Albert Geouffre de Lapradelle.

War letters from France online

. (page 5 of 6)
Online LibraryAlbert Geouffre de LapradelleWar letters from France → online text (page 5 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ardor which will not flag. Let us not cease our
prayers, and let us be ready to make every cour-
ageous sacrifice possible.

We are defending our cause valiantly, but the
enemy is splendidly organized and intrenched on our
soil. It will be hard to dislodge him. I see by the
papers that the bombardment of the Cathedral of
Rheims has stirred a feeling of righteous indigna-
tion in every nation. There is good reason for it
too, for never was there so wanton and useless a
piece of barbarism perpetrated. It is fit to rank
with the massacres of Louvain.

The letter continues on September 30, 1914, after
the capture of Antwerp:



It is raining and the dismal skies add to our deso-
lation within. To think of this new disaster. The
papers keep us in suspense with vague news and
reports. Poor heroic Belgians! They have fought
with all their strength, but how could they stand
this iron tide? I recall the pretty little country so
calm and peaceful which you and I have traveled
over together in the good days of the past. It is
frightful to think what has happened to it. And
now it is our soil that is to suffer again. It is our
own beautiful Paris that they are aiming at. Ah,
how I should like to be back there!

Your mother received a letter from the R.'s this
morning. Those brave people stayed on in their
home and lived through the frightful hours of the
battle. They went down into the cellar at first, but
came up to aid the wounded who were brought to
the house. They heard the cannon and musket fire
for hours. . . .

I had a letter from Miss H. yesterday telling of
the atrocities committed on the poor refugees. She
saw them herself. It is frightful. . . .

October 9, 1914.
Oh, the never-to-be-forgotten hours of anguish and
suspense! We seize the papers and devour the dis-
patches. They are upon us, trampling down the
poor villages to reach us and crush us. They are



implacable, mad in their hate and fury. But we
are resisting them magnificently. Oh, the sacrifices,
the blood, the misery!

November 7> 1914.
Our race 'has proved fhat it is neither degenerate
nor changed from the Frenchmen of former days
who knew how to conquer. How they fight and die,
our little pioupious! Our generals are splendid.
We cannot doubt the final success of our armies.
God grant that it may not be too long delayed, for
it is heartrending to see so many suffer and die.
We shall preserve the anguish of this hour in our
hearts for ever, and our victorious fatherland will
bear the marks of these tragic days. The dead will
not return with victory, and whole families will be
plunged into mourning for life. Oh, what a ter-
rible thing war is, and what a responsibility rests on
the shoulders of those who provoke war!

The letter concludes on November 20, 1914, from
a little country town:

We devour five or six newspapers a day. We go
every morning and sometimes in the afternoon to
read the dispatches. At night there is a crowd
around the bulletins. Some kind soul volunteers to
read the dispatches aloud so that everybody can
hear them. There is a great stir in the barracks



here. Some of the troops are getting ready to go
to the front, and others are starting on their way
singing songs. It makes you sad to think they are
going, so many of them, to their death. . . .

I have already told you of the death of my brother,
an artillery captain. He was killed near Rheims.
Another one of my brothers, who had fought in
China, re-enlisted as captain of the Zouaves and has
just been killed in the North. He was picking up his
wounded men one evening after a hot scrimmage in
which he had been victorious, when a stray bullet
struck him full in the breast. My third brother,
sergeant in the light infantry, has been wounded.
My sisters-in-law are bearing up nobly. But my
parents, who went to Paris on the approach of the
Germans, are inconsolable. They are trying to bear
their grief stoically, believing that their sons died
happy in dying for their country.


On January 12, 1915, a member of the French
Academy writes:

We live on as you saw us. Madame B. is working
for our ambulance, my son is at the ministry of war,
and I am doing what I can to serve my country
with pen and speech. Army and people alike are
filled with confidence. There is no sign of boasting



but a calm, firm resolution to hold out to the bitter
end. The campaign of terror inaugurated by the
Germans has failed to frighten us.

