds and wills came the provocation to this war.
But your actual and realised co-operation sets me on lines of thought that distract me, for the moment, from the first plan of this letter. The special Musketry School with which I had meant to open it, must wait till its close. I find my mind full instead—in connection with the news from Washington—of those recently issued War Office pamphlets of which I spoke in my last letter; and I propose to run through their story. These pamphlets, issued not for publication but for the information of those concerned, are the first frank record of our national experience in connection with the war; and for all your wonderful American resource and inventiveness, your American energy and wealth, you will certainly, as prudent men, make full use of our experience in the coming months.
Last year, for England's Effort, I tried vainly to collect some of these very facts and figures, which the War Office was still jealously—'and no doubt quite rightly—withholding. Now at last they are available, told by "authority," and one can hardly doubt that each of these passing days will give them—for America a double significance. Surpass the story, if you can; we shall bear you no grudge! But up till now, it remains a chapter unique in the history of war. Many Americans, as your original letter to me pointed out, had still, last year, practically no conception of what we were doing and had done. The majority of our own people, indeed, were in much the same case. While the great story was still in the making, while the foundations were still being laid, it was impossible to correct all the annoying underestimates, all the ignorant or careless judgments, of people who took a point for the whole. The men at the heart of things could only set their teeth, keep silence and give no information that could help the enemy. The battle of the Somme, last July, was the first real testing of their work. The Hindenburg retreat, the successes in Mesopotamia, the marvellous spectacle of the Armies in France—and before this letter could be sent to Press, the glorious news from the Arras front!—are the present fruits of it.
Like you, we had, at the outbreak of war, some 500,000 men, all told, of whom not half were fully trained. None of us British folk will ever forget the Rally of the First Hundred Thousand! On the 8th of August, four days after the Declaration of War, Lord Kitchener asked for them. He got them in a fortnight. But the stream rushed on—in the fifth week of the war alone 250,000 men enlisted; 30,000 recruits—the yearly number enlisted before the war—joined in one day. Within six or seven weeks the half-million available at the beginning of the war had been more than doubled.
Then came a pause. The War Office, snowed under, not knowing where to turn for clothes, boots, huts, rifles, guns, ammunition, tried to check the stream by raising the recruits' standards. A mistake!—but soon recognised. In another month, under the influence of the victory on the Marne, and while the Germans were preparing the attacks on the British Line so miraculously beaten off in the first battle of Ypres, the momentary check had been lost in a fresh outburst of national energy. You will remember how the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee came into being, that first autumn?—how the Prime Minister took the lead, and the two great political parties of the country agreed to bring all their organisation, central or local, to bear on the supreme question of getting men for the Army. Tory and Radical toured the country together. The hottest opponents stood on the same platform. L'union sacree—to use the French phrase, so vivid and so true, by which our great Ally has charmed her own discords to rest in defence of the country—became a reality here too, in spite of strikes, in spite of Ireland.
By July 1915—the end of the first year of war—more than 2,000,000 men had voluntarily enlisted. But the military chiefs knew well that it was but a half-way house. They knew, too, that it was not enough to get men and rush them out to the trenches as soon as any kind of training could be given them. The available men must be sorted out. Some, indeed, must be brought back from the fighting line for work as vital as the fighting itself.
So Registration came—the first real step towards organising the nation. 150,000 voluntary workers helped to register all men and women in the country, from eighteen to sixty-five, and on the results Lord Derby built his group system, which almost enabled us to do without compulsion. Between October and December 1915, another two million and a quarter men had "attested"—that is, had pledged themselves to come up for training when called on.
But, as every observer of this new England knows, we have here less than half the story. From a nation not invaded, protected, on the contrary, by its sea ramparts from the personal cruelties and ravages of war, to gather in between four and five million voluntary recruits was a great achievement. But to turn these recruits at the shortest possible notice, under the hammer-blows of a war, in which our enemies had every initial advantage, into armies equipped and trained according to modern standards, might well have seemed to those who undertook it an impossible task. And the task had to be accomplished, the riddle solved, before, in the face of the enemy, the incredible difficulties of it could possibly be admitted. The creators of the new armies worked, as far as they could, behind a screen. But now the screen is down, and we are allowed to see their difficulties in their true perspective—as they existed during the first months of the war.
In the first place—accommodation! At the opening of war we had barrack-room for 176,000 men. What to do with these capped, bare-headed, or straw-hatted multitudes who poured in at Lord Kitchener's call! They were temporarily housed—somehow—under every kind of shelter. But military huts for half a million men were immediately planned—then for nearly a million.
