A Surgeon in Belgium
Henry Sessions Souttar

Part 3 out of 3

one of the walls. How they ever got out of Dixmude alive is
beyond the ken of a mere mortal, but I suppose it was only
another manifestation of the Star which shines so brightly over
the fortunes of the Munro Ambulance.

How high is the appreciation of the Belgian Government for
their work is shown in the fact that three of the lady members of
the Corps have just been decorated with the Order of Leopold
--one of the highest honours which Belgium has to confer. It is
not every honour which is so well earned.

XXII. Pervyse--The Trenches

This is indeed the strangest of all wars, for it is fought in the
dark. Eyes are used, but they are the eyes of an aeroplane
overhead, or of a spy in the enemy's lines. The man who fights
lives underground, or under water, and rarely sees his foe.
There is something strangely terrible, something peculiarly
inhuman, in the silent stealth of this war of the blind. The
General sits in a quiet room far behind the lines, planning a
battle he will never see. The gunner aims by level and compass
with faultless precision, and hurls his awful engines of
destruction to destroy ten miles away a house which is to him
only a dot on a map. And the soldier sitting in his trench hears
the shells whistling overhead and waits, knowing well that if he
appeared for one instant above that rampart of earth he would
be pierced by a dozen bullets from rifles which are out of his

It is a war in the dark, and by far the most important of its
operations are carried on, its battles are fought, in the literal
sense of the word, underground. Perhaps the next war will be
fought not merely underground, but deep in the bowels of the
earth, and victory will rest, not with the finest shots or the expert
swordsmen, but with the men who can dig a tunnel most quickly.
The trenches may be cut by some herculean plough, deep tunnels
may be dug by great machines, and huge pumping engines may
keep them dry. Our engineers have conquered the air, the water,
and the land, but it is still with picks and spades that our soldiers
dig themselves into safety.

At Furnes the nearest point to us of the fighting line was
Pervyse, and as the Ambulance Corps had a dressing-station
there, we often went out to see them and the soldiers in the
trenches close by. But the Belgian line was most effectively
protected by an agency far more powerful than any trench, for
over miles and miles of land spread the floods with which the
Belgians, by breaking down the dykes, had themselves flooded
the country. The floods were a protection, but they were also a
difficulty, since they made actual trenches an impossibility. No
ordinary pumps could have kept them dry. So they had built
huts of earth behind a thick earth bank, and partly sunk in the
very low embankment, only two or three feet above the fields,
on which the railway ran. They were roofed with boards covered
again with earth and sods, and behind each was a little door by
which one could crawl in. Inside, the floor was covered with a
bed of straw, and a bucket with holes in its sides and full of red-hot
coke did duty as a stove, while narrow loopholes served for ventilation
and for light, and were to be used for firing from in the event of an
attack. Of course the huts were very cramped, but they were at
least warm, they gave protection from the weather, and above
all they were safe. The men only occupied them as a matter of
fact for short periods of one or two days at a time, a fresh guard
coming out from Fumes to take their places.

These huts, and all covered trenches, are only safe from
shrapnel exploding in the air or near by. No ordinary trench is
safe from a shell falling upon it; but this, as a matter of fact, has
scarcely ever happened. For shells are as a rule fired from
some considerable distance, and in most cases the opposing
lines of trenches are so close together that there would be great
danger of sending a shell into the back of your own trench, the
most deadly disaster that can happen. The trenches are often
so close together that their occupants can talk to one another,
and a considerable amount of camaraderie may spring up.

I know of one instance where a private arrangement was made
that they would not shoot on either side. One day a man on our
side was wounded, and there was great annoyance till a note
was thrown across apologizing profusely, and explaining that it
was done by a man in a trench behind who did not know of the
compact! A few days later a message came to say that an
important officer was coming to inspect the German trench, and
that they would be obliged to fire, but that they would give due
warning by three shots fired in quick succession. The shots
were fired, and our men lay low, under a storm of bullets, till
firing ceased, and another message arrived to say that the
danger was past. We really are queer animals!

