Constance Elizabeth Maud.

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for they have never begun to know, but that they may
learn and see something of the Via Dolorosa other
feet have had to tread.


AMONG the many wonderful things to be seen in France
at this supremely interesting moment of her history,
while the beaten Boche cowers at her feet and still
her Allies are in her midst, are the regiments of
English khaki girls, and nowhere can you see a greater
variety than at Compiegne. They are of every
uniform and taken from every class but they are
all alike in this they are a revelation amazing,
amusing, splendid and soul- stirring.

The Great War has been their great opportunity
and they have taken it just precisely as it has been
that of millions of their brothers, who otherwise had
drudged or lounged, according to their station, through
life, without ever realising their latent manhood. And
what a marvellous unfoldment of capacity, courage,
strength, resource and even genius, it has been. Five
years ago suddenly one brilliant summer's day, with
the great boom of guns, Life opened wide its gates
hitherto so jealously closed against the whole sex.

Just here and there a daring forceful spirit of un-
quenchable virility, unable to get in through the gates,
had climbed the high walls, and had met with the rough
fate of all who climb walls instead of going through
orthodox openings many a bruise, many a blow, and



the isolation that is the sorest penalty of daring to
be " not like other people."

But the first British guns of 1914 proclaimed the
new era for women. Incredibly swiftly it became
clear that not only men but women were needed to
win the greatest war, in the greatest cause, the world
had ever known.

French women were mobilised by a call from their
President the same week as their men. Britain's
women came in more slowly, but just as surely. I
remember a funny conversation with a motor- bus
conductor who said he would be joining up were it
not that no one could fill his job. Just back from
Paris I suggested an able-bodied woman might fill
the gap as in that city. He regarded me with scorn :

" A woman conduct a bus ? Why they 'aven't
the nerve, let alone the strength I'd pity the bus
as was conducted by a woman ! "

This gentleman voiced the opinion of his class, and
that also of the majority of every other in England.
And not only was it a fixed idea on the part of men
that women had their narrow limitations fixed by
Nature and sanctioned by the immutable law of the
Creator, but the same idea obtained to a great extent
among women themselves. It is to women, above
all, that the great revelation has come of their own

The first amazing fact that stirred the girl of the
educated classes, not obliged to earn her living, was
that there was something definite for her to do more


that she was actually being urgently called upon
to do it. To be needed, not just as a pretty or amus-
ing girl for a dance or house-party, but needed to help
win the war. Her men-kind were going, life was shaken
to its foundations, and they actually wanted women,
wanted girls not only as nurses, which meant
vocation and training, but as V.A.D.'s, as canteen
workers at home and abroad, as clerks, as bus-drivers,
postmen, policemen, ploughmen, printers, bank clerks,
secretaries in the War Office, and every other office.
They were wanted to make shells, to make guns, to
make uniforms, to make food to make, in fact, the
Wheels of War go round. As time went on wider
and wider swung the gates, and the British girls in
the khaki uniforms trooped through, thousands and
hundreds of thousands abreast.

Over to France they sailed as V.A.D.'s, W.E.C.'s,
Y.M.C.A.'s, W.A.A.C.'s, as Penguins, Wrens and Fanys
to say nothing of matrons, and nurses who served
the innumerable hospitals not only for British troops
but French, Serbian, Greek, Roumanian, Egyptian.

Nurses, military and Red Cross, were familiar
figures all over France, but the khaki girls were a
species so novel to our French neighbours that,
having once realised the surprising phenomenon,
nothing they did caused any surprise though wonder
undoubtedly and admiration tinged with awe, not
without secret thanksgiving that their amazing
qualities were not contagious.

Talking with a charming old Comtesse and her


son who had been watching with keen interest the
khaki girls, two among them Lieutenants in the
French army, passing to and fro at the hotel, I
gathered something of their attitude and that of their

" She is altogether different the jeune file Anglaise
from our jeune fille, said the old lady very gently:
" One must not apply to her our French ideas, though
we can give to her our admiration for her courage."

