Dear Mother and Father:
I have been turning things over in my mind lately and have about decided that I must go over to France for a few months. There are many reasons for -doing so, the possibility of, having even an infinitesimal part in one of the greatest events in all history --- the possibility of being of some service in the midst of so much distress --- the interest of witnessing some of the scenes in this greatest and gravest of spectacles --- and above all the chance of doing the little all that one can for France.
You need not fear, if I go, that I shall expose myself to any serious risks. If I can I should like to get attached to the ambulance service, or, if that is impossible, to one of the relief commissions (to help, perhaps, in looking after the distribution of food and relief in some French town, --- or something of the sort).. But I shall not get in the way of the armies. What do you think. about it?
Is n't it a great chance? Is n't it a piece of good fortune that I happen to be free in this great moment of history? And is n't it worth while to make some sacrifice in order to have one's little share in the great events that are going on?
I have been staying for a day or so at the Davisons', and am going back to Gloucester on Friday.
Dear Mother and Father:
Only a line or two to tell you how happy and busy I am. As I telegraphed you, I have heard from Mr. Bacon and have arranged to join the American Ambulance. I have bought a whole equipment of sheep-lined coats and vests, even Jaeger underwear, --- which I never dreamed that I should come to, --- and also a heavy sleeping-bag, which I shall probably never use, but which ought to be serviceable in case we should have to sleep out of doors on cold nights.
I got a fine letter this morning from Ambassador Jusserand. I have also ventured to write to Mr. Herrick and Colonel Roosevelt for letters which might be of service in some unforeseen emergency and which probably will await me at the steamer. The time is so short and I am so busy. Don't worry about me. Remember I have a strong body and I seldom mind the cold, --- and for that matter I have every known device for keeping the cold out. Remember, too, that I am doing the thing I want most to do and am very happy in the thought of it.
Dear Mother and Father:
The feverish three or four days of preparation are over, and the story is about to begin. I have every known variety of clothing to protect against the cold, packed in a steamer trunk, a valise, and a suit-case.
Last night I motored up to Boston and had a farewell dinner with Mrs. Gardner in Fenway Court. We talked for hours, just we two alone, wondering much what the future had in waiting, and then about eleven I went down to the theatre, picked up my friend, Leslie Buswell, and we bundled into our woollen helmets, opened the throttle, and tore to Gloucester, imagining that we were in the war zone and had a message to deliver to General Joffre which must reach headquarters before 1 A.M. "Madame" had a nice supper awaiting us at one o'clock before the open fire in my upstairs study, and there we talked and talked and talked almost until dawn.
So ended 1914 for me in Gloucester, a dear evening spent alternately with two good friends (Y and L. B.), and now here I am, more eager than I have ever been for anything, headed for the land I love next to my own --- awaiting whatever the future may have in store.
I expect to meet other friends to-night in New York. Tomorrow morning I get my steamer passage, letter of credit, etc., and at 3 P.M. we sail.
Dear Mother and Father:
I had thought by this time to be on the high seas, as the Touraine was scheduled to sail at 3 P.M.; but instead I am sitting on the top of the Davisons' house in their solarium preparing to dine with the Davison boys and to go with them to the theatre. For some reason, at the last moment the Touraine's sailing was postponed until to-morrow.
We were all on the boat, --- Harry Sleeper came on unexpectedly from Boston to see me off and C. B. was down there and Mrs. Davison and the dear Davison boys, --- and all my luggage, and parcels of books and flowers and little presents from different people, --- and some immense rolls of cloth for our uniforms, of which I am to take charge on the way to Paris.
But here we are still in New York!
In the mean time I have taken a lesson in running a Ford, which is not the easy thing I had imagined it to be. You have to do everything contrary as regards pedals and levers to what you do with the Packard, and I am glad to have had this little chance to learn the rudiments. To-morrow morning early I am going down to Long Island with the Davisons, and as they have a Ford down there the boys are going to give me a lesson and I am to drive the car back to New York.
The Touraine is a slow boat and is not expected to reach Boulogne until Tuesday the 29th. So on Xmas think of me as in mid-ocean. I shall not be lonely, as there are various friends aboard. I saw Huntington Wilson (who used to be Assistant Secretary of State in my Washington days) among the passengers, and my roommate on the boat, Charley Appleton, is a very nice fellow who graduated at Harvard six or seven years ago.
I hope you are not worried. The possibility of at is the only thing about the trip that makes me anxious. For the rest, I am keen about the prospect. It is the most worthwhile thing I have ever done, and the most interesting.
We expect to sail now on Sunday afternoon.
Dear Mother and Father:
The steamer is to sail, they say, at 3 P.M. to-day (Sunday) It was booked to sail yesterday at the same hour.
Last evening, I went to the theatre and spent the night with the Davisons and to-day I went down to Long Island, and drove their little Ford car back to New York, which was good practice.
I also stopped at the Carlton and saw Mr. Herrick, who has just returned from France, and who happened to be in New York, and from him I got a good deal of information about conditions in Paris. I hear from all sides that he has been a successful and popular ambassador, and that it was a thousand pities he was not allowed to remain as our representative in France. Some of the things he said last autumn will certainly be remembered for a long time by the French people. When the other ambassadors left for Bordeaux, with the President and the Senate and Chamber, Mr. Herrick remained, saying that "a dead ambassador might be able to render a greater service to France and the world than a live one"; subtly implying that if he were killed by the Germans, America might come to the aid of France. And when the German hordes were almost within cannon range of Paris, he touched the hearts of the French people by saying that he would do his utmost to prevent the bombardment of their beautiful capital, "because Paris belongs not merely to France, but to the whole world." The French people must have appreciated such apt expressions of friendship in those hours of profound apprehension. He has intelligence and heart and the bel air. I like him and am sure he merits all the homage he has received for his handling of conditions in Paris.
Miss Beaux was here at the boat again to see me off at 1 P.M., the proposed hour of sailing, and Harry is still here (2 P.M.). He will stay until we actually push off. Heaven certainly is kind in the friends that have been given me..
I found your telegram and letter. I am glad you are not sorry that I am going.
I shall be back almost before you know it. And so once more, good-bye.
Dear Mother and Father:
We have ploughed along through gray rain and rough seas all day, and, as it is the shortest day of the year and we are up around the Grand Banks, the night shut in soon after four o'clock. I have dozed in my steamer chair most of the day, and shall do the same during the eight or nine days to follow. Unless some German cruiser gives us chase, there promises to be little diversion.
The Touraine may have been a "floating palace" in the palmy eighties, but she could not be so regarded to-day. She is comfortable and cozy and fairly clean, but seems more like a river steamer than an ocean liner. There are less than thirty passengers aboard, and most of them are Frenchmen going back to join the army.
We have a little table of five. Most of the men who had agreed to come backed down at the last moment, so there are only four men and one woman aboard bound for the American Ambulance, although it is expected that more will follow by later steamers. There is a Yale graduate named Richardson, somewhat over forty, I should say, --- of a rather serious, and inquiring turn of mind, -a dependable type. There is a young Harvard graduate named Rumsey, perhaps twenty-seven or thereabouts, short, red-haired, a member of the Porcellian Club at Harvard. He used to play football at Harvard, has lived on ranches in the West, is a tightly knit little athlete with, I should imagine, no end of courage and a zest for adventure. There is another young Harvard man of about the same age named Charley Appleton, a cousin of the Meyers', who lives in Ipswich in the summer and in New York in the winter. I knew him at Harvard. Then there is a trained nurse from Cambridge, --- a woman of perhaps thirty to thirty-five, --- a nice little woman taking her first trip across, and full of interest in the great adventure. She will probably teach us everything we need to know about "first aid" on the way over.
