Three Times and Out
Nellie L. McClung
Part 4 out of 4
roads leading to peat-piles, but these were very misleading, and as
the night was of inky blackness, with scarcely any breeze, it became
harder and harder to keep our direction. Consulting the compass so
often was depleting our match supply, and I tried to depend on
the faint breath of a breeze which sometimes seemed to die away
altogether. This bog, like all the others, had tufts of grass and
knolls of varying size coming in the most unexpected places. Over
these we stumbled, and fell, many times, and as we felt fairly safe
from being heard, it was some relief to put into language what we
thought of the country and all its people, past, present, and future.
I believe we were especially explicit about the future!
It was nearly morning when we got off the bog, and as the rain was
falling we took refuge in a tumble-down hut which had probably been a
cowherd's. We soon saw that it was a poor shelter, and when a woman
came along and looked straight at us, we began to get gooseflesh! She
actually smiled at us, and we tried to smile back reassuringly, but I
am afraid there was a lack of mirth in our smiles which detracted
from their charm.
She walked away--stopped--looked back at us--and smiled again, and
went on, nodding her head as if she knew something. We were rather
afraid she did, and hastily decided to push on. We were afraid of
the lady's patriotism, and determined to be moving. There was a
thick-looking wood just ahead, and to it we went with all speed,
taking with us two large gunnysacks which we found in the hut. They
were stamped "Utrecht" and had the name of a dealer there.
All that day we were afraid of the lady who smiled and nodded her
head, but perhaps we wronged her in our thoughts, for the day passed
without any disturbance. Probably she, too, like the old man with the
dog, knew that silence does not often get one into trouble.
That day we shaved, but, there being no stream near, we had to empty
the rain-drops off the leaves into the top of the box which held
Ted's shaving-stick. It took time, of course, but what was time to
us? We had more time than anything else.
Although we tried to reassure ourselves with the thought that there
were probably no soldiers near, and that the civilians were not
likely to do any searching, still we were too apprehensive to sleep,
and started away at nightfall, with eyes that burned and ached from
our long vigil.
The night was cloudy at first, with sprinkling rain, but cleared up
about midnight into a clear, cold autumn night. The cold kept me from
getting sleepy, but when I got warm from walking my sleepiness grew
overpowering. Ted was more wakeful than I, and took the lead, while
I stumbled along behind, aching in every joint with sleepiness. The
night was clear and starry, and Ted steered our course by the stars.
No one who has gone through it needs to be told about the misery of
sleepiness. I fought against it--I pulled open my eyes--I set my
will with all the force I could command, but in spite of all I could
do, my eyes would close and I would fall over, and in the fall would
awaken and go on, only to fall again. At last we stopped and lay
down, sorry to lose so much of the darkness, but the cold soon
awakened us, and, chilled and shivering, with numb fingers, we
struggled to our feet and went on. But when, with the walking, we
were warmed again, with the warmth came the sleepiness.
At dawn we crept into a thick bush, but the ground was damp and cold,
and our sleepiness had left us. We ate some of our cold roast
potatoes, and tried to sleep, for we dreaded to spend another night
like the last one. In the afternoon the sun came out and warmed the
air, so we had a fairly good sleep and started away at nightfall.
The night was clear and starlight, so the peat-bog which we
encountered did not bother us so much, for we could see the holes and
ridges. After the bog, we came into a settlement, but the people were
in villages and had their cows stabled, so there was no chance for
thirsty and hungry travellers. To the north we could see the huge
searchlights above Oldenburg, and we thought of the cells--and
shuddered! But our hunger was making us cold again, and we determined
to go into the next village we came to, to find some apples.
The first one we came to was a large one, and compactly built. The
night was lit by the stars, and therefore not quite so good for our
purpose, but we had to have something. We cautiously entered a garden
gate which some one had obligingly left open, but when we got in, we
found that the trees were high, and apparently well looked-after, for
not an apple could be found! We were only a few yards from the house,
behind whose darkened windows the family slept, not knowing that the
alien enemy were so near.