Her son remarked gallantly :

" For me I regard the jeune fille Anglaise like a kind
of Valkyrie as perfectly equipped by the mere fact
of her English maidenhood as though she wore, in
effect, chain armour and carried a revolver. My
cousin, who is Colonel in the 3rd Army, regards those
young girls who have served under him in the firing-
line absolutely in this light. They are altogether
admirable, heroic, astonishing, he declares ! "

The old lady enquired with a puzzled air to what
class of society these young girls belonged.

I fear I only succeeded in bewildering her, for I
answered they represented a great many classes, and
every variety of walk in life. Her son endeavoured
to elucidate matters by explaining to his mother that
the English modern noblesse was largely recruited
from successful commercial gentlemen grocers, soap
manufacturers, and brewers " So, in England every-
thing is, you see, rather mixed," he concluded.

I agreed heartily, everything was extraordinarily
" mixed," but for her comfort I assured this Comtesse


of the old regime that these khaki girls were all ires
lien elevees even those of the modern peerage and
there were to my certain knowledge, in the khaki ranks,
daughters of generals, of admirals. . . . She cheered
up at this, and I went on, " Yes, of Ambassadors also,
and even of Bishops," but at this last I noticed an
involuntary shudder, so hastened to add, " of the
Anglican Church, of course. All," I continued, " even
the most emancipated, those two lieutenants, for
example, who had so intrigued her, were irreproachably
brought up."

She raised her lorgnettes on a group near the door
of the salon : "Tiens " she said, thoughtfully ; " it is
curious and interesting what you tell me. It makes
me feel I am becoming old, very old I belong to a
world which soon will exist no more."

I told her she belonged to a beautiful world which
we could not spare, and there was plenty of room for
all. But even as I said it I knew she was right, and
that as well might men try to talk in the language
of Chaucer in the House of Commons as attempt to
keep old world ideas, however picturesque, in the era
which gave birth to the khaki girl.

Yet the attitude of somewhat breathless wonder
of our French friends, contemplating the feats of the
jeune file Anglaise during her years of war service in
France, is scarcely to be wondered at. In her trim
business-like uniform, with every variety of badge,
they have seen her come and go in the war zone as
though she were to the manner born. Wherever there



was danger and death, a bombardment or an air raid,
she was sure to be on the spot. Sleeping in barns or
stables, dug-outs and trenches, fearless and uncon-
cerned, going out alone at night " on her job," serving
canteens at the back of the lines when bombs were
raining around her, taking on night duty in the
field hospitals, one young V.A.D. alone with a hundred
wounded poilus, driving her great heavy lorry laden
with wounded, or filled with stores, from one end of
the country to the other.

The French girl of the educated classes has worked
gallantly too, but, with a few conspicuous exceptions,
always within strict limits. She has made bandages
and hospital requisites at the various war workrooms,
and nursed devotedly in the Croix Rouge and military
hospitals. But the young nurses did not take on night
duty, their parents knew where they were, and what
they were doing. Those of the khaki girls abroad did
not know, whatever they fondly imagined. As one
of them said when I asked whether her parents knew
of her solitary night expeditions to pick up wounded :

"No, the old dears haven't the very dimmest-
after all, I'm out here to do my job, and it's no earthly
disturbing the old Dad's peace of mind I just write
home, ' very busy, O.K.' '

The English parents knew they could trust their
girls and most of them made a virtue of necessity
even when anxious. But W.E.C., Women's Emergency
Corps ; F.W.E.F., French Wounded Emergency Fund :
C.B.C.R.F., Comite Britannique Croix Rouge Fran-


$aise ; F.A.N.Y., First Aid Nursing Yeomanry ;
W.C.C., Women's Convoy Corps, and other corps,
societies, and units, whose names were legion, re-
presented activities little realised by those at home.

A girl wearing the French cock with the letters
F.W.E. told me how an old lady on board, after a
puzzled scrutiny of the badge on her sleeve, remarked
with a gleam of satisfaction, " You I see by your little
cock supply the French wounded with eggs."