E. Boutroux.

The distinguished philosopher, Henri Bergson,
writes from Paris to a friend in America on the
twenty-seventh of May, 1915:

The resolution to conquer has never been stronger
in France than it is at present. The disposition of
our soldiers, as indeed of our entire population, is
admirable. They have all been reconciled from the
start to the most extreme sacrifices, with the clear
consciousness that it is not only the cause of their
fatherland but that of humanity and civilization as
well which is at stake. Under these conditions the
result of the conflict cannot be doubtful. But what
terrible sacrifices it will have cost !

H. Bergson.

P. A. wrifes on the eighteenth of April, 1915:

The war with its preoccupations and activities
absorbs every minute, every second. I have been
organizing hospitals, manufacturing powder, collect-
ing stockings and underwear for the soldiers, writing
appeals in the papers, making speeches on the plat-
form, hurrying through the battlefields of Flanders
in automobiles to install ambulance stations and



secure the prompt removal of the wounded. The nine
months that have passed seem more like nine hours.
It seems only yesterday that we were on the road to
Albert among our bleeding soldiers. And here we
are on the same road again to-day. It is the same
struggle, the same spectacle, but thank God we are
more confident of victory to-day.

I saw a night battle at Nieuport a little while ago
which would have interested you. It was a superb
moonlight night. I was in a ruined church which
was paved with new tombstones. The bullets flew
through the church grazing the pillars and chipping
the corners of the walls. I have written an article
about it and will send you the magazine. Why
weren't you here? All our generals are filled with
confidence, they believe that the enemy is pretty well
exhausted, but still capable of dogged resistance and
desperate attacks. Anyway they cannot break our
lines now.

As the war continues its economic demands grow
clearer. Men are called from the front to work in
the factories. Engineers, chemists, and other spe-
cialists are summoned home for their expert knowl-
edge. They are sorry to leave the front, but their
comrades write them from the firing line saying that
they are glad to have them where they are. Whether
in the shop or at the front they are serving their
country, where they can serve her best, and there is



no distinction of merit between men who give their
best service to France. On the twenty-eighth of
June, 1915, P. G. writes:

A short time ago I read a letter from George in
which he says that he is uncomfortable because he
is at the rear in a position of safety. I want to give
him and all of his companions who for various rea-
sons are not at the front, my opinion on this point.

The present war is not like the wars of the Em-
pire, depending upon force alone. It is a war of
men and munitions. Nothing distresses me more
than to think that our coffers are not full. Now, to
have munitions we must have able men and we must
have money. Goodwill is not enough. Without
experts to manufacture them our munitions of war
will be inferior and even worthless. We must have
money too, and to that end our commerce and in-
dustry must be kept up. Now, in my judgment all
those who on account of age or of infirmity or for
reasons of professional skill, stay at home and do
their duty to the extent of their powers, are as
deserving as we who are at the front. We even have
periods of rest that they do not. No, there are good
Frenchmen and bad Frenchmen only — but the latter
are extremely few,



IT is the certainty of victory that gives us our
confidence, and what gives us this certainty of
victory is the profound conviction of the in-
justice of the attack against us and the barbarity of
our aggressors. M. Pottier, curator in the Museum
of the Louvre and member of the Academy of In-
scriptions and Belles Lettres, writes to a friend in

The war that they are waging against us is a
war of extermination, into which no consideration
for humanity or civilization enters. Except for the
political consequences that might result, I am per-
suaded that the Germans would have no scruples in
destroying the public buildings of Paris, including
Notre Dame and the Louvre. I have done my best
to safeguard the scientific treasures with which you
are familiar, but still I must confess that they are
not sufficiently protected against a deliberate and
sustained bombardment. You would find it hard to
recognize our poor galleries and showcases all



emptied of their contents. The Ambassador of the
United States has been in to look at them.

