Constance Elizabeth Maud.

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had not been battered out of shape.

Through the gates we looked in vain for any sign
of human habitation. A gigantic heap of rubble
out of which occasionally stuck a broken window
frame, the corner of a carved cornice or the sugges-
tion of a marble mantelpiece that was all.

"The country people come and search for wood
to light their fires for which the window frames
still serve," remarked the Commandant. " This was
once a charming chateau, style of Frai^ois I er .
Many a pleasant hour have I passed with the
hospitable hostess my old friend. Now, alas !
robbed of all. The Boche has taken her sons,
her grandsons, her home, her village with the little
church she lived all. Her love for France, her
faith in God these alone remain to her. Her
only daughter has died in childbirth, she could not
support the agony of mind or body she succumbed.
But we old ones sorrow does not kill, or where would
any of us be ? ''

Surrounding the chateau must once have been a


lovely park. One could picture the happy, peaceful,
dignified life of that old lady. With her dainty
Louis Seize furniture, her old satinwood spinette
and Boucher fans, her powdered grandmothers
smiling serenely from the panelled walls. Her
ordered, pleasant, useful life among her family
and her villagers. And then out of the blue a
horrible cry which forty-four years before had rung
through the land so long ago it had been relegated
in her memory to a past existence War ! And
before one had time to realise the haste and hurry
of the rapid mobilisation the hordes of grey vermin
were over the frontier sweeping everything before
them. " They come, they come ! The Boches ! Save
yourself ! "

" She was old and without force, my poor friend,
or she would have remained to confront the enemy
and to help the wounded, but they insisted she
should escape while yet there was time. And in
the night she left. When she returned, six months

ago, it was to this ! "

Another chateau we passed standing high on the
hillside. In the distance one had the illusion that
it had escaped the universal destruction, but on
coming nearer one saw its sightless eyes and roofless
walls. It was but a charred shell, a crucified monu-
ment left standing as an example of Schrecklichkeit
a warning to those who dare " stand upright in
the path of the German," as Bernhardi said.


" In the private chapel there they broke open
the tombs, and threw out the bodies. They enraged
themselves very much, the Boches, because the
ancestors of the Comte had omitted to be buried
with some of their valuable jewels. The Boches
found nothing to repay them for their trouble. It
appears that some very High Personage took part
in this pillage it was really very inconsiderate
of those old French counts and countesses to be
buried with fine monuments which contained nothing
but their miserable old bones ! "

Our guide chuckled gleefully as he thought of
the disappointment of the High Personage and his

But as we drove on from one wrecked village
to another through the scarred, arid country of many
battles, the amazing madness of the Hun impressed
one more and more profoundly. To loot chateaux,
to steal cows, even to annex provinces who was
the better for it ? And the price paid in millions
of Huns, leaving widows and mothers mourning all
their days. Would a cow or a farm full of stock make
up for a beloved son ? And the price in taxes, in
hardships, even suppose them victors ? What, then,
was it all for ? What was it all about, this incredible,
overwhelming world war of the German making ?

Are they such fools as to wish to take over France
or England ? In what respect would it add to their
happiness the happiness of the German people ?


The pride and greed of the High Command it might
gratify no doubt, but would Hans and Fritz be the
better for it ? The prouder grows Fritz's master
the worse for Fritz. Was he ever one whit the better
for the filching of Alsace and Lorraine ? Does Hans
or Fritz go home, if perchance he ever does go home,
a happier or a richer man because he has assisted
in killing two million Frenchmen, destroying their
peaceful, prosperous homesteads, and three thousand
beautiful churches in ten Departements of France,
inflicting torture and death on the inoffensive in-
habitants, men, women and children, who bore
him no ill-will, and were wholly guiltless of any desire
to possess anything belonging to him? Even in
the matter of loot, was the game worth the candle ?
True, Hans brought home the clock he stole from
Pierre's kitchen, and he fought Fritz for a big copper
stewpan, but it was only the officers and the High
Command who got the valuable things. The Crown
Prince, for example Ah I for the trainloads that one
carted away from the chateau of the old Marquise
with whom he passed a week, for such abundant
booty it might perhaps be worth while to make a
world war ! But from the standpoint of Hans and
Fritz when they came to reflect on the net result
to themselves, surely aggressive war (and all their
wars have been aggressive, planned deliberately), is
raving lunacy.


