Dear Mother and Father:
It seemed almost like getting home again to come within sight of the spires and towers of Dunkirk and to pass again along the roads of the suburbs that I have driven over so many times night and day in my ambulance. It was good, too, to see the fellows with whom I had messed so long. I slept in my old cot in the schoolroom, heard the old jokes before going to sleep and before arising, and the whole experience was like going back to college after graduating.
The Comtesse Benoist d'Azy was still working in the station hospital and has befriended the boys in many ways. I had several talks with her, and also saw Colonel Morier, the acting general, who was good enough to ask me to lunch with him and his fellow officers at their headquarters. He is a charming man, with the graceful courtesy which only Frenchmen have, and at the same time an efficient officer who carries out his plans with unhesitating despatch. Through him I am trying and hope some day soon to get a more interesting position for our fellows now in Dunkirk. He knows, by the way, the former Italian Ambassador to the United States, Marquis Cusani, who used to be at Gloucester, and of whom Miss Beaux made a drawing last summer.
On the way from St. Omer to Dunkirk I passed through the picturesque town of Cassel, on the top of an isolated hill, from which one can see over the surrounding fertile country for about fifteen miles in every direction. There is located the headquarters of General Foch, and at those headquarters is my old friend, René Puaux, now on the general's staff. I spent an hour or so with him wandering around the town, renewing old memories and talking about the war. He is in charge of espionage and told interesting stories of his interviews with German prisoners.
They had recently discovered from examining German prisoners the location of a German general's headquarters in an old château several miles back of the line, and doubtless believed by the Germans to be quite safe. After René's discovery the French brought up a number of long-range guns and, accurately gauging the range, without any warning, the day before our visit, the French guns had let go a perfect hail of shells and reduced the German headquarters to a ruin. Imagine the German officers scurrying out like ants, leaving papers, records, and everything.
René told also of a visit recently made to Cassel by a feminine American journalist, Mary Roberts Rinehart. She knew scarcely a word of French, and René went about as her interpreter, had several guns fired for her benefit, and, at the end of a long day, sat down with her and helped her write her article. General Joffre, who disbelieves in publicity, when he heard of it, sent a reprimand for showing Mrs. Rinehart such attention. If you see the article in any American magazine, send me a copy.
Good-bye again. We are off now for Paris-Plage, where our next section is located.
The preceding sheets of this letter I found among my papers a few minutes ago. I had intended to add to them every day --- but other things intervened. I can only tell you very briefly some of the impressions of the remaining days of my first inspection tour.
We left Dunkirk on a cold, gray afternoon, Thursday, March 11, passing through Calais, which is nominally in the Belgian line, forming a part of the narrow strip that reaches from the little northwest corner of Belgium which still remains in Belgian hands, back to the coast and Calais. (To the north is the French army, with which we were stationed in Dunkirk. To the south, the narrow strip of the English lines, and then come the French lines again all the way to Switzerland.)
On we went through Calais, skirting the bleak coast to Boulogne. Then on again to Etaples, and Paris-Plage, which we reached about dusk. Paris-Plage is a fashionable coast watering-place, whose splendid hotels and casino are now all turned into hospitals. Here we found a group of ambulances and we got a warm welcome from our boys. It was the day of the great English battle of Neuve-Chapelle, and trainloads of English wounded were pouring in from the east. In fact, our boys were up all night with their ambulances.
Next day we motored over sunny hills and farms and through the picturesque villages of Picardy, much of the time not seeing a trace of war, only the doux pays de France, touched by the first breath of spring. At Hesdin, St. Pol, and St. Riquier we have ambulances, and in all of those towns were many soldiers.
We spent the night at St. Riquier, a dear little village with a wonderful cathedral whose façade, hundreds and hundreds of years old, is sculptured like the finest lace --- in some respects the most beautiful old church I. have ever seen. I shall not soon forget the scene next morning within the church, when with an old French colonel I stood in the choir loft of the church and looked down upon a soldier's funeral. They do those things with such impeccable taste in France. The bright uniforms of the soldiers following the flag-draped coffin, the mellow tones of the century-old organ, the soldier barytone singing with deep emotion beside me, the fragrance of the incense, the thought of the boy who had died far from his family and friends, the sudden recognition of the terrible sacrifice that is being made in France to save her from a brutal invasion, all united in a poignant impression.
We got back to Paris late Saturday night, the 14th, having covered in a few days about nine hundred kilometres, or about five hundred and fifty miles. This week I have been struggling with all sorts of administrative problems in Neuilly, and have done very little else.
Dear Mother and Father:
Scene follows scene and act follows act so rapidly in the great world-drama that there is scarcely a day or an hour without an experience that I should like to put into words to convey to you, and to myself in future years when my memory will not be so vivid, but, alas! I have so little free time.
To-day I motored out to Juilly, about twenty miles from. Paris, where we also have a hospital in a picturesque old quadrangled college which Mrs. H. P. Whitney refitted and equipped. I went with Dr. Du Bouchet and Dr. Gros of our own hospital, and after lunching with our Juilly friends, and talking with our boys who drive the ambulances there, we drove on over the battlefield of the Marne. It was there, you remember, that last September the French army finally halted the onrushing German hordes, saved Paris, and turned the invaders back.
Nothing that I have seen during my three months here has so much, touched me as the view of those fields. The farms have all been carefully ploughed over, and are ready for the new year's crops, as they are everywhere in France. The women and children and old men have attended to that. But every few rods, scattered about the fields, small wooden crosses and little red, white and blue flags mark the spots where lie the bodies of the boys and men who gave their lives in those terrible days. We stopped several times, and got out of the motor, and uncovered our heads before graves where twenty, or thirty, or forty men had been buried together, and which farmers and passers-by had covered with wreaths and flowers. On the top of many graves were placed some of the clothes and belongings of those who were buried, ---here a hat, or a torn coat, or a pair of shoes, there a comb or brush, or sponge, or wallet, which might by some chance catch the eye of some wife or mother and help her to identify the whereabouts of a lost husband or son. All was silent in the afternoon sun, but the torn trees, the villages with roofless houses, and walls pitted with bullet-holes, and church towers torn by shells, told of the thunder and havoc of five months ago.
We drove up to one farmhouse on the top of a gentle hill, where General von Kluck made his headquarters for four days in that terrible week, and we went through the house with the farmer's wife, and heard her tell her story. It was one of those nice old places with the farm-buildings built around a quadrangle, and with the gardens and buildings surrounded by stuccoed walls, but the walls and barns and house were badly rent by the German and French shells, and the house, deserted at the advent of the Germans, had been, as usual, pillaged of whatever was of value. On the wall of the entrance hall was scratched in chalk this inscription, as well as I can remember it:
"Wenn Ihr nicht so rasch weggelaufen hättet, hätten weir nicht so vie gesauft."
"If you had not run away so fast, we should not have gotten so soused" (drank so much).
It was the same story that one hears everywhere, of coarse brutality on the part of the German officers. I do not regard the German people as a brutal race; I know them pretty well after all of the summers I have spent among them; but the Prussian officers are often without respect for anybody's rights, or for anything except their own mediæval, miscalled sense of honor. If anybody interferes with them, or gets in their way, he must pay the penalty. They have overridden their own people for years. The average German, in the face of a German officer, cringes and does not dare to call his soul his own, and so the Prussian officers, from the Kaiser and Crown Prince down, have conducted this war. They have behaved without respect for God or man. The officers have pillaged houses, stolen tapestries, clocks, and furniture, committed deliberate depredations, even thrown billiard tables from windows! torn up dresses in closets, and have behaved generally like ruffians. The chateau of Madame de Bay, in which the Crown Prince was quartered, showed this sort of treatment. If the German people or the German-Americans want ever to recover the respect of the world for their race, they must repudiate the officers and officials who have conducted this war and have made the name German synonymous with grossness. The war, terrible as it is, must go on until the German people realize how they have been betrayed, and repudiate those who are responsible for the most monstrous crimes that the world has ever known. The Kaiser's government has violated treaties and broken its pledged word, has wantonly burned, libraries and destroyed churches, has deliberately pillaged and burned houses, has bombarded unfortified towns, has violated every principle of law and decency on land and sea, and the Kaiser's government has got to go; it must go, and will go, and until it goes, the German people, in the eyes of the world, are disgraced.
