In the Claws of the German Eagle
Albert Rhys Williams
Part 2 out of 3
havoc of war, I sat on the stoop of our little inn. A great rumbling of
cannon came from the direction of Tongres. A sentry shot rang out
on the frontier just across the river which flowed not ten rods away.
This was the Meuse, which ran red with the blood of the
combatants, and from which the natives drew the floating corpses
to the shore. Now its gentle lapping on the stones mingled with the
subdued murmur of our talk. In such surroundings my new friends
regaled me with stories of pillage and murder which the refugees
had been bringing in from across the border. All this produced a
distinct depreciation in the value that I had hitherto attached to my
permit to go visiting across that border. Souten's declarations of
friendship for America had been most voluble. It began dawning
on me that his apparently generous and impulsive action might
bear a different interpretation than unadulterated kindness.
At this juncture, I remember, a great light flared suddenly up. It
was one of the fans of a wind-mill fired by the Germans. In the
foreground we could see the soldiers standing like so many gray
wolves silhouetted against the red flames. In that light it did seem
that motives other than pure affection might have prompted the
Police Commissioner's action. The hectic sleep of the night was
broken by the endless clatter of the hoofs of the German cavalry
My courage rose, however, with the rising sun. In the morning I
climbed to the lookout on the hill. The hosts had vanished. A
trampled, smoldering fire-blackened land lay before me. But there
was the lure of the unknown. I walked down to where the great
Netherlands flag proclaimed neutral soil. The worried Dutch
pickets honored the signature of Souten and with one step I was
over the border into Belgium, now under German jurisdiction. The
helmeted soldiers across the way were a distinct disappointment.
They looked neither fierce nor fiery. In fact, they greeted me with a
smile. They were a bit puzzled by my paper, but the seal seemed
echt-Deutsch and they pronounced it "gut, sehr gut." I explained
that I wished to go forwards to Liege.
"Was it possible?"
For answer they shrugged their shoulders.
"Was it dangerous?"
"Not in the least," they assured me.
The Germans were right. It was not dangerous--that is, for the
Germans. By repeatedly proclaiming the everlasting friendship of
Germany and America, and passing out some chocolate, I made
good friends on the home base. They charged me only not to
return after sundown, giving point to their advice by relating how,
on the previous night, they had shot down a peasant woman and
her two children who, under the cloak of darkness, sought to
scurry past the sentinels. They told this with a genuine note of grief
in their voices. So, with a hearty hand-shake and wishes for the
best of luck, they waved adieu to me as I went swinging out on the
highroad to Liege.
In The Black Wake Of The War
A half mile and I came for the first time actually face to face with
the wastage of war. There was what once was Mouland, the little
village I had seen burning the night before. The houses stood
roofless and open to the sky, like so many tombstones over a
departed people. The whitewashed outer walls were all shining in
the morning sun. Inside they were charred black, or blazing yet
with coals from the fire still slowly burning its way through wood
and plaster. Here and there a house had escaped the torch.
By some miracle in the smashed window of one of these houses a
bright red geranium blossomed. It seemed to cry for water, but I
dared not turn aside, for fear of a bullet from a lurking sentry. In
another a sewing-machine of American make testified to the thrift
and progressiveness of one household. In the last house as I left
the village a rocking-horse with its head stuck through the open
door smiled its wooden smile, as if at any rate it could keep good
cheer even though the roofs might fall.
My road now wound into the open country; and I was heartily glad
of it, for the hedges and the houses at Mouland provided fine
coverts for prowling German foragers or for Belgians looking for
revenge. Dead cows and horses and dogs with their sides ripped
open by bullets lay along the wayside. The roads were deep
printed with the hoofs of the cavalry. The grain-fields were
flattened out. Nine little crosses marked the place where nine
soldiers of the Kaiser fell.
This smiling countryside, teeming with one of the densest
populations in the world, had been stripped clean of every
inhabitant. Along the wasted way not the sign of a civilian, or for
that matter even a soldier, was to be seen. I was glad even of the
presence of a pig which, with her litter, was enjoying the unwonted
pleasure of rooting out her morning meal in a rich flower-garden.
She did not reciprocate, however, with any such fellow feeling.
Perhaps of late she had seen enough of the doings of the genus
homo. Surveying me as though I had been the author of all this
destruction, she gave a frightened snort and plunged into a nearby
I craved companionship of any living creature to break the spell of
death and silence. I was destined to have the wish gratified in
abundance. Fifteen minutes brought me to the outskirts of Vise,
and there, coming over the hills and wending their way down to the
river, were two long lines of German soldiers escorting wagons of
the artillery and the commissariat. They came slowly and
noiselessly trudging on and I was upon them as they crossed the
main road before I realized it. The men were covered with dust; so
were the horses. The wagons were in their somber paint of gray.
There was something ominous and threatening in the long sullen
line which wound down over the hill. The soldiers were evidently
tired with the tedious uneventful march, and the drivers were
goaded to irritability by the difficulty of the descent. Could I have
retreated I would have done so with joy and would never have
stopped until my feet were set on Holland soil.
But I dared not do it. As the train came to a stop, I started bravely
across the road. A soldier, dropping his gun from his shoulder,
"Is this the way to Vise?" I asked.
"Perhaps it is," he replied, "but what do you want in Vise?"
As he spoke, he kept edging up, pointing his bayonet directly at
me. A bayonet will never look quite the same to me again. Total
retreat, as I remarked, was out of the question. My inward
anatomy, however, did the next best thing. As the bayonet point
came pressing forward, my stomach retired backward. I could feel
it distinctly making efforts to crawl behind my spine. At my first
word of German his face relaxed. Ditto my stomach.
"You are an American," he said. "Well, good for that. I don't know
what we would have done were you a Belgian. Our orders are to
suffer no Belgian in this whole district."
Then he began an apologia which I heard repeated identically
again and again, as if it were learned by rote: "The Germans had
peacefully entered the land; boiling hot water was showered on
them from upper stories; they were shot at from houses and
hedges; many soldiers had thus been killed; the wells had been
poisoned. Such acts of treachery had necessarily brought
reprisals, etc., etc." It was the defense so regularly served up to
neutrals that we learned in time to reproduce it almost word for
We all rise to the glorification of suffering little Belgium. Whatever
brief we may hold for her though, we ought not to picture even her
peasant people as a mild, meek and inoffensive lot. That isn't the
sort of stuff out of which her dogged and continuing resistance was
wrought. That isn't the mettle which for two weeks stopped up the
German tide before the Liege forts, giving the allies two weeks to
mobilize, and all they had asked the Belgians for was two or three
days of grace. But before the German avalanche hurled itself on
Liege it was this peasant population which bore the first brunt of
A mistake in the branching roads brought this home to me. I
turned off in the direction of Verviers and was puzzled to see the
road on either side strewn with tree-trunks, their sprawling limbs
still green with leaves. It was along this highway that the invaders
first entered Belgium. The peasants, turning their axes loose on
the poplars and the royal elms that lined the road, had filled it with
a tangle of interlocking limbs.
The Imperial army arrived with cannon which could smash a fort to
pieces as though it were made of blue china, but of what avail
were these against such yielding obstructions? Maddened that
these shambling creatures of the soil should delay the military
promenade through this little land, officers rushed out and held
their pistols at the heads of the offenders, threatening to blow their
brains out if they did not speedily clear the way. Many a peasant
did not live to see his house go up in flames--his dwelling dyed by
his own blood was now turned into a funeral pyre. These were the
first sacrificial offerings of Belgium on the altar of her
I now entered Vise, or rather what once had been the little city of
Vise. It was almost completely annihilated and its three thousand
inhabitants scattered. Through the mass of smoking ruins I
pushed, with the paving-stones still hot beneath my feet. Quite
unawares I ran full tilt into a group of soldiers, looking as ugly and
dirty as the ruins amongst which they were prowling.
The green-gray field-uniform is a remarkable piece of obliterative
coloration. I had seen it blend with grass and trees, but in this
instance it fitted in so well with the stones and debris they were
poking over that I was right amongst them without warning. They
straightened up with a sudden start and scowled at me. Hollanders
and Belgians had faithfully assured me that such marauding bands
would shoot at sight. Here was an excellent test-case. Three
hundred marks, a gold watch and a lot of food which crammed my
pockets would be their booty.
I took the initiative with the bland inquiry, "What are you hunting
"No," they responded, pointing to their mouths and stomachs,
"awful hungry. Hunting something to eat."
I bade a mental farewell to my food-supplies as I emptied out my
pockets before these ravagers. I expected everything to be
grabbed with a summary demand for more. From these despoilers
of a countryside I was ready for any sort of a manifestation--any,
except the one that I received. With one accord they refused to
take any of my provisions. I recovered from my surprise sufficiently
to understand that they were thanking me for my good will while
they were constantly reiterating:
"It is your food and you will need every bit of it."
In the name of camaraderie I persuaded each to take a piece of
bread and chocolate. They received this offering with profound
gratitude. With much cautioning and many solemn Auf Wiedersehens
bestowed upon me, I was off again.
Below Vise an entirely new vista opened to me. Tens of thousands
of soldiers were marching over the pontoon bridges already flung
across the river. Perhaps five hundred more were engaged in
building a steel bridge which seemed to be a hurried but
remarkable piece of engineering. It was replacing the old structure
which had been dynamited by the Belgians, and which now lay a
tangled mass of wreckage in the river.
For the next eight miles to Jupilles the country was quite as much
alive as the first four miles were dead. It was swarming with the
military. Through all the gaps in the hills above the River Meuse
the German army came pouring down like an enormous tidal
wave--a tidal wave with a purpose, viz: to fling itself against the
Allies arranged in battle line at Namur, and with the overwhelming
mass of numbers to smash that line to bits and sweep on
resistlessly into Paris. I thought of the Blue and Red wall of French
and English down there awaiting this Gray-Green tide of Teutons.
By the hundreds of thousands they were coming; patrols of cavalry
clattering along, the hoof-beats of the chargers coming with
regular cadence on the hard roads; silent moving riders mounted
on bicycles, their guns strapped on their backs; armored
automobiles rumbling slowly on, but taking the occasional spaces
which opened in the road with a hollow roaring sound and at a
terrific pace; individual horsemen galloping up and down the road
with their messages, and the massed regiments of dust-begrimed
men marching endlessly by.