Endless varieties of the modern girl passed before
one in a series of vivid moving pictures at Com-
piegne the headquarters of so many societies and
units. The streets were full of their Red Cross lorries
and cars, their ambulances and transports. The
American women too, with their smart blue uniforms
and the gay stars and stripes flying at the head of
their swift going cars, were often over from their big
settlement at Blerancourt. At the hotel on the
outskirts of the forest one met them all, and the little
Red Cross acted as a masonic sign between us.

Among the first to come out to France were the
F.A.N.Y., First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. They had
been started in 1910, not only to render service in
wartime but to give quick first aid in cases of mining
accidents, fires, and other catastrophes. Trained to
ride, and to drive motors besides bandaging and
medical first aid, they were ready equipped for service
when war was declared in 1914. But it was not their
own countrymen who first welcomed their offer of
help, on the contrary, the War Office emphatically


gave them to understand they were not wanted. So
many able and efficient women received this curt
squashing that the Fanys, finding themselves in such
good company, were in no wise depressed. They
knew that those nearer to the heart of the war would
not share this British view. The Belgians first, and
then the French, welcomed them only too gladly, and
right into the war zone went the gallant young Fanys
ready for any perils, any hardships. First Aid Nursing
by no means covered their qualifications, though they
were trained to give such aid to those they bore on
their stretchers and picked up on the field, rescued
from burning buildings, or dug out of shell holes and
trenches, buried by explosions. But the one chief
essential was that every Fany should be an expert
driver of car and lorry, able also to repair any damage
and attend to any sudden attacks the complicated
machinery might be taken with en route. No child's
play this, but work calling forth a high standard of
mechanical skill, dexterity, nerve, and self-reliance.
This latter work, it must be remembered, being
generally in the dark, at great risk driving along the
exposed roads riddled with shell holes, to and fro
between the dressing stations and the firing line.

Many and various were the duties of the fearless
Fanys. For the Belgians they ran hospitals, one at
Calais entirely at their own expense for two years, for
wounded and typhoid cases. At Ruchard Camp they
had a canteen for seven hundred convalescent
Belgians, at Ypres a motor kitchen and a wonderful


motor bath which not only gave two hundred and fifty
baths a day, but also disinfected the men's clothes.
They worked with the doctors of the 3 me Chasseurs
a Pied at Oostkerk and with the officers of the 7th
Artillery Regiment, establishing aid posts and can-
teens. Their motor ambulances were attached to
the hospitals close up to the firing line at Hoogstadt
during 1916 and 1917. Their services for the French
army were no less valuable, and their motor ambulances
and lorries were unceasingly at work round Amiens,
Chateau-Thierry, Epernay, Chalons, Bar-le-Duc, and
St Omer.

When Foch entered Alsace with his triumphal
army he was accompanied by a detachment of twenty-
five youthful Fanys, each driving her own camion
(lorry). They were attached to the 3rd Army, and
their work among other things was to collect the
French wounded prisoners in the various internment
camps at Stuttgart and other German towns, and take
them back to France. A real Valkyrie's task this and
with considerably more difficulties and dangers than
carrying one dead hero on your saddle-bows.

A youthful Fany whom I met at Compiegne told
of an adventurous journey when, owing to a break-
down of her camion camions are always breaking
down it appears at critical moments she got separated
from her party, and found herself late in the winter's
afternoon alone in the streets of Stuttgart, surrounded
by an ugly hostile German crowd as she tried to find
her way to the nearest internment camp. She spoke


no German and very little French. She was about
as frankly English with her blue eyes, rosy sunburnt
cheeks and nutbrown short-cropped curls, as a
Union Jack, though she was attached to the French
army and wore the small red grenade on her

She faced the hectoring officials, who gathered
threateningly round her car, with a lordly air and the
information that she " had no time to waste ! was
there anyone there sufficiently in touch with civilisa-
tion to speak English ? If so, let him step out, and
the rest step back, if you please."

