THE Casino at Havre like many similar buildings had been converted over night into a hospital, for the first wounded were being sent back from the front and there was nothing ready.
I shall not dwell upon this early chaotic condition. Looking back I realize how extremely primitive and unhygienic were the resources which were then at hand. It is little wonder that eighty per cent of the first wounded died of gangrene. No modern equipment of any kind. The Generals were old, the Surgeons were old, the hospitals were old, the nurses were old, the material was old.
Age was over everything and in all directions. Drastic house cleaning in the rear was essential before there could be any hope of victory at the front. My unskilled hands and head were of as little value as were anyone else's, so I offered my services and began as a novice in the newly improvised hospital while awaiting the return of my friends.
One incident I recall. Every bed was occupied. The place was full to overflowing when suddenly at two o'clock we were told by the Chief Surgeon that three hundred beds would be needed at six as a new contingent of wounded was en route. There were no beds. There was no space in the wards, but the order had to be obeyed.
Wild rushing throughout the city and its suburbs resulted in the requisite number of flat mattresses stuffed and covered with whatever was at hand, but where to put these was the question. The floor was the solution. The only empty space was in the corridors. Not another square foot was available. More bustle, more hurry, more confusion. Nevertheless when the rattling, out-of-date ambulances drove up to the door to discharge their loads there were beds ready to receive them.
There was hardly a pound of absorbent cotton to be had and it was because of this dire unpreparedness that we who were in France at the beginning cabled for help from our own country with the result that the cargoes of surgical dressings and other necessities began to pour in from America in a steady stream which never ceased for five long years giving a total, at the final summing up in 1919, of more than three billions of dollars which had gone over to France from the American people, either in cash or in material; and this sum quite apart from such wholesale giving as was represented in the subsequent aid for reconstruction.
Finally we turned our faces homeward, and in reaching the United States plunged into the various forms of relief work which had sprung up in every section of our country.
All were helping. All were giving of their time, money and service. The era of emotion and hysteria had set in.
The newspapers revelled in stories of German atrocities and of French bravery. Little Belgium was the headline. The costly mistakes of the respective War Offices were features. The imagination and sympathies were stimulated until the world became a victim of moral and mental indigestion from which even now it is still suffering.
Each group of workers was fascinated with the idea of inventing and of wearing uniforms, so that by 1917, it seemed as though every woman in the United States whether she were slated to go overseas or not, found a pretext for appearing in some style of uniform. One of the most trying moments of the majority of the female war workers came not during the midst of their activities, but when they could no longer find the slightest excuse for strutting about in stiff collars, in masculine ties, in leather belts and in brass buttons.
Peace became infinitely more of a trial than war.
In 1916 I returned to France to work as an associate of an admirable organization known as the American Fund for French Wounded. No praise can be too excessive for the magnificent work done by the women who promoted and operated this society and who continued for many months under the leadership of Mrs. Lathrop, Miss Vail, Mrs. Nevin, Miss Scarborough and Miss Morgan.
The zeal, the devotion and the efficiency of those connected with this organization can never be exaggerated. Even in the hours of her greatest tribulations, France was fortunately fed and clothed. Her sufferings were never allowed to endure once the crisis of her need was made apparent.
Many times it has been said that France has never asked for charity. A statement which need not be refuted. Her friends did the asking while she was worshipped for her grace in receiving.. Millions became intoxicated over the joy of giving. Appeals were welcomed. Responses to them were chronic. The habit of generosity became prevalent. Never did I realize the extent of this prodigality until I became an active visitor in the hospitals in and around Paris. This was the particular sector assigned to me. My task consisted in the daily and intelligent distribution of thousands and thousands of necessities and of comforts. It was then that I had my experience of what war really meant. It was then that I came in actual contact with this vast, concentrated area of suffering It was then that I became accustomed to such sights as in looking back seem almost creations of my fancy. To see men who had literally been shot to pieces and yet who lived was incredible. The awful side of it all was the getting used to it. To die seemed normal. I am inclined to think that the highest virtue engendered was unselfishness. For a while at least any thought of self was submerged. That was probably the very best which came out of it all. Bravery and courage were often extolled when ignorance and indifference were in reality the main springs. Folios of untruths have been written in defense of this stupendous upheaval, and when now and again actual facts have been expressed in either the spoken or the written word they have been most unpopular. No one yet dares to tear away the veil and to view the causes and the influences which brought on and which carried on the war. For nine years the world has voluntarily rested in its own ignorance. No one has had the courage to confess to what extent the great sacrifice has been in vain. Politicians ruled in 1914, politicians brought on the war, politicians and profiteers continued it, politicians are keeping it up and until the peoples themselves are willing to face this hokum, and to admit the fraud which has been practiced upon them; until they are ready to tell the truth and to listen to the truth, just so long will the war be fought, just so long will the pacificists and the militarists line up in a semblance of contention, whereas they are merely pawns in this international game of chess which is being played now as it was in 1914 by a comparatively small group of trading manipulators.
But all this is far away from the sublime conduct of those who were driven or who bravely went into the slaughterhouse.
