HERE are two remarks heard this morning a propos of the pursuit that followed our victory on the Marne. The first is that of a young Alpine Chasseur.
"They ran, they ran, so that we could not overtake them. But the swine had given us what for! Of four thousand of us that came down from the Alps, there are a thousand left. The others are not all dead; some are wounded."(6)
The second remark was that of a Reservist.
"We fell upon them in a wood. Didn't we just knock them about, poor wretches! There oughtn't to be wars like that."
No, truly, there ought not to be, and the crime of its authors never seemed to me greater than to-day.
I had only just got up when I heard that a train full of wounded had fallen into the Marne, and I saw our ambulances hurriedly starting with nurses, help, food. What an abyss of trouble this foretells!
While I am still overwhelmed by the news, a wounded man, brought in on a wheeled chair, is suddenly seized with haemorrhage; the small bone of his leg, completely crushed, has torn an artery; the blood flows in torrents; it takes many minutes to stop it. By the white cheeks, the troubled eyes, of the sick man, his strength and life can be seen to be ebbing away. Here he is saved; but on the field of battle how many must so die whom a little help might have restored!
In the afternoon, we get some of the English, wounded near Soissons. What courage and what spirit they all show! Many of them are even merry.
"I fought until such or such a day, when I was wounded." "And since then?" "Since then? I've been travelling."
A young soldier whose thigh has been penetrated by a splinter of shell, complains of being so dirty; he laughs as he points to his beard and his nails. And to think that his wound prevents him from going into the big bath! He is washed in his bed.
An officer, six feet high, which does not prevent him being in the infantry, has his forehead bound with a bandage that has more red than white in it.He shows me in his cap the hole made by the bullet. "A narrow escape," I tell him. He had still more luck than that; two more bullets, without touching him, went, one through his sock above his foot, and the other, in the middle of his arm, through his tunic.
He is confident about the present engagement; he believes that more than a hundred thousand of the French are surrounding the two divisions of the enemy against which the English are fighting and which are strongly placed to the north of Soissons.
Full of pity I ask him to look at two wounded men in a pitiful state, who are being taken out of the ambulance and brought in on stretchers.
"Those are not the worst," he says; "far from it! There were many in such a state on the battle-field that we could not bring them away. Let us hope they will be looked after on the spot."
"During the five days of fighting you saw, was there not an armistice for carrying away the wounded and burying the dead? "
"No, that wouldn't do; you can't trust the Germans. Besides, they are in a hole; we won't let them go; let them get out of it themselves, if they can."
The animosity of the English against the enemy is deeper than ours, as that of the enemy is against them.
Nine o'clock at night. Those who escaped from the Marne arrived at the end of the day; we have fifty as our share. The catastrophe took place at Mary, at a quarter to twelve at night.
An ambulance train carrying five hundred wounded going westwards, by a mistake in the points was sent along a blocked line. In the middle of the night it came to a bridge which had been destroyed three days earlier. The greater part of the carriages fell into the water, others were piled up on each other on the embankment; of fifteen, only the two last escaped, and they contained wounded Germans.
"Much worse than a battle," all the poor fellows tell me.
And indeed, can one picture a horror like it? In complete darkness, the half-dressed wounds, the uneasy sleep; the nightmares; then the abrupt awakening, the fall into something unknown---into space, into water; the crushed limbs, the cries, the dying companions.
"I was asleep; everything was turned upside down; 'we are in the water!' I heard some one say. I felt it rising, my right arm had been pierced with the splinter of a shell; but I got it out all the same and climbed along the side of the engine.
Everything was topsy-turvy. Out of my carriage four were saved."
I shall see them again to-morrow. Let us sleep, if we can.
When I went my rounds this morning, I found my drenched patients pretty well, rested and contented. "It is better here than in the Marne."
They describe the accident to me and also the fights of the last week and the pursuit of the Germans. I give it in the words of an Alpine Reservist, from the country about Aix-en-Provence.
"On Thursday and Friday we had marched all day without a shot. They were just running away; it was impossible to catch them up. We came up with them on Saturday evening, at Vic-sur-Aisne. We had stirred them up. They tried to blow up the bridge; but it was impossible; we had got there in time. We crossed behind them; and at that moment they opened fire on us; but we had the guns of the 47th trained on the left and they forced them to fall back still further. That night our company took the outposts.
"On Sunday morning, at seven o'clock, we started from the river; but this time we didn't go so fast; their heavy artillery fired upon us from above; and they had a terribly strong position, so that we could not make more than four kilometres in the whole day. We marched under the fire of the artillery till six o'clock in the evening. That's the place where a lot fell! There were divisions that were wiped out. You see we had been told that the position must be taken at all costs, so as not to let the German infantry advance.
"At six o'clock a splinter of shell went into my leg; it's there still. They carried me to a first-aid station, where I got my first dressing and spent the night. After that, they took me to Vic, to the Red Cross field hospital, and then to the station at Compiègne, where they put us into the train that had the accident.
"The first carriages fell into the river; ours took a turn and rolled over into the road beneath a long way down. It was broken to bits, but our stretchers saved us and we almost all got out. It didn't hurt me much, my leg was a little squeezed---the one with the splinter in it. The civilians got up; they opened the hospital at Mary for us, where the Boches had left nothing at all. The Bishop came at nine o'clock and gave us packets of tobacco.How nice he is, that Monseigneur! The American ambulance arrived about eleven o'clock, and at six we were here.
"All the same one wishes it was all over; it's regular butchery."