We slipped out of the open gate--we could see now why it had been
left open--and went into the next garden--with the same result. Every
apple had been gathered. We started down the street again, walking
cautiously on the grass, and slipping along as quickly as possible.
We carried the sacks, which we had split open, over our shoulders,
and as they were of a neutral shade, they were not so easily seen as
our dark-blue suits would have been.
Suddenly there was the sound of a door opening, ahead of us, on the
other side of the street, and two soldiers came out! We lay flat on
the street where we were, and "froze." The sacks which were wrapped
about us helped to conceal us, or at least made us look less like
men. The soldiers passed along the middle of the street, chatting and
laughing; we could hear their spurs clanking! Coming out of the light
had probably dulled their sight, and they did not see us. We lay
there until their footsteps had died away. Then we got up, and got
We were not hungry any more--at least we were so much more frightened
than hungry that we only knew we were frightened, and we pushed our
way on as fast as we could. That night was the first on which we had
seen the moon. The shelter we found was another group of Christmas
trees, and as we still had a couple of roast potatoes we ate them,
and got a little sleep.
The next night the villages kept getting in our way. When we tried to
avoid one, we got into another, and in one we saw a light twinkling
in an upstairs window, where some woman, probably, sat late at her
work or watched by the bedside of a sick child. As usual, there were
no street lamps, and I think the light inside was a coal-oil lamp!
But not a dog barked, and we came safely out on a road which led in a
In the morning, when the east began to redden, we got shelter in a
thin wood, and, having found some potatoes outside of one of the
villages, we determined to run the risk of having a fire to roast
them. We didn't roast many, though, for the dawn came on too swiftly,
and we had to extinguish our fire, for there was a farmhouse not a
hundred yards away, and the people were beginning to stir.
That day there were people working all around us, and one old chap,
with a red shirt on, was so ambitious about getting his turnips
lifted that I don't believe he even knocked off for noon. We thought
he would never quit at night either. We called him the "work-hog!"
In the afternoon, as we lay in the woods, an old man, a shepherd,
came with a flock of white sheep which followed close behind him.
The old man wore a velvet cloak, knee breeches, and buckles on his
shoes, and he had a sheep dog with him--a small-sized tricolored,
rough-haired collie. It was exactly like a picture! We were not in
any mood to enjoy the beauty of it, for some of the sheep wandered
through the wood, almost stepping on us, and when the shepherd came
after them, he must have seen us. But the old man belonged to the
peaceful past, and knew nothing of wars and prisoners, so went out of
the wood as quietly as he came. He was as innocent-looking as the
sunshine, or the white clouds in the blue sky!
Still, we were two suspicious men who trusted no one, and we thought
it best to move. I took the potatoes in my sack, and Ted, to be ready
for emergencies, provided a stout, knotted club for himself, and we
stole out of the wood, being careful to keep it between us and the
"work-hog," who never lifted his eyes--but still we took no chances,
even on him!
There was a better wood a short distance away, and to it we came. We
saw nobody, and, coming into a dark cover, lit a fire, for we thought
the smoke would not rise to the tops of the trees. On it we roasted
our remaining potatoes, and we got a drink in a narrow, trickling
We started again, at dark, and before long came to a railway, which,
according to our map, was the line which runs parallel to the river
Ems. We knew we were coming near the Ems, and at the thought of it,
drew a long breath. It seemed a long time since we had stood on its
bank before and heard the sounds from across the Holland border. We
kept going all night, avoiding the roads, and about three o'clock
reached the river. There it was!--a much smaller river than when
we had last seen it, but plenty large enough yet to fill us with
apprehension. We found a good hiding-place before daylight, and then
went back to a potato-field we had passed, and put about a pailful in
our sacks before settling down for the day in the wood.
Just before dawn we made our fire and roasted the potatoes. They
tasted fine, and as the day was warm and bright, we began to feel
more cheerful. That day we heard the deep-booming whistles of
steamboats, and the shriller notes of the canal-boats. Although we
knew the river boats were passing up and down just below us, we
restrained our curiosity and stayed closely hidden.
