Infomotions, Inc.The White Road to Verdun / Burke, Kathleen, 1887-1958

Author: Burke, Kathleen, 1887-1958
Title: The White Road to Verdun
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): verdun; general petain; general nivelle; france; whilst
Contributor(s): Randolph, Rev. Dr. [Translator]
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Identifier: etext16945
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The White Road to Verdun, by Kathleen Burke

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Title: The White Road to Verdun

Author: Kathleen Burke

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Language: English

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[Illustration: Frontispiece.]

Hodder and Stoughton
London New York Toronto
Printed in Great Britain by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and













                                                     10th August, 1916.

We left Paris determined to undertake the journey to the front in the
true spirit of the French _poilu_, and, no matter what happened, "_de ne
pas s'en faire_."

This famous "motto" of the French Army is probably derived from one of
two slang sentences: "De ne pas se faire des cheveux" ("To keep one's
hair on"), or "De ne pas se faire de la bile" (or, in other words, not
to upset one's digestion by unnecessary worrying). The phrase is typical
of the mentality of the _poilu_, who accepts anything and everything
that may happen, whether it be merely slight physical discomfort or
intense suffering, as part of the willing sacrifice which he made on the
day that, leaving his homestead and his daily occupation, he took up
arms "offering his body as a shield to defend the Heart of France."

Everything might be worse than it is, says the _poilu_, and so he has
composed a litany. Every regiment has a different version, but always
with the same fundamental basis:

"Of two things one is certain: either you're mobilised or you're not
mobilised. If you're not mobilised, there is no need to worry; if you
are mobilised, of two things one is certain: either you're behind the
lines or you're on the front. If you're behind the lines, there is no
need to worry; if you're on the front, of two things one is certain:
either you're resting in a safe place or you're exposed to danger. If
you're resting in a safe place, there is no need to worry; if you're
exposed to danger, of two things one is certain: either you're wounded
or you're not wounded. If you're not wounded, there is no need to worry;
if you are wounded, of two things one is certain: either you're wounded
seriously or you're wounded slightly. If you're wounded slightly, there
is no need to worry; if you're wounded seriously, of two things one is
certain: either you recover or you die. If you recover, there is no need
to worry; if you die, you can't worry."

When once past the "Wall of China," as the French authorities call the
difficult approaches of the war zone, Meaux was the first town of
importance at which we stopped.

We had an opportunity to sample the army bread, as the driver of a
passing bread-wagon flung a large round loaf into our motor.

According to all accounts received from the French soldiers who are in
the prison-camps of Germany, one of the greatest hardships is the lack
of white bread, and they have employed various subterfuges in the
endeavour to let their relatives know that they wish to have bread sent
to them. Some of the Bretons writing home nicknamed bread "Monsieur
Barras," and when there was a very great shortage they would write to
their families: "Ce pauvre Monsieur Barras ne se porte pas tres bien a
present." Finally, the Germans discovered the real significance of M.
Barras, and they added to one of the letters: "Si M. Barras ne se porte
pas tres bien a present, c'est bien la faute de vos amis les Anglais"
("If M. Barras is not very fit, it is the fault of your friends the
English"), and from then all the letters referring to M. Barras were
strictly suppressed.

While the German Press may not be above admitting a shortage of food in
Germany, it seriously annoys the Army that the French prisoners or the
French in the invaded regions should hear of it. I heard one story of
the wife of a French officer in Lille who was obliged to offer unwilling
hospitality to a German captain, who, in a somewhat clumsy endeavour to
be amiable, offered to try to get news of her husband and to convey it
to her. Appreciating the seeming friendliness of the captain, she
confided to him that she had means of communicating with her husband who
was on the French front. The captain informed against her, and the next
day she was sent for by the Kommandantur, who imposed a fine of 50 frs.
upon her for having received a letter from the enemy lines. Taking a
100-fr. note from her bag, she placed it on the desk, saying, "M. le
Kommandantur, here is the 50 frs. fine, and also another 50 frs. which I
am glad to subscribe for the starving women and children in Berlin."

"No one starves in Berlin," replied the Kommandantur.

"Oh, yes, they do," replied Madame X. "I know, because the captain who
so kindly informed you that I had received a letter from my husband
showed me a letter the other day from his wife, in which she spoke of
the sad condition of the women and children of Germany, who, whilst not
starving, were far from happy." Thus she not only had the pleasure of
seriously annoying the Kommandantur, but also a chance to get even with
the captain who had informed against her, and who is no longer in soft
quarters in Lille, but paying the penalty of his indiscretion by a
sojourn on the Yser.

The bridge at Meaux, destroyed in the course of the German retreat, has
not yet been entirely repaired. Beneath it rushes the Marne, and the
river sings in triumph, as it passes, that it is carrying away the soil
that has been desecrated by the steps of the invader and that day by day
it is washing clean the land of France.

In the fields where the corn is standing, the tiny crosses marking the
last resting-places of the men are entirely hidden; but where the grain
has been gathered, the graves stand out distinctly, marked not only by a
cross, but also by the tall bunches of corn which have been left growing
on these small patches of holy ground. It has always been said that
France has two harvests each year. Certainly in the fields of the Marne
there is not only the harvest of bread--there is also springing up the
harvest of security and peace.

The peasants as they point out the graves always add: "We of the people
know that those men sacrificed their lives that our children might live.
Those who have died in vain for an unjust cause may well envy the men of
France who have poured out their blood for the benefit of humanity."

Looking on the crosses on the battlefield of the Marne, I realised to
the fullest extent the sacrifices, borne with such bravery, of the women
of France. I thought of the picture I had seen in Paris of a group of
mothers standing at the foot of Calvary, looking out over the fields of
small black crosses, lifting their hands to Heaven, with the words--"We
also, God, have given our sons for the peace of the world."

At Montmirail the real activity of the war zone first became apparent.
We drew the car to the side of the road and waited whilst a long
procession of empty munition-wagons passed on the way back from the
munition-parks near the fighting-line. There was a smile on the face of
every one of the drivers. Each of them had the satisfaction of knowing
that there was no chance of his returning with an empty wagon, as there
is no lack of provisions to feed the hungriest of the "75's" or any of
her larger sisters.

The fact that it is known that there is an ample supply of munitions
plays an important part in the "moral" of the troops. The average
_poilu_ has no sympathy with the man who grumbles at the number of hours
he may have to work. We heard the tale of a munition-worker who was
complaining in a cafe at having to work so hard. A _poilu_ who was _en
permission_ and who was sitting at the next table, turned to him,
saying, "You have no right to grumble: you receive 10 to 12 francs a day
for making shells, and we poor devils get 5 sous a day for stopping

We lunched in the small but hospitable village of Sezanne, in company
with a most charming invalided officer who informed us that he was the
principal in that district of the S.D.R.D.R. (Service de Recherche des
Rattiers) (the Principal Recruiting Officer for Rat-catchers). In other
words, he is spending his time endeavouring to persuade suitable
"bow-wows" to enlist in the service of their country. Likely dogs are
trained until they do not bark, and become entirely accustomed to the
sound of firing; they are then pronounced "Aptes a faire campagne," or
"Fit for service," receive their _livret militaire_, or
certificates--for not every chance dog is allowed in the trenches--and
are dispatched to the trenches on a rat-hunting campaign.

From Sezanne we proceeded direct to the new camp for German prisoners at
Cannantre. The prisoners were mostly men who had been taken in the
recent fighting on the Somme or round Verdun. The camp was already
excellently installed, and the prisoners were busy in groups gardening,
making bread, or sitting before great heaps of potatoes, preparing them
for the evening meal. The German sense of order was everywhere in
evidence. In the long barracks where the men slept the beds were tidy,
and above each bed was a small shelf, each shelf arranged in exactly
the same order, the principal ornaments being a mug, fork, and spoon;
and just as each bed resembled each other bed, so the fork and spoon
were placed in their respective mugs at exactly the same angle. There
were small partitioned apartments for the noncommissioned officers. The
French Commander of the camp told us that the German love of holding
some form of office was everywhere apparent. The French made no attempt
to command the prisoners themselves, but always chose men from amongst
the prisoners who were placed in authority over their comrades. The
prisoners rejoiced exceedingly and promptly increased in self-importance
and, alas! decreased in manners, if they were given the smallest
position which raised them above the level of the rest of the men.

In the barrack where they were cutting up bread for the prisoners, we
asked the men if they deeply regretted their captivity. They replied
unanimously that they were "rather glad to be well fed," which seemed an
answer in itself. They did not, however, appreciate the white bread and
stated that they preferred their own black bread. The French officers
commanding the camp treat the prisoners as naughty children who must be
"kept in the corner" and punished for their own good. In all my travels
through France I have never seen any bitterness shown towards the
prisoners. I remember once at Nevers we passed a group of German
prisoners, and amongst them was a wounded man who was lying in a small
cart. A handbag had fallen across his leg, and none of his comrades
attempted to remove it. A French woman, pushing her way between the
guards, lifted it off and gave it to one of the Germans to carry. When
the guards tried to remonstrate, she replied simply, "J'ai un fils
prisonnier la-bas, faut esperer qu'une allemande ferait autant pour lui"
("I have a son who is a prisoner in their land, let us hope that some
German woman will do as much for him").