I have heard people express the hope that the Kaiser may suffer some horrible death as punishment for the unspeakable suffering he has brought on the world; but it is .better that he may live in full possession of his faculties as long as any human being can. He is bound to see his country defeated, and to pay the most staggering indemnity in lives and money that any country has ever paid. That is as certain as the rising of the sun, if he lives. He is also bound to see his dynasty pass and his family deposed. That also is moderately sure. And then I want to see him live on for scores of years, confronted by the consequences of his overweening ambition.
It is impossible to imagine the suffering entailed by this war. In France alone, during the past few months of the war, up to December 31, the killed numbered over two hundred and fifty thousand. In Germany they are said to number over a million. And then there is England and Austria and Russia and Serbia and Turkey and Japan. It is believed that there are over six hundred thousand wounded soldiers in the hospitals of France alone at the present time. It is all simply overwhelming. Mutilation and death cease to mean anything. In Dunkirk, by the time I left, after seeing thousands and thousands of mutilated and broken human beings, I ceased almost to realize that they were human. They just dropped into two classes, the "liers" and "sitters,"' and if they groaned with pain, one almost felt annoyed rather than sympathetic.
Once or twice to-day we got out of the machines and wandered into the trenches, which like mole-holes, run everywhere. They are wonderfully well constructed, with walls and floors of saplings, and roofed-in bomb-proof compartments at intervals. There are many parallel lines of them, running all of the way from the Channel to the Swiss frontier, and girdling every town and village with several rows --- even the towns which are thirty miles or so from the front. It is a colossal work, which has involved the labor of hundreds of thousands.
This is a long letter for me, and there are many more things I should like to say. I have not time to read it over and correct it, but if there is anything of interest in it, you might have it copied and sent to Mrs. Gardner, Miss Beaux, Miss Sinkler, H. D. S., and to Helen.
One delightful experience that I have had these last days was a rapidly developed acquaintance with a young Belgian officer bearing the remarkable name of Léon Théodor. He has been for months in the trenches, and has been separated from his family, who live in Brussels, since the beginning of the war. His father, a député and head of the Brussels bar, is confined in Germany as a prisoner for having written a letter to the members of the bar defining the jurisdiction of the German courts. Léon was here for ten days on leave, and we lunched and dined together at different places, and had one long delightful horseback ride in the Bois.,
Next week I shall start off again on one of my long inspecting trips, Dunkirk, etc.
I got a letter to-day from you enclosing some drawings of little Polly, with the words, "Come home" --- also many clippings which I am always glad to have. Tell Polly I shall come home some day when the great war is over ---but that, alas, won't be to-morrow.
I am living a very different life from that of a few weeks ago. I have a pleasant little apartment in Neuilly, the suburb of Paris where our main hospital is located, and from here I make trips every week to look over the situation in our other hospital in Juilly or in one or another of the four ambulance sections along the front in the different armies. It takes me away for the present from the direct handling of the wounded, which I regret, but it is more important and more responsible work and full of opportunity for service as well as for interesting experiences.
Paris is resuming its normal aspect, and now and then I hear a concert or an opera, or see a play, and now and then, when I am free, I run into town for lunch or dinner with friends who live here or who are passing through.
One often thinks that the happiest days of one's life lie in the past, but I am sure that for me life has never before been so full of interest and real happiness as at present.
I don't suppose that many in America realize what France has done and is doing. General Joffre has allowed no foreign journalists at the front, and no French generals or officials have given interviews. So you only read of the war from the British viewpoint. But the fact is that of the five hundred miles of frontier between the Channel and Switzerland, France has held and still holds all but about forty miles.
I know it because I have passed through the little band of the English lines several times. Of course, England has rendered inestimable service in clearing the seas and keeping them clear. But on the land France has borne ninety-five per cent of the burden.
Nine departments of France are wholly or partially invaded and the Germans hold several important French cities, notably Lille, but. every one is sure that they have reached their zenith as far as France is concerned.
With love to you all.
P.S. I got a telegram yesterday from mother, saying they were leaving home to spend Easter with you. Perhaps this will reach you while they are there.
Dear Mother and Father:
I have imagined you to-day reading with perhaps some anxiety the accounts of the Zeppelin raid upon Paris last night. I have been hoping all along for the chance to see one of these much-named monsters, and last night, a still night with a half-moon, it came. At about 2 A.M. the guns at the fortifications notified the sleeping populace that, after months of waiting, Zeppelins had been sighted and were rapidly approaching. The people leaned out of their windows or poured out into the streets everywhere to see the spectacle, and presently searchlights uncovered a tremendous, silver, cigar-shaped creature creeping through the heavens, and flaming streaks like rockets shot across the sky vainly trying to hit it. The Zeppelin mounted quickly, and almost before one knew it, had disappeared from view. Meanwhile, heavy explosions followed one after another, as the bombs dropped in our neighborhood, --- one, as we learned this morning, having struck within a hundred yards of the American hospital.
I set out early after breakfast to see the damage. A dozen or more bombs had been dropped on Paris and its suburbs, but no one, so far as I could learn, had been killed, only a few had been injured and no buildings of importance had been touched. The long-expected Zeppelin raid was a fiasco as far as actual results were concerned. As a spectacle for the Parisian populace, it offered an entertaining and thrilling experience. Of military significance, it had none. As an indication of German intentions, it did present, however, one more evidence, if any more were needed, of what "Kultur" means, a scientific veneer for fundamental barbarity --- one more example of the German disregard for the elementary principles of humanity. Civilized people do not bombard uninvested cities without warning, but the Germans bombarded Yarmouth and a number of uninvested, unfortified towns in England a few weeks ago, and they have dropped their bombs upon many sleeping French towns far from the zone of the armies, and no one is surprised that they should drop bombs haphazardly over Paris and other cities on the way here, as they did last night. Even in their own country the military men do not, as a rule, treat their civilians and their women as worthy of much consideration. Why should any one expect them to show a sense. of chivalry toward the civilians and the women and children of other countries?
Four or five houses in Paris were more or less torn to pieces by the bombs, and in one, on the rue Voltaire near here, I picked up the fragment of a bomb which I enclose. It could tear quite a hole in a human body. In the house in which I found this piece of bomb three children were sleeping in a bed, and were precipitated from the second to the ground floor when the house collapsed, but they were not seriously hurt.
This afternoon I attended the opera "Louise." Much of it is a kind of glorification of Paris, in which the story takes place. It was well sung and acted, and the audience was especially responsive to the songs about the beauties and the soul of Paris, doubtless thinking of the fortunate survival of their wonderful city, despite the wanton efforts of the Bôches to do it harm. At the end of the opera came the "Chant du Départ," in which mothers and wives and sweethearts offer their sons and husbands and lovers to France, and then the Marseillaise thrillingly sung and played in an appropriate dramatic setting.
Dear Mother and Father:
I was dining downtown to-night in a brilliantly lighted restaurant, with throngs of soldiers, civilians, and women about me, when suddenly some one announced that the Zeppelins were signalled again and that all lights must be extinguished. Every one hurriedly paid his bill and got out into the street to see what there was to see. It was a rainy night, and not only was every street lamp extinguished, but the firemen blew bugles everywhere and made every citizen extinguish the lights in his house. Paris, the city of light, was for once a city of complete darkness. We got into a taxi, six of us, and without lights rolled along up the Champs Elysées to the house of an acquaintance, where we mounted to the roof and waited, hoping every moment that the monster would arrive, but nothing happened. People waited in vain in all the open squares, expecting a repetition of Saturday night's spectacle. Occasionally one saw an investigating searchlight flash across the clouds, but nothing more. The aviators who defend Paris, but who on Saturday night were not on their jobs and nowhere to be found at the critical moment, were at their places to-night, and the Zeppelins, it is said, turned back.
No one takes the Zeppelins very seriously after Saturday's feeble performance under the most favorable conditions of weather and careless military precautions. Toward midnight Paris returned to bed, disappointed, when the firemen rode through the streets bugling the signal that means "all is over."
I was just getting into bed to-night when a fireman whistled under my window and called to me to extinguish the lights. I turned out everything except a single candle, and pulled the curtain; but even that was not satisfactory to the cautious guardians. Every suspicion of a light had to be extinguished, so I was left in the dark. I was quite unwilling to go to bed and miss the spectacle, so I dressed without a light and went over to the hospital, where one has, plenty of space to survey the heavens. Zeppelins had been signalled from Chantilly. The people in the hospital were all up and expectant, but nothing else happened, and I must go reluctantly and disappointedly to bed.
