Alfred Noyes.

What is England doing? online

. (page 1 of 1)
Online LibraryAlfred NoyesWhat is England doing? → online text (page 1 of 1)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


3 1822 02352 1172



SAN Dieeo



3 1822 02352 1172



London :


What is England
doing ?


London :






What is England doing ?



This is the question about the war
which one hears more frequently than
almost any other in America. Frequently
it implies a criticism ; and, certainly till
the last few months it implied a large
measure of disappointment even among
the warmest friends of England. The
Germans have not missed the opportunity
of encouraging the idea that in some
mysterious way Great Britain has " lost
prestige." They have been aided by the
traditional British reticence, a reticence
which nevertheless has its advantages ;
for, when results are achieved in silence,
they are, in the end, doubly effective,
effective in themselves, and deadly to the

The silence of " those distant storm-
beaten ships " of the British Navy covers


a multitude of results — definite, solid,
epoch-making results, which are only
dimly realised even to-day by the world
at large. Strangely enough, it is because
the work of the British fleet has been so
complete and so all-efficient ; because it
has been able to do all that was required
of it, without exerting its full strength in
battle, that these solid results have been
overlooked by the multitude. The results
of a blockade which extends from far
north of the British Isles to far below the
Equator are manifesting themselves now
daily, i^ot one ship of all the great lines
of the enemy is able to show its nose at
sea ; while, on every sea of the world, the
British ships are to be found, blockading,
guarding, carrying ; and there are no two
shii)s that pass, by day or by night, but
with some signal, some salute acknow-
ledging that silent and brooding power.
There is no better testimony, moreover,
to the way in which that power has been
exercised than the sense of quiet jubila-
tion which runs through every such in-
stance. It is to be seen on the faces of
the x)i^^«cngers and crews — whenever such
signal confirms their faiili that the


invisible segis of Great Britain is over
them, and the tragic exception has more
than proved the rule. The tramp
steamers, running up the Union Jack and
cheering as the " Lusitania " went by,
were undoubtedly, in the eyes of the
whole world, on the side of the angels ;
and the " Lusitania medal," struck in
Germany to commemorate the foulest
act that ever stained the seas, has only
marked the whole campaign of Germany
with the devil's own seal, for all the
centuries, never to be eifaced and never
to be forgotten.

A recent visitor to America who was
asked by the newspaper reporters, after
their usual fashion, what had. impressed
him most in his first glimpse of New York,
replied : " the spectacle of the German
ships imprisoned in New York harbour."

Those gigantic liners, of the Hamburg-
American Line and the North German
Lloyd, accompanied by a host of lesser
brethren, are not so impressive out-
wardly as the great waterway of New
York harbour, or the majestic sky-line
of the City ; but, in their huddled and


crowded ranks, as they lie there, they are
far more significant of what is happening
in the world, and they tell of an unseen
and vaster power, perhaps the greatest
I)ower in the world, that has driven them
into this distant sanctuary. They look
as if they had been driven in by a tre-
mendous gale, never to emerge again,
the gale of the sea-power of England.

They are significant, too, of what is
happening in the German sea-ports from
which they came. Liners like the
" Vaterland," luxurious palaces of the
sea, deteriorating from day to day, in
their enforced idleness, are illustrations
of the deterioration and .enforced idleness,
the deserted wharves and ruined industry,
of Hamburg and Bremen themselves.
Two years ago they were engaged in the
commercial conquest of the seas. There
was no quarter of the world to which
they were not sending (with a certain
theatricality be it said) these grandiose
floating emissaries of the Kaiser, decorated
with his portraits and busts in every
cabin and saloon and companion-way.
Tho ricrnuiiis wcj'c l)(H'oming the spoiled


cliildren of th(3 world, largely owing to
the generous privileges ac^corded to them
in every sea-port of the British Empire.
The luxury of their largest ship — the
" Imperator " — was'beyond all precedent.
Its Eitz Carlton restaurant was more
elaborate than those in , New York or
London. In every respect the ship was a
monument of extravagance, and spoke
of a nation more than a little drunk with
its own quick prosperity.