On the battlefields the kindness of the French medical men to the German
wounded has always been conspicuous. One of my neutral friends passing
through Germany heard from one of the prominent German surgeons that
they were well aware of this fact, and knew that their wounded received
every attention. There is a story known throughout France of a French
doctor who was attending a wounded German on the battlefield. The man,
who was probably half delirious, snatched at a revolver which was lying
near by and attempted to shoot the doctor. The doctor took the revolver
from him, patted him on the head, and said, "Voyons, voyons, ne faites
pas l'enfant" ("Now then, now then, don't be childish"), and went on
dressing his wounds.

Everywhere you hear accounts of brotherly love and religious tolerance.
I remember kneeling once by the side of a dying French soldier who was
tenderly supported in the arms of a famous young Mohammedan surgeon, an
Egyptian who had taken his degree in Edinburgh and was now attached to
the French Red Cross. The man's mind was wandering, and seeing a woman
beside him he commenced to talk to me as to his betrothed. "This war
cannot last always, little one, and when it is over we will buy a pig
and a cow and we will go to the cure, won't we, beloved?" Then in a
lucid moment he realised that he was dying, and he commenced to pray,
"Ave Maria, Ave Maria," but the poor tired brain could remember nothing
more. He turned to me to continue, but I could no longer trust myself to
speak, and it was the Mohammedan who took up the prayer and continued it
whilst the soldier followed with his lips until his soul passed away
into the valley of shadows. I think this story is only equalled in its
broad tolerance by that of the Rabbi Bloch of Lyons, who was shot at the
battle of the Aisne whilst holding a crucifix to the lips of a dying
Christian soldier. The soldier-priests of France have earned the love
and respect of even the most irreligious of the _poilus_. They never
hesitate to risk their lives, and have displayed sublime courage and
devotion to their duty as priests and as soldiers. Behind the first line
of trenches a soldier-priest called suddenly to attend a dying comrade
took a small dog he was nursing, and handing it to one of the men,
simply remarked, "Take care of the little beast for me; I am going to a
dangerous corner and I do not want it killed."

I have seen the Mass celebrated on a gun-carriage. Vases made of
shell-cases were filled with flowers that the men had risked their lives
to gather, in order to deck the improvised altar. A Red Cross ambulance
drove up and stopped near by. The wounded begged to be taken out on
their stretchers and laid at the foot of the altar in order that "they
might receive the blessing of the good God" before starting on the long
journey to the hospital behind the lines.

Outside the prison-camp of Cannantre stood a circle of French soldiers
learning the bugle calls for the French Army. I wondered how the Germans
cared to listen to the martial music of the men of France, one and all
so sure of the ultimate victory of their country. Half a kilometre
farther on, a series of mock trenches had been made where the men were
practising the throwing of hand grenades. Every available inch of space
behind the French lines is made to serve some useful purpose.

I never see a hand grenade without thinking how difficult it is just now
to be a hero in France. Every man is really a hero, and the men who have
medals are almost ashamed, since they know that nearly all their
comrades merit them. It is especially difficult to be a hero in one's
own family. One of the men in our hospital at Royaumont had been in the
trenches during an attack. A grenade thrown by one of the French
soldiers struck the parapet and rebounded amongst the men. With that
rapidity of thought which is part of the French character, Jules sat on
the grenade and extinguished it. For this act of bravery he was
decorated by the French Government and wrote home to tell his wife. I
found him sitting up in bed, gloomily reading her reply, and I inquired
why he looked so glum. "Well, mademoiselle," he replied, "I wrote to my
wife to tell her of my new honour; and see what she says: 'My dear
Jules, we are not surprised you got a medal for sitting on a hand
grenade; we have never known you to do anything else but sit down at

It was at Fere Champinoise that we passed through the first village
which had been entirely destroyed by the retreating Germans. Only half
the church was standing, but services are still held there every Sunday.
Very little attempt has been made to rebuild the ruined houses. Were I
one of the villagers, I would prefer to raze to the ground all that
remained of the desecrated homesteads and build afresh new dwellings;
happy in the knowledge that with the victory of the Allies would start a
period of absolute security, prosperity, and peace.

It was on the same day that we had the privilege of beholding some of
the 400-cm. guns of France, all prepared and ready to travel at a
minute's notice along the railway lines to the section where they might
be needed. Some idea of their size may be obtained from the fact that
there were ten axles to the base on which they travel. They were all
disguised by the system of _camouflage_ employed by the French Army, and
at a very short distance they blend with the landscape and become almost
invisible. Each gun bears a different name, "Alsace," "Lorraine," etc.,
and with that strange irony and cynical wit of the French trooper, at
the request of the men of one battery, one huge gun has been christened
"Mosquito," "because it stings."

The French often use a bitter and biting humour in speaking of the
enemy. For instance, amongst the many pets of the men, the strangest I
saw was a small hawk sitting on the wrist of a soldier who had trained
him. The bird was the personification of evil. If anyone approached, he
snapped at them and endeavoured to bite them. I asked the man why he
kept him, and he replied that they had quite good sport in the trenches
when they allowed the hawk to hunt small birds and field-mice. Then, his
expression changing from jovial good-humour to grimness, he added: "You
know, I call him 'Zepp,' because he kills the little ones" ("parcequ'il
tue les tous petits").

In one small cantonment where 200 _poilus_ sang, shouted, ate, drank,
and danced together to the strain of a wheezy gramophone, or in one word
were "resting," I started to investigate the various kinds of pets owned
by the troopers. Cats, dogs, and monkeys were common, whilst one _poilu_
was the proud possessor of a parrot which he had purchased from a
refugee obliged to fly from his home. He hastened to assure us that the
bird had learned his "vocabulary" from his former proprietor. A study
in black and white was a group of three or four white mice, nestling
against the neck of a Senegalais.

The English Tommy is quite as devoted to animals as is his French
brother. I remember crossing one bitter February day from Boulogne to
Folkestone. Alongside the boat, on the quay at Boulogne, were lined up
the men who had been granted leave. Arrayed in their shaggy fur coats,
they resembled little the smart British Tommy of peace times. It was
really wonderful how much the men managed to conceal under those fur
coats, or else the eye of the officer inspecting them was intentionally
not too keen.

Up the gangway trooped the men, and I noticed that two of them walked
slowly and cautiously. The boat safely out of harbour, one of them
produced from his chest a large tabby cat, whilst the other placed a
fine cock on the deck. It was a cock with the true Gaelic spirit: before
the cat had time to consider the situation it had sprung on its back.
The cat beat a hasty retreat into the arms of its protector, who
replaced it under his coat. Once in safety, it stuck out its head and
swore at the cock, which, perched on a coil of rope, crowed

Both animals had been the companions of the men whilst in the trenches,
and they were bringing them home.

A soldier standing near me commenced to grumble because he had not been
able to bring his pet with him. I inquired why he had left it behind,
since the others had brought theirs away with them, and elicited the
information that "his pet was a cow, and therefore somewhat difficult to
transport." He seemed rather hurt that I should laugh, and assured me
it was "a noble animal, brown with white spots, and had given himself
and his comrades two quarts of milk a day." He looked disdainfully at
the cock and cat. "They could have left them behind and no one would
have pinched them, whereas I know I'll never see 'Sarah' again--she was
far too useful."

Entering Vitry-le-Francois we had a splendid example of the typical
"motto" of the French trooper, "Il ne faut pas s'en faire." One of the
motor-cars had broken down, and the officer-occupants, who were
evidently not on an urgent mission, had gone to sleep on the banks by
the side of the road whilst the chauffeur was making the necessary
repairs. We offered him assistance, but he was progressing quite well
alone. Later on another officer related to me his experience when his
car broke down at midnight some 20 km. from a village. The chauffeur was
making slow headway with the repairs. The officer inquired whether he
really understood the job, and received the reply, "Yes, mon lieutenant,
I think I do; but I am rather a novice, as before the war I was a
lion-tamer!" Apparently the gallant son of Gaul found it easier to tame
lions than to repair motors.

We left Vitry-le-Francois at 6 o'clock next morning, and started "the
hunt for generals." It is by no means easy to discover where the actual
Q.G. (Headquarters) of the General of any particular secteur is

We were not yet really on the "White Road" to Verdun, and there was
still much to be seen that delighted the eyes. In one yellow cornfield
there appeared to be enormous poppies. On approaching we discovered a
detachment of Tirailleurs from Algiers, sitting in groups, and the
"poppies" were the red fezes of the men--a gorgeous blending of crimson
and gold. We threw a large box of cigarettes to them, and were greeted
with shouts of joy and thanks. The Tirailleurs are the "enfants
terribles" of the French Army. One noble son of Africa who was being
treated in one of the hospitals once presented me with an aluminium ring
made from a piece of German shell. I asked him to make one for one of my
comrades who was working at home, and he informed me that nothing would
have given him greater pleasure, but unfortunately he had no more
aluminium. Later in the day, passing through the ward, I saw him
surrounded by five or six Parisian ladies who were showering sweets,
cigarettes, and flowers on him, whilst he was responding by presenting
each of them with an aluminium ring. When they had left I went to him
and told him, "Mahmud, that was not kind. I asked you for a ring and you
said you had not got any more aluminium." He smiled, and his nurse, who
was passing, added, "No, he had not _got_ any more aluminium, but when
he is better he will _get_ forty-eight hours' punishment; he had been
into the kitchen, stolen one of our best aluminium saucepans, and has
been making souvenirs for the ladies." He made no attempt to justify his
action beyond stating: "Moi, pas si mauvais; toi, pas faux souvenir" ("I
am not so bad; I did not attempt to give you a fake souvenir").

