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refused to let them go to the actual front line of
battle and used them for divisional work, the respon-
sibility, said the French General, was too great, he
did not want English women killed, "the front line
was only for the most fit men" They had to content
themselves therefore with stretcher bearers' work
in the war zone. By dint of persevering insistence,
however, they got their hearts' desire at last, and in
1916, till the end of the war, they served as a fighting
unit, not as a Red Cross, for the French have no Red
Cross actually in the front lines. They wore the
same cap as the French soldier and his blue steel
helmet under fire. They shared the poilu's life in
the trenches, and the two heads received their 12
francs 50 cents a month as the pay of sous-lieutenants.
They served under many generals, Humbert, Debeney,
Mangin, de Fonclar, and their unit was twice decorated




206 MY FRENCH YEAR

with the Croix de Guerre and received the regimental
yellow fanion with the cock of France in one corner
and the lion of England in the other. They were in
Compiegne during its severe bombardment, and with
the French army both in the retreat and the victorious

advance of 1918. A proud record truly !



Another familiar little khaki warrior often to be
seen passing and repassing at Compiegne was " Tim "
of the Emergency Corps. A more cheery and heart-
warming sight than her little sunburnt face and bright
twinkling brown eyes could not have been met with
on the fields of France. And she had gladdened them
with that sight since August 1914, when, the day
after the declaration of war she booked a passage for
Europe, sold her pack of beagles and with an ambu-
lance car set sail, waving a cheery " so long " to the
statue of Liberty the liberty she was going to do her
bit to defend, being one of the first Americans to
recognise that this was her country's war every
man's war, who cared a jot for Right. Determined
not to waste a minute, Tim turned her hand to any
job that came along; the first she could find after
landing in England being packing hay all day, and
recruiting at night, in which latter occupation she
was remarkably successful. Under her fusillade the
Waverer ceased to waver, the Conchy ceased to conche.
" To the front ! " cried Tim, and to the front they
hastened with all speed, to remove the reproach of
Tim's " skunk ! " from their scorched ears.



ca.

-



THE KHAKI GIRLS 207

But it was for the front she herself panted, and her
strenuous endeavours were at last crowned with
success, for nothing can deter Tim when once her
mind is made up no official voice, no red tape, no
warnings have power to affect her, except to a greater
output of will.

What she did when she got to France it would take
a thick volume to tell. For four years she fought
a good fight with death and wounds, disease, and
horrors of war in every form. Wherever a case was
too bad for anyone else to touch, it was Tim who
undertook it a man whom no one could move Tim
was sent for a poor boy with his face half gone, trying
to speak, Tim could understand him. When one cried
out for his maman in his delirium, it was Tim answered
the call, and his head resting on her shoulder the poor
boy fell asleep with a smile on his dying lips, while
Tim crooned to him a little lullaby of comfort all
her own.

In the canteen she sent them on their way with a
gay courage and high hope. In the Rest Camp she
wrote love letters by the score, and everywhere she
radiated joy like the sun at midsummer. Tim tired ?
Tim ill ? No one could believe it. Yet Tim could
be and was, both, very grievously. In that day she
lay at death's door, for all who knew her the sun was
darkened and ceased to give light and warmth to the
earth. But happily the eclipse was but temporary
God's in His heaven," and Tim still on earth.

And now she has bidden a sorrowful good-bye to




208 MY FRENCH YEAR

her poilus, been demobilised and returned to the land
of her birth, to which, however, it is doubtful if she
ever would have returned had they not " played up
at last." She has taken with her an opinion so exalted
not only of the French but of the British nation that
either she will succeed in inaugurating a quite re-
markable Anglo-American entente cordiale, or she
will become extremely, aggressively unpopular. She
places the British race conspicuously in the forefront.
Hearing two French ladies lamenting the fact of many
illegitimate births in those districts around Rouen
where British troops had been stationed, Tim in-
terrupted in her cheery way :

"Is that so? Why, I call that bully! Some
chance for the coming generation in France if they
have that strain in them ! "

French ladies !!!!!!!

