INTERESTED in the promotion of international peace by rules of law and their diffusion through educational processes; interested in the advancement of education at home through the activity of his beloved University, Mr. Bacon might well look forward to a career of congenial usefulness.
Outwardly, the world was at peace---but only outwardly. The peace was the calm before the tempest, which broke in the summer of 1914. At the first rumbling, Mr. Bacon was alarmed and alert. He felt that the Powers which wanted war, or were willing to run the risk of war rather than renounce their policies of expansion at the expense of lesser powers, would take no steps to preserve peace. He felt also that the war could not be localized; that the United States would be drawn into it, and that we should prepare at once, and while there was still time.
On June 28, 1914, the world was startled by the assassination of the heir of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and his morganatic wife at the hands of a Bosnian of Serbian race in the city of Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia. The Dual Monarchy sought to implicate the then little kingdom of Serbia in the crime. This Serbia denied. There had been for some years strained relations between the two countries, and there was propaganda for a Greater Serbia, which Austria-Hungary regarded as a menace, inasmuch as there were large numbers of Austro-Hungarian subjects of Serbian origin within the bounds of the monarchy.
Austria-Hungary formulated a series of demands against Serbia which were handed to the Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs at Belgrade on July 23rd, demanding their acceptance within forty-eight hours. Fearing that war might result, the large European Powers, with the exception of Germany, urged Serbia to return a conciliatory reply. This it did, accepting all but one of the ten demands, and as to that, offering arbitration. The attempts of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia to bring about a peaceful settlement, whether by means of arbitration, mediation, or conference, failed. Austria-Hungary declared the reply unsatisfactory, and on July 28th issued a declaration of war against Serbia. As a matter of precaution Russia mobilized its army; Germany insisted that the mobilization was on the German as well as the Austrian frontier, and demanded that it should cease. Upon the failure of Russia to comply, Germany issued a declaration of war against that mighty Empire on the first of August, 1914. Failing to receive assurance from France that it would remain neutral, Germany declared war against the French Republic two days later. Great Britain demanded of Germany that its armies should not drive through Luxembourg and Belgium, in their eagerness to invade France where most unprepared, inasmuch as those two countries had been neutralized by treaties to which, among other countries, Germany and Great Britain were parties. The refusal of Germany to give assurance (for it was already pushing its armies through both) caused Great Britain to declare war against Germany on August 4th.
Such is a very meagre statement of the facts as they appeared upon the surface and were known to Mr. Bacon at the time. He felt, however, that the Austro-Hungarian and German authorities looked upon Serbia as standing in the way of their expansion in the south and east through the Balkan Peninsula into Asia; that Serbia should be got out of the way if the railroad from Berlin to Bagdad, with its boundless possibilities, was to be built by and under the control of Germany, and if German influence was to prevail in that part of the world. Be that as it may, "the hour has struck"---to use a German expression---and war, soon to be known as the World War, had begun.
Mr. Bacon never doubted that Great Britain would have to go in, as otherwise Germany would absorb Belgium and Holland and establish itself securely in northern France, should it win the war, and thus confront Great Britain in the North Sea and the English Channel, awaiting the day of reckoning with that rival Power. He was fearful that Great Britain might stay out for the present, blind to its own interest. When the news came the night of Tuesday, the fourth, that Great Britain had declared war, he cried, "Thank God, the war can now be won." And he added immediately, "We must prepare, for we may also have to go in."
Subsequent developments have made it clear that Mr. Bacon was right. The entry of Great Britain made it possible to win the war by giving the Entente a chance against the German war machine, perfected in forty years of peace to crush its enemies before they could bring their armies into the field and mobilize their resources.
Mr. Bacon was also right in urging preparedness on our part, for, he said, a nation which would violate the neutrality of one country when it seemed to be to its advantage would violate the neutral rights of the United States if that should seem to promise victory.
So clearly have events demonstrated his far-sighted wisdom that it is now difficult to appreciate the criticism heaped upon him for advocating these principles. His courage and conviction were too strong, however, to be weakened by abuse.
The outbreak of the World War found Mr. Bacon a free lance, in the sense that he was not in business, from which he had withdrawn in 1903, and he no longer held public office. He was restless at home; he wanted to be in Europe, to see with his own eyes how things were going, and to help where he could.
It was clear as matters stood that the Allies were in need of hospitals, hospital supplies, surgeons, nurses, and hospital equipment. The war had come so suddenly that it took the world by surprise. At least, it so took the Allies and the uninitiated.
Here was a field of work, and in this field Mrs. Bacon toiled at home, raising funds through personal appeal and effort, and Mr. Bacon gave of his time, of his thought, of his money, now in England, now in France, but chiefly to the American Ambulance of Paris, the military branch of the American Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine.
By August 26, 1914, he was off to Europe on La France, and while still on the steamer he writes to Mrs. Bacon, his only correspondent during these last years, pouring out his heart, and uncovering his soul:
My heart is sinking already, and we haven't left the dock. . .Was it stupid and inconsiderate of me to go!---to be persuaded to change my mind again this morning, after it was all settled?---I can't feel that it is pure selfishness, because it has no attractions for me, and no pleasure except the getting home again.---The decision was the result of so many cross currents and emotions and doubts that it was and is hard to analyze or quite understand, but the fact is that I am very lonely and unhappy, and have no more confidence in my own judgment---I seem to be conscious of a sort of feverish desire to do something for somebody, with not enough aggressiveness or ability to make it worth while. Au fond I seem to be actuated by a real ambition to do something that may indirectly help my children to make moral fibre.---Personally, I seem to exist no more for myself. This is my constant thought. One of my best friends, Judge Gary, tells me that I am not aggressive enough. He is right---perhaps it's a lack of courage of a certain kind, or of self-confidence, perhaps it's weakness, a lack of the preëminent attributes of the masculine animal. We are all curiously composed of inconsistencies---of unaccountable strength and weakness, seldom understood by others, even our nearest and dearest---Faint Heart that I am, already dreading the voyage and the trip. I have no buoyancy, no enthusiasm, no conviction, but although it seems interminable already it will soon be over and I shall be home again, glad to settle down once more and for all like a tame old cat---out of the fight---out of the current---unfit for leadership.---I can add nothing to my children's moderate inheritance, either material or moral. They must fight the fight themselves and my dream of being sometime somebody to serve as an inspiration, and to awaken a big ambition, is past. I am even inarticulate and cannot explain to them the truth.
There is danger of spoiling the impression of this letter by comment, and yet a few words by way of explanation are needed. Mr. Bacon was regarded as the aggressive, even too aggressive, champion of our duties to the Allies. Fathers and mothers were not slow at that time to criticise him as an advocate of sacrificing their sons. They did not realize that his heart was torn no less than theirs, that he was thinking of his own sons, but always from the larger point of view, with infinite tenderness and a constant regard for their spiritual strength and welfare. He did not ask others to do what he himself was not prepared to do;. his doubts were as great and his sorrows were as heavy as their own; but his strength, his moral rectitude, were such that he could not compromise. We are indeed, as he said, "curiously composed of inconsistencies---of unaccountable strength and weakness seldom understood by others, even our nearest and dearest," and, he might have added, even by ourselves.
The longing to be worthy of imitation, the "dream of being sometime somebody to serve as an inspiration, and to awaken a big ambition," which kept Mr. Bacon "as clean as a hound's tooth," as his friend Colonel Roosevelt would say, the public did not know; even his friends could hardly surmise. His life is the best answer to his own criticism of himself; it should "sometime" be "an inspiration" to his countrymen, and "awaken a big ambition" in many an American boy.