I was glad to have the spell which had been woven on me broken
by strains of music from a wayside cafe, or rather the remains of a
cafe, for the windows had been demolished and wreckage was
strewn about the door, but the piano within had survived the
ravages. Though it was sadly out of tune, the officer, seated on a
beer keg, was evoking a noise from its battered keys, and to its
accompaniment some soldiers were bawling lustily:
"Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles!"
The only other music that echoed up along those river cliffs came
from a full-throated Saxon regiment.
Evidently the Belgians from Vise to Liege had not roused the ire of
the invaders as furiously as had the natives on the other side of
Vise. They had as a whole established more or less friendly
relations with the alien hosts.
On the other side of Vise nothing had availed to stay the wrath of
the Germans. Flags of truce made of sheets and pillow-cases and
white petticoats were hung out on poles and broom handles; but
many of these houses before which they hung had been burned to
the ground as had the others.
One Belgian had sought for his own benefit to conciliate the
Germans, and as the Kaiser's troops at the turn of the road came
upon his house, there was the Kaiser's emblem with the double-
headed eagle raised to greet them. The man had nailed it high up
in an apple tree, that they might not mistake his attitude of truckling
disloyalty to his own country, hoping so to save his home. But let it
be said to the credit of the Germans, that they had shown their
contempt for this treachery by razing this house to the ground, and
the poor fellow has lost his earthly treasures along with his soul.
I now came upon some houses that were undamaged and
showed signs of life therein. Below Argenteau there was a vine-
covered cottage before which stood a peasant woman guarding
her little domain. Her weapon was not a rifle but several buckets of
water and a pleasant smile. I ventured to ask how she used the
water. She had no time to explain, for at that very moment a
column of soldiers came slowly plodding down the dusty road. She
motioned me away as though she would free herself from whatever
stigma my presence might incur. A worried look clouded her face,
as though she were saying to herself: "I know that we have been
spared so far by all the brigands which have gone by, but perhaps
here at last is the band that has been appointed to wipe us out."
This water, then, was a peace-offering, a plea for mercy.
As soon as the soldiers looked her way she put a smile on her
face, but it ill concealed her anxiety. She pointed invitingly to her
pails. At the sight of the water a thirsty soldier here and there
would break from the ranks, rush to the pails, take the proffered
cup, and hastily swallow down the cooling draught. Then returning
the cup to the woman, he would rush back again to his place in the
ranks. Perhaps a dozen men removed their helmets, and, extracting
a sponge from the inside, made signs to the woman to pour water
on it; then, replacing the sponge in the helmet, marched on refreshed
A mounted officer, spying this little oasis, drew rein and gave the
order to halt. The troopers, very wearied by the long forced march,
flung themselves down upon the grass while the officer's horse
thrust his nose deep into the pail and greedily sucked the water
up. More buckets were being continually brought out. Some of
them must surely have been confiscated from her neighbors who
had fled. The officer, dismounting, sought to hold converse with his
hostess, but even with many signs it proved a failure. They both
laughed heartily together, though her mirth I thought a bit forced.
I do not remember witnessing any finer episode in all the war than
that enacted in this region where the sky was red with flames from
the neighbors' houses, and the lintels red with blood from their
veins. A frail little soul with only spiritual weapons, she fought for
her hearth against a venging host in arms; facing these rough war-
stained men, she forced her trembling body to outward calm and
graciousness. Her nerve was not unappreciated. Not one soldier
returned his cup without a word of thanks and a look of admiration.
Nor did this pluck go unrewarded. Three months later, passing
again through this region as a prisoner, I glimpsed the little cottage
still standing in its plot by the flowing river. I want to visit it again
after the war. It will always be to me a shrine of the spirit's splendid
A Duelist From Marburg
A squad of soldiers stretched out on a bank beckoned me to join
them; I did so and at once they begged for news. They were not of
an order of super-intelligence, and informed me that it was the
French they were to fight at Liege. Unaware that England had
entered the lists against Germany, "Belgium" was only a word to
them. I took it upon myself to clear up their minds on these points.
An officer overheard and plainly showed his disapproval of such
missionary activity, yet he could not conceal his own curiosity. I
sought to appease him by volunteering some information.
"Japan," I blandly announced, "is about to join the foes of
Germany." As the truth, that was unassailable; but as diplomacy it
was a wretched fluke.
"You're a fool!" he exploded. "What are you talking about? Japan
is one of our best friends, almost as good as America. Those two
nations will fight for us--not against us. You're verruckt."
That was a severe stricture but in the circumstances I thought best
to overlook the reflection upon my mentality. One of the soldiers
passed some witticism, evidently at my expense; taking advantage
of the outburst of laughter, I made off down the road. They did not
offer to detain me. The officer probably reasoned that my being
there was guarantee enough of my right to be there, taking it for
granted that the regular sentries on the road had passed upon my
credentials. However, I made a very strong resolution hereafter to
be less zealous in my proclamation of the truth, to hold my tongue
and keep walking.
In the midst of my reflections I was startled by a whistle, and,
looking back, saw in the distance a puff of steam on what I
supposed was the wholly abandoned railway, but there, sure
enough, was a train rattling along at a good rate. I could make out
soldiers with guns sitting upon the tender, and presumed that they
were with these instruments directing the operations of some
Belgian engineer and fireman. In a moment more I saw I was
mistaken, for at the throttle was a uniformed soldier, and another
comrade in his gray-green costume was shoveling coal into the
furnace. One of the guards, seeing me plodding on, smilingly
beckoned to me to jump aboard. When I took the cue and made a
move in that direction he winked his eye and significantly tapped
upon the barrel of his gun. The train was loaded with iron rails and
timbers, and I speculated as to their use, but farther down the line I
saw hundreds of men unloading these, making a great noise as
they flung them down the river bank to the water's edge. They
were destined for a big pontoon bridge which these men were, with
thousands of soldiers, throwing across the stream. Ceaselessly
the din and clangor of hammerings rang out over the river. My way
now wound through what was, to all purposes, one German camp,
strung for miles along the Meuse. The soldiers were busy with
domestic duties. Everywhere there was the cheer and rhythm of
well-ordered industry in the open air. In one place thousands of
loaves of black bread were being shifted from wagon to wagon. In
another they were piling a yard high with mountains of grain. The
air was full of the drone of a great mill, humming away at full
speed, while the Belgian fields were yielding up their golden
harvests to the invaders. Apples in great clusters hung down
around the necks of horses tethered in the orchards. With their
keepers they were enjoying a respite from their hard fatiguing
Here and there among the groves, or along the wayside, was a
contrivance that looked like a tiny engine; smoke curled out of its
chimney and coals blazed brightly in the grate. They were the
kitchen-wagons, each making in itself a complete, compact
cooking apparatus. Some had immense caldrons with a spoon as
large as a spade. In these the stews, put up in dry form and
guaranteed to keep for twenty years, were being heated. A savory
smell permeated the air and at the sound of the bugle the men
clustered about, each looking happy as he received his dish filled
with steaming rations.
Through this scene the native Belgians moved freely in and out.
Tables had been dragged out into the yard, and around them
officers were sitting eating, drinking, and chatting with the peasant
women who were serving them and with whom they had set up an
entente cordiale. Indeed, these Belgians seemed to be rather
enjoying this interruption in the monotony of their lives, and a few
were making the most of the great adventure. In one case I could
not help believing that a certain strikingly-pretty, self-possessed girl
was not altogether averse to a war which could thus bring to her
side the attentions of such a handsome and gallant set of officers
as were gathered round her. At any rate, she was equal to the
occasion, and over her little court, which rang with laughter, she
presided with a certain rustic dignity and ease.
The ordinary soldier could make himself understood only with
motions and sundry gruntings, and consequently had to content
himself with smoking in the sun or sleeping in the shade.
Everywhere was the atmosphere of physical relaxation after the
long journey. So far did my tension wear off, that I even forgot the
resolution to hold my tongue. Two officers leaning back in their
chairs at a table by the wayside surveyed me intently as I came
along. Rather than wait to be challenged, I thought it best to turn
aside and ask them my usual question, "How does one get to
One of them answered somewhat stiffly, adding, "And where did
you learn your German?" "I was in a German university a few
months," I replied. "Which one?" the officer asked. "Marburg," I
"Ah!" he said, this time with a smile; "that was mine. I studied
We talked together of the fine, rich life there, and I spoke of the
students' duels I had witnessed a few miles out.
"Ah!" he said, uncovering his head and pointing to the scars
across his scalp; "that's where I got these. Perhaps I will get some
deeper ones down in this country," he added with a smile.
Ofttimes in the early morning hours I had trudged out to a
students' inn on the outskirts of Marburg. As many times I had
heard the solemn announcement of the umpire warning all
assembled to disperse as the place might be raided by the police
and all imprisoned. That was a mere formality. No one left. The
umpire forthwith cried "Los," there was a flash of swords in the air
as each duelist sought, and sometimes succeeded, in cutting his
opponent's face into a Hamburg steak. It was a sanguinary affair
and undoubtedly connived at by the officials. When I had asked
what was the point of it all, I was told that it developed Mut and
Enschlossenheit--a fine contempt of pain and blood. That dueling
was not without its contribution to the general program of German
preparedness. Only now the bloodletting was gone at on a
"Yes, that's where I received these cuts," this young officer said,
"and if I do not get some too deep down here I'll write to you after
the war," he added with another smile. As I gave him my address,
I asked for his.
"It's against all the rules," he answered. "It can't be done. But you
shall hear from me, I assure you," he said with a hearty
Only once all the way into Liege did I feel any suspicion directed
towards me. That was when I presented my paper to the next
guard, a morose-looking individual. He looked at it very puzzled,
and put several questions to me. His last one was,
"Where is your home?"
"I come from Boston, Massachusetts," I replied.
Encouraged with my success with the last officers, I ventured to
ask him where he came from.
Looking me straight in the eyes, he replied very pointedly, "Ich
komme aus Deutschland."
Good form among invading armies, I found, precluded the guest
making inquiry into anyone's antecedents. I made a second
resolution to keep my own counsel, as I hurried down the road.