Dear Mother and Father:
The scene has changed again and I woke up this morning in the Palace Hotel, Compiègne, and from my window looked out at the beautiful old palace where many kings and one or two emperors of France lived in the days before France had shaken off their yoke. We are on the way to the centre of the eastern armies, where I am going to try to arrange to have some of our new sections sent.
We stopped at Beauvais yesterday to see our men there. To-day we go on, following the army line about twelve or fifteen miles inland, past Soissons, Rheims, Châlons-sur-Marne, to Vittel, some two hundred or more miles from here. It would be interesting to pass through Soissons and Rheims, but the roads near both places are continually under fire and it is impossible.
Here in Compiègne Mr. John D. Rockefeller has given a hospital which is under the direction of the famous Dr. Alexis Carrel, of the Rockefeller Institute in New York. Mr. Rockefeller and one of his daughters, I believe, have spent two summers in Compiègne, hence his interest. It is installed in a sumptuous hotel, the Rond Royal, and is named the Ambulance Carrel. We called there last night and were shown about the place by Dr. Carrel, a very alert little man who is naturally proud of the hospital bearing his name, and which he has just finished equipping with every arrangement that modern science and surgery can provide.
After all, Americans are doing a good deal for France. There are American hospitals scattered here and there all over the country, and it would be interesting to get together a list of them which would show the real magnitude of America's contribution to the hospital work of France.
We left Compi&erave;gne about 9.30 and had a fine day's run, first through the Forest of Compiègne, then on past the many-towered château of Pierrefonds, and on and on past convoys of ambulances returning from the battle-front, and long convoys of automobiles --- many of them Pierce-Arrows, Packards, and Whites --- carrying provisions, baled hay and straw to the front; here and there a group of mounted cavalry officers in brilliant uniform; now and then a group of red-trousered soldiers; now through the crooked streets of little villages with lichen-covered plaster houses which would have been picturesque even in times of peace, but which we re doubly so when gay with uniformed soldiers. Then on over the fields, valleys, and rolling hills, and as we ran through the valley of the Marne we occasionally stopped at some soldier's grave by the wayside, covered with wreaths, and flowers, or by a flag-covered mound where fifty or sixty soldiers were buried, their hats hanging from stakes above the graves, or at some village, farmhouse, or church destroyed by the ruthless enemy in that terrific onslaught early last September when the Germans thought they could brutalize France into surrendering.
There can be no doubt that they committed unbelievably barbarous crimes in those days. I have recently read a little book, which ought to be translated into English and published broadcast, called "German Crimes as Told in German Documents," by Professor Bedier, historian in the University of Paris, in which he reprints page after page in facsimile of diaries and letters taken from German prisoners and German wounded, telling of the massacres of civilians, including women and children, and of the wilful pillage and destruction of private property in those days. I have sent several copies, to influential Americans, with the hope that someone will have it translated and republished in the United States.
Of late the Germans have been more moderate. They have slowly come to realize that their barbarous methods have not produced terror, but undying hate on the part of the peoples directly affected, and loathing and contempt on the part of the rest of the world. How stupid, too, was their policy of murder and destruction in the regions like Belgium which they hoped permanently to retain! On the other hand, the Germans need not fear, that if some day the French army gets into German territory chivalrous France will follow their brutish example.
And so the day has passed like a moving picture. There have been glimpses of many lovely bits of ancient French architecture, churches, châteaux, town halls, and other buildings, many untouched and others mutilated; many glimpses of trenches, many glimpses of soldiers manuvring in the fields, and then, above all, the continual panorama of the doux pays de France, than which there is none more beautiful in the world.
It has been a sunny day, like the days in America when the wind blows from the northwest, with clear, blue sky, bright sunlight, and crisp air. We have travelled seldom more slowly than fifty miles an hour, sometimes running up to sixty, for the roads in France are incredibly good. You can imagine that I am sleepy and ready for a comfortable bed in this clean provincial inn.
We are here until to-morrow in what is one of the finest summer resorts of France, a little city of immense stone hotels, usually thronged in summer by wealthy people of all countries taking their cures at the medicinal springs. It has a theatre, casino, polo-field, and race-track, and the whole nestles down in an open valley among the foothills of the mountains on the Alsatian border. This year the hotels, which have nearly five thousand beds, will be occupied by wounded soldiers. There will be no races, no polo, no operas., or fashionable cures.
I hope to arrange, through the officers here, to have one of our sections sent into French Alsace, and with Captain de Montravel, who is charged with the automobile service in the eastern armies, whom I came on here to see, and whose acquaintance I made last night, I am to visit several towns on the Alsatian frontier to-morrow to see what can be done.
It is much colder here than in Paris. The trees are not yet in bud, and the little shops of the town are just opening after months of hibernation.
Palm Sunday night, and we are in the home of the famous confiture preparing to spend the night. The streets, restaurants, and hotels are thronged with soldiers, and we had difficulty finding rooms, but at last found two under the roof of a rather second-rate hotel. There is one thing about France --- even in the small hotels of small towns, the beds are covered with clean linen, and there is a kind of homelike touch to the rooms. There is a charm, too, about the uneven floors, low ceilings, thick stone walls, and the quaint views from their casement windows that compensates for the lack of modern plumbing and convenient electric lights. We tried to get some of the Bar-le-Duc currant jelly at dinner, but they told us that it was mostly made for export to America, and was seldom seen here.
When we looked out of our windows in Vittel this morning, we saw more snow than I had seen in Paris or Dunkirk all winter. During the night the hills and valleys had been painted over with about two inches of fresh white snow, every field blanketed, every twig of every pine tree weighted down.
We left at eight o'clock for Remiremont, a town near the frontier, following in our automobile the machine of Captain de Montravel, with whom I had been negotiating for our next ambulance section and who offered to take me about to see other French officials concerned with the matter. We whirled over ridge after ridge, each opening up new panoramas of snow-covered valleys, always nearer and nearer to the frontier of Alsace, until finally we could look up the valley to the ridge, about eight miles away, which was for forty-four years the boundary between Germany and France, but which , God willing, will never again be so.
In Remiremont they were just bringing in about four hundred German prisoners with six German officers, taken at Hartmannsweilerkopf the day before. It was an incidental victory of some importance, although the official communications only devoted a few lines to it. Hartmannsweilerkopf is a height on the other side of the Vosges Mountains which commands the valley down to the Rhine. The French had been struggling to get it all through the winter, and at last it was theirs. We should have liked to go up into Alsace, but with a full day ahead of us and more than three hundred miles back to Paris we postponed that experience until next time.
My hope is that we can persuade the French officials to send one of our sections into Alsace. I tell them that it would annoy the Germans to read in the American papers that American volunteers were serving with the French in what a year ago was German territory. It would show for one thing that the French are actually in Alsace. Captain de Montravel, who is a warm-hearted Southerner and who received us with open arms, seemed to like the idea, but Captain Doumenc, of Joffre's staff, whom we met at Remiremont, had to be persuaded, and suggested that we send a, section on to Vittel and let de Montravel look it over before deciding.
Speaking of Alsace reminds me that I sent to little Helen the other day a copy of Hansi's "Mon Village," the book about an Alsatian town, tenderly written and charmingly drawn, which appeared about three years ago and which resulted in the imprisonment of its author by the Germans, who disapproved of his gentle irony.
I have not time to begin to register half that I have seen and felt to-day. The principal thing is that I succeeded in arranging to send a section of ambulances to the Vosges at the end of this week, and if they make a good record I have the promise of Captain de Montravel that when we send the next section, he will try to persuade Captain Doumenc to send the first one on to Alsace.
On the way back we came through Nancy, the old capital of Lorraine, about ten miles from the German frontier. It is the most sumptuous little city that I have ever seen, with wonderful old squares of seventeenth and eighteenth century French architecture that ravish the eye with their symmetry. They say that last September the Kaiser, with ten thousand soldiers in parade uniform, stood waiting on a ridge about ten miles distant, expecting Nancy to be taken, and prepared to make his triumphal entry. He had doubtless seen pictures of the place and felt it would be an appropriate setting for the sort of grandiose pageantry with which he likes to surround himself. They hoped the Crown Prince would enter Paris about the same time; but Nancy could not be taken any more than Paris.
