A Surgeon in Belgium
Henry Sessions Souttar

Part 1 out of 3


by H. S. Souttar, F.R.C.S.
Assistant Surgeon, West London Hospital
Late Surgeon-in-Chief, Belgian Field Hospital


To write the true story of three months' work in a hospital is a task
before which the boldest man might quail. Let my very dear friends of
the Belgian Field Hospital breathe again, for I have attempted nothing
of the sort. I would sooner throw aside my last claim to self-respect,
and write my autobiography. It would at least be safer. But there were
events which happened around us, there was an atmosphere in which
we lived, so different from those of our lives at home that one felt
compelled to try to picture them before they merged into the shadowy
memories of the past. And this is all that I have attempted. To all who
worked with me through those months I owe a deep debt of gratitude.
That they would do everything in their power to make the hospital a
success went without saying, but it was quite another matter that they
should all have conspired to make the time for me one of the happiest
upon which I shall ever look back. Where all have been so kind, it is
almost invidious to mention names, and yet there are two which must
stand by themselves. To the genius and the invincible resource of
Madame Sindici the hospital owes an incalculable debt. Her
friendship is one of my most delightful memories. The sterling powers
of Dr. Beavis brought us safely many a time through deep water, and
but for his enterprise the hospital would have come to an abrupt
conclusion with Antwerp. There could have been no more delightful
colleague, and without his aid much of this book would never have
been written.

For the Belgian Field Hospital I can wish nothing better than that its
star may continue to shine in the future as it has always done in the
past, and that a sensible British public may generously support the
most enterprising hospital in the war.

H. S. S.


To Antwerp
The Hospital
The Day's Work
The Chateau
A Pause
The Siege
The Bombardment--Night
The Bombardment--Day
The Night Journey
Furnes Again
Work At Furnes
Furnes--The Town
A Journey
The Ambulance Corps
Pervyse--The Trenches
Some Conclusions


I. To Antwerp

When, one Saturday afternoon in September, we stepped on board
the boat for Ostend, it was with a thrill of expectation. For weeks we
had read and spoken of one thing only--the War--and now we
were to see it for ourselves, we were even in some way to be a part of
it. The curtain was rising for us upon the greatest drama in all the
lurid history of strife. We should see the armies as they went out to
fight, and we should care for the wounded when their work was done.
We might hear the roar of the guns and the scream of the shells. To
us, that was War.

And, indeed, we have seen more of war in these few weeks than has
fallen to the lot of many an old campaigner. We have been through
the siege of Antwerp, we have lived and worked always close to the
firing-line, and I have seen a great cruiser roll over and sink, the
victim of a submarine. But these are not the things which will live in
our minds. These things are the mere framing of the grim picture. The
cruiser has been blotted out by the weary faces of an endless stream
of fugitives, and the scream of the shells has been drowned by the cry
of a child. For, though the soldiers may fight, it is the people who
suffer, and the toll of war is not the life which it takes, but the life
which it destroys.

I suppose, and I hope, that there is not a man amongst us who has
not in his heart wished to go to the front, and to do what he could.
The thought may have been only transitory, and may soon have been
blotted out by self-interest; and there is many a strong man who has
thrust it from him because he knew that his duty lay at home. But to
everyone the wish must have come, though only to a few can come
the opportunity. We all want to do our share, but it is only human that
we should at the same time long to be there in the great business of
the hour, to see war as it really is, to feel the thrill of its supreme
moments, perhaps in our heart of hearts to make quite certain that we
are not cowards. And when we return, what do we bring with us? We
all bring a few bits of shell, pictures of ruined churches, perhaps a
German helmet--and our friends are full of envy. And some of us
return with scenes burnt into our brain of horror and of pathos such as
no human pen can describe. Yet it is only when we sit down in the
quiet of our homes that we realize the deeper meaning of all that we
have seen, that we grasp the secret of the strange aspects of
humanity which have passed before us. What we have seen is a
world in which the social conventions under which we live, and which
form a great part or the whole of most of our lives, have been torn
down. Men and women are no longer limited by the close barriers of
convention. They must think and act for themselves, and for once it is
the men and women that we see, and not the mere symbols which
pass as coin in a world at peace. To the student of men and women,
the field of war is the greatest opportunity in the world. It is a
veritable dissecting-room, where all the queer machinery that
goes to the making of us lies open to our view. On the whole,
I am very glad that I am a mere surgeon, and that I can limit my
dissections to men's bodies. Human Anatomy is bad enough,
but after the last three months the mere thought of an analysis
of Human Motives fills me with terror.

Our boat was one of the older paddle steamers. We were so fortunate
as to have a friend at Court, and the best cabins on the ship were
placed at our disposal. I was very grateful to that friend, for it was
very rough, and our paddle-boxes were often under water. We
consoled ourselves by the thought that at least in a rough sea we
were safe from submarines, but the consolation became somewhat
threadbare as time went on. Gradually the tall white cliffs of Dover
sank behind us, splendid symbols of the quiet power which guards
them. But for those great white cliffs, and the waves which wash their
base, how different the history of England would have been! They
broke the power of Spain in her proudest days, Napoleon gazed at
them in vain as at the walls of a fortress beyond his grasp, and
against them Germany will fling herself to her own destruction.
Germany has yet to learn the strength which lies concealed behind
those cliffs, the energy and resource which have earned for England
the command of the sea. It was a bad day for Germany when she
ventured to question that command. She will receive a convincing
answer to her question.

We reached Ostend, and put up for the night at the Hotel Terminus.
Ostend was empty, and many of the hotels were closed. A few bombs
had been dropped upon the town some days before, and caused
considerable excitement--about all that most bombs ever succeed
in doing, as we afterwards discovered. But it had been enough to
cause an exodus. No one dreamt that in less than three weeks' time
the town would be packed with refugees, and that to get either a bed
or a meal would be for many of them almost impossible. Everywhere
we found an absolute confidence as to the course of the war, and the
general opinion was that the Germans would be driven out of Belgium
in less than six weeks.

Two of our friends in Antwerp had come down to meet us by motor,
and we decided to go back with them by road, as trains, though still
running, were slow and uncertain. It was a terrible day, pouring in
torrents and blowing a hurricane. Our route lay through Bruges and
Ghent, but the direct road to Bruges was in a bad condition, and we
chose the indirect road through Blankenberghe. We left Ostend by
the magnificent bridge, with its four tall columns, which opens the way
towards the north-east, and as we crossed it I met the first symbol of
war. A soldier stepped forward, and held his rifle across our path. My
companion leaned forward and murmured, "Namur," the soldier
saluted, and we passed on. It was all very simple, and, but for the one
word, silent; but it was the first time I had heard a password, and it
made an immense impression on my mind. We had crossed the
threshold of War. I very soon had other things to think about. The
road from Ostend to Blankenberghe is about the one good motor road
in Belgium, and my companion evidently intended to demonstrate the
fact to me beyond all possibility of doubt. We were driving into the
teeth of a squall, but there seemed to be no limits to the power of his
engine. I watched the hand of his speedometer rise till it touched sixty
miles per hour. On the splendid asphalt surface of the road there was
no vibration, but a north-east wind across the sand-dunes is no trifle,
and I was grateful when we turned south-eastwards at Blankenberghe,
and I could breathe again.

As I said, that road by the dunes is unique. The roads of Belgium, for
the most part, conform to one regular pattern. In the centre is a paved
causeway, set with small stone blocks, whilst on each side is a couple
of yards of loose sand, or in wet weather of deep mud. The causeway
is usually only just wide enough for the passing of two motors, and on
the smaller roads it is not sufficient even for this. As there is no speed
limit, and everyone drives at the top power of his engine, the skill
required to drive without mishap is considerable. After a little rain the
stone is covered with a layer of greasy mud, and to keep a car upon it
at a high speed is positively a gymnastic feat. In spite of every
precaution, an occasional descent into the mud at the roadside is
inevitable, and from that only a very powerful car can extricate itself
with any ease. A small car will often have to slowly push its way out
backwards. In dry weather the conditions are almost as bad, for often
the roadside is merely loose sand, which gives no hold for a wheel.
For a country so damp and low-lying as Belgium, there is probably
nothing to equal a paved road, but it is a pity that the paving was not
made a little wider. Every now and then we met one of the huge,
unwieldy carts which seem to be relics of a prehistoric age--rough
plank affairs of enormous strength and a design so primitive as to be
a constant source of wonder. They could only be pulled along at a
slow walk and with vast effort by a couple of huge horses, and the
load the cart was carrying never seemed to bear any proportion to the
mechanism of its transport. The roads are bad, but they will not
account for those carts. The little front wheels are a stroke of
mechanical ineptitude positively amounting to genius, and when they
are replaced by a single wheel, and the whole affair resembles a
huge tricycle, one instinctively looks round for a Dinosaur. Time after
time we met them stuck in the mud or partially overturned, but the
drivers seemed in no way disconcerted; it was evidently all part of the
regular business of the day. When one thinks of the Brussels
coachwork which adorns our most expensive motors, and of the great
engineering works of Liege, those carts are a really wonderful
example of persistence of type.

We passed through Bruges at a pace positively disrespectful to that
fine old town. There is no town in Belgium so uniform in the
magnificence of its antiquity, and it is good to think that--so far, at
any rate--it has escaped destruction. As we crossed the square, the
clock in the belfry struck the hour, and began to play its chimes. It is a
wonderful old clock, and every quarter of an hour it plays a tune--a
very attractive performance, unless you happen to live opposite. I
remember once thinking very hard things about the maker of that
clock, but perhaps it was not his fault that one of the bells was a
quarter of a tone flat. At the gates our passports were examined, and
we travelled on to Ghent by the Ecloo Road, one of the main
thoroughfares of Belgium. Beyond an occasional sentry, there was
nothing to indicate that we were passing through a country at war,
except that we rarely saw a man of military age. All were women, old
men, or children. Certainly the men of Belgium had risen to the
occasion. The women were doing everything--working in the fields,
tending the cattle, driving the market-carts and the milk-carts with
their polished brass cans. After leaving Ghent, the men came into
view, for at Lokeren and St. Nicholas were important military stations,
whilst nearer to Antwerp very extensive entrenchments and wire
entanglements were being constructed. The trenches were most
elaborate, carefully constructed and covered in; and I believe that all
the main approaches to the city were defended in the same way.
Antwerp could never have been taken by assault, but with modern
artillery it would have been quite easy to destroy it over the heads of
its defenders. The Germans have probably by now rendered it
impregnable, for though in modern war it is impossible to defend
one's own cities, the same does not apply to the enemy. In future,
forts will presumably be placed at points of strategic importance only,
and as far as possible from towns.

Passing through the western fortifications, we came upon the long
bridge of boats which had been thrown across the Scheldt. The river
is here more than a quarter of a mile wide, and the long row of sailing
barges was most picturesque. The roadway was of wooden planks,
and only just wide enough to allow one vehicle to pass at a time, the
tall spars of the barges rising on each side. It is strange that a city of
such wealth as Antwerp should not have bridged a river which, after
all, is not wider than the Thames. We were told that a tunnel was in
contemplation. The bridge of boats was only a tribute to the
necessities of war. We did not dream that a fortnight later it would be
our one hope of escape.

II. The Hospital

Antwerp is one of the richest cities in Europe, and our hospital was
placed in its wealthiest quarter. The Boulevard Leopold is a
magnificent avenue, with a wide roadway in the centre flanked by
broad paths planted with trees. Beyond these, again, on each side is
a paved road with a tram-line, whilst a wide pavement runs along the
houses. There are many such boulevards in Antwerp, and they give
to the city an air of spaciousness and opulence in striking contrast to
the more utilitarian plan of London or of most of our large towns. We
talk a great deal about fresh air, but we are not always ready to pay
for it.