Westbury, Long Island
On the other side, but while still aboard the La France, Mr. Bacon wrote to Mrs. Bacon under date of September 1st:
The cliffs of Cornwall are alongside and out of the fog a British cruiser has just appeared and passed close aboard. It has given me a big lump in my throat after the tremendous tension and impatience of the voyage, and now I can hardly wait to hear the real news, for that which we have received on board has been very fragmentary and unsatisfactory. We have not been allowed to use the "wireless" or I should have cabled you many times. Did you think it crazy and selfish of me to go as I did? I hope not . . . after the first shock. It seems as if I could not bear not to come closer to observe this awful world crisis.---There was such a mixture of considerations and motives pulling me hither and yon those last few hours that I can hardly now understand them, . . . but somehow I was impelled to come and look at this dreadful thing from a different point of view, and now what shall I find when I get ashore!
I have been all alone, reading, reading of pan-Germanism and the Balkans, the real pawns which started the conflagration---and of Paris in the year 1910 by Jules Claretie of the Français.(154) The last few days I have seen something of the Frenchmen, officers, and sergeants and privates, who are hurrying back to fight and be killed. It has brought me very close already to all the hideous suffering of it all. Four officers from the Embassy at Tokio, who left Yokohama only twenty~five days ago, a fine young Frenchman named Pierrefeu from the Steel Company in Chicago and his American wife. She was a Tudor of Boston, daughter of Bill Tudor, '71, a cousin of Mrs. Garland and the others, who has left her four children in America. . . .
Mr. Bacon landed at Havre., rushed to Paris, and installed himself in the Crillon, where he kept an apartment. What he did in these first hectic days he tells in a letter dated Sunday night, September 6th, from Paris:
This is the first moment I have had to write you a line, although I have been here three days, and three such interesting days.
I am going to stay on for a week or so with Herrick, who is perfectly fine, and needs all the moral support and as many aides as possible for he is not only the one ambassador remaining in Paris but is acting also for Germany, Austria, and partially for the British Embassy. The French people and the Government are all crazy about him and look to him in a large measure to protect property when the Germans come in, as they probably will, but as soon as the situation has declared itself and he can with self-respect and conscientiously turn it over to Sharp he will do so and start for home and I will go with him if I do not go before, as I expect surely to get out of Paris and sail before Oct. 1st as I said I would.
There will be no siege of Paris such as the last. It will all be soon over as far as Paris is concerned, and I dread the awful fate to which it will he destined. Poor Paris!
The people here are really all delighted to see me and touched by my coming, which is reward enough, but I just missed the Government and Hanotaux---whom I especially wanted to see and who has been urging me to come to Bordeaux through his Secretary, Monsieur Jaray, who has been most kind and came to meet us at Havre, and brought us to Paris, Sharp(155) and me, in autos in the most enchanting moonlight night.---So I am going to Bordeaux to-morrow morning returning to-morrow night and Major Logan(156) is going with me by automobile with two soldiers as mechanicians and all the necessary laisser-passers to get through the patrouilles which are pretty thick beyond Versailles.
To-day there has been fighting out by Coulommiers and yesterday, and I suppose there will be a big battle on that side to-morrow or within a few days unless the Germans have entirely changed their plan of campaign.---They are now between the French army of Paris and the French army of the East or Northeast. The English are doing splendidly.---We have just been talking to a couple of wounded English cavalry boys just in from the front.
The Assistant Secretary of War,(157) General Allen,(158) and the Major all dined with me at Maxims', which is one of the best places now to dine, closing sharp at 9:30 and always an interesting bunch of soldiers and Parisians, Widor, Flamengue, and many such.---Widor is cordiality itself, and constantly speaks of you and Sister, as does everyone else in fact, Lépine,(159) Klotz,(160) who by the way is on the staff of the Military Governor of Paris with whom I lunched yesterday with Arthur Meyer of the Gaulois and Gros-Claude of the Figaro.---Madame Klotz is remaining in Paris. . . .
Jack Monroe is at the front. All the Murats, father, five sons, and the Princess.---It is all very wonderful, impressionnant and émouvant. We are going to have about ten American officers, a detachment of marines in plain clothes and a score of volunteers to work at the Chancellerie and at 5 rue François Premier, looking after Americans, English and much valuable property, en cas! . . .
Good-night. . . . I haven't many hours to sleep as I start de très bonne heure.---I . . . wish you were here, although I suppose it all seems very wild and foolish from that distance and from the sensational newspaper accounts. Good-bye again. . . . Forgive me if I am giving you a moment's anxiety. When you receive this I may be already starting for home by way of St. Malo and England. I only want to stay a while to help the Ambassador, and the many secours and assistances in this awful hour of trial for France with all my heartfelt sympathy.
This reference to Mr. Herrick is characteristic. Mr. Herrick's refusal to quit his post did him infinite honour, and was in line with American traditions, for was not our Gouverneur Morris the only representative of a foreign country who remained at his post throughout the Reign. of Terror? Elihu B. Washburne, our Minister to France during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, stayed in Paris through the siege, when the French Government took refuge in Bordeaux for the first time, and during the Commune, when Versailles was the favourite resort of the professional diplomat. Mr. Brand Whitlock, our Minister to Belgium, likewise remained at his post in Brussels notwithstanding the transfer of the Belgian Government on October 13, 1914, to Havre and the exodus of his colleagues during the German occupation. It is entirely proper for a government to withdraw from a capital menaced by the enemy as did the French Government on September 3, 1914. It is proper for the diplomats to follow the government to which they are accredited; but neither invading armies nor civil commotions seem to suggest to the American envoy a change of venue.
September 30, 1914.
To-day I am longing more than ever to get home to you. . . . Nothing keeps me but the possibility that Paris is still in danger, and I cannot leave Herrick until all such danger is honestly believed to be passed. As a volunteer at the Embassy it is just as necessary for me to stay as it is for him to remain in Paris, for should the Brutes come, there will be plenty to do for all, and should there be a bombardment, I naturally could not run away. . . . I am glad I came for it has been appreciated, and one or two little things I have been able to do well, but now I want to come home to you, and you may be sure that I shall come if only this dreadful incubus can be pushed away even a little, so that the Russians may come up to relieve the pressure upon Paris.
The situation to-day, according to the Communiqué, is good, but I know that it is not good, except that every day brings us all nearer the end of this time of terror and horror, and unspeakable, unthinkable brutality against the whole world. . . . How can there be neutrality? This is no war between a few friendly states with which we have no concern. The United States, with Italy, the Scandinavians, Spain, Switzerland, and Roumania should cry out to stop this militarism, which, if it should succeed, will engulf the whole civilized world. This is a great world crisis which far transcends all accepted rules of International Law. The opinion of the whole world is one unanimously. One does not stop to enquire too nicely as to who started the conflagration before putting it out. A mad dog is killed without waiting to know what sanction of law there may be for so doing. I am delighted that a day of Prayer has been decreed for Peace, but I should like also to hear that Woodrow Wilson and his advisers could rise above even the tenets which have come down to us through tradition from the time of Grotius, and impose Peace, righteous Peace. We have the Duty as well as the Right to do so, but no Neutrality!! in every line. Eventually toward what? Brutal mediæval militarism on the one hand and all the forces of progress and liberalism and truth on the other. "Bellum omnis contra omnes," to paraphrase, to be neutral is to admit the possibility of right on both sides.
