War and the Future
H. G. Wells

Part 1 out of 4

Etext prepared by Morgan L. Owens, packrat@nznet.gen.nz

Italy, France and Britain at War
by H. G. Wells

The Passing of the Effigy
The War in Italy (August, 1916)
I. The Isonzo Front
II. The Mountain War
III. Behind the Front
The Western War (September, 1916)
I. Ruins
II. The Grades of War
III. The War Landscape
IV. New Arms for Old Ones
V. Tanks
How People Think About the War
I. Do they Really Think at all?
II. The Yielding Pacifist and the Conscientious Objector
III. The Religious Revival
IV. The Riddle of the British
V. The Social Changes in Progress
VI. The Ending of the War



One of the minor peculiarities of this unprecedented war is the
Tour of the Front. After some months of suppressed information--
in which even the war correspondent was discouraged to the point
of elimination--it was discovered on both sides that this was a
struggle in which Opinion was playing a larger and more important
part than it had ever done before. This wild spreading weed was
perhaps of decisive importance; the Germans at any rate were
attempting to make it a cultivated flower. There was Opinion
flowering away at home, feeding rankly on rumour; Opinion in
neutral countries; Opinion getting into great tangles of
misunderstanding and incorrect valuation between the Allies. The
confidence and courage of the enemy; the amiability and
assistance of the neutral; the zeal, sacrifice, and serenity of
the home population; all were affected. The German cultivation
of opinion began long before the war; it is still the most
systematic and, because of the psychological ineptitude of the
Germans, it is probably the clumsiest. The French /Maison de
la Presse/ is certainly the best organisation in existence for
making things clear, counteracting hostile suggestion, the
British official organisations are comparatively ineffective; but
what is lacking officially is very largely made up for by the
good will and generous efforts of the English and American press.
An interesting monograph might be written upon these various
attempts of the belligerents to get themselves and their
proceedings explained.

Because there is perceptible in these developments, quite over
and above the desire to influence opinion, a very real effort to
get things explained. It is the most interesting and curious--
one might almost write touching--feature of these organisations
that they do not constitute a positive and defined propaganda
such as the Germans maintain. The German propaganda is simple,
because its ends are simple; assertions of the moral elevation
and loveliness of Germany; of the insuperable excellences of
German Kultur, the Kaiser, and Crown Prince, and so forth; abuse
of the "treacherous" English who allied themselves with the
"degenerate" French and the "barbaric" Russians; nonsense about
"the freedom of the seas"--the emptiest phrase in history--
childish attempts to sow suspicion between the Allies, and still
more childish attempts to induce neutrals and simple-minded
pacifists of allied nationality to save the face of Germany by
initiating peace negotiations. But apart from their steady
record and reminder of German brutalities and German aggression,
the press organisations of the Allies have none of this
definiteness in their task. The aim of the national intelligence
in each of the allied countries is not to exalt one's own nation
and confuse and divide the enemy, but to get a real understanding
with the peoples and spirits of a number of different nations, an
understanding that will increase and become a fruitful and
permanent understanding between the allied peoples. Neither the
English, the Russians, the Italians, nor the French, to name only
the bigger European allies, are concerned in setting up a legend,
as the Germans are concerned in setting up a legend of themselves
to impose upon mankind. They are reality dealers in this war,
and the Germans are effigy mongers. Practically the Allies are
saying each to one another, "Pray come to me and see for yourself
that I am very much the human stuff that you are. Come and see
that I am doing my best--and I think that is not so very bad a
best...." And with that is something else still more subtle,
something rather in the form of, "And please tell me what you
think of me--and all this."

So we have this curious byplay of the war, and one day I find Mr.
Nabokoff, the editor of the /Retch/, and Count Alexy
Tolstoy, that writer of delicate short stories, and Mr.
Chukovsky, the subtle critic, calling in upon me after braving
the wintry seas to see the British fleet; M. Joseph Reinach
follows them presently upon the same errand; and then appear
photographs of Mr. Arnold Bennett wading in the trenches of
Flanders, Mr. Noyes becomes discreetly indiscreet about what he
has seen among the submarines, and Mr. Hugh Walpole catches
things from Mr. Stephen Graham in the Dark Forest of Russia. All
this is quite over and above such writing of facts at first hand
as Mr. Patrick McGill and a dozen other real experiencing
soldiers--not to mention the soldiers' letters Mr. James Milne
has collected, or the unforgettable and immortal /Prisoner of
War/ of Mr. Arthur Green--or such admirable war
correspondents' work as Mr. Philip Gibbs or Mr. Washburne has
done. Some of us writers--I can answer for one--have made our
Tour of the Fronts with a very understandable diffidence. For my
own part I did not want to go. I evaded a suggestion that I
should go in 1915. I travel badly, I speak French and Italian
with incredible atrocity, and am an extreme Pacifist. I hate
soldiering. And also I did not want to write anything "under
instruction". It is largely owing to a certain stiffness in the
composition of General Delme-Radcliffe is resolved that
Italy shall not feel neglected by the refusal of the invitation
from the Comando Supremo by anyone who from the perspective of
Italy may seem to be a representative of British opinion. If
Herbert Spencer had been alive General Radcliffe would have
certainly made him come, travelling-hammock, ear clips and all--
and I am not above confessing that I wish that Herbert Spencer
was alive--for this purpose. I found Udine warm and gay with
memories of Mr. Belloc, Lord Northcliffe, Mr. Sidney Low, Colonel
Repington and Dr. Conan Doyle, and anticipating the arrival of
Mr. Harold Cox. So we pass, mostly in automobiles that bump
tremendously over war roads, a cloud of witnesses each testifying
after his manner. Whatever else has happened, we have all been
photographed with invincible patience and resolution under the
direction of Colonel Barberich in a sunny little court in Udine.

My own manner of testifying must be to tell what I have seen and
what I have thought during this extraordinary experience. It has
been my natural disposition to see this war as something
purposeful and epic, as it is great, as an epoch, as "the War
that will end War"--but of that last, more anon. I do not think
I am alone in this inclination to a dramatic and logical
interpretation. The caricatures in the French shops show
civilisation (and particularly Marianne) in conflict with a huge
and hugely wicked Hindenburg Ogre. Well, I come back from this
tour with something not so simple as that. If I were to be tied
down to one word for my impression of this war, I should say that
this war is /Queer./ It is not like anything in a really
waking world, but like something in a dream. It hasn't exactly
that clearness of light against darkness or of good against ill.
But it has the quality of wholesome instinct struggling under a
nightmare. The world is not really awake. This vague appeal for
explanations to all sorts of people, this desire to exhibit the
business, to get something in the way of elucidation at present
missing, is extraordinarily suggestive of the efforts of the mind
to wake up that will sometimes occur at a deep crisis. My memory
of this tour I have just made is full of puzzled-looking men. I
have seen thousands of /poilus/ sitting about in
cafes, by the roadside, in tents, in trenches, thoughtful.
I have seen Alpini sitting restfully and staring with speculative
eyes across the mountain gulfs towards unseen and unaccountable
enemies. I have seen trainloads of wounded staring out of the
ambulance train windows as we passed. I have seen these dim
intimations of questioning reflection in the strangest
juxtapositions; in Malagasy soldiers resting for a spell among
the big shells they were hoisting into trucks for the front, in a
couple of khaki-clad Maoris sitting upon the step of a horse-van
in Amiens station. It is always the same expression one catches,
rather weary, rather sullen, inturned. The shoulders droop. The
very outline is a note of interrogation. They look up as the
privileged tourist of the front, in the big automobile or the
reserved compartment, with his officer or so in charge, passes--
importantly. One meets a pair of eyes that seems to say:
"Perhaps /you/ understand....

"In which case---...?"

It is a part, I think, of this disposition to investigate what
makes everyone collect "specimens" of the war. Everywhere the
souvenir forces itself upon the attention. The homecoming
permissionaire brings with him invariably a considerable weight
of broken objects, bits of shell, cartridge clips, helmets; it is
a peripatetic museum. It is as if he hoped for a clue. It is
almost impossible, I have found, to escape these pieces in
evidence. I am the least collecting of men, but I have brought
home Italian cartridges, Austrian cartridges, the fuse of an
Austrian shell, a broken Italian bayonet, and a note that is
worth half a franc within the confines of Amiens. But a large
heavy piece of exploded shell that had been thrust very urgently
upon my attention upon the Carso I contrived to lose during the
temporary confusion of our party by the arrival and explosion of
another prospective souvenir in our close proximity. And two
really very large and almost complete specimens of some species
of /Ammonites/ unknown to me, from the hills to the east of
the Adige, partially wrapped in a back number of the /Corriere
della Sera/, that were pressed upon me by a friendly officer,
were unfortunately lost on the line between Verona and Milan
through the gross negligence of a railway porter. But I doubt if
they would have thrown any very conclusive light upon the war.


I avow myself an extreme Pacifist. I am against the man who
first takes up the weapon. I carry my pacifism far beyond the
ambiguous little group of British and foreign sentimentalists who
pretend so amusingly to be socialists in the /Labour
Leader/, whose conception of foreign policy is to give Germany
now a peace that would be no more than a breathing time for a
fresh outrage upon civilisation, and who would even make heroes
of the crazy young assassins of the Dublin crime. I do not
understand those people. I do not merely want to stop this war.
I want to nail down war in its coffin. Modern war is an
intolerable thing. It is not a thing to trifle with in this
Urban District Council way, it is a thing to end forever. I have
always hated it, so far that is as my imagination enabled me to
realise it; and now that I have been seeing it, sometimes quite
closely for a full month, I hate it more than ever. I never
imagined a quarter of its waste, its boredom, its futility, its
desolation. It is merely a destructive and dispersive instead of
a constructive and accumulative industrialism. It is a gigantic,
dusty, muddy, weedy, bloodstained silliness. It is the plain
duty of every man to give his life and all that he has if by so
doing he may help to end it. I hate Germany, which has thrust
this experience upon mankind, as I hate some horrible infectious
disease. The new war, the war on the modern level, is her
invention and her crime. I perceive that on our side and in its
broad outlines, this war is nothing more than a gigantic and
heroic effort in sanitary engineering; an effort to remove German
militarism from the life and regions it has invaded, and to bank
it in and discredit and enfeeble it so that never more will it
repeat its present preposterous and horrible efforts. All human
affairs and all great affairs have their reservations and their
complications, but that is the broad outline of the business as
it has impressed itself on my mind and as I find it conceived in
the mind of the average man of the reading class among the allied
peoples, and as I find it understood in the judgement of honest
and intelligent neutral observers.