Just before it got dark we crept to the edge of the high ground
overlooking the river. The other side of the river was flat, and
seemed to be settled. I knew from a map I had seen that there was
a canal a short distance beyond the river, and that it, too, would
have to be crossed.
Looking down to the water's edge, we saw a fence enclosing some
pasture land, and were glad to see another gate, for we wanted a
raft for our clothes, and we thought this would do. It was a heavy
brute of a gate. We could hardly launch it. Perhaps we were getting
weaker--that may have been the reason it seemed so heavy. Anyway,
when we got it to the water's edge, we had to rest before undertaking
to swim the river. The current was not so strong as we had feared,
and we reached the other side in safety.
We did not pull up the gate, but let it go drifting down the stream.
Perhaps this also is accounted for by the fact that we were getting
weaker: also, we considered that we were harder pressed for time than
the German farmer--he could make another gate.
After we had dressed and had walked for about an hour, we came to the
canal. Unfortunately for our purpose, the night was clear and the
stars were out in thousands, and, to make matters worse, the young
moon, just a crescent, but still capable of giving some light, came
out. We had been longer than we expected on our journey, and now, at
the most critical time of it, when there was the greatest need of
caution, we had moonlight nights to face! Still, every night was
getting worse than the last, so we must go forward with all speed.
The canal was about sixty feet wide, and I felt certain it would be
guarded, for it was so near the border. We went to the edge, and
looked across--and then up and down--to see if we could find any
trace of a guard; everything was quiet.
We knew it was a time for great haste. We went back quickly and
undressed. I grabbed my bundle and let myself cautiously into the
water, taking care not to make the slightest splash. When I reached
the other side, I threw my clothes on the sand and came back far
Ted--he was waiting for me. I took his clothes, and together we swam
We got quietly out of the water. I picked up my own bundle, and we
started for the trees on the other side of the road. There was an
excavation there where sand had been taken out. Seeing it, we slipped
into it noiselessly. We were not a moment too soon, for when we stood
still and listened, we heard the regular footsteps of a man, and in
twenty seconds the patrol marched by! Then we dressed and got out of
our fortunate hiding-place, and went on.
We still had a couple of hours before daylight, but the danger was
growing greater every minute, for we knew we were approaching the
border. At that thought our hearts beat wild with hope. The border
would be guarded--there was nothing surer--any minute we might be
challenged. We had talked it over, and were determined to make a dash
for it if that happened. The patrol would shoot, but there was a
chance he might not shoot straight; he would hardly get us both!
Soon we came to a marsh, with an edge of peat, and as we advanced we
saw the peat was disappearing, and it did not look good ahead. The
moonlight showed us a grassy mat, level as the top of a lake, and
without a shrub or tree to indicate a solid bottom. It was evidently
a quaking bog, a hidden lake, and only the fear behind us drove us
on. It swayed beneath our feet, falling as we stepped on it fully a
foot, and rising again behind us. There would be little danger of
guards here, for the place would be considered impassable--and maybe
it was--we should see!
Our feet were light--fear gave them wings--and we raced over the
bending, swaying, springing surface! The moon was not bright enough
for us to pick our steps--there was no picking, anyway--it was a
matter of speed! At every step the grass mat went below the surface
of the water, and we could feel it rising over our boot-tops--cold
and horrible. If we had hesitated a second, I know we should have
gone through; but we had every reason for haste. Behind us was the
enemy--cruel, merciless, hateful--with their stolid faces and their
black cells. Under us--was death. Before us--was freedom--home--and
the ones we love!
At the other side there was more peat, some of it cut and piled.
We were puffing hard from our exertions, but were afraid to rest a
second. The border must be near!
In a few minutes after leaving the bog we came to a small canal,
which surprised me--there had been no other canal indicated on any
map I had seen. It puzzled me for a minute; then a great joy swept
over me! The maps I had seen were maps of Germany. This canal must be
But I did not say this to Ted, for I wasn't sure. We undressed
again--the third time that night--and swam the canal, and, dressing
again, went on. Soon we found a finely settled country, with roads
which improved as we went on, all the time. There were no trees, but
the darkness still held, and we kept going. Toward morning we took
refuge in a thicket, and spent the day.