A tall German officer answered the summons of
this, no doubt to him, most extraordinary young
specimen of the female persuasion ever before en-
countered. Its age was obviously of the most tender,
its figure tall and slender as a youth of seventeen,
its voice in spite of the imperious tone unmistakably
tinged with that of the childhood still within bowing
distance. Something of a paternal and protecting
chord was evidently touched in the heart of the
German, for Germans there are among the eighty
million who have escaped the poison virus with which
the vast majority of their nation has been inoculated.
He mounted by her side in the camion and directed
her to drive with him to the Police Station, saying in
good English that she was in great danger in the public
streets, and it was essential to get her into safety at
once. Though she had no option but to trust him
she felt not unlike a trapped bird when he conducted



her into the presence of three big, important, lowering
Hun officers behind closed doors. These gentlemen
looked at her with no lenient, paternal, or fraternal,
eye. The chorus of guttural discussion in which they
all joined angrily, sounded to her uncommonly like
the old Hymn of Hate, and it would not have surprised
her to hear the verdict of, " off with her head," at
any moment. Who would have been the wiser?
A girl got separated from her unit in the dark, lonely
roads, missed her way, no trace to be found, etc. She
realised the situation poignantly, and her momentary
helplessness in the hands of the enemy, the newly
beaten enemy, thirsting for vengeance. She did not
realise the other side of the picture the danger to
the foe of touching a hair of her head. But she made
a good bluff of sang-froid, and requested the gentlemen
to put her in touch as quickly as possible with the
French army and the C.O.'s of the various internment
camps, in order that she might find her unit.

The big bosses blustered and swore at the coolness
of the Frauenzimmer (i.e. the " crittur "), but, with the
assistance of her first friend and the telephone, she
found herself in about a couple of hours safely united
again to her comrades who had not yet discovered her
aBsence, arriving, as they did, in different parties and
by various routes.

The freight the Fanys bore back to France in their
cars were in piteous plight. Many of these poor
victims of Boche Kultur were mere skeletons, all
were emaciated from starvation. Many were dying


of tuberculosis brought on from cold, insufficient
clothing, and exposure. One poor boy was kept alive
during the drive only by frequent doses of brandy and
died before reaching France, his one prayer all the
way being to live till he touched French soil. The
girl driver had no doctor or nurse with her on that
terrible journey only another sick man to lend a

All through December back and forth went the five
and twenty Fany- drivers, wishing, as did the rescued
French prisoners, that they could multiply themselves
by a hundred. For there was work for any number,
and nothing as yet organised for removing the many
thousands interned from these awful camps of suffer-
ing and slavery into light and freedom, back to their
own beloved France, which most of them had feared
never to see again.

Another singular task allotted to the Fanys, by the
French military authorities, in those early days after
the Armistice, was that of removing German prisoners
near the frontier, further back into France. As
some eight stalwart Boches apiece were entrusted
to the English girls they requested they might be
accompanied by a French guard, pointing out that
the unarmed driver of a heavy camion could scarcely
undertake to prevent any, or all, her precious charges,
alighting en route had they a mind to do so.

The French officers in command made answer that
there were no men who could be spared for this
purpose. A curious reply when it is remembered


how carefully shielded is the young French girl of the
same class even an unarmed man would have asked
for a guard. The French C.O.'s evidently regarded
the Fanys as supernatural and invincible. Could they
otherwise have seen these young girls go off gaily
with their cargo of eight big surly Boches prisoners,
for whom they were held responsible, alone, un-
protected, unarmed, and generally just as darkness
was setting in, owing to the invariable delays and
postponements with which they had to cope, however
much they tried for an early start. To keep together
was absolutely impossible owing to mishaps by the

One girl I know found herself, on a dark December
night in 1918 crossing the Vosges mountains, obliged
to draw up and deal with a carburetter which suddenly
and resolutely struck work. As the last of her unit
flew past her she sang out an S.O.S., but it faded away
into the night air, and she was alone with her eight
Huns on the mountain side. She heard them laugh
what would they do ? Murder her drive off with
the car ? Escape ? She was only twenty-two,
but, as she said to herself, quite old enough to take
command of eight big Boches men who had been
taken with whole skins, holding up fat hands and
crying " Kamarad ! " After carefully examining the
machine and finding what had gone wrong she went
round to the door of her caged beasts.

" Here, one of you, come and give me a hand with
this job," she said in firm tones. There was a general


movement and a brief discussion of which she did not
understand a word, it might have meant : " Now is
the moment to fall upon this absurd female thing and
take over the car." Some of them had faces quite
in keeping with such sentiments.