Every now and then one of the German airmen drops a bomb on Nancy, as happened this very afternoon, killing an unoffending woman and child; but, relatively speaking, the city has not been touched by the Germans, although it is only ten or a dozen miles from the German line. The streets this afternoon looked as gay and happy with their Sunday crowds as if there were no war.
We got to Paris this evening, having covered twelve hundred kilometres in four days. All day to-day we were running through the battlefields that surround the little river Marne, the scene of one of the most momentous struggles of all time, when the German hordes were halted last September after almost reaching the very. gates of Paris.
We have passed village after village of which nothing remained but charred walls and chimneys and twisted pipes, burnt from end to end by the Germans because the people offered resistance. The devastation is pitiful. Town after town looks like Salem after the fire. Time and again we stopped and talked with the inhabitants who remained. Sometimes one house was left standing in the village, and there all the women have congregated and are living together. In one case I found an old woman living in a cellar. In other cases a room or two was miraculously left intact, and there the women and children of the family are living. Their men are all at the war, so nothing has been rebuilt in the six months since the Germans were driven back.
One, of course, must recognize that war means destruction, and one should expect to find roofs torn open and walls pierced by shells, but the Germans were not content with the ordinary ravages of war. They proposed to terrify the people of France into surrender by the utter brutality of their methods of conducting the war. I have passed to-day through town after town which the Germans had deliberately burned and destroyed, and I have heard from the people how German soldiers, under officers' commands, went from house to house with inflammable material. These are the names of some of the towns as I recall them: Revigny, Heiltz, Thiéblement, Pargny, Sermaize. What a pity that the Americans of German descent, many of whom or whose ancestors left Germany to escape the hardships and oppressions of militarism, and who have been proud of our peaceful, self-governing democracy in America, should have allowed themselves to be deluded by the extensive propaganda of the German Government and should to-day, be defending a government that represents the spirit of the Dark Ages, that recognizes no law or obligation, human or divine, if it conflicts with what they regard as their interests.
One of the things I noted to-day was the number of women, children, and old men working in the fields. I was often tempted to get out and snap a picture of some woman driving a plough or harrow, or some elderly couple driving a wagon to market, or some boy swinging along across a field sowing grain.
I have kept this letter all the week hoping to be able to add to it, but we have been so busy getting our section ready to send to the Vosges that I have not been able to spare a minute until the end of. the day, when the spirit was no longer willing. Yesterday the section started and it will arrive some time Monday, twelve cars and sixteen men. I selected the men with the utmost care, picking here and there among our western sections, and making myself more or less unpopular thereby.. They are all college men, and Richard Lawrence, Harvard, '02, is to be their chief. From the point of view of a stock farm for breeding purposes, they leave nothing to be desired. I feel sure that they will "make good"; that de Montravel will recognize the type of men that they are. The future of our service depends upon them, and I told them so.
Dear Mother and Father:
I have received three letters from you from Boston, the last two of which were numbered 1 and 2 --- and the last of which was dated March 22. I judge from the continuity of your letters that they have all reached me. I get letters more or less regularly from C. B. and C. S. S. and Isabella. I am so glad that you saw her and the marvellous new rooms she has added to Fenway Court. Is n't she a dear and wonderful person? And the great tapestry room! How fortunate that the Germans can't molest it! It is the sort of place that some of the German officers would enjoy looting and defiling and then burning.
I am starting off to-morrow for a trip to Dunkirk and the north, and next week I shall go again to the Vosges to see our new section --- about all Harvard men---which has just gone out.
I am living a very normal civilian sort of life now. Paris is just about as it always is --- only without Americans and other tourists, and with very few theatres, and at night the restaurants all close at 10 P.M.
My life is full of interest, but I miss somewhat the intensely human things that I used to see so much of in Dunkirk.
Dear Mother and Father:
On this trip I have visited our men in Beauvais, St. Pol, Hesdin, and Dunkirk. To-night I am in Belgium --- to be exact, in the little northwest corner of Belgium that still remains in Belgian hands. To be still more exact, I am in the erstwhile watering-place La Panne, which is now the capital in which the brave King Albert and his wife live.
The little city seems to contain all of the young Belgians still extant. The streets until dark were thronged with joyful youths in uniform, thousands and thousands of them crowding not only the sidewalks, but. the middle of the streets. To-day, being King Albert's birthday, there was an immense review on the beach. Belgian flags were flying from most of the large houses, and when we arrived the soldiers were having sack-races in the streets, boat-races, on the shore, and competitions of various kinds to fête the day.
I like the trim, dark-blue uniforms of the Belgian soldiers. Most of them seem very young, and although they are cut off from their homes they have the air of being embarked on a great adventure. They seem more often gay and larking than depressed. With the mothers and fathers over in the German lines it is probably a very different story.
This afternoon, as we set out from Dunkirk, we, too, were caught by the spirit of adventure, and although our passes only read to La Panne, an officer gave, us the password, the word for the day, in the, Belgian lines, and advised us to go on and see Nieuport; so we went through Fumes, where great holes in the walls and broken window panes show that shells occasionally strike, and on past company after company of soldiers, some going toward, some coming from, the front; past moving companies of artillery, past armored motor cars filled with smiling youths; past little village after village, past sentry after sentry, who saluted and beckoned us to go on when we gave the word; past trenches and trenches, and finally, almost of a sudden, we reached a point where human beings disappeared, very much as in ascending a mountain one reaches the line where trees cease to grow. The houses and farms were deserted. No one was walking by the roadside. It was the region within shell fire. Every now and then a deep hole in the road gave evidence of that.
About two miles farther on we reached Nieuport. It is the first city I have seen that had been destroyed by shells, and I presume that Dixmude, Ypres, Arras, Soissons, Rheims, and many other places look like it. It must have been quite a prosperous town, judging from the fronts of some of the residences, but not a roof or wall remains intact. The streets are littered with house-fronts and their contents, tables, chairs, mattresses, and everything having poured out when the houses gave way before the monstrous shells. Here were tenantless stores with gaping walls and roofs, with goods, damaged by exposure, still on the counters. I walked into one and took a candlestick from the shelf. Here and there were the ruins of what was once a church, --- not blackened by fire, but just shot to pieces, ---and all around the ruins of the principal church were scores and scores of fresh graves marked only by crosses of rough wood. Not a living inhabitant remained, and there was scarcely a tree that had not been torn to pieces.
We were startled, when in the centre of the town, by a loud explosion, then another, and then another, but a sentry poked his head from behind a wall and told us it was a departure from one of our own French guns, and that while the Germans dropped a few shells in the town every day, they had not done so to-day. It was a curious fact about these cannon, which were being fired within a quarter of a mile of us, that we could not detect their location. They are half-buried and concealed by pine boughs. The powder is smokeless, and one heard the explosion without being able to say from whence it came. We watched and watched as we drove back, and heard at least a dozen heavy reports in our vicinity without being able once to tell where the cannon were. On the whole, Nieuport, abandoned by all but the sentries and silent except for the cannon, offered the most impressive picture I have yet seen of the devastation of the war.
As I go to bed to-night in La Panne, I hear only the wash of the waves on the beach under my window, and I know I shall sleep well.
Another interesting day. We woke up in La Panne and the Belgian Minister of the Interior, M. Berryer, with whom we had a conversation about sending some ambulances to help evacuate a number of Belgian towns infected with typhoid, arranged to have us return by way of Ypres. With his help we got a pass through the Belgian lines and had it viséed by the Prince of Teck at the English Mission -in La Panne, so that we should have no difficulty in the English lines, and about noon we set out on the road through Fumes to Ypres.
It was one of the finest of spring days and we tore on through the quaint Flemish, towns, one after another, and over a pleasant, highly cultivated country, crossing the famous little river Yser on the way. These famous rivers of the war invariably surprise one by their smallness. The Yser, more or less swollen by the spring rains, looked much like the Concord River, the flood by which "the embattled farmers stood" upwards of one hundred and forty years ago.
As we neared Ypres, the uniforms of the crowds of soldiers that we passed changed from Belgian dark blue to the British khaki, and we ran into Canadians, Scotchmen, Australians, and other British varieties, but no Indian troops. I don't know where they have all gone. Some say they have proved a failure, but whether or not that is true they seem to have disappeared from this part of the map. The English are pushing in with vast numbers in the neighborhood of Ypres, and are probably widening somewhat the little strip of the front line which England has been maintaining. Even now the English do not hold, however, more than twenty-five or thirty miles of the five hundred miles of front. The Belgians hold perhaps ten miles, and all the rest is held by the French.