It is incroyable. No wishy-washy legal neutrality for me, and this instead of being opposed to International Law is of the very essence. Tell this to Scott and to Root for me, and ask them if I am crazy and hysterical.---This is the time for the imagination of idealists to rise above the trammels of precedent. The world has never seen or thought of such a condition, such a danger as now threatens, not France, not little Belgium, nor even England's commerce, but the great world forces of Truth, which are dimly only to be recognized---toward which humanity is slowly but surely tending. And must we sit by safe in our comfortable commercialism and permit this awful thing! Fancied security---for just as day follows night will come our retribution if we allow it to prevail. . . . I would like to take him(161) out to the trenches where the flower of Anglo-Saxon manhood side by side with the last hope of France lie in defence of our whole Western world. bleeding, bleeding, dying, suffering, wet through day after day, dodging the merciless shells, the messengers of this ruthless militarism. . . . With one word he could take the lead in such a protest that the whole world would cry out for joy and follow his courageous lead. No, they must fight it out, I suppose, for the sake of our commercial neutrality. Ask Root and Scott if I am all wrong. . . .
The battle which Mr. Bacon reports as in progress was the battle of the Marne, which compelled the Germans entirely to change their plan of campaign, saved Paris, and was the beginning of a very long end. It seemed so to the unconquerable French; it seemed so to a world holding its breath; it even seemed so to keen-eyed observers on the other side of the Rhine, whose judgment was not distorted by the overwhelming victories of the past month.
Mr. Bacon characteristically "forgot" to state in the letter that he got a number of automobiles to take the wounded from the field and that he drove one of them. The missing information is supplied by the manager of the Hotel de Crillon, where Mr. Bacon stayed when in Paris.
Personally and at his own expense he had succeeded in chartering three automobiles and day and night without ceasing he travelled back and forth between Paris and the front, at that time Meaux and Soissons, to bring back the wounded; he would often return on the step in order to let them have his place in the car. In those days he had the room above mine and sometimes, at two, three, or four o'clock in the morning, I would hear him drawing his bath and would go up immediately to hear the news. Then he would throw himself fully dressed on the bed to wait until daylight so that he might be furnished with packages of first edition papers, a good supply of cigars and tobacco, and some bottles of cognac, for he would say to me, "this is what pleases your dear soldiers the most." Then he would start out again requesting me to say, if one of his friends asked for him, that he had gone out without knowing when he would return.
Mr. Bacon's activity soon shifted from Paris to London, from war to finance. In a letter of December 17th, he writes:
The last boat has gone . . . and I am heartbroken and terribly upset not to come home to you for Christmas, but your cable decided me. I don't think I could have refrained from coming over again to finish up the Hospital matters, which . . . are in a very difficult condition. . . . That is why I went on the Committee, and have been spending tedious hours day after day at Neuilly; but it is all coming out with flying colors, and the little things, the difficulties, the obstacles coming principally from the personal equation will all be forgotten and will sink into insignificance. The work will remain and outlive us all, and the American Hospital work during this awful .crisis and what it stands for will never be forgotten, and will always remain one of the bright spots in our international relations. This is my honest conviction and this is why I am making and am asking you . . . to make big sacrifices. You and I have become too much identified with it all to permlt me to "lacher" now. The Whitney Unit(162) at Juilly is coming along all right, and is playing a big part in the development and extension of the whole thing as originally hoped for and planned by Herrick, and now the Transport Units, the Ford Squads and Sections are going to play a still bigger part, and this of late has been my chief interest and is just beginning. I was much pleased to-day to get Elliot's cable saying he had money for ten more Fords. We can use any number just now if we can get just the right kind of volunteer chauffeurs, but it may all change at any minute, as everything does.
The American Hospital and the American Ambulance figure largely in Mr. Bacon's letters; they played a large part in his thought before our entry into the war and after. The American Ambulance was Mrs. Bacon's life during all the years of the war. She was chairman of the American Committee; she adopted, so to speak, the American Ambulance Hospital, which means in French, Military Hospital. By personal letters, each written in her own handwriting, she raised in America the funds for the Ambulance. She made the sacrifices in America which Mr. Bacon made in France, and it is with good reason that the large wing added to the original American Hospital is to-day named by the subscribers as an endowment fund for "Robert Bacon Ward."
The manner in which Mr. Bacon became interested in the project of the American Ambulance Hospital and his subsequent connection with it were typical of the reliance placed upon his sympathy and help by Americans in France as well as by the French Government and people.
The American Ambulance Hospital, or, as it was more generally known, the American Ambulance, was the outgrowth of the little American Hospital just outside the walls of Paris. When Mr. Bacon was Ambassador he was deeply interested in this hospital, which brought so much comfort, greatly needed medical skill and attention to Americans who were ill in France.
When the war came, the American Hospital considered the most practical expression of its sympathy for France would be the formation of an American Military Hospital. The French Government learned of this intention with deep gratitude and placed at the disposition of the little hospital a large, unfinished, high school building. the Lycée Pasteur, to be converted into a hospital for wounded French soldiers.
This was an undertaking much too great, of course, for the limited personnel and small facilities of the American Hospital at that time. Therefore, the Board of Governors immediately turned their thoughts to Mr. Bacon and sent a cable to this country asking him to undertake the work of raising sufficient funds to carry out the project and to interest American physicians and surgeons.
From that time on Mr. Bacon's zeal in the American Ambulance never flagged. He began with a few of his personal and business friends who made the first donations, raised among themselves a guarantee fund, which was in keeping with the whole spirit of Mr. Bacon and Mr. Bacon's friendships. The donors of this fund, which was kept to the last as a guarantee, declined in the end to receive any part of it back, but contributed the full amount of their subscription to the American Hospital for twenty free beds in his memory.
The first body of doctors to go from this country to serve in the American Ambulance was from Boston, and represented the Harvard University Unit, recruited upon the initiative of Mr. Bacon. Dr. Harvey Cushing was at the head, and he was assisted by a corps of skilled surgeons and specialists.
Growing out of the American Ambulance Hospital, and for a long while connected with it, was the American Ambulance Field Service. The men who drove the ambulances to the front were for the most part volunteers from our universities. They paid their own passage and bought their own uniforms. The ambulances were purchased with money contributed in the United States.
The appeal for the subscribers in the beginning was made under the direction of Mr. Bacon and Mrs. Bacon, who was chairman of the American Committee responsible for raising funds for the Ambulance. Some extent of this work can be gained when it is stated that more than $2,000,000 was raised by Mrs. Bacon's committee and its branch committees throughout the United States.
In connection with the American Ambulance Field Service it is interesting to recall that at this time, in the early days of the war, there was a great and reasonable fear on the part of the French people that German sympathizers and spies were coming to France on American passports and in the guise of Americans. This reasonable fear indeed might have stopped the daily work of recruiting for the Ambulance in this country had it not been for Mr. Bacon. In the dilemma, the French military authorities turned to him, and they accepted very gladly and without question his personal assurance that he would be responsible for the loyalty of the men selected in America and sent abroad to drive ambulances. The French Government needed no further assurance than Mr. Bacon's word, and it is a matter of record that of the great number of young men sent over (about five thousand) not one proved disloyal to the cause of the Allies. Their qualifications and their references were carefully examined in this country by Mr. Bacon's representative before the men were sent abroad.
Later, when the Field Ambulance Service grew to such large proportions that the administration of it by the Hospital was difficult, a separate administration was undertaken in this country and in France. The head of the American Field Ambulance Service in France was Mr. A. Piatt Andrew, afterward a Lieutenant-Colonel in the United States Expeditionary Forces.