Another of our chocolate-coloured patients found in the grounds of the
hospital an old umbrella. Its ribs stuck out and it was full of holes,
but it gave him the idea of royalty, and daily he sat up in bed in the
ward with the umbrella unfurled whilst he laid down the law to his
comrades. The nurses endeavoured to persuade him to hand it over at
night. He obstinately refused, insisting that "he knew his comrades,"
and he feared that one of them would certainly steal the treasure, so he
preferred to keep it in the bed with him.

At Villers-le-Sec we came upon the headquarters of the cooks for that
section of the front. The cook is one of the most important men in a
French regiment; he serves many ends. When carrying the food through the
communicating trenches to the front-line trenches, he is always supposed
to bring to the men the latest news, the latest tale which is going the
round of the camp, and anything that may happen to interest them. If he
has not got any news he must manufacture and produce some kind of story.
It is really necessary for him to be not only a cook but also an author.

There is a tale going the round of the French Army how one section of
the cooks, although unarmed, managed to take some twenty German
prisoners. As they went on their way, they saw the Germans in the
distance approaching them; the head cook quietly drew the field-kitchens
behind a clump of trees and bushes, placed his men in a row, each with a
cooking utensil in his hand, and as the Germans passed shouted to them
to surrender. The sun fell on the handles of the saucepans, causing them
to shine like bayonets, and the Germans, taken unawares, laid down
their arms. The head cook then stepped out and one by one took the
rifles from the enemy and handed them to his men. It was only when he
had disarmed the Germans and armed his comrades that he gave the signal
for them to step out, and the Germans saw that they had been taken by a
ruse. One can imagine the joy of the French troops in the next village,
when, with a soup-ladle in his hand, his assistants armed with German
rifles, followed by the soup-kitchen and twenty prisoners, he marched in
to report.

It is curious to note how near humour is to tragedy in war, and how
quick-wittedness may serve a useful purpose and even save life. A young
French medical student told me that he owed his life to the quick wit of
the women of a village and the sense of humour of a Saxon officer.
Whilst passing from one hospital to another, he was captured by a small
German patrol, and in spite of his papers, proving that he was attached
to the Red Cross Service, he was tried as a spy and condemned to be
shot. At the opening of his trial the women had been interested
spectators; towards the end all of them had vanished. He was placed
against a barn door, the firing squad lined up, when from behind the
hedge bordering a wood the women began to bombard the soldiers with
eggs. The aim was excellent--not one man escaped; the German officer
laughed at the plight of his men and, in the brief respite accorded, the
young man dashed towards the hedge and vanished in the undergrowth. The
Germans fired a few shots, but there was no organised attempt to follow
him, probably because their own position was not too secure. He was
loath to leave the women to face the music, but they insisted that it
was "Pour la Patrie," and that they were quite capable of taking care of
themselves. Later he again visited the village, and the women told him
that beyond obliging them to clean the soldiers' clothes thoroughly, the
German officer had inflicted no other punishment upon them.

A certain number of inhabitants are still living in the village of
Revigny. You see everywhere placards announcing "Caves pour 25," "Caves
pour 100," and each person knows to which cellar he is to go if a Taube
should start bombing the village. I saw one cellar marked "120 persons,
specially safe, reserved for the children." Children are one of the most
valuable assets of France, and a good old Territorial _Pe-pere_ (Daddy),
as they are nicknamed, told me that it was his special but difficult
duty to muster the children directly a Taube was signalled, and chase
them down into the cellar. Mopping his brow, he assured me that it was
not easy to catch the little beggars, who hid in the ruins, behind the
army wagons, anywhere to escape the "parental" eye. It is needless to
add they consider it a grave infringement of their personal liberty and
think that they should be allowed to remain in the open and see all that
goes on, just as the little Londoners beg and coax to be allowed to stay
up "to see the Zepps."

Passing the railway-station, we stopped to make some inquiries, and
promptly ascertained all we wished to know from the chef de gare.

In the days of peace there is in France no one more officious than the
station-master of a small but prosperous village. Now he is the meekest
of men. Braided cap in hand, he goes along the train from carriage door
to carriage door, humbly requesting newspapers for the wounded in the
local hospitals. "Nous avons 125 blesses ici, cela les fait tant de
plaisir d'avoir des nouvelles" ("We have 125 wounded here, and oh! how
they love to have the latest news").

In addition to levying a toll on printed matter, he casts a covetous and
meaning glance on any fruit or chocolate that may be visible. Before the
train is out of the station, you can see the once-busy and in his own
opinion all-important railway official vanishing down the road to carry
his spoils to his suffering comrades. Railway travelling is indeed
expensive in France. No matter what time of day or night, wet or fine,
the trains are met at each station by devoted women who extract
contributions for the Red Cross funds from the pockets of willing
givers. It is only fair to state, however, that in most instances the
station-master gets there first.

From the time we left Revigny until we had passed into the Champagne
country, upon the return journey from Verdun, we no longer saw a green
tree or a blade of green grass; we were now indeed upon the "White Road
which leads into Verdun." Owing to an exceptionally trying and dry
summer the roads are thick with white dust. The continual passing of the
_camions_, the splendid transport-wagons of the French Army, carrying
either food, munitions, or troops, has stirred up the dust and coated
the fields, trees, and hedges with a thick layer of white. It is almost
as painful to the eyes as the snow-fields of the Alps.

I saw one horse that looked exactly like a plaster statuette. His master
had scrubbed him down, but before he dried the white dust had settled on
him everywhere. Naturally "humans" do not escape. By the time our party
reached the headquarters of General Petain, we had joined the White
Brigade. I excused myself to the General, who smilingly replied, "Why
complain, mademoiselle? You are charming; your hair is powdered like a
marquise." The contrast with what had been a black fur cap on what was
now perfectly white hair justified his compliment.

I have never been renowned in my life for fear of any individual, but I
must admit that I passed into the presence of General Petain with a
great deal of respect amounting almost to awe. The defence of Verdun
through the bitter months of February and March by General Petain, a
defence which is now under the immediate control of his able
lieutenants, General Nivelle and General Dubois, has earned the respect
and admiration of the whole world. It is impossible not to feel the
deepest admiration for these men who have earned such undying glory, not
only for themselves, but for their Motherland.

No one could have been more gracious and kind than General Petain, and
in his presence one realised the strength and power of France.

Throughout all the French Headquarters one is impressed by the perfect
calm that reigns; no excitement--not even a paper on the Generals'
desks--everything perfectly organised.

General Petain asked me at once to tell him what I desired. I asked his
permission to go to Rheims. He at once took up a paper which permitted
me to enter the war zone, and endorsed it with the request to General
Debeney in Rheims to allow me to penetrate with my companions into the
city. He then turned to me again and asked me with a knowing smile if
that was all I required--for his headquarters were hardly on the direct
road to Rheims! I hesitated to express my real wish, when my good
counsellor and friend, with whom I was making the journey, the
Commandant Jean de Pulligny, answered for me--"I feel sure it would be a
great happiness and honour if you would allow us, General, to go to
Verdun." General Petain appeared slightly surprised, and turning to me,
asked, "Do you thoroughly realise the danger? You have crossed the
Atlantic and faced submarines, but you will risk more in five minutes in
Verdun than in crossing the Atlantic a thousand times." However, seeing
that I was really anxious to go, and that it might be of great service
to me in my future work to have seen personally the defence of Verdun,
he added smilingly: "Well, then, you can go if you wish, at your own
risk and peril." He then telephoned to General Nivelle the necessary
permission for us to enter Verdun.

I doubt whether General Petain realises the respect in which he is held
in all the civilised countries of the world. Probably he does not yet
understand that people would come thousands of miles to have five
minutes' audience with him, for he inquired if we were in any hurry to
continue our journey, and added with charming simplicity--"Because if
not, and you do not mind waiting an hour, I shall be glad if you will
lunch with me."

We lunched with General Petain and his etat-major. A charming and most
interesting addition to the party was M. Forain, the famous French
caricaturist, and now one of the chief instructors of the French Army in
the art of _camouflage_--the art of making a thing look like anything in
the world except what it is! He has established a series of schools all
along the French front where the _poilus_ learn to bedeck their guns and
thoroughly disguise them under delicate shades of green and yellow, with
odd pink spots in order to relieve the monotony. Certainly the
appearance of the guns of the present time would rejoice the heart and
soul of the "Futurists." It was most interesting to hear him describe
the work in detail and the rapidity with which his pupils learned the
new art. For one real battery there are probably three or four false
ones, beautiful wooden guns, etc., etc., and he told us of the _poilus'_
new version of the song "Rien n'est plus beau que notre Patrie"
("Nothing is more beautiful than our country "). They now sing "Rien
n'est plus faux que notre batterie" ("Nothing is more false than our

It was M. Forain who coined the famous phrase "that there was no fear
for the ultimate success of the Allies, if only the civilians held out!"

I was much amused at M. Forain's statement that he had already heard
that a company had been formed for erecting, after the war, wooden
hotels on the battlefields of France for the accommodation of
sightseers. Not only was it certain that these hotels were to be built,
but the rooms were already booked in advance.

It was strange to find there, within the sound of the guns--sometimes
the glasses on the table danced to the music, although no one took any
notice of that--surrounded by men directing the operations of the war
and of one of the greatest battles in history, how little war was
mentioned. Science, philosophy, and the work of women were discussed.