" One of you," she said, with her most official
manner, holding up one finger for their better compre-
hension. " All the others stay put ! "

This order had a German sound about it which
quite pleased her. One of the eight thereupon jumped
out of the camion and followed her. Those " staying
put " raised a curiously discomforting roar of

" Never mind let 'em laugh Fatheads ! " said
our heroine, and proceeded to give her mind wholly
to the matter in hand. She reports that it took her
and the Boche assistant one whole blessed hour before
that devil-possessed carburetter would start work
again. The Boche came out well working both
diligently ^and intelligently, as is his custom when
under strict orders, and having calculated carefully
that more is to be gained along those lines than others.
It is as " top dog " that the Boche invariably comes
out at his worst, and the leopard shows his spots a
bully and a tyrant, intriguing and deceptive. This
is the verdict of all who have had dealings with him.

Though their services were at first scorned by their
own country, a time came when the Fanys were asked
by the British army to send a detachment to Calais.


One of this number told me something of their strenu-
ous duties while there. It was the young Fanys
who were sent out night after night when the German
bombs fell on Calais, to rescue the wounded, to ex-
tricate the shrieking burning victims from the
wreckage, to carry back the dead, even to collect the
human debris and try and identify their remains.

In the snow and darkness and storm out they sallied,
generally each one alone, driving her camion. On
one occasion she who told me had a curious escape,
with her precious freight just rescued from a bombed
and burning house. As they were starting an old
man begged to be allowed to return to the house and
fetch his money. The driver hesitated, for shells were
exploding all round, but at his entreaty she gave way
and went herself to fetch his treasure. These few
moments' delay saved them all, for a huge shell burst
at the end of the road in her absence, just where the
car must have passed had it started.

Sometimes these Fanys were out for thirty- six hours
at a time, drenched to the skin, frozen stiff with cold.
" It made one realise what those poor boys have to go
through in the trenches," she said.

One of the most terrible tasks had been taking dead
bodies out of the canal, many of which had been
there two or three weeks. As she spoke of this I could
not help feeling it was work which might have more
suitably been set to some of those young gentlemen
permitted to wear khaki, yet who bore the letters
N.C.C. on their caps. But the girl felt differently.


" I shouldn't want a man who wouldn't fight for his
country, and yet dared to put on the soldier's uniform,
to pick up my body, even when it had been three
weeks in the water," she remarked.

This Non- Combative Corps must have been equipped
with pretty thick skins under their protecting khaki,
for I know some of the canteen ladies who viewed
them in much the same way as this young Fany.
One newly arrived, on being told that a party were
approaching, received the spokesman, who demanded
hot coffee and refreshments, by enquiring what exactly
signified those letters on his cap N.C.C. ? Very glumly
he replied :

" Non-Combative Corps."

" Do you mean that you refuse to fight for your
country ? " asked the lady incredulously.

" We have a conscientious objection to doing so,"
answered another of the party with a superior air.

" Have you ! " said the lady of the hot coffee and
buns. " Well, I too have a conscience, and it makes
me have a conscientious objection to serving men
like you. Please leave this canteen it is not for you
we women come out here."

And no hectoring or blustering remonstrance could
induce her to reverse this decision. In the end, I
was told, gentlemen of this persuasion were obliged
to have a special canteen run for them by their own

The Fanys were often cited for conspicuous valour
by the French army, and many have been awarded the


Croix de Guerre. I think it is safe to say all have
deserved it.

It was at Compiegne I met that gallant little officer
Lieutenant H. of the H-L unit. Across her breast
was a perfect rainbow of decorations " Cette
Demoiselle a ete beaucoup decoree," said Madame

la proprietaire. But 2nd Lieutenant H reserved

all her pride for her unit, not herself personally.
And good cause she had, for during two and a half
years of hot fighting this gallant band of about twenty-
five Englishwomen took part in the front line work
of the French army. At first the High Command

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Online LibraryConstance Elizabeth MaudMy French year → online text (page 12 of 17)