There was no release from his searching eyes until a turn in the
highway put an intervening obstacle between myself and him. But
this relief was short-lived, for no sooner had I rounded the bend
than a cry of "Halt!" shot fear into me. I turned to see a man on a
wheel waving wildly at me. I thought it was a summons back to my
inquisitor, and the end of my journey. Instead, it was my officer
from Marburg, who dismounted, took two letters from his pocket,
and asked me if I would have the kindness to deliver them to the
Feld Post if I got through to Liege. He said that seemed like a God-
given opportunity to lift the load off the hearts of his mother and his
sweetheart back home. Gladly I took them, with his caution not to
drop them into an ordinary letter-box in Liege, but to take them to
the Feld Post or give them to an officer. I went on my way rejoicing
that I could add these letters to my credentials. I now passed down
the long street of Jupilles, which was plastered with notices from
the German authorities guaranteeing observance of the rights of
the citizens of Jupilles, but threatening to visit any overt acts
against the soldiers "with the most terrible reprisals."
I arrived on the outskirts of Liege with the expectation of seeing a
sorry-looking battered city, as the reports which had drifted to the
outer world had made it; but considering that it had been the
center around which the storm of battle had raged for over two
weeks, it showed outwardly but little damage. The chief marks of
war were in the shattered windows; the great pontoon bridge of
barges, which replaced the dynamited structure by the Rue
Leopold, and hundreds of stores and public buildings, flying the
white flag with the Red Cross on it. The walls, too, were fairly white
with placards posted by order of the German burgomaster Klyper.
It was an anachronism to find along the trail of the forty-two
centimeter guns warnings of death to persons harboring courier
Another bill which was just being posted was the announcement of
the war-tax of 50,000,000 francs imposed on the city to pay for the
"administration of civil affairs." That was the first of those war-
levies which leeched the life blood out of Belgium.
The American consul, Heingartner, threw up his hands in
astonishment as I presented myself. No one else had come
through since the beginning of hostilities. He begged for
newspapers but, unfortunately, I had thrown my lot away, not
realizing how completely Liege had been cut off from the outer
world. He related the incidents of that first night entry of German
troops into Liege. The clatter of machine gun bullets sweeping by
the consulate had scarcely ceased when the sounds of gun-butts
battering on the doors accompanied by hoarse shouts of "Auf
Steigen" (get up) reverberated through the street. As the doors
unbolted and swung back, officers peremptorily demanded
quarters for their troops, receiving with contempt the protests of
Heingartner that they were violating precincts under protection of
the American flag.
On the following day, however, a wholehearted apology was
tendered along with an invitation to witness the first firing of the big
"Put your fingers in your ears, stand on your toes, and open your
mouth," the officer said. There was a terrific concussion, a black
speck up in the heavens, and a ton of metal dropped down out of
the blue, smashing one of the cupolas of the forts to pieces. That
one shot annihilated 260 men. I shuddered as we all do. But it
should not be for the sufferings of the killed. For they did not suffer
at all. They were wiped out as by the snapping of a finger.
The taking of those 260 bodies out of the world, then, was a
painless process. But not so the bringing of these bodies into the
world. That cost an infinite sum of pain and anguish. To bring
these bodies into being 260 mothers went down into the very
Valley of the Shadow of Death. And now in a flash all this life had
been sent crashing into eternity. "Women may not bear arms, but
they bear men, and so furnish the first munitions of war." Thus are
they deeply and directly concerned in the affairs of the state.
The consul with his wife and daughter gave me dinner along with a
cordial welcome. At first he was most appreciative of my exploits.
Then it seemed to dawn on him that possibly other motives than
sheer love of adventure might have spurred me on. The harboring
of a possible spy was too large a risk to run in the uncertain
temper of the Germans. In that light I took on the aspects of a
The clerks of the two hotels to whom I applied assumed a like
attitude. In fact every one with whom I attempted to hold converse
became coldly aloof. Holding the best of intents, I was treated like
a pariah. The only one whom I could get a raise from was a
bookseller who spoke English. His wrath against the spoilers
overcame his discretion, and he launched out into a bitter tirade
against them. I reminded him that, as civilians, his fellow-
countrymen had undoubtedly been sniping on the German troops.
That was too much.
"What would you do if a thief or a murderer entered your house?"
he exploded. "No matter if he had announced his coming, you
would shoot him, wouldn't you?"
Realizing that he had confided altogether too much to a casual
passerby, he suddenly subsided. The only other comment I could
drag out of him was that of a German officer who had told him that
"one Belgian could fight as good as four Germans." My request for
a lodging-place met with the same evasion from him as from the
Thirty-Seven Miles In A Day
"Death if you try to cross the line after nightfall." Thus my soldier
friends picketing the Holland-Belgium frontier had warned me in
the morning. That rendezvous with death was not a roseate
prospect; but there was something just as omnious about the
situation in Liege. To cover the sixteen miles back to the Dutch
border before dark was a big task to tackle with blistered feet. I
knew the sentries along the way returning, but I knew not the
pitfalls for me if I remained in Liege. This drove me to a prompt
decision and straightway I made for the bridge.
It was no prophetically favorable sight that greeted me at the
outset. A Belgian, a mere stripling of twenty or thereabouts, had
just been shot, and the soldiers, rolling him on a stretcher, were
carrying him off. I made so bold as to approach a sentry and ask:
"What has he been doing?" For an answer the sentry pointed to a
nearby notice. In four languages it announced that any one caught
near a telegraph pole or wire in any manner that looked suspicious
to the authorities would be summarily dealt with. They were
carrying him away, poor lad, and the crowd passed on in heedless
fashion, as though already grown accustomed to death.
When the troops at the front are taking lives by the thousands,
those guarding the lines at the rear catch the contagion of killing.
Knowing that this was the temper of some of the sentries, I
speeded along at a rapid rate, daring to make one cut across a
field, and so came to Jupilles without challenge. Stopping to get a
drink there, I realized what a protest my feet were making against
the strain to which I was putting them. Luckily, a peasant's
vegetable cart was passing, and, jumping on, I was congratulating
myself on the relief, when after a few hundred yards the cart
turned up a lane, leaving me on the road again with one franc less
in my pocket.
There were so few soldiers along this stretch that I drove myself
along at a furious pace, slowing up only when I sighted a soldier. I
was very hot, and felt my face blazing red as the natives gazed
after me stalking so fiercely past them. But the great automobiles
plunging by flung up such clouds of dust that my face was being
continually covered by this gray powder. What I most feared was
lest, growing dizzy, I should lose my head and make incoherent
Faint with the heat I dragged myself into a little wayside place.
Everything wore a dingy air of poverty except the gracious keeper
of the inn. I pointed to my throat. She understood at once my signs
of thirst and quickly produced water and coffee, of which I drank
until I was ashamed.
"How much!" I asked.
She shook her head negatively. I pushed a franc or two across the
"No," she said smilingly but with resolution.
"I can't take it. You need it on your journey. We are all just friends
So my dust and distress had their compensations. They had
brought me inclusion in that deeper Belgian community of sorrow.
It was apparent that the Germans were going to make this rich
region a great center for their operations and a permanent base of
supply. There must have been ten thousand clean-looking cattle
on the opposite bank of the river; they were raising a great noise
as the soldiers drove their wagons among them, throwing down
the hay and grain. Otherwise, the army had settled down from the
hustling activities of the morning, and the guards had been posted
for the oncoming evening. I knew now that I was progressing at a
good pace because near Wandre I noticed a peasant's wagon
ahead, and soon overtook it. It was carrying eight or nine Belgian
farm-hands, and the horse was making fair time under constant
pressure from the driver.
I did not wish to add an extra burden to the overloaded animal, but
it was no time for the exercise of sentiment. So I held up a two-
franc piece to the driver. He looked at the coin, then he looked at
the horse, and then, picking out the meekest and the most
inoffensive of his free passengers, he bade him get off and
motioned me to take the vacated seat at my right as a first-class
paying passenger. Two francs was the fare, and he seemed highly
gratified with the sum, little realizing that he could just as well have
had two hundred francs for that seat. We stopped once more to
hitch on a small wood-cart, and with that bumping behind us, we
trailed along fearfully slowly. Gladly would I have offered a
generous bounty to have him urge his horse along, but I feared to
excite suspicion by too lavish an outlay of money. So I sat tight
and let my feet dangle off the side, glad of the relief, but feeling
them slowly swelling beneath me.
I was saving my head as well as my feet, for the perpetual
matching of one's wits in encounters with the guards was
continually nerve-frazzling. But now as the cart joggled past, the
guard made a casual survey of us all, taking it for granted that I
was one of the local inhabitants. For this respite from constant
inquisition I was indebted to the dust, grime and sweat that
covered me. It blurred out all distinction between myself and the
peasants, forming a perfect protective coloration.
To slide past so many guards so easily was a net gain indeed.
However, the end of such easy passing came at the edge of
Charrate, where the driver turned into his yard, and I was dumped
down into an encampment of soldiers. Acting on the militarists'
dictum that the best defensive is a strong offensive I pushed my
way boldly into the midst of a group gathered round a pump and
made signs that I desired a drink. At first they did not understand,
or, thinking that I was a native Belgian, they were rather taken
aback by such impertinence; but one soldier handed me his cup
and another pumped it full. I drank it, and, thanking them, started
off. This calm assurance gained me passage past the guard, who
had stood by watching the procedure. In the next six hundred
yards I was brought to a standstill by a sudden "Halt!" At one of the
posts some soldiers were ringed around a prisoner garbed in the
long black regulation cassock of a priest. Though he wore a white
handkerchief around his arm as a badge of a peaceful attitude, he
was held as a spy. His hands and his eyes were twitching
nervously. He seemed to be glad to welcome the addition of my
company into the ranks of the suspects, but he was doomed to
disappointment, for I was passed along. The next guard took me
to his superior officer directly. But the superior officer was the
incarnation of good humor and he was more interested in a little
repast that was being made ready for him than in entering into the
questions involved in my case.