Ypres presents a sad spectacle. Here was fought last November and December one of the greatest battles of this great war; the battle in which the Germans were prevented from reaching Calais, and just as, when defeated in their effort to reach Paris, the Germans took revenge on the wonderful architecture of Rheims,, so here they wreaked their vengeance for thwarted aims on the beautiful buildings of Ypres. The Cathedral and the wonderful old Halles which sheltered the market, an architectural treasure covered with sculptured tracery and statues, which had survived the ravages of centuries of storms and battles, were made the targets, and now they are torn and mutilated so that they can never be repaired. The architectural losses are irreparable. It stirs one beyond the power of articulate expression to see what a scourge to architecture, one might even say what an enemy to the finest artistic achievements of the human race, this self-styled Kultur folk have been. As long as history endures they will be classed, as they are classed to-day by their contemporaries, with the Huns and Vandals and brutish hordes of antiquity. Things of beauty that should have been a joy for generations and generations to come are gone forever, and the Germans are their deliberate destroyers. There can be no question that they deliberately selected these monuments for destruction. The completeness of their annihilation in the midst of other buildings that remain is indisputable evidence of the fact.
While we were in Ypres this afternoon several shells struck in different parts of the town, and it was extraordinary to see the throngs of English soldiers walking about as nonchalantly as if the Germans were a thousand miles away. Many of the stores are still open. Women, children, and literally thousands of soldiers were strolling about looking at the bombarded buildings as they might in ordinary times look at the effects of a city fire. And meanwhile at intervals the bombardment was going on.
We stayed about an hour, got a bit of lunch in a café, and then ran on and stopped for a few moments at Cassel, where I saw René Puaux, my genial friend who is still there on General Foch's staff.
To-night I have stopped in Hesdin to arrange for the withdrawal of our ambulances from the Army, where they seem to have been more or less superfluous, in order to send them to other places where they are needed. All this requires complying with much red tape and the seeing of many officials.
I got back again to the quiet of Neuilly last night, and as a friend is going to America, leaving to-day, I shall give this letter to him to mail.
I am perfectly well, and find life full of opportunities to help and full of interest.
To the Editor of the Herald:
It is a disappointing, but explicable fact that the "Boston Herald" and most American papers envisage the war as primarily a struggle between Germany on the one hand and England and Russia on the other, while France is treated as a factor of only secondary importance, almost like Austria or Belgium or Serbia.
The reasons for this attitude are not far to seek. Whatever news our papers receive from the Allies' side of the scenes of war comes through correspondents who, whether American or English by origin, are affiliated with English papers,, and are naturally more interested in providing their readers with accounts of movements and engagements involving British troops, the brothers, sons, and acquaintances of their readers, than with stories of the activities and experiences of the French armies in which their public has no direct personal interest. Not only is this natural, but it has been made inevitable by the policy of the French General Staff, which has allowed no correspondents, whether English, American, or even French, within their lines. Interested primarily in the military problems, anxious at whatever cost to eliminate the possible dangers of publicity, regardless of any of its possible diplomatic benefits, the Staff has refused access to the front, not only to English and American journalists, but also to their own. Not infrequently the only accounts printed in France of French engagements of no mean importance are the dry, laconic two or three lines of the official "communiqués," "our troops made progress, " or, "we made considerable gains" in such or such a place.
A fortnight ago I happened to be in the Vosges at the time of the capture of Hartmannsweilerkopf, a ridge on the other side of the Alsatian Mountains, which commands the valley at that point down to the Rhine. For two months the French troops had been contending for the height, and at last it was theirs. Some four hundred German prisoners,, including five or six officers, taken in the engagement, were just being brought into Remiremont in the Vosges the day of my arrival, and the local French officials were elated by the situation. We scrutinized the papers next day for some vivid account of the engagement such as we had heard in the vicinity, but we only found the dry and bloodless announcement, "Our troops took Hartmannsweilerkopf yesterday."
French generals and cabinet officials have rarely if ever given interviews or allowed their names to be signed to articles. No Frenchman of any considerable importance has visited America since the war began. Not one sou has apparently been spent in endeavoring to interest or to influence American opinion in favor of France. France has pursued the even tenor of her way through the war. Not only has she not resorted to publicity agents, press bureaus, special envoys, braggadocio interviews with ambassadors and generals, or any of the other methods of fostering foreign feeling, which the Germans have made familiar, but she has even interfered with the natural and appropriate publication of what has been happening in France, and of what we in America, because of our traditional friendship and sympathy with France, and our similarity of political institutions and ideals, would have been glad to know.
These, I believe, are the principal reasons for the curious undervaluation on the part of the American press of the contribution which France has made and is making to the war. Probably not one American in ten thousand knows that of the approximately five hundred miles of the western battle-front, France has held, and still holds, all, but about thirty-five, that England has never held more than twenty or twenty-five miles., and Belgium not more than a dozen miles. Yet such are the known and indisputable facts. I know them because I have several times crossed through the British and Belgian sectors.
Up to the end of December, I have been told by credible authority, it is estimated that France had lost about two hundred and fifty thousand killed (not including wounded and prisoners), and I also believe, upon equally good authority, that the total of British troops, which until recently had been sent across the Channel, numbered scarcely more than that. In other words, France had lost, in actually killed, almost the equivalent of the whole British fighting army.
I say this not in disparagement of England's contribution to the war. Her assistance on the sea has been of supreme importance, and the valor of her soldiers, both on land and on sea, has been demonstrated beyond question. I say it only to give a just perspective as to what France is doing.
We owe to France, politically and spiritually, debts which we can never repay. It was to the spirit of revolutionary France that we owe much of the spirit of our own Revolution. It was to France with her armies and her fleet and her expenditures of seven hundred million of dollars in our behalf that we owe our independence. And neither then nor since then has she ever asked for anything in recompense. France is the only other great country in the world without a hereditary ruling class, where the spirit of democracy prevails and the people rule. To the schools of France we owe practically everything that we have in America that is worth while in architecture, painting., and sculpture. France is a peaceful and unmilitary democracy whose energies have for generations been devoted primarily to the arts of peace.
Our sympathies as Americans, believing in democratic government, detesting militarism, and mindful of what France has done for us, ought to be wholly with France in this struggle against a mediæval monarchy opposed in every way to our own historical ideals. I believe that they are so, but I also am confident that we should have been more actively on the side of France if it had been brought home to us by our press how much this is France's war.
To those of us who still believe in the ideals of the founders of our government and who have no sympathy with the savagery of mediævalism, who believe in popular government and not hereditary rule, to those who care for the peaceful advance of civilization and would like to see forever doomed the "Kultur" of mailed fists and war lords, without regard for solemn pledges, international law, or any other right than that of might, it will always be a source of humiliation and regret that America has not displayed a more active sympathy with those ideals for which she used to stand, in this momentous period of their history.
A. PIATT ANDREW.
Paris, April 11, 1915.
Dear Mother and Father:
Another day to live forever in my memory: I have motored for miles and miles with French soldiers in Alsace.
I wrote you a couple of weeks ago about my first trip to the Vosges to try and arrange for a section of our ambulance to serve in Alsace, and how I had found several French officers in the region who were enthusiastic about the project, and how I returned to Paris and got together a "crack" section, mostly Harvard men, with Richard Lawrence, Harvard, '02, as chief, and how within three days we had them started east. They went first to Vittel and the officers liked them, very much apparently. Two days later they were sent a little farther east, and two days after that still farther, and now they are stationed just this side of the pass that marks the boundary of Alsace, and each day they run up over the pass and down into the valley on the other side, where they get the wounded in various Alsatian towns within sound of the German guns.
So yesterday I started east again to see how things were going and to arrange for another section. We flew again up the valley of the Marne, now much more verdant than a fortnight ago, covering about three hundred and fifty kilometres in an afternoon, and arrived in Vittel in time to find Captain de Montravel and Lieutenant Paquet still at dinner. They told us how our boys had arrived ten days before in a pouring rain, but with. their hoods up so that they could see all that was to be seen as they passed through the valley of the Marne; how the moment they arrived a train of wounded had come in, and how efficiently they had despatched the work of carrying them to the hospitals; how ready and willing they all were; how expert in repairing their machines; how they were up at six in the morning with radiators and tanks filled, brass polished and ready for work, --- what thoroughbred gentlemen they all were, --- in fact, a glowing account, which was very gratifying.