It is my unshakeable belief that essentially the Allies fight for
a permanent world peace, that primarily they do not make war but
resist war, that has reconciled me to this not very congenial
experience of touring as a spectator all agog to see, through the
war zones. At any rate there was never any risk of my playing
Balaam and blessing the enemy. This war is tragedy and sacrifice
for most of the world, for the Germans it is simply the
catastrophic outcome of fifty years of elaborate intellectual
foolery. Militarism, Welt Politik, and here we are! What else
/could/ have happened, with Michael and his infernal War
Machine in the very centre of Europe, but this tremendous

It is a disaster. It may be a necessary disaster; it may teach a
lesson that could be learnt in no other way; but for all that, I
insist, it remains waste, disorder, disaster.

There is a disposition, I know, in myself as well as in others,
to wriggle away from this verity, to find so much good in the
collapse that has come to the mad direction of Europe for the
past half-century as to make it on the whole almost a beneficial
thing. But at most I can find it in no greater good than the
good of a nightmare that awakens the sleeper in a dangerous place
to a realisation of the extreme danger of his sleep. Better had
he been awake--or never there. In Venetia Captain Pirelli, whose
task it was to keep me out of mischief in the war zone, was
insistent upon the way in which all Venetia was being opened up
by the new military roads; there has been scarcely a new road
made in Venetia since Napoleon drove his straight, poplar-
bordered highways through the land. M. Joseph Reinach, who was
my companion upon the French front, was equally impressed by the
stirring up and exchange of ideas in the villages due to the
movement of the war. Charles Lamb's story of the discovery of
roast pork comes into one's head with an effect of repartee.
More than ideas are exchanged in the war zone, and it is doubtful
how far the sanitary precautions of the military authorities
avails against a considerable propaganda of disease. A more
serious argument for the good of war is that it evokes heroic
qualities that it has brought out almost incredible quantities of
courage, devotion, and individual romance that did not show in
the suffocating peace time that preceded the war. The reckless
and beautiful zeal of the women in the British and French
munition factories, for example, the gaiety and fearlessness of
the common soldiers everywhere; these things have always been
there--like champagne sleeping in bottles in a cellar. But was
there any need to throw a bomb into the cellar?

I am reminded of a story, or rather of the idea for a story that
I think I must have read in that curious collection of fantasies
and observations, Hawthorne's /Note Book./ It was to be the
story of a man who found life dull and his circumstances
altogether mediocre. He had loved his wife, but now after all
she seemed to be a very ordinary human being. He had begun life
with high hopes--and life was commonplace. He was to grow
fretful and restless. His discontent was to lead to some action,
some irrevocable action; but upon the nature of that action I do
not think the /Note Book/ was very clear. It was to carry
him in such a manner that he was to forget his wife. Then, when
it was too late, he was to see her at an upper window, stripped
and firelit, a glorious thing of light and loveliness and tragic

The elementary tales of the world are very few, and Hawthorne's
story and Lamb's story are, after all, only variations upon the
same theme. But can we poor human beings never realise our
quality without destruction?


One of the larger singularities of the great war is its failure
to produce great and imposing personalities, mighty leaders,
Napoleons, Caesars. I would indeed make that the essential
thing in my reckoning of the war. It is a drama without a hero;
without countless incidental heroes no doubt, but no star part.
Even the Germans, with a national predisposition for hero-cults
and living still in an atmosphere of Victorian humbug, can
produce nothing better than that timber image, Hindenburg.

It is not that the war has failed to produce heroes so much as
that it has produced heroism in a torrent. The great man of this
war is the common man. It becomes ridiculous to pick out
particular names. There are too many true stories of splendid
acts in the past two years ever to be properly set down. The
V.C.'s and the palms do but indicate samples. One would need an
encyclopaedia, a row of volumes, of the gloriousness of
human impulses. The acts of the small men in this war dwarf all
the pretensions of the Great Man. Imperatively these
multitudinous heroes forbid the setting up of effigies. When I
was a young man I imitated Swift and posed for cynicism; I will
confess that now at fifty and greatly helped by this war, I have
fallen in love with mankind.

But if I had to pick out a single figure to stand for the finest
quality of the Allies' war, I should I think choose the figure of
General Joffre. He is something new in history. He is
leadership without vulgar ambition. He is the extreme antithesis
to the Imperial boomster of Berlin. He is as it were the
ordinary common sense of men, incarnate. He is the antithesis of
the effigy.

By great good luck I was able to see him. I was delayed in Paris
on my way to Italy, and my friend Captain Millet arranged for a
visit to the French front at Soissons and put me in charge of
Lieutenant de Tessin, whom I had met in England studying British
social questions long before this war. Afterwards Lieutenant de
Tessin took me to the great hotel--it still proclaims
"/Restaurant/" in big black letters on the garden wall--
which shelters the General Headquarters of France, and here I was
able to see and talk to Generals Pelle and Castelnau as
well as to General Joffre. They are three very remarkable and
very different men. They have at least one thing in common; it
is clear that not one of them has spent ten minutes in all his
life in thinking of himself as a Personage or Great Man. They
all have the effect of being active and able men doing an
extremely complicated and difficult but extremely interesting job
to the very best of their ability. With me they had all one
quality in common. They thought I was interested in what they
were doing, and they were quite prepared to treat me as an
intelligent man of a different sort, and to show me as much as I
could understand....

Let me confess that de Tessin had had to persuade me to go to
Headquarters. Partly that was because I didn't want to use up
even ten minutes of the time of the French commanders, but much
more was it because I have a dread of Personages.

There is something about these encounters with personages--as if
one was dealing with an effigy, with something tremendous put up
to be seen. As one approaches they become remoter; great
unsuspected crevasses are discovered. Across these gulfs one
makes ineffective gestures. They do not meet you, they pose at
you enormously. Sometimes there is something more terrible than
dignity; there is condescension. They are affable. I had but
recently had an encounter with an imported Colonial statesman,
who was being advertised like a soap as the coming saviour of
England. I was curious to meet him. I wanted to talk to him
about all sorts of things that would have been profoundly
interesting, as for example his impressions of the Anglican
bishops. But I met a hoarding. I met a thing like a mask,
something surrounded by touts, that was dully trying--as we say
in London--to "come it" over me. He said he had heard of me. He
had read /Kipps./ I intimated that though I had written
/Kipps/ I had continued to exist--but he did not see the
point of that. I said certain things to him about the difference
in complexity between political life in Great Britain and the
colonies, that he was manifestly totally capable of
understanding. But one could as soon have talked with one of the
statesmen at Madame Tussaud's. An antiquated figure.

The effect of these French commanders upon me was quite different
from my encounter with that last belated adventurer in the effigy
line. I felt indeed that I was a rather idle and flimsy person
coming into the presence of a tremendously compact and busy
person, but I had none of that unpleasant sensation of a
conventional role, of being expected to play the minute
worshipper in the presence of the Great Image. I was so moved by
the common humanity of them all that in each case I broke away
from the discreet interpretations of de Tessin and talked to them
directly in the strange dialect which I have inadvertently made
for myself out of French, a disemvowelled speech of epicene
substantives and verbs of incalculable moods and temperaments,
"/Entente Cordiale./" The talked back as if we had met in a
club. General Pelle pulled my leg very gaily with some
quotations from an article I had written upon the conclusion of
the war. I think he found my accent and my idioms very
refreshing. I had committed myself to a statement that Bloch has
been justified in his theory that under modern conditions the
defensive wins. There were excellent reasons, and General
Pelle pointed them out, for doubting the applicability of
this to the present war.

Both he and General Castelnau were anxious that I should see a
French offensive sector as well as Soissons. Then I should
understand. And since then I have returned from Italy and I have
seen and I do understand. The Allied offensive was winning; that
is to say, it was inflicting far greater losses than it
experienced; it was steadily beating the spirit out of the German
army and shoving it back towards Germany. Only peace can, I
believe, prevent the western war ending in Germany. And it is
the Frenchmen mainly who have worked out how to do it.

But of that I will write later. My present concern is with
General Joffre as the antithesis of the Effigy. The effigy,

"Thou Prince of Peace,
Thou God of War,"

as Mr. Sylvester Viereck called him, prances on a great horse,
wears a Wagnerian cloak, sits on thrones and talks of shining
armour and "unser Gott." All Germany gloats over his Jovian
domesticities; when I was last in Berlin the postcard shops were
full of photographs of a sort of procession of himself and his
sons, all with long straight noses and sidelong eyes. It is all
dreadfully old-fashioned. General Joffre sits in a pleasant
little sitting-room in a very ordinary little villa conveniently
close to Headquarters. He sits among furniture that has no
quality of pose at all, that is neither magnificent nor
ostentatiously simple and hardy. He has dark, rather sleepy eyes
under light eyelashes, eyes that glance shyly and a little
askance at his interlocutor and then, as he talks, away--as if he
did not want to be preoccupied by your attention. He has a
broad, rather broadly modelled face, a soft voice, the sort of
persuasive reasoning voice that many Scotchmen have. I had a
feeling that if he were to talk English he would do so with a
Scotch accent. Perhaps somewhere I have met a Scotchman of his
type. He sat sideways to his table as a man might sit for a
gossip in a cafe.

He is physically a big man, and in my memory he grows bigger and
bigger. He sits now in my memory in a room like the rooms that
any decent people might occupy, like that vague room that is the
background of so many good portraits, a great blue-coated figure
with a soft voice and rather tired eyes, explaining very simply
and clearly the difficulties that this vulgar imperialism of
Germany, seizing upon modern science and modern appliances, has
created for France and the spirit of mankind.

He talked chiefly of the strangeness of this confounded war. It
was exactly like a sanitary engineer speaking of the unexpected
difficulties of some particularly nasty inundation. He made
little stiff horizontal gestures with his hands. First one had
to build a dam and stop the rush of it, so; then one had to
organise the push that would send it back. He explained the
organisation of the push. They had got an organisation now that
was working out most satisfactorily. Had I seen a sector? I had
seen the sector of Soissons. Yes, but that was not now an
offensive sector. I must see an offensive sector; see the whole
method. Lieutenant de Tessin must see that that was arranged....

Neither he nor his two colleagues spoke of the Germans with
either hostility or humanity. Germany for them is manifestly
merely an objectionable Thing. It is not a nation, not a people,
but a nuisance. One has to build up this great counter-thrust
bigger and stronger until they go back. The war must end in
Germany. The French generals have no such delusions about German
science or foresight or capacity as dominates the smart dinner
chatter of England. One knows so well that detestable type of
English folly, and its voice of despair: "They /plan/
everything. They foresee everything." This paralysing
Germanophobia is not common among the French. The war, the
French generals said, might take--well, it certainly looked like
taking longer than the winter. Next summer perhaps. Probably,
if nothing unforeseen occurred, before a full year has passed the
job might be done. Were any surprises in store? They didn't
seem to think it was probable that the Germans had any surprises
in store.... The Germans are not an inventive people; they are
merely a thorough people. One never knew for certain.