"Search him for weapons," he said casually, while he himself
made a few perfunctory passes over my pockets. No weapons
being found, he said, "Let him go. We've done damage here
These interruptions were getting to be distressingly frequent. I had
journeyed but a few hundred yards farther when a surly fellow
sprang out from behind a wagon and in a raucous voice bade me
"Stand by." He had an evil glint in his eye, and was ready to go out
of his way hunting trouble. Totally dissatisfied with any answer I
could make, he kept roaring louder and louder. There was no
doubt that he was venting his spleen upon an unprotected and
humble civilian, and that he was thoroughly enjoying seeing me
cringe under his bulldozing. It flashed upon me that he might be a
self-appointed guardian of the way. So when he began to wax still
more arrogant, I simply said, "Take me to your superior officer."
He softened down like a child, and, standing aside, motioned me
I would put nothing past a bully of that stripe. He was capable of
committing any kind of an atrocity. And his sort undoubtedly did.
But what else can one expect from a conscript army, which, as it
puts every man on its roster, must necessarily contain the worst as
well as the best? Draft 1,000 men out of any community in any
country and along with the decent citizens there will be a certain
number of cowards, braggarts and brutes. When occasion offers
they will rob, rape and murder. To such a vicious strain this fellow
The soldier whom next I encountered is really typical of the
Gemutlichheit of the men who, on the 20th of August, were
encamped along the Meuse River. I was moving along fast now
under the cover of a hedge which paralleled the road when a voice
called out "Halt!" In a step or two I came to a stop. A large fellow
climbed over the hedge, and, coming on the road, fell, or rather
stumbled over himself, into the ditch. I was afraid he was drunk,
and that this tumble would add vexation to his spirits; but he was
only tired and over-weighted, carrying a big knapsack and a gun, a
number of articles girdled around his waist, along with too much
avoirdupois. It seems that even in this conquered territory the
Germans never relaxed their vigilance. Fully a thousand men
stood guarding the pontoon bridge, and this man, who had gone
out foraging and was returning with a bottle of milk, carried his full
fighting equipment with him, as did all the others. I gave him a
hand and pulled him to his feet, offering to help carry something,
as he was breathing heavily; but he refused my aid. As we walked
along together I gave him my last stick of chocolate, and, being
assured by my demeanor that I was a friend, he showed a real
kindly, fatherly interest in me.
"A bunch of robbers, that's what these Belgians are," he asserted
stoutly. "They charged me a mark for a quart of milk."
I put my question of the morning to him: "Is it dangerous traveling
along here so late?" His answer was anything but reassuring.
"Yes, it is very dangerous."
Then he explained that one of his comrades had been shot by a
Belgian from the bluffs above that very afternoon and that the men
were all very angry. All the Belgians had taken to cover, for the
road was totally cleared of pedestrians from this place on to
"Well, what am I to do?" I asked.
"Go straight ahead. Swerve neither to the right nor left. Be sure
you have no weapons, and stop at once when the guard cries
'Halt!' and you will get through all right. But, above all, be sure to
stand stock still immediately at the challenge. Above all--that," he
"But did I not stop still when you cried 'Halt!' a minute ago?" I
"No," he said; "you took two or three steps before you came to a
perfect stop. See, this is the way to do it." He started off briskly,
and as I cried "Halt!" came to a standstill with marvelous and
sudden precision for a man of his weight.
"Do it that way and cry out, 'Ready, here!' and it will be all right."
I would give a great deal for a vignette of that ponderous fellow
acting as drillmaster to this stray American. The intensity of the
situation rapidly ripened his interest into an affection. I was fretting
to get away, but the amenities demanded a more formal leave-
taking. At last, however, I broke away, bearing with me his paternal
benediction. Far ahead a company of soldiers was forming into
line. Just as I reached the place they came to attention, and at a
gesture from the captain I walked like a royal personage down
past the whole line, feeling hundreds of eyes critically playing upon
me. I suspect that the captain had a sense of humor and was
enjoying the discomfiture he knew I must feel.
Estimating my advance by the signboards, where distances were
marked in kilometers, it appeared that I was getting on with
wretched slowness, considering the efforts I was making. At this
rate, I knew I should never reach the Holland frontier by nightfall,
and from the warnings I had received I dreaded to attempt
crossing after sundown. Sleeping in the fields when the whole
country was infested by soldiers was out of the question, so I
turned to the first open cottage of a peasant and asked him to take
me in for the night. He shook his head emphatically, and gave me
to understand it would be all his life were worth if he did so. So I
rallied my energies for one last effort, and plunged wildly ahead.
The breeze was blowing refreshingly up the river, the road was
clear, and soon I was rewarded by seeing the smoke still curling
up from the ruins of Vise. I looked at my watch, which pointed to
the time for sunset, and yet there was the sun, curiously enough,
some distance up from the horizon. The fact of the matter is that I
had reset my watch at Liege, and clocks there had all been
changed to German time. With a tremendous sense of relief I
discovered that I had a full hour more than I had figured on.
There was ample time now to cover the remaining distance, and
so I rested a moment before what appeared to be a deserted
house. Slowly the shutters were pushed back and a sweet-faced
old lady timorously thrust her head out of an upper window. She
apparently had been hiding away terror-stricken, and there was
something pathetic in the half-trusting way she risked her fate
even now. In a low voice she put some question in the local patois
to me. I could not understand what she was asking, but concluded
that she was seeking comfort and assurance. So I sought to
convey by much gesturing and benevolent smiling that all was
quiet and safe along the Meuse. She may have concluded that I
was some harmless, roaming idiot who could not answer a plain
question; but it was the best I could do, and I walked on to Vise
with the fine feeling of having played the role of comforter.
At Vise I was heartened by two dogs who jumped wildly and
joyously around me. I gathered courage enough here to swerve to
the right, and from the window of a still burning roadside cafe
extracted three wine-glasses as souvenirs of the trip.
Presently I was in Mouland, whose few forlorn walls grouped about
the village church made a pathetic picture as they glowed
luminously in the setting sun. A flock of doves were cooing in the
blackened ruins. Now I was on the home-stretch; and, that there
might be no mistake with my early morning comrades, I cried out
in German, "Here comes a friend!" With broad smiles on their
faces, they were waiting there to receive me.
They made a not unpicturesque group gathered around their
camp-fire. One was plucking a chicken, another making the straw
beds for the night. A third was laboriously at work writing a post-
card. I ventured the information that I had made over fifty
kilometers that day. They punctured my pride somewhat by stating
that that was often the regular stint for German soldiers. But,
pointing to their own well-made hobnailed boots, they added,
"Never in thin rubber soles like yours." After emptying my pockets
of eatables and promising to deliver the post-card, I passed once
more under the great Dutch banner into neutral territory.
My three Holland friends were there with an automobile, and,
greeting me with a hearty "Gute Knabe!" whisked me off to
Maastricht. For the next three days I did all my writing in bed,
nursing a, couple of bandaged feet. I wouldn't have missed that
trip for ten thousand dollars. I wouldn't go through it again for a
With the War Photographers in Belgium
How I Was Shot As A German Spy
IN the last days of September, the Belgians moving in and through
Ghent in their rainbow-colored costumes, gave to the city a
distinctively holiday touch. The clatter of cavalry hoofs and the
throb of racing motors rose above the voices of the mobs that
surged along the streets.
Service was normal in the cafes. To the accompaniment of music
and clinking glasses the dress-suited waiter served me a five-
course lunch for two francs. It was uncanny to see this blaze of life
while the city sat under the shadow of a grave disaster. At any
moment the gray German tide might break out of Brussels and
pour its turbid flood of soldiers through these very streets. Even
now a Taube hovered in the sky, and from the skirmish-line an
occasional ambulance rumbled in with its crimsoned load.
I chanced into Gambrinus' cafe and was lost in the babbling sea of
French and Flemish. Above the melee of sounds, however, I
caught a gladdening bit of English. Turning about, I espied a little
group of men whose plain clothes stood out in contrast to the
colored uniforms of officers and soldiers crowded into the cafe.
Wearied of my efforts at conversing in a foreign tongue, I went
over and said: "Do you really speak English!" "Well, rather!"
answered the one who seemed to act as leader of the group. "We
are the only ones now and it will be scarcer still around here in a
few days." "Why!" I asked.
"Because Ghent will be in German hands." This brought an
emphatic denial from one of his confreres who insisted that the
Germans had already reached the end of their rope. A certain
correspondent, joining in the argument, came in for a deal of
banter for taking the war de luxe in a good hotel far from the front.
"What do you know about the war?" they twitted him. "You've
pumped all your best stories out of the refugees ten miles from the
front, after priming them with a glass of beer."
They were a group of young war-photographers to whom danger
was a magnet. Though none of them had yet reached the age of
thirty, they had seen service in all the stirring events of Europe and
even around the globe. Where the clouds lowered and the seas
tossed, there they flocked. Like stormy petrels they rushed to the
center of the swirling world. That was their element. A free-lance, a
representative of the Northcliffe press, and two movie-men
comprised this little group and made an island of English amidst
the general babel.
Like most men who have seen much of the world, they had
ceased to be cynics. When I came to them out of the rain, carrying
no other introduction than a dripping overcoat, they welcomed me
into their company and whiled away the evening with tales of the
They were in high spirits over their exploits of the previous day,
when the Germans, withdrawing from Melle on the outskirts of the
city, had left a long row of cottages still burning. As the enemy
troops pulled out the further end of the street, the movie men
came in at the other and caught the pictures of the still blazing
houses. We went down to view them on the screen. To the gentle
throbbing of drums and piano, the citizens of Ghent viewed the
unique spectacle of their own suburbs going up in smoke.
At the end of the show they invited me to fill out their automobile
on the morrow. Nearly every other motor had been commandeered
by the authorities for the "Service Militaire" and bore on the front
the letters "S. M." Our car was by no means in the blue-ribbon
class. It had a hesitating disposition and the authorities, regarding
it as more of a liability than an asset, had passed it over.
But the correspondents counted it a great stroke of fortune to have
any car at all; and, that they might continue to have it, they kept it
at night carefully locked in a room in the hotel.
They had their chauffeur under like supervision. He was one of
their kind, and with the cunning of a diplomat obtained the permit
to buy petrol, most precious of all treasures in the field of war.
