Constance Elizabeth Maud.

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of the familiar gay little town of one's youth
the bains de mer and bright coloured tents of the
plage, the casino with its bals masques, bals d'en-
fants and concerts, the lively market-place where one
bought huge baskets of fruit for a few francs and an
armful of flowers for a few sous. The whole place
spoke of the British occupation. Everywhere one
felt the pulse of the war. All public buildings,
casino, colleges, chateux, convents were re-
quisitioned. The notices posted up were in English
-Military "Telegraph Office," "British Soldiers'
Institute," and so on. Regiments from England
were arriving all day. The streets were crowded
with transports and motor ambulances, men of
the British, Overseas, and at last, thank God, the
American armies, whose appearance has raised the
barometer everywhere to " Set Fair."

All Boulognais could say a few words of English
and understand the difference between " too much "
and " how much," and other vital questions. I
passed some Tommies newly arrived near the station.
One put his arm as he went by round a fresh, trim-
looking maiden and greeted her as " bel fil," which


she seemed to understand in spite of the accent,
and in no way to resent.

Boulogne was often visited by the Boche airmen,
we were told, and in every street were numerous
notices stating how many could be accommodated
in the cave-abris in case of a raid. Only a week
before a Taube had flown over and dropt bombs
which killed thirty civilians and injured many more.
But the inhabitants, as a rule, took these visits in
the same philosophical spirit as we on the other
side of the Channel. Of course there were occasions
on which philosophy was blown so to speak to the
winds, as for instance the deliberate bombing of a
maternity hospital at Calais and, later on, the
ghastly affair at Staples, where the German airmen,
having found the big hospital encampment with their
flares, descended to close range and turned the
whole ambulance into shambles, sweeping it again
and again with their machine guns. A Canadian
who identified his sister's body among the nurses
(many bodies could not be identified) swore that
never would he take another German prisoner.
The Huns no doubt excuse themselves that they
did this unspeakable deed by order of their High
Command, but could any men save Germans be
found to carry out such orders ? British or French
would have been shot in preference. The verdict
of Thomas Atkins was just this : " They're not
white men ! "


HAVING parted with my canteen friends who took
an early train to Etaples I started out accompanied
by the pretty little widow daughter of the house
to see her own special ceuvre, the " Goutte de Lait."

The small red cross on my coat had proved a pass-
port to the affection of all the family. They found
it " tres chic " that an Englishwoman should give her
services to their Croix Rouge Society, for had I not
also my own wounded and prisoners of war and
" un tas de choses " besides ?

I pointed out that we three homeless dripping
wanderers had found our French hosts also "tres
chic" the previous night. To be taken in at that
hour when the house was already full, to have nice
aired linen sheets and pots of hot water, to say
nothing of delicious cafe au lait in the morning
we found that altogether charming.

" Ah ! but that was nothing, nothing at all,"
laughed little Madame " Ninette." " Maman is
only desolated that she could not nourish these

" But she nourished us admirably with that
excellent cafe au lait" I assured her.

" Ah ! but that was a little nothing," she reiterated.



The family consisted of Monsieur and Madame
Carron, their daughter Ninette and her little girl
Pauline, aged six. Monsieur had owned a merchant
vessel and made good affairs. Having retired from
the sea he now worked in his house of commerce
on land. His keen kindly face had the clean breezi-
ness of the sea, and when he talked it was always
with a wide horizon in his view. Ninette and her
child were the pivot round which revolved the lives
of both parents, yet " pour la patrie " was inextricably
interwoven with this devotion and when, on the
declaration of war, the young husband of Ninette,
to them a beloved son, was called up and fell among
the first in those early days of disaster, they lifted
their heads proudly in their grief, " pour la patrie."

Ninette, in her widowhood, returned to her parents'
house and helped with the pensionnaires, generally
some Englishman or American engaged in war- work
in the town. A doctor and a professor at the Radium
Institute were the present boarders. Ninette is a
model "Maman," acting both as nurse and governess
to her daughter, whose studies, now that she is
nearly seven, must, she declares, be serious. Her
many talents are the joy and pride of her parents,
for Ninette is not only domesticated but highly

" She can sing both the classic music of the Opera,"
said her mother, " and also the gay melodies of the
cafe chantant, while accompanying herself on the
piano to a marvel. To make pleasure to our English


guests she sings also the " Omesweetome " and
" Loflyheyes."