We have a small table by ourselves, and are probably destined to get very well acquainted as time goes on. No one seems to know exactly what he is to do when he gets over, but they are all expecting to help carry wounded soldiers to ,and from the hospitals in the immediate rear of the lines. Perhaps they may spend their first weeks carting beds and groceries from Paris to Neuilly. That would certainly be less interesting, however useful it might be.
Dear Mother and Father:
Often to-day my thoughts have run back over fifteen hundred miles of trackless water and one thousand miles of land to you all happily gathered about the Christmas tree. It has not been a forlorn day for me. Here in the middle of the Atlantic we have not quite realized that it was Christmas. We had a little snow last night and quite a gale, but to-day the sun has shone most of the day, the air has been mild, and it is only when one closes one's eyes tight that one can really believe that this is the day of days in the whole year's calendar and that snowy landscapes and ice probably prevail over most of the United States. This afternoon they had "sports" and races on the deck. My name appeared on the programme by some one's mischievous suggestion, but I did not perform. We shall not land in Havre until Tuesday the 28th, and shall not reach Paris until the 30th. Meanwhile we are steaming along the ocean lane, guarded, the captain says, by British cruisers about twenty miles away on either side just over the horizon.
I have enjoyed having Huntington Wilson aboard, and what questions relative to the universe, past, present, and future, have not been settled, or at least dissected, by us it would be hard to find.
Dear Mother and Father:
Just a word written in my berth late in the last night aboard the Touraine. We are skirting the English coast, which can be dimly seen out of my porthole in the moonlight or can be presumed from the lights along the shore. We have had a gay and warm-hearted evening from dinner until now at about 1.30 A.M.
Our little coterie--- Huntington Wilson, of whom you know; a Hindu prince, with an unpronounceable name and a willowy little sprite of an English wife; Madame ----- the charming, young, and intelligent wife of a French playwright who is not travelling with her; a strange Franco-American product named Madame ------, slender, with wild red hair, and wilder than her hair., animated beyond anything I have ever seen in any human being; "Larry" Rumsey, laconic but quick-witted; Charley Appleton; and a pleasant French youth, who has been living in Canada, but is bound back to France to join the army, --- they all seem to-night old acquaintances. Yet few of them had entered into each other's previous experience and few will probably have any relation with the lives of any of the rest in the future. For several days, perhaps because of our common interest in the outcome of the war, we have been on very friendly terms, have talked endlessly, and played or laughed and even sung together.
To-night, when we "broke up" singing "Tipperary " after a long and happy evening of lively talk in French and English, I am sure we all felt touched with a sense of tenderness and regret.
We are approaching the French coast. There are all sorts of vessels coming and going across the Channel (except German vessels). We land about 9.30.
Dear Mother and Father:
Paris at last!
We reached the mouth of the harbor at Havre on Tuesday morning, but what with the heavy sea and an unfavorable tide, the captain did not feel it safe to try and make the dock until night. So we steamed tediously around and around all day, and it was long after dark when the prow finally turned landwards. It was about seven o'clock of a moonlit, starlit night when we drew up at the landing. We had just time to get across the city to the railway station in season to take a night train to Paris, which we were told would get us here by one o'clock. We had to show our passports to French soldiers at the dock and at the railway station, and there were a good many English soldiers, trimly dressed in khaki, patrolling the streets (because many of the British transports land at Havre), and of course we all felt the thrill of setting foot in a country which we loved and which was in the throes of an epoch-making war. We bought the English and French papers to find what had happened while we were at sea, and to help pass the hours on the long night trip. There were no sleepers or first-class carriages, and most of the train was overflowing with reservists who had come over in the steerage of our steamer to join the army.
We did not reach Paris until seven o'clock the next morn and there was practically no sleep during the night.
The railroads are used at night for transporting the army and its supplies, and I suppose the Government did not realize what discomfort they were causing us by leaving us for hours on sidings. As a matter of fact, it was not an altogether dismal night. We got out at many stations and talked to the sentinels who were patrolling the frosty tracks and platforms; we visited with our steamer friends in the other compartments; we read and chatted and argued and dozed and sang and finally the morning and Paris arrived.
That was yesterday morning. And in the mean time we have done and seen many things.
What of Paris? What impression does one get, who knows it well in times of peace, seeing it now in this moment of gigantic stress? I don't know that I had ever tried to picture precisely what I ought to expect to see. But I had read that the automobiles and taxicabs had all been commandeered and taken to the front, and I rather expected it would be difficult to get our luggage from the station. I had read so much about the size of the armies that I rather supposed there would be few men on the streets, and they mostly boys or old men. I had read that so many stores had been made over into hospitals that I imagined the usual throngs of shoppers on the boulevards would be missing, and that many window shades would be drawn and many shutters down in the shopping districts. In fact, I suppose I had expected to find Paris a somewhat deserted city with little traffic of the usual character, but with soldiers marching, drums beating, cavalry clattering over the pavements.
Much of this may have been true of Paris in the days of mobilization., or in the terrible days of early September, when every one thought that it was only a question of days or hours when the Germans would occupy the city. But whether or not that was the case some months ago, things are very different now. As we emerged from the station, the usual rows of taxicabs were lined up outside, and as we have come and gone about Paris during the last two days it has been hard to see that there is any less than the usual number of taxis or other autos tearing about the streets. Outwardly life seems to be going on as usual. The boulevards are lined as ordinarily during the holidays with little barracks, where Christmas toys are sold, and the sidewalks and department stores are thronged as of old with holiday shoppers. We walked down by the Seine yesterday afternoon, and the usual loafers were fishing from the bridge and embankments, or strolling past the old book-dealers who display their secondhand wares in boxes along the rail on the left bank of the Seine. One sees no marching troops and very few individual soldiers. Paris seems as calm and undisturbed as ever. To the casual observer it would seem as if the war must be over, or only a dream, or in some other country than France. This is the really astonishing fact.
If you look a little more carefully, however, you will notice from the posters on the kiosks that few of the theatres are open except for performances of a philanthropic or patriotic character. If you go down to the Louvre, you will find that its doors have been closed to the public for five months. If you pass some of the larger hotels, you will find that many of them bear Red Cross signs and are evidently used to-day as hospitals. If you look for the gay fashionable restaurants where frivolity was wont to flourish., you will find them closed or sedate and respectable. But above all, if you regard the women you pass on the street you will note that about one in every three wears mourning.
I don't know that anything has impressed me more than a walk which we took late yesterday afternoon through the old Quartier Latin, and which ended in the church of St. Etienne du Mont. I wanted to go to Notre Dame "to burn a candle" for France, but it was closed., so we went on to St. Etienne up on the hill near the Pantheon, where the remains of Saint Genevieve are entombed in a golden reliquary, a quaint old church which I used often to visit in my student days. We entered the church when the last twilight was percolating through the stained glass and sat in one of the chapels in quasi-darkness for half an hour watching old women and young women, dressed in black, as they burned their candles about the reliquary and wept and prayed for their loved ones who had given all that they had or could hope for to France.
Although Paris is only about seventy miles from the German lines, it is calm and without excitement. The people are utterly confident that the Germans are helpless so far as Paris is concerned. Moreover, they are confident that, cost what it may cost, they are going to win. They realize that the war must last indefinitely. They know that more and more of their boys have got to die. There are six hundred thousand of them,, I am told, at present in the hospitals! They know how terrible the price of victory must be, but life without it --- life under German domination ---would be unsupportable, and they are ready to pay the cost. This is all I can write now. Next time., I shall try to tell you something about the Ambulance.
Dear Mother and Father:
A week has passed since I have had a chance to write you, a week busy, full of interest, and different from any week I have ever spent.