Our hospital occupied one of the largest houses on the south-east
side. A huge doorway led into an outer hall through which the garden
was directly reached behind the house. On the right-hand side of this
outer hall a wide flight of steps led to inner glass doors and the great
central hall of the building. As a private house it must have been
magnificent; as a hospital it was as spacious and airy as one could
desire. The hall was paved with marble, and on either side opened
lofty reception rooms, whilst in front wide marble staircases led to the
first floor. This first floor and another above it were occupied entirely
by wards, each containing from six to twelve beds. On the ground
floor on the right-hand side were two large wards, really magnificent
rooms, and one smaller, all these overlooking the Boulevard. On the
left were the office, the common room, and the operating theatre.
Behind the house was a large paved courtyard, flanked on the right
by a garden border and on the left by a wide glass-roofed corridor.
The house had previously been used as a school, and on the
opposite side of the courtyard was the gymnasium, with dormitories
above. The gymnasium furnished our dining-hall, whilst several of the
staff slept in the rooms above.

It will be seen that the building was in many ways well adapted to the
needs of a hospital and to the accommodation of the large staff
required. We had in all 150 beds, and a staff of about 50. The latter
included 8 doctors, 20 nurses, 5 dressers, lay assistants, and motor
drivers. In addition to these there was a kitchen staff of Belgians, so
that the management of the whole was quite a large undertaking,
especially in a town where ordinary provisions were becoming more
and more difficult to obtain. In the later days of the siege, when milk
was not to be had and the only available water was salt, the lot of our
housekeeper was anything but happy. Providing meals for over 200
people in a besieged town is no small matter. But it was managed
somehow, and our cuisine was positively astonishing, to which I think
we largely owe the fact that none of the staff was ever ill. Soldiers are
not the only people who fight on their stomachs.

The management of the hospital centred in the office, and it was so
typical of Belgium as to be really worth a few words of description. It
was quite a small room, and it was always crowded. Four of us had
seats round a table in the centre, and at another table in the window
sat our Belgian secretary, Monsieur Herman, and his two clerks. But
that was only the beginning of it. All day long there was a constant
stream of men, women, and children pouring into that room, bringing
letters, asking questions, always talking volubly to us and amongst
themselves. At first we thought that this extraordinary turmoil was due
to our want of space, but we soon found that it was one of the
institutions of the country. In England an official's room is the very
home of silence, and is by no means easy of access. If he is a high
official, a series of ante-rooms is interposed between his sacred
person and an inquisitive world. But in Belgium everyone walks
straight in without removing his cigar. The great man sits at his desk
surrounded by a perfect Babel, but he is always polite, always ready
to hear what you have to say and to do what he can to help. He
appears to be able to deal with half a dozen different problems at the
same time without ever being ruffled or confused. There is an
immense amount of talking and shaking of hands, and at first the
brain of a mere Englishman is apt to whirl; but the business is done
rapidly and completely. Belgium is above all things democratic, and
our office was a good introduction to it.

The common room was large and airy, overlooking the courtyard, and
a few rugs and armchairs made it a very comfortable place when the
work of the day was done. Anyone who has worked in a hospital will
know what a difference such a room makes to the work--work that
must be carried on at all hours of the day or night; nor will he need to
be told of the constant supply of tea and coffee that will be found
there. We go about telling our patients of the evils of excessive tea-
drinking, and we set them an example they would find it hard to
follow. We do not mention how often tea and a hot bath have been
our substitute for a night's sleep.' A good common room and an
unlimited supply of tea will do much to oil the wheels of hospital life.

But to myself the all-important room was the operating theatre, for
upon its resources depended entirely our opportunities for surgical
work. It was in every way admirable, and I know plenty of hospitals in
London whose theatres would not bear comparison with ours. Three
long windows faced the courtyard; there was a great bunch of electric
lights in the ceiling, and there was a constant supply of boiling water.
What more could the heart of surgeon desire? There were two
operating tables and an equipment of instruments to vie with any in a
London hospital. Somebody must have been very extravagant over
those instruments, I thought as I looked at them; but he was right and
I was wrong, for there were very few of those instruments for which I
was not grateful before long. The surgery of war is a very different
thing from the surgery of home.

The wards were full when we arrived, and I had a wonderful
opportunity of studying the effects of rifle and shell fire. Most of the
wounds were fortunately slight, but some of them were terrible, and,
indeed, in some cases it seemed little short of miraculous that the
men had survived. But on every side one saw nothing but cheerful
faces, and one would never have dreamt what some of those men
had gone through. They were all smoking cigarettes, laughing, and
chatting, as cheery a set of fellows as one could meet. You would
never have suspected that a few days before those same men had
been carried into the hospital in most cases at their last gasp from
loss of blood and exposure, for none but serious cases were
admitted. The cheeriest man in the place was called Rasquinet, a
wounded officer who had been christened "Ragtime" for short, and for
affection. A week before he had been struck by a shell in the left side,
and a large piece of the shell had gone clean through, wounding the
kidney behind and the bowel in front. That man crawled across
several fields, a distance of nearly a mile, on his hands and knees,
dragging with him to a place of safety a wounded companion. When
from loss of blood he could drag him along no longer, he left him
under a hedge, and dragged himself another half-mile till he could get
help. When he was brought into the hospital, he was so exhausted
from pain and loss of blood that no one thought that he could live for
more than a few hours, but by sheer pluck he had pulled through.
Even now he was desperately ill with as horrible a wound as a man
could have, but nothing was going to depress him. I am glad to say
that what is known in surgery as a short circuit was an immediate
success, and when we left him three weeks later in Ghent he was to
all intents perfectly well.

There were plenty of other serious cases, some of them with ghastly
injuries, and many of them must have suffered agonizing pain; but
they were all doing their best to make light of their troubles, whilst
their gratitude for what was done for them was extraordinary. The
Belgians are by nature a cheerful race, but these were brave men,
and we felt glad that we had come out to do what we could for them.

But if we give them credit for their courage and cheerfulness, we must
not forget how largely they owed it to the devoted attention--yes,
and to the courage and cheerfulness--of the nurses. I wonder how
many of us realize what Britain owes to her nurses. We take them as
a matter of course, we regard nursing as a very suitable profession
for a woman to take up--if she can find nothing better to do; perhaps
we may have been ill, and we were grateful for a nurse's kindness.
But how many of us realize all the long years of drudgery that have
given the skill we appreciated, the devotion to her work that has made
the British nurse what she is? And how many of us realize that we
English-speaking nations alone in the world have such nurses?
Except in small groups, they are unknown in France, Belgium,
Germany, Russia, or any other country in the world. In no other land
will women leave homes of ease and often of luxury to do work that
no servant would touch, for wages that no servant would take--work
for which there will be very little reward but the unmeasured gratitude
of the very few. They stand to-day as an unanswerable proof that as
nations we have risen higher in the level of civilization than any of our
neighbours. To their influence on medicine and surgery I shall refer
again. Here I only wish to acknowledge our debt. As a mere patient I
would rather have a good nurse than a good physician, if I were so
unfortunate as to have to make the choice. A surgeon is a dangerous
fellow, and must be treated with respect. But as a rule the physician
gives his blessing, the surgeon does his operation, but it is the nurse
who does the work.

III. The Day's Work

In any hospital at home or abroad there is a large amount of routine
work, which must be carried on in an orderly and systematic manner,
and upon the thoroughness with which this is done will largely depend
the effectiveness of the hospital. Patients must be fed and washed,
beds must be made and the wards swept and tidied, wounds must be
dressed and splints adjusted. In an English hospital everything is
arranged to facilitate this routine work. Close to every ward is a sink-
room with an adequate supply of hot and cold water, dinner arrives in
hot tins from the kitchens as if by magic, whilst each ward has its own
arrangements for preparing the smaller meals. The beds are of a
convenient height, and there is an ample supply of sheets and pillow-
cases, and of dressing materials of all kinds arranged on tables which
run noiselessly up and down the wards. At home all these things are
a matter of course; abroad they simply did not exist. Four or five gas-
rings represented our hot-water supply and our ward-kitchens for our
150 patients, and the dinners had to be carried up from the large
kitchens in the basement. The beds were so low as to break one's
back, and had iron sides which were always in the way; and when we
came to the end of our sheets--well, we came to the end of them,
and that was all. In every way the work was heavier and more difficult
than at home, for all our patients were heavy men, and every wound
was septic, and had, in many cases, to be dressed several times a
day. Everyone had to work hard, sometimes very hard; but as a rule
we got through the drudgery in the morning, and in the afternoon
everything was in order, and we should, I think, have compared very
favourably in appearance with most hospitals at home.

But we had to meet one set of conditions which would, I think, baffle
many hospitals at home. Every now and then, without any warning,
from 50 to 100, even in one case 150, wounded would be brought to
our door. There was no use in putting up a notice "House Full"; the
men were wounded and they must be attended to. In such a case our
arrangement was a simple one: all who could walk went straight
upstairs, the gravest cases went straight to the theatre or waited their
turn in the great hall, the others were accommodated on the ground
floor. We had a number of folding beds for emergency, and we had
no rules as to overcrowding. In the morning the authorities would
clear out as many patients as we wished. Sometimes we were hard
put to it to find room for them all, but we always managed somehow,
and we never refused admission to a single patient on the score of
want of room. The authorities soon discovered the capacity of the
hospital for dealing with really serious cases, and as a result our beds
were crowded with injuries of the gravest kind. What appealed to us
far more was the appreciation of the men themselves. We felt that we
had not worked in vain when we heard that the soldiers in the
trenches begged to be taken "a l'Hopital Anglais."

The condition of the men when they reached us was often pitiable in
the extreme. Most of them had been living in the trenches for weeks
exposed to all kinds of weather, their clothes were often sodden and
caked with dirt, and the men themselves showed clear traces of
exposure and insecure sleep. In most cases they had lain in the
trenches for hours after being wounded, for as a rule it is impossible
to remove the wounded at once with any degree of safety. Indeed,
when the fighting is at all severe they must lie till dark before it is
safe for the stretcher-bearers to go for them. This was so at Furnes,
but at Antwerp we were usually able to get them in within a few hours.
Even a few hours' delay with a bad wound may be a serious matter,
and in every serious case our attention was first directed to the
condition of the patient himself and not to his wound. Probably
he had lost blood, his injury had produced more or less shock,
he had certainly been lying for hours in pain. He had to be got
warm, his circulation had to be restored, he had to be saved
from pain and protected from further shock. Hot bottles, blankets,
brandy, and morphia worked wonders in a very short time, and
one could then proceed to deal with wounds. Our patients
were young and vigorous, and their rate of recovery was extraordinary.