I admired an embroidered frock it was Ninette's
work. And not only all the clothes for her child,
but her own dainty toilettes and the costumes de fMe
for her mother, all were made by her dexterous hands.

The " Goutte de Lait " was Ninette's war- work. Two
mornings in the week she gave her services there.
I agreed that, of course, I must visit an ceume so
beneficial to the children of the country, "and see
how well one arranges for the babies."

This Society has existed for many years in France,
long before Maternity Centres were thought of in
England. It has depots in every town, and has
accomplished splendid results in saving child-life
and improving child-health. Everything was spot-
lessly clean and the last word in hygiene. The
mothers brought their babies every morning for
milk and medical advice, both given gratis up to the
age of two years. A weighing machine tested the
progress made. Not only did wise counsels on the
walls meet the eyes of the young mother, but friendly
hands were there to help the lame dog over stiles.

From the "Goutte de Lait " we went to visit a cousin
of Ninette's at the Military Hospital installed in
the former Ecoles des Beaux Arts. It was curious
to read on doors and passages, " Cours de clarinette,"
"de Haut-bois," " Salle de Dessin," " Cours Solfege,"
and realise what different sounds filled those halls
now sad sounds of suffering groans of the


wounded sobs of the bereaved the grim, tragic
music of war.

Ninette's cousin was a returned prisoner from
Germany. Even six months in Switzerland had
failed to restore his crushed spirit and emaciated
body. The Germans had tried to force him to work
in the mines, but being a sous-officier, i.e. a corporal,
he had persistently refused, since every man who
yielded made it worse for the others. To punish
him and break his spirit the Boches had stopped
at nothing. For weeks he was brought to the verge
of starvation and never at any time received enough
to keep a man alive. Like our own men they de-
pended for life itself on the parcels from home.

ic But the worst was," he said, " when they kept
us there were seven of us, sergeants and corporals
sixty hours without food or water in a dark cell,
in solitude. To be without water, ah ! Madame !
you cannot figure to yourself what that is one
fears to lose the senses. When we came out into
the air and light once more we regarded one another
all bewildered. It was a pitiful sight, which made
the heart to tighten. We were but six instead of
seven the Boches for that reason let us out, they
feared the vengeance for we others, we French,
we are not as you English, when we know for sure
what those devils arrange for our poor boys, we
say "good! so we will arrange also for you." In
this manner some improvement has been achieved.
But though we punish them no Frenchman can be


guilty of the cowardly cruelty of the Boche it is
not in his temperament, see you."

" That poor seventh prisoner ? " I asked. " Was
he dead ? "

" He was dead. They said he had a malady of
the heart it was a lie. A strong heart is capable
of failing, lacking water sixty hours, food and
oxygen also. He was a fine boy that one from
Provence always he had lived in the full air in
the sun. He had but twenty-two years ! "

" Think no more of these sad things," said Madame
Ninette. " Thou must take courage and think of the
future, that good day soon coming when we and
our English Allies will chase the accursed Boche
back to his own pigstye." But as we left the ward
she sighed, " When I hear what they endure, those
poor ones in Germany, I thank God my Henri fell
rather on the field of battle."

And this I found was the general sentiment of
the poilu himself, far rather death than to be taken
prisoner by the Boche, for that often meant not only
death but before that release untold suffering, mental
and physical.

This hospital belonged to the poorest of the three
Croix Rouge Societies, the " Femmes de France."
They were unable to afford luxuries such as pianos,
gramophones, games and flowers, but the patients
all looked happy and content, for at least they had
plenty of cigarettes and took life easy, the rule being
rather that of home- life than of an Institution. I


noticed though the windows were all shut, every
man, even some in bed, wore his little blue uniform
cap for fear of catching cold should anyone have the
imprudence to leave a door open. The poilu clearly
considered the only place for fresh air was out of
doors, and the nurses appeared to share this opinion.

