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Title: A Fortnight at the Front
Author: Wakefield, H. (Henry) Russell
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Fortnight at the Front" ***

[Illustration: Cover art]

VIRGIN AND CHILD (see page 15)]








  All rights reserved



Whether any one has the right to make any statement with regard to
something which has only been studied for a short time is
questionable, and, therefore, I do not pretend to any dogmatic
utterance, but I wish simply to state the effect produced upon me by
my time abroad.  My experience goes from thirty-five yards from the
German trenches right back to the most southern and westerly of our
bases.  Bearing in mind that through the courtesy of Headquarters I
have been able to see everything under the most comfortable and
time-saving circumstances, it must be admitted that though my view
may have been superficial, it certainly was comprehensive.  I had the
satisfaction of being able to give a kind word and a blessing even
where one was asked not to speak too loud in case our enemies should
overhear; I held confirmations in several places, and addressed
troops, both wounded and strong and hearty, on many occasions.

The first thing which struck me was the great courtesy and
consideration of everybody who was concerned with our visit.  That
the authorities at Headquarters who were working, as I know, both
early and late, must have felt that one was a very unnecessary
addition to their troubles is, I should fancy, unquestionable; yet
not only did they never show it, on the contrary, they worked every
day to make our visit easy and delightful.  I know that the Lord
Mayor of Birmingham, who spent nearly a week with me, feels this as
warmly as myself, and it shows the wonderful calm of an Englishman
that we were both so kindly treated, though we added in no way to the
happiness or usefulness of anybody.  What I have said with regard to
the Staff at Headquarters applies also to all those who had to do
with us at all the various centres.

The next thing which struck me was the way in which the British have,
as it were, taken possession of the whole of that area for which our
people are responsible.  You go through village after village, and
the ubiquitous person is our soldier.  He appears out of farm
buildings, he leans over gates, holding difficult conversation, not
only with the young maidens of the village, but with dear old ladies
who can be seen taking a motherly interest in him.  In the towns he
pervades the whole place.  Always bright and cheerful, and yet
conscious of his responsibility, our khaki-clad young fellow
maintains his good character and earns the respect of the people.  I
asked a French Archbishop and also a French Bishop, the jurisdiction
of both of whom is within our area, if they were satisfied with the
behaviour of our men, and on each occasion the answer was that they
were beyond reproach.  We do not seem to be visitors in France, but
we almost appear to have taken root there.  The buildings we are
putting up, the railway extensions we are making, the way in which we
have turned bare spaces into towns, all these things make one feel as
if we were permanent institutions and not birds of passage.  It is
not altogether wonderful that some of the more ignorant French people
should say that they do not believe we are ever going away; whilst on
the other hand, some French officers told me that their confidence in
our alliance had become immensely greater because we had done
everything in such a stable manner, one man going so far as to say to
me that he considered one of the surest signs of our determination to
see this war through was that so many of our officers had taken
houses for three years certain.  It is only just to add in regard to
a large number of the buildings we have put up that they can be taken
down, carried away and be put up over here with practically no
difficulty.  Another impression produced upon me was one of
increasing respect for the adaptability of the Englishman.  It shows
itself in innumerable military ways which I hardly have the right to
mention, but one may be permitted the general observation that there
is no kind of obstacle which we do not seem to surmount and even
sometimes to turn to an advantage.  What we have done in turning to
good use even some extraordinary effects of shell fire upon buildings
made me more than astonished; perhaps I may be allowed one instance.
Somewhere in France there was a railway station and near it an
estaminet; both, as far as one could judge, were destroyed, with the
exception of a portion of a chimney.  By some miraculous means which
I cannot describe, one went along all kinds of underground places,
then up some steps and into what I believe was a portion of the
chimney, and from there through a crevice one was able to see a good
deal of the German lines quite close by.  When one came out again,
one could not in the least tell where it was that one had been.  To
take a less warlike instance of our power of getting over
difficulties: a certain officers' mess is established in a French
farm which a few months ago had a duck pond which gave forth an odour
which was both unpleasant and unsavoury.  Consequent, I believe, upon
the enthusiasm of a particular major, within four months the pond was
empty, the ground was levelled, the seeds were sown, and when I was
there the pond had become quite a respectable lawn-tennis ground.  It
is safe to say that one's gardener would have expected to have four
years instead of four months for such an operation.

I may give, perhaps, another instance of this special quality of the
Britisher.  The Artists' Corps went out to France for ordinary
duties; they have now become an Officers' Training Corps, and an
enormous percentage of them are holding commissions in every kind of

Not only so, but they are largely instrumental in carrying on a kind
of Sandhurst on French soil; they are, I believe, influential in the
management of a bomb school, and last, but not least, they have a
band in which the soldiers rejoice, and of which I wish there were
many more at the Front.

I am personally greatly indebted to the Artists; first, because a
very charming officer of their number was placed in charge of me for
a considerable time and bore with me in patience; secondly, because I
found such a hearty welcome from them at their mess and so many
friends amongst their number; thirdly, because they turned up so well
at the Parade Service at which I was the preacher!