Behind the trenches at Pervyse the fields were positively riddled
with shot-holes. In one space, not more than twenty yards
square, we counted the marks of over a hundred shells. The
railway station was like a sieve, and most of the houses in the
little town were absolutely destroyed. I do not believe that there
was a house in the place which had not been hit, and the
number of shells that must have rained on that small area
would have sufficed not so many years ago for the siege of a
large town. The church was destroyed beyond any possibility of
repair. The roof was gone entirely, and large portions of the
walls; a great piece of the tower had been blown clean out, and
the tower itself was leaning dangerously. The bombardment of
the church must have been terrific, for even the heavy pillars of
the aisle had been snapped across. Of the altar only the solid
stones remained, surrounded by fragments of what had once
been the stained glass of the apse, and the twisted remains of
the great brass candlesticks which had stood beside the altar.
Only a few weeks ago this was an old parish church of singular
beauty. Now even the graves in the churchyard have been torn
open by the shells. These few battered walls, these heaps of
stone and brick, are all that remain of a prosperous village and
its ancient church.

The dressing station of the Ambulance Corps was one of their
most daring and successful ventures. At first it was placed
close to the trenches and just behind the railway station, in the
house of the village chemist. At least there were evidences in
the existence of portions of walls, roof, and floors that it had
once been a house, and the chemist had left a few bottles
behind to indicate his trade. But I do not think that anyone but a
member of the Corps would have ever thought of living there.
There was plenty o ventilation, of course, since there were no
windows left, part of the roof had gone, and the walls were
riddled with holes through which shells had passed clean
across the building. It could hardly be described as a desirable
residence, but it had one incomparable advantage: it possessed
a cellar. A couple of mattresses and a few blankets converted it
into a palace, whilst the limits of luxury were reached when there
arrived a new full-sized enamelled bath which one of the
soldiers had discovered and hastened to present as a mark
of gratitude. There was no water-supply, of course, and I do
not think that there was a plug, but those were mere trifles.
How such a white elephant ever found its way to Pervyse none
of us will ever know. I do not believe that there was another for
twenty miles around.

In this strange residence--it could hardly be called a house--
lived two of the lady members of the Corps. They were relieved
from time to time, two others coming out to take their places,
and every day they had visits from the ambulances which came
out to pick up the wounded. A room on the ground floor was
used during the day, partly as a living-room, partly as a surgery,
and here were brought any soldiers wounded in this part of the
lines. At night they retired to the cellar, as the house itself was
far too dangerous. The Germans shelled Pervyse almost every
night, and sometimes in the day as well, and this particular
house was the most exposed of any in the town. But shells
were not the only trouble, and when a few weeks later the
cellars were filled with water, it was evident that other quarters
must be found.

Pervyse was of course entirely deserted by its inhabitants, but it
could scarcely be called dull. We went out one afternoon to see
what was going on, and found a party of the Corps at lunch.
They seemed to be in particularly good spirits, and they told us
that the house had just been struck by a shell, that the big
Daimler ambulance had been standing outside, and that its
bonnet had been riddled by the shrapnel bullets. We went
outside to see for ourselves, and there we found a large hole in
the side of the house, through which a shell had entered a room
across the passage from that occupied by the Corps, who had
fortunately chosen the lee-side. The big six-cylinder Daimler
had been moved into a shed, and there it stood with twenty or
more holes in its bonnet, but otherwise uninjured. By a stroke of
luck the driver had gone inside the house for a moment or he
would undoubtedly have been killed. It is fortunate that the
Corps is possessed of such a keen sense of humour.

Shells may be amusing in the daytime, but they are not a bit
amusing at night. Only two women with real solid courage could
have slept, night after night, in that empty house in a ruined and
deserted village, with no sounds to be heard but the rain and
the wind, the splutter of the mitrailleuse, and the shriek of shells.
Courage is as infectious as fear, and I think that the soldiers,
watching through the night in the trenches near by, must have
blessed the women who were waiting there to help them, and
must have felt braver men for their presence.