Is any greater contrast possible than between so implacable,
patient, reasonable--and above all things /capable/--a being
as General Joffre and the rhetorician of Potsdam, with his talk
of German Might, of Hammer Blows and Hacking Through? Can there
be any doubt of the ultimate issue between them?

There are stories that sound pleasantly true to me about General
Joffre's ambitions after the war. He is tired; then he will be
very tired. He will, he declares, spend his first free summer in
making a tour of the waterways of France in a barge. So I hope
it may be. One imagines him as sitting quietly on the crumpled
remains of the last and tawdriest of Imperial traditions, with a
fishing line in the placid water and a large buff umbrella
overhead, the good ordinary man who does whatever is given to him
to do--as well as he can. The power that has taken the great
effigy of German imperialism by the throat is something very
composite and complex, but if we personify it at all it is
something more like General Joffre than any other single human
figure I can think of or imagine.

If I were to set a frontispiece to a book about this War I would
make General Joffre the frontispiece.


As we swung back along the dusty road to Paris at a pace of fifty
miles an hour and upwards, driven by a helmeted driver with an
aquiline profile fit to go upon a coin, whose merits were a
little flawed by a childish and dangerous ambition to run over
every cat he saw upon the road, I talked to de Tessin about this
big blue-coated figure of Joffre, which is not so much a figure
as a great generalisation of certain hitherto rather obscured
French qualities, and of the impression he had made upon me. And
from that I went on to talk about the Super Man, for this
encounter had suddenly crystallised out a set of realisations
that had been for some time latent in my mind.

How much of what follows I said to de Tessin at the time I do not
clearly remember, but this is what I had in mind.

The idea of the superman is an idea that has been developed by
various people ignorant of biology and unaccustomed to biological
ways of thinking. It is an obvious idea that follows in the
course of half an hour or so upon one's realisation of the
significance of Darwinism. If man has evolved from something
different, he must now be evolving onward into something sur-
human. The species in the future will be different from the
species of the past. So far at least our Nietzsches and Shaws
and so on went right.

But being ignorant of the elementary biological proposition that
modification of a species means really a secular change in its
average, they jumped to a conclusion--to which the late Lord
Salisbury also jumped years ago at a very memorable British
Association meeting--that a species is modified by the sudden
appearance of eccentric individuals here and there in the general
mass who interbreed--preferentially. Helped by a streak of antic
egotism in themselves, they conceived of the superman as a
posturing personage, misunderstood by the vulgar, fantastic,
wonderful. But the antic Personage, the thing I have called the
Effigy, is not new but old, the oldest thing in history, the
departing thing. It depends not upon the advance of the species
but upon the uncritical hero-worship of the crowd. You may see
the monster drawn twenty times the size of common men upon the
oldest monuments of Egypt and Assyria. The true superman comes
not as the tremendous personal entry of a star, but in the less
dramatic form of a general increase of goodwill and skill and
common sense. A species rises not by thrusting up peaks but by
the brimming up as a flood does. The coming of the superman
means not an epidemic of personages but the disappearance of the
Personage in the universal ascent. That is the point overlooked
by the megalomaniac school of Nietzsche and Shaw.

And it is the peculiarity of this war, it is the most reassuring
evidence that a great increase in general ability and critical
ability has been going on throughout the last century, that no
isolated great personages have emerged. Never has there been so
much ability, invention, inspiration, leadership; but the very
abundance of good qualities has prevented our focusing upon those
of any one individual. We all play our part in the realisation
of God's sanity in the world, but, as the strange, dramatic end
of Lord Kitchener has served to remind us, there is no single
individual of all the allied nations whose death can materially
affect the great destinies of this war.

In the last few years I have developed a religious belief that
has become now to me as real as any commonplace fact. I think
that mankind is still as it were collectively dreaming and hardly
more awakened to reality than a very young child. It has these
dreams that we express by the flags of nationalities and by
strange loyalties and by irrational creeds and ceremonies, and
its dreams at times become such nightmares as this war. But the
time draws near when mankind will awake and the dreams will fade
away, and then there will be no nationality in all the world but
humanity, and no kind, no emperor, nor leader but the one God of
mankind. This is my faith. I am as certain of this as I was in
1900 that men would presently fly. To me it is as if it must be

So that to me this extraordinary refusal of the allied nations
under conditions that have always hitherto produced a Great Man
to produce anything of the sort, anything that can be used as an
effigy and carried about for the crowd to follow, is a fact of
extreme significance and encouragement. It seems to me that the
twilight of the half gods must have come, that we have reached
the end of the age when men needed a Personal Figure about which
they could rally. The Kaiser is perhaps the last of that long
series of crowned and cloaked and semi-divine personages which
has included Caesar and Alexander and Napoleon the First--
and Third. In the light of the new time we see the emperor-god
for the guy he is. In the August of 1914 he set himself up to be
the paramount Lord of the World, and it will seem to the
historian to come, who will know our dates so well and our
feelings, our fatigues and efforts so little, it will seem a
short period from that day to this, when the great figure already
sways and staggers towards the bonfire.


I had the experience of meeting a contemporary king upon this
journey. He was the first king I had ever met. The Potsdam
figure--with perhaps some local exceptions behind the Gold Coast--
is, with its collection of uniforms and its pomps and splendours,
the purest survival of the old tradition of divine monarchy now
that the Emperor at Pekin has followed the Shogun into the
shadows. The modern type of king shows a disposition to intimate
at the outset that he cannot help it, and to justify or at any
rate utilise his exceptional position by sound hard work. It is
an age of working kings, with the manners of private gentlemen.
The King of Italy for example is far more accessible than was the
late Pierpont Morgan or the late Cecil Rhodes, and he seems to
keep a smaller court.

I went to see him from Udine. He occupied a moderate-sized
country villa about half an hour by automobile from headquarters.
I went over with General Radcliffe; we drove through the gates of
the villa past a single sentinel in an ordinary infantry uniform,
up to the door of the house, and the number of guards, servants,
attendants, officials, secretaries, ministers and the like that I
saw in that house were--I counted very carefully--four.
Downstairs were three people, a tall soldier of the bodyguard in
grey; an A.D.C., Captain Moreno, and Col. Matteoli, the minister
of the household. I went upstairs to a drawing-room of much the
same easy and generalised character as the one in which I had met
General Joffre a few days before. I gave my hat to a second
bodyguard, and as I did so a pleasantly smiling man appeared at
the door of the study whom I thought at first must be some
minister in attendance. I did not recognise him instantly
because on the stamps and coins he is always in profile. He
began to talk in excellent English about my journey, and I
replied, and so talking we went into the study from which he had
emerged. Then I realised I was talking to the king.

Addicted as I am to the cinematograph, in which the standard of
study furniture is particularly rich and high, I found something
very cooling and simple and refreshing in the sight of the king's
study furniture. He sat down with me at a little useful writing
table, and after asking me what I had seen in Italy and hearing
what I had seen and what I was to see, he went on talking, very
good talk indeed.

I suppose I did a little exceed the established tradition of
courts by asking several questions and trying to get him to talk
upon certain points as to which I was curious, but I perceived
that he had had to carry on at least so much of the regal
tradition as to control the conversation. He was, however,
entirely un-posed. His talk reminded me somehow of Maurice
Baring's books; it had just the same quick, positive
understanding. And he had just the same detachment from the war
as the French generals. He spoke of it--as one might speak of an
inundation. And of its difficulties and perplexities.

Here on the Adriatic side there were political entanglements that
by comparison made our western after-the-war problems plain
sailing. He talked of the game of spellicans among the Balkan
nationalities. How was that difficulty to be met? In Macedonia
there were Turkish villages that were Christian and Bulgarians
that were Moslem. There were families that changed the
termination of their names from /ski/ to /off/ as
Serbian or Bulgarian prevailed. I remarked that that showed a
certain passion for peace, and that much of the mischief might be
due to the propaganda of the great Powers. I have a prejudice
against that blessed Whig "principle of nationality," but the
King of Italy was not to be drawn into any statement about that.
He left the question with his admission of its extreme complexity.

He went on to talk of the strange contrasts of war, of such
things as the indifference of the birds to gunfire and
desolation. One day on the Carso he had been near the newly
captured Austrian trenches, and suddenly from amidst a scattered
mass of Austrian bodies a quail had risen. that had struck him
as odd, and so too had the sight of a pack of cards and a wine
flask on some newly-made graves. The ordinary life was a very
/obstinate/ thing....

He talked of the courage of modern men. He was astonished at the
quickness with which they came to disregard shrapnel. And they
were so quietly enduring when they were wounded. He had seen a
lot of the wounded, and he had expected much groaning and crying
out. But unless a man is hit in the head and goes mad he does
not groan or scream! They are just brave. If you ask them how
they feel it is always one of two things: either they say quietly
that they are very bad or else they say there is nothing the

He spoke as if these were mere chance observations, but everyone
tells me that nearly every day the king is at the front and often
under fire. He has taken more risks in a week than the Potsdam
War Lord has taken since the war began. He keeps himself acutely
informed upon every aspect of the war. He was a little inclined
to fatalism, he confessed. There were two stories current of two
families of four sons, in each three had been killed and in each
there was an attempt to put the fourth in a place of comparative
safety. In one case a general took the fourth son in as an
attendant and embarked upon a ship that was immediately
torpedoed; in the other the fourth son was killed by accident
while he was helping to carry dinner in a rest camp. From those
stories we came to the question whether the uneducated Italians
were more superstitious than the uneducated English; the king
thought they were much less so. That struck me as a novel idea.
But then he thought that English rural people believe in witches
and fairies.

I have given enough of this talk to show the quality of this king
of the new dispensation. It was, you see, the sort of easy talk
one might hear from fine-minded people anywhere. When we had
done talking he came to the door of the study with me and shook
hands and went back to his desk--with that gesture of return to
work which is very familiar and sympathetic to a writer, and with
no gesture of regality at all.

Just to complete this impression let me repeat a pleasant story
about this king and our Prince of Wales, who recently visited the
Italian front. The Prince is a source of anxiety on these
visits; he has a very strong and very creditable desire to share
the ordinary risks of war. He is keenly interested, and
unobtrusively bent upon getting as near the fighting as line as
possible. But the King of Italy was firm upon keeping him out of
anything more than the most incidental danger. "We don't want
any historical incidents here," he said. I think that might well
become an historical phrase. For the life of the Effigy is a
series of historical incidents.


Manifestly one might continue to multiply portraits of fine
people working upon this great task of breaking and ending the
German aggression, the German legend, the German effigy, and the
effigy business generally; the thesis being that the Allies have
no effigy. One might fill a thick volume with pictures of men up
the scale and down working loyally and devotedly upon the war, to
make this point clear that the essential king and the essential
loyalty of our side is the commonsense of mankind.