The next thing which struck me was the calm in the trenches.  Over
here in England we seem to live in a continual change of feeling.  We
get the account of some engagement in which we are successful, and
immediately we conclude the war is going to be over to-morrow, and
people who are wont to go abroad for a holiday think it is time they
went to Messrs. Cook's office to see about their tickets.  But on the
way they see the placard of an evening paper which tells of some
minor disaster to our Forces, and then they return home, they call
together the family and they tell them that the future means either
the destruction of the country or twenty years of misery and poverty;
the bulk of the misfortune, of course, being sure to rest upon their
own individual shoulders.  It is refreshing to get away from this
atmosphere and to go into the trenches where everybody is doing his
bit of work, content with somewhat unpleasant circumstances so long
as through him England is served.  Whenever, in future, I am inclined
towards a fit of pessimism, I shall shut my eyes in order to see once
again, with the vision of the spirit, a stalwart Britisher of the
Worcester Regiment, not very far from the German lines, on a certain
afternoon, when a most appalling thunderstorm was raging and some
German shells were falling.  He was munching the thickest slice of
bread and jam that I have ever seen, and looking with a mild contempt
at the intruding figure of an unknown padre whom a considerable
number of his comrades were greeting because they recognised in him
their Bishop.  He put down now and again his refreshment in order to
do some bit of work, but he was just as calm and collected as if he
had been in his Worcestershire village and not in the trenches.

That which carries our men through so many difficulties is another
thing which impressed me--namely, their unfailing sense of humour; a
humour which is never really hurtful even when exercised upon some
one deserving of satire.  When he christens a road along which there
are a couple of miles of Army Service carts "Lorry Park," when he
finds every kind of strange anglicising for Flemish or French words,
we know that he is not only having some fun for himself, but also
providing amusement for those who come after him.  The same humour
shines out when he is in hard case.  A chaplain told me that he had
been addressing informally some wounded men who had just arrived from
the trenches.  He was expatiating upon the glories of the Victoria
Cross because he noticed some of the men came from a regiment one of
whose number had recently received that coveted distinction.
Suddenly his eloquence was disturbed by a voice proceeding from a
man, both of whose feet were swathed in bandages, who remarked,
"Never mind the Victoria Cross, give me the Victoria 'Bus!"
Obviously the soldier's sense of humour was conquering his pain, and
his remark made the rest of the party forget their sufferings for a
short time.  The only excuse that I can find for the fluctuating
feelings of the people at home is the remarkable way in which they
minister to Tommy's love of fun.  He has every kind of quaint name
for the people in "Blighty"--the name which, though derived, I
believe, from an Eastern word denoting home, nevertheless expresses
something of the attitude noticeable at certain periods, both in
people and Press in England, and which appeals through its
appropriateness to the humour of our soldiers.  But at the same time
there is a wonderful thankfulness shown in the face of officers and
men when the time arrives for the short spell of leave.  The old
country and the friends left behind there are, after all, the things
closest to the hearts of our men.

The next thing upon which I would comment is the great mutual respect
between ourselves and the French.  Every time I asked any of our
people what they thought of our Allies the answer was one of
unhesitating commendation, whilst in the same way when I spoke to
French officers or men, they expressed themselves in terms of
absolute trust in our nation and her statesmen and soldiers.  As one
who saw the French during the war of 1870, when--being a boy--I was
very susceptible to impressions, I can hardly express the difference
I notice between the nation then and now.  In the former war there
was excitement, impulsiveness, over-confidence, want of ballast;
to-day there is quietude, earnestness, and withal, assurance of
eventual victory.  More than once I journeyed through a considerable
part of the French lines, and I assert with confidence that the Army
of France at the present time is incomparably superior to that which
she placed in the field in 1870.  As to her civilians, I only saw
women, children, and old men; I did not, in all my thousand miles of
travel, discover a single able-bodied person of military age out of

The harvest, a very good one, was in full swing.  Every family was
out in the fields, all doing something towards the in-gathering.  I
have a picture now before my eyes of seven people, all undoubtedly
coming from the same house, working away hard, whilst at the tail end
of the procession appeared what might have been the great-grandpapa,
no longer capable of bending down for harvesting, but who,
nevertheless, had his piece of work in carrying about the baby, who,
of course, could not be left behind alone in the house.  The whole
nation is doing its utmost; can we quite honestly say the same of


Another subject which was constantly commented upon and appreciated
at the Front was the thoroughness with which the Germans had done and
were doing everything.  It was a matter of genuine regret with our
people that they could not be as wholehearted as they would wish to
be in appreciation of our enemies, in consequence of the way in which
they had sullied the fair fame of noble warfare.  If there is one
thing a soldier wishes to do more than another it is to be able to
speak with respect and admiration of his opponent, and,
unfortunately, what the German would have gained by his magnificent
methodical thoroughness, he has lost through his dishonourable and
brutal conduct of the war.  At the same time, it should be fairly
stated that in the judgment of those to whom I spoke the destruction
of churches by our foes has not been so wanton as is sometimes put
before us.  It was suggested to me that in all probability the church
was often destroyed for the same reason as a high chimney, because it
formed an excellent observation post.

Before I leave the subject of the men at the Front, one of their
constant questions must be noted, which was whether they might expect
as much keenness on the part of our civilian population as was being
shown by those under arms.  "We are doing our bit, but we shall need
increased, even greatly increased, assistance; I suppose we can be
sure of getting it."  Those words still ring in my ears.