The men of France are taking deep interest in the splendid manner in
which the women of all the different nations are responding to the call
to service. I described to General Petain the work of the Scottish
Women's Hospitals. These magnificent hospitals are organised and staffed
entirely by women, and started, in the first instance, by the National
Union of Women's Suffrage (Scottish Branch). He was deeply interested to
learn that what had been before the war a political society, had, with
that splendid spirit of patriotism which had from the first day of the
war animated every man, woman, and child of Great Britain, drawn upon
its funds and founded the hospital units. I explained to him that it was
no longer a question of politics, but simply a case of serving humanity
and serving it to the best possible advantage. The National Union had
realised that this was a time for organised effort on the part of all
women for the benefit of the human race and the alleviation of

I spoke of the bravery of our girls in Siberia; how many of them had
laid down their lives during the typhus epidemic; how cheerfully they
had borne hardships, our doctors writing home that their tent hospitals
were like "great white birds spreading their wings under the trees,"
whereas really they had often been up all night hanging on to the
tent-poles to prevent the tents collapsing over their patients.

A member of the Etat-Major asked how we overcame the language
difficulty. I pointed out that to diagnose typhus and watch the progress
of the patient it was not necessary to speak to him, and that by the
magic language of sympathy we managed to establish some form of
"understanding" between the patients, the doctors, and the nurses.

The members of our staff were chosen as far as possible with a knowledge
of French or German, and it was possible to find many Serbians speaking
either one of these languages. We also found interpreters amongst the
Austrian prisoner orderlies. These prisoner orderlies had really proved
useful and had done their best to help us. Naturally they had their
faults. One of our lady doctors had as orderly a Viennese professor,
willing, but somewhat absent-minded. One morning she sent for him and
asked him, "Herr Karl, can you tell me what was wrong with my bath water
this morning?" "I really don't know, Fraeulein, but I will endeavour to
find out."

Ten minutes later he returned, looking decidedly guilty, and stammered
out: "I do not know how to tell you what happened to that bath water."
"Nonsense!--it can't be very terrible," replied Doctor X; "what was
wrong?" "Well, Fraeulein, when I went into the camp kitchen this morning
there were two cauldrons there--one was your bath water, and the other
was the camp soup; to you, Fraeulein, I brought the camp soup."

We who had worked with the Serbians had learned to respect and admire
them for their patriotism, courage, and patient endurance. We felt that
their outstanding characteristic was their imagination, which, turned
into the proper channels and given a chance to develop, should produce
for the world not only famous painters and poets, but also great
inventors. This vivid imagination is found in the highest and lowest of
the land. To illustrate it, I told my neighbour at table a tale related
to me by my good friend Dr. Popovic. "Two weary, ragged Serbian soldiers
were sitting huddled together waiting to be ordered forward to fight.
One asked the other, 'Do you know how this war started, Milan? You
don't?--well then, I'll tell you. The Sultan of Turkey sent our King
Peter a sack of rice. King Peter looked at the sack, smiled, then took a
very small bag and went into his garden and filled it with red pepper.
He sent the bag of red pepper to the Sultan of Turkey. Now, Milan, you
can see what that meant. The Sultan of Turkey said to our Peter, 'My
army is as numerous as the grains of rice in this sack,' and by sending
a small bag of red pepper to the Sultan our Peter replied, 'My army is
not very numerous, but it is mighty hot stuff.'"

Many members of the units of the Scottish Women's Hospitals who had been
driven out of Serbia at the time of the great invasion had asked to be
allowed to return to work for the Serbians, and we were now equipping
fresh units entirely staffed by women to serve with the Serbian Army,
besides having at the present time the medical care of 6,000 Serbian
refugees on the island of Corsica.

General Petain said, smiling, that before the war he had sometimes
thought of women "as those who inspired the most beautiful ideas in men
and prevented them from carrying them out," but the war, he added, had
certainly proved conclusively the value of women's work.

M. Forain expressed the desire to visit the chief French hospital of the
Scottish women at the Abbaye de Royaumont. The General laughingly told
him, "You do not realise how stern and devoted to duty these ladies are.
I wonder if you would be permitted to visit them?"

I consoled M. Forain by pointing out that surely as Chief Camoufler
(Disguiser) of the French Army he could disguise himself as a model of
virtue (_de se camoufler en bon garcon_). Certainly this son of France,
who has turned his brilliant intellect and his art to the saving of
men's lives, would be welcome anywhere and everywhere. I hastened to
assure him that I was only teasing him, and added that I only teased the
people I admired and liked. General Petain immediately turned to the
Commandant de Pulligny--"Please remark that she has not yet teased me."

"Probably because she fears to do it, and has too much respect for you,"
replied the Commandant.

"Fears! I do not think we need talk of that just now, when she dares to
go to Verdun."

[Illustration: Memoribilia]

[Illustration: Handwritten note:
To Miss Burke

In remembrance of your very
kind visit in Verdun and of
the noble aim you pursue in
favour of our wounded and sick
soldiers. We have been extrememly
honoured that you were so kind
to dine with us to-day 26th Juli


[Illustration: Menu]

[Illustration: A Handwritten Note]

Whilst at coffee after lunch the news came of the continued advance of
the British troops. General Petain turned to me and said: "You must
indeed be proud in England of your new army. Please tell your
English people of our admiration of the magnificent effort of England.
The raising and equipping of your giant army in such a short time was
indeed a colossal task. How well it was carried out all the world now
knows, and we are reaping the harvest."

The General's Chief of Staff added: "Lord Kitchener was right when he
said the war would last three years--the first year preparation, the
second year defence, and the third year ... _cela sera rigolo_--it will
be huge sport." He quoted the phrase as Lord Kitchener's own.

Before we left the General signed for me the menu of the lunch, pointing
out to me, however, that if I were at any time to show the menu to the
village policeman, I must assure him that the hare which figured thereon
had been run over at night by a motor-car and lost its life owing to an
accident, otherwise he might, he feared, be fined for killing game out
of season!

I shall always remember the picture of General Petain seeing us into our
car with his parting words, "You are about to do the most dangerous
thing you have ever done or will ever do in your life. As for Verdun,
tell them in England that I am smiling, and I am sure that when you see
General Nivelle you will find him smiling too. That is the best answer I
can give you as to how things are going with us at Verdun." Then with a
friendly wave of his hand we passed on our way.

After leaving the headquarters of General Petain we were held up for
some time at a level crossing and watched the busy little train puffing
along, carrying towards Verdun stores, munitions, and men. This level
crossing had been the scene of active fighting; on each side were
numerous graves, and the sentinels off duty were passing from one to the
other picking a dead leaf or drawing a branch of trailing vine over the
resting-places of their comrades.

Above our heads circle _les guepes_, the wasps of the French Army. They
had been aroused by the appearance of a Taube and were preparing to
sting, had the Taube waited or made any further attempt to proceed over
the French lines. However, deciding that discretion was the better part
of valour, it turned and fled. It is unwise, however, to stir up the
"wasps of France"; they followed it, and later in the day we heard that
it had been brought down near Verdun.

We were now in the centre of activity of the army defending Verdun. On
every hand we saw artillery-parks, ammunition-parks, and regiments
resting, whilst along the road a long line of _camions_ passed
unceasingly. During the whole length of my stay on the French front I
only saw one regiment marching. Everywhere the men are conveyed in the
_camions_, and are thus spared the fatigue which would otherwise be
caused by the intense heat and the white dust. There are perhaps only
two things that can in any way upset the perfect indifference to
difficulties of the French trooper: he hates to walk, and he refuses to
be deprived of his _pinard_. The men of the French army have named their
red wine _pinard_, just as they call water _la flotte_, always, however,
being careful to add that _la flotte_ is excellent "for washing one's

As we passed through the headquarters of General Nivelle, he sent down
word to us not to wait to call on him then, but to proceed at once to
Verdun, as later the passage would become more difficult. He kindly sent
down to us one of the officers of his staff to act as escort. The
officer sat by our chauffeur, warning him of the dangerous spots in the
road which the Germans had the habit of "watering" from time to time
with _marmites_, and ordering him to put on extra speed. Our speed along
the road into Verdun averaged well over a mile a minute.

Within range of the German guns, probably not more than four or five
kilometres from Verdun, we came on a line of men waiting their turn to
go into the cinema. After all, there was no reason _de s'en faire_, and
if they were alive they decided they might as well be happy and amused.
Just before entering the gate of Verdun we passed a number of
ambulances, some of them driven by the American volunteers. These young
Americans have displayed splendid heroism in bringing in the wounded
under difficult conditions. Many of them have been mentioned in
dispatches, and have received from France the Croix de Guerre. I also
saw an ambulance marked "Lloyd's."

It would be useless to pretend that one entered Verdun without emotion.
Verdun, sorely stricken, yet living, kept alive by the indomitable soul
of the soldiers of France, whilst her wounds are daily treated and
healed by the skill of her Generals. A white city of desolation,
scorched and battered, yet the brightest jewel in the crown of France's
glory; a shining example to the world of the triumph of human resistance
and the courage of men. A city of strange and cruel sounds--the short,
sharp bark of the '75's, the boom of the death-dealing enemy guns, the
shrieks of the shells and the fall of masonry parting from houses to
which it had been attached for centuries, whilst from the shattered
window-frames the familiar sprite of the household looked ever for the
children who came no longer across the thresholds of the homes. Verdun
is no longer a refuge for all that is good and beautiful and tender, and
so the sounds of the voices of children and of birds are heard no more.
Both have flown; the children were evacuated with the civilians in the
bitter months of February and March, and the birds, realising that there
is no secure place in which to nest, have deserted not only Verdun but
the whole of the surrounding district.