When a rush came we all had to work our hardest, and the scenes in
any part of the hospital required steady nerves; but perhaps the
centre of interest was the theatre. Here all the worst cases were
brought--men with ghastly injuries from which the most hardened
might well turn away in horror; men almost dead from loss of blood,
or, worst of all, with a tiny puncture in the wall of the abdomen which
looks so innocent, but which, in this war at least, means, apart from a
difficult and dangerous operation, a terrible death. With all these we
had to deal as rapidly and completely as possible, reducing each
case to a form which it would be practicable to nurse, where the
patient would be free from unnecessary pain, and where he would
have the greatest possible chance of ultimate recovery. Of course, all
this was done under anaesthesia. What a field hospital must have
been before the days of anaesthesia is too horrible to contemplate.
Even in civil hospitals the surgeons must have reached a degree of
"Kultur" beside which its present exponents are mere children. It is
not so many years since a famous surgeon, who was fond of walking
back from his work at the London Hospital along the Whitechapel
Road, used to be pointed to with horror by the Aldgate butchers,
whose opinion on such a subject was probably worth consideration.
But now all that is changed. The surgeon can be a human being
again, and indeed, except when he goes round his wards, his patients
may never know, of his existence. They go to sleep in a quiet
anteroom, and they waken up in the ward. Of the operation and all its
difficulties they know no more than their friends at home. Perhaps
even more wonderful is the newer method of spinal anaesthesia,
which we used largely for the difficult abdominal cases. With the
injection of a minute quantity of fluid into the spine all sensation
disappears up to the level of the arms, and, provided he cannot see
what is going on, any operation below that level can be carried out
without the patient knowing anything about it at all. It is rather
uncanny at first to see a patient lying smoking a cigarette and reading
the paper whilst on the other side of a screen a big operation is in
progress. But for many cases this method is unsuitable, and without
chloroform we should indeed have been at a loss. The Belgians are
an abstemious race, and they took it beautifully. I am afraid they were
a striking contrast to their brothers on this side of the water.
Chloroform does not mix well with alcohol in the human body, and the
British working man is rather fond of demonstrating the fact.

With surgery on rather bold lines it was extraordinary how much could
be done, especially in the way of saving limbs. During the whole of
our stay in Antwerp we never once had to resort to an amputation.
We were dealing with healthy and vigorous men, and once they had
got over the shock of injury they had wonderful powers of recovery.
We very soon found that we were dealing with cases to which the
ordinary rules of surgery did not apply. The fundamental principles of
the art must always be the same, but here the conditions of their
application were essentially different from those of civil practice. Two
of these conditions were of general interest: the great destruction of
the tissues in most wounds, and the infection of the wounds, which
was almost universal.

Where a wound has been produced by a large fragment of shell, one
expects to see considerable damage; in fact, a whole limb may be
torn off, or death may be instant from some terrible injury to the body.
But where the object of the enemy is the injury of individuals, and not
the destruction of buildings, they often use shrapnel, and the resulting
wounds resemble those from the old smooth-bore guns of our
ancestors. Shrapnel consists of a large number of bullets about half
an inch in diameter packed together in a case, which carries also a
charge of explosive timed to burst at the moment when it reaches its
object. The balls are small and round, and if they go straight through
soft tissues they do not do much damage. If, however, they strike a
bone, they are so soft that their shape becomes irregular, and the
injury they can produce in their further course is almost without limit.
On the whole, they do not as a rule produce great damage, for in
many cases they are nearly spent when they reach their mark. Pieces
of the case will, of course, have much the same effect as an ordinary

The effects of rifle-fire, particularly at short ranges, have led to a
great deal of discussion, and each side has accused the other of
using dum-dum bullets. The ordinary bullet consists of a lead core
with a casing of nickel, since the soft lead would soon choke rifling.
Such a bullet under ordinary circumstances makes a clean
perforation, piercing the soft tissues, and sometimes the bones, with
very little damage. In a dum-dum bullet the casing at the tip is cut or
removed, with the result that, on striking, the casing spreads out and
forms a rough, irregular missile, which does terrific damage. Such
bullets were forbidden by the Geneva Convention. But the German
bullet is much more subtle than this. It is short and pointed, and when
it strikes it turns completely over and goes through backwards. The
base of the bullet has no cover, and consequently spreads in a
manner precisely similar to that in a dum-dum, with equally deadly
results. There could be no greater contrast than that between the
wounds with which we had to deal in South Africa, produced by
ordinary bullets, and those which our soldiers are now receiving from
German rifles. The former were often so slight that it was quite a
common occurrence for a soldier to discover accidentally that he had
been wounded some time previously. In the present war rifle wounds
have been amongst the most deadly with which we have had to deal.

It will thus be seen that in most cases the wounds were anything but
clean-cut; with very few exceptions, they were never surgically clean.
By surgically clean we mean that no bacteria are present which can
interfere with the healing of the tissues, and only those who are
familiar with surgical work can realize the importance of this condition.
Its maintenance is implied in the term "aseptic surgery," and upon this
depends the whole distinction between the surgery of the present and
the surgery of the past. Without it the great advances of modern
surgery would be entirely impossible. When we say, then, that every
wound with which we had to deal was infected with bacteria, it will be
realized how different were the problems which we had to face
compared with those of work at home. But the difference was even
more striking, for the bacteria which had infected the wounds were
not those commonly met with in England. These wounds were for the
most part received in the open country, and they were soiled by earth,
manure, fragments of cloth covered with mud. They were therefore
infected by the organisms which flourish on such soil, and not by the
far more deadly denizens of our great cities. It is true that in soil one
may meet with tetanus and other virulent bacteria, but in our
experience these were rare. Now, there is one way in which all such
infections may be defeated--by plenty of fresh air, or, better still, by
oxygen. We had some very striking proofs of this, for in several cases
the wounds were so horribly foul that it was impossible to tolerate
their presence in the wards; and in these cases we made it a practice
to put the patient in the open air, of course suitably protected, and to
leave the wound exposed to the winds of heaven, with only a thin
piece of gauze to protect it. The results were almost magical, for in
two or three days the wounds lost their odour and began to look
clean, whilst the patients lost all signs of the poisoning which had
been so marked before. It may be partly to this that we owe the fact
that we never had a case of tetanus. In all cases we treated our
wounds with solutions of oxygen, and we avoided covering them up
with heavy dressings; and we found that this plan was successful as
well as economical.

Though any detailed description of surgical treatment would be out of
place, there was one which in these surroundings was novel, and
which was perhaps of general interest. Amongst all the cases which
came to us, certainly the most awkward were the fractured thighs. It
was not a question of a broken leg in the ordinary sense of the term.
In every case there was a large infected wound to deal with, and as a
rule several inches of the bone had been blown clean away. At first
we regarded these cases with horror, for anything more hopeless
than a thigh with 6 inches missing it is difficult to imagine. Splints
presented almost insuperable difficulties, for the wounds had to be
dressed two or three times, and however skilfully the splint was
arranged, the least movement meant for the patient unendurable
agony. After some hesitation we attempted the method of fixation by
means of steel plates, which was introduced with such success by Sir
Arbuthnot Lane in the case of simple fractures. The missing portion of
the bone is replaced by a long steel plate, screwed by means of small
steel screws to the portions which remain, "demonstrating," as a
colleague put it, "the triumph of mind over the absence of matter."
The result was a brilliant success, for not only could the limb now be
handled as if there were no fracture at all, to the infinite comfort of
the patient, but the wounds themselves cleared up with great rapidity.
We were told that the plates would break loose, that the screws would
come out, that the patient would come to a bad end through the
violent sepsis induced by the presence of a "foreign body" in the
shape of the steel plate. But none of these disasters happened, the
cases did extremely well, and one of our most indignant critics
returned to his own hospital after seeing them with his pockets full of
plates. The only difficulty with some of them was to induce them to
stop in bed, and it is a fact that on the night of our bombardment I met
one of them walking downstairs, leaning on a dresser's arm, ten days
after the operation.

And this brings me to a subject on which I feel very strongly, the folly
of removing bullets. If a bullet is doing any harm, pressing on some
nerve, interfering with a joint, or in any way causing pain or
inconvenience, by all means let it be removed, though even then it
should in most cases never be touched until the wound is completely
healed. But the mere presence of a bullet inside the body will of itself
do no harm at all. The old idea that it will cause infection died long
ago. It may have brought infection with it; but the removal of the bullet
will not remove the infection, but rather in most cases make it fire up.
We now know that, provided they are clean, we can introduce steel
plates, silver wires, silver nets, into the body without causing any
trouble at all, and a bullet is no worse than any of these. It is a matter
in which the public are very largely to blame, for they consider that
unless the bullet has been removed the surgeon has not done his job.
Unless he has some specific reason for it, I know that the surgeon
who removes a bullet does not know his work. It may be the mark of a
Scotch ancestry, but if I ever get a bullet in my own anatomy, I shall
keep it.

IV. Antwerp

There is no port in Europe which holds such a dominant position as
Antwerp, and there is none whose history has involved such amazing
changes of fortune. In the middle of the sixteenth century she was the
foremost city in Europe, at its close she was ruined. For two hundred
years she lay prostrate under the blighting influence of Spain and
Austria, and throttled by the commercial jealousy of England and
Holland. A few weeks ago she was the foremost port on the
Continent, the third in the world; now her wharves stand idle, and she
herself is a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. Who can tell what the
next turn of the wheel will bring?

Placed centrally between north and south, on a deep and wide river,
Antwerp is the natural outlet of Central Europe towards the West, and
it is no wonder that four hundred years ago she gathered to herself
the commerce of the Netherlands, in which Ypres, Bruges, and Ghent
had been her forerunners. For fifty years she was the Queen of the
North, and the centre of a vast ocean trade with England, France,
Spain, Portugal, and Italy, till the religious bigotry of Philip II of
Spain and the awful scenes of the Spanish Fury reduced her to
ruin. For two hundred years the Scheldt was blocked by Holland,
and the ocean trade of Antwerp obliterated. Her population disappeared,
her wharves rotted, and her canals were choked with mud. It is
hard to apportion the share of wickedness between a monarch
who destroys men and women to satisfy his own religious lust,
and a nation which drains the life-blood of another to satisfy its
lust for gold. One wonders in what category the instigator of the
present war should appear.

At the very beginning of last century Napoleon visited Antwerp, and
asserted that it was "little better than a heap of ruins." He recognized
its incomparable position as a port and as a fortress, and he
determined to raise it to its former prosperity, and to make it the
strongest fortress in Europe. He spent large sums of money upon it,
and his refusal to part with Antwerp is said to have broken off the
negotiations of Chatillon, and to have been the chief cause of his
exile to St. Helena. Alas his enemies did not profit by his genius. We
are the allies of his armies now, but we have lost Antwerp. Germany
will be utterly and completely crushed before she parts with that
incomparable prize. A mere glance at the map of Europe is sufficient
to convince anyone that in a war between England and Germany it is
a point of the first strategical importance. That our access to it should
be hampered by the control of Holland over the Scheldt is one of the
eccentricities of diplomacy which are unintelligible to the plain man.
The blame for its loss must rest equally between Britain and Belgium,
for Belgium, the richest country in Europe for her size, attempted to
defend her greatest stronghold with obsolete guns; whilst we, who
claim the mastery of the seas, sacrificed the greatest seaport in
Europe to the arrangements of an obsolete diplomacy. If we are to
retain our great position on the seas, Antwerp must be regained. She
is the European outpost of Britain, and, as has so often been pointed
out, the mouth of the Scheldt is opposite to the mouth of the Thames.

In Antwerp, as we saw her, it was almost impossible to realize the
vicissitudes through which she had passed, or to remember that her
present prosperity was of little more than fifty years' growth. On all
sides we were surrounded by wide boulevards, lined by magnificent
houses and public buildings. There are few streets in Europe to
eclipse the great Avenue des Arts, which, with its continuations,
extends the whole length of the city from north to south. The theatres,
the Central Station, the banks, would adorn any city, and the shops
everywhere spoke of a wealth not restricted to the few. The wide
streets, the trees, the roomy white houses, many of them great
palaces, made a deep impression upon us after the darkness and dirt
of London. Even in the poorer quarters there was plenty of light and
air, and on no occasion did we find the slums which surround the
wealthiest streets all over London. In the older parts of the city the
streets were, of course, narrower; but even here one had the
compensation of wonderful bits of architecture at unexpected corners,
splendid relics of an illustrious past. They are only remnants, but they
speak of a time when men worked for love rather than for wages, and
when an artisan took a pride in the labour of his hands. If it had not
been for the hand of the destroyer, what a marvellous city Antwerp
would have been! One likes to think that the great creations of the
past are not all lost, and that in the land to which the souls of the
Masters have passed we may find still living the mighty thoughts to
which their love gave birth. Are our cathedrals only stones and
mortar, and are our paintings only dust and oil?