Perhaps it would be of interest to give a little account, without, of
course, mentioning names, of the events of one or two days when a
visit was paid to the trenches.  On one occasion after motoring
through towns that are a household word, both at home and with our
Allies, towns which have seen the Germans in them and then driven out
of them, places where the buildings are practically level with the
ground, the limit for vehicular traffic is reached and one goes
forward on foot.  Soon you reach a cutting in the ground and you
begin to walk along a trench.  You turn now and again either to right
or left, seeing sign-posts telling sometimes in comic language and
sometimes only by number the name, as it were, of the underground
street; you then rise a little and find yourself walking in the
inside of houses so shattered that you cannot tell much about what
they originally were until you are told that they formed a street in
a little overgrown village of which nothing is left, and the last
inhabitant of which was the station-master, who refused to leave
though there was neither train, station nor house for himself left,
because so long as he remained on the spot he could claim his pay.
Forcible measures had at last to be used to secure his departure.
Where you are walking you are yourself hidden from the enemy, but are
within the range of their fire.  You are taken up to an observation
post, where one of your companions incautiously takes out a white
pocket-handkerchief and is hurriedly told to put it back in his
pocket.  You come down again and you proceed cautiously along
trenches.  Now and again shells pass over, and your careful guide
looks to see in what direction they are falling, as, though he is
quite unconcerned for himself, he knows that he is responsible for
the safety of the troublesome visitor.  You are told to keep your
head down and not to show, for the moment at any rate, any desire to
view the landscape.  Soldiers are dotted about here and there, all of
them ready to give a kindly greeting, and then at last you reach a
point where you are told not to speak loudly because practically only
a few yards away is the enemy, who, were he to hear conversation,
might think it worth while to throw over a hand grenade.  What looks
like a tiny bit of glass at the end of a short stick is there before
you, and you are asked to look into it; when you do the enemies'
trenches are visible to you.  Beyond an occasional ping against a
sandbag, you have heard nothing to note the existence of rifle fire,
except that the men you have passed have got these weapons to hand.
You tell the men at the advanced posts how proud their country is of
them, how thankful you are to have seen them, how you pray that God
may bring them back safe to their homes; you get rid of all cigars or
cigarettes you may have upon you, wishing that you had thousands
more, and then you return home, varying perhaps the route through the
communication trenches.

On another occasion our way took us through a town which is
absolutely razed to the ground and is still under shell fire.  There
I saw two soldiers busy with spades, and I asked what kind of
fortification they were putting up, to which, with a broad grin, one
replied that they were looking for souvenirs.  He was kind enough to
give me a complete German cartridge case, for which he refused to
take any remuneration.  Going on a little farther in this town, we
went down some steps and found ourselves in an underground club full
of soldiers, who were having a hot meal, were reading papers and
playing games, everything being presided over by perhaps the most
magnetic person I met on my travels, a young Chaplain to the Forces,
who would not wish his name to be mentioned, though there is probably
no one out at the Front who will not know to whom I refer.  When we
went from this place towards the more advanced trenches, I was taken
along a road which looked perfectly harmless, when suddenly a
stalwart Scotchman told my companion and myself that we must get off
it at once as it was a favourite target for German Maxims.  Never was
General more obediently submitted to than was this, I believe,
private soldier.  It was on this occasion that we had tea in the
dug-out of the Colonel, who bears a name distinguished in English
naval, military and sporting life.  A characteristic of the German
trenches which I noticed on this and other occasions, was that their
sandbags seemed to be generally white in colour, at any rate in those
of the first line.  Leaving the trench on this particular day, we had
to go through an almost alarming thunderstorm, which in the course of
half an hour made a sea of mud of the place which had been quite dry
before.  It was curious to notice how petty the sound of the guns
appeared as compared with the artillery of heaven.


Pathetic incidents occur and touching scenes are visible on these
journeys to the Front.  One looked in the trenches upon little mounds
and crosses, marking the resting-places of men who had been
hurriedly, but reverently, buried.  There they are side by side with
their living comrades, who are doing their work whilst their brothers
sleep.  Dotted all about the country are little cemeteries, which
tell of devotion unto death, and which remind one of all the sorrow
this war has caused.  It is strange to see how religious emblems
appear to have been strong against shell.  Constantly you would see a
church almost totally destroyed and yet the crucifix untouched, and
who will ever forget that sight which can be seen for miles around,
of the tower which has been almost shattered to pieces and yet the
statue of the Virgin and Child, which was near the top of it, though
bent over completely at right angles, still remains, as it were
blessing and protecting the whole neighbourhood.

This leads to the consideration of the religious condition of our
troops as affected, first, by the churches and worshippers of France,
and, secondly, by their own experience in this war.  More than one
mentioned the pleasure felt at the sight of the little wayside
shrines which they passed on their march.  Others commented upon the
large numbers of people they saw flocking to their early communion,
and many expressed a hope that permission might be secured for parade
services to be held in the naves of the various parish churches
during the winter time, when the cold is great and when it is almost
impossible to secure any suitable building other than the churches
for worship.  Negotiations have been going on upon this matter, and
some of the French ecclesiastics are not unfavourable, but a
difficulty which is prominent to the minds of some of the French
Bishops arises out of the recent separation of Church and State.
There is a considerable party in France anxious to secure the
ecclesiastical buildings for different sects, and even in some cases
for secular purposes.  It is felt, therefore, that a precedent might
be made of a dangerous character were permission to be given to our
troops to have services in these sacred buildings.  We may, however,
be quite confident that those responsible for the spiritual care of
our soldiers in France will deal with this whole question wisely and
tactfully.  It does seem strange that men who are fighting for the
liberties and rights of France, and whose religion is, after all, not
antagonistic to the faith of the people of that country, may not have
the shelter of the less sacred part of a parish church in order to
offer up their prayers to Almighty God.  It is when one gets face to
face with such circumstances as these that the pettiness of religious
strife strikes one with force.  Is it just possible that out of this
great conflict there may arise a stronger desire for religious unity
than the world has ever yet known?