There comes into my head as a picture at the other extreme of
this series, a memory of certain trenches I visited on my last
day in France. They were trenches on an offensive front; they
were not those architectural triumphs, those homes from home,
that grow to perfection upon the less active sections of the
great line. They had been first made by men who had run rapidly
forward with spade and rifle, stooping as they ran, who had
dropped into the craters of big shells, who had organised these
chiefly at night and dug the steep ditches sideways to join up
into continuous trenches. Now they were pushing forward saps
into No Man's Land, linking them across, and so continually
creeping nearer to the enemy and a practicable jumping-off place
for an attack. (It has been made since; the village at which I
peeped was in our hands a week later.) These trenches were dug
into a sort of yellowish sandy clay; the dug-outs were mere holes
in the earth that fell in upon the clumsy; hardly any timber had
been got up the line; a storm might flood them at any time a
couple of feet deep and begin to wash the sides. Overnight they
had been "strafed" and there had been a number of casualties;
there were smashed rifles about and a smashed-up machine gun
emplacement, and the men were dog-tired and many of them sleeping
like logs, half buried in -clay. Some slept on the firing steps.
As one went along one became aware ever and again of two or three
pairs of clay-yellow feet sticking out of a clay hole, and
peering down one saw the shapes of men like rudely modelled
earthen images of soldiers, motionless in the cave.

I came round the corner upon a youngster with an intelligent face
and steady eyes sitting up on the firing step, awake and
thinking. We looked at one another. There are moments when mind
leaps to mind. It is natural for the man in the trenches
suddenly confronted by so rare a beast as a middle-aged civilian
with an enquiring expression, to feel oneself something of a
spectacle and something generalised. It is natural for the
civilian to look rather in the vein of saying, "Well, how do you
take it?" As I pushed past him we nodded slightly with an effect
of mutual understanding. And we said with our nods just exactly
what General Joffre had said with his horizontal gestures of the
hand and what the King of Italy conveyed by his friendly manner;
we said to each other that here was the trouble those Germans had
brought upon us and here was the task that had to be done.

Our guide to these trenches was a short, stocky young man, a cob;
with a rifle and a tight belt and projecting skirts and a helmet,
a queer little figure that, had you seen it in a picture a year
or so before the war, you would most certainly have pronounced
Chinese. He belonged to a Northumbrian battalion; it does not
matter exactly which. As we returned from this front line,
trudging along the winding path through the barbed wire tangles
before the smashed and captured German trench that had been taken
a fortnight before, I fell behind my guardian captain and had a
brief conversation wit this individual. He was a lad in the
early twenties, weather-bit and with bloodshot eyes. He was, he
told me, a miner. I asked my stock question in such cases,
whether he would go back to the old work after the war. He said
he would, and then added--with the events of overnight on his
mind: "If A'hm looky."

Followed a little silence. Then I tried my second stock remark
for such cases. One does not talk to soldiers at the front in
this war of Glory or the "Empire on which the sun never sets" or
"the meteor flag of England" or of King and Country or any of
those fine old headline things. On the desolate path that winds
about amidst the shell craters and the fragments and the red-
rusted wire, with the silken shiver of passing shells in the air
and the blue of the lower sky continually breaking out into
eddying white puffs, it is wonderful how tawdry such panoplies of
the effigy appear. We knew that we and our allies are upon a
greater, graver, more fundamental business than that sort of
thing now. We are very near the waking point.

"Well," I said, "it's got to be done."

"Aye," he said, easing the strap of his rifle a little; "it's got
to be done."




My first impressions of the Italian war centre upon Udine. So
far I had had only a visit to Soissons on an exceptionally quiet
day and the sound of a Zeppelin one night in Essex for all my
experience of actual warfare. But my bedroom at the British
mission in Udine roused perhaps extravagant expectations. There
were holes in the plaster ceiling and wall, betraying splintered
laths, holes, that had been caused by a bomb that had burst and
killed several people in the little square outside. Such
excitements seem to be things of the past now in Udine. Udine
keeps itself dark nowadays, and the Austrian sea-planes, which
come raiding the Italian coast country at night very much in the
same aimless, casually malignant way in which the Zeppelins raid
England, apparently because there is nothing else for them to do,
find it easier to locate Venice.

My earlier rides in Venetia began always with the level roads of
the plain, roads frequently edged by watercourses, with plentiful
willows beside the road, vines and fields of Indian corn and
suchlike lush crops. Always quite soon one came to some old
Austrian boundary posts; almost everywhere the Italians are
fighting upon what is technically enemy territory, but nowhere
does it seem a whit less Italian than the plain of Lombardy.
When at last I motored away from Udine to the northern mountain
front I passed through Campo-Formio and saw the white-faced inn
at which Napoleon dismembered the ancient republic of Venice and
bartered away this essential part of Italy into foreign control.
It just gravitates back now--as though there had been no

And upon the roads and beside them was the enormous equipment of
a modern army advancing. Everywhere I saw new roads being made,
railways pushed up, vast store dumps, hospitals; everywhere the
villages swarmed with grey soldiers; everywhere our automobile
was threading its way and taking astonishing risks among
interminable processions of motor lorries, strings of ambulances
or of mule carts, waggons with timber, waggons with wire, waggons
with men's gear, waggons with casks, waggons discreetly veiled,
columns of infantry, cavalry, batteries /en route./ Every
waggon that goes up full comes back empty, and many wounded were
coming down and prisoners and troops returning to rest. Goritzia
had been taken a week or so before my arrival; the Isonzo had
been crossed and the Austrians driven back across the Carso for
several miles; all the resources of Italy seemed to be crowding
up to make good these gains and gather strength for the next
thrust. The roads under all this traffic remained wonderful;
gangs of men were everywhere repairing the first onset of wear,
and Italy is the most fortunate land in the world for road metal;
her mountains are solid road metal, and in this Venetian plain
you need but to scrape through a yard of soil to find gravel.

One travelled through a choking dust under the blue sky, and
above the steady incessant dusty succession of lorry, lorry,
lorry, lorry that passed one by, one saw, looking up, the tree
tops, house roofs, or the solid Venetian campanile of this or
that wayside village. Once as we were coming out of the great
grey portals of that beautiful old relic of a former school of
fortification, Palmanova, the traffic became suddenly bright
yellow, and for a kilometre or so we were passing nothing but
Sicilian mule carts loaded with hay. These carts seem as strange
among the grey shapes of modern war transport as a Chinese
mandarin in painted silk would be. They are the most individual
of things, all two-wheeled, all bright yellow and the same size
it is true, but upon each there are they gayest of little
paintings, such paintings as one sees in England at times upon an
ice-cream barrow. Sometimes the picture will present a
scriptural subject, sometimes a scene of opera, sometimes a dream
landscape or a trophy of fruits or flowers, and the harness--now
much out of repair--is studded with brass. Again and again I
have passed strings of these gay carts; all Sicily must be swept
of them.

Through the dust I came to Aquileia, which is now an old
cathedral, built upon the remains of a very early basilica,
standing in a space in a scattered village. But across this
dusty space there was carried the head of the upstart Maximinus
who murdered Alexander Severus, and later Aquileia brought Attila
near to despair. Our party alighted; we inspected a very old
mosaic floor which has been uncovered since the Austrian retreat.
The Austrian priests have gone too, and their Italian successors
are already tracing out a score of Roman traces that it was the
Austrian custom to minimise. Captain Pirelli refreshed my
historical memories; it was rather like leaving a card on Gibbon
/en route/ for contemporary history.

By devious routes I went on to certain batteries of big guns
which had played their part in hammering the Austrian left above
Monfalcone across an arm of the Adriatic, and which were now
under orders to shift and move up closer. The battery was the
most unobtrusive of batteries; its one desire seemed to be to
appear a simple piece of woodland in the eye of God and the
aeroplane. I went about the network of railways and paths under
the trees that a modern battery requires, and came presently upon
a great gun that even at the first glance seemed a little less
carefully hidden than its fellows. Then I saw that it was a most
ingenious dummy made of a tree and logs and so forth. It was in
the emplacement of a real gun that had been located; it had its
painted sandbags about it just the same, and it felt itself so
entirely a part of the battery that whenever its companions fired
t burnt a flash and kicked up a dust. It was an excellent
example of the great art of camouflage which this war has

I went on through the wood to a shady observation post high in a
tree, into which I clambered with my guide. I was able from this
position to get a very good idea of the lie of the Italian
eastern front. I was in the delta of the Isonzo. Directly in
front of me were some marshes and the extreme tip of the Adriatic
Sea, at the head of which was Monfalcone, now in Italian hands.
Behind Monfalcone ran the red ridge of the Carso, of which the
Italians had just captured the eastern half. Behind this again
rose the mountains to the east of the Isonzo which the Austrians
still held. The Isonzo came towards me from out of the
mountains, in a great westward curve. Fifteen or sixteen miles
away where it emerged from the mountains lay the pleasant and
prosperous town of Goritzia, and at the westward point of the
great curve was Sagrado with its broken bridge. The battle of
Goritzia was really not fought at Goritzia at all. What happened
was the brilliant and bloody storming of Mounts Podgora and
Sabotino on the western side of the river above Goritzia, and
simultaneously a crossing at Sagrado below Goritzia and a
magnificent rush up the plateau and across the plateau of the
Carso. Goritzia itself was not organised for defence, and the
Austrians were so surprised by the rapid storm of the mountains
to the north-west of it and of the Carso to the south-east, that
they made no fight in the town itself.

As a consequence when I visited it I found it very little injured--
compared, that is, with such other towns as have been fought
through. Here and there the front of a house has been knocked in
by an Austrian shell, or a lamp-post prostrated. But the road
bridge had suffered a good deal; its iron parapet was twisted
about by shell bursts and interwoven with young trees and big
boughs designed to screen the passer-by from the observation of
the Austrian gunners upon Monte Santo. Here and there were huge
holes through which one could look down upon the blue trickles of
water in the stony river bed far below. The driver of our
automobile displayed what seemed to me an extreme confidence in
the margins of these gaps, but his confidence was justified. At
Sagrado the bridge had been much more completely demolished; no
effort had been made to restore the horizontal roadway, but one
crossed by a sort of timber switchback that followed the ups and
downs of the ruins.