In the early months of the war, Mr. Andrew, then at Gloucester, Massachusetts, wrote to his friend, Mr. Bacon, and asked his help in obtaining an opportunity to be of service to the Allies on the other side. It was a very characteristic letter, the tenor of which was: I am relying upon you to find me a job where I can be helpful. I do not care what it is as long as I can be of service.
Mr. Bacon gladly endorsed Mr. Andrew's application for service, and sent him to the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris, where, at first, he drove an ambulance.
Not content with helping the Hospital and the Field Service, Mr. Bacon established a sanitary train to carry wounded from the front to the base hospitals, particularly those in the south of France. With a friend, Mr. Alexander Cochran, he paid for the expense and upkeep of this train. It was a wonderful one at that time; a marvel to the French, for it was splendidly equipped. Painted upon it was an American flag so that in those days of our neutrality the people of France who saw the train (and they could be counted by the thousands and tens of thousands) as it went on its errand of mercy through France, might know that the sympathy of the American people was with them in this war.
There is an incident connected with the acknowledgment of the fund for the Hospital which is largely overlooked in the record.
In addition to sending funds, Mrs. Bacon's committee sent many supplies. At one time it was a serious problem, because of the scarcity of shipping, how to get these supplies to France. The great need was for coal , and there was doubt whether sufficient coal could be procured to keep the patients of the Ambulance comfortable. Mr. Bacon went about solving the difficulty in his own way, saying nothing except to those most closely associated with him, and engaged shipping brokers to look for a ship. The brokers finally found one for sale which had been built on the Great Lakes. They agreed to buy half of it if Mr. Bacon would buy the other half, and he could then use the ship to transport coal and other necessary supplies to the Hospital in France. Mr. Bacon accepted the proposal, and renamed the Lake steamer Barnstable, in memory of that part of Massachusetts where his family had lived for generations.
The Barnstable was an old ship, built only for Lake trade. It was a wooden hull steamer, and expensive repairs were necessary. One costly experiment after another was tried. At one time the brokers, chagrined, as they themselves say, at the expense to which Mr. Bacon had been involved by the unfortunate adventure, telephoned him that they were willing to take the steamer off his hands and eliminate all thoughts of sending her to France. Mr. Bacon's reply likewise over the telephone was: "I shipped with you for the whole voyage, and I will stick by the ship."
The Barnstable was never made seaworthy for ocean traffic and sometime later she sank at sea before the trans-Atlantic trip was attempted. Because of this failure to relieve the Hospital during the crisis, there was no mention of what Mr. Bacon did in this connection to be found in the record. If it had succeeded it would have been a noteworthy achievement, but even then he would have permitted only the barest mention of his part in the undertaking. As it did not succeed, no mention was made of the thought, time, effort, and expense which he had devoted to this purpose.
The American Ambulance Hospital which, but for Mr. Bacon's help in the beginning could hardly have existed, became afterward American Military Hospital No. 1, was turned over as such to our Army, a thoroughly equipped, model institution, ready for the care of our wounded when our men arrived in France. The committee in this country, headed by Mrs. Bacon, was able to meet the expenses of the Hospital throughout the war and after the Armistice until the American Ambulance closed its doors.
The American Field Service was able to give their first military experience to many of our young men, who afterward became officers in our Army, and when our Expeditionary Forces arrived in France we were able to turn over to them several hundred equipped ambulance units.(163)
To return to Mr. Bacon's letter of December 17th:
What I shall do these next few weeks will depend upon developments of all kinds. I am delighted to be with Davy(164) and Teddy Grenfell.(165) It is all of most intense interest and importance, has saved me from utter despair.---Davy and Willard Straight(166) (who by the way appears very well and is most useful to Davy) are here, and I am clinging to Davy. I have just this moment decided to go to Paris to-morrow morning, principally on an important errand for him, and I may be back here again in a few days. If I should happen to be in Paris for Xmas, I shall sneak off all alone up to the North and get as near to my friends at the G. H. Q. as they will let me. My heart goes out to them, and if I could get a billet of some sort, I think I should be even tempted to stay there. This is our war . . . and everything is at stake, and I feel more and more every word of that little letter which I wrote you from Paris in September in the dead of night, and which you were inclined to think too emotional or hysterical. It is the solemn truth, and having taken the position that I have, I feel an impelling force urging me to take some active part.--I know that I am right, but I am at a loss to know what do---(Later) To-night I have been dining here with Davy and Teddy and Vivian Smith and Charley Whigham and Willard---all Morgan & Co., and I am starting for Paris early in the morning via Boulogne, where I hope to see some of my nice British soldiers. Boulogne is their base now, you know, and there are British hospitals there. Davy and I have just arranged to spend Xmas together either here or in Paris. We don't know which. . . .
The New Year of 1915 finds Mr. Bacon in London. and on that day he writes to Mrs. Bacon, regretting the "first Xmas apart and a pretty sad and lonely one for me," uncertain as to his return to America, and the line of work to take up in Europe, but certain in his opposition to President Wilson's "friendly protest"(167) to Great Britain, which country, with France, Mr. Bacon contended was fighting America's battle:
Your cable has come and the New Year is beginning, and I am still all up in the air about coming home "permanently" and don't know how to answer your question. I am really glad that I stopped here with Davy for bigger things are doing than anything I ever had to do with before, but nothing should be said even in a whisper, so do not mention it even in general terms.
As I cabled you from Paris I disapprove entirely the President's protest. The feeling about this war and what it means to us and to the world is so far away from mine that I do not seem to speak the same language any more, and I am entirely incapable of understanding the point of view of my countrymen. If I could really serve England or France in even the humblest capacity I should feel it the highest duty that I could perform toward my own country. The work for the wounded, which appeals to me so much, the excuse that that gives me for keeping in touch with the armies would fade into insignificance beside a real opportunity for service, and what could possibly be finer, than to help even a little these great peoples in their death struggle, a struggle that is as much ours as theirs.
I should like to put in an appeal to our people to understand a little ---to give a generous thought to the British sailors who have to enforce and interpret these very complex rules of international law . . . when every pound of copper which slips through Scandinavia, Italy, or Holland lengthens just so much the duration of this war. I confess that I sympathize with the British sailor and the man who gave him his orders.
Why won't my countrymen be a little more human and less technical and academic and unsympathetic? England is taking this slap in the face, or rather kick in the stomach, splendidly, intelligently, considerately, with true self-restraint and wisdom, but do you suppose they do not feel it---this "friendly protest "! .
Four days later, Mr. Bacon wrote again from London, and spoke in very general terms of financial transactions which he had barely mentioned in previous letters. Even to Mrs. Bacon he does not go into details, and he has, as it were, his finger on his lips in warning as he writes:
I am off again to-morrow morning . . . and I guess you think I am pretty restless, but as I cabled you to-day, I am mighty glad I stayed to be with Davy, for big things are going on, and not to be in them when you have the chance would be unworthy. Not a word must be breathed about it, but international finance is going to be perhaps the most important factor of this war. We are meeting all sorts of big people---interesting is not the word adequately to describe it. I have seen Arthur Lee, too, and Sir Alfred Keogh, head of the R.A.M.C., and if Arthur Lee would only take me on to help him "inspect," I should consider it a great opportunity. And then I must go back to the Ambulance work in Paris, for you and I have assumed too much responsibility for it and its development, to leave it entirely to the tender mercies of others. The Whitney Unit, so-called, must be opened this week at Juilly, and needs tender care and eternal vigilance. . . . It is going to be a fine hospital in every respect, and if I can only help keep up the motive power to overcome difficulties and discouragements on the part of the doctors, it will come out with flying colors. . . .