The more often we crossed this toll bridge of human lives, the more we gave of ourselves, the more we responded to the supreme call of further sacrifice.
I remember sitting one day on a bench outside of an English hospital in France where I had become rather nauseated at an unusual sight I had witnessed, and there hearing the guns booming at no great distance. At each detonation I thought of the folly of such waste. Within the four walls behind me every effort was being made to save life whereas there before me all skill was being employed to destroy it. The cost of saving and the cost of killing were striving to keep apace. Bodies were being dehumanized and disfigured beyond recognition, and yet every shot that had been fired, every gun that had been forged, every yard of cloth that had been woven, every ounce of food that had been grown, all represented profit somewhere to somebody.
The industry of the world was the oil which lubricated this greater industry of destruction.
However, none of this was our business at the time. We were engaged upon our individual jobs of helpfulness, incidents concerning which would fill a volume, and books upon the experiences of war have become unpopular reading. We lived at that time at a high pressure of idealism which was fortunate, otherwise we should never have been given the physical and the moral strength needed for the task. We had neither time nor inclination for analysis. We did not think. We just did. We were under orders to God Almighty. Our creed was simple. We lived it rather than recited it.
Of the soldiers who marched gayly towards the guns I vastly admired the British Tommies. They invariably sang and joked, no matter how hard the heart strings might be pulling within. Their pluck was proverbial and their willingness to help the other fellow was unvarying. I remember a little incident which occurred in a ward.
Looking down the long line of beds I detected an English boy among the French lads. He seemed glad to hear his own language. I asked him the usual question as to his presumable wounds to which he replied that he had not been wounded at all, but that be had come in from the wet trenches where he was crippled with rheumatism. His suffering from neuritis was excruciating. For nine days his whole body had been in agony. I asked what the nurses were doing for him, whether they had applied heat which was the only relief in such cases. He said that they had done so the first night, but that since that time he guessed they had been too busy. Feeling that the case was urgent, I said that I would see the head nurse so that something would be done; whereas the boy raising himself with difficulty indicated the long rows of adjacent cots and murmured:
"Please lady, say nothing Them nurses have so much to look after, and them fellows need them more than I do. I can stand it, Maam. Don't say nothing. Please!"
This was the spirit that one met. This was the spirit which glorified and excused the rest. This was the spirit which made it all seem worth while so long as it lasted.
Great experiments in surgery were being tried and recognized as successful. Deaths from blood poisoning were almost negligible. Fractures were speedily set right. Ambrine had been discovered for the painless healing of burns. Our volunteer American medical staff was leading in science. The names of our surgeons became names to conjure with. Our Neuilly Hospital was the model in the art of nursing.
Facial surgery was attracting the attention of all physicians. At Val de Grace, where there were four thousand beds, photographs and data describing this were eagerly studied.
I recall one case which had begun treatment at the above place and which was finally discharged as finished at Meudon.
The fellow's face had been three quarters shot away. It had all been practically remade. The building of his new face had taken over six months.
Talking to the young man on the morning of his dismissal, I congratulated him upon his splendid appearance. Hardly a scar was visible. His skin was smooth. His color excellent.
Instead of a gleeful acquiescence he said: "Madame would not think that the surgeons had done well if Madame could study my face and then look carefully at this photograph of it as it was."
I took the photo from his hand, whereat my admiration of the skill of the surgeons only increased tenfold. Disappointed at my lack of sympathy, he urged me to examine more minutely the difference between the old and the new noses, remarking that be was surprised I did not notice that the original had been rather pointed at the end, whereas now he must return to his sweetheart with a square termination of this prominent feature which possibly she would never recognize as his!
This was an amusing angle and an amusing incident.
ONE of the improvised hospitals at which I was a frequent visitor was the old prison of the Fresnes. There were two large buildings on the property, one formerly used as the men's quarters, the other as the women's.
It was in the latter where Madame Humbert, that famous swindler, had been incarcerated, following her spectacular gesture of prodigality, which she had successfully made before the world for so many years.
She kept up a courageous bluff to the very end until the Tribunal issued an order to search the great safe which she had sworn was full of enough securities to more than satisfy the claims of her creditors. As she was driving along with her lawyer Maître Labori and the police, who were to make the examination, she impulsively threw up her hands and exclaimed:
"How thankful I am that this investigation has been ordered, for now you will have the absolute proof of my innocence. You will know that I am a woman of honor, the victim of cruel enemies."
Even the astute lawyer, who told me this tale in later years, confessed that at that moment he was convinced of her innocence.
Arriving at the vault, when the door was forced open the safe was found to be absolutely empty.
Not a bond was in sight. Not a certificate of any kind. It was as clean as a whistle for its former contents had long since been hypothecated and used as collateral.
Just as the tourist is shown the cell of Marie Antoinette in the Conciergerie, so I had pointed out to me the cell formerly occupied by Madame Humbert. Presumably on the theory that both were high lights in history.