What his experience of war is doing for the soldier in regard to
religion is remarkable.  It would have been possible that the sight
of humanity striving to the death and inflicting horrible suffering
might have made our young fellows despair of Christianity.  They
might have argued that it was of no avail to teach the religion of
Jesus when no effect was produced upon international conduct; but
they have been able to look more deeply into matters and to realise
that not Divine intention was at fault, but human refusal to follow
true teaching.  They have been able to see God through the cloud of
smoke raised by shot and shell, and the Presence of the Divine has
not been obscured by the horrors of war.  Conscious of the
seriousness of the work in which they are engaged, feeling every
moment the nearness of eternity, our soldiers have in no craven
spirit, but with a due remembrance of their relationship to God and
to eternity, turned to religion as a stay in the hour of conflict.
What struck one very much was the desire for the understanding of a
few central truths, and the evident keenness for big dogmatic
statements as to great matters.  There was some impatience shown when
small details were pressed too strongly, and when terms were used
familiar to the theologian, but absolutely incomprehensible to a
plain, simple, God-fearing officer or private.  It sounds almost an
impertinence to speak of the devotion of the chaplains at the Front,
but I am bound, after having mixed with a large number of them, to
express the deep thankfulness one feels to the padre for all that he
is doing.  The young men who are now for the first time seeing
service as clergy associated with troops, are exceptionally fortunate
in the leadership they get from the Army chaplains of long standing.
There is something about work with the soldier which intensifies the
humanity of any one working for his spiritual welfare.


It would neither be right nor in good taste to mention any names of
chaplains, but one may instance the kind of work which one saw them
doing.  I have already referred to the dug-out club in a destroyed
town.  I may go on to tell of one who on his bicycle, sometimes late
at night, would go away from the centre where he was stationed to
outlying districts for the purpose of giving lantern lectures to our
troops.  When last I saw him he was arranging to give this particular
entertainment to a number of our Indian wounded.  This chaplain was
the life and soul of a great parade service held in a square in one
of the French towns, where, by his voice and his enthusiasm, he made
the whole service go with fervour and effect.  I remember how, on
this occasion, numbers of French people came up to me and told me
that they were certain that this outward acknowledgment by our
soldiers of their devotion to God would be helpful to the
spirituality of the whole town.  The chaplains abroad have to be
business men as well as clergy.  The arrangements for services and
other matters take up a considerable amount of time.  At one base
there are about thirty places to arrange for every Sunday, and in
these thirty places over sixty services are held.  It is no light
matter for the Senior Chaplain to see that week by week everything is
in order.  This particular instance is not an isolated one, and is
taken simply at random.  Now that there is a Bishop as Deputy
Chaplain of the Forces in France, everything should go on in a
perfectly satisfactory manner and with great advantage to the
chaplains themselves.



  H.C.=Holy Communion, P.S.=Parade Service, E.S.=Evening Service.


  _B. Details._
    8 a.m., H.C. in Orderly Room.
    10.46 a.m., P.S. in Y.M.C.A. Hut No. 1.

  _Reinforcement Camps._
    6.30 and 7.30 a.m., H.C. in C.A. Hut.
    11.30 a.m., P.S. (open air, weather permitting) at Y.M.C.A.
        Hut No. 2 for all Divisions.

  _If Wet._
    10 a.m., P.S. (9, 12, 14 Divisions), C.A. Hut.
    11 a.m., P.S. (16, 17, 18 Divisions), C.A. Hut.
    11.30 a.m., P.S. (19, 20, 37, 61 Divisions) in Y.M.C.A. Hut
        No. 2.
    7 p.m., E.S., C.A. Hut.

  _No. 18 General Hospital._
    6.30, 8.16, and 11.30 a.m., H.C., Church Tent.
    11 a.m., P.S., Church Tent.
    6 p.m., E.S., Church Tent.

  _No. 1 Canadian Hospital._
    6 a.m., H.C., Recreation Tent.
    8 a.m., H.C., Nurses Tent.
    9.16 a.m., P.S., Recreation Tent.

  _Liverpool Merchants, St. Johns and Allied Forces Hospital._
    7 a.m., H.C., Officers Recreation Tent, L.M.M. Hospital.
    6.30 p.m., E.S., Officers Recreation Tent, L.M.M. Hospital.
    10.30 a.m., P.S., Ward B. 25 in 23 General Hospital.

  _No. 3 Canadian Hospital._
    6.46 a.m., H.C.
    10.30 a.m., P.S.
    6 p.m., E.S.

  _22 General Hospital._
    6.16 and 7 a.m., H.C.
    11.16 a.m., P.S.
    6.30 p.m., E.S.

  _Convalescent Camp and Isolation Hospital._
    6.30 and 8.15 a.m., H.C. in Church Tent, 18 General Hospital.
    10 a.m., P.S., Tipperary Hut.

  _Detention Camp._
    10.30 a.m., P.S.

  _Army Service Corps._
    6 p.m., Open Air Service.

  _23 General Hospital._
    6.30 a.m., H.C.
    10.30 a.m., P.S. in Ward B. 25.
    6.30 p.m., E.S. in Ward B. 25.

  _24 General Hospital._
    6.30 and 8 a.m., H.C.
    10.45 a.m., P.S. in Y.M.C.A. Hut 1.
    5.30 p.m., E.S. in A 35.

  _26 General Hospital._
    7.30 a.m., H.C., in Ward 15.
    10.46 a.m., P.S., Y.M.C.A. Hut.
    6.30 p.m., E.S. in 23 General Hospital, Ward 25.

  _Reserve Parks._
    No. 32, P.S., 12.16 p.m.
    Nos. 10 and 11, E.S., 6.30 p.m.

  _20 and 25 General Hospital._
    6 and 7 a.m., H.C. in Church Hut of No. 20.
    12.15 p.m., P.S. in Y.M.C.A. Hut.

  _Westminster Hospital._
    7 a.m., H.C., English Church.
    7.30 a.m. and 12 noon, H.C.
    11 a.m., P.S.
    6.15 p.m., E.S.

  _No. 2 Canadian Hospital._
    7.30 a.m., H.C.
    10 a.m., P.S.
    7.30 p.m., Ward Service.