Pervyse was protected by a wide screen of flood, and across
this there was one way only--a slightly raised road going
straight across six miles of water. No advance by either side
was possible, for the road was swept by mitrailleuses, and to
advance down it would have meant certain death. Half a mile
down the road was a farmhouse held by a Belgian outpost, and
beyond this, and perhaps half a mile away from it, were two
other farms occupied by the Germans. We could see them moving
amongst the trees. That piece of road between Pervyse and the
Belgian farm was the scene of one of the very few lapses of the
Germans into humanity.

It was known one morning in the trenches at Pervyse that
several of their comrades in the farm had been injured in an
outpost engagement. It was, however, impossible to reach
them before nightfall as the road was swept by the German
guns. Two Belgian priests, taking their lives in their hands,
walked out to the farm, but they found that the wounded were
beyond their powers of carriage. Nothing daunted, they went on
to one of the German farms and asked for help, and a few
minutes later the astounded Belgians saw a little procession
coming up the road. In front walked the two priests, and behind
them came four wounded Belgians, lying on stretchers carried
by German soldiers. They came right into the lines, and they
had a royal welcome. They all shook hands, and the little party
of Germans walked back down the road amid the cheers of
their opponents.

The spirit of chivalry is not dead in Germany; it is only stifled by
her present rulers. Is it too much to hope that some day its
voice may be heard and may command?

XXIII. Ypres

One morning early in December I was asked by Dr. Munro to
run down with him in one of our motors to Ypres. A message
had arrived saying that the town had been heavily shelled
during the night, and that there were a number of children and
of wounded there, who ought if possible to be removed to some
less dangerous situation. So we started off to see what we
could do for them. It was a dismal morning, and the rain was
coming down in a steady drizzle which continued all day long,
but fortunately we had a closed car, and we were protected
from the elements. The road to Ypres is a broad avenue between
long lines of tall trees, and to-day it was crowded with soldiers and
transport motors. The French were moving up a large number of
men to relieve and to support their lines between Dixmude and
Ypres. Every little village seemed to be crowded with troops, for
in this weather "the poorest village is better than the best
bivouac," and the contrasts of the uniforms were very striking.
Every type was represented--the smart French officer, the
Zouave, the Turco, and the Arab, and one could not help
wondering what the Senegalese and the Algerians thought
of this soaking rain, or how they would fare in the rigours
of a Belgian winter.

Like so many of the towns of Belgium, Ypres is a town of the
past, and it is only in the light of its history that the meaning of
its wonderful buildings can be realized, or an estimate formed of
the vandalism of its destroyers. Its records date back to the
year 900, and in the twelfth century it was already famous for its
cloth. By the thirteenth century it was the richest and the most
powerful city in Flanders, and four thousand looms gave
occupation to its two hundred thousand inhabitants. These
great commercial cities were also great military organizations,
and there were few wars in the turbulence of the Middle Ages in
which Ypres did not have a share. In fact, it was almost always
engaged in fighting either England, or France, or one of the
other Flemish towns.

After a century of wars, to which Ypres once contributed no
fewer than five thousand troops, the town was besieged by the
English, led by Henry Spencer, Bishop of Norwich, with the help
of the burghers of Ghent and Bruges. The town was surrounded
by earthen ramparts planted with thick hedges of thorn, and by
wide ditches and wooden palisades, and these were held by
some ten thousand men. They were attacked, in 1383, by seventeen
thousand English and twenty thousand Flemish. For two months Ypres
was defended against almost daily attacks in one of the fiercest and
most bloody sieges in history. At last Spencer saw that it was
impossible to take the town by assault, and in view of the advance
of a large French army he withdrew. Ypres was saved, but its
prosperity was gone, for the bulk of its population had fled.
The suburbs, where large numbers of the weavers worked,
had been destroyed by the besiegers and the looms had been
burnt. The tide of trade turned to Bruges and Ghent, though they
did not enjoy for long the prosperity they had stolen.