We proceeded to a terrace overlooking the lower part of the town and
witnessed a duel between the French and German artillery. The Germans
were bombarding the barracks of Chevert, and from all around the French
guns were replying. It was certainly a joy to note that for one boom of
a German cannon there were certainly ten answers from the French guns.
The French soldiers off duty should have been resting in the caves and
dug-outs which have been prepared for them, but most of them were out on
the terraces in different parts of the city, smoking and casually
watching the effect of the German or of their own fire. I inquired of
one _poilu_ whether he would be glad to leave Verdun, and he laughingly
replied: "One might be worse off than here. This is the time of year
that in peace times I should have been staying in the country with my

There is no talk of peace in Verdun. I asked one of the men when he
thought the war would end. "Perfectly simple to reply to that,
mademoiselle: the war will end the day that hostilities cease."

I believe that the Germans would not be sorry to abandon the siege of
Verdun. In one of the trench newspapers I saw the following verse:

    Boches, a l'univers votre zele importun
    Fait des 'communiques' dont personne n'est dupe.
    Vous dites: "Nos soldats occuperont Verdun.
    Jusqu'ici c'est plutot Verdun qui les occupe."

    (You say that you soon will hold Verdun,
    Whilst really Verdun holds you.)

We left the car and climbed through the ruined streets to the top of the
citadel. No attempt has been made to remove any of the furniture or
effects from the demolished houses. In those houses from which only the
front had been blown away the spoons and forks were in some instances
still on the table, set ready for the meal that had been interrupted.

From windows lace curtains and draperies hung out over the fronts of the
houses. Everywhere shattered doors, broken cupboards, drawers thrown
open where the inhabitants had thought to try to save some of their
cherished belongings but had finally fled, leaving all to the care of
the soldiers, who protect the property of the inhabitants as carefully
as if it were their own.

It would be difficult to find finer custodians. I was told that at
Bobigny-pres-Bourget there is on one of the houses the following
inscription worthy of classical times:

"The proprietor of this house has gone to the war. He leaves this
dwelling to the care of the French. Long live France." And he left the
key in the lock.

The soldiers billeted in the house read the inscription, which met with
their approval, and so far each regiment in passing had cleaned out the
little dwelling and left it in perfect order.

From the citadel we went down into the trenches which led to the lines
at Thiaumont. The heat in the city was excessive, but in the trenches it
was delightfully cool, perhaps a little too cool. We heard the men make
no complaints except that at times the life was a little "monotonous"!
One man told me that he was once in a trench that was occupied at the
same time by the French and the Germans. There was nothing between them
but sandbags and a thick wall of clay, and day and night the French
watched that wall. One day a slight scratching was heard. The men
prepared to face the crumbling of the barrier when through a small hole
popped out the head of a brown rabbit. Down into the trench hopped Mrs.
Bunny, followed by two small bunnies, and although rabbit for lunch
would have improved the menu, the men had not the heart to kill her. On
the contrary, they fed her on their rations, and at night-fall she
departed, followed by her progeny.

From all the dug-outs heads popped out, and the first movement of
surprise at seeing a woman in the trenches turned to a smile of delight,
since the _poilu_ is at all times a chivalrous gentleman. One man was
telling me of the magnificent work that had been accomplished by his
"compagnie." I congratulated him and told him he must be happy to be in
such a company. He swept off his iron casque, bowed almost to the
ground, and answered: "Certainly I am happy in my company, mademoiselle,
but I am far happier in yours."

The principal grief of the _poilus_ appeared to be that a shell two or
three days before had destroyed the store of the great _dragee_ (sugared
almond) manufactory of Verdun. Before leaving, the manufacturer had
bequeathed his stock to the army, and they were all regretting that they
had not been greedier and eaten up the _dragees_ quicker.

In the trenches near Verdun, as in the trenches in Flanders, you find
the men talking little of war, but much of their homes and their
families. I came once upon a group of Bretons. They had opened some tins
of sardines and, sitting around a bucket of blazing coals, they were
toasting the fish on the ends of small twigs. I asked them why they
were wasting their energies, since the fish were ready to be eaten
straight from the tins. "We know," they replied; "but it smells like
home." I suppose with the odour of the cooking fish, in the blue haze of
the smoke, they saw visions of their cottages and the white-coiffed
Bretonnes frying the fresh sardines that they had caught.

The dusk was now falling, and, entering the car, we proceeded towards
the lower part of the town at a snail's pace in order not to draw the
German fire. We were told that at the present time approximately one
hundred shells a day still fall on Verdun, but at the time of the great
attack the number was as high as eight hundred, whilst as many as two
hundred thousand shells fell daily in and around Verdun.

Just before we reached the entrance to the citadel, the enemy began to
shell the city, and one of the shells exploded within two hundred feet
of the car. We knew that we were near the entrance to the vaults of the
citadel and could take refuge, so we left the car and proceeded on foot.
Without thinking, we walked in the centre of the road, and the sentinel
at the door of the citadel began in somewhat emphatic French to
recommend us to "longer les murs" (to hug the walls tightly). The
Germans are well aware of the entrance to the citadel and daily shell
the spot. If one meets a shell in the centre of the road it is obviously
no use to argue, whilst in hugging the side of the wall there is a
possibility of only receiving the fragments of the bursting shell.

The subterranean galleries of the citadel of Verdun were constructed by
Vauban, and are now a hive of activity--barbers' shops, sweet shops,
boot shops, hospitals, anything and everything which goes to make up a
small city.

One of the young officers placed his "cell" at our disposal. The long
galleries are all equipped with central heating and electric light, and
some of them have been divided off by wooden partitions or curtains like
the dormitories in a large school. In the "cell" allocated to us we
could see the loving touch of a woman's hand. Around the pillow on the
small camp-bed was a beautiful edging of Irish lace, and on the
dressing-table a large bottle of eau-de-Cologne. There is no reason to
be too uncomfortable in Verdun when one has a good little wife to think
of one and to send presents from time to time.

Emerging from the galleries we met General Dubois, a great soldier and a
kindly man, one who shares the daily perils of his men. The General
invited us to remain and dine with him. He had that day received from
General Nivelle his _cravate_ as Commander of the Legion of Honour, and
his officers were giving him a dinner-party to celebrate the event. "See
how kind fate is to me," he added. "Only one thing was missing from the
feast--the presence of the ladies--and here you are."

It would need the brush of Rembrandt to paint the dining-hall in the
citadel of Verdun. At one long table in the dimly lighted vault sat
between eighty and ninety officers, who all rose, saluted, and cheered
as we entered. The General sat at the head of the table surrounded by
his staff, and behind him the faces of the cooks were lit up by the
fires of the stoves. Some short distance behind us was an air-shaft. It
appears that about a week or a fortnight before our arrival a German
shell, striking the top part of the citadel, dislodged some dust and
gravel which fell down the air-shaft on to the General's head. He simply
called the attendants to him and asked for his table to be moved forward
a yard, as he did not feel inclined to sit at table with his helmet on.

An excellent dinner--soup, roast mutton, fresh beans, salade Russe,
frangipane, dessert--and even champagne to celebrate the General's
_cravate_--quite reassured us that people may die in Verdun of shells
but not of hunger. We drank toasts to France, the Allies, and, silently,
to the men of France who had died that we might live. I was asked to
propose the health of the General, and did it in English, knowing that
he spoke English well. I told him that the defenders of Verdun would
live in our hearts and memories, that on behalf of the whole British
race I felt I might convey to him congratulations on the honour paid to
him by France. I assured him that we had but one idea and one hope, the
speedy victory of the Allied arms, and that personally my present desire
was that every one of those present at table might live to see the flag
of France waving over the whole of Alsace-Lorraine. They asked me to
repeat a description of the flag of France which I gave first in Ottawa;
so there, in the citadel of Verdun with a small French flag before me, I
went back in spirit to Ottawa and remembered how I had spoken of the
triumph of the flag of France: "The red, white, and blue--the red of
the flag of France a little deeper hue than in time of peace, since it
was dyed with the blood of her sons, the blood in which a new history of
France is being written, volume on volume, page on page, of deeds of
heroism, some pages completed and signed, others where the pen has
dropped from the faltering hands and which posterity must needs finish.
The white of the flag of France, not quite so white as in time of peace,
since thousands of her sons had taken it in their hands and pressed it
to their lips before they went forward to die for it, yet without stain,
since in all the record of the war there is no blot on the escutcheon of
France. And the blue of the flag of France, true blue, torn and tattered
with the marks of the bullets and the shrapnel, yet unfurling proudly in
the breeze whilst the very holes were patched by the blue of the sky,
since surely Heaven stands behind the flag of France."

The men of Verdun were full of admiration for the glorious Commander of
the Fort de Vaux. They told me that the fort was held, or rather the
ruins of the fort, until the Germans were actually on the top and firing
on the French beneath.