Since we have seen the manifesto of the German
"intellectuals," signed by names which we have long
been accustomed to honor, we know that the scholars
and artists of Germany are marching in the train
of the men who burned the library of Louvain, bom-
barded Rheims, and shattered the sculptures of the
cathedral which ten centuries of war and invasions
had respected : the men who tried to fire Notre Dame
de Paris with bombs, and killed children playing in
our streets. No civilized nation in the world's his-
tory until to-day has given us the astonishing spec-
tacle of men of science justifying and glorifying
murderous attacks made contrary to the laws of
nations and even in defiance of treaties signed by
their own diplomats.

In addition to these brazen attempts to justify
the outrages that they cannot deny, they enter a
hearty and peremptory rebuttal of other attempts
which are amply proven by official witnesses. "It is
not true that . . . it is not true that" — they re-
iterate. How can men schooled in our scientific
methods so demean themselves as to sign statements
the truth of which they have no means of controlling,
and on the matter of which they have no precise
information, being far away from the scene of



I am glad to say that only five of the fifteen cor-
responding members and associates of our Academy
of Inscriptions, and only four of the twenty mem-
bers of the Academy of Science signed the manifesto.
It seems then that even in Germany some few men
are left with enough confidence to refuse their assent
to such a criminal procedure. We are glad to believe
it. Be assured of this, we are fighting to save the
world from the Prussian corporal, from that spirit
of hatred and proud domination that has invaded
and contaminated the whole of Germany. We are
combating the spirit of disloyalty and falsehood that
has characterized every move of the Germans in this
war: viz., the preparation for the war by a system
of espionage and by purchases of land which have
been going on for years; the tricks in battle, such
as putting French uniforms on German soldiers in
order to decoy our unsuspecting men into an am-
bush ; the convoy of military stores under the flag of
the Red Cross ; the transportation of men and muni-
tions into the trenches on stretchers ; the ships dis-
guised as Russian boats in order to enter the harbor
and torpedo the unsuspecting enemy. Never, never
will we conduct a war in such fashion, repugnant to
all nations with a sense of honor and loyalty. We
still believe that the moral factor is essential to give
our soldiers the conviction that they are defending
a just cause with honor.



Permeated with the idea that she is fighting for
the defense of rights and liberties of the nations,
France, with her good friends and allies is confident
of the future. She knows that victory belongs to
the nations that are just, calm, courageous and
patient. She knows that all these qualities are hers.
The man best qualified to speak on international law
not only in France, but also, even by the consent of
the Germans themselves, in the world, wrote from
Bordeaux to an American friend in November, 1914:

I am deeply pained by this war as a man and a
jurist, as well as a Frenchman. What good are all
our grand efforts if they are to result only in
"scraps of paper"? Do not believe that I am anxious
only for the war to end. In spite of all the evils
that war brings in its train, the Allies must fight
on until the might of Germany is completely hum-
bled, and due reparation is exacted from her; only
then can we have a durable peace, and then perhaps
can we begin to talk of international law.

Louis Renault.

France has received too many expressions of gen-
eral sympathy from the Americans to allow her to
doubt the feelings of the greatest of the neutral
powers. In the letter of M. Pottier to a friend in
America, which we quoted a few pages above, are the
following lines:



We can ask only for moral support from your
country, but we may count on her for that. We have
read with grateful emotions the words of your ex-
President Roosevelt, which are so encouraging for
us. We have understood the meaning of President
Wilson's curt and dignified reply to Emperor Wil-
liam, when the Germans, whom the Allies accused of
using dum-dum bullets, brought the impudent coun-
tercharge of their use by the French. The Americans
well know which side is fighting for the right and for
the respective treaties. The example of heoric Bel-
gium points the way of duty.

While the German propagandists were exerting
their zeal in pleading an unjust cause before the
neutral nations, France judged that she had but to
rely in dignified reticence on the sound judgment
and sense of justice prevalent among the American
people. M. Pottier writes from Paris on the tenth
of April, 1915:

It is asked in a friendly way why the French do
noc strive more actively in America against the prop-
aganda made by the partisans of the Germans.
Compared with the quantities of letters, papers,
prospectuses, and the views with which neutral
nations are being swamped and inundated, our very
modest communication and pamphlets attract but
little attention.