All Croix Rouge hospitals are a free gift to the
country, so are also the services of their matrons
and nurses. If the latter are unable to work year
after year without any payment, a small salary is
paid by the Croix Rouge society itself to defray
their expenses.

On our return to the house Madame insisted on
my joining the family dejeuner, if I would excuse
a very simple repast which she had prepared in
our absence just an omelette aux fines herles, a
ragout, des pommes de terres sautes and des petites
Suisses. When I complimented her on the excel-
lence of her cuisine, again it was of Ninette's talents
I heard : " A far better dejeuner she would have
made, for she was a veritable cordon bleu. Ah !
but there was a wife for any man Ninette ! No
matter what she did, it was with a delicacy of touch,
a precision, a capability. He would be the fortunate
one who should marry Ninette ! "

This being said in her presence, Ninette protested
laughing and blushing :

" Maman she does not understand that in England
one says not such things, one is how shall I say
more reticent."


" More reticent ! How then ! it is but the truth
what says thy mother," pronounced the Papa Carron,
his blue eyes twinkling.

And the small Pauline chimed in : " But yes,
it is the pure truth that and in England says one
not the truth ? "

Upon which Ninette told her daughter that in Eng-
land the children they conducted themselves always
well, and preserved a discreet silence during the repasts.

Pauline rejoined with the reflection that in that
case England would never be her affair ! A remark
which drew from all her family in turn a stern
"tais-toi, Pauline," as unbecoming in the presence
of an English ally.

While Ninette prepared the cafe noir her mother
drew me aside and confided that her dearest wish
was to see Ninette remarry herself. " She has taken
the idea to espouse an Englishman ; she likes them,
both the English and the Americans, which to her
is the same thing. They make no compliments,
but they sit there and regard you with honesty and
steadfastness," declares Ninette.

I enquired if there was anyone in particular whose
steadfast and honest gaze had found favour with
Madame Ninette.

" Not precisely perhaps as yet " hesitated her

mother. " My daughter she is eprise with all the
English the entire nation, see you ! also she desires
to travel to see the world in that she resembles
her father. He loves the movement, that one there."


French women can rarely bear the. thought of
uprooting themselves from France ; when they do
so it is generally only under the compelling influence
of personal devotion to a specially favoured one.
I wondered if the professor could not have shed
some radio illumination on this problem. Madame's
next remark, however, shook this idea, for she en-
quired whether I happened to know of some nice
Englishman an American she did not desire on
account of the Atlantic desiring to marry himself,
whom I could thoroughly recommend ? well-ranged,
good-tempered, indulgent with children. There was
the little Pauline, and it is not every man who is
prepared to take to the heart the child of a previous
husband solid, but provided he had a good position
and the good health the fortune need not be colossal.
Ninette could bring a pretty little dot to the marriage ;
and Ninette, she was a girl serious as well as gay of
temperament a good heart and an admirable head
for the affairs.

I replied that for the moment I could not, so to
speak, lay my hand on just the right man, but I
certainly would not forget her wish, and no one
could doubt that he would be both happy and fortunate
who married pretty little Madame Ninette. That
professor of radium already had my sympathy.

It was with feelings of warmest entente cordiale
that I made my adieux to Madame, and parted from
the family with a promise to visit them again if my
way back to England lay via Boulogne.


ACRES and acres of camps, tents, hospitals and
huts this is Etaples the once quiet little town
with its cobble streets and fish market, where in
old days of peace one was wont to debark for the
plage of Berck or the golf links of de Touquet. From
the train I saw some German prisoners engaged
on the artistic work of camouflaging a group of
wooden buildings daubing on the greens and greys
and browns in bewildering patches which merged
the walls and the roofs into the landscape to the
confusion of brother Boche in the sky a singularly
aptly chosen occupation for brother Boche on the
land he had so wantonly invaded may it teach
him in future to keep his big feet on his own soil !