  _Reinforcement Camps._
    9.30 a.m., P.S. (15 and 51 Divisions), Y.M.C.A. Hut 2.
    10.30 a.m., P.S. (other Divisions), Y.M.C.A. Hut 2.
    6.30 p.m., E.S., all Units, Y.M.C.A. Hut 2.

  _No. 1 Canadian Hospital._
    10 a.m., P.S. in Recreation Tent for all Hospitals except
      18 General.

  _Presbyterian and Nonconformists._
    11 a.m., P.S., Y.M.C.A. Hut.
    6 p.m., E.S., Church Tent, 25 General Hospital.
    7.46 p.m., E.S., Y.M.C.A. Hut.


  _For all Reinforcements, Camps and Base Details, etc._
    9.30 a.m., P.S. in Parish Church.
    6 p.m., E.S. in Parish Church.
    9 a.m., P.S. in Ward 25, 23 General Hospital
    7.15 a.m., Holy Mass with Communion in Ward B. 25, 23
      General Hospital, for all Hospitals except 18 General
      and No. 1 Canadian.

  No. 1 Canadian Hospital.
    10 a.m., P.S. in Officers MOM Tent.


  _All Hospitals, Convalescent Camp and Details._
    9.30 a.m., P.S., Y.M.C.A. Hut 1, for all Divisions.
    11 a.m., P.S. in S.C.A. Hut.
    See Presbyterian Notices.
    Evening Services in C.A., Y.M.C.A. and S.C.A. Huts.


I come now to say a word as to the care given to the bodies of our
men.  The hospitals from the trenches up to the base are admirable,
and the appliances are of the most modern description.  I shall not
soon forget how in one place I saw for the first time the travelling
X-ray caravan.  It seemed very strange to be in the hospital whilst
the photograph was taken and then to go out in the road and see the
machine which did the work.  What a convenience this must be in these
clearing hospitals can well be imagined.  One cannot mention all the
splendid stationary and other hospitals over which one was shown by
officials with untiring patience and courtesy.  The pride which our
fellow-citizens from the Dominions beyond the seas take in the
fitting up and working of their hospitals is quite extraordinary, and
the same spirit animates the private individuals who have their own
large institutions in hotels, casinos, and such-like places that they
have taken over.  I am not sure that I was not more struck with the
splendid arrangements made by the Liverpool merchants for our wounded
than by anything else of this kind.  There is also what one may call
a Convalescent Home for the tired soldier, weary in body, in mind and
nerve, which, thanks to the man at the head, seems to be very
effective.  We all know how the strain of the Front tells upon our
soldiers, and especially upon the younger men.  They come back to
this excellent Home by the thousand; they are kept until really
restored, and then they go back cheerful and ready for duty.  The
last thing before they return is a little service in the chapel,
which I had the honour on one occasion to take.  It was interesting
when paying a visit to another hospital to find that it had been
formerly a school, and that as the whole building had not been taken
over some of the classes were still being held.  I intruded into the
schoolroom and gave a talk to the young people about the Alliance.

Although I must refrain most reluctantly from saying anything about
the great military personages whom I met in France, and with whom I
was so greatly impressed, I may perhaps refer to two French persons
of distinction, in no way connected with the war, whom I was
privileged to meet.  First there is that outstanding personality the
Mayor of Hazebrouck, Abbé Lemire.  He and I were brought together
because he is a clerical municipal dignitary and I was the first
clergyman who was ever a mayor in this country.  He, however, does
more than I have ever been able to do, because he is a member of the
Chamber of Deputies, and here in England the doors of the House of
Commons are still shut against the clergy.  Abbé Lemire was formerly
a professor of theology in a seminary and was a man of distinction in
his Church.  However, since the present influence at Rome he has got
out with the authorities and is now excommunicated.  The ostensible
reason given was that he did not ask Rome's permission to sit as a
Deputy.  As it was only during the last few years that such a request
was made, and as he had been in Parliament for several years before
that fresh demand, the Abbé declined to submit.  The probability is
that he was fairly certain that no permission would be granted,
because of the liberality of his opinions.  One thing certainly was
in the eyes of Rome a grave offence on his part.  When the Bill
dealing with the separation of Church and State was under discussion,
he spoke and voted against it, but when it was passed he did not
therefore give up his seat and refuse to serve the Republic any
longer.  He suggested, when the Bill was in Committee, many
amendments which would have greatly eased the financial position of
the Church, but these were rejected, mainly because Rome would have
no compromise.  The short-sighted policy which now prevails at the
Vatican, and which has been the cause of the vacillation of the Pope
on the subject of the war, has in regard to Abbé Lemire turned him
into the hero of all the Liberal Church people of France.  He is an
extraordinarily winning personality, and as we walked through the
streets of his city every woman and child and old man had something
to say to him.  With one he would discuss the imprisonment of a
soldier son in Germany; with another the fact that a married daughter
had had a bouncing boy who would be, so prophesied the Abbé, a
soldier of France in years to come.  To another in deep mourning he
had a word of comfort to give; until at last I said to him that he
appeared to be not only _le maire_ but also _le père_ of Hazebrouck.
He took me round to his house, which is situated close to the church
from the altar of which he is repelled by the vicar, and there he
introduced me to the only priest in the neighbourhood who is brave
enough to be publicly his friend.  Such is the man that Rome
ostracises and the people idolise.

[Illustration: ABBÉ LEMIRE]

One little matter which should endear Abbé Lemire to the English
people is the care which he takes himself, and makes his people take,
of the graves of our British soldiers.  When flowers are placed upon
the French dead the Allies from the other side of the Straits of
Dover are not neglected.  The religion of Christ will never suffer
loss so long as such men as the saint just sketched out exist to
prove by sacrifice their devotion to their Master.