It is not in these places that one must look for the real
destruction of modern war. The real fight on the left of
Goritzia went through the village of Lucinico up the hill of
Podgora. Lucinico is nothing more than a heap of grey stones;
except for a bit of the church wall and the gable end of a house
one cannot even speak of it as ruins. But in one place among the
rubble I saw the splintered top and a leg of a grand piano.
Podgora hill, which was no doubt once neatly terraced and
cultivated, is like a scrap of landscape from some airless,
treeless planet. Still more desolate was the scene upon the
Carso to the right (south) of Goritzia. Both San Martino and
Doberdo are destroyed beyond the limits of ruination. The Carso
itself is a waterless upland with but a few bushy trees; it must
always have been a desolate region, but now it is an
indescribable wilderness of shell craters, smashed-up Austrian
trenches, splintered timber, old iron, rags, and that rusty
thorny vileness of man's invention, worse than all the thorns and
thickets of nature, barbed wire. There are no dead visible; the
wounded have been cleared away; but about the trenches and
particularly near some of the dug-outs there was a faint
repulsive smell....

Yet into this wilderness the Italians are now thrusting a sort of
order. The German is a wonderful worker, they say on the Anglo-
French front that he makes his trenches by way of resting, but I
doubt if he can touch the Italian at certain forms of toil. All
the way up to San Martino and beyond, swarms of workmen were
making one of those carefully graded roads that the Italians make
better than any other people. Other swarms were laying water-
pipes. For upon the Carso there are neither roads nor water, and
before the Italians can thrust farther both must be brought up to
the front.

As we approached San Martino an Austrian aeroplane made its
presence felt overhead by dropping a bomb among the tents of some
workmen, in a little scrubby wood on the hillside near at hand.
One heard the report and turned to see the fragments flying and
the dust. Probably they got someone. And then, after a little
pause, the encampment began to spew out men; here, there and
everywhere they appeared among the tents, running like rabbits at
evening-time, down the hill. Soon after and probably in
connection with this signal, Austrian shells began to come over.
They do not use shrapnel because the rocky soil of Italy makes
that unnecessary. They fire a sort of shell that goes bang and
releases a cloud of smoke overhead, and then drops a parcel of
high explosive that bursts on the ground. The ground leaps into
red dust and smoke. But these things are now to be seen on the
cinema. Forthwith the men working on the road about us begin to
down tools and make for the shelter trenches, a long procession
going at a steady but resolute walk. Then like a blow in the
chest came the bang of a big Italian gun somewhere close at

Along about four thousand miles of the various fronts this sort
of thing was going on that morning....


This Carso front is the practicable offensive front of Italy.
From the left wing on the Isonzo along the Alpine boundary round
to the Swiss boundary there is mountain warfare like nothing else
in the world; it is warfare that pushes the boundary backward,
but it is mountain warfare that will not, for so long a period
that the war will be over first, hold out any hopeful prospects
of offensive movements on a large scale against Austria or
Germany. It is a short distance as the crow flies from Rovereto
to Munich, but not as the big gun travels. The Italians,
therefore, as their contribution to the common effort, are
thrusting rather eastwardly towards the line of the Julian Alps
through Carinthia and Carniola. From my observation post in the
tree near Monfalcone I saw Trieste away along the coast to my
right. It looked scarcely as distant as Folkestone from
Dungeness. The Italian advanced line is indeed scarcely ten
miles from Trieste. But the Italians are not, I think, going to
Trieste just yet. That is not the real game now. They are
playing loyally with the Allies for the complete defeat of the
Central Powers, and that is to be achieved striking home into
Austria. Meanwhile there is no sense in knocking Trieste to
pieces, or using Italians instead of Austrian soldiers to
garrison it.



The mountain warfare of Italy is extraordinarily unlike that upon
any other front. From the Isonzo to the Swiss frontier we are
dealing with high mountains, cut by deep valleys between which
there is usually no practicable lateral communication. Each
advance must have the nature of an unsupported shove along a
narrow channel, until the whole mountain system, that is, is won,
and the attack can begin to deploy in front of the passes.
Geographically Austria has the advantage. She had the gentler
slope of the mountain chains while Italy has the steep side, and
the foresight of old treaties has given her deep bites into what
is naturally Italian territory; she is far nearer the Italian
plain than Italy is near any practicable fighting ground for
large forces; particularly is this the case in the region of the
Adige valley and Lake Garda.

The legitimate war, so to speak, in this region is a
mountaineering war. The typical position is roughly as follows.
The Austrians occupy valley A which opens northward; the Italians
occupy valley B which opens southward. The fight is for the
crest between A and B. The side that wins that crest gains the
power of looking down into, firing into and outflanking the
positions of the enemy valley. In most cases it is the Italians
now who are pressing, and if the reader will examine a map of the
front and compare it with the official reports he will soon
realise that almost everywhere the Italians are up to the head of
the southward valleys and working over the crests so as to press
down upon the Austrian valleys. But in the Trentino the
Austrians are still well over the crest on the southward slopes.
When I was in Italy they still held Rovereto.

Now it cannot be said that under modern conditions mountains
favour either the offensive or the defensive. But they certainly
make operations far more deliberate than upon a level. An
engineered road or railway in an Alpine valley is the most
vulnerable of things; its curves and viaducts may be practically
demolished by shell fire or swept by shrapnel, although you hold
the entire valley except for one vantage point. All the
mountains round about a valley must be won before that valley is
safe for the transport of an advance. But on the other hand a
surprise capture of some single mountain crest and the hoisting
of one gun into position there may block the retreat of guns and
material from a great series of positions. Mountain surfaces are
extraordinarily various and subtle. You may understand Picardy
on a map, but mountain warfare is three-dimensional. A struggle
may go on for weeks or months consisting of apparently separate
and incidental skirmishes, and then suddenly a whole valley
organisation may crumble away in retreat or disaster. Italy is
gnawing into the Trentino day by day, and particularly around by
her right wing. At no time I shall be surprised to see a sudden
lunge forward on that front, and hear a tale of guns and
prisoners. This will not mean that she has made a sudden attack,
but that some system of Austrian positions has collapsed under
her continual pressure.

Such briefly is the /idea/ of mountain struggle. Its
realities, I should imagine, are among the strangest and most
picturesque in all this tremendous world conflict. I know
nothing of the war in the east, of course, but there are things
here that must be hard to beat. Happily they will soon get
justice done to them by an abler pen than mine. I hear that
Kipling is to follow me upon this ground; nothing can be imagined
more congenial to his extraordinary power of vivid rendering than
this struggle against cliffs, avalanches, frost and the

To go the Italian round needs, among other things, a good head.
Everywhere it has been necessary to make roads where hitherto
there have been only mule tracks or no tracks at all; the roads
are often still in the making, and the automobile of the war
tourist skirts precipices and takes hairpin bends upon tracks of
loose metal not an inch too broad for the operation, or it floats
for a moment over the dizzy edge while a train of mule transport
blunders by. The unruly imagination of man's heart (which is
"only evil continually") speculates upon what would be the
consequences of one good bump from the wheel of a mule cart.
Down below, the trees that one sees through a wisp of cloud look
far too small and spiky and scattered to hold out much hope for a
fallen man of letters. And at the high positions they are too
used to the vertical life to understand the secret feelings of
the visitor from the horizontal. General Bompiani, whose
writings are well known to all English students of military
matters, showed me the Gibraltar he is making of a great mountain
system east of the Adige.

"Let me show you," he said, and flung himself on to the edge of
the precipice into exactly the position of a lady riding side-
saddle. "You will find it more comfortable to sit down."

But anxious as I am abroad not to discredit my country by
unseemly exhibitions I felt unequal to such gymnastics without a
proper rehearsal at a lower level. I seated myself carefully at
a yard (perhaps it was a couple of yards) from the edge, advanced
on my trousers without dignity to the verge, and so with an
effort thrust my legs over to dangle in the crystalline

"That," proceeded General Bompiani, pointing with a giddy
flourish of his riding whip, "is Monte Tomba."

I swayed and half-extended my hand towards him. But he was still
there--sitting, so to speak, on the half of himself.... I was
astonished that he did not disappear abruptly during his


The fighting man in the Dolomites has been perhaps the most
wonderful of all these separate campaigns. I went up by
automobile as far as the clambering new road goes up the flanks
of Tofana No. 2; thence for a time by mule along the flank of
Tofana No. 1, and thence on foot to the vestiges of the famous

The aspect of these mountains is particularly grim and wicked;
they are worn old mountains, they tower overhead in enormous
vertical cliffs of sallow grey, with the square jointings and
occasional clefts and gullies, their summits are toothed and
jagged; the path ascends and passes round the side of the
mountain upon loose screes, which descend steeply to a lower wall
of precipices. In the distance rise other harsh and desolate-
looking mountain masses, with shining occasional scars of old
snow. Far below is a bleak valley of stunted pine trees through
which passes the road of the Dolomites.

As I ascended the upper track two bandages men were coming down
on led mules. It was mid-August, and they were suffering from
frostbite. Across the great gap between the summits a minute
traveller with some provisions was going up by wire to some post
upon the crest. For everywhere upon the icy pinnacles are
observation posts directing the fire of the big guns on the
slopes below, or machine-gun stations, or little garrisons that
sit and wait through the bleak days. Often they have no link
with the world below but a precipitous climb or a "teleferic"
wire. Snow and frost may cut them off absolutely for weeks from
the rest of mankind. The sick and wounded must begin their
journey down to help and comfort in a giddy basket that swings
down to the head of the mule track below.

Originally all these crests were in Austrian hands; they were
stormed by the Alpini under almost incredible conditions. For
fifteen days, for example, they fought their way up these screes
on the flanks of Tofana No. 2 to the ultimate crags, making
perhaps a hundred metres of ascent each day, hiding under rocks
and in holes in the daylight and receiving fresh provisions and
ammunition and advancing by night. They were subjected to rifle
fire, machine-gun fire and bombs of a peculiar sort, big iron
balls of the size of a football filled with explosive that were
just flung down the steep. They dodged flares and star shells.
At one place they went up a chimney that would be far beyond the
climbing powers of any but a very active man. It must have been
like storming the skies. The dead and wounded rolled away often
into inaccessible ravines. Stray skeletons, rags of uniform,
fragments of weapons, will add to the climbing interest of these
gaunt masses for many years to come. In this manner it was that
Tofana No. 2 was taken.

Now the Italians are organising this prize, and I saw winding up
far above me on the steep grey slope a multitudinous string of
little things that looked like black ants, each carrying a small
bright yellow egg. They were mules bringing back balks of

But one position held out invincibly; this was the Castelletto, a
great natural fortress of rock standing out at an angle of the
mountain in such a position that it commanded the Italian
communications (the Dolomite road) in the valley below, and
rendered all their positions uncomfortable and insecure. This
obnoxious post was practically inaccessible either from above or
below, and it barred the Italians even from looking into the Val
Travenanzes which it defended. It was, in fact, an impregnable
position, and against it was pitted the invincible 5th Group of
the Alpini. It was the old problem of the irresistible force in
conflict with the immovable object. And the outcome has been the
biggest military mine in all history.