The commercial madness of the fourteenth century gave way to
the religious madness of the sixteenth. Men's ideas were
changing, and it is a very dangerous thing to change the ideas
of men. For the momentum of the change is out of all proportion
to its importance, and the barriers of human reason may melt
before it. It is a mere matter of historical fact that no oppression
has half the dangers of an obvious reform. At Ypres the
Reformers were first in the field. They had swept through
Flanders, destroying all the beauty and wealth that the piety of
ages had accumulated, and here was rich plunder for these
apostles of the ugly. There is real tragedy in the thought that the
Reformer is sometimes sincere.

But at least the fanatics limited their fury to the symbols of
religion. Philip of Spain could only be sated by flesh and blood,
and for the next fifteen years Ypres was tossed to and fro in an
orgy of persecution and war such as have rarely been waged
even in the name of religion. At the end of that time only a
miserable five thousand inhabitants remained within its broken

With the seventeenth century commerce and religion made way
for politics, and the wars of Louis XIV. fell heavily on Ypres. On
four separate occasions the town was taken by the French, and
the dismantled fortifications which still surround it were once an
example of the genius of Vauban. Yet with all these wars--
commercial, religious, political--with all the violence of its
history, Ypres had kept intact the glorious monuments of the
days of her greatness, and it has been left for the armies of
Culture to destroy that which even the hand of Philip spared.

The centuries have handed down to us few buildings of such
massive grandeur as the great Cloth Hall, a monument of the
days when the Weavers of Ypres treated on equal terms with
the Powers of England and of France. This huge fortress of the
Guilds is about a hundred and fifty yards long. The ground floor
was once an open loggia, but the spaces between its fifty pillars
have been filled in. Above this are two rows of pointed windows,
each exactly above an opening below. In the upper row every
second window has been formed into a niche for the figure of
some celebrity in the history of the town. A delicate turret rises
at each end of the facade, and above it rose the high-pitched
roof which was one of the most beautiful features of the
building. In the centre is the great square tower, reaching to a
height of more than two hundred feet, and ending in an elegant
belfry, which rises between its four graceful turrets. The whole
of this pile was finished in 1304; but in the seventeenth century
there was added at its eastern end the Nieuwerck, an exquisite
Renaissance structure supported entirely on a row of slim
columns, with tiers of narrow oblong windows, and with elaborate
gables of carved stone. The contrast between the strength and
simplicity of the Gothic and the rich decoration of Spain is as
delightful as it is bold. The upper part of this vast building formed
one great hall, covered overhead by the towering roof. The walls
were decorated by painted panels representing the history of
the town, and so large were these that in one bay there was
erected the entire front of an old wooden house which had
been pulled down in the town, gable and all.

And all this is a heap of ruins. Whether any portion of it can
ever be repaired I do not know, but the cost would be fabulous.
The roof is entirely destroyed, and with it the whole of the great
gallery and its paintings, for fire consumed what the shells had
left. Only the bare stone walls remain, and as we stood among
the pillars which had supported the floors above, it was difficult
to realize that the heap of rubbish around us was all that was
left of what had once been the envy of Europe. The only
building which we have at all comparable to the Cloth Hall is the
Palace of Westminster. If it were blasted by shells and gutted
by fire, we might regret it, but what would be our feelings if it
were the legacy of Edward the First, and had been handed
down to us intact through six centuries?