That day was September 9th, and although we thought we were in
Holland, we were not sure enough to come out and show ourselves. So
we lay low, and ate the green apples that we had found on a tree
between the river and the canal the night before. We slept a little,
though too excited to sleep much.
Beside the thicket where we were hidden, a boy worked in a field with
a fine team of horses, ploughing stubble. We tried to listen to what
he said to his team, to see if there was any change from the German
"Burrrrrrsh," but he was a silent youth, and so far as we could make
out, said never a word all day. So we could not prove it by him!
But the good horses gave us hope--horses were scarce in Germany!
At dusk we started out again, and kept going straight west, for one
fear still tormented us. Our maps showed us that one part of Germany
projects into Holland, and for this reason we kept straight west, to
avoid all danger of running into it; for the uncomfortable thought
would come that to escape from Germany and then walk into it again
would make us feel foolish--not to mention other emotions.
It seemed to be a fine country that we were going through, and the
walking was easy, although we were not on a road. I had been telling
Ted that the first railway we came to would be a single-tracked one,
with dirt ballast, and then we should be sure we were in Holland. I
had seen this railroad on the map, and knew it was a few miles from
the border. To me, this would be sufficient proof that we were safely
out of Germany.
Soon we saw a fringe of houses ahead, and we thought we were coming
near a canal, for we were in the country of canals now, and the
houses are built on their banks. There were lights in a few of the
houses, for it was only about eleven o'clock, and some of the people
were still up. The houses looked to be rather good ones, and they
were built in a row. It was the backs of them we were approaching,
which we did with extreme caution, for we had no desire to have some
snarling dog discover us and give the alarm.
So intent were we, watching the houses for any sign of life, that we
did not see what was just before us until we had walked up to it.
Then we saw--
It was a railroad, single-tracked, with dirt ballast!
Without a word, Ted and I shook hands! We were in Holland!
Immediately we set out to find a road. There would be no more
skulking through fields for us. We were free again, entitled to all
the privileges of road and bridge.
We soon found a good wagon-road leading to a bridge over the canal.
Across the bridge we boldly went, caring nothing for the houses at
our right and left, whose windows were lighted and whose dogs may
have been awake for all we cared. It seemed wonderful to be able to
walk right in the middle of the road again! Ted said he wanted to
sing, but I advised him to curb the desire. We were a little hazy as
to the treatment accorded prisoners by a neutral country.
We still kept west, thinking of the bulge in the German boundary to
the south of us. The road was smooth and hard, and we felt so good
that we seemed to be able to go as fast as we liked. Fatigue and
hunger were forgotten. A man on a bicycle rode past us and shouted
a greeting to us, to which we replied with a good, honest English
"Good-night," instead of the sullen grunt we had hitherto been using
to hide our nationality.
Cows were plentiful that night, and we got apples, too, from the
orchards near the road. The only thing that troubled us was that our
road had turned southwest, and we were afraid that it might lead
us into the little strip of Germany. However, we went on a short
Then we came to a place where there were many canals, some of them
very large, and the straggling houses seemed to indicate a town.
Afterwards we knew it was the town called Nieuwstadskanaal.
We took a poor road, leading west, and followed it over a heather
moor, which changed after a mile or two into a peat-bog with piles of
peat recently cut. We kept on going, until about five o'clock in the
morning we came to a house. It looked desolate and unoccupied, and
when we got close to it we found that it had been badly damaged by
fire. But it made a good shelter for us, and we went into what had
been the living-room, and lay down and slept. The floor was even and
dry; it was the best bed we had had for twenty nights, and, relieved
as we were from the fear of detection, we slept for hours.
* * *
When we awakened, the sun was pouring in at the curtainless windows,
and we were as hungry as bears. "Now for a potato-feed," Ted said,
looking out of the window at a fine field of potatoes across the
road. The field had been reclaimed from the peat-bog, and some of the
potatoes had already been dug and put into pits.