In the train to Compiegne I found myself with
an officer of the artillery, very smart in his dark
blue uniform and many decorations. In spite of
the warning posted up in every carriage, " Taisez
vous, mefiez vous, les oreilles enemies vous ecoutent,"
we soon began to talk, and he, as they express it,
" with the open heart." No doubt he felt that an
Englishwoman, sufficiently in sympathy with his
country to be working for the Croix Rouge, need
cause him no misgivings as to the friendliness of the


ears which listened to his sad story. For poor fellow
his was a tragic case for all his brave and gallant
bearing, and it seemed a relief to him to speak to
anyone who could sympathise.

A citizen of Lille, when called up for service he
had only a few hours in which to prepare for leaving
his wife and child, and an important business in the
town. It was arranged his wife should follow him
her passport was promised. This happened more
than three years ago, and since then no word had
reached him from his wife, nor was she permitted
to receive any news from him. The people in the
occupied regions are enveloped in the silence of the
grave. "It is far worse," he said, " than to be
a prisoner in Germany, for there at least one knows
if they live or die one can send and receive letters
food also can be sent in packets. But we others
endure a torture of suspense which drives one to
the despair."

He took a photograph from a small case which
he said was a portrait his wife had contrived to
send him, not long since, through some unknown
hand, that of a neutral leaving the town no doubt,
strictly forbidden of course to carry letters. Though
showing that she and the child were alive it had
filled him with anxiety, they were depicted as so
thin and ill the boy, now thirteen, grown very
tall " He resembles a telegraph pole," said the
poor father, " he is starving my little son, there
is not a doubt and if he starves, ah how much


more my wife, for she would deprive herself of the
last crumb for the child."

The bitterest thing of all was that he had dis-
covered the passport made out for his wife had
been obtained fraudulently by another woman, an
alien who had escaped from Lille with it ; through
a Society which traced the refugees he found that
his wife's name had been so used. Being a man
of influence he had appealed to all the authorities
to the Pope, the President, Cabinet Ministers,
Mayors and Councillors, but all in vain. His business
was ruined, the bombardment having destroyed
all buildings where it stood. For him "everything
was finished ! " Yet one more terror still remained
that when the Allies drove the Boches out of Lille
and bombarded the city as they surely must, French
guns, his own perhaps, might kill his wife and child !

What comfort could one dare offer ? To say
with Pippa, " God's in His Heaven, all's right with
the world," was manifestly impossible. Browning
was never a Frenchman living in the days of the
great and terrible War. Yet deep and eradicable is
the conviction in most of us, and as we talked
I felt it was there, unconsciously perhaps, but there
deep down like a well from which he was drawing
strength that some day all would be "right with the
world," and with himself. Pierre Loti says that the
war has killed atheism " There are no atheists at
the front," and the gallant bearing and courageous
face this French officer presented to the world had


a far deeper significance than merely that of the
conscripted fighter.

Two English officers joined us at Etaples. They
were going on to Paris and so was the Frenchman.
After saluting each other with a friendly glance
'they settled down to an impregnable silence. I
asked one of my countrymen if he spoke French?
He regretted that neither he nor his companion
could get beyond Ollendorf s first pages.

" I learnt French at Eton you know what that
means," he explained.

The French officer had already told me he knew
no English except " Owyoudo," and " aw' right,"
but he intended his boy should learn if
ever . . .

What a reflection on our so-called civilisation
and education ! Here were three of the finest
specimens of English and French gentlemen unable
to exchange an intelligible idea, though fighting
side by side for the civilisation of the world and
brought up within a few miles of each other, divided
only by the Channel and the narrow but impassable
gulf of speech a bridge so easy to construct, yet
not considered necessary. Even the dumb dogs
can do better ! Let us hope that one result of the
Great War which has bridged so many gulfs and
broken down so many barriers, may be to open the
doors of a common speech between at least the
friendly and civilised peoples of Europe.

It was dark when I got out at Amiens, and again


pouring with rain. This was a new aspect of a
French October this greeting of tearful skies, but
no doubt like everything else, having its origin in
the war. " Que voulez-vous c'est la guerre," is
the prompt explanation for everything of a contrary
nature, and it is remarkable how even the most
remote happenings can be brought into line with
this theory by an ingenious system of long distance
connections, such as the relation worked out between
" The House that Jack built " and " The Cock that
crowed i' the morn."