The Fresnes hospital was unusually depressing. It was one of a small group from which all female nurses had been debarred. There was one old crank of a Surgeon-General who clung to the traditions that women should never be allowed inside of military hospitals. As a concession to his prejudice four hospitals had been put under his jurisdiction from which with his flaming sword he had driven out every suggestion of femininity.
The only reason for my being sneaked in was because the place had become so forlorn and so wholly without any semblance of decent comfort that I was admitted in the hope that I might bring some relief to the situation, which I am happy to say I was soon able to do.
There was not a pillow upon any bed. The poor devils suffering from head wounds were obliged to sit upright, because to lie down under the circumstances was painful beyond expression. I secured from our organization a full supply of pillows which meant immediate ease to the suffering patients.
I recalled the fact that the men's prison stood high above on the hill. I asked my friend, one of the Superintendents, whether this also had been converted into a hospital.
Bending his head confidentially, he whispered: "Oh no, that is where we keep the Belgians. There are twelve hundred of them up there."
"The Belgians! " I exclaimed. "What have you to do with them?"
"Why, they are some of the soldiers who refused to kill the Boches. They fired into the ground instead. The Belgian government pays two francs per day for their support, to which our government adds the regular two francs. This causes a lot of discontent. You see," he continued, "it is hard to explain to our men why they are only allowed half of this amount for risking their lives while those fellows who have had a soft job since the beginning of the war are eating up just twice as much."
I quite understood the irritation of the poilus, under these circumstances.
Another favorite place where I went frequently was a large building, formerly a Jesuit College, which like similar ones had been converted into an emergency hospital.
To this unit were consigned many blacks, the native Senegalese, Somalis, and other tribal negroes from the French colonies.
At first it seemed uncanny to see the rows of white beds occupied by those swarthy figures. Many of the faces had been slashed and were decorated with pigments. The curling hair was often dyed with henna. The general effect was weird. They had a particular dislike to covering of any kind and it was with the greatest difficulty and only due to the eternal vigilance of the orderlies that they ever retained any semblance of modesty.
One morning the large ward was filled with an intolerable stench. It was impossible to trace its cause. Up and down walked the nurses. Every corner was examined. Every cot was searched. At the head of each bed hung the personal kit of the soldier who occupied it. Suddenly a young doctor detected the fact that it was from one of these kits that the smell proceeded. It was taken out and opened. Found within were ten pairs of German ears which a Senegalese had cut from the heads of his dead victims. They were his most precious treasures. He was wholly oblivious of their decomposed condition.
The smell had never penetrated his nostrils. When he saw his bag being removed he began to mumble incoherently, thus postulating in his own savage fashion against what he felt was a civilized injustice. He had fought for these ears. He had earned his property. Why should he be robbed of his glory?
I stood by a lad in the early twenties as he died. He spoke some French. His cot was by the window which overlooked the green meadows. I shall never forget that boy's eyes as he said:
"My people at home are peaceful. We do not shed another's blood. We live in our fields. We feed our cattle. We do not know why we had to come here. I am glad to leave the noise. I have had too much suffering. I will be happy again."
I enjoyed considerable popularity with these black patients which could not be explained to the nurses and doctors until one day I myself accounted for it to their satisfaction.
In Africa the women are fat. Slimness is a thing almost unknown. As a rule the white nurses were slight. My savage friends could never associate their appearance with any idea of sex. Whereas I reminded them of their mothers. When they looked at me they were no longer quite so homesick, so that when I entered the wards their faces invariably beamed with pleasure. I seemed to them every pound a woman!
THERE were great centers from which the wounded were distributed as they were returned from the various fronts, chief of which was the Gare La Chapelle in the suburbs of Paris. The system was well nigh perfect, thanks to the splendidly organized ambulance service run in connection with our American Hospital under the direction of A. Piatt Andrew. While the Red Cross, the Herman Harjes Corps and other volunteer units were engaged in similar work, the service under Mr. Andrew stands out in memory as one of particular efficiency and of inspiring accomplishment. In this work Mr. Henry Sleeper of Massachusetts gave invaluable personal aid. His zeal was indefatigable. But back of this organization and of the Neuilly Hospital there was one influencing spirit. It would therefore be a flagrant omission in this connection to omit the name of Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt, Sr., ("Anne Vanderbilt" as she is affectionately called) in recognition of all she did overseas.
It was chiefly she who made possible this very ambulance corps, and the high standard of our volunteer nurses was mainly due to the executive ability, to the vision and to the untiring devotion of this very remarkable American woman who through many years never spared her strength day or night. Frequently she was under the fire of the guns which she bore without a tremor. There was no service so menial which she did not perform, no act of self abnegation to which she did not respond. Like all very fine characters she has herself under control. Her sense of fair play is acute. Her abhorrence of flattery is very genuine. Her mind is logical and reliable. While she responds to affection she first commands respect. Her wealth has always been to her a trust. In 1917 she became prominently associated in the direction of the American Red Cross in Paris, thus her service continued well up to the time of the armistice.
It is interesting to note, however, that before the war Mrs. Vanderbilt had taken her nurse's training at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City under the skilled instruction of that Dean of her profession, Anna Maxwell. Thus in 1914 Mrs. Vanderbilt was no tyro but a woman who had studied seriously.