In looking around for material to light a fire, I saw scraps of
newspapers, which I examined closely and found they were Dutch papers,
one bearing the name of "Odoorn" and the other "Nieuwstadskanaal."
This supported us in our belief that we were in Holland.
We got potatoes from the field and roasted them in the fire which we
built in the fireplace.
A young Hollander, fired with curiosity, came to the door and looked
in at us. We hailed him with delight and asked him to come right
in, and be one of us! He came in rather gingerly, looking at us
wide-eyed, and we were sorry to find he could not speak English.
There were certain things we wanted to know!
We were drying our matches by the fire, for they had become rather
damp, and our supply was getting low. Also our tobacco was done. So
we said, "Tabac," showing him our empty pipes, and from the pocket
of his coat he brought out a pouch, and we filled our pipes. I don't
know whether he knew we had been prisoners or not. He drifted out in
a few minutes, but I think he told others about us, for after we had
had our smoke, and had gone to the canal to fix up, we found some
At the canal we washed, shaved, cleaned our teeth, combed our hair,
and went as far as we could in getting ready to see people. Ted had
his Canadian soldier's tunic, with the regular prisoner's dark-blue
trousers such as the British Red Cross supplies. His tunic was torn
in several places and his hair was unkempt and in need of cutting. He
had cut the heels out of his boots, several days before, because they
hurt him. I had the regular prisoner's suit, dark-blue cloth, and had
cut off the yellow stripe which had been sewed down the legs of the
trousers; I had also cut off my prison number. My boots had held
well, and there was not even a hole in my socks. My hair was getting
shaggy, and I suppose we were both looking fairly tough. Our clothes
were wrinkled and crushed and dirty.
* * *
There was one older man who watched us, with many exclamations of
friendliness, who, when we had concluded our efforts, made us
understand that he wanted us to come with him to have something to
eat. He could speak no English, but he made us understand. We went
back to the deserted house, gathered up our things, and went with
him. Two young fellows came along, too, and we were taken to a
canal-boat near by.
The woman who waited on the breakfast table in the canal-boat, and
served us with rye-bread, margarine, and coffee, gave us hard
looks, which made us think her heart was still in the fatherland.
Conversation was naturally difficult, because no one of them could
speak English, but we began to ask about Rotterdam, for we knew that
that would be the port from which we should sail, and we were anxious
to know how to get there. One of the young men, a fine-looking fellow
with a frank, pleasing countenance, said something and made gestures,
which made us think he would take us there in his boat.
We started out with him and his companion, not sorry to leave the
sour-faced lady who glared at us, and walked along the road beside
the canal. We were on the outskirts of Odoorn, a town whose chief
industry is the shipping of peat. It being Sunday, nobody was
working, and the people, especially the children, came out to see
us. The young man took us to one of the houses and introduced us to
his father and mother, who welcomed us kindly and wanted us to have
something to eat. But we declined.
We were then taken by him along the road, and the crowd of children
that followed us seemed to be growing bigger every minute. Our
friend, anxious apparently to do the proper thing, took out his
mouth-organ and played "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"--and it
certainly hit the spot with us.
He conducted us to the home of the gendarme--and for a minute our
old fear of being interned came back to us! The gendarme was plainly
bored--he had been having a Sunday-afternoon sleep, and had not
finished it. He yawned as he spoke.
The young man talked to him very earnestly, and at last he invited
us in. Up to this time we had not heard a word of English. The
gendarme's wife, a nice-looking, well-dressed woman, brought in a
tray and gave us tea, and little cakes with seeds on them, and soon
a young man who could speak English came in to act as interpreter.
He began to question us, but we soon turned the conversation by
questioning him. We asked him if there was any danger of our being
interned? He told us we could be interned if we liked, but we
hastened to assure him we should not like it.
Then he said we could stay in Holland and work, but again we
declined. We wanted to go to England, we said.
He tried to dissuade us. Why go to England? That would mean going
back into the army. Holland was the best and safest place!
We insisted that we wanted to go to England, and he warned us that if
we wanted to change our minds we must do it now; because we couldn't
change after we had "signed the paper." We were still sure we wanted
The gendarme then went upstairs and came down in his uniform and took
us out with him. We didn't know where he was taking us, but supposed
it was to some place to make arrangements for our passage to England.