The inhabitants of Antwerp were as delightful as their city. On all
sides we were welcomed with a kindness and a consideration not
always accorded to those who are so bold as to wish to help their
fellow-men. Everywhere we met with a courtesy and a generosity by
which, in the tragedy of their country, we were deeply touched. They
all seemed genuinely delighted to see us, from the Queen herself to
the children in the streets. Our medical confreres treated us royally,
and the mere thought of professional jealousy with such men is simply
ludicrous. They constantly visited our hospital, and they always
showed the keenest interest in our work and in any novelties in
treatment we were able to show them; and when we went to see
them, we were shown all the best that they had, and we brought away
many an ingenious idea which it was worth while going far to obtain.
Wherever we moved amongst the Belgians, we always found the
same simplicity of purpose, the same generosity of impulse.
Everywhere we met the same gratitude for what England was doing
for Belgium; no one ever referred to the sacrifices which Belgium has
made for England.

The one thing which so impressed us in the character of the Belgians
whom we met was its simplicity, and the men who had risen to high
rank did not seem to have lost it in their climb to fame. But it was just
this, the most delightful of their characteristics, which must have
made war for them supremely difficult. For strict discipline and
simplicity are almost incompatible. None of us tower so far above our
fellows that we can command instant obedience for our own sakes.
We have to cover ourselves with gold lace, to entrench ourselves in
rank, and to provide ourselves with all sorts of artificial aids before we
can rely on being obeyed. These things are foreign to the Belgian
mind, and as a result one noticed in their soldiers a certain lack of the
stern discipline which war demands. Individually they are brave men
and magnificent fighters. They only lacked the organization which has
made the little British Army the envy of the world. The fact is that they
are in no sense a warlike nation, in spite of their turbulent history of
the past, and, indeed, few things could be more incompatible than
turbulence and modern warfare. It demands on the part of the masses
of combatants an obedience and a disregard of life which are
repellent to human nature, and the Belgians are above all things
human. Germany is governed by soldiers, and France by officials.
Unlike the frogs in the fable, the Belgians are content to govern

It was our great regret that we had so little time in which to see the
work of the Antwerp hospitals, but we made use of what opportunities
we had. There are many of them, and those we saw were magnificent
buildings, equipped in a way which filled us with envy. The great city
hospital, the Stuivenberg, was a model of what a modern hospital
ought to be. The wards were large and airy and spotlessly clean, and
the nurses seemed to be extremely competent. The kitchens were
equipped with all the latest appliances, steam boilers, and gas and
electric cookers. But the show part of the hospital was the suite of
operating theatres. I have always felt the pardonable pride of a son in
the theatres of the London Hospital, but they were certainly eclipsed
here. Each theatre was equipped with its own anaesthetizing room, its
own surgeon's room, and its own sterilizing rooms and stores, all
furnished with a lavishness beyond the financial capacity of any
hospital in London. Perhaps some of the equipment was unnecessary,
but it was abundantly evident that the State appreciated
the value of first-class surgery, and that it was prepared to pay for it.
I have never heard the same accusation levelled at Great Britain.

At St. Camille we had the good fortune to see M. Xambotte at work.
His reputation as a surgeon is worldwide, and it was pleasant to find
that his dexterity as an operator was equal to his reputation. It is not
always the case. He is an expert mechanic, and himself makes most
of the very ingenious instruments which he uses. He was fixing a
fractured femur with silver wires, and one could see the skilled
workman in all that he did. There is no training-ground for one's
hands like a carpenter's bench, and the embryo surgeon might do
much worse with his time than spend six months of it in a workshop.
When medical training emerges from its medieval traditions, manual
training will certainly form a part, and no one will be allowed to
attempt to mend a bone till he has shown his capacity to mend a
chair-leg. Here, again, the surgeon was surrounded by all the
appliances, and even the luxuries, that he could desire. The lot of the
great surgeon abroad is indeed a happy one.

But there is one thing in which we in England are far better off--in
our nursing staffs. In most of the hospitals we visited the nursing was
carried on by Sisterhoods, and though some of them were evidently
good nurses, most of them had no idea whatever of nursing as it is
practised in our country. Fresh air, for example, is to them full of
dangers. One would almost think that it savoured of the powers of
evil. We went into one huge hospital of the most modern type, and
equipped lavishly, and such wag the atmosphere that in ten minutes I
had to make a rush for the door. One large ward was full of wounded
soldiers, many of them with terrible wounds, gangrenous and horrible,
and every window was tightly shut. How they could live in such an
atmosphere is beyond my comprehension, but the Sisters did not
seem to notice it at all.

Some of the surgeons have their specially trained nurses, but nursing
as a profession for the classes who are alone competent to undertake
it is a conception which has yet to dawn upon the Continent, for only
a woman of education and refinement can really be a nurse.

The absence on the Continent of a nursing profession such as ours is
not without its influence on medicine and surgery abroad. The
individual patient meets with far less consideration than would be the
case in this country, and is apt to be regarded as so much raw
material. In Belgium this tendency is counteracted by the natural
kindliness of the Belgian, but in other countries patients are often
treated with a callousness which is amazing. There is in many of the
great clinics a disregard of the patient's feelings, of his sufferings,
and even of his life, which would be impossible in an English hospital.
The contact of a surgeon with his hospital patients as individuals is
largely through the nursing staff, and his point of view will be largely
influenced by them. There is no one in our profession, from the
youngest dresser to the oldest physician, who does not owe a great
part of his education to Sister.

V. Termonde

Anyone who has worked in hospitals will realize how important it is for
the health of the staff, nurses and doctors, that they should get out
into the fresh air for at least some part of every day. It is still more
necessary in a war hospital, for not only is the work more exacting,
but the cases themselves involve certain risks which can only be
safely taken in perfect health. Practically every one is septic, and to
anyone in the least run down the danger of infection is considerable;
and infection with some of the organisms with which one meets in war
is a very serious thing indeed. We had four large motors in Antwerp
belonging to the members of our hospital, and always at its service,
and every afternoon parties were made up to drive out into the
country. As a rule calls were made at various Croix Rouge posts on
the way, and in that way we kept in contact with the medical service of
the army in the field, and gave them what help we could. We were
always provided with the password, and the whole country was open
to us--a privilege we very greatly appreciated; for after a hard
morning's work in the wards there are few things more delightful than
a motor drive. And it gave us an opportunity of seeing war as very few
but staff officers ever can see it. We learnt more about the condition
of the country and of the results of German methods in one afternoon
than all the literature in the world could ever teach. If only it were
possible to bring home to the people of Britain one-hundredth part of
what we saw with our own eyes, stringent laws would have to be
passed to stop men and women from enlisting. No man who deserved
the name of man, and no woman who deserved to be the mother of a
child, would rest day or night till the earth had been freed from the
fiends who have ravaged Belgium and made the name of German

One afternoon towards the end of September we visited Termonde.
We heard that the Germans, having burnt the town, had retired,
leaving it in the hands of the Belgian troops. It was a rare opportunity
to see the handiwork of the enemy at close quarters, and we did not
wish to miss it. Termonde is about twenty-two miles from Antwerp,
and a powerful car made short work of the distance. Starting directly
southwards through Boom, we reached Willebroeck and the road
which runs east and west from Malines through Termonde to Ghent,
and along it we turned to the right. We were now running parallel to
the German lines, which at some points were only a couple of miles
away on the other side of the Termonde-Malines railway. We passed
numerous Belgian outposts along the road, and for a few miles
between Lippeloo and Baesrode they begged us to travel as fast as
possible, as at this point we came within a mile of the railway. We did
travel, and it would have taken a smart marksman to hit us at fifty
miles an hour; but we felt much happier when we passed under the
railway bridge of a loop line at Briel and placed it between ourselves
and the enemy. The entrance to Termonde was blocked by a rough
barricade of bricks and branches guarded by a squad of soldiers.
They told us that no one was allowed to pass, and we were about to
return disappointed, when one of us happened to mention the
password. As without it we could not possibly have got so far, it had
never occurred to us that they might think we had not got it; and as
we had no possible business in the town, we had no arguments to
oppose to their refusal to let us in. However, all was now open to us,
and the cheery fellows ran forward to remove the barrier they had put

Termonde is, or rather was, a well-to-do town of 10,000 inhabitants
lying on the Scheldt at the point where the Dendre, coming up from
the south, runs into it. A river in Belgium means a route for traffic, and
the town must have derived some advantage from its position as a
trade junction. But it possesses an even greater one in the bridge
which here crosses the Scheldt, the first road bridge above the mouth
of the river, for there is none at Antwerp. At least six main roads
converge upon this bridge, and they must have brought a great deal
of traffic through the town. When we mention that a corresponding
number of railways meet at the same spot, it will be seen Termonde
was an important centre, and that it must have been a wealthy town.
The Dendre runs right through the centre of the town to the point
where it joins the Scheldt, and on each side runs a long stone quay
planted with trees, with old-fashioned houses facing the river. With
the little wooden bridges and the barges on the river it must have
been a very pretty picture. Now it was little better than a heap of

The destruction of the town was extraordinarily complete, and
evidently carefully organized. The whole thing had been arranged
beforehand at headquarters, and these particular troops supplied with
special incendiary apparatus. There is strong evidence to show that
the destruction of Louvain, Termonde, and of several smaller towns,
was all part of a definite plan of "frightfulness," the real object
being to terrorize Holland and Denmark, and to prevent any
possibility of their joining with the Allies. It is strictly scientific
warfare, it produces a strictly scientific hell upon this world,
and I think that one may have every reasonable hope that it
leads to a strictly scientific hell in the next. After a town has
been shelled, its occupants driven out, and its buildings to a
large extent broken down, the soldiers enter, each provided
with a number of incendiary bombs, filled with a very inflammable
compound. They set light to these and throw them into
the houses, and in a very few minutes each house is blazing. In half
an hour the town is a roaring furnace, and by the next day nothing is
left but the bare walls. And that is almost all that there was left of
Termonde. We walked along the quay beside a row of charred and
blackened ruins, a twisted iron bedstead or a battered lamp being all
there was to tell of the homes which these had been. A few houses
were still standing untouched, and on the door of each of these was
scrawled in chalk the inscription:


One wondered at what cost the approval of Lieutenant Breitfuss had
been obtained. His request to the soldiers not to set fire to the houses
of these "good people" had been respected, but I think that if the
Belgians ever return to Termonde those houses are likely to be
empty. There are things worse than having your house burnt down,
and one would be to win the approval of Lieutenant Breitfuss.

We crossed the Dendre and wandered up the town towards the
Square. For a few moments I stood alone in a long curving street with
not a soul in sight, and the utter desolation of the whole thing made
me shiver. Houses, shops, banks, churches, all gutted by the flames
and destroyed. The smell of burning from the smouldering ruins was
sickening. Every now and then the silence was broken by the fall of
bricks or plaster. Except a very few houses with that ominous
inscription on their doors, there was nothing left; everything was
destroyed. A little farther on I went into the remains of a large factory
equipped with elaborate machinery, but so complete was the
destruction that I could not discover what had been made there.
There was a large gas engine and extensive shafting, all hanging in
dismal chaos, and I recognized the remains of machines for making
tin boxes, in which the products of the factory had, I suppose, been
packed. A large pile of glass stoppers in one corner was fused up into
a solid mass, and I chipped a bit off as a memento.