Indeed, gasoline, along with courage and discipline, completed the
trinity of success in the military mind.
With the British flag flying at the front, we sped away next morning
on the road to Termonde. At Melle we came upon the blazing
cottages we had seen pictured the night before. Here we
encountered a roving band of Belgian soldiers who were in a free
and careless mood and evinced a ready willingness to put
themselves at our disposal. Under the command of the photographers,
they charged across the fields with fixed bayonets, wriggled up
through the grass, or, standing behind the trenches, blazed away
with their guns at an imaginary enemy. They did some good acting,
grim and serious as death. All except one.
This youth couldn't suppress his sense of humor. He could not, or
would not, keep from laughing, even when he was supposed to be
blowing the head off a Boche. He was properly disciplined and put
out of the game, and we went on with our maneuvers to the
accompaniment of the clicking cameras until the photographers
had gathered in a fine lot of realistic fighting-line pictures.
One of the photographers sat stolidly in the automobile smoking
his cigarette while the others were reaping their harvest.
"Why don't you take these too?" I asked.
"Oh," he replied, "I've been sending in so much of that stuff that I
just got a telegram from my paper saying, 'Pension off that Belgian
regiment which is doing stunts in the trenches.'"
While his little army rested from their maneuvers the Director-in-
Chief turned to me and said:
"Wouldn't you like to have a photograph of yourself in these war-
surroundings, just to take home as a souvenir?"
That appealed to me. After rejecting some commonplace
suggestions, he exclaimed: "I have it. Shot as a German Spy.
There's the wall to stand up against; and we'll pick a crack firing-
squad out of these Belgians. A little bit of all right, eh?"
I acquiesced in the plan and was led over to the wall while a
movie-man whipped out a handkerchief and tied it over my eyes.
The director then took the firing squad in hand. He had but
recently witnessed the execution of a spy where he had almost
burst with a desire to photograph the scene. It had been
excruciating torture to restrain himself. But the experience had
made him feel conversant with the etiquette of shooting a spy, as it
was being done amongst the very best firing-squads. He made it
now stand him in good stead.
"Aim right across the bandage," the director coached them. I could
hear one of the soldiers laughing excitedly as he was warming up
to the rehearsal. It occurred to me that I was reposing a lot of
confidence in a stray band of soldiers. Some one of those
Belgians, gifted with a lively imagination, might get carried away
with the suggestion and act as if I really were a German spy.
"Shoot the blooming blighter in the eye," said one movie man
"Bally good idea!" exclaimed the other one approvingly, while one
eager actor realistically clicked his rifle-hammer. That was
altogether too much. I tore the bandage from my eyes, exclaiming:
"It would be a bally good idea to take those cartridges out first."
Some fellow might think his cartridge was blank or try to fire wild,
just as a joke in order to see me jump. I wasn't going to take any
risk and flatly refused to play my part until the cartridges were
ejected. Even when the bandage was readjusted "Didn't-know-it-
was-loaded" stories still were haunting me. In a moment,
however, it was over and I was promised my picture within a
A week later I picked up the London Daily Mirror from a
newsstand. It had the caption:
Belgian Soldiers Shoot a German Spy Caught at Termonde
I opened up the paper and what was my surprise to see a big
spread picture of myself, lined up against that row of Melle
cottages and being shot for the delectation of the British public.
There is the same long raincoat that runs as a motif through all the
other pictures. Underneath it were the words:
"The Belgians have a short, sharp method of dealing with the
Kaiser's rat-hole spies. This one was caught near Termonde and,
after being blindfolded, the firing-squad soon put an end to his
One would not call it fame exactly, even though I played the star-
role. But it is a source of some satisfaction to have helped a royal
lot of fellows to a first-class scoop. As the "authentic spy-picture of
the war," it has had a broadcast circulation. I have seen it in
publications ranging all the way from The Police Gazette to
"Collier's Photographic History of the European War." In a
university club I once chanced upon a group gathered around this
identical picture. They were discussing the psychology of this "poor
devil" in the moments before he was shot. It was a further source
of satisfaction to step in and arbitrarily contradict all their
conclusions and, having shown them how totally mistaken they
were, proceed to tell them exactly how the victim felt. This high-
handed manner nettled one fellow terribly:
"Not so arbitrary, my friend!" he said. "You haven't any right to be
so devilish cocksure."
"Haven't I?" I replied. "Who has any better right? I happen to be
that identical man!" But that little episode has been of real value to
me. It is said that if one goes through the motions he gets the
emotions. I believe that I have an inkling of how a man feels when
he momentarily expects a volley of cold lead to turn his skull into a
That was a very timely picture. It filled a real demand. For spies
were at that time looming distressingly large in the public mind.
The deeds they had done, or were about to do, cast a cold fear
over men by day and haunted them by night. They were in the
Allies' councils, infesting the army, planning destruction to the
navy. Any wild tale got credence, adding its bit to the general
paralysis, and producing a vociferous demand that "something be
done." The people were assured that all culprits were being duly
sentenced and shot. But there was no proof of it. There were no
pictures thereof extant. And that is what the public wanted.
"Give the public what it wants," was the motto of this enterprising
newspaper man. Herewith he supplied tangible evidence on which
they could feast their eyes and soothe their nerves.
As to the ethics of these pictures, they are "true" in that they are
faithful to reality. In this case the photographer acted up to his
professional knowledge and staged the pictures as he had actually
seen the spy shot. They must find their justification on the same
basis as fiction, which is "the art of falsifying facts for the sake of
truth." And who would begrudge them the securing of a few
pictures with comparative ease?
Most of the pictures which the public casually gazes on have been
secured at a price--and a large one, too. The names of these men
who go to the front with cameras, rather than with rifles or pens,
are generally unknown. They are rarely found beneath the
pictures, yet where would be our vivid impression of courage in
daring and of skill in doing, of cunning strategy upon the field of
battle, of wounded soldiers sacrificing for their comrades, if we had
no pictures? A few pictures are faked, but behind most pictures
there is another tale of daring and of strategy, and that is the tale
concerning the man who took it. That very day thrice these same
men risked their lives.
The apparatus loaded in the car, we were off again. Past a few
barricades of paving-stones and wagons, past the burned houses
which marked the place where the Germans had come within five
miles of Ghent, we encountered some uniformed Belgians who
looked quite as dismal and dispirited as the fog which hung above
the fields. They were the famous Guarde Civique of Belgium. Our
Union Jack, flapping in the wind, was very likely quite the most
thrilling spectacle they had seen in a week, and they hailed it with a
cheer and a cry of "Vive l'Angleterre!" (Long live England!) The
Guarde Civique had a rather inglorious time of it. Wearisomely in
their wearisome-looking uniform, they stood for hours on their
guns or marched and counter-marched in dreary patrolling, often
doomed not even to scent the battle from afar off.
Whenever we were called to a halt for the examination of our
passports, these men crowded around and begged for newspapers.
We held up our stock, and they would clamor for the ones with
pictures. The English text was unintelligible to most of them, but
the pictures they could understand, and they bore them away to
enjoy the sight of other soldiers fighting, even if they themselves
were denied that excitement. Our question to them was always
the same, "Where are the Germans?"
Out of the conflicting reports it was hard to tell whether the
Germans were heading this way or not. That they were expected
was shown by the sign-posts whose directions had just been
obliterated by fresh paint--a rather futile operation, because the
Germans had better maps and plans of the region than the
Belgians themselves, maps which showed every by-path, well and
barn. The chauffeur's brother had been shot in his car by the
Germans but a week before, and he didn't relish the idea of thus
flaunting the enemy's flag along a road where some German
scouting party might appear at any moment. The Union Jack had
done good service in getting us easy passage so far, but the driver
was not keen for going further with it.
It was proposed to turn the car around and back it down the road,
as had been done the previous day. Thus the car would be
headed in the home direction, and at sight of the dreaded uniform
we could make a quick leap for safety. At this juncture, however, I
produced a small Stars and Stripes, which the chauffeur hailed
with delight, and we continued our journey now under the aegis of
a neutral flag.
It might have secured temporary safety, but only temporary; for if
the Englishmen with only British passports had fallen into the
hands of the Germans, like their unfortunate kinsmen who did
venture too far into the war zone, they, too, would have had a
chance to cool their ardor in some detention-camp of Germany.
This cheerful prospect was in the mind of these men, for, when we
espied coming around a distant corner two gray-looking men on
horseback, they turned white as the chauffeur cried, "Uhlans!"
It is a question whether the car or our hearts came to a dead
standstill first. Our shock was unnecessary. They proved to be
Belgians, and assured us that the road was clear all the way to
Termonde; and, except for an occasional peasant tilling his fields,
the country-side was quite deserted until at Grembergen we came
upon an unending procession of refugees streaming down the
road. They were all coming out of Termonde. Termonde, after
being taken and retaken, bombarded and burned, was for the
moment neutral territory. A Belgian commandant had allowed the
refugees that morning to return and gather what they might from
among the ruins.
In the early morning, then, they had gone into the city, and now at
high noon they were pouring out, a great procession of the
dispossessed. They came tracking their way to where--God only
knows. All they knew was that in their hearts was set the fear of
Uhlans, and in the sky the smoke and flames of their burning
homesteads. They came laden with their lares and penates,--
mainly dogs, feather beds, and crayon portraits of their ancestors.
Women came carrying on their heads packs which looked like
their entire household paraphernalia. The men were more
unassuming, and, as a rule, carried a package considerably lighter
and comporting more with their superior masculine dignity. I recall
one little woman in particular. She was bearing a burden heavy
enough to send a strong American athlete staggering down to the
ground, while at her side majestically marched her faithful knight,
bearing a bird-cage, and there wasn't any bird in it, either.
Nothing could be more mirth-provoking than that sight; yet,
strangely enough, the most tear-compelling memory of the war is
connected with another bird-cage. Two children rummaging
through their ruined home dug it out of the debris. In it was their
little pet canary. While fire and smoke rolled through the house it
had beat its wings against the bars in vain. Its prison had become
its tomb. Its feathers were but slightly singed, yet it was dead with
that pathetic finality which attaches itself to only a dead bird--its
silver songs and flutterings, once the delight of the children, now
The photographers had long looked for what they termed a first-
class sob-picture. Here it was par excellent. The larger child stood
stroking the feathers of her pet and murmuring over and over
"Poor Annette," "Poor Annette!" Then the smaller one snuggling
the limp little thing against her neck wept inconsolably.