I discussed with my neighbour the fact that the Germans had more hatred
for us than for the French. He said the whole world would ridicule the
Germans for the manner in which they had exploited the phrase "Gott
strafe England," writing it even on the walls anywhere and everywhere.
He added laughingly that it should not worry the English comrades. "When
they read 'Gott strafe England,' all they needed to reply was 'Ypres,

He told me that he had been stationed for some time with his regiment
near the English troops, and there had been loud lamentations among the
_poilus_ because they had been obliged to say good-bye to their English
comrades. He added that the affection was not entirely disinterested.
The English comrades had excellent marmalade and jam and other good
things which they shared with their French brothers, who, whilst
excellently fed, do not indulge in these luxuries. He told me a
delightful tale of a French cook who, seeing an English soldier standing
by, began to question him as to his particular branch of the service,
informing him that he himself had had an exceedingly busy morning
peeling potatoes and cleaning up the pots and pans. After considerable
conversation he inquired of the English comrade what he did for his
living. "Oh," replied the Englishman, "I get my living fairly
easily--nothing half so strenuous as peeling potatoes. I am just a

The clean-shaven Tommy is the beloved of all France. I remember seeing
one gallant khaki knight carrying the market-basket of a French maiden
and repaying himself out of her store of apples. I regret to say his
pockets bulged suspiciously. Whilst at a level crossing near by, the old
lady in charge of the gate had an escort of "Tommies" who urged her to
let the train "rip." This was somewhat ironical in view of the fact that
the top speed in that part of the war zone was probably never more than
ten miles an hour.

Tommy is never alone. The children have learned that he loves their
company, and he is always surrounded by an escort of youthful admirers.
The children like to rummage in his pockets for souvenirs. He must
spend quite a good deal of his pay purchasing sweets, so that they may
not be disappointed and that there may be something for his little
friends to find. I remember seeing one Tommy, sitting in the dusty road
with a large pot of marmalade between his legs, dealing out spoonfuls
with perfect justice and impartiality to a circle of youngsters. He
speaks to them of his own little "nippers" at home, and they in turn
tell him of their father who is fighting, of their mother who now works
in the fields, and of baby who is fearfully ignorant, does not know the
difference between the French and the "Engleesch," and who insisted on
calling the great English General who had stayed at their farm "papa."
It matters little that they cannot understand each other, and it does
not in the least prevent them from holding lengthy conversations.

I told my companion at table that whilst visiting one of the hospitals
in France I had heard how one Englishman had been sent into a far
hospital in Provence by mistake. He was not seriously injured, and
promptly constituted himself king of the ward. On arrival, he insisted
on being shaved. As no shaving-brush was available, the _piou-piou_ in
the next bed lathered him with his tooth-brush. The French cooking did
not appeal to him, and he grumbled continuously. The directress of the
hospital sent her own cook from her chateau to cater for Mr. Atkins. An
elaborate menu was prepared. Tommy glanced through it, ordered
everything to be removed, and commanded tea and toast. Toast-making is
not a French art, and the chateau chef was obliged to remain at the
hospital and spend his time carefully preparing the toast and seeing
that it was served in good condition. When Mr. Atkins felt so disposed,
he would summon a _piou-piou_ to give him a French lesson, or else
request the various inmates of the ward to sing to him. He would in turn
render that plaintive ditty "Down by the Old Bull and Bush." A nurse who
spoke a little English translated his song to the French soldiers.
Whilst not desiring to criticise the _rendez-vous_ selected by their
_camarade anglais_, they did not consider that "pres d'un vieux taureau"
(near an old bull) was a safe or desirable meeting-place. When I
explained to the nurse that "The Bull and Bush" was a kind of _cabaret_,
she hastened from ward to ward to tell the men that after all the
Englishman might have selected a worse spot to entertain his girl. He
was at once the joy and the despair of the whole hospital, and the nurse
had much trouble in consoling the patients when "our English" was

When Tommy indulges in the use of the French language, he abbreviates it
as much as possible.

One hot summer's day, driving from Boulogne to Fort Mahon, halfway down
a steep hill we came upon two Tommies endeavouring to extract a
motor-cycle and a side-car from a somewhat difficult position. They had
side-slipped and run into a small tree. The cycle was on one side and
the side-car on the other, and a steel rod between had been rammed right
into the wood through the force of the collision.

My three companions and myself endeavoured to help the men to pull out
the rod, but the united efforts of the six of us proved unavailing. We
hailed a passing cart and tied the reins around the motor-cycle, but
immediately the horse commenced to pull the leather of the reins
snapped. Behind the cart walked a peasant. Only one adjective can
possibly describe him--he was decidedly "beery." He made no attempt to
help, but passed from one Tommy to the other, patting them on their
backs, assuring them "that with a little goodwill all would be well."
There was a dangerous glint in the younger Tommy's eye, but in the
presence of ladies he refrained from putting his thoughts into words.
Finally, his patience evaporating, he suddenly turned on the peasant and
shouted at him, "Ong, ong." It took me some time to grasp that this was
Tommy's abbreviated version of "Allez-vous en" ("Clear out"). In any
event it proved quite useless, as he continued to pat the Tommies
affectionately and to bombard them with impracticable suggestions.

We were joined later by three villagers, two gendarmes and a postman,
and all pulling together we managed to extract the rod from the tree. A
large lorry was passing, and on to it we heaved the wreckage. Up
clambered the Tommies followed by their unwelcome friend, who managed to
sit on the only unbroken portion of the side-car. This was too much for
Messrs. Atkins' equanimity. Limp with laughter, we watched them pass
from sight amidst a chorus of "Ong, ong," followed by flights of oratory
in the English tongue which do not bear repeating, but which were
received by the peasant as expressions of deep esteem and to which he
replied by endeavouring to kiss the Tommies and shouting, "Vive
l'Angleterre! Allright! Hoorah!"

Our guiding officer began to show some signs of anxiety to have us leave
before ten o'clock, but the good-byes took some time. Presents were
showered upon us--German _dragees_ (shell heads and pieces of shrapnel)
and the real French _dragees_, the famous sweet of Verdun.

We crept out of the city, but unfortunately at one of the dangerous
cross-roads our chauffeur mistook the route. A heavy bombardment was
taking place, and the French were replying. We were lucky enough to get
on to the route and into safety before any shell fell near us. It
appears that the Germans systematically bombard the roads at night,
hoping to destroy the _camions_ bringing up the food for the city, fresh
munitions, and men.

We slept that night at Bar-le-Duc and next morning saw the various
ambulances and hospitals which the Service de Sante had particularly
requested me to visit. I was impressed by the splendid organisation of
the Red Cross even quite close to the firing-line.

Passing through one tent hospital, an Algerian called out to me:

"Ohe, la blonde, viens ici! J'ai quelque chose de beau a te montrer"
("Come here, fair girl, I have something pretty to show you").

He was sitting up in bed, and, as I approached, unbuttoned his
bed-jacket and insisted on my examining the tag of his vest, on which
was written, "Leader, London." The vest had come in a parcel of goods
from the London Committee of the French Red Cross, and I only wished
that the angel of goodness and tenderness who is the Presidente of the
Croix Rouge, Mme. de la Panouse, and that Mr. D.H. Illingworth, Mr.
Philip Wilkins, and all her able lieutenants, could have seen the
pleasure on the face of this swarthy defender of France. In the next bed
was a Senegalais who endeavoured to attract my attention by keeping up a
running compliment to my compatriots, my King, and myself. He must have
chanted fifty times: "Vive les English, Georges, et toi!" He continued
even after I had rewarded him with some cigarettes. The Senegalais and
the Algerians are really great children, especially when they are
wounded. I have seen convalescent Senegalais and Algerians in Paris
spend hours in the Champs Elysees watching the entertainment at the
open-air marionette theatre. The antics of the dolls kept them amused.
They are admitted to the enclosure free, and there is no longer any
room for the children who frequented the show in happier days. These
latter form a disconsolate circle on the outside, whilst the younger
ones, who do not suffer from colour prejudice, scramble on to the knees
of the black soldiers.

The sister in charge was a true daughter of the "Lady of the Lamp."
Provided they are really ill, she sympathises with all the grumblers,
but scolds them if they have reached the convalescent stage. She carries
a small book in which she enters imaginary good points to those who have
the tables by their beds tidy, and she pinned an invisible medal on the
chest of a convalescent who was helping to carry trays of food to his
comrades. She is indeed a General, saving men for France.

Not a man escaped her attention, and as we passed through the tents she
gave to each of her "chers enfants"--black or white--a cheering smile or
a kindly word. She did, however, whilst talking to us omit to salute a
Senegalais. Before she passed out of the tent he commenced to call after
her, "Toi pas gentille aujourd'hui--moi battre toi" ("You are not good
to me to-day--me beat you"). This, it appears, is his little joke--he
will never beat anyone again, since he lost both his arms when his
trench was blown up by a land mine.

It was at Triancourt that I first saw in operation the motor-cars that
had been sent out fitted with bath tubs for the troops, and also a very
fine car fitted up by the London Committee of the French Red Cross as a
moving dental hospital.

I regret to add that a _poilu_ near by disrespectfully referred to it as
"another of the horrors of war," adding that in times of peace there
was some kind of personal liberty, where as now "a man could not have
toothache without being forced to have it ended, and that there was no
possibility of escaping a dentist who hunted you down by motor."

It was suggested that, as I had had a touch of toothache the night
before, I might take my place in the chair and give an example of
British pluck to the assembled _poilus_. I hastened to impress on the
surgeon that I hated notoriety and would prefer to remain modestly in
the background. I even pushed aside with scorn the proffered bribe of
six "boche" buttons, assuring the man that "I would keep my toothache as
a souvenir."