The main hospital of the American Ambulance (and you understand that "Ambulance Américaine " is the name of the whole great undertaking, including two large hospitals, many ambulances in the narrow sense of the word, and hundreds of surgeons, nurses, and attendants) is located in Neuilly, a suburb northwest of Paris, through which the Germans would have passed had they succeeded in getting to Paris in September. The organizers of the hospital succeeded in persuading the French Government to put at their disposal an immense school-building in Neuilly, which was in process of erection, the Lycée Pasteur. It is a handsome building of brick and stone, built around a courtyard, and what would have been schoolrooms, large and well lighted, have become wards of the hospital, or dormitories for the nurses, or dining-rooms for the great staff of doctors, ambulance drivers, nurses, and orderlies, not less than three hundred and fifty --- probably more. One wing of the hospital is devoted to the transportation service and includes rooms for the staff of this department, a guardroom for the drivers and orderlies, rooms for those in charge of supplies, and a big garage. Here and in the neighboring yard the various squads of ambulances are equipped, which are to go to the front at one or another point along the five hundred miles of trenches that stretch from the British Channel to Switzerland. Several of the auto ambulances run every day between the hospital in Neuilly and the railway station in Aubervilliers, another suburb of Paris, bringing over wounded who have been sent there from the front by train. The principal work of the automobile corps, however, has no direct relation to the hospital at Neuilly. The corps of drivers and orderlies is grouped in squads of about fifteen or eighteen men, who have charge of perhaps ten ambulances each, and these squads go out for service along "the front," carrying wounded from the field dressing-stations to the nearest hospitals. One squad of ten autos left yesterday for the neighborhood of Beauvais, another squad is up near Belgium, in the English lines. My squad, as soon as we can get equipped, will leave for somewhere else. We hope to get off early next week, but we are subject to the orders of the French Government and cannot know our destination in advance. We shall be gone for an indefinite period, sleeping either in the ambulances, or in buildings to which we may be billeted by the army, and getting our rations from the army.
The preparations for such an undertaking involve more than you suppose of detail. In the first place, we have to get a great variety of papers from the Government, a permit to stay in France, a certificate of immatriculation with the Préfet de Police, an identity card, a driving-license and others, all of which have to be signed and stamped by official after official at bureau after bureau. I had to take my driving examination yesterday with a fussy and pompous old French official, who made me so anxious with his injunctions and admonitions that I nearly ran over, first a tram-car, and then a flock of sheep, either one of which would have been fatal to my hopes, whatever its effect on the car or the sheep. In the end he "passed" me, but it took the greater part of an afternoon of waiting, driving, backing, stopping, turning here and turning there according to his orders. As I had never driven a Ford but once or twice in my life, and in driving a Ford you have to remember not to do anything that you have been accustomed to do in driving any other car, you can imagine that I was on tenter-hooks. The old boy would wait until we got to a crowded corner and suddenly scream., "A gauche" (to the left), and then, as I had to dodge trams and people crossing the street, he would say, "Ah! too fast too fast! you are like the taxi-drivers, who are assassins." After a time I discovered that the thing to do to please him was to drive all the time as if following a hearse at a funeral. And when I tried that I "stalled" my engine twice!
The Ford cars as they arrive have only a chassis, and upon them we have a carriage-builder construct a light ambulance body capable of carrying three stretchers. We can carry three wounded lying down, or five or six sitting up. We have to paint these cars ourselves, try them out and adjust them, equip them with supplies and tools, take off the tires sent with them and put on non-skid tires, etc. I spend most of my days kneeling in the mud and practising the business of painter, carpenter, chauffeur, and washer in turn.
Then we have to equip ourselves with uniforms (the organizers of the hospital have selected a uniform practically identical with the British), with sleeping-bags, blankets, water-bottles and a long list of miscellaneous incidentals, such as a knapsack, a whistle, two pairs of heavy shoes, two khaki-colored shirts, four towels, four pairs of heavy socks, two pairs of heavy gloves, etc., etc. It all takes time, and involves trips into Paris.
My section is made up of a fine lot of fellows; two or three were artists in peace time, one an architect in New York, some were stock-brokers , some real-estate dealers, some are students just out of college; some are millionnaires, some paupers. They are like "les cadets de Gascogne." So far it seems as if we were preparing for a camping lark in the country, rather than for serious work with an army in the field in the greatest of all wars.
To-day I lunched with M. and Mme. Puaux and Gaby's wife. They were very warm-hearted toward me, said I was doing what Lafayette had done, etc. Afterwards I joined them toward the end of a matinée at the Théâtre Français. (The theatres are mostly closed here except for occasional matinées, because the trams and the underground cease running at 10 P.M.). The play was "La fille de Madame Roland," a classic piece, and after its close, the curtain rose again upon an eighteenth-century scene with the company in the costumes of Revolutionary times. In the centre of a public square was a statue representing the Republic, decorated with wreaths and flags, and in the distance drums and bugles were playing (the bugle calls, by the way, are very like our bugle calls, because, as I am told, they were brought over to America from France by Lafayette). Mounet-Sully, the great tragedian, now quite an old man, dressed as a citoyen of Revolutionary days in knickerbockers and with a red kerchief about his head, was in the crowd, and as a band in the distance played the "Marseillaise," he recited in a deep, sonorous voice, and as if he were speaking them extemporaneously for the first time, the martial lines of Rouget de Lisle. I shall never forget the way he shouted to the crowd: "Aux armes! citoyens!" "Marchons! Marchons!" and how the distant band repeated the melody after him. There never was a more thrilling national song. The audience stood as he recited it, and cheered at the end of every verse, and I was glad that I was in a dark corner of the box where no one could see me. When we came out, I saw Monsieur and Madame Puaux wiping away their tears, and many others too. Monsieur Puaux and Mounet-Sully were together in the war of 1870, and when the curtain fell we went around "behind" and visited Mounet-Sully in his dressing-room in the midst of the faded wreaths that commemorated his triumphs of other days.. It was worth while to see the two venerable friends embracing each other fervently and talking of the great days of the Franco-Prussian War. "Souvenez-vous de soixante-dix, mon ami?" "Oui, souvenez-vous."
My little friend "Gaby " has been for five months in the trenches, as a captain of infantry. He was in the battles of the Marne and the Somme and most of the other great engagements. But about two weeks ago he was taken over on the General Staff and now is with General Joffre at the Grand Quartier Général. His family hopes that he may get home for a few hours this week, in which case I shall surely hope to see him. René is in the aviation corps just outside of Paris, and I shall arrange to see him too before we go to the front.
The next time I write I will try to tell you something about the hospital and some of the tragedies among those I have seen in the several wards. There is so much to tell and so little time or chance to tell it.
I am very well, and never have been more happy.
I have received several letters from America, but none from you yet.
Dear Mother and Father:
We are still here, but expect to leave any day. I shall never forget the two weeks spent working on the cars in the mud of the hospital yard. We had no freezing temperature, but they say that this is the wettest winter ever known. Every day it has drizzled or sprinkled intermittently, and as the grounds of the hospital (which was a school in process of erection) had never been cleared or covered with gravel or turf, the mud everywhere is several inches deep, and in this mud we have waded and literally wallowed as we worked about and under our cars. I have long since ceased to mind grimy hands and boots caked with clayey mud. We do not even bother to have the mud brushed off our boots and clothes at night.