Instead of seizing their opportunity, the movie man was clearing
his throat while the free lance was busy on what he said was a
cinder in his eye. Yet this very man had brought back from the
Balkan War of 1907 a prime collection of horrors; corpses thrown
into the death-cart with arms and legs sticking out like so much
stubble; the death-cart creeping away with its ghastly load; and the
dumping together of bodies of men and beasts into a pit to be
eaten by the lime. This man who had gone through all this with
good nerve was now touched to tears by two children crying over
their pet canary. There are some things that are too much for the
heart of even a war-photographer.
To give the whole exodus the right tragic setting, one is tempted to
write that tears were streaming down all the faces of the refugees,
but on the contrary, indeed, most of them carried a smile and a
pipe, and trudged stolidly along, much as though bound for a fair.
Some of our pictures show laughing refugees. That may not be
fair, for man is so constituted that the muscles of his face
automatically relax to the click of the camera. But as I recall that
pitiful procession, there was in it very little outward expression of
Undoubtedly there was sadness enough in all their hearts, but
people in Europe have learned to live on short rations; they rarely
indulge in luxuries like weeping, but bear the most unwonted
afflictions as though they were the ordinary fortunes of life. War
has set a new standard for grief. So these victims passed along
the road, but not before the record of their passing was etched for
ever on our moving-picture films. The coming generation will not
have to reconstruct the scene from the colored accounts of the
journalist, but with their own eyes they can see the hegira of the
homeless as it really was.
The resignation of the peasant in the face of the great calamity
was a continual source of amazement to us. Zola in "Le Debacle"
puts into his picture of the battle of Sedan an old peasant plowing
on his farm in the valley. While shells go screaming overhead he
placidly drives his old white horse through the accustomed
furrows. One naturally presumed that this was a dramatic touch of
the great novelist. But similar incidents we saw in this Great War
over and over again.
We were with Consul van Hee one morning early before the
clinging veil of sleep had lifted from our spirits or the mists from the
low-lying meadows. Without warning our car shot through a bank
of fog into a spectacle of medieval splendor--a veritable Field of
the Cloth of Gold, spread out on the green plains of Flanders.
A thousand horses strained at their bridles while their thousand
riders in great fur busbies loomed up almost like giants. A
thousand pennons stirred in the morning air while the sun burning
through the mists glinted on the tips of as many lances. The crack
Belgian cavalry divisions had been gathered here just behind the
firing-lines in readiness for a sortie; the Lancers in their cherry and
green and the Guides in their blue and gold making a blaze of
It was as if in a trance we had been carried back to a tourney of
ancient chivalry--this was before privations and the new drab
uniforms had taken all glamour out of the war. As we gazed upon
the glittering spectacle the order from the commander came to us:
"Back, back out of danger!"
"Forward!" was the charge to the Lancers.
The field-guns rumbled into line and each rider unslung his
carbine. Putting spurs to the horses, the whole line rode past
saluting our Stars and Stripes with a "Vive L'Amerique." Bringing
up the rear two cassocked priests served to give this pageantry a
touch of prophetic grimness.
And yet as the cavalcade swept across the fields thrilling us with its
color and its action, the nearby peasants went on spreading
fertilizer quite as calm and unconcerned as we were exhilarated.
"Stupid," "Clods," "Souls of oxen," we commented, yet a
protagonist of the peasant might point out that it was perhaps as
noble and certainly quite as useful to be held by a passion for the
soil as to be caught by the glamour of men riding out to slaughter.
And Zola puts this in the mind of his peasants.
"Why should I lose a day? Soldiers must fight, but folks must live.
It is for me to keep the corn growing."
Deep down into the soil the peasant strikes his roots. Urban
people can never comprehend when these roots are cut away how
hopelessly-lost and adrift this European peasant in particular
becomes. Wicked as the Great War has seemed to us in its
bearing down upon these innocent folks, yet we can never
understand the cruelty that they have suffered in being uprooted
from the land and sent forth to become beggars and wanderers
upon the highroads of the world.
The Little Belgian Who Said, "You Betcha"
In the fighting around Termonde the bridge over the Scheldt had
been three times blown up and three times reconstructed. Wires
now led to explosives under the bridge on the Termonde side, and
on the side held by the Belgians they led to a table in the room of
the commanding officer. In this table was an electric button. By the
button stood an officer. The entrance of the Germans on that
bridge was the signal for the officer to push that button, and thus to
blow both bridge and Germans into bits.
But the Belgians were taking no chances. If by any mishap that
electric connection should fail them, it would devolve upon the
artillery lined upon the bank to rake the bridge with shrapnel. A
roofed-over trench ran along the river like a levee and bristled with
machine guns whose muzzles were also trained upon the bridge.
Full caissons of ammunition were standing alongside, ready to
feed the guns their death-dealing provender, and in the rear, all
harnessed, were the horses, ready to bring up more caissons.
Though in the full blaze of day, the gunners were standing or
crouching by their guns. The watchers of the night lay stretched
out upon the ground, sleeping in the warm sun after their long,
anxious vigil. Stumbling in among them, I was pulled back by one
of the photographers.
"For heaven's sake," he cried, "don't wake up those men!"
"Why?" I asked.
"Because this picture I'm taking here is to be labeled 'Dead Men in
the Termonde Trenches,' and you would have them starting up as
though the day of resurrection had arrived."
After taking these pictures we were ready to cross the bridge; but
the two sentries posted at this end were not ready to let us. They
were very small men, but very determined, and informed us that
their instructions were to allow no one to pass over without a
permit signed by the General. We produced scores of passes and
passports decorated with stamps and seals and covered with
myriad signatures. They looked these over and said that our
papers were very nice and undoubtedly very numerous, but
ungraciously insisted on that pass signed by the General.
So back we flew to the General at Grembergen. I waited outside
until my companions emerged from the office waving passes.
They were in a gleeful, bantering mood. That evening they
apprised me of the fact that all day I had been traveling as a rich
American with my private photographers securing pictures for the
Belgian Relief Fund.
Leaving our automobile in charge of the chauffeur, we cautiously
made our way over the bridge into the city of Termonde, or what
was once Termonde, for it is difficult to dignify with the name of city
a heap of battered buildings and crumbling brick--an ugly scar
upon the landscape.
I was glad to enter the ruins with my companions instead of alone.
It was not so much fear of stray bullets from a lurking enemy as
the suggestion of the spirits of the slain lingering round these
tombs. For Termonde appeared like one vast tomb. As we first
entered its sepulchral silences we were greatly relieved that the
three specter-like beings who sat huddled up over a distant ruin
turned out not to be ghosts, but natives hopelessly and pathetically
surveying this wreck that was once called home, trying to rake out
of the embers some sort of relic of the past.
A regiment of hungry dogs came prowling up the street, and,
remembering the antics of the past week, they looked at us as if
speculating what new species of crazy human being we were. To
them the world of men must suddenly have gone quite insane, and
if there had been an agitator among them he might well have
asked his fellow-dogs why they had acknowledged a race of
madmen as their masters. Indeed, one could almost detect a
sense of surprise that we didn't use the photographic apparatus to
commit some new outrage. They stayed with us for a while, but at
the sight of our cinema man turning the crank like a machine gun,
they turned and ran wildly down the street.
Emptied bottles looted from winecellars were strung along the
curbs. To some Germans they had been more fatal than the
Belgian bullets, for while one detachment of the German soldiers
had been setting the city blazing with petrol from the petrol flasks,
others had set their insides on fire with liquors from the wine flasks,
and, rolling through the town in drunken orgy, they had fallen
headlong into the canal.
There is a relevant item for those who seek further confirmation as
to the reality of the atrocities in Belgium. If men could get so
drunken and uncontrolled as to commit atrocities on themselves (i.e.,
self-destruction), it is reasonable to infer that they could commit
atrocities on others--and they undoubtedly did. The surprise lies
not in the number of such crimes, but the fewness of them.
Three boys who had somehow managed to crawl across the
bridge were prodding about in the canals with bamboo poles.
"What are you doing?" we inquired.
"Fishing," they responded.
"What for?" we asked.
"Dead Germans," they replied.
"What do you do with them--bury them?"
"No!" they shouted derisively. "We just strip them of what they've
got and shove 'em back in."
Their search for these hapless victims was not motivated by any
sentimental reasons, but simply by their business interest as local
dealers in helmets, buttons and other German mementos.
We took pictures of these young water-ghouls; a picture of the
Hotel de Ville, the calcined walls standing like a shell, the inside a
smoking mass of debris; then a picture of a Belgian mitrailleuse
car, manned by a crowd of young and jaunty dare-devils. It came
swinging into the square, bringing a lot of bicycles from a German
patrol which had just been mowed down outside the city. After
taking a shot at an aeroplane buzzing away at a tremendous
distance overhead, they were off again on another scouting trip.
I got separated from my party and was making my way alone
when a sharp "Hello!" ringing up the street, startled me. I turned to
see, not one of the photographers, but a fully-armed, though
somewhat diminutive, soldier in Belgian uniform waving his hand
"Hello!" he shouted; "are you an American?"
I could hardly believe my eyes or my ears, but managed to shout
back, "Yes, yes, I'm an American. Are you?" I asked dubiously.
"You betcha I'm a 'Merican," he replied, coming quickly up to me. It
was my turn again.
"What are you doing down here--fighting?" I put in fatuously.
"What the hell you think I'm doing?" he rejoined.
I now felt quite sure that he was an American. Further offerings of
similar "language of small variety but great strength" testified to his
sojourn in the States.
"You betcha I'm a 'Merican," he reiterated, "though I was over
there but two years. My name is August Bidden. I worked in a
lumber-mill in Wagner, Wisconsin. Came back here to visit my
family. The war broke out. I was a Reservist and joined my
regiment. I'm here on scout-duty. Got to find out when the
Germans come back into the city."
"Been in any battles?"
"You betcha," he replied.
"Kill any Germans?"