Life will seem a tame thing to some of the khaki
girls when they don again their embroidered muslins
and suede shoes. Listening to the various adventures
and exploits of some of these youthful maidens as
we sat over our coffee and cigarettes after dinner I
asked one evening :

" What will you do when you are demobilised ? '

A blank look fell like a sudden shadow blotting out
the sun. Then one by one went round the half
involuntary, murmured thought which held them
all:

" Can't live at home again ! "






THE KHAKI GIRLS 209

" Not much ! "

"The old life! Never!"

" Wasn't life at aU ! "

What will they do ? Marry ? Many of them no
doubt, but not, as in the old days, because they feel
they must. These girls will never marry merely for
the sake of entering the " holy (save the mark) estate
of matrimony." Some of their number had been
engaged, but their betrothed are numbered among
the two million who will never come back. What
will the unmarried khaki girls do with their lives ?
They have most of them been hitherto too busy to
think of anything but the strenuous day's work on
hand. But we need have no fear for their future.
They have had such a training in self-reliance, self-
control and self-denial, efficiency, co-operation,
courage, obedience and direction of others, that they
can but be the better, nobler women, wherever they
shall go. Many will doubtless find their way out to
new countries where instead of being " superfluous "
they are needed, urgently called for. The objection
to exile and separation is fast diminishing in these
days of rapid transit, soon to develop into something
much completer, with the perfecting of short-winged
flights which may soon vie with those of the bird,
who makes nothing of his summer night's trip across
Europe or the Atlantic.

Others of the khaki girls will throw their energy
and courage into rebuilding and reconstructing a
better order of things at home, where the doors are



210 MY FRENCH YEAR

opening wide for them as doctors, lawyers, chemists,
land agents, farmers, school inspectors, Members of
Parliament, who knows, before long, even Cabinet
Ministers ! The last thing we wish for them is to
see these vitally alive, splendidly healthy, vigorously
growing young creatures, lop off their wings and creep
back into the old cages. I can hear them as an echo
reaches them of this pious prayer :
" No fear ! "



NOYON ONCE MORE

THE newspapers had prepared one for a wrecked
town. Such reports as " Noyon Cathedral in flames "
" The fighting in the streets of Noyon has been of
the most sanguinary description " >4 The enemy now
occupies what remains of Noyon," and later, "The
enemy have been driven out of Noyon " in these
brief sentences was told the tragic story of Noyon,
the beautiful little old town, which by the merest
accident had escaped destruction in 1917, but against
which the Boches had a specially black mark. The
summary justice visited on that Hun officer and his
six men, caught by the advancing French in the act
of lowering a mine which was to blow up the Cathedral,
was to be avenged tenfold, an hundredfold, in accord-
ance with Hun principles.

But no newspaper accounts, no oral reports could
prepare one for the actual sight of ruined Noyon
the very " abomination of desolation."

It was a broiling day in June, the midsummer sun
beat down fiercely on the great heaps of stones and
bricks which once were streets and houses, as I tried
with difficulty to find my way to the home of my little
friend, Mdlle Claire, the Angel of the military hospital.
All landmarks, save that of the still towering wreck




211



MY FRENCH YEAR

of the Cathedral, had disappeared, and one pathway
of ruins looked exactly like the other. At last I found
the place where, between a spreading chestnut and a
tall pine, her mother and uncle, a priest of the
Cathedral, had lived in an old house adjoining a
convent. The trees still stood their ground, battered
and shelled, but living, to point where the house,
now a heap of wreckage, had once been.

I asked where the owners had gone, and was directed
to a little street near by, where, in a much- shelled
house but for Noyon quite unusually sound I found
my friends, Mme Latour and her brother, the priest,
lodging in three small rooms with a few sticks of
furniture lent by friends. Claire was away nursing
in a distant hospital. She had never ceased her
hospital work except for a few months, when all
French nurses were turned out by the German army
nurses, who became furiously jealous and refused to
serve any longer with them. The French ladies were
told that either they must work in the fields or give
lessons in French to the German officers. Mdlle
Claire chose the latter, having some experience and
success in teaching, but none in ploughing.

" And she nursed the sick civilians wherever she
found them, even at that time," said her mother.
" For when her brother left for the war she made a
vow to the Blessed Virgin, if she would protect him
and bring him back in safety, never she would cease
to give her service. She would nurse all who came
her way, the wounded enemy even the 'civils,' old



Bl




ao

Ov



NOYON ONCE MORE

people and young children, all she has kept her
vow and the Blessed Virgin granted her prayer. My
son who is aviator, for four years in the most great
dangers, has ever borne a charmed life and not even
been wounded."