All day yesterday, brought from the station at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, English from the Battle of the Aisne were coming in; most of them seriously wounded, some the day before, others three, four, or even five days ago.
Those that arrived in the afternoon showed cheerful faces; but whether in consequence of the higher state of fever or from having had to wait so long, those who were brought in at eight, and still more at eleven o'clock at night could draw on their fine spirit for nothing but a stoical resignation.
One even, when they lifted his stretcher, let a cry escape him which made us shudder; then he closed his eyes and was silent. They carry in first those most sorely hurt without any further formality than taking the name on their identification discs. Some there are, moreover, who cannot speak, having teeth, lips, jaws, shattered. Others, wounded in the throat, in the throes of death, cry for drink but cannot swallow.
"Where are you wounded?" we ask, stooping over the coverings that wrap the poor bleeding bodies.
"In both legs and the arm," answers one. Another: "In the hand, in the hip, and in the foot."
Several silently point to their throat, their head, their side. A splinter of shell has gone through this one from the back to the lower part of the stomach; a few, for all answer, lift up their coverings, and one sees great black patches surrounded by splashes of red; an enormous foot or calf, looking all the more swollen by contrast with the other leg so thin; bandages soaked with blood. In spite of the open windows, one breathes its sickly odour.
Over those who must still wait (our hall is quite full), we spread towels and clean sheets which in a few minutes are soaked with blood.
We finish our work in silence, overcome with fatigue, with horror, with pity, thinking that the very battle where these things were done may last for days, and the War, for months, who knows? for a year!
Words could not express the effect of the things I sometimes see. Perhaps I shall grow accustomed to them.
Last night I was waked at two o'clock to go to one English soldier who had just died; it was calling me a little late, and, moreover, he was an Anglican, as I could see from his identification disc (C.E., Church of England; R.C., Roman Catholic).
I blessed the poor body and accompanied it with prayers to the mortuary with the nurse and the night superintendent. As we went, the lights were put out before us so as not to rouse the patients in the wards we had to cross.
Afterwards, along the dark corridors, on the contrary, they turned up the electric light. And I liked that better; death is not a plunge into darkness. When we got to the funeral ward, we found another Englishman, dead after an operation. He lay alone there in the dark. I prayed for him.
This morning I gave absolution to a Lyonnais who has but little chance of escaping death, his brain laid open, half his body paralysed, but still quite conscious and sensible and able to answer yes or no to questions asked him. A hint of gratitude seemed to look out with difficulty from his motionless eyes, and, at the last, soft tears appeared in them.
At noon I hear that the doctors worked till three o'clock in the morning. Arms and legs in which gangrene had set in had to be amputated. The operating theatre was nothing but a pool of blood, an assistant nurse told me.
This afternoon, I gave absolution and Extreme Unction to an Irishman who had never regained consciousness since he was brought in. In his pocket-book there was a letter addressed to his mother. The nurse is going to add aword to say that he received the Last Sacraments. Christian hope will soften the terrible news.
Oh, Emperors of Austria and Germany! If you could be there when Death brings his tidings to that poor Irish home, and to the thousands, the hundred thousands of others, in England, in France, in Russia, in Serbia, in Belgium, in your own States, in all Europe, and even in Africa and Asia. May God enlighten your conscience!
This gloomy day has nevertheless had its pleasant moments---those I have spent with the wounded on the way to recovery, who welcome me as a friend, and of whom several have made their confessions. I love the little Irishman, so pitiable and so resigned, his rosary always round his arm. Badly wounded in the thigh and left for two days in a wood, gangrene set in, and amputation was necessary as soon as he arrived. The operation has been successful and he is getting up his strength. He smiles whenever one goes to see him.
To-day, too, I had a hurried, but interesting, talk with Mr. Bacon, the former Ambassador of the United States, who at the beginning of the War came to bring us his loyal sympathy. During the last few days he has fetched a good number of wounded from the places where fighting had been going on, and he has been able to see with his own eyes the traces left by the German army. His testimony will be, indeed is, of great service for us with American opinion.
More valuable still is the presence here of the present Ambassador, Mr.Herrick, who would not leave Paris and who is able to be of such use to it. Though his functions will not begin till later on, Mr. Sharp, his nominated successor, has also chosen to be with us from the beginning of the War.
Since all three meet together, and all of them love France, let us rejoice that we possess three United States' Ambassadors at the same time.
Nine o'clock at night.---At Mass this morning there were twenty soldiers and two officers---all those whose wounds allowed them to get up.
I need not say, it was obligatory on no one; but the performance of religious duties seems to have once more become---as it has never ceased to be with other nations---a quite normal action in our Army.
On this third Sunday of September---the Feast of the Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin---there is no need of anything but to remind them, with an address of less than ten minutes, of the words in the Gospel which tell of Mary, standing at the foot of the Cross, watching the suffering, the agony, the death, of her beloved Son.
The comparison was only too easy with so many poor mothers dreading or receiving disastrous news; with France and the other countries seeing their finest sons perishing; with the Church, looking on, powerless, at the mortal strife of her children. In the name of the Divine Victim offered up in the Sacrifice of the Mass, as He was offered up on Calvary, we prayed together to God to shorten these days of anguish, and to make them serve to the betterment of our souls and the progress of humanity.
Eleven o'clock at night.---Deaths are beginning; I have just been ministering to a dying Irish soldier, and to a French officer seized with tetanus; both in isolation wards.
It is to be feared that we shall have many, since in consequence of the efficiency of the hospital in surgeons and operating-wards, we are provided for the most serious cases.