The business began in January, 1916, with surveys of the rock in
question. The work of surveying for excavations, never a very
simple one, becomes much more difficult when the site is occupied
by hostile persons with machine guns. In March, as the winter's
snows abated, the boring machinery began to arrive, by mule as
far as possible and then by hand. Altogether about half a
kilometre of gallery had to be made to the mine chamber, and
meanwhile the explosive was coming up load by load and resting
first here, then there, in discreetly chosen positions. There
were at the last thirty-five tons of it in the inner chamber.
And while the boring machines bored and the work went on,
Lieutenant Malvezzi was carefully working out the problem of "il
[Our Webmaster, who is Italian, says, "il massimo effetto dirompente"]
massimo effetto dirompimento" and deciding exactly how to pack
and explode his little hoard. On the eleventh of July, at 3.30,
as he rejoices to state in his official report, "the mine
responded perfectly both in respect of the calculations made and
of the practical effects," that is to say, the Austrians were
largely missing and the Italians were in possession of the crater
of the Castelletto and looking down the Val Travenanzes from
which they had been barred for so long. Within a month things
had been so tidied up, and secured by further excavations and
sandbags against hostile fire, that even a middle-aged English
writer, extremely fagged and hot and breathless, could enjoy the
same privilege. All this, you must understand, had gone on at a
level to which the ordinary tourist rarely climbs, in a rarefied,
chest-tightening atmosphere, with wisps of clouds floating in the
clear air below and club-huts close at hand....

Among these mountains avalanches are frequent; and they come down
regardless of human strategy. In many cases the trenches cross
avalanche tracks; they and the men in them are periodically swept
away and periodically replaced. They are positions that must be
held; if the Italians will not face such sacrifices, the
Austrians will. Avalanches and frostbite have slain and disabled
their thousands; they have accounted perhaps for as many Italians
in this austere and giddy campaign as the Austrians....


It seems to be part of the stern resolve of Fate that this, the
greatest of wars, shall be the least glorious; it is manifestly
being decided not by victories but by blunders. It is indeed a
history of colossal stupidities. Among the most decisive of
these blunders, second only perhaps of the blunder of the Verdun
attack and far outshining the wild raid of the British towards
Bagdad, was the blunder of the Trentino offensive. It does not
need the equipment of a military expert, it demands only quite
ordinary knowledge and average intelligence, to realise the folly
of that Austrian adventure. There is some justification for a
claim that the decisive battle of the war was fought upon the
soil of Italy. There is still more justification for saying that
it might have been.

There was only one good point about the Austrian thrust. No one
could have foretold it. And it did so completely surprise the
Italians as to catch them without any prepared line of positions
in the rear. On the very eve of the big Russian offensive, the
Austrians thrust eighteen divisions hard at the Trentino
frontier. The Italian posts were then in Austrian territory;
they held on the left wing and the right, but they were driven by
the sheer weight of men and guns in the centre; they lost guns
and prisoners because of the difficulty of mountain retreats to
which I have alluded, and the Austrians pouring through reached
not indeed the plain of Venetia, but to the upland valleys
immediately above it, to Asiago and Arsiero. They probably saw
the Venetian plain through gaps in the hills, but they were still
separated from it even at Arsiero by what are mountains to an
English eye, mountains as high as Snowdon. But the Italians of
such beautiful old places and Vicenza, Marostica, and Bassano
could watch the Austrian shells bursting on the last line of
hills above the plain, and I have no doubt they felt extremely

As one motors through these ripe and beautiful towns and through
the rich valleys that link them--it is a smiling land abounding
in old castles and villas, Vicenza is a rich museum of Palladio's
architecture and Bassano is full of irreplaceable painted
buildings--one feels that the things was a narrow escape, but
from the military point of view it was merely an insane escapade.
The Austrians had behind them--and some way behind them--one
little strangulated railway and no good pass road; their right
was held at Pasubio, their left was similarly bent back. In
front of them was between twice and three times their number of
first class troops, with an unlimited equipment. If they had
surmounted that last mountain crest they would have come down to
almost certain destruction in the plain. They could never have
got back. For a time it was said that General Cadorna considered
that possibility. From the point of view of purely military
considerations, the Trentino offensive should perhaps have ended
in the capitulation of Vicenza.

I will confess I am glad it did not do so. This tour of the
fronts has made me very sad and weary with a succession of ruins.
I can bear no more ruins unless they are the ruins of Dusseldorf,
Cologne, Berlin, or suchlike modern German city. Anxious as I am
to be a systematic Philistine, to express my preference for
Marinetti over the Florentine British and generally to antagonise
aesthetic prigs, I rejoiced over that sunlit land as one
might rejoice over a child saved from beasts.

On the hills beyond Schio I walked out through the embrasure of a
big gun in a rock gallery, and saw the highest points upon the
hillside to which the Austrian infantry clambered in their futile
last attacks. Below me were the ruins of Arsiero and Velo
d'Astico recovered, and across the broad valley rose Monte Cimone
with the Italian trenches upon its crest and the Austrians a
little below to the north. A very considerable bombardment was
going on and it reverberated finely. (It is only among mountains
that one hears anything that one can call the thunder of guns.
The heaviest bombardments I heard in France sounded merely like
Brock's benefit on a much large scale, and disappointed me
extremely.) As I sat and listened to the uproar and watched the
shells burst on Cimone and far away up the valley over
Castelletto above Pedescala, Captain Pirelli pointed out the
position of the Austrian frontier. I doubt if the English people
realise that the utmost depth to which this great Trentino
offensive, which exhausted Austria, wasted the flower of the
Hungarian army and led directly to the Galician disasters and the
intervention of Rumania, penetrated into Italian territory was
about six miles.



I have a peculiar affection for Verona and certain things in
Verona. Italians must forgive us English this little streak of
impertinent proprietorship in the beautiful things of their
abundant land. It is quite open to them to revenge themselves by
professing a tenderness for Liverpool or Leeds. It was, for
instance, with a peculiar and personal indignation that I saw
where an Austrian air bomb had killed five-and-thirty people in
the Piazza Erbe. Somehow in that jolly old place, a place that
have very much of the quality of a very pretty and cheerful old
woman, it seemed exceptionally an outrage. And I made a special
pilgrimage to see how it was with that monument of Can Grande,
the equestrian Scaliger with the sidelong grin, for whom I
confess a ridiculous admiration. Can Grande, I rejoice to say,
has retired into a case of brickwork, surmounted by a steep roof
of thick iron plates; no aeroplane exists to carry bombs enough
to smash that covering; there he will smile securely in the
darkness until peace comes again.

All over Venetia the Austrian seaplanes are making the same sort
of idiot raid on lighted places that the Zeppelins have been
making over England. These raids do no effective military work.
What conceivable military advantage can there be in dropping
bombs into a marketing crowd? It is a sort of anti-Teutonic
propaganda by the Central Powers to which they seem to have been
incited by their own evil genius. It is as if they could
convince us that there is an essential malignity in Germans, that
until the German powers are stamped down into the mud they will
continue to do evil things. All of the Allies have borne the
thrusting and boasting of Germany with exemplary patience for
half a century; England gave her Heligoland and stood out of the
way of her colonial expansion, Italy was a happy hunting ground
for her business enterprise, France had come near resignation on
the score of Alsace-Lorraine. And then over and above the great
outrage of the war come these incessant mean-spirited atrocities.
A great and simple wickedness it is possible to forgive; the war
itself, had it been fought greatly by Austria and Germany, would
have made no such deep and enduring breach as these silly, futile
assassinations have down between the Austro-Germans and the rest
of the civilised world. One great misdeed is a thing
understandable and forgivable; what grows upon the consciousness
of the world is the persuasion that here we fight not a national
sin but a national insanity; that we dare not leave the German
the power to attack other nations any more for ever....

Venice has suffered particularly from this ape-like impulse to
hurt and terrorise enemy non-combatants. Venice has indeed
suffered from this war far more than any other town in Italy.
Her trade has largely ceased; she has no visitors. I woke up on
my way to Udine and found my train at Venice with an hour to
spare; after much examining and stamping of my passport I was
allowed outside the station wicket to get coffee in the
refreshment room and a glimpse of a very sad and silent Grand
Canal. There was nothing doing; a black despondent remnant of
the old crowd of gondolas browsed dreamily among against the quay
to stare at me the better. The empty palaces seemed to be
sleeping in the morning sunshine because it was not worth while
to wake up....


Except in the case of Venice, the war does not seem as yet to
have made nearly such a mark upon life in Italy as it has in
England or provincial France. People speak of Italy as a poor
country, but that is from a banker's point of view. In some
respects she is the richest country on earth, and in the matter
of staying power I should think she is better off than any other
belligerent. She produces food in abundance everywhere; her
women are agricultural workers, so that the interruption of food
production by the war has been less serious in Italy than in any
other part of Europe. In peace time, she has constantly exported
labour; the Italian worker has been a seasonal emigrant to
America, north and south, to Switzerland, Germany and the south
of France. The cessation of this emigration has given her great
reserves of man power, so that she has carried on her admirable
campaign with less interference with her normal economic life
than any other power. The first person I spoke to upon the
platform at Modane was a British officer engaged in forwarding
Italian potatoes to the British front in France. Afterwards, on
my return, when a little passport irregularity kept me for half a
day in Modane, I went for a walk with him along the winding pass
road that goes down into France. "You see hundreds and hundreds
of new Fiat cars," he remarked, "along here--going up to the
French front."

But there is a return trade. Near Paris I saw scores of
thousands of shells piled high to go to Italy....

I doubt if English people fully realise either the economic
sturdiness or the political courage of their Italian ally. Italy
is not merely fighting a first-class war in first-class fashion
but she is doing a big, dangerous, generous and far-sighted thing
in fighting at all. France and England were obliged to fight;
the necessity was as plain as daylight. The participation of
Italy demanded a remoter wisdom. In the long run she would have
been swallowed up economically and politically by Germany if she
had not fought; but that was not a thing staring her plainly in
the face as the danger, insult and challenge stared France and
England in the face. What did stare her in the face was not
merely a considerable military and political risk, but the
rupture of very close financial and commercial ties. I found
thoughtful men talking everywhere I have been in Italy of two
things, of the Jugo-Slav riddle and of the question of post war
finance. So far as the former matter goes, I think the Italians
are set upon the righteous solution of all such riddles, they are
possessed by an intelligent generosity. They are clearly set
upon deserving Jugo-Slav friendship; they understand the plain
necessity of open and friendly routes towards Roumania. It was
an Italian who set out to explain to me that Fiume must be at
least a free port; it would be wrong and foolish to cut the trade
of Hungary off from the Mediterranean. But the banking puzzle is
a more intricate and puzzling matter altogether than the
possibility of trouble between Italian and Jugo-Slav.