And so I went on to-day to see our men and to set foot for the first time in Alsace. We found them located in a pretty little village, St. Maurice-sur-Moselle, just this side of the frontier, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. And then we went on., several French officers and myself, through the tunnel that used to mark the boundary between Germany and France (I will send you some photographs I took of the two sides of the tunnel), and came out in the promised land. I have never seen a more beautiful outlook than that which strikes you almost as soon as you emerge from the tunnel. You look down for miles on a narrow, highly cultivated valley, dotted with red-roofed villages and bulwarked all about by the silent, snow-capped, hills. One saw the pictures of Hansi in real life.
I have not time to tell you much of what we saw or much of what I felt as we rolled down the ridge and through the valley past town after town, now part of France again after forty-five years, the signs still in German over the hotels and stores, the children waving their hats at us as we passed, the crowds of French soldiers, the old Paris autobuses running here and there in these strange surroundings, loaded with meat, our own little ambulances passing now and then, the distant boom of the guns. I wish I could find time to register them. I snapped a lot of kodaks, and I am afraid I must leave it to them to tell the story.
It was one of the happiest, most interesting, most beautiful days that I have ever spent.
I intended to write this letter over and greatly to extend it, but my work the past week has been too absorbing. The following day after the one I spent in Alsace, we motored over three hundred miles back to Paris, and since then I have literally not had a moment's time to myself. Captain de Montravel liked our first section so well that he wanted another right away, so we got back the section from Beauvais, and revamped it somewhat, and succeeded in getting it off for the east three days after I returned. It is located somewhere near Nancy. Since then I have been on another trip to Dunkirk, and have had a terrific amount of work to do straightening out affairs in the office here in Neuilly, where everything has been at sixes and sevens.
Dear Mother and Father:
Here are some pictures which I took on the day we spent in Alsace --- the Alsace which used to be German, but which, God willing, never will be so again. You will see the German signs over hotels and the railway station where I am standing with French officers. It was one of the happiest days I have, ever spent in 'some of the most beautiful surroundings that I have ever seen. One does not wonder, after visiting Alsace, that a beauty-loving people like the French could not endure seeing it taken from them by the Germans. These pictures show that France has recovered at least a part of Alsace.
Dear Mother and Father:
I made a flying trip to Dunkirk this week, --- ran up one day and came back the next; it is about two hundred and forty miles each way, and a rather hard trip, but I enjoyed it because we stopped over night in a little inn in Cassel, where I spent several hours with René Puaux, who always knows everything that is going on, and is a most delightful and diverting companion.
It was the night after Garros had been captured by the Germans, and René, who knew him well, was greatly saddened, both because of his personal loss and because of the loss to the army. I used to see Garros flying over Dunkirk. He was stationed in one of the environing villages, St. Pol, and often toward dusk during the winter we would see him flying home from some mission in his monoplane. You could not mistake any one else for him, for no one else ever flew with the grace and ease of Garros. He could close off his motor and float like a gull, dipping, and soaring, and turning, now this way, now that, until it seemed incredible that it was a machine and not a bird you were watching in the sky. It was a small machine with no place for a passenger, and with the propeller in front of the driver and a long fishlike tail behind. Just in front of the driver was a rapid-fire gun which he could operate with his foot as he manuvred the aeroplane with his hands, and as the gun. was attached to his aeroplane and perfectly stationary he had to manuvre the whole machine in order to aim at his enemy. You can see what a wonderful flyer he must have been. He was like a hawk. He could rise faster than the other machines and turn about more quickly, and the German flyers were greatly afraid of him, because he had brought down I don't know how many of them. One extraordinary mechanism that he had devised was an arrangement by which he could fire through the revolving propeller. It was estimated that the propeller would only be hit four times in a hundred shots, and at the point on the two blades where a bullet might hit were two metal tracks to divert it. I used to see all of this in Dunkirk, so I was particularly interested in René's story of what had happened to Garros the day before. Garros had already brought down two German aeroplanes, and when he came back that day they sent him out, though tired, and in a machine that had already been severely used, to drop bombs on a railway station, a mission which any of the scores of aviators might have successfully performed. Whether his engine stopped working or he was hit by a bullet, they did not know. But he did not come back, and night came on and still no word, and finally in the early morning they intercepted a German wireless message which told that Garros was a prisoner.
I suspect that thousands of people had hoped that some day when the Kaiser or the Crown Prince was in Lille or Courtrai, Garros would be able to swoop down and fire on him. At any rate, he ought to have been reserved for the exceptional work, and not have been wasted on the easy and more or less futile work of trying to destroy a railway station, which is part of the everyday work of the average military aviator. Simply because he was a genius in flying they asked him to do everything. But --- Garros is gone! And the Kaiser lives!
From another acquaintance we heard a great deal about the now famous battle between the English and the Germans at Neuve-Chapelle six weeks or so ago, when as you remember more than ten thousand British were lost, killed, or wounded. I remember the night of that day, when all night long trains of wounded were pouring into Paris-Plage where I was staying, and where our boys were working, Well, it appears that the British in one day fired thirty-six thousand shells, or more than were fired in the whole Boer War. It was a veritable hailstorm of shells which obliterated everything within range. The Germans who were not killed were routed, and orders were issued to the Germans in Lille, which was the real objective, to begin packing their things. But the English made two terrible blunders. In the first place, they let their men get too far ahead of their artillery, and it is said that hundreds of English soldiers were killed by their own guns, and then, after victory was in their hands, they apparently waited for twenty-four hours to decide what to do next,, and that allowed the Germans to change their minds, to come back with reënforcements, and to reëntrench themselves before the battle was resumed. A number of English generals were dismissed from the service immediately after the battle, but that could not bring their men back to life or achieve the lost victory. General French was quoted recently as saying that "if we are to vanquish our enemies, we require shells, still more shells and always more shells," and when this was quoted to another distinguished officer, he is said to have remarked, "Yes, but it requires even more than shells, it requires a brain."
The entrance of Italy into the war is now predicted for the very near future and with her on the side of the Allies will come sooner or later the Eastern Latin country, Roumania. Their military aid will not, perhaps, be very great, but it will help to cut Germany off from her present trade with the outside world, from horses, copper, petroleum, and other things. And it cannot but have an effect on the "morale" of the Austrians and Germans. Already the German papers have ceased to speak of the outcome of the war as a certain victory. They speak rather of the impossibility of their being defeated, --- and that is quite a step in advance.
In France, on the other hand, every one feels confident of an ultimate victory, but those competent to judge seem to think that unless something unforeseen happens, the struggle will be long. "Long, dur, sur," is the laconic prophecy attributed to General Foch.
Dear Mother and Father:
I have had another interesting and memorable day. I came east yesterday to see how the second section had fared that we sent out two weeks ago. The first section went to Alsace, as I wrote you when I returned from there. It was a joy to know that they were well liked, well placed, doing good work, and very happy after the discouraging period that had gone before with almost nothing to do in the west. How was it to be with the second section?
I motored up to Vittel, about two hundred and twenty-five miles, and had dinner with my good friend Captain de Montravel, and had again a warm, enthusiastic welcome and a good report of the second section, which had spent two days under his critical eye in Vittel. They are now at a place of which I had never heard --- Dieulouard, between Nancy and Pont-à-Mousson; so we set off this morning to look them up and also to see the Commandant Bourgoin, of the Army Automobile Service, at Ligny-en-Barrois, under whom they serve.
The day has been full of interesting and varied experiences. As we wound over the hills and valleys of the Vosges, we passed through a trim, little, red-roofed town basking in the warm spring sunshine, among green fields and peaceful silence, and discovered that we were in Domremy, the village in which Jeanne d'Arc was born; so we went into the little church where she was baptized and had her first communion, and where she went to pray when she heard "the voices" in the neighboring fields; and we spent a quarter of an hour sitting before the flag-draped altar in the dim silence of the church. The priest asked us to go with him to the house in which she spent her girlhood, a lovely little cottage in the midst of a garden surrounded by tall pines, and we visited the heavy-beamed room in which she is supposed to have been born. The priest whittled off a piece of one of the big beams and gave it to me, and I picked a sprig or two of flowers, perhaps the descendants of plants that grew there five hundred years ago when she was a child. And so the day began, and then we hurried on.