Timber—labour—lighting—water—drainage—roads—everything, had to be provided, and was provided. Billeting filled up the gaps, and large camps were built by private enterprise to be taken in time by the Government. Of course mistakes were made. Of course there were some dishonest contractors and some incompetent officials. But the breath, the winnowing blast of the national need was behind it all. By the end of the first year of war, the "problem of quartering the troops in the chief training centres had been solved."
In the next place, there were no clothes. A dozen manufacturers of khaki cloth existed before the war. They had to be pushed up as quickly as possible to 200. Which of us in the country districts does not remember the blue emergency suits, of which a co-operative society was able by a lucky stroke to provide 400,000 for the new recruits?—or the other motley coverings of the hosts that drilled in our fields and marched about our lanes? The War Office Notes, under my hand, speak of these months as the "tatterdemalion stage." For what clothes and boots there were must go to the men at the Front, and the men at home had just to take their chance.
Well! It took a year and five months—breathless months of strain and stress—while Germany was hammering East and West on the long-drawn lines of the Allies. But by then, January 1916, the Army was not only clothed, housed, and very largely armed, but we were manufacturing for our Allies.
As to the arms and equipment, look back at these facts. When the Expeditionary Force had taken its rifles abroad in August 1914, 150,000 rifles were left in the country, and many of them required to be resighted. The few Service rifles in each battalion were handed round "as the Three Fates handed round their one eye, in the story of Perseus"; old rifles, and inferior rifles "technically known as D.P.," were eagerly made use of. But after seven months' hard training with nothing better than these makeshifts, "men were apt to get depressed."
It was just the same with the Artillery. At the outbreak of war we had guns for eight divisions—say 140,000 men. And there was no plant wherewith to make and keep up more than that supply. Yet guns had to be sent as fast as they could be made to France, Egypt, Gallipoli. How were the gunners at home to be trained?
It was done, so to speak, with blood and tears. For seven months it was impossible for the gunner in training even to see, much less to work or fire the gun to which he was being trained. Zealous officers provided dummy wooden guns for their men. All kinds of devices were tried. And even when the guns themselves arrived, they came often without the indispensable accessories—range-finders, directors, and the like.
It was a time of hideous anxiety for both Government and War Office. For the military history of 1915 was largely a history of shortage of guns and ammunition—whether on the Western or Eastern fronts. All the same, by the end of 1915 the thing was in hand. The shells from the new factories were arriving in ever-increasing volume; and the guns were following.
In a chapter of England's Effort I have described the amazing development of some of the great armament works in order to meet this cry for guns, as I saw it in February 1916. The second stage of the war had then begun. The first was over, and we were steadily overtaking our colossal task. The Somme proved it abundantly. But the expansion still goes on; and what the nation owes to the directing brains and ceaseless energy of these nominally private but really national firms has never been sufficiently recognised. On my writing-desk is a letter received, not many days ago, from a world-famous firm whose works I saw last year: "Since your visit here in the early part of last year, there have been very large additions to the works." Buildings to accommodate new aeroplane and armament construction of different kinds are mentioned, and the letter continues: "We have also put up another gun-shop, 565 feet long, and 163 feet wide—in three extensions—of which the third is nearing completion. These additions are all to increase the output of guns. The value of that output is now 60 per cent, greater than it was in 1915. In the last twelve months, the output of shells has been one and a half times more than it was in the previous year." No wonder that the humane director who writes speaks with keen sympathy of the "long-continued strain" upon masters and men. But he adds—"When we all feel it, we think of our soldiers and sailors, doing their duty—unto death."
And then—to repeat—if the difficulties of equipment were huge, they were almost as nothing to the difficulties of training. The facts as the War Office has now revealed them (the latest of these most illuminating brochures is dated April 2nd, 1917) are almost incredible. It will be an interesting time when our War Office and yours come to compare notes!—"when Peace has calmed the world." For you are now facing the same grim task—how to find the shortest cuts to the making of an Army—which confronted us in 1914.
In the first place, what military trainers there were in the country had to be sent abroad with the first Expeditionary Force. Adjutants, N.C.O.'s, all the experienced pilots in the Flying Corps, nearly all the qualified instructors in physical training, the vast majority of all the seasoned men in every branch of the Service—down, as I have said, to the Army cooks—departed overseas. At the very last moment an officer or two were shed from every battalion of the Expeditionary Force to train those left behind. Even so, there was "hardly even a nucleus of experts left." And yet—officers for 500,000 men had to be found—within a month—from August 4th, 1914.