I write of these things with the simplicity of an angel, but
without an angelic detachment. Here are questions into which one
does not so much rush as get reluctantly pushed. Currency and
banking are dry distasteful questions, but it is clear that they
are too much in the hands of mystery-mongers; it is as much the
duty of anyone who talks and writes of affairs, it is as much the
duty of every sane adult, to bring his possibly poor and
unsuitable wits to bear upon these things, as it is for him to
vote or enlist or pay his taxes. Behind the simple ostensible
spectacle of Italy recovering the unredeemed Italy of the
Trentino and East Venetia, goes on another drama. Has Italy been
sinking into something rather hard to define called "economic
slavery"? Is she or is she not escaping from that magical
servitude? Before this question has been under discussion for a
minute comes a name--for a time I was really quite unable to
decide whether it is the name of the villain in the piece or of
the maligned heroine, or a secret society or a gold mine, or a
pestilence or a delusion--the name of the /Banca Commerciale

Banking in a country undergoing so rapid and vigorous an economic
development as Italy is very different from the banking we simple
English know of at home. Banking in England, like land-owning,
has hitherto been a sort of hold up. There were always
borrowers, there were always tenants, and all that had to be done
was to refuse, obstruct, delay and worry the helpless borrower or
would-be tenant until the maximum of security and profit was
obtained. I have never borrowed but I have built, and I know
something of the extreme hauteur of property of England towards a
man who wants to do anything with land, and with money I gather
the case is just the same. But in Italy, which already possessed
a sunny prosperity of its own upon mediaeval lines, the
banker has had to be suggestive and persuasive, sympathetic and
helpful. These are unaccustomed attitudes for British capital.
The field has been far more attractive to the German banker, who
is less of a proudly impassive usurer and more of a partner, who
demands less than absolute security because he investigates more
industriously and intelligently. This great bank, the Banca
Commerciale Italiana, is a bank of the German type: to begin
with, it was certainly dominated by German directors; it was a
bank of stimulation, and its activities interweave now into the
whole fabric of Italian commercial life. But it has already
liberated itself from German influence, and the bulk of its
capital is Italian. Nevertheless I found discussion ranging
about firstly what the Banca Commerciale essentially /was/,
secondly what it might /become/, thirdly what it might
/do/, and fourthly what, if anything, had to be done to it.

It is a novelty to an English mind to find banking thus mixed up
with politics, but it is not a novelty in Italy. All over
Venetia there are agricultural banks which are said to be
"clerical." I grappled with this mystery. "How are they
clerical?" I asked Captain Pirelli. "Do they lend money on bad
security to clerical voters, and on no terms whatever to anti-
clericals?" He was quite of my way of thinking. "/Pecunia non
olet/," he said; "I have never yet smelt a clerical fifty lira
note."... But on the other hand Italy is very close to Germany;
she wants easy money for development, cheap coal, a market for
various products. The case against the Germans--this case in
which the Banca Commerciale Italiana appears, I am convinced
unjustly, as a suspect--is that they have turned this natural and
proper interchange with Italy into the acquisition of German
power. That they have not been merely easy traders, but
patriotic agents. It is alleged that they used their early
"pull" in Italian banking to favour German enterprises and German
political influence against the development of native Italian
business; that their merchants are not bona-fide individuals, but
members of a nationalist conspiracy to gain economic controls.
The German is a patriotic monomaniac. He is not a man but a
limb, the worshipper of a national effigy, the digit of an
insanely proud and greedy Germania, and here are the natural

The case of the individual Italian compactly is this: "We do not
like the Austrians and Germans. These Imperialisms look always
over the Alps. Whatever increases German influence here
threatens Italian life. The German is a German first and a human
being afterwards.... But on the other hand England seems
commercially indifferent to us and France has been economically

"After all," I said presently, after reflection, "in that matter
of /Pecunia non olet/; there used to be fusses about
European loans in China. And one of the favourite themes of
British fiction and drama before the war was the unfortunate
position of the girl who accepted a loan from the wicked man to
pay her debts at bridge."

"Italy," said Captain Pirelli, "isn't a girl. And she hasn't
been playing bridge."

I incline on the whole to his point of view. Money is facile
cosmopolitan stuff. I think that any bank that settles down in
Italy is going to be slowly and steadily naturalised Italian, it
will become more and more Italian until it is wholly Italian. I
would trust Italy to make and keep the Banca Commerciale Italiana
Italian. I believe the Italian brain is a better brain than the
German article. But still I heard people talking of the
implicated organisation as if it were engaged in the most
insidious duplicities. "Wait for only a year or so after the
war," said one English authority to me, "and the mask will be off
and it will be frankly a 'Deutsche Bank' once more." They assure
me that then German enterprises will be favoured again, Italian
and Allied enterprises blockaded and embarrassed, the good
understanding of Italians and English poisoned, entirely through
this organisation....

The reasonable uncommercial man would like to reject all this
last sort of talk as "suspicion mania." So far as the Banca
Commerciale Italiana goes, I at least find that easy enough; I
quote that instance simply because it is a case where suspicion
has been dispelled, but in regard to a score of other business
veins it is not so easy to dispel suspicion. This war has been a
shock to reasonable men the whole world over. They have been
forced to realise that after all a great number of Germans have
been engaged in a crack-brained conspiracy against the non-German
world; that in a great number of cases when one does business
with a German the business does not end with the individual
German. We hated to believe that a business could be tainted by
German partners or German associations. If now we err on the
side of over-suspicion, it is the German's little weakness for
patriotic disingenuousness that is most to blame....

But anyhow I do not think there is much good in a kind of witch-
smelling among Italian enterprises to find the hidden German.
Certain things are necessary for Italian prosperity and Italy
must get them. The Italians want intelligent and helpful
capital. They want a helpful France. They want bituminous coal
for metallurgical purposes. They want cheap shipping. The
French too want metallurgical coal. It is more important for
civilisation, for the general goodwill of the Allies and for
Great Britain that these needs should be supplied than that
individual British money-owners or ship-owners should remain
sluggishly rich by insisting upon high security or high freights.
The control of British coal-mining and shipping is in the
national interests--for international interests--rather than for
the creation of that particularly passive, obstructive, and
wasteful type of wealth, the wealth of the mere profiteer, is as
urgent a necessity for the commercial welfare of France and Italy
and the endurance of the Great Alliance as it is for the well-
being of the common man in Britain.


I left my military guide at Verona on Saturday afternoon and
reached Milan in time to dine outside Salvini's in the Galleria
Vittorio Emanuele, with an Italian fellow story-writer. The
place was as full as ever; we had to wait for a table. It is
notable that there were still great numbers of young men not in
uniform in Milan and Turin and Vicenza and Verona; there was no
effect anywhere of a depletion of men. The whole crowded place
was smouldering with excitement. The diners looked about them as
they talked, some talked loudly and seemed to be expressing
sentiments. Newspaper vendors appeared at the intersection of
the arcades, uttering ambiguous cries, and did a brisk business
of flitting white sheets among the little tables.

"To-night," said my companion, "I think we shall declare war upon
Germany. The decision is being made."

I asked intelligently why this had not been done before. I
forget the precise explanation he gave. A young soldier in
uniform, who had been dining at an adjacent table and whom I had
not recognised before as a writer I had met some years previously
in London, suddenly joined in our conversation, with a slightly
different explanation. I had been carrying on a conversation in
slightly ungainly French, but now I relapsed into English.

But indeed the matter of that declaration of war is as plain as
daylight; the Italian national consciousness has not at first
that direct sense of the German danger that exists in the minds
of the three northern Allies. To the Italian the traditional
enemy is Austria, and this war is not primarily a war for any
other end than the emancipation of Italy. Moreover we have to
remember that for years there has been serious commercial
friction between France and Italy, and considerable mutual
elbowing in North Africa. Both Frenchmen and Italians are
resolute to remedy this now, but the restoration of really
friendly and trustful relations is not to be done in a day. It
has been an extraordinary misfortune for Great Britain that
instead of boldly taking over her shipping from its private
owners and using it all, regardless of their profit, in the
interests of herself and her allies, her government has permitted
so much of it as military and naval needs have not requisitioned
to continue to ply for gain, which the government itself has
shared by a tax on war profits. The Anglophobe elements in
Italian public life have made the utmost of this folly or laxity
in relation more particularly to the consequent dearness of coal
in Italy. They have carried on an amazingly effective campaign
in which this British slackness with the individual profiteer, is
represented as if it were the deliberate greed of the British
state. This certainly contributed very much to fortify Italy's
disinclination to slam the door on the German connection.

I did my best to make it clear to my two friends that so far from
England exploiting Italy, I myself suffered in exactly the same
way as any Italian, through the extraordinary liberties of our
shipping interest. "I pay as well as you do," I said; "the
shippers' blockade of Great Britain is more effective than the
submarines'. My food, my coal, my petrol are all restricted in
the sacred name of private property. You see, capital in England
has hitherto been not an exploitation but a hold-up. We are
learning differently now.... And anyhow, Mr. Runciman has been
here and given Italy assurances...."

In the train to Modane this old story recurred again. It is
imperative that English readers should understand clearly how
thoroughly these little matters have been /worked/ by the

Some slight civilities led to a conversation that revealed the
Italian lady in the corner as an Irishwoman married to an
Italian, and also brought out the latent English of a very
charming elderly lady opposite to her. She had heard a speech, a
wonderful speech from a railway train, by "the Lord Runciman." He
had said the most beautiful things about Italy.

I did my best to echo these beautiful things.

Then the Irishwoman remarked that Mr. Runciman had not satisfied
everybody. She and her husband had met a minister--I found
afterwards he was one of the members of the late Giolotti
government--who had been talking very loudly and scornfully of
the bargain Italy was making with England. I assured her that
the desire of England was simply to give Italy all that she

"But," said the husband casually, "Mr. Runciman is a shipowner."

I explained that he was nothing of the sort. It was true that he
came of a shipowning family--and perhaps inherited a slight
tendency to see things from a shipowning point of view--but in
England we did not suspect a man on such a score as that.

"In Italy I think we should," said the husband of the Irish


This incidental discussion is a necessary part of my impression
of Italy at war. The two western allies and Great Britain in
particular have to remember Italy's economic needs, and to
prepare to rescue them from the blind exploitation of private
profit. They have to remember these needs too, because, if they
are left out of the picture, then it becomes impossible to
understand the full measure of the risk Italy has faced in
undertaking this war for an idea. With a Latin lucidity she has
counted every risk, and with a Latin idealism she has taken her
place by the side of those who fight for a liberal civilisation
against a Byzantine imperialism.

As I came out of the brightly lit Galleria Vittorio Emanuele into
the darkened Piazza del Duomo I stopped under the arcade and
stood looking up at the shadowy darkness of that great pinnacled
barn, that marble bride-cake, which is, I suppose, the last
southward fortress of the Franco-English Gothic.