In a dark flannel shirt and overalls I have painted my car a gray-blue like the rest, and have painted on it innumerable numbers: the number of the car in the ambulance garage, 92; the number of the army license for the car; the number of the Paris license, etc. Then all of our lamps, cans, and articles of equipment have had to be painted to match the cars, and also to have the car numbers painted on them so that none of our fellows can filch them. Seats have had to be built in the cars, and straps and hooks arranged to carry reserves of water, oil, gasoline, tires, mess-kit, knapsack, blankets, sleeping-bag, reserves of food, etc., and places have had to be sawed and fixed for the two stretchers we are to carry, and a place made for the heating pipe connected with the exhaust, which will make the ambulance about ten degrees warmer than it otherwise would be. Then, as the French wounded are supposed to be averse to anything of the nature of a courant d'air, we have had to tack wooden strips and canvas over every crack and opening. Worst of all, perhaps, we have had to change the front wheels on our cars in order to make them uniform in size with the rear wheels) and we have had to change all the tires. All this has been done out of doors in the mud at Neuilly, often in a drizzling rain.
In the mean time I have been vaccinated for smallpox and have had two inoculations for typhoid, both of which gave me an unpleasant fever for about twenty-four hours, and I have spent hours and hours getting the necessary permits and official papers.
We are equipped and ready to start, and only awaiting orders: ten ambulances, a wonderful supply car containing every kind of tool and spare part for the autos, with extra reserves of food, and a pilot car in which the head of the section is to drive ahead of the convoy. Each car bears on its sides and rear and on its top (for the benefit of Zeppelins and aeroplanes who care to inform themselves) a large red cross, and also three flags, those of the United States, France, and the Red Cross. We look somewhat like an itinerant circus when we run in convoy.
On Monday morning, according to present plans, we shall run in convoy to Dunkirk, to serve a region where there has been much artillery fighting, and there we shall remain indefinitely.
We shall receive mail very seldom., only as some one comes up from Paris from time to time, and I may not be able to send out letters in any other way on account of the censor.
Dear old M. Puaux, who has three boys at the front, bade me an affectionate good-bye yesterday, and gave me a sermon in French to read "at the front." He seems as gratified and pleased at my doing this work as he would be if all America had come over to fight for France.
It appeals to the French people that so many Americans sympathize with them in their tragic hours. The little that we in America have actually done seems small, indeed, compared with the size of the situation, but its main object and its main effect is to show to the people of France that we believe in them and in the justice of their cause, that we still remember what they did for us in the darkest hour of our own history, and that, as members of a great sister republic, our hearts and hopes are with them in this most unnecessary war.
P.S. Very heavy fighting has been going on these last days near Soissons, about forty miles from Paris, and although the papers have given only the barest mention of it, the doctors in the hospital tell me that twenty-five thousand French wounded have passed through Paris during the last two days. There were two thousand brought into Aubervilliers last night. Aubervilliers is a suburb of Paris, and is a kind of distributing station for the wounded. We are to run all our ambulances all night to-night between the Aubervilliers railway station and our hospital, a distance of about ten miles, bringing in those who fell to-day. Between twelve and two, they serve a nice supper in the hospital for those of us who work at night, and that makes the long night somewhat less forlorn.
Dear Mother and Father:
To-day will live long in my memory, for I drove out to and spent several hours with my friend of years ago, Gabriel Puaux, who is now on General Joffre's staff. It is not supposed to be known, although everybody knows it, that the General Staff have been quartered for some time in -----, which is about thirty miles from Paris. The Germans passed through there in the terrible days of September, but nothing about the famous old château or the imposing grounds was touched, as the Kaiser is supposed to have intended to make the place his headquarters. His army was driven back, however, and now it is General Joffre and his staff who direct affairs from not from the château, however, for General Joffre lives in a modest little brick villa and the staff are quartered in a hotel. It is hard to get a pass to because they naturally do not want to be disturbed by people who have no business there, and, as a matter of fact, I did not succeed in getting a pass to ------ but got one to a neighboring town which I flourished before the. bewildered eyes of the gendarme in the outskirts of--------- and he mistook it for what I ought to have had, and let our machine pass in.
The thing that struck me most about the place was the quiet and serenity of it all. The great movements of this tumultuous war were being directed from the town, yet it seemed almost asleep. It was like a summer resort in October. Most houses closed --- only a few autos in the street, only a moderate number of people strolling aimlessly, Sunday-fashion, here and there. In a field near the staff building some French soldiers were playing football with a small group of spectators about them. The telephone and telegraph wires may have been busy and doubtless were, but outwardly the town was asleep, and the quiet lawns of the park, green in January, and the sunlit vistas through the long allies of the forest, I shall not soon forget. Gaby was quite resplendent in his fresh sky-blue uniform, and he had many wonderful stories to tell of his five months in the trenches. I also saw another friend., André Tardieu, who once lectured at Harvard and who is also on the general's staff. Gaby took some pictures which one of these days he will send to me. We leave early to-morrow for Dunkirk --- so I must say good-night. This is probably my last night in a cot or bed for a long time.
P.S. The lights all over the city have been extinguished to-night. The hospital, which is usually ablaze with light, has all curtains drawn and only a few candles and lanterns. The Government evidently fears that the Germans, taking advantage of the little victory at Soissons, will undertake some terrifying tactics in the way of an air-raid on Paris.
We are all astir early to-day. The final touches before departure must be made, as we leave at nine. Before sundown, or at least before two sundowns, we shall be hearing the distant boom of the cannon.
Dear Mother and Father:
At last we are under way! But before we plunge into the obscurity that must surround us from now on, one more word.
We (twenty men and twelve automobiles) are spending the night in various "billets" in Beauvais, and to-morrow we go on north "to the front."
All day long, wherever we have stopped, people have come out of their houses and offered us flowers and fruit and food and friendly greetings, very much as our ancestors of a hundred and fifty years ago must have offered them to the compatriots of Lafayette.
The French people are appreciative, and no matter how humble they are, they know how to express themselves.
I have a ravenous appetite for food and sleep, and have never been happier.
Good-bye, with love to you both.
Dear Mother and Father:
We have had two days of pleasant driving from Paris to the northern coast. Night before last we spent in Beauvais, dined comfortably in a small back-street restaurant, and then were distributed by the French officers in charge among different hotels and private houses. "Brownie" and I were billeted in a quaint old hotel, "A l'Ecu," in a room whose only windows opened on a noisy courtyard, in which autos honked, horses champed, bells rang, dishes clattered, and soldiers sang and drank, ---but the noise made little difference. We slept like logs until we were routed out at half-past five by the landlord. Then we stole through the dark streets before dawn and attended morning mass in the great cathedral just as daylight was beginning to peer through its stained-glass windows.
Our trip has been full of touching and appealing impressions crowding one upon the other. As our picturesque convoy ran through the little villages, and we stopped here and there for some one to clean a spark plug or mend a tire, the children invariably crowded around us, and asked questions about America, and we often got them to sing the "Marseillaise" or some of the topical songs of the moment about Guillaume and the "Bôches." (People in France seldom speak of the Germans as such, they call them simply "Bôches," which seems to mean "brutal, stupid people.") We lunched at Amiens, but did not have a chance to steal away and see the cathedral, as at Beauvais, but pushed directly on for the north. There were a good many slight breakdowns, as the cars are all new (none occurred to mine except a puncture), and we ran on and on, and the evening came and we still ran on through one village and town after another, passing many convoys of food and ammunition and many French, English, Moroccan, Canadian, and Hindu troops. Occasionally, when we stopped for some cause or other, we had a chance to exchange greetings with them.
In France to-day there is only one real business ---war. The towns and villages are cluttered with the paraphernalia of war, and one never sees a healthy youth except in uniform. Even in Paris the stores seem only to deal in leather and rubber and fur clothing for soldiers and in other articles of soldiers' equipment. In Paris, as I think I wrote you, women and boys are conductors and ticket-sellers in the subways, and only women and boys are clerks in the stores. I went one day to several shoe stores to buy some heavy boots, and there were only young women clerks to try them on even for men customers. So it is in the rural districts, one sees women and boys and oldish men ploughing and hoeing in the fields, and working on the roads. The sturdy men are all in uniform and devoting their energies to the business of war.