I quite understand this : and often among our


friends we have been a little disturbed by this dis-
proportion. Already efforts have been made to
counteract this, and several associations have been
organized to make clear to those in other countries
the position we have taken in this great European
struggle. . . .

One of my Italian colleagues, who from the be-
ginning had courageously taken sides against Ger-
many, wrote in La Tribune of Rome the fifth of
February :

"I have expressed my sentiments of invincible
horror for the torture inflicted upon innocent and
heroic Belgium. I have expressed also, notwith-
standing the deluge of German newspaper clippings
which every day heap up the waste basket in my
office — I have expressed my absolute conviction that
this conflict was let loose by the agreement and by the
deliberate wish of Austro-German imperialism.

"Immediately open war against me was declared
by my honorable colleagues and by the German
press. I saw pour in torrents into my house, like
discharges of a famous '450,' not only insulting
articles from newspapers of the Goths, but personal
letters of protestation, of rage, of threats."

This is something of which the French could never
be accused. We would take care not to imitate the
indiscreet and stupid measures, which, far from
obtaining the result expected, either exasperate or



make smile, according to the disposition, those who
are the butt of these persecutors. Such a lack of
moderation and of tact will lead always to the quick
confusion of propaganda. Ne quid nimis, said
Latins: Excess in everything is a fault.

For another reason: Does it at all concern us
to answer back in ceaseless protestations, as do the
Germans? Certainly not. Facts have spoken for
us. What could we add? Is it not enough to recall
the facts and to confirm them? One can well under-
stand how our adversaries feel the need of pleading
their cause. What a mass of assertions they must
prove before the world!

When American sympathy for the justice of our
cause was freely expressed on the dastardly sinking
of the Lusitania, the American papers sent to the
front were hailed with joy by the Frenchmen who
had come from America. They immediately converted
them into a new kind of projectile and threw them
into the German trenches. A young Frenchman who
had lived eight years in this country writes from the
trenches to a friend in New York, June 24, 1915:

Can you guess what it is to spend twelve days
and twelve nights, most of which are nuits blanches,
in first line with very little, if anything, to smoke?
I don't think you can. So I will not attempt to
tell you how I felt when I received your four boxes


of Oxfords. To be sure, many of my friends were
in the same plight, and as selfishness is unknown in
war time, they, too, had a glorious smoke on you.
Many of them had never tasted American cigarettes,
but I can assure you they found a real delight in
puffing them. We usually have plenty of tobacco
and everything else, and if this is the worst war men
have ever seen, it is perfectly true that soldiers were
never taken better care of. The fact that we ran
short of tobacco was due to an unlooked-for alerte
which woke us up in the middle of the night while
we were au repos. In less time than it takes to say,
we were going to an unknown destination. Talk
about thrills — that's where you get them — and as
strange as it may sound to an outsider, we do love
them. If you recall what has been going on for
the last few weeks, I think you can safely guess
where we were bound for — 'nough said. All the piou-
pious that had a whack at them want to join me in
thanking you. My friends in New York and else-
where have sent me about a dozen boxes of one hun-
dred Rameses, too, but I never received them, except

Reading over your letter makes me think how
fortunate you are. Not that I regret having come
— for I never would have dared show myself to
anyone had I stayed — but simply because this is
no life. I sometimes think how foolish men are to



have to resort to these mad orgies of wholesale mur-
der and pillage in order to settle their differences.
Talk about progress and civilization ! Why, we
might as well destroy the hypocrisy of it, since it
cannot save us from these calamities, which already
involve millions of homes. Why not set back the
clock a few centuries and revert to the simple habits
of the caveman. This may sound like strange talk
to you; no doubt it will. But what do you think
happens to the gray matter, when thousands, hun-
dreds of thousands of shells are hurled above one's
head? Although I do know something happens, I'm
sure I don't know what it is. And what about the un-
told misery caused by such monstrous bombard-
ments? No one is better able to know it than I.
Sometimes I get so damned mad to see in what
savage way the Germans conduct the war that I wish
to turn in my brassard and get back my rifle. I've
tried it twice now, but the major wouldn't let me.