All this was changed almost instan-
taneously, by the silent power of the
British fleet. We have heard much of
what Germany could do by pressing a
button. If it be asked what the British
Empire is doing in the war, it would be
almost enough to point to that frightened
fleet in New York harbour ; for, whatever
else may happen in the war, there is
nothing more hopelessly remote than
that am^ of those ships should show their
noses upon the high seas until Germany
capitulates. Outside all the other rings
of pressure that have been brought
to bear upon Germany, this ii^on ring
of sea-power has closed in, silent,


implacable and conclusive. In Hamburg
and Bremen, to wliieli the " world-end
steamers," with a tonnage of millions,
two years ago were bringing annually a
larger share of the world's wealth, we
hear to-day, of food riots.


If France had been asked, in the early
days of the war, what help she would
expect from England, she would have
replied in all probability " the help of the
British navy, and perhaps an expedi-
tionary force of 150,000 men." It would
hardly have occurred to any of the allies
that the greatest naval power should be
asked to play the part of the greatest
military power. But that wai^ the
implied exi)ectation of many hasty minds
in neutral countries. Nevertheless, be-
hind the shield of the navy, in less than
two years, the original six divisions of the
British army (120,000 men) became over
five millions (5,041,000) before the intro-
duction of compulsory s(^rvice. The


training of tho officovs alono was a
gigantic task. It may lielp AnK^icans
to realise the magnitude of this effort
if one points out that the United States,
in proportion to the population, would
have to raise an army of about fourteen
million men, completely officered, to com-
pare with it.

Moreover, if one is asked for definite
results at this particular stage and, before
this great new army has really got to
work, one may point out that the move-
ments of the Allies are on a far larger
scale and of a far more comprehensive
nature than those of the Central Powers ;
that, therefore, they are necessarily of the
slower kind which we call " sure." They
are " too great for haste " ; and without
falling into the grandiose manner of the
Germans, one may say that, though the
sun and the moon may be more obvious
bodies, the movement of the stars beyond
them is more important and will out-last
them in the cosmic scheme. This astrono-
mical illustration may lend a certain
significance to the great slow movement
which is taking place all over the world.


and to the fact that Britain has already
taken part in campaigns in Flanders,
Kiaochau, New Guinea, Samoa, Mesopo-
tamia, Egypt, the Sondan, Cameroons,
Togoland, East Africa, South West Africa,
Salonika, Aden, Persia and the North
West Frontier of India. Already, Great
Britain has captured nearly eight hundred
thousand square miles (800,000) of Ger-
man colonies ; Togoland, Cameroons,
South West Africa, Kiachou, Pacific Is-
lands, and over a quarter of East Africa.
Already, therefore, she holds a very solid
asset against the territories captured by
Germany in her first flamboyant rush.


But these larger things are not accom-
plished by the waving of an enchanter's
Avand. Gigantic organizations, of which
the world hears little, have gradually
shaped themselves in England. She has
undertaken all the machinery of blockade
and censorship on an un])recedented scale,
and though this has drawn upon her the


criticism of neutrals, it may fairly be said
that considering tlie nature of the under-
taking and its vast scope, it has been
worked with unprecedented efficiency.
Here and there, by one detail or another,
irritation has been caused ; but to the
disinterested spectator of the enormous
whole, if such a spectator could be found —
the abiding miracle is that it could be
done at all. It has involved the creation
of huge business staffs, by which, for the
first time in history, a blockade has been
cariied on without over-riding neutrals
and, on the whole, through winning their
confidence. No ship bound for Holland
has been put into the prize court for ten
months, because things have been
arranged beforehand, by agreement, as
between gentlemen. No United States
letter in transit is now detained beyond
four days.