IN these devastated regions a settlement of some
young men of the Society of Friends were also do-
ing most helpful work. Everyone spoke well of les
jeunes Qudqueres, though some regarded them rather
in the light of natural curiosities.

' Young men of good health, of good disposition,
of intelligence even ! and yet they obtain exemption
from making their service to their country. What
droll young men ! What a droll Government ! "
commented one of our military friends. " But then,
of course," he added by way of explanation, " for
you others this war is not serious as for us. We
have the enemy here planted upon our soil. For
us there can be no question of indulging in the
fantasies of the excellent young Qudqueres. But
at least we can make them very welcome here it
is an excellent work they accomplish, aiding the
returning inhabitants to cultivate their lands and
replant their orchards."

The headquarters of the settlement was a farm-
house which they had made very comfortable, and
where they kindly invited us to share their midday
meal of simple but excellent fare.

Though within sight of the German sky sausages



and within sound occasionally of the German guns
there was a note of the peaceful idyllic life among
this community of young English and American men ;
rising at dawn from their low beds in the wide
attic to tend the cattle, milk the cows and plough
the fields ; busy all day bringing order out of
chaos, erecting temporary shelters for the homeless
inhabitants and helping the scarred and stricken
earth to regain her blessed fertility and serenity.
As they gathered round the board with healthy
outdoor appetites, their few remarks showed their
interests and concerns were solely for the weather,
the crops, the beasts. It was difficult to realise
that we stood in the heart of the war zone on the
ground of recent battlefields, and not on a ranch in
California or a farm in Dalacarlia.

Yet the family for whom they were working this
very farm were among the victims whose wrongs
cried aloud to Heaven for retribution ; the women
having been seized and carried off as slaves to
Germany, while the men were fighting and dying
to defend their homes from the wanton aggressor.
The hordes of invading Huns had been driven only
a few miles back after three years' colossal effort.
Things were so critical that any day they might
sweep back again over all this countryside, destroy-
ing the newly-sown fields, burning, pillaging, mutilat-
ing not only houses, barns and cattle, but women,
old men and little children.

The industrious young Friends had succeeded


in filling the big barns with grain and hay, and
stocking the place with pigs and fowls. They seemed
to have no misgivings as to the power of the allied
armies to hold the foe at bay. It never appeared
to strike their simple, unreasoning souls that their
peaceful rural work was absolutely conditioned by
the readiness of these other men to give their lives
in the firing-line.

To my French friend with not only three brothers,
seven nephews and some two dozen cousins at the
front, but every fit man of her acquaintance, this
group of stalwart young men were such a problem
that she could not resist the impulse to thresh out
the subject with one of their number whose kindly
intelligent face encouraged her to believe in his
capacity to enter into a fair and reasonable dis-
cussion an optimistic spirit I could not share,
long experience in the arenas of social, political and
religious reform having taught me that any reason-
able and fair discussion, on any subject whatever,
is impossible when one person is viewing it from a
small side window and the other from the roof.

The Frenchwoman from her high level of patriotism,
of individual life merged in that of the nation, could
not conceive of the restricted outlook obtained from
the narrow window of the individual conscience,
held as supreme arbiter even when at variance with
highest ideals of self-sacrifice for the human family.
She began with gentle insistence :

' Tell me, I beg you, Monsieur, you whose con-


science dictates it is a sin to fight for the defence
of your country, what would you do for the defence
then of your family your mother, your wife,
your little child, if the Boche, bayonet in hand,
stood on your threshold ? ' !

" Madame, I have never been placed in that position
I am glad to say," the young Quaker replied, satis-
fied that this was conclusive. Bui the Frenchwoman's
logic was not so easy-going.