Fortunately this trench warfare won't last for
ever, and I do earnestly hope that we shall soon be
able to measure ourselves in the open with ces mes-
sieurs and have it out like white men should. Of
course they are not friends of the assault a la
baionnette. I don't blame them either, for although
they can run pretty fast — I've seen them — they can't
get away from our grognards.

Some three weeks ago I threw a bunch of American


papers into their trench and waited for results. I
wish you could have heard them groan and shout
and swear; they were nothing short of raving mad.
Evidently someone among them could read English,
anyway, the Tribune cartoons were eloquent enough,
especially the one you sent, also the one representing
Count von Bernstorff addressing his country's sym-
pathies to the American public over the Lusitania
dead, entitled "The Crowning Insult." Have you
seen it? It must have struck them harder than any
shell ever did — at least judging from results.

J. B. C.

Another young Frenchman from America, a lieu-
tenant, writes from the hospital where he lies severely
wounded the following reflections on the character
of the war and the combatants' views of the duty
of neutrals :

I am indeed much better, though not very well as
yet. I have been so near death and seen such ter-
rible things, I have so often despaired of coming out
of the struggle alive, that this new life here away
from the battlefield seems a dream. In spite of the
sufferings and great losses of men, we are full of
hope and courage. We know we must triumph and
victory will be ours. France will not die. It is neces-
sary to the world, above all to the world of thought,
your world and mine. This war is the enemy of



thought ; it is the enslavement of all the truly spirit-
ual powers to a work of tyranny and destruction.

One day, I hope, I shall tell you of some of the
things I have seen, and then you will understand
that Germany has only begun to spell the words,
"humanity," "civilization," "personal dignity,"
"progress," based on principles of "liberty and jus-
tice." At first I could not be bitter towards the
Germans. I thought the military party alone could
be held responsible for the unspeakable cruelty of
the soldiers. I said to myself, "The people are
blind, they have been misled. They believe themselves
attacked and threatened in their very existence. We
must only free them, free Europe and her German
people as well, from the German military cast."
But facts do not allow me to make that distinction
bona fide any longer. The Germans know what they
are doing. They have been trained to think, to feel,
to speak as their masters. They 'honor, venerate,
follow them and have one faith — the absolute good-
ness of the German nation, the sacredness of its
mission to a corrupted world; faith in a gospel of
military strength which will make of all peoples
either the slaves of Germany or willing subjects.
We all must either love them, or, through fear, re-
spect and honor them. They will give other nations
independence if it harmonizes with the interests of
the Empire, and if not, that independence will be



sacrificed on the altar of the German god. They have
Germanized the very heavens. They have lent to
the Being who stood for love and justice sentiments
unworthy of a Turk! I am not speaking without
knowledge. I have seen them victorious and de-
feated. I have seen them in battle and in prayer.
I have seen them from Prussia and from Bavaria,
and all breathe the same spirit of selfish and arro-
gant pride, of hatred, of domination at all costs and
by all means. I have seen the maimed children, the
slaughtered women, and the tortured old men. I
have seen poor French prisoners crucified naked on
the edge of a trench to frighten their comrades, and
more and more. No mercy, no chivalry, no honor;
all sacrificed that the Kaiser may rule over the land
of our forefathers and bring to it the blessings of
superior morality and Kultur!

On January 10, 1915, a naval lieutenant writes to
his sister:

France faces with the utmost calm the probability
that the war may last another year or more. We are
resolute and prepared. We look for victory entire and
absolute, not the annihilation of the German race, as
our enemies accuse us of saying, but the annihilation
of the military caste which is brutalizing the race.
JThis war on war is the noblest cause possible, and the



people who are- with us in it will be forever ennobled
by it.

Things are going well. The Germans retreat only
foot by foot to be sure, but the unexpected duration
of the war makes them lose daily the benefit of their

1 2 3 5

Online LibraryAlbert Geouffre de LapradelleWar letters from France → online text (page 5 of 6)