I can't tell you who the men are that Davy sees most of, but Saturday I took him to Cliveden(168) to see Nancy(169) and we met several new ones; Curzon of Kedleston,(170) Geoffrey Robinson of the Times and others. . . . Friday I went for the night to Hatfield House,(171) which will interest Elliot.---They are just the nicest people in England and the house---well---Mother, you would certainly be crazy about it! I spent the evening in the cellar vault looking at treasures of manuscript letters of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth, and dozens of others, and in the morning when I looked out, there was the Army of England, 500 or more, drilling on the terrace. It was almost too much for silly, old emotional me, but I am queer as you well know. . . .
After expressing the hope---vain it seemed to him then---that the American people could be taught to be "a little more generous in their interpretations of International Law," Mr. Bacon closes with the characteristic reflection: "I suppose I am out of joint with our public opinion as it is led by Wilson and Bryan. There again I suppose I ought to keep my mouth shut, but I can't."
London, January, 1915.
I am off to Paris in the morning . and have two minutes before dinner to send this line. Will you send these clippings to my friends, one to Root, one to Scott, and one to Woodrow Wilson, if you can possibly get it to him. These are my sentiments, and my perspective is all right, no obsession or emotion, but a clear vision. I have had an interesting day in Parliament after lunching with Sir Edward Grey, and I am dining to-night with the Lord Chief with whom I had a talk this morning.
Harvey(172) is here and he has reminded me of a long talk he and I had last October, when he didn't at all see it as I did. He now says that he is entirely convinced that I was right, and has told many people so.
It is just a little satisfaction after having been pretty well doubted by most of my friends for a year. If only Woodrow Wilson would see the truth, and rise to his life's opportunity.
And again from London, on a Wednesday in January, he writes:
Just while I am waiting . . . to go out to dine with the Governor.(173) I will send you a little line. I am off to Paris in the morning, so as to be able to come back here on the 27th, if necessary, to meet the Harvard Unit.(174) I have been on the jump these three days and have seen many interesting people at the Foreign Office, War Office and Bank and in the city, and now I am keen for Paris and the Ambulance. . . .
International finance in London, the Ambulance in Paris, the Harvard Unit in London on the 27th filled him with pride. He was, however, depressed at the way things were going in America:
I am boiling with renewed indignation at the flagrant destruction by Germans of munition factories at home, and again the Ancona,(175) but of course Wilson will do nothing. It is sickening here now that the note has arrived. . . . It has made a profound impression, very unpleasant and serious.
Mr. Bacon's next letter is written from Paris under date of February 5, 1915:
I have been so uncertain . . . about what I ought to do, so troubled to think that you feel that I ought to have come home long ago, so pulled by the different commitments here, and by the tremendous interest of being in touch with some of the biggest things that are going on, that I confess I have not known what to say to you. My cables have been so unsatisfactory, I have not been able to make you know. I seem to you to have been carried away and taken off my feet by this war, and by my intense sympathy for England and France. But these last days I have been able to see clearer. I am really going to try to chuck it all. The Hospital matters will be going better soon, and the Relief matters with Hanotaux,---and he will have decided about his trip to the United States, and perhaps Bryce will go and to-day or to-morrow I am going North again to the British G. H. Q. to try and get out of going, as I sort of said I would, to work for a while with the R. A. M. C. and the British Red Cross, both of which are now under one man, one head, Sir Arthur Sloggett, with my little friend General O'Donnell as 2nd in Command, and Arthur Lee a sort of "liaison" between them all, and the big men in England.
You see, there is going to be a great development of the British Army medical and health service, naturally, as the army more than doubles in numbers, and there will be much to do in the rear.---Well, they have been good enough to say that I might come and learn the whole hospital situation and scheme and perhaps be of some little use. The dream of possibly being of use to some one has appealed to me so strongly, as you can imagine, that I couldn't help responding to the suggestion, but I guess I am an old fool, and the dream is passed, but I must go up and gradually pull out. To-day I am taking up the Governor or the Bank of England, Davy's friend, Lord Cunliffe, and Lloyd. George and others are going in other cars, but I think Champoiseau and I will lead the way. I wish I could talk more about it all. I took Teddy Grenfell out to Juilly yesterday, Meaux, Betz, Nanteuil, Senlis. . . . He was tremendously impressed too, with the Ambulance at Neuilly, your Ambulance . . . for no one has done more than you, and to you alone do they owe their continued success.
Two days later Mr. Bacon telegraphed to Mrs. Bacon:
London Feb 7, 1915
Came over via north by automobile with Chancellor(176) and Governor.(177) Staying with Governor. Especial purpose to see Bryce with whom lunching to-day. Returning north to-morrow to see Arthur Lee. Dearest Love.
The next day Mr. Bacon wrote a hurried line, giving an account of his visit with Lord Bryce,
Brook Street, W. [London]
Feb. 8, 15.
Oh how I wish you, my friend, could be here for a few hours to hear it all from this side "audi alteram partem."
I had five hours with Lord Bryce yesterday and it was real intellectual pabulum. You probably think from my telegrams that I am carried away and emotional. I never was so calm and serious in my life.---Much love.
Late in February, or on March 1, 1915, he writes from London in the old familiar strain:
It is with a heavy heart . . . that I shall see the Juilly party. . sail away to-day without me, but I believe that I am right in staying on, for the Lusitania which . . . I expect to take next Saturday. . . . The prospect of seeing these men this coming week at this critical time when they all want me to stay, and that perhaps I may he able to help a little is too much for me. Bryce I have seen a lot, dined with him the other day, then my lunch with the Prime Minister and Sir Edward [Grey] at Montague House, where they were asked to meet me, and the opportunity to see Lloyd George and the Governor of the Bank of England, who are doing such marvels in international and national finance, and Harcourt and McKenna, and the others, all yearning for our sympathy, while we are protesting against pretty much everything they do in their life and death struggle.
I am interrupted by a telegraph as follows: "If possible come Paris. Fear serious complications Hospital."
Nor was he to take the next boat: "I can't tell you with what pangs of regret," he writes in a letter of March 5th, from London:
I have had to give up getting home . . . . I made such a big effort to leave last week and arrived here Friday with my ticket all taken to sail on the Philadelphia . . . . and here I have been chafing, champing at the bit from hour to hour, and not a chance to get away until to-day, when it is finally announced that Adriatic goes to-morrow, and to-day I have decided not to risk ten days at sea with never a word.
This last phase of the war, which has broken in upon our lives, and upset the even tenor of our ways, is but a momentary and superficial incident in our lives.---We have something big and fine and tender and generous which is worth everything else in the world and will be bigger and finer every day.
How I long to tell you all about the great international world things, which have appealed to me so strongly of late.
This next week is going to be a momentous week in the history of this war-in the tide of affairs of the world perhaps.
Whether or not England and France, the Allies, and the little old U. S. pull apart and thereby affect the destinies of the world is going to develop perhaps.
The American people are very far away and I am going to work hard this week, behind the scenes, never to be known, to help a little in holding them together. This is what I am staying for, another week, another fortnight perhaps.