" That you individually have not been faced with
the problem is no answer, Monsieur. When one is
dealing with conduct based on a question of principle
one must face circumstances which others have to
face at this moment daily. This ground on which
we are standing is soaked with the blood of French
victims to Boche savagery women ravaged, little
children mutilated and bayoneted while clinging to
their mothers. If a Boche seized your wife what
would you do, I ask ? "

" I would endeavour to deter him from violence
with moral suasion," answered the young man
earnestly. His simple belief in the power of his
tongue was very curious one wondered on what
foundation it rested.

" Moral suasion with a mad hyena ? And if it
had no effect, your moral suasion, my good
Monsieur ? "

" Oh, then," said the poor young man driven
into a corner, " then I should give him ... a
push ! "


" Mon pauvre Monsieur ! " said my Croix Rouge
friend with a shrug of her shoulders, "it is well
indeed that you have no wife and no child to

She turned away and the young man appealed
to me. "It is not that I should fear being killed,"
he said pathetically, " but we think it wrong to
take life, you see "

" Would you not think it even more wrong to stand
by and see a hideous cruelty perpetrated on a defence-
less woman or child whether your own wife and child
it does not seem to me to matter ? " I could not help

" No," he said, " I should pray, but I would not
kill. It is contrary to our creed to use violence
or to take life."

I could not resist asking him if he was not thinking
rather too much of mere bodily life and not enough
of the soul life whether honour was not a far more
precious thing to keep alive than the body ? " Besides,"
I went on, in spite of my convictions as to arguing,
" in standing by while a Boche takes the lives of
half a dozen French children you might save, you
are really participating in their death. The fact is
you want to be a neutral, and there is no such position
tenable in the great spiritual conflict which this
war stands for."

He looked at me in surprise.

" A spiritual conflict war a spiritual conflict ?
I could never regard personal violence as a weapon


in a spiritual conflict," said he. "I regard this
as war man's war and all war is wrong because
it takes human life."

I was tempted to ask him, but forbore, whether
his Society of Friends extended their objection to
the taking of human life by other and far more
protracted and painful means than guns and fire-
arms for example the deadly trades flourishing
in the north country city where he himself lived,
claiming their toll of thousands yearly, many of the
victims children in their teens ; or the white slave
traffic which before the war engulfed in its deadly
maw a vaster number every year than had been killed
at Verdun. But I felt from his window he had
never seen these battlefields he was among that
vast majority who accept conditions as they find
them in spite of his Quaker scruples, which also,
come to analyse them, had been accepted without
much deep boring in the well spring. He lit his
match without asking the fate of the match girls
working with phosphorus. He wore his corduroy
suit ignorant of the deadly lime solution essential
to its manufacture. He turned on the tap to his
bath without a qualm as to the appalling conditions
under which women were making those brass fittings.
Human life being sacrificed recklessly all around
him and in such a way as made death by a gun
duke et decorum indeed.

I would have left the subject here, finishing it
with these silent reflections, but the young Quaker


desired to justify not so much himself I believe, as
his sect, the honour for which he was jealous.

" You see," he went on, " we believe in turning
the other cheek, we endeavour to follow the teaching
of Christ He deprecated violence. ..."

Here my French friend returned to the charge.
Being of an old Huguenot Protestant family she was
as ready with quotations from the Bible as a good
Catholic would have been from the Church Manuals.
She reminded our Quaker that it was his own cheek
he was to turn, not his wife's or child's " Nothing
so easy as to bear the wrongs of others with toler-
ance," said she, " but the Christ never taught this
far from it. He said, He came to bring a sword and
as to stern action, violence if you will, did He not take
a whip of small cords and drive those dirty, corrupt,
desecrating tradesmen from the Temple when He
knew talking was useless talking would have meant
throwing pearls before swine. What have you to
say to that, Monsieur ? "

But the young man remained of the same opinion
still, and said so. Though a Christian, it did not ap-
parently follow that he considered Christ knew better
than the Society of Friends. " I do not approve of
violence in any form," he repeated immovably.