Four funerals to-day! All English; one was a Catholic; I followed the procession, and blessed the grave. The long journey from here to the new cemetery was exceedingly mournful; those four hearses, followed by a crowd, doubtless sympathetic, but still composed of strangers, and finally the burial in that common grave.
As I went up to my room just after supper, I met the body of one of those to whom I ministered last night. The hospital attendants had been obliged to put it down for a moment while they opened doors. The white shape, completely wrapped up, lay upon the floor; I knelt down by it to bless it and say a prayer.
This is the atmosphere the War has created for us, and in which we are going to live---for how many months? There is little time, and less courage, for writing.
This morning, however, on my round of visits, I heard and took note of a very animated story, which it will be sufficient to repeat. It is absolutely from the life. The most I will do is to steer the narrator a little so as to keep chronological order. Its authenticity can't be called in question.
My soldier was born in Paris, and had spent fourteen years at Bordeaux; but his story was verified and at times filled up by a comrade, his next-door neighbour, who had seen, or suffered, the same events:---
"On Monday, the 7th, we were going down to the Nanteuil station; we went through a village pillaged by the Germans, we took the formation of a line of skirmishers. Then the shells came; the earth flew about---holes you might have buried an ox in! We saw them coming---ZZZ . . . boom! We had time to take shelter.
"When we got to the edge of the wood, we went scouting; we had been told to advance; but, be hanged to it! they had already made a mark of us. The artillery made havoc of us; my bugler, close to me, was shot dead; he didn't speak a word, poor boy! I was hit in the leg; it was about two o'clock. As I couldn't drag myself further, my comrade, before he went, hid me under three trusses of hay and my head under my haversack. Splinters of shell mangled it, that poor haversack; but without it . . .! A few yards away, a comrade whose leg was broken, and who had a splinter of shell in his arm, was wounded again in seven or eight places. I stayed there all day. At night some men of the 101st got me into the wood, where there were several French wounded as well as a German captain, wounded the day before. He was in pain, too, poor wretch.
"About midnight, French soldiers came to look for those that could be carried, only my comrade and I were left, and the German captain. There were other wounded farther away, for we could hear their moans. It was very dismal.
"We spent two days there without any help. About three o'clock on Wednesday, here were the Germans again. I said: 'We are all lost.' Some of them looked uglily at us. But the captain told them we had been kind to him. The first night I still had a little bread in my haversack and some spirit of mint; and we shared it. I could not give him drink, for there was none.
"The captain told them to look after us. They took him away and we were left alone; but soon they came back. An orderly tied my leg to the handle of a spade, because there were lots lying about. They carried us on a little further, to another outskirt of the wood, twenty or twenty-five yards from their batteries---about as far as from here to the end of the ward; we could see them firing.
"And then at the end of five minutes here was the French artillery at work, and then we did think ourselves done for! How it rained shell! The Boches ran away and left us quite alone; and they left their guns, too. An hour later the French firing ceased; the Germans came back to look for their guns, and took us away, too. Two or three miles on stretchers before we got to the high-road. There they put us into a car. There were quite twenty-five Germans and a few Frenchmen, squeezed tight together.I could not stretch my leg; it was very painful. There was a French non-commissioned officer there that fainted twice."
Here the narrator appeals to his companion in misery, now his next-door neighbour in bed:---
"What was the name of that village that was all on fire?"
"I don't know, " the other answers; "but I remember that it warmed us."
It must have been the village of Beth, as I learnt later from the non-commissioned officer just spoken of, and who was also in our hospital.
The story went on: "You smelt corpses all along the road---a regular stench. Between twelve and one at night, we got to the village of Cuvergnon, where they had their field-hospital. The surgeons undid us and dressed our wounds well. Then they put us into a shed in the open air. It was raining, and I got wet, because I was on the outside. But they gave us nothing to eat,(7) nothing all day long except a little water to drink.
"We spent that night and Thursday morning there. Between three and four in the afternoon, they took us all pell-mell---French and Germans together---to a farm not far off; and in the evening they gave us some bones, nothing else; no bread; they hadn't even got any for themselves.
"On Thursday night they went away without a word; we saw a man packing his haversack in the room. They left all the wounded there six Frenchmen and thirty-five Germans, of whom four were officers.
"On Friday, first of all, we saw the gendarmes arrive, who went at once to warn the Mayor. We were put into another house, the French apart. A few minutes afterwards we saw a French regiment arrive. Ah! you can fancy what a joy it was! The colonel congratulated us, embraced us, and promised we should be taken away in ambulances. The people of the neighbourhood brought us food; a lady of the place washed us, and dressed our wounds, while we were waiting for the ambulances. How kind she was, that lady! A saintly woman!
"Then, it was Saturday when an ambulance came for the first set. As for us, we were taken in the evening, with a German officer, to Crépy-en-Valois, where there were some kind nuns. From there, on Sunday, the American ambulance brought us to Neuilly. It was rather a long way; but once here, we were all right; yes, indeed! It's paradise. Now we are saved.
"But the things we have seen! I saw an officer ---his brain was hanging over his eye. And the black corpses, and the bloated horses! It's the night that's the saddest; you hear cries: 'Help, help!' Some of them are calling for their mothers. No one answers."
Half-past eleven. This morning there was the funeral of an English officer. A detachment of the Republican Guard provided military honours. His wife, who had started as soon as she had heard, arrived an hour too late.
A Zouave is just dead.
And the battle in which they were hit a week ago is not yet ended. God be thanked that it is turning little by little to our advantage! But nine days of this massacre! Last night again four English officers, seriously wounded, were brought in. Good news concerning the operations is not enough to dispel the vision of wounds, nor that of coffins, and so many dead otherwhere, in hospitals, on the field of battle! So many wives, mothers, children, for ever deprived of their support and their beloved!