Sunday, "18th of April in '75. hardly a man is now alive, &c." Still in London . . . having decided at the last moment to wait a few days for answers to my cables. Just now I ought to be in three places at once, London, Paris, and "over yonder" in the North. But keen as I am to get away I must not neglect the things I have begun here so for a few days more hereabout I am. I motored down yesterday P. M. to see G. Robinson at Nancy's and incidentally beat him at tennis "after tea," the first stroke of exercise I have had since July. Returning after dinner at about 11:30 I was stopped twice and my name taken by army patrols who were on the lookout, I suppose, for cars which are said to act as pilots for Zeppelins. I am leaving in about an hour for Headley near Epsom to call upon Lord Cunliffe, the Governor of the Bank, whom I have not yet been able to see, so busy and surmené is everyone, and to-morrow I am lunching with . . . to meet the head of the Canadian Red Cross. This is all just while I am waiting for my cables from Root and Lawrence, both of which are most important for me to get before I leave for France. Jack will be back from Paris to-morrow I think) and there are many big things in the air during the next few weeks. Tell Harry Davison I miss him here very much. . . .
Mr. Bacon's letter under date of November 30th is the last which he wrote from Europe in 1915:
I am spending a gloomy week in London and I wonder what you and all your little brood are doing and thinking. .
I read the telegrams from home about the German activities and the notes of protest which wound England and France to the quick, wounds that will never be forgotten.---The hospital unit from Harvard arrived all right and will go on to France in a few days.
It seems likely that there will not be so many wounded on the Western front during these winter months, so our numbers at Neuilly may fall off. I am not sorry on the whole as we were beginning to try to do just a little more than could be well done especially in the transportation service.
I don't know what they would do without you, for I realize how much harder and harder it is to get the money, and the people in Paris seem to think that money will drop from Heaven. Then it is almost impossible to keep the supply of drivers of the right sort.
We now have four units with the armies, and the Service in Paris is shorthanded in any emergency. . . .
I should go back on Friday, as I am going to lunch with Sir Edward Grey on Thursday. I spent Sunday with the Cunliffes in the country and Mr. and Mrs. Teddy Grenfell were there.
I am lunching with our Ambassador to-morrow and am meeting a very interesting man to-night at dinner.
After a week or so more in Paris I shall be ready to come home. Not later than the 18th, and I hope the 13th, in order to get home to you for Christmas. . . .
How would you like to go with me to Washington for a week on the 26th! The meeting of our Institute of International Law lasts a week. Root will be there, and Jamesie wants me to be there. We might stay at the Shoreham if we can get good rooms. We haven't many friends in Washington now but if you think well of it, send right away for rooms as there will be a big crowd at that time. You will see from the enclosed clipping that others feel as I do about Wilson's Thanksgiving Proclamation. . . . l wonder if we really care! Not, I am afraid, as long as we can gloat over our prosperity! Oh, I wish I had a voice, to cry out the truth. I will not believe that we would not respond, if we realized the great truth, but Wilson has decreed that we are to let them fight it out over here. Let them fight, let them bleed and bleed and suffer in the battles for our principles, our ideals, for everything that we really stand for or used to stand for. Little France is the avant-garde. She will defend us with her life's blood. England will go on, too, and Russia, because they have vital interests at stake; and we are safe, and we will go on and sell our pork, and stand up for our trade rights, and " insist" upon our version, and we " will not suffer" these greedy nations to curtail for one moment the opportunity for our beef packers to make an unconscionable profit! Why should we! Why should Mr. Armour be prevented from selling his wares to Germany! Wicked France and England to suggest such a thing. Hurrah for our prosperity, and we will reëlect Wilson and we will be let alone in Peace.
I wonder if this is the kind of Peace that Christ would have preached and taught.
But he did get home and he stayed at home long enough to visit the Mexican border, where our troops, among them his sons. Robert and Gaspar, were encamped, and to throw himself body and soul into the campaign for preparedness, to practise in fact what he preached in word, by going with his son into the training camp at Plattsburg, and to make the run for the Senate on the platform of preparedness. These duties done ---for he looked upon them as such---he turned again toward Europe, sailing on the St. Louis, from New York, in December, 1916.
"We are not off yet," he said in a letter written aboard the steamer, snowbound in port:
And somehow I am not half as brave as I thought I was. I just hate leaving you, and this is the last time---war or no war. Where I go you go too. I do hope you won't find it an impossible tour de force to come on Thursday or Saturday---Finland or Chicago. I felt that I had better go and drop everything in order to get back. . . . But I think the moral effect of going is the main thing. . . . You come too . . . I really think the moment favorable, and the impossible it seems to you, and the more things you have on your back, the more reason for cutting and running. It's the best way and it enables you to take hold again with a fresh start and a new perspective.
This terrible World War(178) has turned everything upside down, but it's too big in every way to keep away from, or get away from, and we Americans must pay our share in some way, and our inordinate and unconscionable prosperity, and disregard of our obligations and willingness to go on in the old way---no real robust sympathy and compassion in our hearts, and lives, for the agony and tragedy of all the rest of the world-makes me sick, and I want to wear a hair shirt, but I have no courage. I am just as bad as the others---tied to old standards and habits and unable to rise above it all, although my vision of its meaning is as clear as day. The world---our world---is not lucky enough to be snuffed out as was Pompeii. We have got to go through a long sickening decadence. Theodore [Roosevelt] is right---I have always known he was about the only one who understands, but he has more courage than I, I think, or rather more prompt intellectual decision and high purpose . . .
We may muddle through a few years---a few months---a few decades even, before the crash, but "where there is no vision the people perish," and our national soul is not revealed.
Come away . . . and let's really give up something. The children and grandchildren will be the better for it, although they don't understand it as I do now.---Have I the courage to break away from the old fetters, and brave public opinion and misunderstanding! and try to be a crusader and pioneer---a leader?
He had the courage,(179) and he was a leader. From the Crillon, in Paris, he wrote on January 3, 1917:
I wired you yesterday that I was homesick and afraid that complications at the Ambulance would keep me here a couple of weeks more. If I do not get away on the 13th, I shall miss my big meeting on the 25th in Washington, and I hate to do that. It is so hard to know the relative importance of things! . . . The personal equation and differences of opinion make everything ten times harder than necessary. Meanwhile, the work of the hospital goes on and justifies all the unselfish and thankless tasks which you . . are accomplishing. . . . Without your courage and indefatigable vigilance the work must have stopped. I hate to think of you having to begin pretty soon to write letters to all the contributors of beds to renew the subscriptions. . . .
Wilson's peace note and the replies are of course the principal subjects of international interest. I confess I am about as much in accord with that gentleman's apparent policy as I have been since the beginning of the war.
By way of further comment he adds, "The boy's funeral at the front was very touching and impressive." This is his last letter from the other side during the period of American neutrality.
The funeral to which Mr. Bacon referred and the incidents connected with it are stated by A. Piatt Andrew:
On Sunday, the 24th of December, 1916, a telegram came to me in Paris from Section One at La Grange aux Bois, telling of the sudden death from pneumonia of one of the boys of the Section, Howard Lines. His father and mother lived in Paris, and I had performed the painful duty of telling them the unexpected and terrible news. I was just arranging in the early afternoon to leave for the front to attend the burial, when Mr. Bacon unexpectedly appeared. He had just arrived in Paris, and when I told him where I was going, and suggested that it would mean much to the Section and to the family if he were to accompany me, he instantly agreed to go. We picked up his knapsack on the way, and arrived by motor at La Grange aux Bois long after dusk. We slept that night on stretchers on the floor of a farm house where the Section was quartered, and the next morning, a cold, gray Christmas morning, we followed the little funeral cortege through the forlorn single street of a war-ridden village to the military cemetery on a neighbouring hill. On the way back Mr. Bacon expressed a desire to visit the hospital where Lines had died---a group of rough, temporary wooden barracks used successively for hospital purposes by the troops that followed each other through this sector. With the Médecin Chef we passed through the long line of cots , with their silent poilus pallid in the dim light that came through the linen windows; the floor of rough boards creaked and yielded as we walked; there were no chairs or tables; the operating room was separated from the ward by only a canvas sheet. It was no better or no worse than hundreds of other hospitals at the front, but it was a grim place to suffer in and perhaps to die in, with only forlorn and more or less decrepit soldiers to administer its meagre comforts.