Behind the Cloth Hall stands the Church of St. Martin, once for
two and a half centuries the Cathedral of Ypres. It was largely
built at the same time as the Cloth Hall, and it is a glorious
monument of the architecture of the thirteenth century. Perhaps
its most beautiful features are the great square tower, the lofty
and imposing nave, and the exquisite rose window in the south
wall of the transept, which is said to be the finest in Belgium.
The tower was surrounded with scaffolding, and around its base
were piles of stone, for the church was being repaired when the
war began. I wonder if it will ever be repaired now. The
Germans had expended on its destruction many of their largest
shells, and they had been very successful in their efforts. There
were three huge holes in the roof of the choir where shells had
entered, and in the centre of the transept was a pile of bricks
and stone six feet high. Part of the tower had been shot away,
and its stability was uncertain. The beautiful glass of the rose
window had been utterly destroyed, and part of the tracery was
broken. The old Parish Chapel on the south side of the nave
had nothing left but the altar and four bare walls. The fine old
roof and the great bronze screen which separated it from the
nave had perished in the flames. The screen was lying in small
fragments amongst the rubbish on the chapel floor, and at first I
thought they were bits of rusty iron.

As I stood in the ruins of the Parish Chapel looking round on
this amazing scene, there was a roar overhead, and one of the
big 14-inch shells passed, to explode with a terrific crash
amongst the houses a few hundred yards farther on. It was
plain that the bombardment was beginning again, and that we
must see to our business without any delay. Two more shells
passed overhead as I came out of the church, with a roar very
different from the soft whistle of a small shell. The destruction
produced by one of these large shells is astonishing. One large
house into which a shell had fallen in the previous night had
simply crumpled up. Portions of the walls and a heap of bricks
were all that was left, a bit of an iron bedstead and a fragment
of staircase sticking out from the debris. The roof, the floors,
and the greater part of the walls might never have existed. In
the Place in front of the Cathedral were two holes where shells
had fallen, and either of them would have comfortably held a
motor-car. The children were all together in a little street a
quarter of a mile west of the Cathedral, just where the last three
shells had fallen. Fortunately they had hurt no one, though one
had passed clean through the upper stories of a house where
there were several children being got ready by one of our party
for removal. By good luck through some defect it did not
explode, or the house would have been annihilated and everyone
in it killed. Quite a collection of people had congregated in that
little street, though why they considered it safer than the rest
of the town I do not know. At first they were very unwilling to
let any of the children go at all. But at last about twenty children
were collected and were packed into ambulances. Some of them
were without parents, and were being looked after by the
neighbours, and the parents of some absolutely refused to
leave. More children and a few adults to look after them were
found later, and I think that in the end about a hundred were
taken up to Fumes, to be sent on to Calais as refugees.

The children were as merry as crickets, and regarded it all as a
huge joke; sitting in the ambulances, they looked for all the
world like a school treat. But I have often wondered whether we
were right to take them away or whether it would not have been
better to have left them to take their chance. War is a very
terrible thing, and the well-meant interference of the kind-
hearted may do far more harm than good. What is going to
happen to those children? I suppose that they are in some
refugee home, to remain there till the war is over. And then?
We did our best to identify them, but what are the chances that
many of them will ever see their parents again? From what I
have seen of these things I do not think that they are very large.
Perhaps you will say that the parents ought to have gone with
them. It is easy for the well-to-do to leave their homes and to
settle again elsewhere; but the poorer a man is the less can he
afford to leave what little he possesses. In their own town they
might be in danger, but at least they had not lost their homes,
and they possessed the surroundings without which their
individual lives would be merged in the common ocean of
misery. The problem of the civil population, and especially of
the children, in time of war is entirely beyond the scope of
individual effort. It is a matter with which only a Government or a
very powerful organization can deal, and it is a matter in which
Governments do not take a great deal of interest. Their hands
are quite full enough in trying to defeat the enemy.

In all previous wars between civilized nations a certain regard
has been paid to the safety of the civilian population, and
especially of the women and children. But from the very first the
German policy has been to utterly ignore the rights of non-
combatants, tearing up the conventions which they themselves
had signed for their protection. No Government could be
expected to be prepared for such a total apostasy from the
elementary principles of civilized society, or to anticipate
methods at which a Zulu might blush. If they had done so, it
should have been their first care to remove all non-combatants
from the area of fighting, and to make provision for them
elsewhere. It is unfair that a civilian should be left with the
hopeless choice of leaving a child in a house where it may at
any moment be killed by a shell or taking it away with a
considerable probability that it will be a homeless orphan. For
life is a matter of small moment; it is living that matters.