And looking down upon these scenes of slaughter, the Cathedral of Reims burning to its end! Our beloved France discrowned of her most beautiful memory!
But still more to be pitied is the German nation, for ever dishonoured.
Six o'clock. Typical hospital afternoon---dying men, serious cases, good progress in recoveries.
At one o'clock, as I rose from table, I was summoned to a room on the second floor, where four Englishmen, one of them a Catholic, were dying of tetanus---that implacable disease! If only there could have been less delay in fighting it!(8)
After that I visited the big wards downstairs. There are a number of serious cases there, but only one patient in immediate danger, and he is asleep. There are others I see, notably a Scotchman, who is a Catholic, and glad to talk to a priest. I was very much touched myself, and I had scarcely left him when my emotion was stayed by an impulse to laugh---a rather rare thing in these days.
As I had just spoken in English, I addressed the next patient in the same tongue: "Any better?" "Oh, yes! you may well say it is embêtant!" a pleasant voice from Marseilles answered.
In four beds of wounded men, we go from Ireland to Africa, to the Scotch Lakes and to Cannebière.
My round ends in a small ward where I find perhaps a dozen Frenchmen, almost all seated or lying on their beds in comfortable pyjamas. As soon as I enter two call out to me that they will come to Mass to-morrow. I seat myself on the table in the middle and the conversation becomes general. By fits and starts they all recount their experiences. There ought to have been a phonograph, or at least I ought to have been able to write it down; but that would have extinguished the sacred fire. They talked mostly of the pursuit that followed the Battles of the Marne.
"We found Alboches everywhere about, even at the end of several days---in lofts, in the hay, behind the bean-stalks. The woods were fullof little sets of them. At night they came over to get beetroots, and carrots, and apples. We went into a church in a forsaken village; a poor old fellow, with quite grey hair, was there. And if he didn't fall on his knees making signs that he had three children! We brought him away and treated him like one of ourselves.
"Another time---it was in a trench; there were lots of dead in it, and four alive; they were dying of hunger, and didn't they just fall upon our bread! Another time, when there were only four of us, we came upon fifteen Germans. They threw down their rifles, and one of them explained in French that they wanted to be taken prisoners; they hadn't had anything to eat for three days; they'd had quite enough of such a war! "
This last trait is universal; I have heard of it a score of times. The Germans in masses hold out like a thick wall; dispersed, they think only of surrender, especially if they are hungry.
The men of my ward of yesterday have given me a pleasant surprise. Not two, but ten came to Mass this morning---all those who could leave their beds. Fancy my gratification! So I welcomed them, after the gospel, with a little sermon, lasting three minutes, which appeared to go to their hearts as straight as it came from mine.
Another funeral this afternoon, of an English Protestant and a French Catholic.
At the cemetery, a leading man of Neuilly, M. Georges N.-L., made an excellent speech on patriotic concord; finally he showed that what was the greatest consolation was the eternity of happiness God accords to the martyrs to duty.
I could not help speaking a few words of agreement with his. In war-time, there is no doubt things put on a different look, and some of them a better one.
Yesterday we received a visit from His Eminence Cardinal Amette. The President and the members of the Committee showed him over all principal parts of the hospital, and he congratulated them on so perfect an organization.
He stood, fatherly and friendly, beside the wounded, finding for each words of sympathy and comfort. Our Bretons and Irish seemed the most delighted with his blessing; but there was none that was not glad to touch his hand.
Before he left he promised me his generous cooperation as to books and objects of piety that might give pleasure to our poor wounded. His prolonged pauses beside each bed in the large wards, left him no time to visit all the smaller ones. It was very touching to hear the complaints from English Protestants and brave Moors about this quite involuntary abstention. "We're French, too!" said these last.
IT'S really beautiful, a ward for the wounded, with its snow-white beds; its glass tables; its great bays full of light, its spotless floors and walls; with its rolling shelves of dressings, remedies, disinfectants; with its nurses, both eager and calm; always smiling and yet so serious, watching over everything flying noiselessly from place to place; and, lastly, withits patients well combed and washed; newly-shaved, easy, rested, some dozing, others entertained by some light reading, or smiling from afar at a visitor.
But what suffering and endurance is hidden beneath these quiet looks, and at the cost of what strength of mind they can be kept up, only betrayed here and there by a stifled moan or the involuntary contraction of features which the least movement causes, a passer-by, even with the softest of hearts, could not guess, if he had not had the sad privilege of being present at the time of wound-dressing.
Yesterday I begged for this privilege, not, need I say? for vain curiosity---that would be punished enough by the horror of the sight---but with the idea of entering more thoroughly into the minds of my poor friends, and by better knowing their troubles the better to sympathize with them.
Such things are beyond description. Just a few words, always with the same aim of strengthening in us the determination that this War shall be carried on to such a point that it will be the last--- to such an end, anyhow, that the enemy cannot make it afresh for several centuries.
The most serious wound is taken first; a hole large enough to put one's fist in dug in the arm by a splinter of shell.
Oh! when after the wadding and the bandages have been taken off, there appears, gaping amidst a circle of swellings, that crater of red blood, black blood, of purulent matter! And the face of the patient while the open wound is being painted with tincture of iodine! Under the sting he shrinks, he leans his head upon the arm of the brave nurse; and he holds his tongue.