About noon we reached Ligny, and I had a satisfactory interview with the commandant, found that he was pleased with what he had seen and heard of our men; and then on and on, past soldiers, convoys, trenches, and towns for a couple of hours more, when suddenly, with a turn. in the road, we came into the ancient crooked streets of the village of Dieulouard and found our ambulances and our men stationed in the shadow of a rambling old château. The boys were very glad to see us, especially as we brought heaps of mail, and they are thoroughly happy because at last they are located in the midst of things. A few of them are at Dieulouard, the rest at Pont-à-Mousson. Both places were under daily bombardment. The fields around are pitted with shell holes,, and windows, walls, and roofs everywhere are pockmarked with the shrapnel. Two shells dropped here this afternoon after we arrived, from some unseen battery four miles away. One heard first the distant boom, then the whistle of the shell as it passed overhead, and another explosion as it burst. Just outside of Pont-à-Mousson, where we spent a couple of hours, is the wood called Bois-le-Prêtre, where there has been terrific fighting for months, and where seventeen thousand Frenchmen are said to have .given up their lives. We visited the dressing-stations and saw the men being brought in on a sort of wheelbarrow stretcher, and in one of the many improvised cemeteries that dot the hillside we saw where a Harvard man, André Champollion, whom I used to know in Cambridge, and who was killed in the French army three weeks ago, was buried.
To-night I am sleeping in one of the little French houses in the town. There has been no bombardment since this afternoon. The streets are silent under the moon, except as .now and then a company of artillery or a convoy of supplies clatters by over the pavement.
It is curious about these towns. Pont-à-Mousson has been bombarded not less than eighty-six times, and the neighboring villages as often or oftener; but most of the people seem to go on living here and go and come as if there were no war. There are crowds and crowds of soldiers, but many women and children too.
How strange the world's history is. Who, a year ago would have dreamed that these quiet, prosperous little towns, where people lived dull but complacent lives, would be thronged with gayly bedizened soldiers, with all their schools and churches and the larger houses turned into hospitals, with shells bursting at any hour of the day or night, shot by unseen cannon miles away, with aeroplanes dropping bombs, and all the other excitements and terrors of war? And a year from now their normal lives may be resumed! God grant it!
I hope you can read my scrawls. I write them generally by candlelight in bed. My days are long, and I am always glad to get out of my heavy boots and leggings and tight uniform, and then I seize my one chance in the half-hour before I go to sleep to try and tell a little of what I am seeing and doing.
I am writing again in the early morning --- 5 A.M. I seize the chance because we are off again at about seven for St. Maurice-sur-Moselle and a visit to our section in Alsace.
"Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night showeth knowledge." Yesterday said more to me about the war than any day that had gone before. When hereafter you read about Pont-à-Mousson or Bois-le-Prêtre, you can think that to me they are no longer mere names on the map. One of the officers asked me yesterday if I had any desire to see some of their trenches) and in the morning word came from the general to meet. his aide at nine o'clock in the little village of Juzzainville, not far from Pont-à-Mousson.
That is the beginning of the story, and I wish I had time to try and communicate to you something of what we saw. One of the boys drove me over to Juzzainville in our staff car, and as we pushed through the crowds of soldiers in the streets and they saw our American flag, it , was one continual salute, --- "Vive l'Amérique" "Good-morning," "Vive les Américains." It makes one feel like a prince coming to his kingdom to be in this part of the country. They appreciate so far beyond its desert our being here with them. Soldiers and officers alike have read the American reply to Germany and feel at last that we are their friends. But what a pity it is that we have been so late and so slow and so perfunctory! What a pity it is that in this great moment in the world's history we should have been afflicted with a third-rate Secretary of State and a President incapable of acting definitely! With the officers I never hesitate to say that the point of view of intelligent America has not been well represented by Wilson and Bryan, that as a people we still have ideals, and that we are not wholly given over to materialism and business as the Wilson-Bryan programme seems to indicate, that we believe with Colonel Roosevelt that our country ought to have protested and to have protested vigorously and imperatively against the invasion of Belgium, the levying of such vast tributes from the Belgian cities, the bombardment of unfortified towns, the submarining of merchant vessels, the unnecessary massacre of towns and villages, and all of the other violations of humane conventions, and that we are humiliated that Wilson and Bryan should have made their first protest against England on a matter affecting the business of a few exporters.
We found Major Long at Juzzainville and with him I visited the headquarters of General Riberpray in an old château, was invited by the general to lunch, and we were off for the famous Bois-le-Prêtre. Never was there a more delicious spring morning with warm sunshine, fragrant apple trees in full bloom, dandelions and violets by the roadside, and birds singing everywhere. We wound in the motor up the sloping hillside past groups of moving soldiers, some coming back from the wood, others going up, past cemeteries of fresh graves, where twenty or thirty men were busily digging new places for the dead, and twenty or thirty more were covering graves just filled. Suddenly I was struck with horror as a lumber wagon came down the hill, and I discovered that it was a cartload of men who had given their lives during the night. They were piled five and six deep, --- criss-cross, --- perhaps two dozen of them, their lifeless legs and arms and heads hanging over the sides of the wagon; and then we passed a little hut in which I saw a dozen or more other corpses sprawling on the floor as they had just been brought in. Of course, I thought it horrible, but my officer friend said, "Oh, yes, but we are used to it. One sees that every day."
Toward the top of the hill one enters the famous wood ---about four or five miles long. The birds were still singing everywhere and all the trees coming into leaf. Nature was serene and tranquil. Now and then, as if a distant Fourth-of-July celebration were going on, one heard something like a giant firecracker, and occasionally one would hear something go whistling overhead above the treetops, and five or six seconds later a heavy door would seem to slam.
Presently we turned into a ditch just high enough to overreach a man's head, and then on, through trench after trench, zigzagging and crossing each other like streets, and we found ourselves in what was really a great underground city, where literally thousands of men live. It is almost unbelievable the work that has been expended in building these trenches. Even in the little wood, Bois-le-Prêtre, there are miles and. miles and miles of them, with underground rooms for every sort of purpose --- little sleeping-rooms, little dining-rooms, storehouses for a ammunition of every sort. In the various caverns used as officers' headquarters were always tables and chairs, pictures on the walls, which were often covered with oil cloth, always telephones, and not infrequently electric lights.
The officers whom we met along the way all gave us a warm-hearted welcome. They generally had something to say about Lafayette and Washington and the fraternal relations of France and America in the past. One delightful colonel (Colonel Rollet) made us sit down in his underground cavern, and ordered a bottle of good moselle and some cakes and drank a health to the United States, and I in turn told them that we could never forget that we owed to France our very existence as an entity, and I drank to the future France, greater and more glorious than ever, and to an early victory.
They made us put on some loose, wrapper-like coats of a yellow-green, so that we should not be so visible to a chance aviator, and then we went on and on past groups of soldiers eating their rations in little caverns, past heaps of shells, past little mortars, past piles of hand grenades. Every now and then I poked my head out and looked at the forest, and never could, I have believed that human beings could so devastate the face of nature. Literally for miles not a tree remains standing. Even the underbrush has been shot away. Only torn stumps of trees and branchless trunks remain, as if a cyclone had swept over the region. It had been a cyclone --- but a cyclone of shells and balls intended not to mutilate nature, but to kill men.
I must confess to a little surprise at the sight of hand grenades. Could it be that they get so close to the enemy that they could throw things at them? Of course, I knew that they had to make charges from one trench to another, and that then they used the bayonet, but could they really throw things from one trench to another without leaving the trench? The captain laughed when I asked the question, and pointed to some guns eaten by acid that had been thrown across by the Germans the night before. Presently we turned a corner into a ditch which bore the sign, "Toward the first line." The soldiers were getting thicker and thicker, and just ahead I could see a line of them with their rifles poked through holes in a wall of sandbags and all with their eyes glued to peekholes between these bags. The captain beckoned to me not to speak, but to take a look through one of the holes. Not more than sixty feet away was another row of sandbags. And behind those bags was the German firing line! Remembering how General Manoury had lost an eye a month ago when engaged in a similar occupation, a few brief glimpses sufficed for me. But we followed along this line for about a block. It was the line of brave boys who guard their country and many of whom doubtless will give their lives for that dear country --- a line extending almost continuously for more than four hundred and fifty miles from the Channel to Switzerland. It was a picture I shall always remember --- these hundreds of French lads silently standing and "watchfully waiting" within fifty to a hundred feet of the German firing line.