After a long, hard drive we reached St. Omer at about eleven. The hotels were full, the restaurants were closed, and no provision had been made either for our food or our lodging. So we wheeled into the public square and slept on the stretchers in our ambulances ---without other food than the chocolate and crackers we had in our pockets.
We were up again at dawn, and as the water in the spicket at the public pump was very cold, I have not washed or shaved to-day. We ran on until about noon we arrived at Dunkirk --- a pretty drive over flat, marshy country dotted with thatched and red-tiled roofs, great wooden windmills and picturesque church spires. At many of the crossroads are little shrines, erected as memorials, I suppose, by devoted sons to their departed parents, or by devoted husbands to their dead wives.
Dunkirk is much more of a town than I had imagined, with trolley cars and good-sized stores. About ten days ago sixteen German aeroplanes flew over it and dropped bombs, killing about thirty people. They came and went and came again for nearly four hours with four French aeroplanes chasing them, and the people who told us about it said that every one stood in the street, instead of running to their cellars., and watched the spectacle with open-eyed wonder.
A little while ago a French aeroplane flew over the city in the darkness, scouting the sky with its searchlight.
You can imagine how interesting it all must be. All day yesterday, as we ran along past the quiet towns and villages, we could hear the great cannons on the front booming like distant thunder. Just think of it! For five hundred and more miles these cannon are booming day after day all day long and often throughout the night.
To-night we had a very good dinner (French soldiers' rations) in the freight shed of the railway station, which has been fitted up as a temporary hospital for the wounded and sick brought in on the trains. It was a good meal of soup, roast beef, potatoes, succotash, jam, coffee and beer, served on a tin plate, which was used for all the courses. Around us were the cots of the wounded with a few wounded lying on them.
To-night we are to sleep in a convent. To-morrow we shall be told just what our job is to be.
I am sending this by a friend who is running back to Paris, and he can mail it from there. As we are here in the zone of the army, correspondence is difficult, and subject to censure.
Dear Mother and Father:
We are in the war zone now, only a few miles from the Belgian frontier and the trenches. Our equipment of thirteen autos is divided into two squads, and I am on the night shift from 8 P.M. to 8 A.M., driving wounded from the trains to one or another of the score of hospitals in Dunkirk and the neighboring towns, or to the hospital steamers that carry them to Boulogne or Brest, or some other port on the west coast. During the day we try to sleep and rest in our quarters, --- the schoolroom of a convent where we have eighteen cots side by side.
It has rained almost incessantly, but to-day the sun came out and "Brownie" and I started out toward noon for a short stroll through the town to make some purchases. Suddenly a bomb exploded a few blocks away and then another and another, like cannon crackers on the Fourth of July, and we saw people scurrying into their shops and houses and closing down their shutters. The "Taubes" had arrived again and were bombarding the town. We ran into an open hospital door, and poking our heads out from time to time watched the wonderful spectacle. Three or four German aeroplanes were encircling the town at a height of perhaps four thousand feet, now sailing out over the Channel, and then quickly returning, and as they returned we heard reports of the dropping bombs. In a few moments the French guns got into action and one saw their shells bursting in white puffs of smoke before and behind the German machines, and then we saw the English and French biplanes rising in pursuit. It was a fascinating spectacle lasting about two hours. About a dozen people in different parts of the city were killed and quite a fire was started along the docks by the incendiary bombs, and very soon clouds of smoke were trailing over the city.
Of course, no one can know when a bomb has been dropped until it strikes, but you can imagine how the people fly into their houses as the aeroplanes come near to the zenith, and how they peer out to see them when they have passed on. One bomb dropped about fifty yards from our ambulances, digging a hole nearly two feet deep in the cobblestone pavement and sending fragments flying for half a block in every direction. There are several small holes in the canvas cover of my ambulance in consequence. My orderly caught a kodak of one explosion before the smoke cleared. This afternoon about four, a German aeroplane again appeared high in the sky and dropped bombs over the city, and I hear that about a dozen people were killed before the machine was brought down by the French biplane which pursued it and shot balls through its machinery.
I am writing in the dimly lighted freight shed of the railway station, which is used as a distributing station for the hospitals. Around me are a hundred or more cots for the wounded and the sick, about half of them occupied. We are waiting for the night trains from the front bringing their nightly freight of tragedy. They come, four or five of them, every night loaded with wounded and sick, poor fellows in every degree of decrepitude. Near me as I write is a Moroccan lying on a cot, and looking very worn and homesick. He knows little French and has no comrades with whom he can talk. Twice he has turned his dark eyes toward me and pushed his hand out from under his cloak and whispered, "Touchez la main, touchez la main" (touch my hand). A few moments ago a priest administered extreme unction to another poor fellow dying of pneumonia and raving so that he had to be strapped to his cot.
War has its picturesque sides, but it is a sad business. There are said to be more than six hundred thousand wounded to-day in the hospitals of France. All over the country, from the Channel to the Mediterranean, schools, colleges, churches, hotels, museums, town halls, and every available sort of building have been made over into hospitals. The doctors tell me that more than seventy thousand wounded and sick have passed through Dunkirk alone since the war began. There are twelve or fifteen thousand here now.
To me the most pathetic are not the wounded, but the poor sick fellows of whom we see scores brought in every day, unshaven for months, dirty, haggard, and scarcely able to move from exhaustion, rheumatism, fever, or frozen feet. The worst cases which can't be moved are kept here --- the rest are reshipped to western France. The wounded and sick are divided into two classes --- sitters or "hoppers," as the English "Tommies" call them, who can sit up and walk, and "liers," who have to be carried upon stretchers. Word comes to take two "liers," or three "sitters," to this or that hospital, and one loads them on his machine almost like merchandise, almost forgetting that they are somebody's brothers and sons, or husbands, who a year ago were living peaceful civilian lives like ourselves, without any more thought of war than we had.
There are about a dozen German prisoners in a box car in the station, who are a source of considerable amusement to the old reservists stationed here as sentinels. Every morning they are brought out to sweep the station and carry water; and sometimes they help to carry our gasoline tanks. After an hour or so in the open they are locked up again. This morning the old countryman who was guarding them, after carefully locking the door of the car, and being in perfect safety, shook his clenched fist at the door and shouted, "sales cochons," quite unconscious of the amusement he was giving to the bystanders. I sometimes talk with them, but avoid doing so unless I translate what I say, lest some one should suspect me of being a German spy or of communicating things to them that I ought not.
Here in this forlorn station, I discovered the other night Comtesse Benoist d'Azy, whom I used to know well in Washington when she was in the French Embassy. I knew her only as a companion at balls and dinners, but war brings out unexpected qualities in people, and I find her here living .a remarkably hard and squalid life, the only woman in the railway hospital night after night, helping to dress the wounds of the poor fellows who are brought in on the night trains. She has introduced me to Colonel Morier, who is in charge here, and through him we hope some time to be sent somewhat nearer to the lines.