At one of the hospitals, beside the bed of a dying man, sat a little old
man writing letters. They told me that before the war he had owned the
most flourishing wine-shop in the village. He had fled before the
approach of the German troops, but later returned to his village and
installed himself in the hospital as scribe. He wrote from morning until
night, and watching him stretching his lean old hands, I asked him if he
suffered much pain from writer's cramp. He looked at me almost
reproachfully before answering, "Mademoiselle, it is the least I can do
for my country; besides my pain is so slight and that of the comrades is
so great. I am proud, indeed proud, that at sixty-seven years of age I
am not useless."

At one hospital I was shown a copy of the last letter dictated by a
young French officer, and I asked to be allowed to copy it--it was
indeed a letter of a "chic" type.


"Je vous ecris a vous pour ne pas tuer Maman qu'un pareil coup
surprendrait trop.

"J'ai ete blesse le ... devant.... J'ai deux blessures hideuses et je
n'en aurai pas pour bien longtemps. Les majors ne me le cachent meme

"Je pars sans regret avec la conscience d'avoir fait mon devoir.

"Prevenez donc mes parents le mieux que vous pourrez; qu'ils ne
cherchent pas a venir, ils n'en auraient pas le temps.

"Adieu vous tous que j'aimais.



"I am writing to you, so as not to kill mother, whom such a shock would
surprise too much. I was wounded on the ... at.... I have two terrible
wounds and I cannot last long. The surgeons do not even attempt to
conceal this from me. I go without regret, with the consciousness of
having done my duty. Kindly break the news to my parents the best way
you can; they should not attempt to come because they would not have
time to reach me before the end.

"Farewell to all you whom I have loved.


Whilst loving his relatives tenderly, the last thought of the dying
Frenchman is for his country. Each one dies as a hero, yet not one
realises it. It would be impossible to show greater simplicity; they
salute the flag for the last time, and that is all.

From Triancourt we went straight to the headquarters of General Nivelle.
They had just brought him the maps rectified to mark the French
advance. The advance had been made whilst we were standing on the
terrace at Verdun the night before. We had seen the rockets sent up,
requesting a _tir de barrage_ (curtain of fire). The '75's had replied
at once and the French had been able to carry out the operation.

Good news had also come in from the Somme, and General Nivelle did not
hesitate to express his admiration for the British soldiers.

He said that there was no need to praise the first troops sent by
Britain to France--everyone knew their value; but it should be a great
satisfaction to Britain to find that the new Army was living up to the
traditions of the old Army.

He added: "We can describe the new army of Britain in two words: '_Ca
mord_'--it bites."

The Father of his own men, it is not surprising that General Nivelle
finds a warm corner in his heart for the British Tommy, since his mother
was an Englishwoman.

At lunch General Nivelle and the members of his staff asked many
questions as to the work of the Scottish Women's Hospitals. I told them
that what appealed to us most in our French patients was the perfect
discipline and the gratitude of the men. We are all women in the
hospitals, and the men might take advantage of this fact to show want of
discipline, but we never had to complain of lack of obedience. These
soldiers of France may some of them before the war have been just rough
peasants, eating, drinking, and sleeping, even having thoughts not akin
to knighthood; but now, through the ordeal of blood and fire, each one
of them has won his spurs and come out a chivalrous knight, and
they bring their chivalry right into the hospitals with them. We had
also learned to love them for their kindness to one another. When new
wounded are brought in and the lights are low in the hospital wards,
cautiously watching if the nurse is looking (luckily nurses have a way
of not seeing everything), one of the convalescents will creep from his
bed to the side of the new arrival and ask the inevitable question:
"D'ou viens-tu?" ("Where do you come from?"). "I come from Toulouse,"
replies the man. "Ah!" says the inquirer, "my wife's grandmother had a
cousin who lived near Toulouse." That is quite a sufficient basis for a
friendship; the convalescent sits by the bedside of his new comrade,
holding the man's hand whilst his wounds are being dressed, telling him
he knows of the pain--that he, too, has suffered, and that soon all
will be well.

[Illustration: Menu, 27 Juillet]

[Illustration: Note by General Nivelle]

Lions to fight, ever ready to answer to the call of the defence of their
country, yet these men of France are tender and gentle. In one hospital
through which I passed there was a baby. It was a military hospital, and
no civilian had any right there, but the medical officers who inspected
the hospital were remarkably blind--none of them could ever see the
baby. One of the soldiers passing through a bombarded village saw a
little body lying in the mud, and although he believed the child to be
dead, he stooped down and picked it up. At the evacuating station the
baby and the soldier were sent to the hospital together; the doctors
operated upon the baby and took a piece of shrapnel from its back, and
once well and strong it constituted itself lord and master and king of
all it surveyed. When it woke in the morning it would call "Papa," and
twenty fathers answered to its call. All the pent-up love of the men for
their own little ones from whom they had been parted for so long they
lavished on the tiny stranger, but all his affection and his whole heart
belonged to the rough miner-soldier who had brought him in. As the
shadows fell one saw the man walking up and down the ward with the child
in his arms, crooning the Marseillaise until the tired little eyes
closed. He had obtained permission from the authorities to adopt the
child, as the parents could not be found, and remarked humorously:
"Mademoiselle, it is so convenient to have a family without the trouble
of being married!"

What we must remember is that the rough soldier, himself blinded with
blood and mud, uncertain whether he could ever reach a point of safety,
yet had time to stoop and pick that little flower of France and save it
from being crushed beneath the _camion_ wheels. I told General Nivelle
that the hospital staff intended to keep the child for the soldier until
the end of the war, and we all hoped that he might grow up to the glory
of France and to the eternal honour of the tender-hearted fighter who
had rescued him.

After lunch we stood for some time watching the unending stream of
_camions_ proceeding into Verdun. I believe it has been stated that on
the average one passed through the village every fifteen seconds, and
that there are something like twelve thousand motor vehicles used in the
defence of Verdun. The splendid condition of the roads and the absence
of all confusion in the handling of this immense volume of traffic is a
great tribute to the organising genius of the chiefs of the French Army.

We left General Nivelle, as General Petain predicted we should find

We slept that night at Epernay, in the heart of the Champagne district.
The soil of France is doing its best to keep the vines in perfect
condition and to provide a good vintage to be drunk later to celebrate
the victory of France and her Allies.

The keeping of the roads in good condition is necessary for the rapid
carrying out of operations on the front, and a "marmite" hole is
promptly filled if by a lucky shot the German batteries happen to tear
up the roadway. We were proceeding casually along one road when a young
officer rode up to us and told us to put on speed because we were under
fire from a German battery which daily landed one or two shells in that
particular portion of the roadway. It is wonderful how obedient one
becomes at times! We promptly proceeded to hasten!

After visiting General Debeney and obtaining from him the necessary
authorisation and an officer-escort, we entered Rheims.

The cathedral is now the home of pigeons, and as they fly in and out of
the blackened window-frames, small pieces of the stained glass tinkle
down on to the floor. The custodian of the cathedral told us that during
the night of terror the German wounded, lying in the cathedral, not
realising the strength and beauty of the French character under
adversity, feared, seeing the cathedral in flames, that the populace
might wreak vengeance on them, and it was exceedingly difficult to get
them to leave the cathedral. Many of the prisoners fled into corners and
hid, and some of them even penetrated into the palace of the Archbishop,
which was in flames. All the world knows and admires the bravery of the
cure of the cathedral, M. Landrieux, who took upon himself the defence
of the prisoners, for fear insults might be hurled at them. He knowingly
risked his life; but when, next day, some of his confreres endeavoured
to praise him, he replied: "My friends, I never before realised how easy
it is to die."

One of the churches in the city was heavily draped in black, and I asked
the sacristan if they had prepared for the funeral of a prominent
citizen. He told me that they were that day bringing home the body of a
young man of high birth of the neighbourhood, but that it was not for
him that the church was decked in mourning. The draperies had hung there
since August 1914--"Since every son of Rheims who is brought home is as
noble as the one who comes to-day, and alas! nearly every day brings us
one of our children."

We lunched in the hotel before the cathedral, where each shell-hole has
an ordinary white label stuck beside it with the date. The landlord
remarked: "If you sit here long enough, and have the good luck to be in
some safe part of the building, you may be able to go and stick a label
by a hole yourself."

After lunch we went out to the Chateau Polignac. To a stranger it would
appear to be almost entirely destroyed, but when M. de Polignac visited
it recently he simply remarked that it was "less spoilt than he had
imagined." This was just one other example of the thousands one meets
daily of the spirit of noble and peasant _de ne pas s'en faire_, but to
keep only before them the one idea, Victory for France, no matter what
may be the cost.

We went later to call on the "'75," _chez elle_. Madame was in a
particularly comfortable home which had been prepared for her and where
she was safe from the inquisitive eyes of the Taubes. The men of the
battery were sitting round their guns, singing a somewhat lengthy ditty,
each verse ending with a declamation and a description of the beauty of
"la belle Suzanne." I asked them to whom Suzanne belonged and where the
fair damsel resided. "Oh," they replied, "we have no time to think of
damsels called 'Suzanne' now. This is our Suzanne," and the speaker
affectionately gave an extra rub with his coat-sleeve to the barrel of
the "'75."