Having heard the same reasoning in England for
three years, however, one was well seasoned.

Amiens, like Boulogne, had been transformed into
an English town. The streets were brown with
khaki when I went out early next morning. It
was good to see the beautiful towers of the Cathedral
still soaring up unscathed into the blue instead of
sharing the fate of Rheims, of Ypres, and the long
list of other consecrated shrines whose charred ruins
mark the trail of the destroyer.

The little waitress who brought my breakfast was
a Bretonne from Quimperle, that quaint old town
of bridges where I spent some happy days in a former
existence before the war. That I knew and loved
her remote native place was an instant bond. She
had come to Amiens to be near her brother, become
insane from shell shock.

They had put him in an asylum for lunatics
the poor boy, but he was able now and then to


recognise his sister, so, "surely le bon Dieu would
restore him soon his senses."

She had beside this care on her heart another
her unknown filleul, i.e. adopted godson, a Breton
prisoner of war in Germany, to whom she sent parcels
and wrote regularly. For some months past no word,
alas, had come from him. She feared he must be dead.
" Ah ! so many died down there in that accursed
country of an accursed people."

These working-girl godmothers to unknown god-
sons are to be found all over France. It is not
only their own particular " brave boys " they care
for, but their hearts go out to those others who have
nobody no homes from where the cheering letters,
and the parcels which alone keep life in them,
can come. To this Society of " Marraines " belong
thousands of French women of all classes from the
richest lady to the poorest working-girl. They adopt
not only the prisoners of war but the homeless poilu
in the trenches. That the latter are quite unknown
to them personally is no matter " one writes with
a full heart when it is to one of our ' brave boys,'
see you." In many cases when the " poilu- filleul "
gets his seven days' leave his godmother opens her
doors to him, and he knows the joy of a home welcome
he who has nowhere to go, for thousands in the
devastated provinces have been rendered homeless
and their families scattered as refugees.


ON arriving at Noyon I went to the principal hotel,
the only one which I had been told was "possible."
It hardly deserved even that qualified recommenda-
tion. The original proprietors had long since flown ;
it had fallen into alien hands, and the bedrooms
were a choice of evils. Great holes gaped in the walls,
and the floors were as dirty as though the sales
Boches had just evacuated. These holes were caused
by the stove pipes being torn out by the Boches
on their departure six months ago. Impossible
to mend them said the proprietor there were no

All stoves and gas pipes, electric wires, main
drains and sewers, had been cut throughout the
town the latter to ensure an epidemic of typhus.
But in this pious hope the Boche was doomed to dis-
appointment, the Noyonais being inoculated from
long use in somewhat imperfect hygienic arrange-
ments an ill wind that blew them a distinct gain
on this occasion.

In the dining-room, at the table next mine, I
found a French lady wearing the small red cross
which proclaimed us of the same fellowship. She
had come to these devastated regions to assist in


the work of reconstruction on which the Croix Rouge
and numerous other societies were at work, supple-
menting that of the Government which gladly accepts
their aid and their reports.

Having arrived the day before, she had with strong
misgivings engaged one of the holey bedrooms,
trusting it would at least ensure plenty of fresh air
the holes were so placed they certainly ensured a
draught. On hearing that I brought an introduction
to the Military Administrator of the district she
offered to accompany and, present me. The little
Croix Rouge is like the Masonic sign between strangers
in a crowd, or the sound of your native tongue in the
desert. Finding we were both engaged on the same
work under the same banner, we threw in our lot
together to our mutual pleasure and advantage.

Monsieur 1'Administrateur Militaire was a very
much occupied gentleman installed in an old chateau
near the town. When ushered into his presence,
after waiting some time for previous arrivals, I was
glad of the support of my new friend in vouching
for my bona-fides, which she did with the readiness
of an old and valued friend, tested by the wear and
tear of years.

I presented Monsieur le Capitaine with the intro-
duction I brought from the Presidente of the Croix

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Online LibraryConstance Elizabeth MaudMy French year → online text (page 2 of 17)