When we came out of the house we found some women gathered there
waiting for us, and a very poorly dressed woman, with a fine face,
stepped up and gave us a small sum of money, which she had evidently
collected for us. We thanked her warmly, and with sincere gratitude.
Then we set out across country about four miles to Borger, where we
were taken to the Burgomaster's house.
The Burgomaster's house was one of the best in the little town, and
when we went in, we found there a young man, evidently calling on the
daughter of the house, and he could speak English.
We were taken downtown to the Burgomaster's office, and official
papers were made out, and we signed them. This was what the
gendarme's interpreter had been telling us, about not being able to
change our minds after we had signed the paper!
The Burgomaster evidently told the gendarme to take us to the hotel
and have us fed, and by this time, after our walk, we were quite
ready for something. When we offered them money for our meal--which
was a good one--it was politely refused.
We were then taken to the home of one of the Borgen gendarmes where
we stayed for the night. His name was H. Letema. We ate with the
family and were treated with great kindness. The white bread and
honey which we had for tea were a great treat to us. One of the other
gendarmes gave Ted a pair of socks, and he was able to discard the
strips of underwear. We had a bed made of straw, with good blankets,
and it seemed like luxury to us.
The next morning Mr. Letema gave us each a postal-card addressed to
himself, and asked us to write back telling him when we had safely
reached England. Then another gendarme walked with us to Assen, which
seemed to be a sort of police headquarters. We stayed there all day.
In the afternoon a Belgian girl came to see us, and although I tried
hard to understand what she said, she talked so fast I could not
follow her, although I knew a little French. She brought us some
cigars, and we could see she wanted to show us her friendliness. When
she went away, I deeply regretted my ignorance of the French
language. But the Belgian girl came back in a little while,
accompanied by a Holland woman who could speak English, and then we
found out about her.
She had fled from Antwerp at the time of the bombardment, and was
supporting herself by needlework at Assen, where she was the only
Belgian person, and I suppose she was tired of "neutrals" and wanted
to see us because we were of the Allies. She urged us to tell her
what she could do for us, and we asked her for some postal-cards, so
we could tell our friends that we had escaped. She sent them to us by
her friend the interpreter, who also gave us some English books and a
box of cigars.
That night a young gendarme took us upstairs to his room, which was
nicely decorated with flags and pennants, and he told us the Germans
could never conquer Holland, for they would cut the dykes--as they
had done before. He showed us the picture of his fiancee, and proudly
exhibited the ring she had given him.
The next day we were taken by another gendarme to Rotterdam by train,
passing through Utrecht and in sight of the Zuider Zee. Arriving
there, we were taken to the alien officer, who questioned us and
wrote down what we told him. Then the gendarme took us to the British
Consul, and left us there. The Consul shook hands with us and
congratulated us on our escape, and put us in charge of a
Vice-Consul, who was a Hollander.
We stayed at the "Seaman's Rest," which was in the same building as
the British Consulate. There we met two Americans, who were very
friendly and greatly interested in our escape. They encouraged us to
talk about the prison-camps, and of what we had seen in Germany, but
it was not long until we became suspicious and careful in our
answers. One of them had an American passport, which seemed to let
him have the freedom of the city; the other one had no passport, and
complained that he could not get one, and it was causing him no end
of inconvenience, for he found it impossible to get a job at his
trade, which was that of "trimmer" on a vessel. He went every day to
the docks, looking for a job, and acquired considerable information
about ships and their time of sailing. At night, he and his friend
were together, and the knowledge was no doubt turned over.
Mr. Neilson, Superintendent of the Sailors' Institute, very kindly
invited us to go with him to The Hague, to see the Peace Temple, and
it was then that we made bold to ask for some spending money. The
Vice-Consul, the Hollander, was a thrift-fiend so far as other people
were concerned, and it was only after Mr. Neilson had presented our
claim, and we had used all the arguments we could think of, that we
got about two dollars each.