The problem of the children of Belgium will be one of the most
serious to be faced when the war is over. There will be a great
number of orphans, whilst many more will be simply lost. They
must not be adopted in England, for to them Belgium will look
for her future population. There could be few finer ways in which
we could show our gratitude to the people of Belgium than by
establishing colonies over there where they could be brought
up in their own country, to be its future citizens. It would form a
bond between the two countries such as no treaty could ever
establish, and Belgium would never forget the country which
had been the foster-mother of her children.

But Ypres gave us yet another example of German methods of
war. On the western side of the town, some distance from the
farthest houses, stood the Asylum. It was a fine building
arranged in several wings, and at present it was being used for
the accommodation of a few wounded, mostly women and children,
and several old people of the workhouse infirmary type. It made
a magnificent hospital, and as it was far away from the town and
was not used for any but the purposes of a hospital, we considered
that it was safe enough, and that it would be a pity to disturb the
poor old people collected there. We might have known better.
The very next night the Germans shelled it to pieces, and all
those unfortunate creatures had to be removed in a hurry.
There is a senseless barbarity about such an act which could
only appeal to a Prussian.

XXIV. Some Conclusions

To draw conclusions from a limited experience is a difficult
matter, and the attempt holds many pitfalls for the unwary. Yet
every experience must leave on the mind of any thinking man
certain impressions, and the sum of these only he himself can
give. To others he can give but blurred images of all he may
have seen, distorted in the curving mirrors of his mind, but from
these they can at least form some estimate of the truth of the
conclusions he ventures to draw. For myself, these conclusions
seem to fall naturally into three separate groups, for I have met
the experiences of the past three months in three separate
ways--as a surgeon, as a Briton, and as, I hope, a civilized
man. It is from these three aspects that I shall try to sum up
what I have seen.

As a surgeon it has been my good fortune to have charge of a
hospital whose position was almost ideal. Always close to the
front, we received our cases at the earliest possible moment,
and could deal with them practically first hand. Every day I
realized more strongly the advantages of such a hospital, and
the importance for the wounded of the first surgical treatment
they receive. Upon this may well depend the whole future
course of the case. No wounded man should be sent on a long
railway journey to the base until he has passed through the
hands of a skilled surgeon, and has been got into such a
condition that the journey does not involve undue risk. And no
rough routine treatment will suffice. A surgeon is required who
can deal with desperate emergencies and pull impossible cases
out of the fire--a young man who does not believe in the
impossible, and who can adapt himself to conditions of work
that would make an older man shudder, and a man who will
never believe what he is told until he has seen it for himself. For
the conditions of work at the front are utterly different from those
of civil practice, and it is impossible for any man after many
years of regular routine to adapt himself to such changed
environment. The long experience of the older man will be of far
more use at the base, and he will have plenty of difficulties to
contend with there.

I have often been told that there is no opening for skilled
surgery at the front. In my opinion there is room for the highest
skill that the profession can produce. It is absurd to say that the
abdominal cases should be left to die or to recover as best they
can, that one dare not touch a fractured femur because it is
septic. To take up such an attitude is simply to admit that these
cases are beyond the scope of present surgery. In a sense,
perhaps, they are, but that is all the more reason why the scope
of surgery should be enlarged, and not that these cases should
be left outside its pale. I am far from advising indiscriminate
operating. There are many things in surgery besides scalpels.
But I do urge the need for hospitals close to the front, with every
modern equipment, and with surgeons of resource and energy.