Dear Mother and Father:
Last night we had another visit from the Bôches. It was a wonderful clear moonlit night, and as I drove about the deserted, moon-blanched streets carrying mutilated human freight, I was thinking how the same moon was drenching the silent harbor of Gloucester, when suddenly, without the slightest warning, we heard a Boom! down the street. A bomb had dropped from the dear, silent sky. Boom! Boom! Boom! They were dropping here and there, and blinds and shutters were quickly pulled, together. I stopped my motor and got out and could hear the motors in the sky, but nothing was visible. Boom! Boom! Boom! like thunder. It was rather terrifying, but there was nothing to do, any more than there is in a thunder storm, so I resumed my trip and returned to the station. All the lights had been extinguished, and when I entered the freight shed which we used as a hospital, and struck a match, the scene really was amusing. The old reservists, who serve as infirmiers and stretcher bearers, were hiding in corners under the mattresses which they had torn from the beds. An old soldier whom I recognized as a sentinel had crawled under a table. In one corner I found Madame Benoist d'Azy surrounded by some of my American friends, and as the bombardment had ceased we came out and searched in the pits where the bombs had fallen, looking for pieces of the bombs. No one had been hurt, but many were scared out of their wits.
Apparently the Germans are trying to destroy the railway station, which is interesting for us, as we are stationed there.
There were no more shipments of wounded to the city's hospitals through the night, and I slept as best I could on the seat of my auto, but before retiring I took pains to find a cellar to which to resort when, if ever, the Bôches returned.
Dear Mother and Father:
So long as I live, whether it be weeks or months or years, I can never forget this night. The sky was clear, the moon at its full, a gorgeous, wonderful, silent night. We were waiting in the station about 9 P.M. The nightly train of Belgian wounded had just come in, and the sick and wounded men were hobbling into the freight-house hospital, or were being carried in on stretchers. I was talking to a pleasant Belgian doctor who had descended from the train, and telling him about last night's air-raid, and explaining that on that account the station and the freight-house hospital were to-night left unlighted ---when without warning a bomb exploded about a block away and sent many running and shouting in great excitement. Bang! went another bomb, not far away, and Boom! a third, and Boom! a fourth, and Boom! a fifth., and so on. We could hear the whir of the motors in the sky, but only once could I see one of the aeroplanes as it crossed the face of the moon high in the air. The bombardment must have lasted at intervals for the greater part of an hour, and meanwhile the "soixante-quinzes" were getting in their work, and one heard the detonations of their shells as well as saw their puffs of smoke as they exploded in the sky, and now and then one heard their shrapnel rattling as it rained on the ground.
The spectacle was absorbing beyond anything I have ever seen. I suppose it was fraught with danger, but one almost forgot one's self in wondering where the next bomb would drop. When the bombardment was over, we started out with our ambulances to see what havoc had been wrought. On the third floor of a house near the station, a bomb had pierced the roof and a poor old woman lay torn in pieces. She was evidently getting ready for bed when the bomb struck. It was not a pleasant sight. On another street we found the body of a customs officer and two badly maimed fellow officials lying in pools of blood on the sidewalk. They had been innocently walking in the quiet night. I picked up the dead body, still warm and pliant, and with difficulty got it into the machine. The arms insisted on falling down every time that I crossed them over the poor fellow's breast. Then, for the first time in my life, I drove a hearse, as we carried the lifeless body to one of the hospitals. Later, we went down on the dock and found three other fellows badly torn and wounded and took them to one of the hospitals.
On two streets I saw whole fronts of houses torn to pieces; and in several places hideous streaks of blood dripped down the sidewalks to the gutter. It was about two o'clock when we got our last wounded man to a hospital, and as the hospital door closed and I looked up the silent street with its moonlight and shadows, the bells in the old city tower tinkled out their carillon. It seemed like the peaceful end of a tumultuous tragic symphony.
And so the night has passed, and now I sit in my ambulance writing by the light of my lantern, and outside the moon is drenching the world with its silent whiteness, just as if all were at peace, and there were not hundreds of thousands, of wounded soldiers groaning and suffering, all over Europe.
I scarcely know what to say as to the justification for this kind of warfare. War is war and not child's play. That I realize. But at the same time, I doubt whether the French or the English would bombard an uninvested city without warning. No military advantage can be gained by dropping bombs indiscriminately over a sleeping city, and certainly the world at large and the judgment of the future will not endorse the wanton slaughter of civilians and women.
Dear Mother and Father:
I can truthfully say that I have never been more interested in life, and that I am utterly well, though living on army rations, supplemented by only a few additions in the way of chocolate, prunes, and figs, and although I have been on duty every night for a week from 6 P.M. to 8 A.M., and have scarcely seen the sun during all that time.
I have sent a letter to Harry Sleeper, asking him to have copies of some of my letters made, and sent to. Y and C. B. and C. S. S., etc., because I thought it would be easier for him to look after making the copies than for you. I have little chance to write and still less to duplicate what I write, and this plan seemed to me to promise the largest results, assuming that, if my letters get through, they may be of interest to some of my friends.
Don't ever worry about me; I am sensible and will avoid risks.
If you don't hear, it is because the censor is holding up my mail.
With love, as ever.
Dear Mother and Father:
I am on the day squad this week and day after day it is the same story. Five to eight trains arrive sometime during every twenty-four hours, and out of these trains hobble or are carried the grist of the war in our vicinity, from four to six hundred men daily, --- men with their eyes or heads or chins heavily bandaged, men with their arms or legs in slings, men shot through the shoulder or hips or stomach, men with frozen feet, men weakened by typhoid or pneumonia, men broken down and scarcely able to stand from months of exposure and anxiety in the trenches, men pale or yellow with sickness and unshaven for weeks. The French soldiers wear the long blue coats and red trousers made familiar to us in the pictures by Détaille and de Neuville of the soldiers of 1870, and with their untrimmed beards they seem very like the pictures of the soldiers of our own Civil War. Among those who descend from the train there are many picturesque Arabs, with heavy turbans, and voluminous Oriental cloaks, and sometimes there are wounded German soldiers.
They all make their forlorn way to the freight houses which form a temporary hospital, and there they are looked over by the staff of doctors, their wounds are dressed or redressed, and they find places on the long rows of dirty cots awaiting their final disposal. Many are sent on by other trains to other parts of France, and the rest, the worst cases, are given to us to carry to the various hospitals temporarily established in the different schools and public buildings of Dunkirk or in some of the neighboring towns within a radius of ten miles.
It is hard to realize the human cost of war. This centre represents only one small corner of the fighting line of France, yet here there come, every day, several hundred who have been mutilated or injured or invalided by the war in our little immediate neighborhood. The cost of the war as a whole is simply appalling, yet it must go on, and the people of France are determined that it shall go on until those who were responsible for it are crushed.
I have talked with quite a number of the German wounded. Several are brought in every day, and they are looked after by the French doctors and nurses as carefully as are those who were wounded in the service of France. Usually a group of French soldiers gather around the cot of a German wounded, eyeing him curiously, but not unsympathetically, as if he were a strange animal, only half human like the "missing link." It is sometimes hard for them to realize that a Bôche, emanating from a country that has brought so much misery into the world, is really a civilized human being after all, but they have a great sense of chivalry and many, many times I have heard them say, "Because the Bôches are barbarous and inhuman is no reason why we should be so. We will show them what it is to be civilized!" And they ask whether they would like beer or coffee and they get them bread and meat and give them chocolate and cigarettes. I often act as interpreter and translate questions and answers between the French and. German wounded. Once or twice I have brought together in this way men who two days before were trying to kill each other, and they have complimented each other on their courage and have shaken hands. A German with a heavily bandaged leg said to me the other day, "Tell him that it was his 'soixante-quinze' [the 75-centimetre gun of which the French are so proud] that cut off my leg." The Frenchman replied, "Tell him that it was a German 77-centimetre that cut off my arm."
And so it goes. There are about fifty German prisoners here now, kept in a box car and brought out every day to sweep up the station and clean the yard. I am sure they are glad to be let out in the open air and have something to do. I gave one of them a pair of gloves the other day, and he was very grateful. He always nods to me now and says, "Guten Tag," as I pass.