He holds his tongue, too, that other who had been hit in the leg with a bullet and shrapnel; while the wound above his foot is being dressed, a hole in his calf suppurates, and presently a wound between his ribs must be dressed.
The third does more than hold his tongue; he smiles---such fine and delicate features!---with no less than five or six shrapnel bullets in his thighs. While they clean his draining-tubes and change the compresses, he can'thelp jumping a little; but he talks of other things. The dear young fellow, just twenty was wounded in the company commanded by his father, who in his turn was also wounded.
O France! with these admirable Castelnaus, how many other families are paying for your salvation by equal heroism!
Sometimes the pain is so great that the strongest spirit can't keep the tortured body silent.
One has had his ankle-bone shot right through by a bullet which split the bones of the leg; the smaller bone had to be taken out in fragments. When the dressing is taken off the terribly swollen foot; when they wash the central hole and the cracks, moans, plaintive and prolonged, "Oh's!" break from the patient; and to see the look of the injury, to breathe the smell, to listen to the cries of this strong young man, is heart-rending.
Awful War! Awful War!
I was talking with a doctor this evening and saying that I had never seen anything worse. "That's because you haven't been on the battle-field," he answered; "you haven't seen the dead, the dying, the wounded begging for something to drink! "
Oh, that thirst of the wounded lasting for long hours and sometimes for days . . .! Formerly, to help them, to carry them off, there were days of armistice; there are still between the Austrians and the Russians; with the Germans they are not possible; they would make use of them to attack us. Battles lasting over a week, and no truce to bury the dead, to take up the wounded! Attempts are still made under the rain of shrapnel and bullets; but they are too much for you, and if you don't remain master of the field, they have to be given up.
Sometimes the enemy attends to them; he finishes off some; he takes care of others. At times he goes off himself, and for long no one comes. How many days we picked them up round about Meaux ---in deserted houses, on the hills and in the woods!
Under the date of the 21st I took notes of a story which threw some light on this forsaking; though the teller had near him companions in suffering and a promise of help. But those no one sees, no one hears, who know not if any one will come, who feel themselves dying quite alone, or amongst the dead! . . .
A score of wounded came to us yesterday from the Battle of the Aisne. Decidedly the worse cases are kept for us, and it is very wise not to send them further.
Here is a man from Lyons, whose story, as well as his appearance, shows forth, not a selfish and cowardly fear, but the horror of what he has gone through.
"We were marching and fighting as much by night as by day. Quite eighty fell beside me on the field. If you could only have heard their cries! I was lost on the plains for four days. I had gone out scouting; the Germans used their machine-gun; my battalion had gone. No houses; nothing. I fell down in the clover and was all alone. I called to my mother, my wife; I called to my children."
Another, a brave little Zouave, a farmer in the neighbourhood of Puy, hit in both legs four days ago, tells his story more quietly and consecutively.
"I was stationed near Soissons when we tried to put the Germans to flight. They were intrenched in quarries. We began shelling them.
"I was eighteen months in Morocco. I was wounded in the left thigh on the fourth of June; cured after three weeks in hospital. We started on the 1st September, disembarked at Cette; passed Bordeaux, Rouen, Amiens, and Clermont de l'Oise, where we got out of the train. After a day's march and a night's halt, we started to dislodge them from Noyon. We came up with them in the evening, and at once we took a village."
"Were you glad to meet them?"
"Oh, yes! especially as we wanted to stick a few. But we were in the second-line, for counter-attacks, so that that first time I couldn't even once fire my rifle. We slept in the trenches. We went on fighting for six days."
"Of course you had to stop for food?"
"This is how it is! when you can, you go and take your turn at the rear to eat and rest, because you don't have anything to eat in the first line, except a little 'monkey.'"
"What is that? "
"Preserved beef in half-pound tins. That does for two. When it is finished you'd willingly have something more to eat; but it lets you go on till night.
"On the seventh day I was done for. A splinter of shell knocked four of us down. In my section, out of fifty-two there were only eight left. Most of them wounded, four or five killed. One would like to see one's family again after the War.
"I remained twenty-four hours on the ground--- from eleven o'clock in the morning till the same time the next day. The shells kept any one from coming near. When we saw the hospital people, weren't we just glad! And not a drop of water to drink. We asked everybody that went by if they had any; they said no. All night long there one is, calling out for the stretcher-bearers. What with the cold and the thirst one can't sleep."
This morning, at three o'clock, fifteen or twenty seriously wounded French Reservists were brought in from the Battle of the Aisne, or rather that name is not sufficient, for they were hurt between Noyon and Péronne, between the Oise and the Somme, and they came from Lorraine. The English papers call it the Battle of the Rivers. The chess-board grows daily bigger.The Battle of Mons seemed to us of immeasurable duration, as well as in the number of combatants; it was exceeded by that of the Marne, and that which has been going on for fifteen days---fifteen days!---surpasses both. And even worse may be foreseen (how can it be?) for the time when Germany, on her own soil, will face the Allied armies with a desperate resistance!
Serious cases are not always hopeless cases; the greater number of the newly-arrived will, thanks be to God, recover. They were taken in time, having occurred only the day before yesterday, or even yesterday; with the want of armistices and the German custom of not respecting even ambulances, nothing better can be done.
Half of them are officers, among them a friend of mine I did not recognize at first.
The village he had been ordered to occupy had been reconnoitred by the cavalry and reported empty. A few hundred yards off, feeling all the same a little uneasy, he formed battle-line; at once German artillery showered shrapnel upon him. He fell amongst the first in front of his troop. It is the habit of our officers; soon we shall have none left. There ought to be some limit put to their heroism.