By a wonderful system of trench work it is possible for the gunners, in
case of necessity, to take refuge in the champagne-vaults in the
surrounding district, and it is in the champagne-vaults that the
children go daily to school, with their little gas-masks hanging in bags
on their arms. It appears that at first the tiny ones were frightened of
the masks, but they soon asked to be also given a sack, like their
elders, and now one and all have learnt at the least alarm to put on
their masks. There is no need to tell the children to hurry home. They
realise that it is not wise to loiter in the streets for fear of the
whistling shells. They are remarkably plucky, these small men and women
of France.

During one furious bombardment the children were safe in the vaults, but
one small citizen began to cry bitterly. He was reproached by his
comrades for cowardice, but he replied indignantly: "I fear nothing for
myself--I am safe here; but there is no cellar to our house, and oh!
what will happen to the little mother?" The teacher reassured him by
telling him that his mother would certainly take refuge in somebody
else's cellar.

On leaving Rheims we passed through various small hamlets where the
houses had been entirely destroyed, and which now had the appearance of
native villages, as the soldiers had managed to place thatched roofs on
any building which had a semblance of walls standing.

At Villars Coterets the Garde Champetre sounded the "Gare a Vous!" Four
Taubes were passing overhead, so we took refuge in the hotel for tea.
The enemy did no damage in that particular village, but in the next
village of Crepy-en-Valois a bomb killed one child and injured five

At his headquarters next morning I had the honour of being received by
the Generalissimo Joffre, and telling him of the admiration and respect
which we felt for him and for the magnificent fighting spirit of the
troops under his able command. He replied modestly by speaking of the
British Army. He referred to the offensive on the Somme, and said, "You
may well be proud of your young soldiers--they are excellent soldiers,
much superior to the Germans in every way, a most admirable infantry;
they attack the Germans hand to hand with grenades or with the bayonet,
and push them back everywhere; the Germans have been absolutely
_stupefied_ to find such troops before them." The General then paid a
tribute to the Canadian and Australian troops, and told me that that day
the Australians had taken new territory, adding, "And not only have they
taken it, but like their British and Canadian brothers, what they take
they will hold."

I explained to General Joffre that, whilst I was not collecting
autographs, I had with me the menu of the dinner in the citadel at
Verdun, and that it would give me great pleasure to have his name added
to the signatures already on that menu. All the signatures were on one
side, so I turned the menu over in order to offer him a clear space, but
he turned it back again, saying: "Please let me sign on this side; I
find myself in good company with the defenders of Verdun."

At departing he said to me: "We may all be happy now, since certainly we
are on the right side of the hill" ("Nous sommes sur la bonne pente").

In case this little story should fall into the hands of any woman who
has spent her time working for the men at the front, I would like to
tell her the great pleasure it is to them to receive parcels, no matter
what they contain. Fraternity and Equality reign supreme in the
trenches, and the man counts himself happy who receives a little more
than the others, since he has the joy and the pleasure of sharing his
store of good things with his comrades. There is seldom a request made
to the French behind the lines that they do not attempt to fulfil. I
remember last winter, passing through a town in the provinces, I
noticed that the elderly men appeared to be scantily clad in spite of
the bitterness of the weather. It appeared that the call had gone forth
for fur coats for the troops, and all the worthy citizens of the town
forwarded to the trenches their caracul coats. Only those who are well
acquainted with French provincial life can know what it means to them to
part with these signs of opulence and commercial success.

It is perhaps in the post-offices that you find yourself nearest to the
heart of "France behind the lines."

One morning I endeavoured to send a parcel to a French soldier; I took
my place in a long line of waiting women bound on the same errand. A
white-haired woman before me gave the post-office clerk infinite
trouble. They are not renowned for their patience, and I marvelled at
his gentleness, until he explained: "Her son died five weeks ago, but
she still continues to send him parcels."

To another old lady he pointed out that she had written two numbers on
the parcel. "You don't want two numbers, mother. Which is your boy's
number?--tell me, and I will strike out the other."

"Leave them both," she answered. "Who knows whether my dear lad will be
there to receive the parcel? If he is not, I want it to go to some other
mother's son."

Affection means much to these men who are suffering, and they respond at
once to any sympathy shown to them. One man informed us with pride that
when he left his native village he was "decked like an altar of the
Blessed Virgin on the first of May." In other words, covered with

There are but few lonely soldiers now, since those who have no families
to write to them receive letters and parcels from the godmothers who
have adopted them. The men anxiously await the news of their adopted
relatives, and spend hours writing replies. They love to receive
letters, but needless to say a parcel is even more welcome.

I remember seeing one man writing page after page. I suggested to him
that he must have a particularly charming godmother. "Mademoiselle," he
replied, "I have no time for a godmother since I myself am a godfather."
He then explained that far away in his village there was a young
assistant in his shop, "And God knows the boy loves France, but both his
lungs are touched, so they won't take him, but I write and tell him that
the good God has given me strength for two, that I fight for him and
for myself, and that we are both doing well for France." I went back in
imagination to the village, I could see the glint in the boy's eyes,
realised how the blood pulsed quicker through his veins at the sight of,
not the personal pronoun "I" in the singular, but the plural "We are
doing well for France": for one glorious moment he was part of the hosts
of France and in spirit serving his Motherland. It is that spirit of the
French nation that their enemies will never understand.

On one occasion a young German officer, covered with mud from head to
foot, was brought before one of the French Generals. He had been taken
fighting cleanly, and the General was anxious to show him kindness. He
asked him if he would not prefer to cleanse himself before examination.
The young German drew himself up and replied: "Look at me, General; I am
covered from head to foot with mud, and that mud is the soil of France.
You will never possess as much soil in Germany." The General turned to
him with that gentle courtesy which marks the higher commands in France,
and answered: "Monsieur, we may never possess as much soil in Germany;
but there is something that you will never possess, and, until you
conquer it, you cannot vanquish France, and that is the spirit of the
French people."

The French find it difficult to understand the arrogance which appears
ingrained in the German character, and which existed before the war.

I read once that in the Guest-book of a French hotel a Teutonic visitor

"L'Allemagne est la premiere nation du monde."

The next French visitor merely added:

"Yes, 'Allemagne' is the first country of the world--if we take them in
alphabetical order."

       *       *       *       *       *

I left the war-zone with an increased respect, if this were possible,
for the men of France. They have altered their uniforms, but the spirit
is unchanged. They are no longer in the red and blue of the old days,
but in shades of green, grey, and blue, colours blending to form one
mighty ocean--wave on wave of patriotism--beating against and wearing
down the rocks of military preparedness of forty years, and as no man
has yet been able to say to the ocean "Stop," so no man shall cry "Halt"
to the armies of France.

I have spoken much of the men of France, but the women have also earned
our respect--those splendid peasant-women who even in times of peace
worked and now carry a double burden on their shoulders; the
middle-class women, endeavouring to keep together the little business
built up by the man with years of toil, stinting themselves to save five
francs to send a parcel to the man at the front that he may not suspect
that there is not still every comfort in the little homestead; the noble
women of France, who in past years could not be seen before noon, since
my lady was at her toilette, but who can be seen now, their hands
scratched and bleeding, kneeling on the floors of the hospitals
scrubbing, proud and happy to take their part in national service. The
men owe much of their courage to the attitude of the women who stand
behind them, turning their tears to smiles to urge their men to even
greater deeds of heroism.

In one of our hospitals was a young lad of seventeen, who had managed to
enlist as an "engage volontaire" by lying as to his age. His old mother
came to visit him, and she told me he was the last of her three
sons--the two elder ones had died the first week of the war at
Pont-Mousson, and her little home had been burned to the ground. The boy
had spent his time inventing new and terrible methods of dealing with
the enemy, but with his mother he became a child again, and tenderly
patted the old face. Seeing the lad in his mother's arms, and forgetting
for one moment the spirit of the French nation, I asked her if she would
not be glad if her boy was so wounded that she might take him home. She
was only an old peasant-woman, but her eyes flashed, her cheeks flushed
with anger, and turning to me she said: "Mademoiselle, how dare you say
such a thing to me? If all the mothers, wives, and sweethearts thought
as you, what would happen to the country? Gustave has only one thing to
do, get well quickly and fight for Mother France."

Because these women of France have sent their men forth to die, eyes
dry, with stiff lips and head erect, do not think that they do not mourn
for them. When night casts her kindly mantle of darkness over all, when
they are hidden from the eyes of the world, it is then that the proud
heads droop and are bent upon their arms, as the women cry out in the
bitterness of their souls for the men who have gone from them. Yet they
realise that behind them stands the greatest mother of all, Mother
France, who sees coming towards her, from all frontiers, line on line of
ambulances with their burden of suffering humanity, yet watches along
other routes her sons going forth in thousands, laughter in their eyes,
songs on their lips, ready and willing to die for her. France draws
around her her tattered and blood-stained robe, yet what matters the
outer raiment? Behind it shines forth her glorious, exultant soul, and
she lifts up her head rejoicing and proclaims to the world that when she
appealed, man, woman, and child--the whole of the French
nation--answered to her Call.

     *     *     *     *     *     *

Transcriber's Notes:

   ' was used for raised dots on all "'75's"

   Page 70: Closing quote added to poem. "...qui les occupe."

   Page 92: Period added to Mme.

   Page 98: "Triaucourt" changed to "Triancourt."

   Page 110: Changed Debency to Debeney.


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