Several times each week the long sanitary trains crawled through the gray dawn into La Chapelle where they were automatically discharged of their bleeding freight. The stretcher bearers moved silently up and down the platforms, resting their burdens just long enough for the doctors and superintendents to note the data of each case.
Physicians and nurses were at hand, emergency cots were in readiness, then one by one the various ambulances were filled until they rolled out of the station yard to deliver their loads to such centres as had been designated.
There was never any confusion, never any excitement. The routine of system had become perfected.
In another direction lay the great railroad junction of Le Bourget. A short run in an automobile northeast from Paris, on through the Porte du Pantin, skirting the vast munition factories of St. Denis, on past one of the most important aviation defenses of the city, along a rough stretch of road and we came to the huge gates which served as the entrance to the stretch of interlocked rails which marked this place.
Every train seemed to pass through Le Bourget. One's first impression was of their incessant coming and going, all bearing the same human freight, for this station with its volunteer canteen as a central pivot was the common meeting ground of those who had given and of those who were willing to give, as there every degree of physical suffering had been poured into the melting pot of voluntary sacrifice.
Not a man passed by who asked whither he was going, for he had left father, mother, sweetheart, wife, forsaking all, while looking forward, his face illumined with the sublime light of patriotism.
Nothing else really seemed to matter, for here as the thousands trudged along, one realized that the dread of death, that shadow which pursues us through life, had at that moment been conquered and forgotten.
Death no longer awakened any shudder of surprise. The unselfish women who moved so untiringly hour after hour from group to group, offering such nourishment and refreshment as they could prepare with the meager means at their command, were rewarded by expressions of gratitude which in their humble way ennobled those who gave them utterance.
Day after day the restless trains rolled on, becoming part and parcel of the perfect organization of war, while the canteens everywhere were inspired and vitalized through that throbbing equation of the human touch and of the human understanding.
Herein lay the secret of the cohesion which stood back of every soldier and of every servitor through France. All at that time were brothers and sisters, composing one vast family, who were contesting for the same cause, side by side, facing together the hour of final victory which they believed would surely come to them.
These men and women fought and labored with conviction in the righteousness of their purpose, but in this they did not stand alone, for everywhere, on every frontier, whether friends or foes, all believed that they were struggling in the name of civilization to establish and to maintain the peace of the world.
At this station of Le Bourget, one saw in imagination a holier field of the cloth of gold which covered the tracks and which concealed the dirt heaps. These embroidered lilies of fancy were the ideals which studded those five hundred miles of the fighting front.
It was after all a glorious vision, so that in turning my crystal ball the memory of those last years of the war throws into relief the poignant beauty and fateful inspiration of these crucial tests of sacrifice.
All were keyed up beyond normal moral height. None were occupied with analysis. It was not until months later that the account books of the world were submitted for reason's examination.
The final curtain had to fall before the phrases were divorced from figures, before cause had to justify effect, and before the spiritual had to demand an accounting from the material.
The soldiers and the citizens were happily in profound ignorance of the profiteering which was going on about them.
An instance of this was told me. by a French General who commanded one of the most vital northern areas.
He had determined that in equity the price of potatoes should be established at twenty-three francs a thousand kilos. Hardly had this been announced when certain gentlemen occupying official positions in the civil government rushed madly to his headquarters insisting that unless he advanced this price to forty francs that they and their associates would be ruined, as they had cornered the potato crop through the centre and south of France for twenty-four francs per thousand.
The General was obdurate and the high cost of living was controlled.
Hundreds of similar stories were heard in all directions. Rings in peoples' noses are not always confined to savage tribes.
Elsie de Wolfe at this time, 1916, had begun her training under Dr. Barthe de Sanfort in the administration of ambrine, his discovery for the alleviation and cure of burns.
Her hands seemed peculiarly adapted to administer this remedy. To dress wounds of this nature was ordinarily a painful process, requiring a very great delicacy of touch.
Miss de Wolfe plunged into the work heart and soul and upon her return to America the following Winter, thanks to her own eloquence and to the generosity of her friends, procured twenty cars which subsequently she organized into active service for the transportation of the burned soldiers.
In 1917 this unit was established in Compiègne. This little hospital however was evacuated during the enemy's advance. It was frequently under fire as the patients were removed from one place of security to another.
Miss de Wolfe was always the last to leave each time. She was devoid of physical fear, and it was in recognition of her services in this connection that she received the Croix de Guerre and subsequently the cross of the Legion of Honor.
Early in 1916 we had established in the small house which we had purchased and which was adjoining the Villa Trianon, a home for the convalescents. The hospitals were growing more and more crowded, the beds had to be vacated long before their occupants were in a condition to be removed. Medical care was still essential, strengthening diet was necessary to recovery, wounds had still to be dressed.