How was it done? The War Office answer makes fascinating reading. The small number of regular officers left behind—200 officers of the Indian Army—retired officers, "dug-outs"—all honour to them!—wounded officers from the Front; all were utilised. But the chief sources of supply, as we all know, were the Officers' Training Corps at the Universities and Public Schools which we owe to the divination, the patience, the hard work of Lord Haldane. Twenty thousand potential officers were supplied by the O.T.C's. What should we have done without them?
But even so, there was no time to train them in the practical business of war—and such a war! Yet their business was to train recruits, while they themselves were untrained. At first, those who were granted "temporary commissions" were given a month's training. Then even that became impossible. During the latter months of 1914 "there was practically no special training given to infantry subalterns, with temporary commissions." With 1915, the system of a month's training was revived—pitifully little, yet the best that could be done. But during the first five months of the war most of the infantry subalterns of the new armies "had to train themselves as best they could in the intervals of training their men."
One's pen falters over the words. Before the inward eye rises the phantom host of these boy-officers who sprang to England's aid in the first year of the war, and whose graves lie scattered in an endless series along the western front and on the heights of Gallipoli. Without counting the cost for a moment, they came to the call of the Great Mother, from near and far. "They trained themselves, while they were training their men." Not for them the plenty of guns and shells that now at least lessens the hideous sacrifice that war demands; not for them the many protective devices and safeguards that the war itself has developed. Their young bodies—their precious lives—paid the price. And in the Mother-heart of England they lie—gathered and secure—for ever.
* * * * *
But let me go a little further with the new War Office facts.
The year 1915 saw great and continuous advance. During that year, an average number of over a million troops were being trained in the United Kingdom, apart from the armies abroad. The First, Second, and Third Armies naturally came off much better than the Fourth and Fifth, who were yet being recruited all the time. What equipment, clothes and arms there were the first three armies got; the rest had to wait. But all the same, the units of these later armies were doing the best they could for themselves all the time; nobody stood still. And gradually—surely—order was evolved out of the original chaos. The Army Orders of the past had dropped out of sight with the beginning of the war. Everything had to be planned anew. The one governing factor was the "necessity of getting men to the front at the earliest possible moment." Six months' courses were laid down for all arms. It was very rare, however, that any course could be strictly carried out, and after the first three armies, the training of the rest seemed, for a time, to be all beginnings!—with the final stage farther and farther away. And always the same difficulty of guns, rifles, huts, and the rest.
But, like its own tanks, the War Office went steadily on, negotiating one obstacle after another. Special courses for special subjects began to be set up. Soon artillery officers had no longer to join their batteries at once on appointment; R.E. officers could be given a seven weeks' training at Chatham; little enough, "for a man supposed to know the use and repairs of telephones and telegraphs, or the way to build or destroy a bridge, or how to meet the countless other needs with which a sapper is called upon to deal!" Increasing attention was paid to staff training and staff courses. And insufficient as it all was, for months, the general results of this haphazard training, when the men actually got into the field—all short-comings and disappointments admitted—were nothing short of wonderful. Had the Germans forgotten that we are and always have been a fighting people? That fact, at any rate, was brought home to them by the unbroken spirit of the troops who held the line in France and Flanders in 1915 against all attempts to break through; and at Neuve Chapelle, or Loos, or a hundred other minor engagements, only wanted numbers and ammunition—above all ammunition!—to win them the full victory they had rightly earned.
Of this whole earlier stage, the junior subaltern was the leading figure. It was he—let me insist upon it anew—whose spirit made the new armies. If the tender figure of the "Lady of the Lamp" has become for many of us the chief symbol of the Crimean struggle, when Britain comes to embody in sculpture or in painting that which has touched her most deeply in this war, she will choose—surely—the figure of a boy of nineteen, laughing, eager, undaunted, as quick to die as to live, carrying in his young hands the "Luck" of England.
* * * * *
But with the end of 1915, the first stage, the elementary stage, of the new Armies came to an end. When I stood, in March 1916, on the Scherpenberg hill, looking out over the Salient, new conditions reigned. The Officer Cadet Corps had been formed; a lively and continuous intercourse between the realities of the front and the training at home had been set up; special schools in all subjects of military interest had been founded, often, as we have seen, by the zeal of individual officers, to be then gradually incorporated in the Army system. Men insufficiently trained in the early months had been given the opportunity—which they eagerly took—of beginning at the beginning again, correcting mistakes and incorporating all the latest knowledge. Even a lieutenant-colonel, before commanding a battalion, could go to school once more; and even for officers and men "in rest," there were, and are, endless opportunities of seeing and learning, which few wish to forgo.