Mr. Bacon was much moved by the scene, perhaps the more so because it was Christmas morning, for I recall his turning to me and remarking, with a kind of pathetic smile, " Merry Christmas, Doc," as if he had suddenly recalled the contrast of that morning with Christmases of happier years.
He asked the surgeon in charge many questions about the possibility of doing something to increase the comfort of the wounded soldiers, and before he left he gave the surgeon a little sum of money with which to buy oranges and cakes, and anything else that they might like to have.
This is the incident as related by Mr. Andrew, and the consequences are likewise from his pen:
Perhaps a fortnight later I passed again through La Grange aux Bois, and stopped for a moment in the same hospital. The Médecin Chef had a message and a gift to send Mr. Bacon. The wounded soldiers, out of appreciation for his tender feeling for them, had carved two canes with appropriate inscriptions which they wanted to send to him, and also they had composed a touching letter of appreciation which each of them had signed.
The letter, which Mr. Bacon carefully preserved among his papers and brought with him, is dated January 8, 1917, and says in part:
The wounded and sick of Ambulance 11-16 beg Mr. Bacon to accept their very respectful sentiments and thank him for his gift.
They, like every one of France, know the sympathy and the inexhaustible generosity of which they have been the object on the part of their friend of the Great Republic. They are and will always remain deeply touched by it.
Accompanying this letter was one to Mr. Bacon from the surgeon in charge, informing him that further to express their gratitude, they were sending their benefactor "two canes carved by one of their number, begun at Verdun during the 'marmitage,' finished in the hospital."
The letters and canes Mr. Andrew left at Mr. Bacon's hotel on returning to Paris, and within a few hours he received, by special messenger, the following letter from Mr. Bacon:
Thursday, January 11, 1917.
I cannot begin to tell you how touched and pleased I am by the sweet, wonderful feeling of those splendid men. Words fail, of course, and something grips my throat and tears run down my cheeks as I read the simple names and try to realize what it all means. Would to God that our country could know and understand.
Tell them at La Grange something for me, something of the pride I should feel if I were only fighting and suffering with them for their cause which is mine. Theirs will be the triumph and the glory when victory comes, as come it will as surely as day follows night. Tell them that I shall prize their souvenirs beyond everything, and that I shall pass them on to my sons and my grandsons in grateful memory.
Say to the Médecin Chef something of what you, of all others, know that I feel. It will be for me a bright omen for the New Year, which God grant may be a happier one for them and theirs.
The value of Mr. Bacon's varied activities in Europe from the outbreak of the war until the entry of the United States will never he fully known. That they were not without appreciation and recognition in well-informed quarters is evident from Lord Cunliffe's letter of December 2, 1915:
Your letter calls for no answer---in one sense---in another it does. For I feel impelled to write and tell you how differently we all feel about you from what you think of yourself. Believe me you are doing a very big bit for the great cause. You make us realize that the best of America is wholeheartedly with us in the fight.
Truth has always been in a minority. But always in the end it has prevailed, and out of the greatest seeming failure in the history of the world has come the most wonderful triumph. Like you I am terribly given to grieving over the things I cannot help or hinder. The other people who won't see eye to eye and refuse to do the things we are so sure are the right things to do. Personally it has been a stumbling block to me all my life, it is so apt to hold one back from doing what one can---not to be able to do all one would. Go on sympathizing-leavening-encouraging. You help more than you know, and I am sure there is many a soldier who blesses you---but don't be unhappy. America is a "live country" and all will yet be well.
Certainly the most vivid account of what Mr. Bacon really stood for in France during these terrible months cannot be better told than in these words of Colonel S. Lyle Cummins, British Army Medical Service(181):
On September 9th or 10th, at Coulommiers, just after the Battle of the Marne, Major General d'Oyly Snow was carried into the town suffering from injuries caused by a fall from his horse and was brought to me for treatment. I found that he was suffering from what seemed to be a fracture of the pelvis, but the case was an obscure one and complete rest, radiographical examination, and skilled and deliberate treatment were obviously necessary. How were these to be obtained at such a moment and how was the injured officer likely to stand a journey of several days to Le Mans in an improvised ambulance train? Full of perplexity as to how to cope with these difficulties, I was just about to arrange for his transfer to the Railway Station when I was told that there was an American Red Cross officer in the town with a motor car fitted up to carry wounded and that he would be willing to help. A big man with the kindest and cheeriest face that one could imagine followed closely on this information and I was introduced to Mr. Robert Bacon. From that moment all my difficulties disappeared. Robert Bacon had a suitable car, he was ready to take the General straight to Paris, and he knew just where to take him: to the American Ambulance at Neuilly-sur-Seine. I only saw him for a moment on that occasion. It did not require much knowledge of psychology to realize that, with this man, General Snow would be in strong and capable hands. We nodded good-bye, the car disappeared in the direction of Paris and the incident closed.
Our next meeting was about ten days later at Fère-en-Tardenois, where I was working as Staff Officer to Colonel (now General) O'Donnell, the Deputy Director of Medical Services at General Head Quarters. We were hard put to it to deal adequately with the large numbers of casualties from the fighting on the Aisne and our difficulties were much the greater from the fact that, at that time, we were without any motor ambulance convoys. In the midst of our efforts the same big man that had arrived so opportunely at Coulommiers was shown into my office and said, in his quiet way, that he happened to have one or two little cars fitted to carry patients and that he would be glad of our permission to help. Just at that time, there had been a little difficulty with the British Red Cross, our firm ally and support through the subsequent periods of the war. One or two Red Cross officials, not yet acquainted with official routine and animated by an intense desire to help those who were suffering, had gone straight up to the ambulances at Braisne and had removed wounded directly to Red Cross units farther back. This well-meant intervention had caused much difficulty to the branch of the staff concerned with tracing and reporting casualties and, as a result, Red Cross effort in the immediate battle zone was not being encouraged. But here was a man who seemed to understand the official side of things and who, instead of attempting to evade what were often regarded as the restrictions of "red tape," had come straight to General Head Quarters with his cars and was asking for sanction to do anything that we might think useful. I brought him in to see Colonel O'Donnell who took him up and presented him to the Adjutant General, Sir Nevil Macready. Nobody could refuse Robert Bacon anything, as I soon found out; and, besides, our needs of just such help as he could offer were urgent in the extreme. The little town of Braisne close behind the fighting line was full of wounded; the Church at Fère, as well as the Clearing Hospital at the Station, was full also. Bacon was at once given a free hand. He took some of his cars up to Braisne, sent them off full in charge of one of his assistants, and came back to Fère to collect three officers that I specially wanted to have sent straight to Paris. These three officers, brought in wounded the night before, were in urgent need of careful treatment and were lying on mattresses in the aisle of the church, the hospitals being full and ambulance trains all wanted at Braisne. They were Colonel Lowther of the Guards, Captain Amery of the Black Watch, and Major Deshon of the Royal Field Artillery; the two latter old friends of mine whom I had served with in Egypt. Robert Bacon took them, all three, into his car and made them wonderfully comfortable considering the circumstances.