Moreover, the word " delay " which is
so much used about the British censorship
is often a very misleading one. At best
it is merely a technical word in this par-
ticular matter ; for the absurdly English
facts are that, in many cases, censored

1 '2 W 77^1 T 1 8 EN GLA N T) DOl N ?

mails arrive at their destination more
quicJcly than if they had been uncensored.
This is obviously so, foi^ instance, in
the case of mails taken at Falmouth
from ships which intend to i3roceed by
way of the I^orth of Scotland ; for
the mails thus " delayed " are sent
by rail across England and usually catch
the first boat on the other side, with a
saving of five or six days on the war-time
schedule. If there be any complaint here
it should be lodged against the German
mines, not against the English censors.

Moreover, I wish that critics could only
see, as I have seen with my own eyes, the
masses of contraband of all kinds which
are posted as " letter mail " from the
United States to Germany. Great
packages, bearing letter-mail postage, but
containing, in the aggregate, enough con-
traband to fill the " Mauretania," come
under the rejoicing hands and laughing
faces of the immense army of woikers
in the censorshijD department. The
queerest disguises and strangest vehicles
are used. Packets leap from the toes
of boots and shoes, and packages are


drawn from tho liniiijo: of clothing.
" Letter -mail," indeed, is one of the most
misleading war-terms in use. It leads
many well-meaning neutrals to believe
that the Allies are brutally holding up
the rose-j)ink correspondence of innocent
young maidens and their lovers across
the cruel seas, and a hundred other fairy
tales, foolish-fond or Satanically- cynical,
according to the temperament of their
propagandist parrot. A schedule of the
goods found in the Letter Mail of the good
ship " Christianiafford," on the 19th May,
1916, throws an interesting light on the
uses to which nil innocent label may be

It mentions over twelve hundred pac-
kets of goods manufactured in Germany
and addressed to German names in
America. Some of these even contained
ironmongery — springs^ machine-needles,
knives, pincers, metal for wireless and a
hundred other moving epistolary hiero-


There was at least one German atrocity
included, in the shai)e of a. lady's dress.


directed as a sheer insult to Fifth Avenue
— from Potsdam to Washington.

There were poUtical books and propa-
gandist literature, much of which was
deliberately calculated to disturb the i^eace
between America and other countries,
notably between America and Japan.
Facts of this kind may be remembered
when the cry is raised that the allied
censorship of German printed matter is
meaningless or merely cynical. I have
seen specimens of this perilous stuff that
it would be sheer folly for the allies to
loose upon the world.

There were packets of " bacteria," and
even of chewing gum. There were twenty
jjackets of jewellery — manufactured for
the gullible, in Berlin ; and there were
two hundred and forty-one packets of
diamonds, valued at over £23,300. These,
T regret to say, were not intended as part
ol' the " Lusitania " indemnity.

Man>- of the devices em]jloyed were
sti'ongly suggestive of the criminal courts.
Indeed the " cunning " displayed is all
of a piece with other German character-


istics in the war — tlie initiation of gas
attacks, the fear of being poisoned, which
German officers have displayed, and the
actual use of disease germs in South
Africa ; all cunningly suggest the criminal,
rather than the knight in shining armour.
Submarine and Zeppelin, too, even though
we be forced to adopt them, are the felons,
not the knights errant of modern war.

The only genuine American letter that
has yet been really held up is probably
the one which I saw displayed on the wall
of the censorship museum ; and, in any
case, it could hardly have reached its
destination. The authorities regarded it,
however, with something like affection,
and the envelope was distinctly the
favourite decoration of that varied art
gallery. It was addressed to :

William HohenzoUern, Esq.,
Potsdam Palace,

If party is absent, please fonvard to
St. Helena.
It contained a collection of the most
vigorous cartoons of the Kaiser, from the
" New York Evening Sun," and several
newspapers of the Middle West.



In addition to the gigantic work of the
censorship department, it may be said
that British Munition factories have in-
creased from something inconsiderable to
over fom^ thousand, under Government
control. It is probably true to say that
more munitions of war of all kinds, from
hand grenades to aeroplanes, and from
trench mortars to big guns, are produced
in one week now than were produced in
the whole first year of the war.