Another beautiful character is the present Archbishop of Rouen.
Carrying well his seventy-six years, thanks in no small measure to
the loving care of his secretary, the great dignitary has passed
through the recent critical time for his Church, retaining throughout
his breadth of view and his sweetness of nature.  Turned out of his
official residence, he has built himself another, beautifully
situated, in the grounds of which may to-day be seen English doctors
and nurses, and even wounded, resting and gaining health.  The
morning upon which I saw him I had been celebrating the Holy
Communion in the chapel of what once was his palace.  When I asked
him whether he felt any objection to this being done by our English
clergy, he answered, "Certainly not."  And then, after a moment's
thought, he went on: "After all, what does it matter whether one
celebrates in one vestment and another in a different one, if at the
root of things we are the same?  Of course, at the root there must be
union of belief."  I do not claim that every Archbishop in France
would go so far as he does of Rouen, but when sometimes we accuse
others of narrowness we must bear in mind, first, that we are guilty
very often ourselves, and, secondly, that there are great instances
of breadth to be found within the ranks of Rome.  I feel, honestly,
that out of this war should come a possibility of a better
understanding between the various religious bodies, whose men are
fighting for the Allies.

Out at the Front all are living for duty.  In five hours from London
one can be at the very heart of affairs, and yet you are in a
different world.  One thing, and one only, animates those brothers of
ours, so close to us and yet whose spiritual atmosphere seems so
different.  All the little things are relegated to their proper
place; the really important question absorbs every one from the
Commander-in-Chief through the whole of the Army.  The drop, as it
were, from the high standard of headquarters in France to the capital
of the Empire depresses a good deal.  If only one could make people
understand that the whole position is intensely serious, and that the
possibility of our Empire in the days to come being influential for
the benefit of the world, nay, the possibility of our being a free
nation; that these things rest upon our being at home instinct with
the same devotion as our people at the Front, we should find that it
would be unnecessary to issue almost despairing recruiting bills, and
that all would be rushing to service in the cause of God and country,
crying, "Here am I, send me."

I am tempted after setting down my impressions of my visit to the
Front to take a general survey of the countries engaged in the war,
two of which I lived in for a considerable time, and all of which,
with the exception of Japan, I have visited during my life.

It is natural to turn one's attention first of all to the instigator
of the war, Germany.  Those of us who know that country are capable
of understanding the readiness with which it plunged into the ocean
of blood, and the determination with which it has carried on
operations.  Ever since 1870 Prussia has regarded itself as the
Dictator of the Continent of Europe.  Although for some ten years
after the Franco-German War it was a poor country, it was
nevertheless laying the foundations of that preparedness for eventual
attack upon others, which it felt would be necessary in order to
consolidate its position of prominence.  After 1880 the great growth
in material prosperity facilitated the extension of armed power,
whilst national pride, which before had been reasonable, now grew
into an extraordinary conception of the Divine right of Teutonic
aspirations.  The Prussian was not blind to the fact that his claims
would meet with the inevitable opposition of other Continental
Powers, but having cowed the minor German States he felt sure of
victory, with those States by his side.

I suppose no people really dislike each other more than the Bavarian
dislikes the Prussian neighbour, and probably no characters are more
antagonistic than those of the Saxon and the Prussian, but under the
iron hand of the military despotism of Berlin, Munich and Dresden
came to heel.  As to Austria, bearing in mind all the probable
disputes between its various component parts, so soon as the present
Empire passes away, she feels that safety for her lies only with
association with Prussia, though here again there is no love lost
between the peoples.

Germanic patriotism is aggressive, and there is certainly some
excuse, when we bear in mind that there is a constantly growing
population and there is not very much room still left uninhabited.
Colonial expansion is the special desire of the heart of Germany, and
it is here where she comes into conflict with Great Britain, though
it must never be forgotten that there is nowhere a German feels
happier than in one of our English dominions.  Conscious that her
colonising power has proved to be very slight, there have been
moments when she has been anxious to meet Great Britain for the
purpose of securing some dominions beyond the seas in association
with ourselves, and I should not be surprised if, when the question
of peace is before us, she should suggest a bargain whereby it is
made easy for her to expand on other continents, she agreeing to
surrender that which she so far holds by temporary conquest in
Europe.  It is when one reads the Old Testament that one can best
understand Germanic patriotism of to-day.  Just as the Jews of old
got an inflated idea of the meaning of being the people of God, so is
it with Prussia to-day.  She believes herself to be appointed for the
management of much of the world, and she thinks that she can be
allowed to attain this goal by a most uncivilised war.  The German
does not love cruelty, but the civilisation of the Prussian is
something which is a thin coating over a rather brutal nature.  The
constant mention of Kultur in German writings has in itself almost
proved that it is something only lately put on, and that it fits
badly.  The Prussian is easily made coarse.  He is learned, he is
what he calls "gemuethlich," which can be described as kindly
disposed.  He has an over-elaborated polish which is a clumsy
imitation of French politeness.  His table manners are slightly
improving, but the vice of his capital city is disgusting in its
coarseness, and some of the jests he attempts are Rabelaisian, except
that they have no humour.  His religion is that of the Old Testament,
and his preachers are powerful to stir him to warfare, but incapable
of instilling into him high principles.  His jealousy of England was
not unnatural.  With a strenuous determination Germany was working
earnestly for pre-eminence, and we seemed over here to be
comparatively careless and to be lacking in force and in the
deepening of character.

It was in the less useful things in our social life that Germany
imitated us, because in regard to the greater things the Prussian
felt himself to be a more earnest striver than we here were.  He was
ready to copy our clothes, some of our sports, certain peculiarities
of our manner, but he could not, and to-day he cannot, understand the
real centre, as it were, of the English disposition.  The Crown
Prince is a typical case of a man who anglicises himself in regard to
the excrescences upon our national character, but who cannot by any
possibility, though he had an English grandmother, ever understand
what a Britisher is.  He may wear collars and riding breeches which
are copied from productions of a Bond Street hosier or tailor, but he
will still go on looting, and he will still show by his utter want of
nobility of ideal that he is a somewhat decadent specimen of the
lower type of Prussian character.