"Did you enjoy it?"
"Any around here now?"
"You betcha. A lot of them down in the bushes over the brook."
Then his eyes flashed a sudden fire as though an inspired idea
had struck him. "There's no superior officer around," he exclaimed
confidentially. "Come right down with me and you can take a pot-
shot at the damned Boches with my rifle." He said it with the air of
a man offering a rare treat to his best friend. I felt that it devolved
on me to exhibit a proper zest for this little shooting-party and save
my reputation without risking my skin. So I said eagerly:
"Now are you dead sure that the Germans are down there!"
implying that I couldn't afford any time unless the shooting was
"You betcha they're down there," was his disconcerting reply. "You
can see their green-gray uniforms. I counted sixteen or seventeen
The thought of that sixteen-to-one shot made my cheeks take on
the color of the German uniforms. The naked truth was my last
resort. It was the only thing that could prevent my zealous friend
from dragging me forcibly down to the brookside. He may have
heard the chattering of my teeth. At any rate he looked up and
exclaimed, "What's the matter? You 'fraid?"
I replied without any hesitation, "You betcha."
The happy arrival of the photographer at this juncture, however,
redeemed my fallen reputation; for a soldier is always peculiarly
amenable to the charms of the camera and is even willing to quit
fighting to get his picture taken.
This photograph happens to hit off our little episode exactly. It
shows Ridden serene, smiling, confident, and my sort of evasive
hangdog look as though, in popular parlance, I had just "got one
put over me."
Then, while seated on a battered wall, Ridden poured out his story
of the last two months of hardships and horrors. It was the single
individual's share in the terrific gruelling that the Belgian army had
received while it was beaten back from the eastern frontier to its
stand on the river Scheldt. Always being promised aid by the Allies
if they would hold out just a little longer, they were led again and
again frantically to pit their puny strength against the overwhelming
tide out of the North. For the moment they would stay it. Eagerly
they would listen for sounds of approaching help, asking every
stranger when it was coming. It never came. From position to
position they fell back, stubbornly fighting, a flaming pillar of sparks
and clouds of smoke marking the path of their retreat.
Though smashed and broken that army was never crushed. Its
spirit was incarnate in this cheerful and undaunted Ridden. He
recounted his privations as nonchalantly as if it was just the way
that he had planned to spend his holiday. As a farewell token he
presented me with an epaulet from an officer he had killed, and a
pin from a German woman spy he had captured.
"Be sure to visit me when you get back to America," I cried out
down the street to him.
He stood waving his hand in farewell as in greeting, the same
happy ingenuous look upon his face and sending after me in reply
the same old confident standby, "You betcha." But I do not cherish
a great hope of ever seeing Ridden again. The chances are that,
like most of the Belgian army, he is no longer treading the gray
streets of those demolished cities, but whatever golden streets
there may be in the City Celestial. War is race suicide. It kills the
best and leaves behind the undermuscled and the under-brained
to propagate the species.
Striking farther into the heart of the ruins, we beheld in a section all
burned and shattered to the ground a building which stood straight
up like a cliff intact and undamaged amidst the general wreckage.
As we stumbled over the debris, imagine our surprise when an old
lady of about seventy thrust her head out of a basement window.
She was the owner of the house, and while the city had been the
fighting ground for the armies she had, through it all, bravely stuck
to her home.
"I was born here, I have always lived here, and I am going to die
here," she said, with a look of pride upon her kindly face.
Madame Callebaut-Ringoot was her name. During the
bombardment of the town she had retired to the cellar; but when
the Germans entered to burn the city she stood there at the door
watching the flames rolling up from the warehouses and factories
in the distance. Nearer and nearer came the billowing tide of fire. A
fountain of sparks shooting up from a house a few hundred yards
away marked the advance of the firing squad into her street, but
she never wavered. Down the street came the spoilers, relentless,
ruthless, and remorseless, sparing nothing. They came like priests
of the nether world, anointing each house with oil from the petrol
flasks and with a firebrand dedicating it to the flames. Every one,
panic-stricken, fled before them. Every one but this old lady, who
stood there bidding defiance to all the Kaiser's horses and all the
"I saw them smashing in the door of the house across the way,"
said Madame Callebaut, "and when the flames burst forth they
rushed over here, and I fell down on my knees before them, crying
out, 'For the love of Heaven, spare an old woman's house!'"
It must have been a dramatic, soul-curdling sight, with the wail of
the woman rising above the crashing walls and the roaring flames.
And it must have been effective pleading to stop men in their wild
rush lusting to destroy. But Madame Callebaut was endowed with
powerful emotions. Carried away in her recital of the events, she
fell down on her knees before me, wringing her hands and
pleading so piteously that I felt for a moment as if I were a fiendish
Teuton with a firebrand about to set the old lady's house afire. I
can understand how the wildest men capitulated to such pleadings,
and how they came down the steps to write, in big, clear words,
(Do not set fire)
Only they unwittingly wrote it upon her neighbor's walls, thus
saving both houses.
How much a savior of other homes Madame Callebaut had been
Termonde will never know. Certainly she made the firing squad
first pause in the wild debauch of destruction. For frequently now
an undamaged house stood with the words chalked on its front,
"Only harmless old woman lives here; do not burn down."
Underneath were the numbers and initials of the particular corps of
the Kaiser's Imperial Army. Often the flames had committed Lese
majeste by leaping onto the forbidden house, and there amidst the
charred ruins stood a door or a wall bearing the mocking
inscription, "Nicht Anbrennen."
Another house, belonging to Madame Louise Bal, bore the words,
"Protected; Gute alte Leute hier" (good old people here). A great
shell from a distant battery had totally disregarded this sign and
had torn through the parlor, exploding in the back yard, ripping the
clothes from the line, but touching neither of the inmates. As the
Chinese ambassador pertinently remarked when reassured by
Whitlock that the Germans would not bombard the embassies,
"Ah! but a cannon has no eyes."
These houses stood up like lone survivors above the wreckage
wrought by fire and shell, and by contrast served to emphasize the
dismal havoc everywhere. "So this was once a city," one mused to
himself; "and these streets, now sounding with the footfalls of
some returning sentry, did they once echo with the roar of traffic?
And those demolished shops, were they once filled with the babble
of the traders? Over yonder in that structure, which looks so much
like a church, did the faithful once come to pray and to worship
God? Can it be that these courtyards, now held in the thrall of
death-like silence, once rang to the laughter of the little children?"
One said to himself, "Surely this is some wild dream. Wake up."
But hardly a dream, for here were the ruins of a real city, and fresh
ruins, too. Still curling up from the church was smoke from the
burning rafters, and over there the hungry dogs, and the stragglers
mournfully digging something out of the ruins. However preposterous
it seemed, none the less it was a city that yesterday ran high with
the tide of human life. And thousands of people, when they recall
the lights and shadows, the pains and raptures, which make up the
thing we call life, will think of Termonde. Thousands of people,
when they think of home and all the tender memories that cluster
round that word, say "Termonde."' And now where Termonde was
there is a big black ragged spot--an ugly gaping wound in the
landscape. There are a score of other wounds like that.
There are thousands of them.
There is one bleeding in every Belgian heart.
The sight of their desolated cities cut the soldiers to the quick.
They turned the names of those cities into battle cries. Shouting
"Remember Termonde and Louvain," these Belgians sprang from
the trenches and like wild men flung themselves upon the foe.
Atrocities And The Socialist
"With these sentries holding us up at every cross-roads, there is no
use trying to get to Antwerp," said the free-lance.
"Yes, there is," retorted the chauffeur. "Watch me the next time."
He beckoned to the first sentry barring the way, and, leaning over,
whispered into the man's ear a single word. The sentry saluted,
and, stepping to one side, motioned us on in a manner almost
deferential. We had hardly been compelled to stop.
After our tedious delays this was quite exhilarating. How our
chauffeur obtained the password we did not know, nor did we
challenge the inclusion of 8 francs extra in his memorandum of
expenses. As indicated, he was a man of parts. The magic word of
the day, "France," now opened every gate to us.
Behind the Antwerp fortifications the Belgian sappers and miners
were on an organized rampage of destruction. On a wide zone
every house, windmill and church was either going up in flames or
being hammered level to the ground.
We came along as the oil was applied to an old house and saw
the flames go crackling up through the rafters. The black smoke
curled away across the wasted land and the fire glowed upon the
stolid faces of the soldiers and the trembling woman who owned it.
To her it was a funeral pyre. Her home endeared by lifetime
memories was being offered up on the altar of Liberty and
Independence. Starting with the invaders on the western frontier,
clear through to Antwerp by the sea, a wild black swathe had been
By such drastic methods space was cleared for the guns in the
Belgian forts, and to the advancing besiegers no protection would
be offered from the raking fire. The heart of a steel-stock owner
would have rejoiced to see the maze of wire entanglement that ran
everywhere. In one place a tomato-field had been wired; the green
vines, laden with their rich red fruit, were intertwined with the steel
vines bearing their vicious blood-drawing barbs whose intent was
to make the red field redder still. We had just passed a gang
digging man-holes and spitting them with stakes, when an officer
"Stop! No further passage here. You must turn back."
"Why?" we asked protestingly.
"The entire road is being mined," he replied.
Even as he spoke we could see a liquid explosive being poured
into a sort of cup, and electric wires connected. The officer
pictured to us a regiment of soldiers advancing, with the full tide of
life running in their veins, laughing and singing as they marched in
the smiling sun. Suddenly the road rocks and hell heaves up
beneath their feet; bodies are blown into the air and rained back to
the earth in tiny fragments of human flesh; while brains are
spattered over the ground, and every crevice runs a rivulet of
blood. He sketched this in excellent English, adding:
"A magnificent climax for Christian civilzation, eh! And that's my
business. But what else can one do?"