All officers and men alike, lying in our waiting-room, greet the presence of the Chaplain with a kindly look. They went to confession just before the battle. It is the France of former days, as Christian, as brave. A Seminarist sub-lieutenant, promoted on the field of battle, is wounded in the shoulder, the calf, and the hip. He doesn't mind.
"All that I asked of God," he confides to me, "was thatI might not lose the fingers of my right hand, so that I might be a priest."
At half-past-six, going to say my Mass, I see the father and mother of my wounded friend coming in. Never shall I forget the look of inquiry they gave me. How delightful it was to be able to call out to them that the wounds were not dangerous!
I can't say as much for all of them, alas! In the gangrene-ward, which leaves but little room for hope, I visit early two new-comers. Like the others who are already there, they think themselves better, they are in less pain, their only complaint is that they can't move their poor leg.They are very peaceful; thank God I can minister to them without making them uneasy. One of them went to confession before the battle; the other just as he started. I simply ask them, and they joyfully consent, to receive Communion to-morrow. The third consents to follow their example; as to the fourth, a poor Moor, I can only press his hand, look at him affectionately, and pray for him. Like all his compatriots, his courage is wonderful. How have our officers managed to make them love France so dearly already?
Life, even here, begins to run its regular course. Arrival of wounded; touching farewells by a few cured of their injuries, the daily visit to the wards amid the stifled pangs and the brave smiles; some deaths; funerals far from home.... And over all that, the news of the War, as uniform themselves in their terrible brevity: "The fighting continues."
No doubt we feel that it is going on in our favour; but the final victory, at what cost it must be won!
I read with much pleasure what Père Janvier said in his sermon at Notre Dame yesterday.
To maintain the justice of our cause, he compared the provocations and outrages of Germany with our love of peace, our respect for the laws of war. He begged us when, victorious, we should pursue the invader to his home, not to make reprisals, but to still the spirit of vengeance and listen to the spirit of Christianity and chivalry, which inspires courage during the battle and pity for the weak in the hour of triumph. I liked especially what he said about the treatment of wounded enemies, commending the care taken of them in France and recalling the example of Jeanne d'Arc who was always so kind to them.
There are no Germans left here; it is better for them to be attended to together; and our house must be kept open for the English wounded who would take their presence ill.
Before they left, which was pretty soon, I saw several times the two whose coming I mentioned.
They were Reservists from Ainhalt. They were so reserved, so inscrutable, and my German is so imperfect, that in spite of myself my visits were totally uninteresting---a hand-shake, inquiries as to their wounds, wishes for their cure. They appeared to be of a very cramped disposition, so perhaps by saying nothing they expressed themselves wholly.
Another younger man came from Schleswig, he said; very distinguished-looking and speaking English well; but no better than the gross manners of his companions did I like his which were a far from attractive mixture of excessive politeness and a secret disdain. After having, during the whole time of his stay, pretended ignorance of French, he gave himself away the day before he left by calling out with a perfect accent:
"Mais fermez donc cette porte!"
Besides, the dissimulation must have been purely for its own sake, for there was no great secret to spy upon with his American doctor or his nurse.
What fine strength she must have had to show, I don't say in attending to his and his companions' wounds, but in her never-failing courtesy towards them!
Let us show a little courtesy ourselves and admit that all Germans are not like this, and, even if they were, that would be no excuse for our not behaving towards them as befits Christians and Frenchmen. As a Chaplain, I ought at least to be as charitable as some young girls in a midland town who have undertaken the care of enemy-wounded, and one of whom writes to me: "Of course it would be pleasanter to have to do with our own dear men, since we are not allowed to show great attention or kindness. But I think we shall end by breaking that rule, because our hearts are full of devotedness and pity. The race is antipathetic to us, but taken individually it is no longer so, and in these suffering, exiled beings we see brothers. This morning, one of my friends was exchanging a few words with a Bavarian officer, and he said he had fought against the---the. . .
"At these words she started, and then, in answer to his look of inquiry, she said very low: 'That's my brother's regiment.' A little later, as she was taking him some clean linen, he timidly put out his hand to her."
Six o'clock in the evening. What courage, mon Dieu, what courage! Here is a score, picked up at Aubervilliers, coming from the Somme, and wounded two or three days ago in the neighbourhood of Albert. Their wounds slightly dressed, and, apparently taken in time, in spite of their serious injuries, they are in wonderfully good spirits.
Of the terribly fierce fight going on down there in which we can with difficulty make a stand against the inexhaustible masses of the enemy, these ragged, hirsute, bleeding heroes make fun as they describe it to us.
Kneeling beside the litters where they wait for their turn to be carried to the bath or to their bed, I listen to these stories, so simple yet so fine.
"For several days there had been sixty of the Company left; yet bullets and shrapnel and everything were raining down, but none came our way. At last we thought it quite a lark."
But all at once something did come their way, a machine-gun was fired a few hundred yards away, and they all fell; not an officer was left.
They are all Reservists, but I don't see how the regulars could have excelled them. They came from Paris, Nancy and la Vendée; different accents but similar courage.
Several of our wounded---a score---have already left the hospital; among them three officers who are to be given the Cross of the Legion of Honour.
"That's just the way I have dreamt of winning it, " they say beamingly.