Wherever one goes in Great Britain
to-day, from one end to the other, there
is only one thought and one vast impulse.
Britain at last is mobilized for war, the
achicA^ement to-day far surpasses the
wildest German idea of " kolossal."

The British i)re-war capacity for making
munitions for land services was adapted
to our army of 200,000 men. The French
capacity was for an army of three to four
millions. The immber of work-people
now employed on British Njival muni-
tions approximately equals the total at


work on French munitions for both mili-
t3bYj and naval services. We are sup-
plying shell steel to France at the rate
of half a million tons a year, other steel
at hundreds of thousands of tons a year,
coal at one and a half million tons a month.
The consequences of the temporary loss
of the French industrial districts thus
falls largely on Great Britain.

The British monthly output of heavy
guns and howitzers for land service is
thhty-three per cent, in excess of the
total available for the army in the field
before the war. England has sent to
France tens of thousands of tons of
constituents of explosives.

This must not be mistaken for a
criticism of our magnificent allies, who by
then indomitable valour saved Europe
and the world, during the darkest hours
of the war. It is merely an answer to the
question : " What if? England doing as Tier
share .^ " It is not a matter of rivalry,
but of co-operation, and our allies have
always generously recognized the share of
Great Britain. The best that we could
do is our only adequate return for what


France has done ; for France has given her
all, and England now, also, is giving her all.

The silence in which the work has been
accomplished was often necessary to its
success, and it njever deceived our allies.
English help at Verdun was not required
by Joftre for the very grim reasons which
are now becoming apparent in the " great
offensive " where the British in turn are
grappling with the massed forces of

It is hardly an exaggeration to say
that without the help of British finance
and British munitions, the great Russian
offensive wonld never have taken jylfxcc ;
for, on this side also, an immense burden
has been quietly shouldered by the British

The truth about the British conduct of
the war, and of what is to come as well as
what has been done, is to be found in that
large and steady movement which will
endure to the end.

Indeed, the only way of obtaining any-
tliing Hke a just view ol' wliat is really


happening in the war is for the individual
to do a httle co-ordinating on his own
behalf ; to look at the Russian offensive,
for instance, in connection with the heroic
resistance of the French at Verdun. It
was this resistance which reduced the
mobile elements of the enemy to the point
where the Russian attack was sure of
success. The allies have consistently
worked on the principle that the lives of
men are more than time or money ; and
though, as a writer in the " Westminster "
said of the magnificent Russian offensive
— " it appeals more to the imagination
to take towns and force the passage
of rivers and recover territory — that fetish
of the uninformed — than to break up
attacks on a range of shell- scarred hills
and to stand up against jets of liquid
fire," yet the Russians themselves will
certainly not withhold their tribute to the
splendid valour of the Frenchman who
enabled them to do these things. And
in this great co-operation of the allies
it is after all most satisfactory that the
French themselves should speak of the
part played by England. They have
done this, a thousand times, in the most
generous way, to the confusion of the


German agents who would sow discord.
Yet, it may be repeated, tliere is poetic
justice in the fact that, alarmed by the
preparations for the British offensive, the
Germans massed their strength to meet
it ; that the British in turn are now
paying their share in flesh and blood ;
and that the French, who bore the brunt
so long, are breaking through.

Time was necessary, the time secured
by the fleet, to bring the power of England
into play. This is not because she was
more sluggish than her neighbours. It
is partly due to the same cause which
makes it easier to handle a rifle than a
howitzer. ,

Upon this fact the German agents in
all countries concentrated, in order to sow
discord between the allies by invidious
comparisons. It may be said in warning,
therefore, to thousands of innocent people,
that in repeating the suggestions of failure
— on the i^art of England or any of the
allies — to do their own share in this life
and death struggle, they are the un-
conscious instruments of (German propa-

l-nnU\l III i:r,;il Ihil'ihi hu lUirnii'. M'llliirHuii .1 .S'/zidijii.', /,(,(.


AA 000 910 402 7



Online LibraryAlfred NoyesWhat is England doing? → online text (page 1 of 1)