In the Square in front of the church of Notre Dame the German
soldiers had evidently celebrated their achievement by a revel. In the
centre were the remains of a bonfire, and all around were broken
bottles and packs of cheap cards in confusion. Think of the scene. A
blazing town around them, and every now and then the crash of
falling buildings; behind them Notre Dame in flames towering up to
heaven; the ancient Town Hall and the Guard House burning across
the Square; and in the centre a crowd of drunken soldiers round a
bonfire, playing cards. And miles away across the fields ten thousand
homeless wanderers watching the destruction of all for which they
had spent their lives in toil.

Of the ancient church of Notre Dame only the walls remained. The
roof had fallen, all the woodwork had perished in the flames, and the
stonework was calcined by the heat. Above the arch of a door was a
little row of angels' heads carved in stone, but when we touched them
they fell to powder. The heat inside must have been terrific, for all the
features of the church had disappeared, and we were surrounded by
merely a mass of debris. In the apse a few fragments of old gold
brocade buried beneath masses of brick and mortar were all that
remained to show where the altar had been.

The Town Hall was once a beautiful gabled building with a tall square
tower ending in four little turrets. I have a drawing of it, and it must
have formed quite a pleasing picture, the entrance reached by the
double flight of steps of which Belgium is so fond, and from which
public proclamations were read. It had been only recently restored,
and it was now to all intents and purposes a heap of smoking bricks.
The upper part of the tower had fallen into the roof, and the whole
place was burnt out.

But no words can ever convey any idea of the utter destruction of the
whole town, or of the awful loneliness by which one was surrounded.
One felt that one was in the presence of wickedness such as the
world has rarely seen, that the powers of darkness were very near,
and that behind those blackened walls there lurked evil forms.
Twilight was coming on as we turned back to our car, and a cold mist
was slowly rising from the river. I am not superstitious, and in broad
daylight I will scoff at ghosts with anyone, but I should not care to
spend a night alone in Termonde. One could almost hear the Devil
laughing at the handiwork of his children.

VI. The Chateau

One of the most astounding features of the war is the way in which
the Germans, from the highest to the lowest, have given themselves
up to loot. In all previous wars between civilized countries anything in
the nature of loot has been checked with a stern hand, and there are
cases on record when a soldier has been shot for stealing a pair of
boots. But now the Crown Prince of the German Empire sends back
to his palaces all the loot that he can collect, on innumerable
transport waggons, amid the applause of his proud father's subjects.
He is of course carrying out the new gospel of the Fatherland that
everyone has a perfect right to whatever he is strong enough to take.
But some day that doctrine may spread from the exalted and sacred
circle in which it is now the guiding star to the "cannon fodder." Some
day the common people will have learnt the lesson which is being so
sedulously taught to them both by example and by precept, and then
the day of reckoning will have come.

Loot and destruction have always gone hand in hand. The private
soldier cannot carry loot, and it is one of the most primitive
instincts of animal nature to destroy rather than to leave that by
which others may profit. Even the pavement artist will destroy
his work rather than allow some poor wretch to sit beside his
pictures and collect an alms. And there is great joy in destroying
that which men are too coarse to appreciate, in feeling that
they have in their power that which, something tells them,
belongs to a refinement they cannot attain. That was the keynote
of the excesses of the French Revolution, for nothing
arouses the fury of the unclean so much as cleanliness, and a man
has been killed before now for daring to wash his hands. And it is this
elemental love of destroying that has raged through Belgium in the
last few months, for though destruction has been the policy of their
commanders, the German soldier has done it for love. No order could
ever comprehend the ingenious detail of much that we saw, for it bore
at every turn the marks of individuality. It is interesting to ponder on a
future Germany of which these men, or rather these wild beasts, will
be the sons. Germany has destroyed more than the cities of Belgium;
she has destroyed her own soul.

It is not in the ruined towns or the battered cathedrals of Belgium that
one sees most clearly the wholehearted way in which the German
soldiers have carried out the commands of their lord and made his
desires their own. Louvain, Termonde, Dinant, and a hundred other
towns have been uprooted by order. If you wish to see what the
German soldier can do for love, you have to visit the chateaux which
are dotted so thickly all over the Belgian countryside. Here he has
had a free hand, and the destruction he1 wrought had no political
object and served no mere utilitarian purpose. It was the work of pure
affection, and it showed Germany at her best. One would like to have
brought one of those chateaux over to England, to be kept for all time
as an example of German culture, that our children might turn from it
in horror, and that our country might be saved from the hypocrisy and
the selfishness of which this is the fruit.

Among our many good friends in Antwerp there were few whom we
valued more than the Baron d'O. He was always ready to undertake
any service for us, from the most difficult to the most trivial. A man of
birth and of fortune, he stood high in the service of the Belgian
Government, and he was often able to do much to facilitate our
arrangements with them. So when he asked us to take him out in one
of our cars to see the chateau of one of his greatest friends, we were
glad to be in a position to repay him in a small way for his kindness.
The chateau had been occupied by the Germans, who had now
retired--though only temporarily, alas!--and he was anxious to see
what damage had been done and to make arrangements for putting it
in order again if it should be possible.

A perfect autumn afternoon found us tearing southwards on the road
to Boom in Mrs. W.'s powerful Minerva. We were going to a point
rather close to the German lines, and our safety might depend on a
fast car and a cool hand on the wheel. We had both, for though the
hand was a lady's, its owner had earned the reputation of being the
most dangerous and the safest driver in Antwerp, and that is no mean
achievement. We called, as was our custom, at the Croix Rouge
stations we passed, and at one of them we were told that there were
some wounded in Termonde, and that, as the Germans were
attacking it, they were in great danger. So we turned off to the right,
and jolted for the next twenty minutes over a deplorable paved road.

The roar of artillery fire gradually grew louder and louder, and we
were soon watching an interesting little duel between the forts of
Termonde, under whose shelter we were creeping along, on the one
side, and the Germans on the other. The latter were endeavouring to
destroy one of the bridges which span the Scheldt at this point, one
for the railway and one for the road; but so far they had not
succeeded in hitting either. It was a week since our last visit to
Termonde, and it seemed even more desolate and forsaken than
before. The Germans had shelled it again, and most of the remaining
walls had been knocked down, so that the streets were blocked at
many points and the whole town was little more than a heap of bricks
and mortar. There was not a living creature to be seen, and even the
birds had gone. The only sound that broke the utter silence was the
shriek of the shells and the crash of their explosion. We were
constantly checked by piles of fallen debris, and from one street we
had to back the car out and go round by another way. At the end of a
long street of ruined houses, many bearing the inscription of some
braggart, "I did this," we found our wounded men. They were in a
monastery near the bridge at which the Germans were directing their
shells, several of which had already fallen into the building. There
had been four wounded men there, but two of them, badly hurt, were
so terrified at the bombardment that they had crawled away in the
night. The priest thought that they were probably dead. Think of the
poor wounded wretches, unable to stand, crawling away in the
darkness to find some spot where they could die in peace. Two
remained, and these we took with us on the car. The priest and the
two nuns, the sole occupants of the monastery, absolutely refused to
leave. They wished to protect the monastery from sacrilege, and in
that cause they held their lives of small account. I have often thought
of those gentle nuns and the fearless priest standing in the doorway
as our car moved away. I hope that it went well with them, and that
they did not stay at their post in vain.

By the bridge stood a company of Belgian soldiers, on guard in case,
under cover of the fire of their artillery, the Germans might attempt to
capture it. There was very little shelter for them, and it was positively
raining shells; but they had been told to hold the bridge, and they did
so until there was no longer a bridge to hold. It was as fine a piece of
quiet heroism as I shall ever see, and it was typical of the Belgian
soldier wherever we saw him. They never made any fuss about it,
they were always quiet and self-contained, and always cheerful. But if
they were given a position to hold, they held it. And that is the secret
of the wonderful losing battle they have fought across Belgium. Some
day they will advance and not retreat, and then I think that the Belgian
Army will astonish their opponents, and perhaps their friends too.

We were soon out of Termonde and on the open road again, to our
very great relief, and at the nearest dressing-station we handed over
our patients, who were not badly wounded, to the surgeon, who was
hard at work in a little cottage about a mile back along the road. We
drove on due east, and forty minutes later found ourselves at the
entrance of the lodge of our friend's house. It lay on the very edge of
the Belgian front, and would have been unapproachable had there
been any activity in this section of the line. Fortunately for us, the
Germans were concentrating their energies around Termonde, and
the mitrailleuse standing on the path amongst the trees at the end of
the garden seemed to have gone asleep. We turned the car in the
drive, and, in case things should happen, pointed its nose
homewards. That is always a wise precaution, for turning a car under
fire in a narrow road is one of the most trying experiences imaginable.
The coolest hand may fumble with the gears at such a moment, and it
is surprising how difficult it is to work them neatly when every second
may be a matter of life or death, when a stopped engine may settle
the fate of everyone in the car. It is foolish to take unnecessary risks,
and we left the car pointing the right way, with its engine running,
ready to start on the instant, while we went to have a look at the

It was a large country-house standing in well-timbered grounds,
evidently the home of a man of wealth and taste. The front-door stood
wide open, as if inviting us to enter, and as we passed into the large
hall I could not help glancing at our friend's face to see what he was
thinking as the obvious destruction met us on the very threshold. So
thorough was it that it was impossible to believe that it had not been
carried out under definite orders. Chairs, sofas, settees lay scattered
about in every conceivable attitude, and in every case as far as I can
recollect minus legs and backs. In a small room at the end of the hall
a table had been overturned, and on the floor and around lay broken
glass, crockery, knives and forks, mixed up in utter confusion, while
the wall was freely splashed with ink. One fact was very striking and
very suggestive: none of the pictures had been defaced, and there
were many fine oil-paintings and engravings hanging on the walls of
the reception-rooms. After the destruction of the treasures of Louvain,
it is absurd to imagine that the controlling motive could have been any
reverence for works of art. The explanation was obvious enough. The
pictures were of value, and were the loot of some superior officer. A
large cabinet had evidently been smashed with the butt-end of a
musket, but the beautiful china it contained was intact. The grand
piano stood uninjured, presumably because it afforded entertainment.
The floor was thick with playing cards.

But it was upstairs that real chaos reigned. Every wardrobe and
receptacle had been burst open and the contents dragged out. Piles
of dresses and clothing of every kind lay heaped upon the floor, many
of them torn, as though the harsh note produced by the mere act of
tearing appealed to the passion for destruction which seemed to
animate these fighting men. In the housekeeper's room a sewing-
machine stood on the table, its needle threaded, and a strip of cloth in
position, waiting for the stitch it was destined never to receive. There
were many other things to which one cannot refer, but it would have
been better to have had one's house occupied by a crowd of wild
beasts than by these apostles of culture.