Off they started, and it was with a feeling of real delight that I saw them vanish round a corner of the road and knew that they would be in a comfortable hospital in Paris before nightfall. Next day Bacon was with us again, putting his whole heart and soul into the work and rendering invaluable help in a quiet, unobtrusive, and selfless way that simply won our love and respect from the start. Perhaps an attempt to give a word-picture of him may be out of place, or perhaps even open to the charge of sentimentality, in an account which is primarily intended to record his work; but I like to think of him in that setting of war and confusion, a big straight man with crisp grayish hair and a brown tanned healthy skin, the very picture of a soldier---and mightily distressed to be in plain clothes at a time when all his ideals had been dashed aside by the German invasion of Belgium and when his whole soul was stirred by the great adventure in which we were engaged. War and confusion there might be around him but there was, at least, no trace of confusion in those clear kind eyes of his. He always seemed to know exactly when and how to help and when to keep out of the way of very busy men and yet be at hand if needed. So far we had met almost daily, but not at all intimately. I had taken the greatest liking to Mr. Bacon, as had everybody else in our little team, but he was still almost a stranger to me. On September 23rd, however, an event occurred which gave me an opportunity of getting to know him better. The long railway journey along the lines of communication and the confusion incident to our change of bases had combined to make the forwarding of medical stores and equipment very slow and difficult. As a result, the field medical units were getting very short of dressings and other necessaries at the Front. It was suggested that I should go by car to Paris to purchase and bring up with me in a light lorry all the supplies that I could obtain. Robert Bacon had taken a brother officer of mine, Major Percy Evans, to Paris for the same purpose a few days before and the stores brought to the battle zone on that occasion had been of the greatest service. To my great delight, Mr. Bacon offered to take me with him in his car, the lorry following as best it might, to meet us at Paris on its arrival. I can recall vividly the sense of exhilaration with which I started. From the first day of mobilization to that moment I had been very hard at work and was beginning to feel the strain. Now, in a fine car, driven by a first-rate chauffeur, an old racing hand called, I think, Champoisenu, we were starting off on a run to Paris and leaving the awful problems and anxieties of the Aisne Battle far behind us for the moment. And from the very first my companion fascinated me. He talked of many things; and every word that he said seemed to fit in exactly with what was in my inmost heart. His views about the war, his wise, tolerant, unprejudiced opinions about men and things, his love and sympathy for what was best in British life and work, and, above all, the complete absence of any trace of "side" or "swagger"; all these things became more and more impressed on me as we proceeded on our journey, and by the time we had accomplished our mission and had got back, once more, to Fère-en-Tardenois, I knew that I had had the rare pleasure and privilege of making a friend of the kind that really influences one's life. I know quite surely, too, that Robert Bacon realized then, and remembered afterward throughout our friendship, that he was an influence and inspiration to me. I can truthfully say that I never spent an hour with him that I did not feel the better for it and, in many days of hard trial and perplexity during the whole war, the mere thought of Robert Bacon and what he would be likely to do or say was an unfailing source of help and support. It is only rarely that one meets a fellow-creature that has this singular effect of strength and inspiration. I do not think I have ever felt it in the same degree as with Bacon; and I do not think it likely that 1 was alone in this.
Work now increased more and more for us all and Robert Bacon became a sort of unofficial member of our Head Quarters. He spent as much of his time as he could in Braisne and the Advanced Area where he was, by this time, a familiar and welcome figure, always ready to help with transport or in any other way. At this period, we formed the first of the Motor Ambulance Convoys and here came a great opportunity to help of which Bacon took full advantage. He and Doctor Gros organized a highly efficient detachment of American Red Cross cars and drivers which was officially attached to the regular ambulance convoys and worked with them in the most complete harmony, remaining at this arduous and dangerous duty for many months during the most trying part of the war.
With the move from the Aisne to the Northern Area, we lost, for a time, the services and the company of Robert Bacon as he had to go, first to England and then on to America, on business of an even more important kind than that which he had undertaken at the Front.
As an instance of his thoughtful kindness, I may add that, when in London, busy as he was with affairs of the first magnitude, he still found time to go to Ashtead in Surrey, where my wife was living, to assure her that all was well with me and that she need have no anxiety. This was quite characteristic of Robert Bacon.
Early in 1915 he reappeared at General Head Quarters and became a member of the little mess in which General O'Donnell, Colonel Thresher, and I were living; and once more he became an active and invaluable helper in all the work that was going forward. He was with us again during the battle of Festubert and, on that occasion, I being at Advanced G. H. Q., he came up and worked with me for several days, describing himself as my "Officier de Liaison," a very good name as he and his car were always available to take me or my messages anywhere at any time. He felt all the tragedy of that unhappy battle as a personal suffering. I remember sitting with him in his car at a cross roads close to the line, held up, for the moment, by part of a Highland Division that was moving forward to take its part in the fighting. The men were young lads, fresh out from home and still full of excitement and gaiety. They marched past us with a fine swing, laughing and joking like a lot of hearty schoolboys. I happened to look up suddenly toward Bacon. His eyes were full of tears. He saw that I had noticed and understood and said simply, "Do you know, I can hardly bear to see these lads going forward like this." He would have liked to go himself but the sight of all that promise going to destruction was too much for him.
Shortly afterward he was obliged, once more, to return to America, and for a long time afterward I saw no more of him though he wrote now and then and sent me a few reports of speeches by Mr. Root and a book by Roosevelt.
I had now been transferred from the Medical Head Quarters to the Gas Directorate where I was working under General Thuillier as his Staff Officer for Anti-Gas Defence. It was in this capacity that I next met Bacon. Some time toward the end of 1916 I heard that he was in Paris. At that phase of the war, the Germans were attempting to persuade their own soldiers that gas warfare had been started by the British and I had by me some documents captured from the enemy and reports of agents proving that this charge was being made. I therefore suggested to General Charteris, the Director of Military Intelligence, that it would be a good, thing to invite Robert Bacon to G. H. Q. so that he might see these papers and, as a neutral, be able to give the lie to the charges made, since he had been with us at Head Quarters at the time of the first gas attacks and knew all the facts. General Charteris agreed and, as a result, I had the great pleasure of his company for a couple of nights and was able to take him round some of our gas schools and training centres, leaving him at Amiens on his way to Paris. As usual, he was full of helpful suggestions and made careful notes of all I had to tell him. With the entry of America into the war, a new field of effort arose for one who was by nature a soldier, and when I next saw Robert Bacon, he was as happy as a boy, at last in uniform and taking an important part, as an "Officier de Liaison" on the Staff of Sir Douglas Haig, in the war which he had always regarded as a crusade. It is not necessary for me to write about his doings from this time forward as these are part of the history of the war. As a matter of fact, I saw very little of him at that time, as he was no longer able to afford time to interest himself in the work of our Medical Department and I, too, was very busy at a new phase of work, the organization of the Army laboratories in France. But we met now and then when his duties took him to Abbeville or mine took me to Montreuil, and he was always the same kind and understanding friend.
I saw him for the last time on the day when, his duties in France finally over, he was passing through Paris on his way home to America. I think it was early in March, 1918. I was in Colonel Richard Strong's office at the American Red Cross Head Quarters when he happened to come in and we at once arranged to spend the next half hour, all we could afford of time, together. He came with me in my car to visit one or two shops and offices and then on to the Institute Pasteur where I had some business to transact. There we parted with a long hand-shake and many hopes that we might meet soon again.
I cannot close this account of the doings of Robert Bacon as a Red Cross officer with the British Expeditionary Force without expressing, once more, my love and admiration for the finest human being I have ever met.
S. LYLE CUMMINS,
Colonel, Army Medical Service.
January 2nd, 1921.
Where Mr. Bacon got his first wound, 1914
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