For the task of setting this colossal stage for death, the entire
peasant population had been mobilized to assist the soldiers. In
self-defense Belgium was thus obliged to drive the dagger deep
into her own bosom. It seemed indeed as if she suffered as much
at her own hands, as at the hands of the enemy. To arrest the
advancing scourge she impressed into her service dynamite, fire
and flood. I saw the sluice-gates lifted and meadows which had
been waving with the golden grain of autumn now turned into silver
lakes. So suddenly had the waters covered the land that hay-
cocks bobbed upon the top of the flood, and peasants went out in
boats to dredge for the beets and turnips which lay beneath the
The roads were inundated and so we ran along an embankment
which, like a levee, lifted itself above the water wastes. The sun,
sinking down behind the flaming poplars in the west, was touching
the rippling surface into myriad colors. It was like a trip through
Fairyland, or it would have been, were not men on all sides busy
preparing for the bloody shambles.
After these elaborate defensive works the Belgians laughed at any
one taking Antwerp, the impregnable fortress of Western Europe.
The Germans laughed, too. But it was the bass, hollow laugh of
their great guns placed ten to twenty miles away, and pouring into
the city such a hurricane of shell and shrapnel that they forced its
evacuation by the British and the Belgians. Through this vast array
of works which the reception committee had designed for their
slaughter, the Germans came marching in as if on dress parade.
A few shells were even now crashing through Malines and had
played havoc with the carillon in the cathedral tower. During a lull
in the bombardment we climbed a stairway of the belfry where,
above us, balanced great stones which a slight jar would send
tumbling down. On and up we passed vents and jagged holes
which had been ripped through these massive walls as if they
were made of paper. It was enough to carry the weight of one's
somber reflections without the addition of cheerful queries of the
movie-man as to "how would you feel if the German gunners
suddenly turned loose again?"
We gathered in a deal of stone ornaments that had been shot
down and struggled with a load of them to our car. Later they
became a weight upon our conscience. When Cardinal Mercier
starts the rebuilding of his cathedral, we might surprise him with
the return of a considerable portion thereof. To fetch these
souvenirs through to England, we were compelled to resort to all
the tricks of a gang of smugglers.
I made also a first rate collection of German posters. By day I
observed the location of these placards, announcing certain death
to those who "sniped on German troops," "harbored courier-
pigeons," or "destroyed" these self-same posters.
At night with trembling hands I laid cold compresses on them until
the adhering paste gave way; then, tucking the wet sheets
beneath my coat, I stole back to safety. At last in England I feasted
my eyes on the precious documents, dreaming of the time when
posterity should rejoice in the possession of these posters relating
to the German overlordship of Belgium, and give thanks to the
courage of their collector. Unfortunately, their stained and torn
appearance grated on the aesthetic sensibilities of the maid.
"Where are they?" I demanded on my return to my room one time,
as I missed them.
"Those nasty papers?" she inquired naively.
"Those priceless souvenirs," I returned severely. She did not
comprehend, but with a most aggravatingly sweet expression said:
"They were so dirty, sir, I burned them all up."
She couldn't understand why I rewarded her with something akin
to a fit of apoplexy, instead of a liberal tip. That day was a red-letter
one for our photographers. They paid the price in the risks which
constantly strained their nerves. But in it they garnered vastly more
than in the fortnight they had hugged safety.
But, despite all our efforts, there was one object that we were after
that we never did attain. That was a first-class atrocity picture.
There were atrocity stories in endless variety, but not one that the
camera could authenticate. People were growing chary of verbal
assurances of these horrors; they yearned for some photographic
proof, and we yearned to furnish it.
"What features are you looking for?" was the question invariably
put to us on discovering our cameras.
"Children with their hands cut off," we replied. "Are there any
"Oh, yes! Hundreds of them," was the invariable assurance.
"Yes, but all we want is one--just one in flesh and bone. Where
can we find that?"
The answer was ever the same. "In the hospital at the rear, or at
the front." "Back in such-and-such a village," etc. Always
somewhere else; never where we were.
Let no one attempt to gloss the cruelties perpetrated in Belgium.
My individual wish is to see them pictured as crimson as possible,
that men may the fiercer revolt against the shame and horror of
this red butchery called war. But this is a record of just one
observer's reactions and experiences in the war zone. After weeks
in this contested ground, the word "atrocity" now calls up to my
mind hardly anything I saw in Belgium, but always the savageries I
have witnessed at home in America.
For example, the organized frightfulness that I once witnessed in
Boston. Around the strikers picketing a factory were the police in
full force and a gang of thugs. Suddenly at the signal of a shrill
whistle, sticks were drawn from under coats and, right and left,
men were felled to the cobblestones. After a running fight a score
were stretched out unconscious, upon the square. As blood
poured out of the gashes, like tigers intoxicated by the sight and
smell thereof, the assailants became frenzied, kicking and beating
their victims, already insensible. In a trice the beasts within had
If in normal times men can lay aside every semblance of restraint
and decency and turn into raging fiends, how much greater cause
is there for such a transformation to be wrought under the stress of
war when, by government decree, the sixth commandment is
suspended and killing has become glorified. At any rate my
experiences in America make credible the tales told in Belgium.
But there are no pictures of these outrages such as the Germans
secured after the Russian drive into their country early in the war.
Here are windrows of mutilated Germans with gouged eyes and
mangled limbs, attesting to that same senseless bestial ferocity
which lies beneath the veneer.
All the photographers were fired with desire to make a similar
picture in Belgium, yet though we raced here and there, and
everywhere that rumor led us, we found it but a futile chase.
Through the Great Hall in Ghent there poured 100,000 refugees.
Here we pleaded how absolutely imperative it was that we should
obtain an atrocity picture. The daughter of the burgomaster, who
was in charge, understood our plight and promised to do her best.
But out of the vast concourse she was able to uncover but one
case that could possibly do service as an atrocity.
It was that of a blind peasant woman with her six children. The
photographers told her to smile, but she didn't, nor did the older
children; they had suffered too horribly to make smiling easy.
When the Germans entered the village the mother was in bed with
her day-old baby. Her husband was seized and, with the other
men, marched away, as the practice was at that period of the
invasion, for some unaccountable reason. With the roof blazing
over her head, she was compelled to arise from her bed and drag
herself for miles before she found a refuge. I related this to a
German later and he said: "Oh, well, there are plenty of peasant
women in the Fatherland who are hard at work in the fields three
days after the birth of their child."
The Hall filled with women wailing for children, furnished
heartrending sights, but no victim bore such physical marks as the
most vivid imagination could construe into an atrocity.
"I can't explain why we don't get a picture," said the free lance.
"Enough deviltry has been done. I can't see why some of the stuff
doesn't come through to us."
"Simply because the Germans are not fools," replied the movie-
man; "when they mutilate a victim, they go through with it to the
finish. They take care not to let telltales go straggling out to damn
Some one proposed that the only way to get a first-class atrocity
picture was to fake it. It was a big temptation, and a fine field for
the exercise of their inventive genius. But on this issue the chorus
of dissent was most emphatic.
The nearest that I came to an atrocity was when in a car with Van
Hee, the American vice-consul at Ghent. Van Hee was a man of
laconic speech and direct action. I told him what Lethbridge, the
British consul, had told me; viz., that the citizens of Ghent must
forthwith erect a statue of Van Hee in gold to commemorate his
priceless services. "The gold idea appeals to me, all right," said
Van Hee, "but why put it in a statue!" He routed me out at five one
morning to tell me that I could go through the German lines with
Mr. Fletcher into Brussels. We left the Belgian Army cheering the
Stars and Stripes, and came to the outpost of sharpshooters.
Crouching behind a barricade, they were looking down the road.
They didn't know whether the Germans were half a mile, two miles,
or five miles down that road.
Into that uncertain No-Man's-Land we drove with only our honking
to disturb the silence, while our minds kept growing specters of
Uhlans the size of Goliath. Fletcher and I kept up a hectic
conversation upon the flora and fauna of the country. But Van
Hee, being of strong nerves, always gleefully brought the talk back
"How can you tell an Uhlan?" I faltered.
"If you see a big gray man on horseback, with a long lance,
spearing children," said Van Hee, "why, that's an Uhlan."
Turning a sharp corner, we ran straight ahead into a Belgian
bicycle division--scouting in this uncertain zone. In a flash they
were off their wheels, rifles at their shoulders and fingers on
Two boys, gasping with fear, thrust their guns up into our very
faces. In our gray coats we had been taken for a party of German
officers. They were positive that a peasant was hanging in a barn
not far away. But we insisted that our nerves had had enough for
the day. Even Van Hee was willing to let the conversation drift
back to flowers and birds. We drove along in chastened spirit until
hailed by the German outpost, about five miles from where we had
left the Belgians. No-Man's-Land was wide in those days.
But what is it that really constitutes an atrocity? In a refugee shed,
sleeping on the straw, we found an old woman of 88. All that was
left to her was her shawl, her dress, and the faint hope of seeing
two sons for whom she wept. Extreme old age is pitiful in itself.
With homelessness it is tragic. But such homeless old age as this,
with scarce one flickering ray of hope, is double-distilled tragedy. If
some marauder had bayoneted her, and she had died therefrom, it
would have been a kindly release from all the anguish that the
future now held in store for her. Of course that merciful act would
have constituted an atrocity, because it would have been a breach
in the rules of the war game.
But in focusing our attention upon the violations of the code, we
are apt to forget the greater atrocity of the violation of Belgium, and
the whole hideous atrocity of the great war. That is getting things
out of proportion, for the sufferings entailed by these technical
atrocities are infinitesimal alongside of those resulting from the war
Another point has been quite overlooked. In recounting the
atrocities wrought by Prussian Imperialism, no mention is made of
those that it has committed upon its own people. And yet at any
rate a few Germans suffered in the claws of the German eagle
quite as cruelly as any Belgians did. One fine morning in
September three Germans came careening into Ghent in a great
motor car. They were dazed to find no evidence of their army
which they supposed was in possession. Before the men became
aware of their mistake, a Belgian mitrailleuse poured a stream of
lead into their midst, killing two of them outright. The third German,
with a ball in his neck, was rescued by Van Hee and placed under
the protection of the American flag.
Incidentally that summary action, followed by a quick visit to the
German general in his camp on the outskirts, saved the city. That
is a long story. It is told in Alexander Powell's "Fighting in
Flanders," but it suffices here to state that by a pact between the
Belgian burgomaster of Ghent and the German commandant it
was understood that the wounded man was not to be considered a
prisoner, but under the jurisdiction of the American Consulate.
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