But for a surgeon this war between nations is only an incident in
the war to which he has devoted his life--the war against
disease. It is a curious reflection that whilst in the present war
the base hospital has been given, if anything, an undue
importance, in the other war it has been practically neglected.
Our great hospitals are almost entirely field hospitals, planted
right in the middle of the battle, and there we keep our patients
till such time as they are to all intents and purposes cured. A
very few convalescent homes will admit cases which still require
treatment, but only a very few. The bulk of them expect their
inmates to do the work of the establishment. Now, this is most
unreasonable, for a country hospital is cheaper to build and
should cost less to run than one in town, and in many cases the
patients will recover in half the time. Our hospitals in London are
always crowded, the waiting-lists mount up till it seems
hopeless to attack them, and all the time it is because we have
no base hospital down in the country to which our patients
might be sent to recover. I wonder how long it will be before
each of the great London hospitals has its own base down in
the country, with its own motor ambulances and its own ambulance
coaches to carry its patients in comfort by rail to surroundings
where they could recover as can never be possible in the
middle of the London slums? And as to getting the staff to
look after it, there would probably be a waiting-list for week-ends.

But there are more important considerations in this war than
surgery, and one would have to be very blind not to perceive
that this is a life-and-death struggle between Britain and
Germany. The involvement of other nations is merely accidental.
It is ourselves whom Germany is making this huge effort to crush,
and but for one small circumstance she would have come within
a measurable prospect of success. To swoop down on France
through Belgium, to crush her in three weeks, to seize her fleet,
and with the combined fleets of France and Germany to attack
ours--that was the proposition, and who can say that it might not
have succeeded? The small circumstance which Germany overlooked
was Belgium, and it is to the heroic resistance of Belgium that we owe
the fact that the German advance has been stopped.

At the cost of the desolation of their own country, Belgium has
perhaps saved the flag of Britain, for where would it have flown
on the seas if Germany had won? And at the very least she has
saved us from a war beside which this is nothing--a war not
now, but a few years hence, when she might have controlled
half the Continent, and we should have stood alone. We owe
an incalculable debt to Belgium, and we can only repay it by
throwing into this war every resource that our country has to
offer. For the only end which can bring peace to Europe is the
total annihilation of Germany as a military and naval Power.
What other terms can be made with a nation which regards its
most solemn treaties as so much waste paper, which is bound
by no conventions, and which delights in showing a callous
disregard of all that forms the basis of a civilized society? The
only guarantees that we can take are that she has no ships of
war, and that her army is only sufficient to police her frontier.
The building of a war vessel or the boring of a gun must be
regarded as a casus belli. Then, and then only, shall Europe be
safe from the madness that is tearing her asunder.

But there is a wider view of this war than even that of Britain.
We are not merely fighting to preserve the pre-eminence of our
country; we are fighting for the civilization of the world. The
victory of Germany would mean the establishment over the
whole world of a military despotism such as the world has never
seen. For if once the navy of Britain is gone, who else can stop
her course? Canada, the United States, South America, would
soon be vassals of her power--a power which would be used
without scruple for her own material advantage. This is not a
war between Germany and certain other nations; it is a war
between Germany and civilization. The stake is not a few acres
of land, but the freedom for which our fathers gave their lives.

Is there such a thing as neutrality in this war? Germany herself
gave the answer when she invaded Belgium. It is the undoubted
duty of many great nations, and of one before all others, to stand
aside and not to enter the struggle; but to be neutral at heart, not
to care whether the battle is won or lost, is impossible for any
nation which values honour and truth above the passing advantages
of worldly power. We do not ask America to fight on our side.
This is our fight, and only Britain and her Allies can see it
through. But we do ask for a sympathy which, while obeying
the laws of neutrality to the last letter, will support us with a
spirit which is bound by no earthly law, which will bear with us
when in our difficult task we seem to neglect the interests of
our friends, and will rejoice with us when, out of toil and sorrow,
we have won a lasting peace.

This war is not of our choosing, and we shall never ask for
peace. The sword has been thrust into our hands by a power
beyond our own to defend from a relentless foe the flag which
has been handed down to us unsullied through the ages, and to
preserve for the world the freedom which is the proudest
birthright of our race. When it is sheathed, the freedom of the
world from the tyranny of man will have been secured.


Back to Full Books