All through the terrible days which fell on her
beloved town Mme Latour had remained at her post,
as her brother, the white-haired priest, had remained
at his. Yes, alas, the Boches had returned, and this
time they had finished Noyon ! Like a nightmare
had been those months of the second occupation. It
was in March they swept into the town after a terrific
bombardment, before which Noyon had been evacu-
ated. The few who remained endured suffering and
privations past description. I asked for news of the
poor old couple in the white house. They and their
faithful bonne had left in the first rush, together with
the children and their mother on the Place. They
had not returned, " for the poor ones, there was
nothing left to which they could return."

During the awful months when Noyon was the
centre of fighting the roar of guns never ceasing, the
streets filled with wounded and dying, there was
plenty for the old priest and his sister to do. She
had trained with her daughter before the war " in first
aid " and gone through a course of chemistry life
had taught her nursing. Any skill, any knowledge,
any willing hands were urgently needed in the stricken
town.

" Men lay there among the ruins unable to move,




214 MY FRENCH YEAR

in the streets dying," said Mme Latour. " No one
to care for them they cried out to any who passed
for water, the poor boys German as well as French.
The wounded one he has no nationality I ran from
one to the other. When I found a wounded German
I went to the great vaults of the Cathedral which the
Boches had turned into their hospital, so safe is one
there from the bombardment, no bomb could pene-
trate. But the Boches they trouble not themselves
for their greatly wounded those who cannot be made
well to fight again. The officer he would say with an
air indifferent when I told of a poor boy perhaps
dying ' If he is caput let him alone we have no
time for those there ! ' They left such wounded to
die in the street or pushed them in an empty house.
Often I heard one groaning and entered Ah ! but
it tore one the heart ! When I reported one had
died they would set fire to the house ' That is the
quickest burial,' they said. Figure to yourself, then,
if they treated in such callous fashion their own
wounded how they treated our poor boys of that I
cannot even bear to speak. Before they were dead
they have buried many together in one hole."

The priest and his sister themselves bore their
dead to the cemetery, and with their own hands dug
the graves. Where the distance was too great they
would seek out some quiet spot and mark it with a
cross, till the time should come when all could be
laid in consecrated ground we passed several of
these wayside graves. Many bodies they found among




NOYON ONCE MORE 215

e ruins impossible to identify, for they had lost the
arm or hand on which the French poilu wears his
little disc. Many were blown to bits.

As we walked round the Cathedral Mme Latour
gave vivid pictures of the scenes which had been
enacted there.

" A veritable battlefield was this sacred shrine.
Three times it was taken rescued with desperate
fighting and retaken. See here, this pillar still is
stained with the blood of a poor boy I found here
dead, his head supported against the pillar all his
shoulder was blown away. Many fell defending
the altar. The sacred vessels I took away. In a
barrow I wheeled them while the roof was falling.
My brother he called to me c Cover thy head ' the
pieces, all in flames, were falling round us. But we
felt no fear, my brother and I, for we knew le Ion
Dieu had given us this work to do, and whatever
happened we must accomplish it."

Of course she was not allowed to keep the sacred
vessels a Boche followed and tried to seize them, but
she firmly confronted him, and refused to give them
up except to the commanding officer. From this
one she demanded a receipt after giving him a list of
the sacred things. He appears to have been so taken
aback by the fearless and calm attitude of the
little Frenchwoman, so jealously guarding the sacred
tilings of her Church, that he gave her the required
receipt, no doubt thinking it mattered little. But
a day came, little dreamt of by the Boche, when with



216 MY FRENCH YEAR

that piece of paper as witness, the sacred vessels
actually were restored, and she showed them in the
beautiful side chapel which had marvellously escaped
destruction, and where the services are now held.
A fine crucifix, however, was never sent back. " It
was of a great antiquity and value and the Boches
they said it could not be traced."