We found that we could place twenty-six beds in our house and in Mrs. Paul Morton's which stood on the other side, therefore Miss de Wolfe, Miss Morgan, Mrs. Morton and myself became responsible for this Maison de Convalescence. We secured some seven Sisters who with the Reverend Superior were installed in charge. Of course, our gift had to be accepted and directed by the government but as we never asked for the official allotment of two francs per capita daily for the occupants, there was no difficulty in overcoming the red tape.
Hundreds of men became our responsibility through many months. The officers were lodged in our house, the men in Mrs. Morton's, while the good Sisters had an annex at the end of a long gallery which formerly had been used as servants' quarters. The old atelier at the foot of our very beautiful garden was converted into a Chapel. One of the priests of a neighboring parish was appointed by the Bishop of Versailles to administer its needs. I took a personal pride and pleasure in looking after it. There was never any coercion practiced so far as religion was concerned. The soldiers were absolutely free to go within the Chapel's walls or not.
I recall one man who was a militant atheist, although he had been baptized a Catholic.
When he was first consigned to our hospital he made a great scene at the entrance because he saw the flitting figure of one of the Sisters. He insisted that he would not be nursed by any of the---breed. The Superior, a woman of great charm and tact, begged him at least to remain to supper and until she could persuade the authorities to send for him.
After supper he was so exhausted that he grudgingly consented to accept her hospitality for the night.
The next morning, the coffee smelled very appetizing. Everything tasted good because our financial independence allowed our disbursements to be generous after the American fashion.
Soon our rebellious young friend became a familiar figure in the enjoyment of the garden. At the expiration of three months his health was completely restored.
Judge of our surprise when he became a daily attendant at Mass, and of the Good Sisters' happiness when they found him kneeling one morning to receive Holy Communion.
We all returned to New York in the late autumn of 1916, waiting and wondering how soon it would be before our country would become an active factor in the world's holocaust.
IT was about this time when it was discovered that I could make a speech, for, while I had always been more or less articulate even in my school days, the ability to speak before audiences and to arrest their attention was yet in embryo.
Of course to succeed in holding any crowd one must be sincere, simple and devoid of self-consciousness, all of which traits were naturally developed during the abnormal period of intense feeling, of burning convictions and of determined purpose engendered by the war.
Probably there was never a time when so many incipient Demosthenes sprang into being. Everybody talked. We talked in groups and by the clock. Squads known as the five minute men were in evidence on all occasions when appeals were in order, and there was hardly a day when the crowds were not invited to give. There were certain stock phrases which were heard at every street corner such as "Give until it hurts."
Every expedient in the way of diversion and of ingenuity was used to arouse the multitude to a sense of generous duty.
The conservatism of President Wilson who was reëlected because he "kept us out of war" was resented because thousands, especially in the East, were insisting that he should plunge us into war. Yet subsequent events have demonstrated clearly that our President had his ear so close to the ground that he sensed the fact that had he declared war one month earlier than be did, he would have had little unity of support while risking every certainty of resistance. Our people had to have months of educational happenings before they were in the least ready for conscription.
I happened to be in California when the Lusitania was sunk, and the indifference to this event was to me a revelation as to how little were the belligerent sentiments of the Eastern sections of America shared in the Middle West and along the Pacific Slope.
The general comment I heard expressed was that the people who sailed in this ill-fated vessel were fools for having risked their lives after the official warning given them through the representatives of the German Government. A family from San Diego which had gone down with the ship was bemoaned merely as neighbors, not at all as victims who were to be avenged.
This general apathy seemed to some of us extraordinary, yet it was thoroughly realized by the President and every member of his Cabinet. Even a hundred miles back of our own coast line much of this same sentiment prevailed. It was time enough, it was said, for us to bestir ourselves when we were actually attacked through invasion. We would then show the world that we were able to protect and to defend ourselves. This was the psychology which had to be reckoned with, nevertheless one which our friends abroad found well-nigh impossible to understand.
At last the moment came when owing to the incessant submarine attacks which occurred along our very shores) when owing to the convincing proofs that plots and counterplots were threatening the peace and the property of the United States, there seemed to be no alternative except to "declare ourselves in."
Thus in the frenzy of an enthusiasm which swept our country from ocean to ocean with a rapidity which can never be exaggerated, the work of preparedness was begun. Money was spent like water. Young men rushed to enlist. Training camps sprang up like mushrooms. Welfare organizations enrolled thousands of eager volunteers. Everything was at fever heat. President Wilson was the world's hero.
On May 26th, 1917 both Elsie de Wolfe and Anne Morgan determined that their field of usefulness was in France, the former to become a nurse in the unit of the Ambrine Hospital established by the Baron and Baroness Henri de Rothschild and the latter to inaugurate the society for the reconstruction of such portions of France as had been so ruthlessly destroyed by the enemy. It might be pertinent to note that this work of the American Committee for Devastated France which began about this time has been continued ever since by Anne Morgan, Mrs. A. M. Dike and such of her associates who equalled her in staying power.
That its overwhelming success has been chiefly due to her persistent zeal and to her undivided devotion is a fact of international knowledge. The best advocate which the cause of France ever enlisted has been Anne Morgan.
I felt that my service would be more useful in our own country, so here I remained during all the months when we were active forces in the solution of the great problem which was then wrecking civilization.