" It is a colossal conceit from which those young
men suffer," remarked my friend when we were
alone. "They think their little human intelligence
and half-baked consciences are more to be heeded
than the divine teaching of the Christ Himself."


But it was not quite that, it was the need for
leaving his Quaker window and going up another
floor from which to take in more of the view, as
indeed many of these same Friends have done, with
the result that they have given their services as
stretcher-bearers, orderlies in field hospitals, etc.
The young Friends regarded such service as violating
the principle of " doing nothing to help the war,"
even indirectly, as would be the saving and restoring
men for the fighting army. Yet they themselves
were refreshingly inconsistent, for when I spoke of
two young cousins of old Quaker stock who had
laid down their lives in this war among the first
volunteers, I was at once told of this one's brother
and that one's nephew in the hottest part of the
fight, and this without any regret, but quite the
contrary, with a truly saving grace of inconsistency
which made one's heart warm towards the speaker !

In the stables we found a horse who had proved
that for quadrupeds at least conscientious objec-
tions were not workable on a farm. He had even
forced his pacifist masters into the inconsistency of
using physical force. The Quaker's rule required
obedience from those working under them, but this
horse had strong ideas on the subject of freedom
of individual choice he conscientiously objected to
having his will crossed and to being put into
harness, " Live and let live " being his motto. He
had signified his protest against compulsory service
by dealing a nasty kick at his master, and as a con-


sequence was deprived of liberty to repeat the action.
Physical force had put a halter round his neck and
punished him with isolation and short commons.
He looked round as his sins were rehearsed, showing
an angry gleam in the corner of his eye. It was
evident he was of the same opinion still ready
for another, and even better placed kick, should
his masters lapse into pacifism with him. He
had the typically militant soul of| the Conscientious


NOYON, like every other town throughout France,
was full of hospitals many with their two, three
thousand beds, long miles of wounded yet all
this suffering kept quietly and unobtrusively in the
background. No wounded or convalescent men were
ever seen in the streets, rarely even a nurse ; one
had to seek out the hospitals, they did not " jump
one in the eye." But they were there. Just outside
the town spread the great evacuation ambulance of
tents and huts, and in the town nearly every large
building had been converted into rows and rows
of beds whereon lay the victims of the Boche's

Among many French nurses calling forth my ad-
miration, there was one I shall always remember
with special affection a charming young Croix
Rouge infirmiere, giving voluntary service at one of
these vast military hospitals.

Not only her poilu patients, but matron, nurses
and doctors, spoke of her as " the Angel " ; they
said the first to do so had been the English Tommies
she remained, under German rule, to nurse in 1914.
She accepted the name as a term of affection, not
in any way as signifying a pedestal of virtues setting



her apart from her kind, though in her spotless white
uniform and coif of the Croix Rouge she was fittingly
garbed as a ministering angel. Her soft brown
eyes and dark brown hair parted over serene level
brows recalled the San Sisto Madonna, a human
angel of the Mother type rather than the winged
angelic being, too far removed for human nature's
daily food.

It is certain one could picture no vision more
healing and heart-warming to a wounded man re-
gaining consciousness in hospital than the strong

sweet young face of Mdlle Claire L , sister in

charge of the long ward of sixty beds in the Military
Ambulance. This hospital, like all others in Noyon,
was terribly understaffed, and Mdlle Claire had no
one to help, even at night, with her sixty patients
except the convalescent men, not one of whom
but was ready to give his service to the utmost of
his powers. The difficulty was to choose among
the many volunteers, whether for scrubbing the floor,
serving the meals, dressing the wounds or sitting
up with the dying at nights. As she passed down
the ward the dark heads on the pillows turned
towards her as the wounded fifty years ago once
gazed after " The Lady with the Lamp."

" She is my right hand," said the matron, also
a Croix Rouge lady giving her service btntvole in this
Military Hospital. " She is capable of taking my
post to-morrow the head so strong and the heart
so tender, so sympathetic. Never she thinks to


spare herself that child ! And with that she is of a
courage to face an army of the Boches. In effect
she faced them, the enemy hordes, when they swept
into the town that day of August which one can
never forget."