"It was here," said my host, "that we burnt the German stuff."

"What German stuff?"

"Pianos and all sorts of things. From the shops. It is
possible, you know, to buy things too cheaply--and to give too
much for the cheapness."




If I had to present some particular scene as typical of the
peculiar vileness and mischief wrought by this modern warfare
that Germany has elaborated and thrust upon the world, I do not
think I should choose as my instance any of those great
architectural wrecks that seem most to impress contemporary
writers. I have seen the injuries and ruins of the cathedrals at
Arras and Soissons and the wreckage of the great church at Saint
Eloi, I have visited the Hotel de Ville at Arras and seen
photographs of the present state of the Cloth Hall at Ypres--a
building I knew very well indeed in its days of pride--and I have
not been very deeply moved. I suppose that one is a little
accustomed to Gothic ruins, and that there is always something
monumental about old buildings; it is only a question of degree
whether they are more or less tumble-down. I was far more
desolated by the obliteration of such villages as Fricourt and
Dompierre, and by the horrible state of the fields and gardens
round about them, and my visit to Arras railway station gave me
all the sensations of coming suddenly on a newly murdered body.

Before I visited the recaptured villages in the zone of the
actual fighting, I had an idea that their evacuation was only
temporary, that as soon as the war line moved towards Germany the
people of the devastated villages would return to build their
houses and till their fields again. But I see now that not only
are homes and villages destroyed almost beyond recognition, but
the very fields are destroyed. They are wildernesses of shell
craters; the old worked soil is buried and great slabs of crude
earth have been flung up over it. No ordinary plough will travel
over this frozen sea, let along that everywhere chunks of timber,
horrible tangles of rusting wire, jagged fragments of big shells,
and a great number of unexploded shells are entangled in the
mess. Often this chaos is stained bright yellow by high
explosives, and across it run the twisting trenches and
communication trenches eight, ten, or twelve feet deep. These
will become water pits and mud pits into which beasts will fall.
It is incredible that there should be crops from any of this
region of the push for many years to come. There is no shade
left; the roadside trees are splintered stumps with scarcely the
spirit to put forth a leaf; a few stunted thistles and weeds are
the sole proofs that life may still go on.

The villages of this wide battle region are not ruined; they are
obliterated. It is just possible to trace the roads in them,
because the roads have been cleared and repaired for the passing
of the guns and ammunition. Fricourt is a tangle of German dug-
outs. One dug-out in particular there promises to become a show
place. It must be the masterpiece of some genius for dug-outs;
it is made as if its makers enjoyed the job; it is like the work
of some horrible badger among the vestiges of what were pleasant
human homes. You are taken down a timbered staircase into its
warren of rooms and passages; you are shown the places under the
craters of the great British shells, where the wood splintered
but did not come in. (But the arrival of those shells must have
been a stunning moment.) There are a series of ingenious bolting
shafts set with iron climbing bars. In this place German
officers and soldiers have lived continually for nearly two
years. This war is, indeed, a troglodytic propaganda. You come
up at last at the far end into what was once a cellar of a decent
Frechman's home.

But there are stranger subterranean refuges than that at
Fricourt. At Dompierre the German trenches skirted the cemetery,
and they turned the dead out of their vaults and made lurking
places of the tombs. I walked with M. Joseph Reinach about this
place, picking our way carefully amidst the mud holes and the
wire, and watched the shells bursting away over the receding
battle line to the west. The wreckage of the graves was
Durereqsue. And here would be a fragment of marble angle and
here a split stone with an inscription. Splinters of coffins,
rusty iron crosses and the petals of tin flowers were trampled
into the mud, amidst the universal barbed wire. A little
distance down the slope is a brand new cemetery, with new metal
wreaths and even a few flowers; it is a disciplined array of
uniform wooden crosses, each with its list of soldiers' names.
Unless I am wholly mistaken in France no Germans will ever get a
chance for ever more to desecrate that second cemetery as they
have done its predecessor.

We walked over the mud heaps and litter that had once been houses
towards the centre of Dompierre village, and tried to picture to
ourselves what the place had been. Many things are recognisable
in Dompierre that have altogether vanished at Fricourt; for
instance, there are quire large triangular pieces of the church
wall upstanding at Dompierre. And a mile away perhaps down the
hill on the road towards Amiens, the ruins of the sugar refinery
are very distinct. A sugar refinery is an affair of big iron
receptacles and great flues and pipes and so forth, and iron does
not go down under gun fire as stone or brick does. The whole
fabric wars rust, bent and twisted, gaping with shell holes, that
raggedest display of old iron, but it still kept its general
shape, as a smashed, battered, and sunken ironclad might do at
the bottom of the sea.

There wasn't a dog left of the former life of Dompierre. There
was not even much war traffic that morning on the worn and muddy
road. The guns muttered some miles away to the west, and a lark
sang. But a little way farther on up the road was an
intermediate dressing station, rigged up with wood and
tarpaulins, and orderlies were packing two wounded men into an
ambulance. The men on the stretchers were grey faced, as though
they had been trodden on by some gigantic dirty boot.

As we came back towards where our car waited by the cemetery I
heard the jingle of a horseman coming across the space behind us.
I turned and beheld one of the odd contrasts that seem always to
be happening in this incredible war. This man was, I suppose, a
native officer of some cavalry force from French north Africa.
He was a handsome dark brown Arab, wearing a long yellow-white
robe and a tall cap about which ran a band of sheepskin. He was
riding one of those little fine lean horses with long tails that
I think are Barbary horses, his archaic saddle rose fore and aft
of him, and the turned-up toes of his soft leather boots were
stuck into great silver stirrups. He might have ridden straight
out of the Arabian nights. He passed thoughtfully, picking his
way delicately among the wire and the shell craters, and coming
into the road, broke into a canter and vanished in the direction
of the smashed-up refinery.


About such towns as Rheims or Arras or Soissons there is an
effect of waiting stillness like nothing else I have ever
experienced. At Arras the situation is almost incredible to the
civilian mind. The British hold the town, the Germans hold a
northern suburb; at one point near the river the trenches are
just four metres apart. This state of tension has lasted for
long months.

Unless a very big attack is contemplated, I suppose there is no
advantage in an assault; across that narrow interval we should
only get into trenches that might be costly or impossible to
hold, and so it would be for the Germans on our side. But there
is a kind of etiquette observed; loud vulgar talking on either
side of the four-metre gap leads at once to bomb throwing. And
meanwhile on both sides guns of various calibre keep up an
intermittent fire, the German guns register--I think that is the
right term--on the cross of Arras cathedral, the British guns
search lovingly for the German batteries. As one walks about the
silent streets one hears, "/Bang/---Pheeee---woooo" and then far
away "/dump./" One of ours. Then presently back comes
"Pheeee---woooo---/Bang!/" One of theirs.

Amidst these pleasantries, the life of the town goes on. /Le
Lion d'Arras/, an excellent illustrated paper, produces its
valiant sheets, and has done so since the siege began.

The current number of /Le Lion d'Arras/ had to report a
local German success. Overnight they had killed a gendarme.
There is to be a public funeral and much ceremony. It is rare
for anyone now to get killed; everything is so systematised.

You may buy postcards with views of the destruction at various
angles, and send them off with the Arras postmark. The town is
not without a certain business activity. There is, I am told, a
considerable influx of visitors of a special sort; they wear
khaki and lead the troglodytic life. They play cards and gossip
and sleep in the shadows, and may not walk the streets. I had
one glimpse of a dark crowded cellar. Now and then one sees a
British soldier on some special errand; he keeps to the pavement,
mindful of the spying German sausage balloon in the air. The
streets are strangely quite and grass grows between the stones.

The Hotel de Ville and the cathedral are now mostly heaps of
litter, but many streets of the town have suffered very little.
Here and there a house has been crushed and one or two have been
bisected, the front reduced to a heap of splinters and the back
halves of the rooms left so that one sees the bed, the hanging
end of the carpet, the clothes cupboard yawning open, the
pictures still on the wall. In one place a lamp stands on a
chest of drawers, on a shelf of floor cut off completely from the
world below.... Pheeee---woooo---/Bang!/ One would be
irresistibly reminded of a Sunday afternoon in the city of
London, if it were not for those unmeaning explosions.

I went to the station, a dead railway station. A notice-board
requested us to walk around the silent square on the outside
pavement and not across it. The German sausage balloon had not
been up for days; it had probably gone off to the Somme; the
Somme was a terrible vortex just then which was sucking away the
resources of the whole German line; but still discipline is
discipline. The sausage might come peeping up at any moment over
the station roof, and so we skirted the square. Arras was fought
for in the early stages of the war; two lines of sand-bagged
breastworks still run obliquely through the station; one is where
the porters used to put luggage upon cabs and one runs the length
of the platform. The station was a fine one of the modern type,
with a glass roof whose framework still remains, though the glass
powders the floor and is like a fine angular gravel underfoot.
The rails are rails of rust, and cornflowers and mustard and tall
grasses grow amidst the ballast. The waiting-rooms have suffered
from a shell or so, but there are still the sofas of green plush,
askew, a little advertisement hung from the wall, the glass
smashed. The ticket bureau is as if a giant had scattered a
great number of tickets, mostly still done up in bundles, to
Douai, to Valenciennes, to Lens and so on. These tickets are
souvenirs too portable to resist. I gave way to that common

I went out and looked up and down the line; two deserted goods
trucks stood as if they sheltered under a footbridge. The grass
poked out through their wheels. The railway signals seemed
uncertain in their intimations; some were up and some were down.
And it was as still and empty as a summer afternoon in Pompeii.
No train has come into Arras for two long years now.

We lunched in a sunny garden with various men who love Arras but
are weary of it, and we disputed about Irish politics. We
discussed the political future of Sir F. E. Smith. We also
disputed whether there was an equivalent in English for
/embusque./ Every now and then a shell came over--an
aimless shell.

A certain liveliness marked our departure from the town.
Possibly the Germans also listen for the rare infrequent
automobile. At any rate, as we were just starting our way back--
it is improper to mention the exact point from which we started--
came "Pheeee---woooo." Quite close. But there was no /Bang!/
One's mind hung expectant and disappointed. It was a dud shell.

And then suddenly I became acutely aware of the personality of
our chauffeur. It was not his business to talk to us, but he
turned his head, showed a sharp profile, wry lips and a bright
excited eye, and remarked, "/That/ was a near one--anyhow."
He then cut a corner over the pavement and very nearly cut it
through a house. He bumped us over a shell hole and began to
toot his horn. At every gateway, alley, and cross road on this
silent and empty streets of Arras and frequently in between, he
tooted punctiliously. (It is not proper to sound motor horns in
Arras.) I cannot imagine what the listening Germans made of it.
We passed the old gates of that city of fear, still tooting


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