Mme Latour's experience of the Boche was " the
higher the rank the greater the thief." This would
seem borne out by the ample evidence against such
exalted personages as the Crown Prince and Prince
Ruprecht of Bavaria, who carted off whole trainloads
of loot wherever they went. The German officers
left their soldiers free hands to pillage as they pleased
in Noyon. They themselves lived in luxury in the
surrounding chateaux, and never interfered, however
monstrous the crime against the inhabitants.

"As to theft and rape," said Mme Latour, " they
would laugh and reply, ' What then do you expect
this is war and we are victors.' '

" One day I spoke out the truth to one of those
boasters," said Mme Latour. " It was the Boche
Colonel, and he spoke French after his fashion. Vaunt-
ing he said to me, 4 We are now the masters of the
world look at the map you cannot deny it.' '

;; The masters of the world ! Where then is le
bon Dieu ? '' I reply. " He it is who is the
Master of the world, and that you will soon learn,
Mr Colonel. Oh yes, very soon, you Germans who
boast so blasphemously."



NOYON ONCE MORE 217

" Ah, your bon Dieu," lie replies, " He can do
nothing against the Mr God of the German people !
He it is who fights always on our side and see,
we have conquered you all French, English,
Americans ! The whole world against us, and we
march over the lot of you."

" How then ! " I cry indignant, " you think you
have conquered the English ? Why they only begin
to show their strength they who had an army to
create. And the Americans, they who have not yet
arrived, but who make ready in their millions ! Wait
till they come men young, fresh, strong, fully
equipped. You think you have conquered France
because you have invaded our land and burnt our
sacred churches, our peaceful villages. But no ! We
shall drive you out before many months, for you
have not conquered one Frenchman though you have
killed millions. You have not conquered even me
one poor woman whose house you have burnt. And
not one of you dare touch me as I pass along the
streets and tend the wounded and dying."

He laughed very loud and he said, " In three days
we are in Paris ! "

" Never you will enter Paris," I told him.

" And why not, since we are almost there already ? "
he asked.

I know not why I spoke with such certainty,
but I knew it was so, and I knew also that it was not
by human strength but by divine aid. " You will
never enter Paris," I said, " because it is guarded




218 MY FRENCH YEAR

by the Sacred Heart on Montmartre that Sacred
Heart obstructs your passage." At this he regarded
me with a scowl. He did not laugh, but went away.
Some of these Boches they are Catholics one tells
me though very bad ones. It was perhaps so with
him."

But, in spite of her faith and valiant spirit, Mme
Latour had moments of terrible suspense, of agonising
doubt times when, as she expressed it, she " wept
all the tears of her heart " as she heard they were
advancing like a flood daily, hourly gaining ground.

" When I heard they had reached Chateau-Thierry,
all that night I prayed for France. Never my faith in
the divine help really failed, but I knew we must hold
on to our faith with all our forces."

She made me think of Moses holding up his hands
in supplication so long as she and others like her
could maintain this attitude of fervent faith, so long
the Boche-Philistines were unable to prevail.

In the enclosure of the Cathedral cloisters were
numerous German graves. The French had respected
them as they do all the burying-places of the ravaging
invader, but to read such names as Speier, Pfeiffer,
Schmidt, under the shadow of the beautiful old
Cathedral the Hun had reduced to a giant wreck, was
an outrage to the Noyonnais, and the sooner these
Kriegers* remains are removed to their own country
the better for the soil wherein to plant peace and
goodwill for the future. ,

A Boche prisoner was working leisurely on a low



NOYON ONCE MORE 219

roof in the cloister, sorting out tiles, and, as no one was
supervising him, doing a lot of smashing, we noticed.
As we passed near he flung a lot of debris below with
a vicious clatter, sprinkling us with dust. Like every
other Boche prisoner I saw in Noyon, he had a cigarette
in his mouth. These are given by the French work-
men, men who know now something of what their
comrades have suffered in Germany, but the poilu,
like the Tommy, has a good heart and knows no malice.

' This kindly spirit unfortunately does not appear
to call forth a similar one in the Boche," said my
guide. " He is as yet a very unevolved being. The
false teaching one has given him from a child has
distorted his mental sight. They feel no shame at
their ugly deeds quite the contrary. Many have said
to me, boasting, as they point to our ruined homes :

4 Vos maisons caput Nos maisons non caput nous
mieux que vous."

This, from the beaten foe, is instructive, and shows
how much better Foch knew the German than the
lawyer politicians, so afraid of " crushing " him !