It was on the 29th of August 1914 the dread report
flew round Noyon " The Boches are advancing."
The authorities desired all nurses to leave with the
transportable patients. But Mdlle Claire, together
with several other infirmieres of the Secours aux
Blesses Militaires, refused to quit those who could
not be moved, among them some poor British
Tommies as well as French wounded. The week
before many had been brought in from the
trenches at Commines, and day by day others had
followed to be transferred to base hospitals with all

The French nurses' brave decision to stay and
face the dreaded foe was justified that very night,
and twenty more British wounded had cause to bless
the fate which bestowed such a boon as a French
Red Cross nurse in what next day became a German
hospital. Early the following morning, like a plague
of grey locusts devouring all as they passed, the
Huns swept over Noyon. Terrible stories preceded
them, stories from eye-witnesses, scared villagers
fleeing they knew not whither, like leaves before a
gale. They told of ruthless savagery, fire and sword
and pillage, and a fate for women and girls which
made a clean death by fire or sword a grace to be


prayed for. Yet, realising all, the French nurses
stood to their guns, refusing to desert the wounded.

Any and all nurses were urgently needed in those
first weeks before the arrival of the German army
nurses, and the French infirmieres were overwhelmed
with work day and night as the wounded poured
in. The Hun doctors were not pleasant to work
under, their attitude being that of the triumphant
conqueror dragging his captives at his chariot
wheels, but the lives of the French nurses became
far more insupportable when the Hun army nurses
arrived and took over the reins of government.
These women, of a common rough type, made it
their special business to insult and persecute the
French ladies not only because they belonged to
a hated nation let no one imagine the Hymn of
Hate is reserved solely for the English but by
reason of the ingrained hostility the pot de fer
experiences always for the pot de terre. To drag
down the pride, so-called, of the Frenchwomen, to
subject them to every indignity, was in strict accord
with the Hun standard of patriotism. With this
object in view they had recourse to a favourite German
expedient ; driving the matron, a lady of noble
birth and noble soul, together with her staff of young
nurses, into a long ward, they obliged them to strip
and stand in a row for inspection, under the pretext
of searching them. Marching up and down, the
female Huns then examined each garment as if
expecting to find bombs and poison concealed in


the folds. The scene was prolonged with truly
German thoroughness, appearing to afford an endless
source of German wit and merriment of the pot
de fer quality.

" It was part of the price we paid in order to tend
and comfort our poor boys," said the young nurse,
" but it is difficult to think of those gross creatures
and the ordeal they made us suffer without a feeling
of abhorrence."

Mdlle Claire was fortunate in having her own home
in Noyon, to which she could retreat when not on
night duty. In an old house guarded by tall sentinel
pine trees and flanked by a convent she lived with
her widowed mother and an old uncle a priest, an
atmosphere which would have seemed likely to
guarantee peace and security. But neither widows
nor white-haired priests were spared by the Boche.
They were brought under the iron heel and gripped
by the mailed fist like the rest. The old priest
was arrested, and after being roughly handled, packed
off in a cattle truck to Germany "as a hostage,"
together with all other priests except those of
extreme age and infirmity who were left to officiate
at the Cathedral. Priests of military age had, of
course, been mobilised on the declaration of war.
In France a man is not held exempt on account of his
priesthood from what is considered the first and
highest duty he rather leads the way ; and the
manner in which the French priest has fulfilled his
twofold duties on the battlefield has done more


to restore religion and faith, and strengthen the
Church, than all the miracles of Lourdes.

Mdlle Claire had only had a few months' pre-
paration for the tremendous task that awaited her.
Like many young girls of the educated classes she
went in for a course of Croix Rouge instruction,
not only with the desire to know something useful
but as a pleasant way of meeting her friends and
getting up concerts and entertainments to obtain
funds for the Society. To be a member of the Secours

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Online LibraryConstance Elizabeth MaudMy French year → online text (page 5 of 17)