At times one forgets the agony and horrors of the war and is impressed by the picturesqueness and beauty of it. Every man one sees is in uniform, and the farmers and store clerks and bookkeepers, who ordinarily would be uninteresting to look at, have become picturesque and their lives have become touched with a glamour of romance that peaceful civilian pursuits never would have made possible. As they are grouped in the dimly lighted freight-house hospital, or on the streets, they are always making unforgettable pictures that any draughtsman or painter would like to register and make permanent for others. Lives, too, that have hitherto been spent in commonplace labor for themselves are now devoted to the service of others, and are given recklessly and without reserve to their country, and many of these lives have been sanctified by acts of heroism and glory worthy to be immortalized by the greatest artists and poets.
One of the trips that I like to make is to a beautifully appointed sanitarium (now a military hospital with twenty-five hundred beds) on the shore about eight miles from here --- Zuydcote. Perhaps you can find it on the map. It is almost on the Belgian frontier, and the road to it is the highway to Furnes and Nieuport, where heavy fighting is going on all the time. I take wounded and sick soldiers out there every day, sometimes several times a day, and on the way we pass a continual military procession, dozens of transformed motor omnibuses and motor trucks loaded with supplies, artillery companies, and companies of infantry singing gayly as they march out toward the firing line, or dragging their tired feet along as they march back. Every now and then a limousine goes snorting by like a whirlwind carrying officers to or from the front, or a motor cycle carrying messages; most picturesque of all are the companies of mounted Arabs in their gay paraphernalia trotting along as in a circus parade.
My days of work begin at 7.30 A.M. and end at 7 P.M., and this leaves little time or strength to write --- and now at eight o'clock the lights are turned out in Dunkirk and we can do nothing but go to bed. This has been the order since the Germans began their nightly aeroplane attacks. Both indoors and out all lights have to be extinguished at 8 P.M., and since the order went into effect, no bombs have dropped from the sky. The aeronauts, I suppose, cannot know when they are passing over a city which is as black in the night as the plain country itself.
Dunkirk often makes me think of Gloucester. It is somewhat larger and, of course, much older. It has much more shipping of merchandise and many more substantial buildings of brick and stone and greater docking facilities. But it is on the sea, it is a fishing town, and a summer resort. Never before probably has it been so alive in winter time as now with the thousands of soldiers who go and come here. The harbor is like that of Gloucester, a forest of masts, and there is a beautiful old church devoted to the patron saint, "Notre Dame des Dunes," the name referring to the sand dunes which surround the town. On the altar of the church is a figure of the Virgin surrounded by shells and insignia of the sea. The walls of the church are covered with pictures of boats and from the ceiling hang literally dozens of old boat models.
Dear Mother and Father:
It has been a long hard day, and I am ready for bed. I am writing in the little auberge called the "Ancien Hermitage" which we call our "chow house" and where we and a number of French soldiers eat our army rations, --- soup, tough horse meat called roast beef, potatoes, beans, and cheese. We have finished for the evening and have sung French and American songs and wound up with the "Marseillaise" and a last drink together, as some of our French comrades are leaving in the morning for the trenches. Each of us has a tin plate, a tin cup, and a knife, fork, and spoon from our mess-kit, and with these we eat our three meals a day sitting about the rough tables of the little tap-room --- rough food and rough living quite in keeping with soldier life. We sleep, eighteen of us, on cots in a schoolroom around the corner, which we call our "billet, and we are supposed to be in by 8 P.M., as all of the city's lights are turned out then. The street lights are put out at eight, and after that shutters must be drawn down, and not a trace of light must be visible from outside, and after nine no one is allowed to circulate on the streets. These precautions are taken to impede nocturnal aeroplane bombardments, such as terrified Dunkirk last week, and which resulted in several deaths. So far they have been successful.
My work began to-day with the taking of a poor insane soldier to one of the hospitals. He waved his arms and shouted all the way---and it was distressing. The work ended by carrying a soldier who had just tried to commit suicide by shooting a revolver in his mouth. A little while later I saw another poor fellow die in the railway station hospital without friends or comrades near, and I watched the soldiers divide his tobacco and the contents of his knapsack. These were only a few of the episodes of a not unusual day. On one of my trips to the big hospital in Zuydcote to-day I saw a heap of at least twenty coffins in the hospital yard, and one of the nurses told me that on the average about twenty of the inmates die there each day and that every morning there is a joint funeral for them. How little do people in America realize the sadness and enormity of this war!
I made several long trips to-day to hospitals in neighboring towns, which I always enjoy. All along the way we pass rows of trenches and barbed-wire entanglements, awaiting possible use in case a retreat should ever be necessary. It is pleasant, too, to catch glimpses of the sea and of the sand dunes (like those of Coffin's Beach), with little red-tiled cottages nestling in their hollows. And all along the way we pass little Flemish inns with curiously appealing names, "Au repos des travailleurs," "A la belle vue de la passerelle," just opposite a footbridge over one of the canals; "Au joyeux retour des pêcheurs," in a little fishing village; "Au repos des promeneurs"; "A la relâche des bains," near a bathing establishment, etc., --- all so suggestive of the peaceful life that is no more.
One cannot go in or out of the town without having a password, which changes every morning or night. Once in a while I forget the word, or forget to ask for it before leaving the hospital, and there is great difficulty with the sentinels.
This is a rambling note with impressions jotted down as they came to mind. I write to-night, though very tired, because the comrade who brought up our letters is returning to-morrow and can take this back through the lines to Paris. We are, as I think I have written you, within the war zone and a letter mailed here would probably have to be read by the censor.
In the station hospital, they are building this afternoon a bomb-proof compartment to which the wounded and sick can be carried in case of another bombardment. A low shed about two hundred feet long has been constructed and covered with hundreds of bags of sand.
Dear Mother and Father:
I think that all your letters up to the 16th of February must have reached me, and when I get down to Morgan-Harjes this morning there will probably be letters of later dates waiting there. After my first week or two in Dunkirk, I wrote to Morgan-Harjes to forward my mail to their agent there, and letters and papers came through promptly very promptly considering that it is war-time.
There is a lot of pluck among these French people. I suppose you have read of Madame Bernhardt, who joined the great army of the mutilated a couple of weeks ago when her leg was amputated, and who now announces that she will play "L'Aiglon" and "Phèdre" again in Paris during the summer. That is the pluck of the French soldier, and what pluck they have! It is very seldom that a French soldier .allows a groan to escape him. I often see wounded fellows whose faces are contorted with pain, but not a sound escapes them, and if you greet them with a sympathetic word, invariably, even when the agony is intense, there is a responding smile. I have seen, too, many poor fellows mutilated for life, but who were cheerful and gay and seemed proud and almost glad to have been able to give so much for their country.
I came down from Dunkirk in a motor, spending Saturday night in Amiens and arriving here on Sunday afternoon. After six weeks in an unchanging scene, I enjoyed the sight of new roads and towns. It was interesting to see how well tilled the fields are everywhere for the coming crops. The ground does not often freeze here in northern France; the farmers can work all winter, and the boys and the womenfolk and the older men have been hard at it everywhere, as the carefully ploughed fields well show. There was scarcely a field that we passed where we did not see women and children hoeing or ploughing. So France will have her usual supply of grain and vegetables when the harvest comes, except in those nine departments which the Germans still occupy, and which are destined to be ploughed by the armies and fertilized by much human blood before the harvest comes.