Our clothes--too--had not yet been replaced with new ones, and we
felt very shabby in our soiled uniforms. We mentioned this to the
Vice-Consul, and told him that we believed the Canadian Government
would stand by us to the extent of a new suit of clothes. He murmured
something about the expenses being very heavy at this time. We
ventured to remind him that the money would be repaid--Canada was
still doing business!
The next day our American friends invited us to go to a picture show
with them. We went, but at the door a gorgeously uniformed gentleman,
who looked like a cross between a butler and an admiral, turned us
back--that is, Ted and me. We had no collars on! The public had to be
protected--he was sorry, but these were his orders.
Then we sought the Vice-Consul and told him if he did not get us
decent clothes, we should go to the Consul. The next morning we got
* * *
On the sixth night we sailed from Rotterdam, and the next morning, in
a hazy dawn, we sighted, with glad hearts, the misty shores of
As we sailed up the Tyne, we saw war shops being built, and women
among the workmen, looking very neat and smart in their working
uniforms. They seemed to know their business, too, and moved about
with a speed and energy which indicated an earnest purpose. Here was
another factor which Germany had not counted on--the women of the
Empire! Germany knew exactly how many troops, how many guns, how many
ships, how much ammunition England had; but they did not know--never
could know--the spirit of the English people!
They saw a country which seethed with discontent--Hyde Park agitators
who railed at everything British, women who set fire to empty
buildings, and destroyed mail-boxes as a protest against unfair
social conditions--and they made the mistake of thinking that these
discontented citizens were traitors who would be glad of the chance
to stab their country to the heart. They knew that the average
English found golf and cricket much more interesting than foreign
affairs, so they were not quite prepared for that rush of men to the
recruiting offices at the first call for volunteers! Englishmen may
abuse their own country, but it is a different matter when the enemy
is at the door. So they came,--the farmer, the clerk, the bank boy,
the teacher, the student, the professional man, the writer, the
crossing-sweeper, the cab-man,--high and low, rich and poor, old and
young, they flocked to the offices, like the land-seekers in the West
who form queues in front of the Homestead offices, to enter their
I thought of these first recruits--the "contemptible little
army"--who went over in those first terrible days, and,
insufficiently equipped as they were, went up against the
overwhelming hosts of Germany with their superior numbers and
equipment that had been in preparation for forty years.... and how
they held back the invaders--though they had but one shell to the
Germans' hundred--by sheer force of courage and individual bravery...
and with such losses. I thought of these men as I stepped on the
wharf at Newcastle, and it seemed to me that every country lane in
England and every city street was hallowed by the unseen presence of
the glorious and unforgotten dead!
I have been at home for more than a year now, and cannot return to
the front. Apparently the British Government have given their word to
the neutral countries that prisoners who escape from Germany, and are
assisted by the neutral countries, will not be allowed to return to
the fighting line. So even if my shoulder were well again, I could
not go back to fight.
Ted and I parted in London, for I came back to Canada before he did.
He has since rejoined his family in Toronto. I have heard from a
number of the boys in Germany. Bromley tried to escape again, but was
captured, and is now at a camp called Soltau. John Keith and Croak
also tried, but failed. Little Joe, the Italian boy who enlisted with
me at Trail, has been since exchanged--insane! Percy Weller, Sergeant
Reid, and Hill, brother of the British Reservist who gave us our
first training, have all been exchanged.
* * *
I am sorry that I cannot go back. Not that I like fighting--for I do
not; but because I believe every man who is physically fit should
have a hand in this great clean-up--every man is needed! From what
I have seen of the German people, I believe they will resist
stubbornly, and a war of exhaustion will be a long affair with a
people so well trained and organized. The military class know well
that if they are forced to make terms unfavorable to Germany, their
power will be gone forever, and they would rather go down to defeat
before the Allied nations than be overthrown by their own people.
There is no doubt that the war was precipitated by the military class
in Germany because the people were growing too powerful. So they
might as well fight on, with a chance of victory, as to conclude an
unsatisfactory peace and face a revolution.