Although Germany meant war on the Continent, it was not until after
the Agadir incident and the diplomatic defeat inflicted by England
that there was any real dislike of ourselves.  After that time there
was undoubtedly a belief that sooner or later there would have to be
war with Great Britain, or a great general settlement which should
prevent the two nations from engaging in strife.  Before that time
there were always possibilities of disagreement, but there were also
means by which the difficulties could be reconciled.  It seemed good
to bring the various elements in the two nations together.  Some
tried to associate the merchants, the legal administrators, the
journalists of the two countries; I myself took some part in bringing
together the clergy and ministers of England and Germany.  I suppose
we all felt the possibility of disturbance between our two lands, and
it was when I became practically certain that the efforts we were
making were vain that I became merely a nominal adherent of the
excellent associations which were striving to promote union.

The war came and found Germany ready, united, patriotic, with the
feeling of "Deutschland ueber Alles," running through the whole of
the central Empires and being a very real inspiration.  I may take a
very low view of some parts of the German character, but as to the
determination, the thoroughness and the unyielding devotion to what
is believed to be the goal, I cannot but bend my head in the deepest
respect.  Let no one believe in the suggested breakdown of Germany.
There must be an absolute crushing of the despotic ideals which
instigated and at the present day carry on the war.  The Brandenburg
Gate at Berlin will have to be battered down, or at least the
Niederwald Monument of the victory of 1870 hurled into the Rhine,
before peace will be secured.

Just now the German is a brave, disciplined, determined, brutal foe,
led by a Sovereign who knows that this campaign will either place him
first of all Earth's monarchs, or disgrace him and his country for
all time.  He knows also that he must do the work himself, for from
his eldest born nothing stable or wholesome is to be expected.

Germany will offer Britain a bargain before this war is over,
probably disgraceful to us but tempting in its clauses.  It might be
summed up, "the land for Germany and the sea for Britain."  It is not
surprising that up to the present, neutral nations on the Continent
believe, or profess to believe, in the victory of Germany.  All that
they can see is that on the whole success has so far, on the
Continent, rested with the central Powers.  Sir Edward Grey was
absolutely right when he said that the Balkan States, and it probably
would be true of Turkey also, would be at the disposal of the Powers
towards which victory seemed to incline.  Self-interest has to be,
unfortunately, the motive inspiring petty States.  If it be true that
M. Delcassé, the French Foreign Minister, resigned because of his
distrust of Greece, no one need be surprised.  Greece is in a very
difficult position, not only because her Queen is a German Princess,
but also because if by any chance Germany were victorious and Greece
had taken up arms against her, the German demands upon that small
country would be such as would mean practical destruction.

Turning now to France, we realise that her impelling force in this
war is a sacred devotion to country.  The pathetic mistake made at
the beginning of operations of attempting an incursion into Alsace
sprang out of the longing to give back to the beloved land the
portion which had been torn from her in 1870.  To a Frenchman his
earth has a deep meaning, his country has an absolute right to his
life, a right never disputed and which is acknowledged with the
greatest fervour in the hour of gravest danger.  There is no doubt
that in the early months of the war the oppression of the last
campaign was upon the people; they could still, some of them,
remember, and all the others had been told of, the terrible
experiences undergone five and forty years ago.  When once more
Germany was overrunning the land there was for a little time a belief
in the inevitable victory of the enemy, but very soon France pulled
herself together, and she was enabled to do so because the men
leading her, and she herself, had developed a greatness which did not
show itself in 1870.  I look back to the time when I saw French
prisoners spit as they passed their own principal leaders, also in
the hands of the enemy.  I remember in one German town how subaltern
prisoners would cross a road in order to avoid saluting men of
superior rank in their own army.  I can also call to mind a great
moral degradation on the part of many French officers.  How different
it all is to-day.  It seems to me as if Joffre were typical of the
new patience which has entered into the French character.  At all
times the Frenchman has been the best attacker in the world; to-day
he has learnt the duty of patient warfare.  When the French
Commander-in-Chief says that he is nibbling at the Germans, he is
making a statement which would have been impatiently received in the
days gone by, but which is, after all, under present conditions not
only necessary but the most difficult of warlike methods.  To-day
France is earnest, whilst in 1870 she was only eager.  Her moral
position has also changed.  Behind the armies to-day woman is
present, not to minister to passion but to minister to suffering, and
to ennoble in thought.

The salvation of France has been, under God, its motherhood.  The
relationship between, not only the boy, but the grown man and his
mother, has remained upon me as the most beautiful thing in the way
of relationship that I have ever known.  When I hear that almost
invariably the dying soldier in France, of all ranks, speaks as his
last word upon earth the one that he first spoke--"Maman," I know
that I am being told an absolute truth.  It may be that in the past
the French character has suffered through passion, but if woman has
sometimes been an evil influence, assuredly she has oftener certainly
proved herself a blessing to the men of the land.

It is a delight to one who loves France, but who was never quite sure
that she was to be trusted in difficult moments, to feel now that she
has all the stability which will make her carry on to the end this
awful war.