Yet they seemed smiling and content. They have their little jokes. At one point where the passage was narrow a wooden sign bore the words, "Passage of the Dardanelles" --- and that trench led into another marked by the words, "Street of the Eunuchs." Over some of the little dugouts were the names of soldiers' wives or sweethearts, as "Villa Bertha," "Villa Marie," --- or as if it were a little inn, "To the gay return from the trenches." Another was playfully labelled, "Palace of the seven virtues." One of the officers' shelters that I visited, which consisted of two comfortable rooms underground, was called the "Cave of Alibaba." The Germans who at one time occupied this part of the wood called it more lugubriously, though perhaps more accurately, "the witches' cauldron" (Hexenkessel) or "the Widow's wood " (Witwenwald)
We spent perhaps two hours in the trenches in the devastated wood, and then came out again where we had entered, into the unspoiled wood. A cuckoo was singing as we came out, and other smaller birds. The contrast seemed strange between human savagery and the tranquillity of nature.
The general had asked us to lunch with him and we arrived about noon at his château in the midst of peaceful, sunny gardens. General Riberpray had about a dozen fine-looking officers at his table, colonels, captains, lieutenants, and all grades down to sergeants, but they all treated each other like comrades of the same rank, and no one mentioned war. They discussed books and plays and history and there was a great deal of playful badinage, and you would never have believed that these were men spending their lives in the harsh work of war, It was a rule, they said, never to mention war at table, The old general placed me at his right, and toward the end of lunch our glasses were filled with champagne and he rose and lifted his glass with the kind of graceful tribute to the United States that came from. and went right to the heart, such a speech as only a Frenchman can make. Then we walked out into the garden and had coffee under the trees, and who would have dreamed that France was at war!
Two of the younger officers begged me to stay over. They wanted to show me Metz! So in the afternoon we went for a long walk to the top of a ridge called the Côte de Mousson, from which we could see the spires of the cathedral in Metz, which a year from now, God willing, will once more belong to France.
On the way we passed through a cemetery, which had been subjected by the Germans to heavy bombardment. It was a pitiful sight, with scarcely a monument left intact, with vaults and graves torn open by shells, and coffins and bones exposed. Even the dead can't be left to rest in peace in these tumultuous times.
Last evening we motored over to this charming little city of Nancy, and I have spent the night in a comfortable hotel with an electric light by my bed and a silk comforter to keep me warm. Only yesterday the German aviators dropped bombs about the beautiful Place Stanislaus, one of the best architectural groups in Europe, evidently trying to destroy here, as they have elsewhere, the precious monuments which France has inherited from her glorious past. They did not achieve their purpose, however, the bombs having dropped in the open square without damaging any of the buildings, though killing two women and a child. Such an achievement doubtless brings some satisfaction to the friends of "Deutsche Kultur," but how lacking in perception are those responsible for this kind of unchivalrous warfare! They think they can terrify the French people into seeking peace by destroying their glorious churches and public buildings, and the treasures of their wonderful past --- and by killing their women and children. It is poor psychology, that! Every church and architectural gem wantonly destroyed and every woman and child killed in an uninvested city only arouses new determination to push the war to its uttermost end, and to crush beyond recovery for generations a nation which has made itself a menace to civilization and a scourge to the human race. I have talked with French people of all classes from all parts of the country. They have no thought of yielding, whatever the cost, until the victory is complete. They expect the war to be long and costly, but as God reigns and right is right, they are certain as to the eventual outcome.
This has been a day of surprises. We left Nancy at about 8.30 under a warm summer sun and ended the day wading through snow-drifts two feet deep in the Vosges.
We began with glimpses of as beautiful architecture as I have ever seen, and the day closed for us with a sunset scenic from the mountain-top. Nancy is a charming little city, with beautiful fountains and parks and open squares surrounded by buildings of wonderful proportions and harmony. No wonder the Kaiser longed to make a triumphal entry into it with his picked regiments in parade uniform, and as he was denied that privilege what more natural, for a man of German "Kultur," than to endeavor to destroy it.
About eight miles out. of Nancy we saw the immense back of a cathedral with two unusual, semi-Oriental spires arising out of the approaching town. It was St. Nicholas-du-Port, and I am ashamed to say that I had never even heard of it before. The church is immense and very unusual in design and ornamentation and very beautiful. We lost half an hour looking at it, and I bought several books about it which I hope to read if ever I can catch up with myself. In the meantime, I lift my hat to Lorraine and the marvellous architecture of its past, and I pray the "Bon Dieu," as the little concierge in the cathedral said she did every day, to help keep the Prussians away and spare these glorious monuments from their savagery.
So good-bye to St. Nicholas-du-Port; and on and on we go between the eternal lines of flowering trees which border and perfume every French road in the springtime; past fields smiling with spring verdure, dotted everywhere with wooden crosses marking soldiers' graves, --- for we are now entering the region where the Germans were in the beginning of the war. At Lunéville the walls are pitted with the traces of balls and shrapnel, and as we go into the heart of the city we find streets and streets obliterated by the German torch. "Burned without reason,." a French officer, whom we interviewed, asserted, but this is nothing compared with the cruel devastation we are going to see in the next towns.
At Gerbeviller, about twelve miles farther on, where last spring some two thousand people lived in peace and comfort, not a single house remains. They were not frame houses like those in an American town, which might easily catch fire one from another; they were stone buildings, and they were deliberately set fire to, one after another, by these modern Huns and Vandals. I do not believe that there are twenty-five people left in the town. We saw a few old women and a few children wandering around among the ruins; the two churches, the château on the edge of the town, hundreds of homes and little shops --- everything in ruins.
The next town we came to was Magniers, and this likewise was a ruin, except for one or two buildings. I stopped to take a photograph when an officer stepped out of one of the few remaining houses, and, seeing that I was an American, invited us to lunch with him and his staff. We had a good lunch, with good and entertaining talk, and another warm-hearted toast to the great sister republic across the seas., and nearly two hours had passed before we were once more on our way. I shall long remember the warm hospitality of Colonel Danglade, of the Third Hussars.
Then about forty miles farther, and we reached St. Maurice-sur-Moselle, where our first section is located, the one that is working in Alsace. Just as we were coming into the town I saw Charley Codman and Paul Watson, two Harvard boys who are with this section. They were just starting to climb the neighboring Mountain, Ballon d'Alsace, to see the sunset and begged me to come along; so, without waiting to see the others, or realizing the task that lay ahead., I took off my coat., rolled up my sleeves, and we set off on a long, hard climb. The latter part was over melting snow and rather difficult, but we reached the summit just before the sun had disappeared beyond a great panorama of mountain ranges. At the top of the mountain some one has erected an equestrian figure of Jeanne d'Arc. The night had well dosed in before we got back, and we had to pick our way carefully down the trails through the pine woods.
In the little inn where the section has its meals, we found Dick Lawrence and Dallas McGrew and Lovering Hill and the other fellows, and we talked over their needs and problems and swapped news of the war until bedtime. Hartmannsweilerkopf had been retaken by the Germans a week before and retaken by the French two nights ago with many losses and many wounded on both occasions, our boys have been very busy.
This is all I can write now.
Yesterday morning we started out early from St. Maurice and motored across the pass and drove down into the valley of Alsace, now verdant and fragrant with the spring. The streets of the picturesque little Alsatian towns were thronged with the sturdy "chasseurs alpins" who have been doing such splendid fighting in the mountains roundabout, and on whom still heavier tasks are still to fall. We went as far as Thann, which is pretty badly mutilated by the shells that drop on it every day, and there the sentinels told us it would be dangerous to try to go farther. I bought some dolls dressed in Alsatian clothes for Helen and Polly in a little shop in Thann, and I sent a number of postals which the girl clerk took over to the mayor's office and had stamped with the old German and the new French seals. Let me know if you ever receive them.
The trip has been a hard one. Yesterday we motored until midnight, --- considerably over three hundred miles in one day, --- and we reached Paris about noon to-day.
Our boys in Dunkirk, it appears, have had a good deal of excitement this week. They have been working night and day in Belgium in the great battle around Ypres in which the Germans have been using asphyxiating gases, and on Wednesday and Thursday shells began dropping, without warning or any indication of their origin, upon Dunkirk itself. One of the fellows lost his nerve and returned to Neuilly to tell the story. They think now that these shells were fired by German guns located about twenty miles away. The Germans get their range by the aid of the aviators, and about thirty shells were dropped in the heart of the town, killing a good many civilians, women, and children.