Our first contingent sailed in May. From that time on our troops were transported as rapidly as possible. Our whole country seemed given over to munition plants and to industries identified with war. As each ship bore away thousands of men their places here were taken by aliens or by those disqualified to fight, at wages which became fantastic.
Unskilled labor could fill out its own ticket so far as remuneration was concerned.
Girls rushed from domestic service into factories. Hysteria was universal. Everybody joined something. Canteens studded the terminals and cities. The men in uniform were fed and entertained. Each was a hero in the making. The were all endowed with imaginary virtues and crowned with spotless reputations.
Sweaters were knitted by the gross. Aviation helmets were made and forced upon the heads of boys who were never to know the appearance of a flying-machine. The "chow" dealt out as rations in the camps was of the best. Uncle Sam's bill of fare was varied and prodigal. Nothing seemed too good for those wearing the blue and the khaki.
For the overseas service set in motion by the various welfare organizations there was no dearth of volunteers. To many this was a blissful escape from household drudgery and from irksome duty. It was a picturesque and adventuresome solution of monotony. Many of the men who went as secretaries were insured salaries far beyond their average earning capacity. Many of the women rejoiced in the freedom from family obligations which until then had been an unknown condition in their lives.
While I am not unmindful of the thousands who proved themselves splendid in their work once they were on their jobs, nevertheless the yearning for liberty and for adventure played no small part in the easy enlistment of hundreds whose one idea was to get away.
How many husbands and wives were saved from the divorce courts through the wearing of the uniform will never be computed! How many while bidding each other a tearful farewell inwardly rejoiced at their new-born freedom! How many young women who were disconsolately contemplating spinsterhood, revelled in the thought that a heart might be caught in some hospital rebound! How many a lad who was counting the days until some criminal delinquency would be unearthed rushed into the army or navy as he realized that his uniform would cover the multitude of his sins.
It was all a mad whirl in which emotions became so cross-wired as to render analysis impossible.
We were not only engaged in training our men to fight, but we encompassed them with a barège of moral instruction such as they had never dreamed of before.
Camp life was to be a mixture of the fireside, the meeting house, the public library, the movie theatre, the concert room, the dance hall, the first class restaurant, the luxurious hotel and mother's doughnuts. In the minds of many, imagination sketched the vista of an endless joyride. It was a great adventure, intoxicating and alluring so that to thousands who sailed away the actuality they were facing seemed too veiled to be feared.
Yet back of this zeal, much of which was unquestionably misplaced, the real work of costly preparation went on. That our army and navy were the best equipped of any of the fighting forces is now generally conceded. Our Government was prodigal of expenditure because we as a nation believed that to save men was more important than to save money.
It has become the habit to criticize the waste of the millions which were poured out by our Administration during this period, yet I venture to state that could our taxpayers realize the phenomenal extent of our accomplishments in the conduct of the war, if they could be made to appreciate some of the facts and figures connected with the part we played in the conflict, grumbling would give place to approval, and criticism to expressions of pride.
In 1917, Mayor Hylan appointed a Committee of Women, headed by Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, and known as the Mayor's Woman's Committee of National Defense. I was one of those selected to serve in this group. Our activities were many and our duties endless.
Not only were we helping the men who were going overseas, but we were organizing relief work for the mothers and children who were left behind. In 1918 when the influenza threatened to become an epidemic the work of our Committee as official associates of our Health Department was conspicuous. An Emergency Sub-Committee composed of representatives from every civic and welfare organization in our City was invited to coöperate with our great Commissioner of Health, Dr. Royal S. Copeland. All of their resources were subject to his command, thus with such a leader and with such material the dread disease was kept under control, and while thousands were dying daily, the City was spared from a scourge which might have taken as its toll a greater number of victims than were dying upon the battlefields of France.
I was also an active member of the National Catholic Diocesan War Council as well as of several other groups---notably the League of Catholic Women---all of which were rendering effective service.
There was nothing peculiarly laudable in my personal contribution to the cause, for we were all literally in the same boat, never sparing ourselves, never questioning the needs, never criticizing the methods. No matter what the demand we were always there to respond.
Under the auspices of the Knights of Columbus a hut was opened on Broadway where we gave good "eats" and first class vaudeville. The boys surged in and out of the little building which seemed elastic in its capacity. Everything was as free there, according to the K. of C. slogan, as it was overseas. A few of us were formed into a woman's auxiliary committee to take charge of this particular building and whereas several K. of C. secretaries were always in attendance, we women soon grew to represent to the men the cheerful and entertaining element upon which they counted for their pleasure and delight.
Our popularity was very great, so that in after years when we would accidentally run across any of them in the streets, shops or public conveyances they would remind us of the old days when we were all good fellows together and when we were either judges or participants in that most American of institutions, known as "pie contests."