" It gives them much satisfaction," said Mme
Latour, " to contemplate the destruction they have
wrought in our country, and to think of their own
where not a stone is out of place not an industry
is injured. For a people so brutal, so primitive, I
am convinced that punishment is the only means of
teaching. As says my brother, he who is priest,
" Punishment, not of a vindictive character, burning
and destroying in return their homes, but a punish-



220 MY FRENCH YEAR

ment of strict justice which shall prevent a repetition
of their crimes against humanity."

It struck me that this would have made an ex-
cellent fifteenth to the famous fourteen Points. But
it would never have enjoyed the same popularity
in Germany.

As we threaded our way through the streets of
ruins my friend pointed out the homes of her friends
the monuments which once stood where now lay
only a charred heap of rubble the blackened fa9ade
of the once beautiful palace of the Archbishop, and
the wrecked Palais de Justice, that gem of the 14th
century the pride of the Noyonnais. With such
a Cathedral and such a Palais de Justice, though in
point of size only a small town, they had felt their
Noyon second to none in the beauty and dignity of
her ancient monuments.

We sat down Jo rest on some blocks of stone out-
side a garden, whose trees offered some rare and
welcome shade. The house appeared deserted, but
the garden had been partly cleared and vegetables
sown in neat rows in the flower-beds. Suddenly there
was a loud report, a roar like that of an explosion, and
the large house at the back collapsed like a pack of cards.
A crowd collected quickly springing up mysteriously
out of nowhere. Fortunately it was found no one was
in the place. It had appeared outwardly solid.

" That sort of thing happens every day," said a
man in the crowd. " No house in Noyon is secure-
it has been too much bombarded."




THE LITTLE WHITE HOUSE AT NOYON



NOYON ONCE MORE

We moved away from our resting-place, which was
quickly enveloped in a cloud of dust as thick as a
London fog.

Passing the Rue de la Madeleine I turned in at the
garden gate to look at what remained of the little
white house of my poor old couple. The walls still
stood, but the house was an empty shell the roof
gone. The staircase lay prone on the floor, and
holes gaped at one grimly. Yet with its sightless
windows the little house faced the world still, patheti-
cally erect, refusing to crumble down on to the heap
of stones which covered the garden. Poor little
home ! keeping still an air of dignity and seclusion
difficult to define an almost human quality of
courage, like a garment which has taken on the
character of its wearer.

A group of robust, well-clothed Boche prisoners
sat eating and smoking on a pile of logs in the road
outside. I turned to them and said in German :

'' I knew that little house when it was a happy,
beautiful home see what you have made of it."

One of them answered with a laugh :

" It was not / did it ! What others make that does
not disturb me ! " and he went on munching his bread.

And after all, had he been the one to set the mine
he would only have been obeying orders. Had he
refused he would have met with the same fate as the
house, caput without saving it. Still the sight of
those fat, smug, self-satisfied " Blonde Beasts " was
peculiarly offensive at that particular moment and in




222 MY FRENCH YEAR

that particular place, and I was in no mood for
weighing nice questions of responsibility as I thought
of my poor old little lady chased from her home, and
ending her days in exile and poverty after all she had
already endured from the brutal Boches.

As I went with my guide, Mme Latour, from one
desolate scene to another, it was like turning pages
of her diary of the war.

" In this cellar here was my store of potatoes
without those potatoes to feed my wounded I know
not how I should have arranged. It was from the
English army I begged them. They were very good,
the English, and gave me all they could. To hide my
store from the Boches I visited it only in the dark,
and I covered well my potatoes with stones."

" This house," she pointed to a wall which remained,
" five times I saved when it was burning. With
incendiary pastilles the Boches set fire to it, and if
one can arrive before the fire has gained, with a pail
of water it can be extinguished. This I accomplished.
But in the end they succeeded. For when they chased
us all and sent us in trucks to the north and to Belgium,
then everything was burnt our house also we found
as you see when we came back."

That journey to Belgium and the time which
followed was an experience of which she found it
difficult to speak. Imagine trainloads of people
standing packed so closely together they could only


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Online LibraryConstance Elizabeth MaudMy French year → online text (page 13 of 17)