Our friend had said very little while we walked through the deserted
rooms in this splendid country-house in which he had so often stayed.
Inside the house he could not speak, and it was not until we got out
into the sunshine that he could relieve his overwrought feelings. Deep
and bitter were the curses which he poured upon those vandals; but I
stood beside him, and I did not hear half that he said, for my eyes
were fixed on the mitrailleuse standing on the garden path under the
trees. My fingers itched to pull the lever and to scatter withering death
among them. It slowly came into my mind how good it would be to kill
these defilers. I suppose that somewhere deep down in us there
remains an elemental lust for blood, and though in the protected lives
we live it rarely sees the light, when the bonds of civilization are
broken it rises up and dominates. And who shall say that it is not right?
There are things in Belgium for which blood alone can atone. Woe
to us if when our interests are satisfied we sheath the sword, and
forget the ruined homes, the murdered children of Belgium, the
desecrated altars of the God in whose name we fight! He has placed
the sword in our hands for vengeance, and not for peace.

I no longer wonder at the dogged courage of the Belgian soldiers, at
their steady disregard of their lives, when I think of the many such
pictures of wanton outrage which are burned into their memories, and
which can never be effaced so long as a single German remains in
their beloved land. I no longer wonder, but I do not cease to admire.
Let anyone who from the depths of an armchair at home thinks that I
have spoken too strongly, stimulate his imagination to the pitch of
visualizing the town in which he lives destroyed, his own house a
smoking heap, his wife profaned, his children murdered, and himself
ruined, for these are the things of which we know. Then, and then
only, will he be able to judge the bravery of the nation which,
preferring death to dishonour, has in all likelihood saved both France
and ourselves from sharing its terrible but glorious fate.

VII. Malines

We were frequently requested by the Belgian doctors to assist them
in the various Red Cross dressing-stations around Antwerp, and it
was our custom to visit several of these stations each day to give
what assistance we could. One of the most important of the stations
was at Malines, and one of our cars called there every day. I went out
there myself on an afternoon late in September. It was a glorious day,
and after a heavy morning in the wards the fresh breeze and the
brilliant sunshine were delightful. Our road led almost straight south
through Vieux Dieu and Contich, crossing the little River Nethe at
Waelhem. The Nethe encircles Antwerp on the south and south-east,
and it was here that the Belgians, and in the end the British, made
their chief stand against the Germans. We crossed the bridge, and
passed on to Malines under the guns of Fort Waelhem, with the great
fortress of Wavre St. Catharine standing away to the left, impregnable
to anything but the huge guns of to-day.

Malines is a large town of 60,000 inhabitants, and is the cathedral city
of the Archbishop of Belgium, the brave Cardinal Mercier. To-day it is
important as a railway centre, and for its extensive railway workshops,
but the interest of the town lies in the past. It was of importance as
early as the eighth century, and since then it has changed hands on
an amazing number of occasions. Yet it is said that few of the cities of
Europe contain so many fine old houses in such good preservation.
The cathedral church of St. Rombold dates back to the thirteenth
century, and in the fifteenth century was begun the huge tower which
can be seen for many miles around. It was intended that it should be
550 feet high--the highest in the world--and though it has reached
little more than half that height, it is a very conspicuous landmark.
The Germans evidently found it a very tempting mark, for they began
shelling it at an early stage. When we were there the tower had not
been damaged, but a large hole in the roof of the church showed
where a shell had entered. Inside everything was in chaos. Every
window was broken, and of the fine stained glass hardly a fragment
was left. A large portion of the roof was destroyed, and the floor was a
confusion of chairs and debris. The wonderful carved wooden pulpit,
with its almost life-size figures, was damaged. When the shell
entered, the preacher's notes from the previous Sunday lay on the
desk, and they were perforated by a fragment.

The Croix Rouge was established in a large school on the south side
of the town. We drove into the large courtyard, and went in to see if
there was anything for us to do. The doctor in charge, a distinguished
oculist, was an old friend and was very cordial, but he said there was
no fighting near, and that no cases had come in. We stood talking for
a few minutes, and were just going, when one of our other cars came
in with a man very badly wounded. He was a cyclist scout, and had
been shot while crossing a field a few miles away. He had been
picked up at considerable risk by our people:--for the Germans
rarely respected a Red Cross--and brought in on the ambulance.
He was wounded in the abdomen, and his right arm was shattered.
He was in a desperate state, but the doctor begged me to do what I
could for him, and, indeed, the power of recovery of these fellows was
so remarkable that it was always worth a trial. As rapidly as possible
we got ready stimulants and hot saline solution to inject into his veins.
We had not come prepared for actual operating, and the local
equipment was meagre, but we succeeded in improvising a
transfusion apparatus out of various odds and ends. It did not take
long to get it to work, and in a few minutes he began to respond to the
hot salt and water running into his vessels. Alas it was only for a
moment. He was bleeding internally, and nothing could be done. I
went over to the priest, who had just come, and said: "C'est a vous,
monsieur." He bowed, and came forward holding in his hands the holy
oil. A few murmured words were spoken, the priest's finger traced the
sign of the Cross, a few moments of silence, and all was over. Death
is always impressive, but I shall never forget that scene. The large
schoolroom, with its improvised equipment, ourselves, a crowd of
nurses and doctors standing round, in the centre the sandalled priest
bending downwards in his brown mantle, and the dying man, his lips
moving to frame the last words he would speak on earth. It was in
silence that we stole out into the sunlight of the courtyard.

We went on to Sempst, a small village at the extreme limit of the
Belgian lines. A little stream ran under the road beside a farm, and a
rough breastwork had been thrown across the road to defend the
bridge. German soldiers could be seen a mile down the road moving
behind the trees. It was only a small Belgian outpost, but it was a
good enough position to hold, so long as the enemy did not bring up
artillery. A machine gun was hidden beside the bridge, and would
have made short work of anyone advancing up the road. My friends
were talking to the men, whom we knew quite well; and for a moment I
was standing alone, when one of the soldiers came up and asked
about the man whom we had just left, and who had come from near
by. I told him what had happened, and for a moment he did not speak.
At last he looked up at me with tears in his eyes, and said simply: "He
was my brother, and this morning we were laughing together." I held
his hand for a moment, and then he turned away and went back to his

Our way home led past a villa where an encounter had taken place
three days before between the Belgians and an advanced detachment
of German troops, and we stopped to see the scene of the fighting.
It was a large country-house standing back in its own grounds,
and during the night a party of Germans had succeeded in concealing
themselves inside. In the morning, by a ruse, they induced a
Belgian detachment to come up the drive towards the house, never
suspecting that it was not empty. Suddenly the Germans opened fire,
and I believe that scarcely a single Belgian escaped. Next day,
however, having surrounded the villa, the Belgians opened fire upon
it with their 3-inch guns. The Germans made a bolt for it, and the
whole of them were killed. As we walked up the drive we saw on the
left-hand side a little row of graves with fresh flowers laid on them.
They were the graves of the Belgian soldiers who had been
entrapped. An officer was standing by them with bared head, and,
seeing us, he came over and walked on with us to the house, which
he was then occupying with his soldiers. It was a fine house, with
polished parquet floors and wide staircases. The dining-room was
ornamented with delicate frescoes in gilt frames. In the drawing-room
stood a new grand pianoforte, and light gilt chairs and sofas, looking
strangely out of place on the field of war. By the front-door, sticking in
the wall, was a shell which had failed to burst. I wonder if it is still
there, or if anyone has ventured to shift it. It was half inside and half
outside, and if it had exploded there would not have been much of the
entrance of the house left. Upstairs the rooms were in glorious
confusion. Apparently the Germans had opened all the drawers, and
flung their contents on the floor, with the idea, I suppose, of taking
anything they wanted. One room was plainly the nursery, for the floor
was covered with children's toys of all descriptions, all broken. It may
be very unreasonable, but that room made me more angry than all the
rest of the house. There is something so utterly wanton in trampling
on a child's toys. They may be of no value, but I have a small opinion
of a man who does not treat them with respect. They are the symbols
of an innocence that once was ours, the tokens of a contact with the
unseen world for which we in our blindness grope longingly in vain.

VIII. Lierre

When, years hence, some historian looks back upon the present war,
and from the confusion of its battles tries to frame before his mind a
picture of the whole, one grim conclusion will be forced upon his
mind. He will note, perhaps, vast alterations in the map of Europe; he
will lament a loss of life such as only the hand of Heaven has dealt
before; he will point to the folly of the wealth destroyed. But beneath
all these he will hear one insistent note from which he cannot escape,
the deep keynote of the whole, the note on which the war was based,
the secret of its ghastly chords, and the foundation of its dark
conclusion. And he will write that in the year 1914 one of the great
nations of civilized Europe relapsed into barbarism.

In the large sense a nation becomes civilized as its members
recognize the advantages of sinking their personal desires and gain
in the general good of the State. The fact that an individual can read
and write and play the piano has nothing at all to do with the degree
of his civilization, an elementary axiom of which some of our rulers
seem strangely ignorant. To be of use to the State, and to train others
to be of use to the State (and not only of use to themselves), should
be, and indeed is, the aim of every truly civilized man. Unless it be so,
his civilization is a mere veneer, ready to wear off at the first rub, and
he himself a parasite upon the civilized world.

As time has gone on, the State has laid down certain rules by means
of which the men who formed it could serve it better, and these are
our laws which we obey not for our own good directly, but for the
good of the State. From the point of view of the plain man in the
street, it is all utterly illogical, for it would be logical to go and take
from your neighbour whatever you wished, so long as you were
strong enough to hold it. But, let us thank Heaven, no sane man is
logical, and only a Professor would dare to make the claim. It is one
of the prerogatives of his office, and should be treated with tolerance.

And as our views of life are small and limited by our surroundings,
when States grew large they took from the shoulders of the individual
his responsibilities in the great State which the world has now
become; and the States of which the world was composed agreed
together on certain rules which should control their relations to one
another, not for the good of each, but for the good of the greater State
of which they were members. They are not so accurately laid down as
the laws of our separate States, but they are broad, general principles
for the use of statesmen and not of legalists. They are the Charter of
Civilization among the nations of the world, and the nation which
disregards them does so at her peril, and has handed in the
abnegation of her position as a civilized State. Like the laws of each
State, they are utterly illogical--at least, to those who have made up
their minds that they are strong enough to hold what they can take
from their neighbours.

I am often told, in half-defence of what they have done, that the
Germans are conducting the war in a strictly logical manner. At first, I
must admit, I was rather taken with the idea, and, indeed, one felt
almost sorry for a noble nation sacrificing its feelings on the
uncompromising altar of Logic. For the object of war is obviously to
defeat your enemy, and it may be argued that anything which will
accelerate that result is not only justifiable, but almost humane, for it
will shorten the unavoidable horrors of war. I should like to mention a
few of the features of logical warfare, all of which have at one time or
another been adopted by our opponents, and I shall then describe as
far as I can an example which I myself saw.

When an army wishes to pass through a country, the civil population
is in the way. To get rid of them, the best plan, and the quickest, is to
annihilate the first town of a suitable size to which the army comes. If
the town is wiped out, and men, women, and children slaughtered
indiscriminately, it will make such an impression in the rest of the
country that the whole population will clear out and there will be no
further trouble. The country will then be free for the passage of
troops, and there will be no troublesome civil population to feed or
govern. The conduct of the war will be greatly facilitated. Of course, it
will be necessary at intervals to repeat the process, but this presents
the further advantage that it advertises to other nations what they may
expect if war enters their borders. This, one of the most elementary
rules of logical warfare, has been strictly observed by Germany. The
sack of Louvain and the slaughter of its inhabitants met with an
immediate success. Wherever the German army arrived, they entered
with few exceptions empty towns. Termonde, Malines, Antwerp, had
everything swept and garnished for their reception. It would, of
course, be absurdly illogical to confine one's attack to persons
capable of defence. To kill a hundred women and children makes far
more impression than to kill a thousand men, and it is far safer,
unless, of course, it is preferred to use them as a screen to protect
your own advancing troops from the enemy's fire.