To watch a doughboy or a gob speeding through a squashy lemon pie was some sight. One of my enjoyments, was inviting seven or eight men to crowd into my touring car for a spin on a Sunday afternoon. I always took the vote as to our destination, hoping that now and again it might be one of our large museums, but the chance of a good time invariably discounted any educational desire so that Sunday after Sunday, the drive was either to the Bronx Park or to Coney Island, the average being decidedly in favor of Surf Avenue by the Sea.
The reputation of Coney Island seemed to have penetrated every corner of our country. To many nothing was as great in Greater New York as this city of stucco, of frankfurters, of candies in curl papers, of soft drinks, of popcorn, of side shows, of crowds and of carelessness. It stood as the spirit of inexpensive relaxation and of democratic enjoyment. it was the embodiment of the five cent fare for the five cent mind and who of us at times hasn't rejoiced in the discovery that our minds were of this small denomination!
Every real human has cheap moments and common hours. Every man likes now and again to kick off his shoes and to sit in his shirt sleeves. Every woman adores to remove her stays and to hang up her false hair. Every child loves to have dirty hands and to paddle in the gutter. The primitive in fact is always with us, deny this as we may.
The amount of oratory which the recurrent demands seemed to necessitate was beyond belief. Both in the City Hall Park and before the Public Library people seemed always to be asking for something. Every liberty bond was a drain upon the throat. Patriotism was the star excuse which justified expedients and which condoned offenses. It was ignoble to drag the money out of the mobs in the way we experts did. We grew to counting our victims as the Indians did their scalps. We tomahawked the bystanders and we corralled the loiterers.
I remember once taking part in an afternoon session when a famous Professor waxed eloquent before the crowd depicting the beauty and the inspiration of Mount Vernon.
When he finished there was dead silence. The speech had fallen with a thud.
The chairman of the occasion turned to me in disgust exclaiming:
"What in the world is the matter? Is there no love of country to be found? Why is there no response?"
Looking at the heterogeneous mass in the street, I replied:
"Why the only kind of Mount Vernon in which those fellows are interested is Mount Vernon Rye Whiskey!"
I can recall another incident. I was speaking for the Salvation Army drive.
Everything was slow. I turned to the pianist who was beating out dreary hymns on a very ramshackly instrument and urged him to jazz up a bit. He shook his head and said the Salvation Army didn't allow any jazz.
Fortunately the splendid Police Band was below the platform and as they were all good friends of mine I nodded to them to liven up affairs.
A big traffic officer began some steps in which he invited me to share.
Turning to the crowd I said:
"Who will give a thousand dollars to see me dance with the policeman?"
A voice from the street called my bluff. I kept my word, puffed through a turn, was kodaked for the press and was handed the thousand which I gave to the Salvation Army lassies.
Once on the steps of the Sub-Treasury which faces Wall Street, the Appian Way of high finance, my friend Big Bill Edwards, then Collector of the Port, and myself did such heavyweight team work that we separated ten millions in ten minutes from the pockets of the bankers.
I have often wondered whether these gentlemen ever harbored resentment against us for beguiling them into the purchase of government securities which later slid down the toboggan of decreasing values.
WE had many internal differences to combat during the nineteen months when we were actively at war.
In the beginning instructors were sent over from our Allies who were to give our men training in various facilities before they sailed.
A certain meeting was held in New York to hear a debate upon the attitude of the Sinn Fein. To everyone's surprise a young French officer rising to his feet declared himself not only to be in sympathy with this body, but an actual member of the organization which he had joined a few years before in Ireland.
Amazed at his statement, some who were present had his status investigated only to discover that in order to direct its members in the skill of throwing hand grenades, he was attached to an Irish regiment than in training on Long Island. His sentiments were speedily reported to his government with the result that his visit to this country ended abruptly.
Volumes could be written about suspected spies, wireless apparatus on the top of private houses, waiters conscripted for the German army and many other Munchausen tales which were the expressions of a widespread hysteria.
However, early in November 1918 the last act of this war drama was played and in a riot of revelry the armistice was declared, for despite the issues for which we had fought, despite the ultimate outcome of the part we had taken in the conflict, at least the uncertainty was over, the pressure was relieved, the hour of rejoicing was a fact.
Two millions of our men had been sent overseas, four million more were in training, while we knew that we could draft further millions if necessary to keep the business of war going for years to come.
We had the natural resources that were practically inexhaustible, we could furnish ample human fodder for the remorseless cannon. We were perfecting our material, we were organizing on the largest scale ever heretofore conceived. We were slowly but surely getting into our stride.
In fact we had barely started when suddenly we learned that the vast enterprises which we had undertaken were to be abruptly suspended and rendered inoperative. In other words, the Allied firm so far as we were concerned was to all intent and purpose dissolved. We were just beginning to give the world evidence of the fine work of which we were capable when we were informed through the yelling of the newsboys, through the clanging of the bells, through the whistles of the factories and through the shouts of the multitudes that our services would be no longer required.
The inter-allied partnership was at an end. We were discharged by the senior members of the firm. Our men were to be sent home as fast as ships could be found to carry them.
From that time on patriotism was to be succeeded by business.