Just now, four decent Reservists went off to the Place, to the Hôtel des Invalides. There they will learn where they are to go to---to the dépôt, or to a Convalescent Home, or again to the Front. They are ready for anything; but to say that they would not prefer to go home, anyhow for a time, would be an exaggeration. True as it is that I have heard no complaint from a single one of the wounded, it is as true that I have seen but a very small number who wished to go back to the Front; first our officers and some English and African born fighters, also a few young fellows in our active forces; never Reservists or heads of families. No doubt, after a period of rest, they too may regain bellicose aspirations, but now they keep a too lively impression of the horrors they have gone through. Even an Englishman---the only one, it is true---said to me: "I loved fighting formerly, but now I've done with it. It's not war, it's murder. There's no pleasure in it."
Before they leave us we give back to our dear guests everything they brought in with them; generally it's very little, even with those who have managed to retain their haversacks, remains of equipment, a képi of unrecognizable shape; a great-coat in rags; trousers mangled by shell-splinters; everything disinfected but left just as it was. It is the business of the Commissariat to attend to that; we have something better to do than patching clothes.
Besides, underneath these rags, our friends leave us clothed in immaculate linen and comfortable woollen garments, privately provided. Flannel jersey, belt and shirt; woollen cap, socks, drawers both warm and light---this will make them remember the hospital, and all the better that they take with them a second set in a small, tightly packed parcel. However respect-worthy, even splendid they may be, their military tatters form a picturesque contrast with this comfort, and one can't help smiling when one sees these brave ragamuffins seating themselves in the most fashionable motor-cars.
Good-bye, friends! A pleasant journey to you, be it to barracks, or to your village, or to the field of battle. It is all done with---the comfort of the hospital; the vision quite vanished---after the perils of war; after the tedious hours of waiting on the field and the fatigue of the ambulance-train---that vision of a Fairy Palace, where amidst light and flowers, wise magicians lulled your fever to sleep and healed your hurts; where the gentle handsof women washed your wounds, smoothed your bed, served you with cool drinks and delicate food. You think pityingly of those others wounded who cried in vain into the night and died a lingering death, for no help came.
Have no fear; they, too, the poor martyrs, have been received in a glorious home, a home even more beautiful and happy, and where there is no return to the troubles here below.
YESTERDAY and this morning twenty-three wounded from the battles in the North have come in; the luckiest were hit only two days ago, one or two even only the day before yesterday; the others, three, four or five days ago, with wounds given a hasty dressing, which does little to arrest the progress of the evil. One poor wretch has had a shell splinter in his thigh for five days; he is suffering from retention of urine; on his hands, which, however, bear no wounds, a kind of abscess has formed, from which matter oozes.
The war grows fiercer and fiercer. Stooping over the stretchers wherethese peasants, these poor labourers, lie and suffer, I hear stories that would not be out of place in Dante's inferno.
"We were in the trenches; so were the Germans. I spent several days without stirring; as soon as one got up there was the machine-gun."
"But what did you live on?"
"There were cooks not far off. When it was possible they crawled on their bellies and threw us from far-off bits of bread and meat made off, if they were not killed."
"Me? I had been there since the 24th September."
"I don't quite know; near Amiens or Arras. They took us there in motors. Everybody dug his hole as quick as he could. When the Engineers came they dug big trenches, but they made a better landmark for the enemy.The best are those made by their shells---more than two yards wide and one deep. They riddled us with shot even in them; but with no great success; if they hadn't had their long-range guns, it would have been all right. Our artillery did damage in their trenches, too, but not from so far off. I think that if we tried to turn them, it was to enfilade them. When you get them end on you kill so many that there are no more to kill.
"We stayed there five days, our elbows on our knees; look, the mark is still left. One night the cannonade seemed to be quieting down. I was sent out reconnoitring. As soon as we were outside it began again; a shell caught me in the arm. The four with me fell dead."
Doubtless it is because they knew themselves lost that the Germans become more and more ferocious. I give place to a Parisian sergeant, with the gentle, quiet, intelligent countenance of a good fellow who, as they call it, never gets his back up.
"I wouldn't believe what they said about them; I thought they were the exaggerations of journalists. Well---they weren't; it was true, even more than true. They destroy absolutely everything; they set fire to the villages they pass through, before leaving them.--- Look here; I had a friend who saved four people in a hamlet we came to; they were in the cellar of a house which had been burnt and had fallen in; he made a hole in it and got them out. They bombard houses and churches, even where there are no troops. Every night they fire explosive bombs to set fire to the villages, so as to have a target for their fire. At night the whole horizon is lighted up; you're surrounded by a circle of conflagrations!"
"Yes, but that's not the worst of it; it's hearing wounded men calling from the trenches, dying there, without any possibility of helping them---calling on their mother, or their wife."
This last sensation, this grief at having perforce to forsake the wounded, has been described to me I don't know how often. Yesterday again, I hear it from one of the same set of men, an honest Lorrainer from Nancy whom I find in a ward towards the end of the afternoon. I let him unfold his recollections freely. He was in the retreat from Morange, and this is the first sentence of his story: "It's sad---those poor wounded fellows begging to be carried away, and there's no way of doing it."
He gives me his impressions of the first battles.
"Before you've fired, you stay where you are, but you're afraid; but when once the firing has begun you go mad, you're not even cautious enough."
He is among those who were brought back from the East.
"And to think that when we got into the train, we thought we were going to rest! It was bad enough in Lorraine, but it was much worse in the North. We were in a village, firing from behind a house; their guns enfiladed the street. I was at the edge of the steps; down came a shell.; my shoulder was outside and a splinter pierced it. A comrade beside me was not under shelter; they picked him up in a sack."
I asked him what he thought of this terrible three-weeks' battle, and if he thought the end was approaching.
"I don't know anything about it," he answered. " You're there, you have an object; you stick to it; you don't know what's going on a few hundred yards away."