It is a mistake to burden your transport with the enemy's wounded, or,
indeed--low be it spoken--with your own. The former should
always be killed, and the latter so far as the degree of culture of your
country will allow. It is one of the regrettable points, logically, of
Germany's warfare that she appears to pay some attention to her
wounded, but our information on this point is deficient, and it is
possible that she limits it to those who may again be useful.

To kill the Medical Staff of the enemy is obviously most desirable.
Without them a large number of the wounded would die. If, therefore,
it is possible to kill both the doctors and the wounded together, it is a
great advantage, and of all possible objectives for artillery a hospital
is the most valuable. So complete was our confidence in the German
observance of this rule that when we heard that they were likely to
bombard Antwerp, we were strongly advised to remove our Red
Cross from the sight of prying aeroplanes, and we took the advice.
Several other hospitals were hit, but we escaped.

There are many other rules of logical warfare, such as ignoring
treaties, engagements, and, indeed, the truth in any form. But these
are those with which I myself came in contact, and which therefore
interested me the most. There is only one unfortunate objection to
logical warfare, and that is that it is the duty of the whole civilized
world, as it values its eternal salvation, to blot out from the face of the
earth they have defiled the nation which practises it.

I do not wish to be unfair to those with whom we are fighting, or to
arouse against them an unjust resentment. I am merely attempting to
express succinctly the doctrines which have been proclaimed
throughout Germany for years, of which this war is the logical
outcome, and in the light of which alone its incidents can be
understood. She is the home of logic, the temple where material
progress is worshipped as a god. For her there is no meaning in
those dim yearnings of the human mind, in which logic has no part,
since their foundations are hidden in depths beneath our ken, but
which alone separate us from the beasts that perish. And, above all
things, I would not be thought to include in such a sweeping
statement all those who call themselves German. There are many in
Germany who are not of this Germany, and in the end it may be for
them as much as for ourselves that we shall have fought this war.

It is only when viewed in this setting that a scene such as that we saw
at Lierre can be understood. By itself it would stand naked,
meaningless, and merely horrible. Clothed in these thoughts, it is
pregnant with meaning, and forms a real epitome of the whole
German conception of war; for horror is their dearest ally, and that
scene has left on my mind a feeling of horror which I do not think that
time will ever eradicate.

Lierre is an old-world town on the River Nethe, nine miles south of
Antwerp, prosperous, and thoroughly Flemish. Its 20,000 inhabitants
weave silk and brew beer, as they did when London was a village.
Without the physical advantages of Antwerp, and without the
turbulence of Ghent, Lierre has escaped their strange vicissitudes,
and for hundreds of years has enjoyed the prosperity of a quiet and
industrious town. Its church of St. Gommarius is renowned for its
magnificent proportions, its superb window tracery, and its wonderful
rood-loft--features in which it has eclipsed in glory even the great
cathedrals of Belgium, and which place it alone as a unique
achievement of the art of the fifteenth century. It is in no sense a
military town, and has no defences, though there is a fort of the same
name at no great distance from it.

Into this town, without warning of any kind, the Germans one morning
dropped two of their largest shells. One fell near the church, but
fortunately did no harm. One fell in the Hospital of St. Elizabeth. We
heard in Antwerp that several people had been wounded, and in the
afternoon two of us went out in one of our cars to see if we could be
of any service. We found the town in the greatest excitement, and the
streets crowded with families preparing to leave, for they rightly
regarded these shells as the prelude of others. In the square was
drawn up a large body of recruits just called up--rather late in the
day, it seemed to us. We slowly made our way through the crowds,
and, turning to the right along the Malines road, we drew up in front of
the hospital on our right-hand side. The shell had fallen almost
vertically on to a large wing, and as we walked across the garden we
could see that all the windows had been broken, and that most of the
roof had been blown off. The nuns met us, and took us down into the
cellars to see the patients. It was an infirmary, and crowded together
in those cellars lay a strange medley of people. There were bedridden
old women huddled up on mattresses, almost dead with terror.
Wounded soldiers lay propped up against the walls; and women and
little children, wounded in the fighting around, lay on straw and
sacking. Apparently it is not enough to wound women and children; it
is even necessary to destroy the harbour of refuge into which they
have crept. The nuns were doing for them everything that was
possible, under conditions of indescribable difficulty. They may not be
trained nurses, but in the records of this war the names of the nuns of
Belgium ought to be written in gold. Utterly careless of their own lives,
absolutely without fear, they have cared for the sick, the wounded,
and the dying, and they have faced any hardship and any danger
rather than abandon those who turned to them for help.

The nuns led us upstairs to the wards where the shell had burst. The
dead had been removed, but the scene that morning must have been
horrible beyond description. In the upper ward six wounded soldiers
had been killed, and in the lower two old women. As we stood in the
upper ward, it was difficult to believe that so much damage could
have been caused by a single shell. It had struck almost vertically on
the tiled roof, and, exploding in the attic, had blown in the ceiling into
the upper ward. I had not realized before the explosion of a large
shell is not absolutely instantaneous, but, in consequence of the
speed of the shell, is spread over a certain distance. Here the shell
had continued to explode as it passed down through the building,
blowing the floor of the upper ward down into the ward below. A great
oak beam, a foot square, was cut clean in two, the walls of both wards
were pitted and pierced by fragments, and the tiled floor of the lower
ward was broken up. The beds lay as they were when the dead were
taken from them, the mattresses riddled with fragments and soaked
with blood. Obviously no living thing could have survived in that awful
hail. When the shell came the soldiers were eating walnuts, and on
the bed of one lay a walnut half opened and the little penknife he was
using, and both were stained. We turned away sickened at the sight,
and retraced the passage with the nuns. As we walked along, they
pointed out to us marks we had not noticed before--red finger-marks
and splashes of blood on the pale blue distemper of the wall. All down
the passage and the staircase we could trace them, and even in the
hall below. Four men had been standing in the doorway of the upper
ward. Two were killed; the others, bleeding and blinded by the
explosion, had groped their way along that wall and down the stair. I
have seen many terrible sights, but for utter and concentrated horror I
have never seen anything to equal those finger-marks, the very sign-
manual of Death. When I think of them, I see, in the dim light of the
early autumn morning, the four men talking; I hear the wild shriek of
the shell and the deafening crash of its explosion; and then silence,
and two bleeding men groping in darkness and terror for the air.

IX. A Pause

The life of a hospital at the front is a curious mixture of excitement
and dullness. One week cases will be pouring in, the operating theatre
will be working day and night, and everyone will have to do their
utmost to keep abreast of the rush; next week there will be nothing to
do, and everyone will mope about the building, and wonder why they
were ever so foolish as to embark on such a futile undertaking. For it
is all emergency work, and there is none of the dull routine of the
ordinary hospital waiting list, which we are always trying to clear off,
but which is in reality the backbone of the hospital's work.

When we first started in Antwerp, the rush of cases was so great as to
be positively overwhelming. For more than twenty-four hours the
surgeons in the theatre were doing double work, two tables being
kept going at the same time. During that time a hundred and fifty
wounded were admitted, all of them serious cases, and the hospital
was full to overflowing. For the next ten days we were kept busy, but
then our patients began to recover, and many of them had to go away
to military convalescent hospitals. The wards began to look deserted,
and yet no more patients arrived. We began to think that it was all a
mistake that we had come, that there would be no more fighting round
Antwerp, and that we were not wanted. Indeed, we canvassed the
possibilities of work in other directions, and in the meantime we drew
up elaborate arrangements to occupy our time. There were to be
courses of lectures and demonstrations in the wards, and supplies of
books and papers were to be obtained. Alas for the vanity of human
schemes, the wounded began to pour in again, and not a lecture was

During that slack week we took the opportunity to see a certain
amount of Antwerp, and to call on many officials and the many friends
who did so much to make our work there a success and our stay a
pleasure. To one lady we can never be sufficiently grateful. She
placed at our disposal her magnificent house, a perfect palace in the
finest quarter of the city. Several of our nurses lived there, we had a
standing invitation to dinner, and, what we valued still more, there
were five bathrooms ready for our use at any hour of the day. Their
drawing-room had been converted into a ward for wounded officers,
and held about twenty beds. One of the daughters had trained as a
nurse, and under her charge it was being run in thoroughly up-to-date
style. The superb tapestries with which the walls were decorated had
been covered with linen, and but for the gilded panelling it might have
been a ward in a particularly finished hospital. I often wonder what
has happened to that house. The family had to fly to England, and
unless it was destroyed by the shells, it is occupied by the Germans.

Calling in Antwerp on our professional brethren was very delightful for
one's mind, but not a little trying for one's body. Their ideas of
entertainment were so lavish, and it was so difficult to refuse their
generosity, that it was a decided mistake to attempt two calls in the
same afternoon. To be greeted at one house with claret of a rare
vintage, and at the next with sweet champagne, especially when it is
plain that your host will be deeply pained if a drop is left, is rather
trying to a tea-drinking Briton. They were very good to us, and we
owed a great deal to their help. Most of all we owed to Dr. Morlet, for
he had taken radiographs of all our fractures, and of many others of
our cases. We went to see him one Sunday afternoon at his beautiful
house in the Avenue Plantin. He also had partly converted his house
into a hospital for the wounded, and we saw twenty or thirty of them in
a large drawing-room. The rest of the house was given up to the most
magnificent electro-therapeutical equipment I have ever seen or
heard of. We wandered through room after room filled with superb
apparatus for X-ray examinations, X-ray treatment, diathermy, and
electrical treatment of every known kind. It was not merely that
apparatus for all these methods was there. Whole rooms full of
apparatus were given up to each subject. It was the home of a genius
and an enthusiast, who thought no sum too great if it were to advance
his science. Little did we think that ten days later we should pick its
owner up upon the road from Antwerp, a homeless wanderer,
struggling along with his wife and his family, leaving behind
everything he possessed in the world, in the hope that he might save
them from the Germans. We heard from him not long ago that they
had carried off to Germany all the wonderful machinery on which he
had spent his life.

The very next morning, while we were still at breakfast, the wounded
began to arrive, and we never had another day in Antwerp that was
not crowded with incident. The wounded almost always came in large
batches, and the reason of this was the method of distribution
adopted by the authorities. All the injured out at the front were
collected as far as possible to one centre, where a train was waiting
to receive them. There they remained until the train was sufficiently
filled, when it brought them into the Central Station of Antwerp. At this
point was established the distributing station, with a staff of medical
officers, who arranged the destination of each man. Antwerp has a
very complete system of electric trams, scarcely a street being without
one, and of these full use was made for the transport of the wounded.
Those who could sit went in ordinary cars, but for the stretcher cases
there were cars specially fitted to take ordinary stretchers. A car was
filled up with cases for one hospital, and in most cases it could
deposit them at the door. It was an admirable method of dealing with
them, simple and expeditious, and it involved far less pain and injury
to the men than a long journey on an ambulance. In fact, we were
only allowed in exceptional circumstances to bring in wounded on our
cars, and it is obvious that it was a wise plan, for endless confusion
would have been the result if anyone could have picked up the
wounded and carried them off where they liked. Our cars were limited
for the most part to carrying the injured to the various dressing-
stations and to the train, and for these purposes they were always
welcomed. They were soon well known at the trenches, and wherever
the fighting was heaviest you might be sure to find one of them. Many
were the hairbreadth escapes of which they had to tell, for if there
were wounded they brought them out of danger, shells or no shells.
And it says as much for the coolness of the drivers as for their good
luck that no one was ever injured; for danger is halved by cool
judgment, and a bold driver will come safely through where timidity
would fail.