Soon we were told that our meddling President was responsible for the cessation of hostilities, that it was he who had prevented the parade through the streets of Berlin, whereas the real influences which cried "halt" were the French socialists who had grown sick, tired and resentful of the whole situation. It was doubtless only a question of days before the French government would have had to bend before the Commune. The history of 1871 was about to be repeated, for war enthusiasm was decidedly on the wane.
The nations engaged in the struggle were literally longing for rest. Every allied general knew that the hardest fighting still lay ahead, that the greatest defenses of Germany were between their armies and the frontier, that thousands and thousands more lives must be sacrificed, that weeks and weeks of more suffering must be endured and that the final victory if they continued, would be the bitterest and most costly of all.
As Marshal Foch afterwards acknowledged: "None of us asked to go on as we knew too well the price that this would entail."
Thus someone had to be found to whom the buck could be passed. The obvious man to victimise was President Wilson. That he would be proclaimed as the one who had insisted upon peace was of slight consequence. He was lifted into the saddle of negotiations by every European power that stood behind him. It was, therefore, he who was made apparently responsible for the disappointment that Paris and not Berlin should witness the triumph of victory.
It was under these circumstances that the era of our unpopularity began. The list of our crimes grew. Through reiterated pledges of sentiment our debt to Lafayette was increased rather than decreased. So that when our facetious doughboys dared placard their barracks with the doggerel:
they little realized that the amount of this debt was never to be known, for if ever the sum total were fixed we ourselves might do some calculating. To keep this a floating and an uncertain obligation defers indefinitely the moment of liquidation. Nevertheless it would be a very salutary thing if once we might ascertain how much after all we do owe to Lafayette.
Whether our American cemeteries in France, our unpaid loans both in capital and interest, our free gifts which have passed the millions, have in any degree dented this obligation which from the end of the eighteenth century has hung as a canopy of coercion over our heads, remains a question still unsolved.
From our earliest days we have been reminded of this debt and during hundreds of years the fact of its existence has been prodigiously proclaimed.
To be given the opportunity of settling this account once and for all seems a hopeless dream. We are still told that we owe it. We are still assured that it remains unpaid, yet it is on record that when Lafayette returned later as a visitor to this country, that Congress voted him a gift of two hundred thousand dollars, together with a most valuable tract of land.
In reality it is not the Monroe Doctrine which influences our international policy but it is this reincarcerated debt to Lafayette which stands mockingly before us defying any rational attempt to determine the validity of the claim or the extent of the obligation.
Centuries may come and centuries may go yet it becomes more and more evident that the one thing which will be our inheritance throughout the ages will be our debt to Lafayette who was a restless, rolling stone, an agitator, a rebel of his day and generation, who in a spirit of youthful adventure crossed the sea to make the fraternal gesture of sympathy for a struggling colony and for a straggling army. Little did he realize at that time when he was the guest of our nation that he was to become its historical creditor for all eternity.
AFTER twenty months of separation my friend Elsie de Wolfe returned to America. Anne Morgan had taken one hurried trip over during the interval.
There was no longer any work for the former in the hospitals and her business here sorely needed her personal touch.
Like many others the resumption of the daily harness came hard upon her at first.
I rejoiced at her return for the interruption of such a companionship as ours had been a wrench. Such an experience can never be classed as painless dentistry for no anesthetic prevents the hurt.
Our friendship had stretched over too long a span of years not to have created habits as well as tastes. We had suffered together. We had been happy together. We had shared our disappointments. We had revelled in our respective success. We had mutually known poverty and side by side had practised self-denial. We had earned, through years of hard work, the luxury which in later years we were to share.
We had faced disintegrating forces over which we had triumphed. Our friendship had survived extraneous influences which at moments could have proved its undoing. We might easily have become victims of misrepresentation and of envy, had our anchorage been less secure.
Whereas, despite all environment and every condition, through fair weather and foul, our craft of mutual faith and mutual affection glided steadily forward, and the friendship between us which was founded upon the rock of sympathy, of love and above all of respect, has withstood the strain of nearly forty years, combining in one the relations of companion and of sister.
I think that I can truthfully state that the great secret of our happiness has lain in the fact that neither of us ever attempted to dominate the individuality of the other. We have never imposed our personal views, nor our personal convictions.
It has always been a case of live and let live. We have respected each other's choice of friends. We have never assumed the privilege of intruding upon each other's privacy. Our habits have remained our own. Our amusements have not been necessarily shared. We have permitted a mutual enjoyment of prejudice.
In all that is external we are as remote from each other as are the poles. Yet the water flows on, the tide rises and falls, the waves tower and recede, the undertow sweeps along the driftwood and tosses it upon the beach, while nothing alters the eternal strength of the ocean which is so much greater than the ripple of the river.
Emerson's definition of a friend is "that being before whom one can think aloud."
Was there ever a more sublime interpretation? It means the denuding of one's very soul before that other soul which can understand.
It is not the record of one's sins and of one's virtues but of all that stands back of them. It is the chronicle of what life has meant or can mean to my friend and to me. It is a priceless treasure, a gift from God in very fact. It is the song without words which in the singing becomes the ladder of souls stretching from earth to heaven.