This infernal battle is still going on; but nevertheless there are signs that the end is approaching, and an end in the favour of our Armies. I am not speaking of the silly reports of victories, proved false every morning, only to be invariably repeated every night. Fifty, sixty, a hundred thousand German prisoners; re-entry of the French into Valenciennes, Lille, Maubeuge; von Kluck and his staff taken prisoners three days ago and all carefully concealed from the public (one wonders why). I was glad to see last night that judicial inquiry is to be made as to the misdemeanour of circulating false news.
It was good news, too, that the President of the Republic, M. Millerand and M. Viviani have started on a visit to the Forces. It is good to read that "circumstances allow of this change of plan." These important officials would not be made, or allowed, to come if it were to show them unpleasant matters.
In the way of reassuring news, there is one about which there can be no doubt, and which is worth reporting---the arrival of the Indian troops, of whom a portion have been already fighting for some time, and whose large contingents disembarked at Marseilles last week.
Here are the Hindoos, armed at expense of their great Chiefs, voluntarily hastening to the aid of England; a clear enough answer, I think, to those who accuse that noble country of oppressing them.
Here are, also, the greater number of the English troops that were stationed in India, and, no doubt, Egypt, replaced in these distant lands by new recruits, and sent first to the Front, as inured to war. Those who have enlisted, besides, are getting ready with spirit, and can be seen drilling on all the parade grounds, on all the racecourses in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Private letters have told me of strong contingents even in our Western towns.A million the first year; two millions the second; then three, then four if they are wanted; that is what Lord Kitchener has promised, and with the help of the entire Empire, he will keep his word.(9)
Before accepting the office of War Minister, he had asked for all powers and had received them.
In time, perhaps, the English alone might make an end of Germany; and there is the Tsar, and ourselves. Yes, ourselves; those dear soldiers, those young veterans, who, for two months, have held their own against the most redoubtable army the world ever saw, held their own, and still better, driven it back.
And while in their courage and their endurance they already rival their elders of the Revolution and the Empire, or to put it better, their elders of all the glory of France, our beloved soldiers are displaying qualities of heart and intelligence that make us thrill with pride and tenderness. They adapt themselves to methods of warfare most contrary to their temperament; they combine initiative with discipline; take the place, if need be, of fallen commanders; go gravely to confession before battle; and, moreover, no danger or privation can quench their gaiety.
This is proved by what their letters, the papers and the stories of the wounded show forth, and there is no need to dwell upon it.
Another fact, that I should like to insist on though it is far from being unknown, is the excellence of their relations with their officers, the affection and devotion they bestow upon them.
Among the things taken out of the pockets of a major, seriously wounded, I remarked a nut.
"That surprises you?" he said. "It was a soldier that gave it to me. When fighting is going on the officers have no time to think of food, so our men provide it. While passing through a village they have time to buy things; in the fields they have time to get hold of things; but we have not. So, first one and then another of his own accord offers us some of what he has got; a bit of bread, chocolate, fruit, sugar. You've no idea how nice they are to us; especially when we're wounded; however heavy the fire they rush to pick us up. No sooner was I down, for example, than they lifted me up and carried me on two rifles for three miles under a perfect rain of shells. Moreover, it is reciprocal; when wounded, they appeal to us, they call out to their officer: 'Don't leave me!'
"Ah! they're fine fellows!"
And the fine officers, too! Here is a reflection which my major made in passing without realizing its interest.
"War is terrible, but it's fine, too. From the moment he gets his orders to lead his men to the fighting line, the man in command loses all feeling of personal danger; it needs an immense effort at reasoning to keep out of the way even for a second. The thought of his command, his responsibility, completely prevents his thinking about himself."
The United States Ambassador has given us another proof of his sympathy to-day by bringing to the hospital the Marquis de Valtierra, the Spanish Ambassador, and the Norwegian Minister, M. Vedel Jarsberg. He seemed to take pleasure in himself showing them his compatriots' generosity. I think that if to ensure victory we conferred with the people of those three countries, we should have no reason to regret our choice. In sympathy with the whole world, the cause of those who are fighting again Prussianism must be still more dear to those two great democracies of the United States and Norway.
As to Spain, I wager that, were the King not restrained by the Protocol, he would enlist as a sub-lieutenant in the French army.(10)
We have no lack of visitors of distinction. I have not seen all of them, but I can mention General Galliéni, M. Aristide Briand, M.M. Denys-Cochin, Francis Charmes, Charles Benoist, Admiral Bienaimé, and Dr. Landouzy; and there are many other names I forget. If he comes through Paris on his return from the Front, M. Poincaré may perhaps come himself.
The President did in fact come through Paris, and came to visit the hospital.He was accompanied by M. Viviani and General Galliéni, with whom he had made a round this morning in the Intrenched Camp. Greeted by the crowd outside with a quiet ovation suitable for so serious a moment, he was received here by the Ambassador, Mr. Herrick, and the members of the Committee.
He was shown the principal works, and went through the wards, rapidly, no doubt, but appearing to take notice of everything and taking a lively interest in it all. Wounded, doctors, members of the Committee, will all keep a recollection of the sympathy he showed them.
When he left us, the Chief of the State went to the Val-de-Grace and to a Red-Cross hospital. Yesterday, he was at Head-quarters and with our combatants; visits to hospitals, visits to the Army---that faithfully represents the feelings of the country, entirely devoted to our soldiers. Full of pride, of confidence and of love, France follows and admires them wherever they are fighting and suffering for her, on the bed of pain in the hospital as in the peril of the battlefield.
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