The French people have shown great patience with the long pause of the winter campaign. They have endured it without complaint or criticism from any quarter, and with a fine confidence that Joffre can be depended upon, when the right time comes, to resume operations. They did not want the war. They did not expect it. They were not prepared for it. It was thrust upon them without warning and without reason, but they are determined now that it shall continue to such a point that never again, during the lifetime of those now living at least, can it be resumed. The other night, when we were coming down from Dunkirk, something happened to the auto as we were passing through a small village, and seeing a welcoming light and a kitchen fire through a window, I went in to get warm. A little mother and her four children were sitting by the kitchen stove, the children leaning on a table and cutting out soldiers from the papers, as Helen and Polly so often do. The father was off at the war and so were two uncles --- brothers of the little mother. She asked, as they all ask, "How long is it going to last?" And when I ventured to guess that it might perhaps end next winter, she said, "All I ask is to see my husband come back sometime safe and sound, but I want the war to go on until the Kaiser is beaten, even if it takes years, so that my little boys will never have to serve in another war." And that is how French people of all classes seem to feel. The war must go on, at no matter what frightful cost until "Guillaume" and the Hohenzollerns and German militarism are extinguished.
In Dunkirk I saw and talked with many German wounded. As I was about the only one in the station hospital who could speak German, the French doctors sometimes asked me to interpret between them and the Germans, and I always enjoyed doing it, telling the Germans that I was an American and assuring them that they would be looked after in the French hospitals with the same care as the French wounded, which is utterly true, although sometimes the Germans seemed to fear this would not be the case. I have never seen any harshness displayed toward German wounded or even toward German prisoners who were not wounded. There was always a good deal of curiosity to see the wounded Bôches, and to find out their point of view. The French soldiers would gather around the cots in the station where they lay, and get them coffee or chocolate or beer, and bread and meat, and then I would intermediate the questions and answers. When was he wounded and how? --- and perhaps some French wounded on a neighboring cot would call out, "I was wounded on the same field yesterday," and sometimes I have seen them laugh and shake hands. The French soldiers are not bitter toward the German private ---they know that he is not to blame. " We have not anything against you, except that you have a government of the Middle Ages. So we had, too, until 1870. And you have got to do to-day what we did then. You have got to get rid of your emperor who thrives on war, just as we did. And when you have a republic and govern yourselves there won't be any more war." The more ignorant Germans seem bewildered by the thought of living without a Kaiser, but several times I have seen more intelligent Germans shrug their shoulders and say, "' Perhaps, who knows?"
Of course, I agree to all this and am a willing interpreter. I tell the Germans how well I know their country, and of the pleasant memories I have of summers I have spent there; that I have had friends among German people, but that I too believe that the world must be purged of the scourge which their government is. And I always add-."You sing of Deutsche Traue [German faithfulness], but never again until your government is changed and the whole Hohenzollern machine is sent to the scrap heap, and the German people learn to rule themselves, can the other peoples of the world believe in or accept the German word as good. Your government has broken its pledged word and called its promises scraps of paper. In violation of these, it has invaded and ruined an innocent country and would have starved seven million innocent people if Americans had not prevented them from starving. The war must and will go on until your government is overturned, until you wake up to the fact that your government has betrayed you, until you have established a new government such as other civilized people have, in which no individual or family can pretend to rule by divine right, and not until then, not until the German people rule themselves, will Deutsche Traue have any but an ironical meaning to the rest of the world."
Some day, and perhaps the day is not so distant as now it seems, the German people will awake from their hypnotic dreams and will realize that if their name "German" is ever again to be associated with honor and chivalry and to be other than an offence to the nostrils of the world, their government must expiate its heinous crimes.
On the way down from Dunkirk the other day, we came through much of the region traversed by the German army on their triumphal march which preceded the battle of the Marne last September. I am sending you some postals from the little town of Senlis, through which we passed and which still lies in ruins. Some civilian, the Germans claimed, fired a shot, so the German officer ordered that all the public buildings and the finest houses should be destroyed.
I have marked a rather poor picture of one of these houses which, must have been a beautiful place, and which we visited, and with whose caretaker I had quite a talk. It was surrounded by gardens, and carefully trimmed lawns, and statuary and gravelled paths, and the house contained tapestries, paintings, and many objets d'art which the owners had been collecting for a lifetime. The gardener's wife showed us about the ruins, and told us how the mistress of the house used to polish her tiled floors on her hands and knees, so devoted was she to the place. The owner of the house, a man named Fenwick, a captain in the French army, was off at the war, and the wife departed a day or two before the Germans arrived, leaving the caretaker and his wife in the lodge at the gate. The story of what happened is typical of many other stories I have heard, and in this case I heard it directly from an eye-witness. The German officers sent two motor vans to the house and looted it from top to bottom of tapestries, paintings, clocks, furniture, wine, and everything else that appealed to them, and then they ordered, fires built in various parts of it and blew it up. Nothing remains now but the shell of the house; not a door, or a chair, or a window frame. Practically every house on the street was treated the same way, and the mayor of the town was taken out to a neighboring hill and shot.
There can be no question about it. This sort of thing happened all along the line of the then apparently victorious army. When officers occupied country places and châteaux, they appropriated whatever appealed to them. Doubtless there are many German officers who would have disapproved of such performances, but the German officers as a class have been so long accustomed to trample upon civilian rights, even in their own country, that it was only to be expected that they would disregard such rights to a far greater degree in a foreign country. I feel confident, on the other hand, that the natural chivalry of French officers similarly situated would have made such conduct impossible.
So much in general.
As for myself, the ambulance committee have promoted me and I am now a staff officer, with the title of general inspector of the field service. An automobile has been put at my disposal, and I am hereafter to visit and inspect the work of our various sections in the different divisions of the French army. It is the most interesting job I can imagine, and will be a welcome change. I shall be almost continuously on the road, here, there, and everywhere. It is a new place just created, and I am to make of it what I can.
Dear Mother and Father:
I left Paris at ten o'clock this morning on my first inspection tour, equipped with formidable letters to French officials in the different armies along the line and prepared to look into various questions of concern to the administration of our several sections --- with power to act if need be.
A high-powered Peugeot car has been assigned to me, with a pleasant fellow named Freeborn as driver. We intended to stop first of all at Beauvais, where we have a section of thirteen machines and where the French administration for the automobile service in the western armies is centred. Then we intended to stop leisurely at St. Pol, Abbéville, and elsewhere, and end up at Dunkirk, at each of which places we have a few cars. But about ten miles out of Paris we had an experience which changed our plans. A heavy limousine ahead of us skidded into the curbing and smashed its steering-gear, and out of the depths of the car emerged two English officers, one of them a general. They were bound from Paris to St. Omer, the headquarters of the English lines, and they were anxious to go on without delay; so we took them in, changed our plans and brought , them through the 250 or 260 kilometres to their destination.
The general was General Henderson, of the Flying Corps, an altogether delightful person, who lunched with us as our guest in Beauvais and insisted upon our having tea and remaining to dinner with him at his headquarters in an old château near St. Omer. So we have added to our stock of war memories the recollection of a hospitable evening spent in France with half a dozen English officers about their table with much good talk.
It was surprising to find how familiar they all were with our Civil War. They have all studied at Aldershot the campaigns of the war, especially the campaigns of Stonewall Jackson so wonderfully depicted in Henderson's "Life." General Henderson, who I believe is a distant relative of the author of that work, said that, although he had never seen the region, he thought he could find his way blindfolded over the battlefields of Virginia and Maryland. They all admired Lee, and Henderson said that he placed him among the "Great Six," or whatever the number, --the few great generals of all time.
They seemed to think that the war will last for at least a year. They have genuine respect for the strategy of Joffre and entertain no doubts whatever as to his ability or as to the eventual outcome.
As I retire to-night I can hear the cannon rumbling on the frontier.