X. The Siege

It is difficult to say exactly when the Siege of Antwerp began. For
weeks we heard the distant boom of the guns steadily drawing nearer
day by day, and all night the sky was lit up by distant flashes. But so
peculiar was the position of Antwerp that it was not till the last ten
days that our life was seriously affected, and not till the very end that
communication with our friends and the getting of supplies became
difficult. Our first real domestic tragedy was the destruction of the
waterworks on the 30th of September. They lay just behind Waelhem,
some six miles south of Antwerp, and into them the Germans poured
from the other side of Malines a stream of 28-centimetre shells, with
the result that the great reservoir burst. Until one has had to do
without a water-supply in a large city it is impossible to realize to what
a degree we are dependent upon it. In Antwerp, fortunately, a water-
supply has been regarded as somewhat of an innovation, and almost
every house, in the better class quarters at least, has its own wells
and pumps. It was, however, the end of the summer, and the wells
were low; our own pumps would give us barely enough water for
drinking purposes. The authorities did all they could, and pumped up
water from the Scheldt for a few hours each day, enabling us, with
considerable difficulty, to keep the drainage system clear. But this
water was tidal and brackish, whilst as to the number of bacteria it
contained it was better not to inquire. We boiled and drank it when we
could get nothing else, but of all the nauseous draughts I have ever
consumed, not excluding certain hospital mixtures of high repute, tea
made with really salt water is the worst. Coffee was a little better,
though not much, and upon that we chiefly relied. But I really think
that that was one of the most unpleasant of our experiences. A more
serious matter from the point of view of our work was the absence of
water in the operating theatre. We stored it as well as we could in
jugs, but in a rush that was inadequate, and we began to realize what
the difficulties were with which surgeons had to contend in South

We were really driven out of Antwerp at a very fortunate moment, and
I have often wondered what we should have done if we had stopped
there for another week. Such a very large proportion of the
inhabitants of Antwerp had already disappeared that there was never
any great shortage of supplies. Milk and butter were the first things to
go, and fresh vegetables followed soon after. It was always a mystery
to me that with the country in such a condition they went on for as
long as they did. The peasants must have worked their farms until
they were absolutely driven out, and indeed in our expeditions into
the country we often saw fields being ploughed and cattle being fed
when shells were falling only a few fields away. However, margarine
and condensed milk are not bad substitutes for the real articles, and
the supply of bread held out to the very end. A greater difficulty was
with our kitchen staff of Belgian women, for a good many of them took
fright and left us, and it was not at all easy to get their places filled.
As the week went on the pressure of the enemy became steadily
greater. On Tuesday, the 29th of September, the great fortress of
Wavre St. Catherine fell, blown up, it is believed, by the accidental
explosion of a shell inside the galleries. It had been seriously
battered by the big German howitzers, and it could not in any
case have held out for another day. But the results of the
explosion were terrible. Many of the wounded came to us,
and they were the worst cases we had so far seen.

On Thursday Fort Waelhem succumbed after a magnificent
resistance. The garrison held it until it was a mere heap of ruins, and,
indeed, they had the greatest difficulty in making their way out. I think
that there is very little doubt that the Germans were using against
these forts their largest guns, the great 42-centimetre howitzers. It is
known that two of these were brought northwards past Brussels after
the fall of Maubeuge, and a fragment which was given to us was
almost conclusive. It was brought to us one morning as an offering by
a grateful patient, and it came from the neighbourhood of Fort
Waelhem. It was a mass of polished steel two feet long, a foot wide,
and three inches thick, and it weighed about fifty pounds. It was very
irregular in shape, with edges sharp as razors, without a particle of
rust upon it. It had been picked up where it fell still hot, and it was by
far the finest fragment of shell I have ever seen. Alas we had to
leave it behind, and it lies buried in a back-garden beside our
hospital. Some day it will be dug up, and will be exhibited as
conclusive evidence that the Germans did use their big guns in
shelling the town.

The destruction produced by such a shell is almost past belief. I have
seen a large house struck by a single shell of a much smaller size
than this, and it simply crumpled up like a pack of cards. As a house it
disappeared, and all that was left was a heap of bricks and mortar.
When one considers that these guns have a range of some ten miles,
giving Mont Blanc considerable clearance on the way, and that one of
them out at Harrow could drop shells neatly into Charing Cross, some
idea of their power can be obtained.

Every day we had visits from the enemy's aeroplanes, dropping
bombs or literature, or merely giving the range of hospitals and other
suitable objectives to the German gunners. From the roof of the
hospital one could get a magnificent view of their evolutions, and a
few kindred spirits always made a rush for a door on to the roof, the
secret of which was carefully preserved, as the accommodation was
limited. It was a very pretty sight to watch the Taube soaring
overhead, followed by the puffs of smoke from the explosion of shells
fired from the forts. The puffs would come nearer and nearer as the
gunners found the range, until one felt that the next must bring the
Taube down. Then suddenly the airman would turn his machine off in
another direction, and the shells would fall wider than ever. One's
feelings were torn between admiration for the airman's daring and an
unholy desire to see him fall.

It was evident that Antwerp could not withstand much longer the
pressure of the enemy's guns, and we were not surprised when on
Friday we received an official notice from the British Consul-General,
Sir Cecil Herstlet, that the Government were about to leave for
Ostend, and advising all British subjects to leave by a boat which had
been provided for them on Saturday. On Saturday morning came an
order from the Belgian Army Medical Service instructing us to place
on tramcars all our wounded, and to send them to the railway station.
It appeared evident that Antwerp was to be evacuated, and we took
the order to clear out our wounded as an intimation that our services
would be no longer required. We got all our men ready for transport,
and proceeded to pack up the hospital. The tramcars arrived, and we
bade good-bye to our patients, and saw them off, some in ordinary
trams and some in specially equipped stretcher-cars. It was a dismal

The hall of the hospital was still covered with stretchers on which lay
patients waiting their turn for the cars to take them, and the whole
hospital was in process of being dismantled, when tramcars began to
arrive back from the station with the patients we had just packed off.
They told us that the whole of Antwerp was covered with tramloads of
wounded soldiers, that there were five thousand in the square in front
of the railway station, and that two trains had been provided to take
them away! It was evident that some extraordinary blunder had been
made; and while we were in doubt as to what to do, a second order
came to us cancelling entirely the evacuation order which we and all
the other hospitals in Antwerp had received a few hours before. It was
all so perplexing that we felt that the only satisfactory plan was to go
round to the British Consul and find out what it all meant. We came
back with the great news that British Marines were coming to hold
Antwerp. That was good enough for us. In less than an hour the
hospital was in working order again, and the patients were back in
their beds, and a more jubilant set of patients I have never seen. It
was the most joyful day in the history of the hospital, and if we had
had a case of champagne, it should have been opened. As it was, we
had to be content with salt coffee.

But there was one dreadful tragedy. Some of our patients had not
returned. In the confusion at the station one tramcar loaded with our
patients had been sent off to another hospital by mistake. And the
worst of it was that some of these were our favourite patients. There
was nothing for it but to start next morning and make a tour of the
hospitals in search of them. We were not long in finding them, for
most of them were in a large hospital close by. I do not think we shall
ever forget the reception we got when we found them. They had left
us on stretchers, but they tried to get out of bed to come away with
us, and one of them was a septic factured thigh with a hole in his leg
into which you could put your fist, and another had recently had a
serious abdominal operation.

They seized our hands and would scarcely let us go until we had
promised that as soon as we had arranged with the authorities they
should come back to our hospital. It was managed after a little
diplomacy, and they all came back next day, and we were again a
united family.

XI. Contich

Sunday, the 4th of October, dawned with an extraordinary feeling of
relief and expectancy in the air. The invincible British had arrived,
huge guns were on their way, a vast body of French and British
troops was advancing by forced marches, and would attack our
besiegers in the rear, and beyond all possibility of doubt crush them
utterly. But perhaps the most convincing proof of all was the round
head of the First Lord of the Admiralty calmly having his lunch in the
Hotel St. Antoine. Surely nothing can inspire such confidence as the
sight of an Englishman eating. It is one of the most substantial
phenomena in nature, and certainly on this occasion I found the sight
more convincing than a political speech. Obviously we were saved,
and one felt a momentary pang of pity for the misguided Germans
who had taken on such an impossible task. The sight of British troops
in the streets and of three armoured cars carrying machine guns
settled the question, and we went home to spread the good news and
to follow the noble example of the First Lord.

In the afternoon three of us went off in one of the motors for a short
run, partly to see if we could be of any use at the front with the
wounded, and partly to see, if possible, the British troops. We took a
stretcher with us, in case there should be any wounded to bring in
from outlying posts. Everywhere we found signs of the confidence
which the British had brought. It was visible in the face of every
Belgian soldier, and even the children cheered our khaki uniforms as
we passed. Everywhere there were signs of a new activity and of a
new hope. The trenches and wire entanglements around the town,
already very extensive, were being perfected, and to our eyes they
looked impregnable. We did not then realize how useless it is to
attempt to defend a town, and, unfortunately, our ignorance was not
limited to civilians. It is a curious freak of modern war that a ploughed
field should be stronger than any citadel. But, as I say, these things
were hidden from us, and our allies gave the finishing touches to their
trenches, to the high entertainment of the Angels, as Stevenson
would have told us. If only those miles of trench and acres of barbed
wire had been placed ten miles away, and backed by British guns, the
story of Antwerp might have been a very different one.

The road to Boom is like all the main roads of Belgium. The central
causeway was becoming worn by the constant passage of heavy
motor lorries tearing backwards and forwards at racing speed. The
sides were deep in dust, for there had been little rain. On each side
rose poplars in ordered succession, and the long, straight stretches of
the road were framed in the endless vista of their tall trunks. And in
that frame moved a picture too utterly piteous for any words to
describe--a whole country fleeing before the Huns. The huge
unwieldy carts of the Belgian farmer crept slowly along, drawn by
great Flemish horses. In front walked the men, plodding along beside
the splendid animals, with whose help they had ploughed their fields
--fields they would never see again. In the carts was piled up all that
they possessed in the world, all that they could carry of their homes
wrecked and blasted by the Vandals, a tawdry ornament or a child's
toy looking out pitifully from the heap of clothes and bedding. And
seated on the top of the heap were the woman and the children.

But these were the well-to-do. There were other little groups who had
no cart and no horse. The father and a son would walk in front
carrying all that a man could lift on their strong backs; then came the
children, boys and girls, each with a little white bundle over their
shoulder done up in a towel or a pillowslip, tiny mites of four or five
doing all they could to save the home; and last came the mother with
a baby at her breast, trudging wearily through the dust. They came in
an endless stream, over and over again, for mile after mile, always in
the same pathetic little groups, going away, only going away.

At last, with a sigh of relief, we reached Boom, and the end of the
lines of refugees, for the Germans themselves were not far beyond.
At the Croix Rouge we asked for instructions as to where we were
likely to be useful. Boom had been shelled in the morning, but it was
now quiet, and there was no fighting in the neighbourhood. We could
hear the roar of guns in the distance on the east, and we were told
that severe fighting was in progress in that direction. The British had
reinforced the Belgian troops in the trenches at Duffel, and the
Germans were attacking the position in force. Taking the road to the
left, we passed the great brick-fields which provide one of the chief
industries of Boom, and we drove through the poorer portion of the
town which lies amongst them. It was utterly deserted. It was in this


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