There is another class to which France owes much of her reformation:
the religious, the Clergy and the Sisters.  It is a pity that at the
present time, through harsh dealing, she is deprived of the perfect
nursing and caring for, of some of the religious Orders, as one hears
rather painful accounts of the conditions in some of the French War
Hospitals, but she has her clergy, her priests, who fight and pray
and bear no grudge for injustice done to the Church they serve.
Whatever we may feel sometimes about the great Roman Catholic
religion, we know this, at any rate, that the power of its members is
always at its highest in the hour of greatest sacrifice.  I have seen
some of its priests ministering, themselves wounded and suffering,
and I have thanked God that there were such examples of Christlike
devotion at this great hour of the world's history.  The sacredness
of _la patrie_ for Frenchmen is a beautiful thing to dwell upon.  We
are just learning here in England the first lesson of that which is a
finished, perfected knowledge to the meanest of French subjects.

Russia.--Here the atmosphere is different.  We are in the presence of
a nation naturally, often superstitiously, religious and somewhat
uneducated.  Russia does not make war in a cool and calculating way.
The peasant is ignorant even of the causes of the war.  His "little
father" orders and thenceforth the war becomes a Crusade, a Holy War.
The illiterate, religious, patriotic man or woman in Russia knows no
such end to warfare except that which comes from the Czar's command.
When you turn to the mercantile class you are conscious that all of
it which is not German is strongly, almost vehemently anti-Prussian.
The language of commerce to-day is German.  French has been left to
the aristocracy.  In the shops of Moscow, Petrograd and
Nijni-Novgorod, German is the universal language.  It is idle to
dispute the Teutonic influence which exists, but there is also an
intensely antagonistic feeling on the part of those who have
experienced the competition of the German.  The aristocracy of Russia
has a loathing of German coarseness and is French in speech and
feeling.  All the classes in Russia are simple, the word Kultur does
not impress them.  The art, the music and the stage effects of Russia
are very natural, though often most perfectly expressed.

One is tempted to sum up the present Russian position as that of a
simple, religious, almost fatalistic people, ready for all things at
the order of the man who is their civil and spiritual head.  But
Russia was not prepared for war last year.  Those of us who have seen
in Moscow the drilling of even some of the best known regiments were
conscious that we were not looking at the finished article.  The
Cossack is a natural horseman who in some ways has hardly anything to
learn, but the infantry need to be modernised.  The Russian will not
turn his back, and his preparedness will grow each day.

Italy.--One or two words only in regard to this country, as to which
I fancy we at home are a little disappointed.  Let us not forget that
it was by no means easy for Italy to sever herself from Germany, with
whom she had been allied for a long time.  We must not leave out of
account that there had been no close sympathy with France for some
years, nor must the impoverished condition of the country be
forgotten.  It needed some courage and some faith to ignore the
continental impression of the power of Germany and to take up arms at
all against her.  We must be patient with her, because, though she
may not be "on fire" for this war, yet she is in earnest, and her
love for England is real.

Belgium.--This little land faced the inevitable, the never-dreamt-of,
with an army not intended for international warfare, and which had to
be strengthened by utterly untrained civilians.  Her action was
magnificent.  She could have had terms, but she scorned them.
Belgium did not love England before this war.  One may doubt whether
she even trusted her, but she does now.  Still even here there has
always been a pro-German class, well-to-do and influential, which may
be said to have dominated the commerce of Antwerp and other leading
centres.  There has also been some sympathy with Germany on the part
of the people living near to the German border, and no doubt the
Belgian nation has suffered through this war from the treachery of
some of its own people.  But the tenacity of this little land is
unquestionable, and her King and Queen will go down to posterity as
perhaps the two most knightly characters of this war, two people who
seem more to fit in with the days of the Round Table than with the
age of Zeppelins and Mines.

On turning to our own Empire, we have to confess that the level of
earnestness at the beginning of the war was lower than in the case of
France, Russia, or Belgium, and, indeed, in some ways lower than that
of Germany.  We were thrilled for a moment, as it were, by the
knowledge that we were taking up arms because honour demanded that we
should, but the public heart was not greatly stirred.  Gradually we
began to realise that we were engaged in a struggle for our own
existence, but even now there are millions in Great Britain who are
not persuaded of this fact.  Canada, Australia, New Zealand seem to
have understood, before the Motherland, how serious the war was for
the Empire.  It is not for me to declare to Britain her duty; I do
not suggest that I know more of the mind of the nation or of the
needs of the nation than any other Briton.  I think that I may have
had greater opportunity of feeling the pulse of other lands than many
people, but all of us here at home can see now what our own duty is,
and that whilst the usual mistakes have been made, there is now an
awakened Empire which dare not in the sight of God refuse any
sacrifice in order to crush for at least the generation that is
coming, the accursed ideals which the military party in Germany
wishes to see dominating the world.  Upon this subject the Church
must continue to speak and to act; her words being stronger and her
actions firmer than up to the present they have been.  This war is in
my judgment a fight between right and wrong, between God and evil.

Had I my way I would relegate to obscurity for at any rate the whole
period of the war every religious division; I would on this
all-important matter fall gladly into line with all sides of
Christianity in order that men should know that in our judgment the
followers of Jesus cannot understand their Leader without being ready
to give, if needs be, life, to prevent the victory of wickedness.
This is my reasoned judgment, more than ever impressed upon me by my
visit to the Front.  If we all face the future with this conviction
pessimism will die, not to be superseded by a stupid, unreflecting
optimism, but by an unremitting devotion, which shall spring out of
that courage which belongs to the man who knows his cause is that of
God, and that he himself can and must do something towards hastening
the triumph which is inevitable if only we are worthy.  The religious
England to which I look forward is one which has been taught by the
awakening of the spirit of Christian patriotism, that in life the
beginning and the end of perfection, for nation as well as
individual, is the willing offering of body, mind, and spirit in
order that it shall be easy for humanity to be free and for right to
triumph over evil.  May it be our Empire's glory to have the grandest
share in this great offering.


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Fortnight at the Front" ***

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