The German people have to be taught one thing before their real
education can begin. They have to be made to see--and the Allied
armies are making it plainer every day--that war is unprofitable;
that their army, great though it is, may meet a greater; that heavy
losses may come to their own country. They need to be reminded that
he that liveth by the sword may die by the sword!
The average German thinks that only through superior military
strength can any good thing come to a nation. All their lives they
have been taught that, and their hatred of England has been largely
a result of their fear of England's superior strength. They cannot
understand that England and the other Allies have no desire to
dominate German affairs. They do not believe that there is an ethical
side to this war. The Germans are pitifully dense to ethical values.
They are not idealists or sentimentalists, and their imagination is
not easily kindled.
Added to this, they have separated themselves from religion. Less
than two per cent of the men attend church, and if the extracts we
read from the sermons preached in their churches is a fair sample
of the teaching given there, the ninety-eight who stay at home are
better off than the two who go!
[Illustration: Post-Card sent by Private Bromley from the Prison-Camp
of Soltau, Germany, in July, 1918 / The crosses mark the graves of
prisoners who have died at this camp]
All these things have helped to produce a type of mind that is not
moved by argument or entreaty, a national character that has shown
itself capable of deeds of grave dishonesty and of revolting cruelty;
which cannot be forgotten--or allowed to go unpunished!
But if their faith in the power of force can be broken--and it may be
broken very soon--the end of the war will come suddenly.
* * *
The people at home are interested and speculative as to the returned
soldiers' point of view. Personally, I believe that as the soldiers
went away with diversity of opinions, so will they come home, though
in a less degree. There will be a tendency to fusion in some
respects. One will be in the matter of cooeperation; the civilian's
ideas are generally those of the individual--he brags about his
rights and resents any restriction of them. He is strong on grand old
traditions, and rejoices in any special privileges which have come to
The soldier learns to share his comforts with the man next him; in
the army each man depends on the other--and cannot do without him:
there is no competition there, but only cooeperation. If loss comes to
one man, or misfortune, it affects the others. If one man is poorly
trained, or uncontrolled, or foolish, all suffer. If a badly trained
bomber loses his head, pulls the pin of his bomb, and lets it drop
instead of throwing it, the whole platoon is endangered. In this way
the soldier unconsciously absorbs some of the principles of, and can
understand the reason for, discipline, and acquires a wholesome
respect for the man who knows his job.
He sees the reason for stringent orders in regard to health and
sanitation. He does not like to get into a dirty bath himself, and
so he leaves it clean for the next man. In other words, the soldier,
consciously or unconsciously, has learned that he is a part of a
great mass of people, and that his own safety, both commercially and
socially, depends on the proper disciplining of the whole people.
The returned soldier will take kindly to projects which tend to a
better equalization of duties, responsibilities, and pleasures. He
will be a great stickler for this; if he has to work, every one else
must work too. He will be hard against special privileges. He will be
strong in his insistence that our natural resources be nationalized.
He will go after all lines of industry now in the hands of large
corporations, and insist on national supervision if not actual
In religion, he will not care anything about form. Denominationalism
will bore him, but the vital element of religion, brotherly love and
helping the other fellow, will attract him, wherever he finds it. He
knows that religion--he believes in it.
The political parties will never be able to catch him with their
worn-out phrases. Politicians had better begin to remodel their
speeches. The iniquities of the other party will not do. There must
be a breaking-out of new roads--old things have passed away!
The returned man will claim, above all things, honest dealing, and
for this reason the tricky politicians who "put it over" in the
pre-war days will not have so easy a time. "Guff" will not be well
received. The leaders on the battle-field have been men who could
look death in the face without flinching, so the political leaders
at home must be men of heroism, who will travel the path of
righteousness even though they see it leads by the way of the Cross!
* * *
There is a hard road ahead of us, a hard, steep road of sacrifice,
and in it we must as a nation travel, although our feet are heavy and
our eyes are dim. The war must be won; human liberty is worth the
price--whatever the price may be!
We do not travel as those who have no hope, for we know, though we
cannot see it, that at the top of the mountain the sun is shining
on a cleaner, fairer, better world.
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