And that brings me to what is now shaping itself—the final result. The year just passed, indeed—from March to March—has practically rounded our task—though the "learning" of the Army is never over!—and has seen the transformation—whether temporary or permanent, who yet can tell?—of the England of 1914, with its zealous mobs of untrained and "tatterdemalion" recruits, into a great military power,[This letter was finished just as the news of the Easter Monday Battle of Arras was coming in.] disposing of armies in no whit inferior to those of Germany, and bringing to bear upon the science of war—now that Germany has forced us to it—the best intelligence, and the best character, of the nation. The most insolent of the German military newspapers are already bitterly confessing it.
* * * * *
My summary—short and imperfect as it is—of this first detailed account of its work which the War Office has allowed to be made public—has carried me far afield.
The motor has been waiting long at the door of the hospitable headquarters which have entertained us! Let me return to it, to the great spectacle of the present—after this retrospect of the Past.
Again the crowded roads—the young and vigorous troops—the manifold sights illustrating branch after branch of the Army. I recall a draft, tired with marching, clambering with joy into some empty lorries, and sitting there peacefully content, with legs dangling and the ever blessed cigarette for company, then an aeroplane station—then a football field, with a violent game going on—a Casualty Clearing Station, almost a large hospital—another football match!—a battery of eighteen-pounders on the march, and beyond an old French market town crowded with lorries and men. In the midst of it D—— suddenly draws my attention to a succession of great nozzles passing us, with their teams and limbers. I have stood beside the forging and tempering of their brothers in the gun-shops of the north, have watched the testing and callipering of their shining throats. They are 6-inch naval guns on their way to the line—like everything else, part of the storm to come.
And in and out, among the lorries and the guns, stream the French folk, women, children, old men, alert, industrious, full of hope, with friendly looks for their Allies. Then the town passes, and we are out again in the open country, leaving the mining village behind. We are not very far at this point from that portion of the line which I saw last year under General X's guidance. But everything looks very quiet and rural, and when we emerged on the high ground of the school we had come to see, I might have imagined myself on a Surrey or Hertfordshire common. The officer in charge, a "mighty hunter" in civil life, showed us his work with a quiet but most contagious enthusiasm. The problem that he, and his colleagues engaged in similar work in other sections of the front, had to solve, was—how to beat the Germans at their own game of "sniping," which cost us so many lives in the first year and a half of war; in other words, how to train a certain number of men to an art of rifle-shooting, combining the instincts and devices of a "Pathfinder" with the subtleties of modern optical and mechanical science. "Don't think of this as meant primarily to kill," says the Chief of the School, as he walks beside me—"it is meant primarily to protect. We lost our best men—young and promising officers in particular—by the score before we learnt the tricks of the German 'sniper' and how to meet them." German "sniping," as our guide explains, is by no means all tricks. For the most part, it means just first-rate shooting, combined with the trained instinct and flair of the sportsman. Is there anything that England—and Scotland—should provide more abundantly? Still, there are tricks, and our men have learnt them.
Of the many surprises of the school I may not now speak. Above all, it is a school of observation. Nothing escapes the eye or the ear. Every point, for instance, connected with our two unfamiliar figures will have been elaborately noted by those men on the edge of the hill; the officer in charge will presently get a careful report on us.
"We teach our men the old great game of war—wit against wit—courage against courage—life against life. We try many men here, and reject a good few. But the men who have gone through our training here are valuable, both for attack and defence—above all, let me repeat it, they are valuable for protection."
And what is meant by this, I have since learnt in greater detail. Before these schools were started, every day saw a heavy toll—especially of officers' lives—taken by German snipers. Compare with this one of the latest records: that out of fifteen battalions there were only nine men killed by snipers in three months.
We leave the hill, half sliding down the frozen watercourse that leads to it, and are in the motor again, bound for an Army Headquarters.
April 14th, 1917.
DEAR MR. ROOSEVELT,—As the news comes flashing in, these April days, and all the world holds its breath to hear the latest messages from Arras and the Vimy ridge, it is natural that in the memory of a woman who, six weeks ago, was a spectator—before the curtain rose—of the actual scene of such events, every incident and figure of that past experience, as she looks back upon it, should gain a peculiar and shining intensity.
The battle of the Vimy Ridge [April 8th] is clearly going to be the second (the first was the German retreat on the Somme) of those "decisive events" determining this year the upshot of the war, to which the Commander-in-Chief, with so strong and just a confidence, directed the eyes of this country some three months ago. When I was in the neighbourhood of the great battlefield—one may say it now!—the whole countryside was one vast preparation. The signs of the coming attack were everywhere—troops, guns, ammunition, food dumps, hospitals, air stations—every actor and every property in the vast and tragic play were on the spot, ready for the moment and the word.