Constance Elizabeth Maud.

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priests we met in the train an interesting discussion
took place as to the effect of obligatory service on
the position of the priest. Both men were about
thirty on the rising side nel mezza Cammin del
nostra vita. They were coming from the front on
their seven days' leave. One wearing the uniform
of the Chasseurs Alpins had the air of a scholar,
borne out by a little leather-bound volume from
which he read passages now and then to his com-
panion, a powerful, bearded brancardier (stretcher-
bearer) decorated with the Medaille Militaire.

Something in the little volume gave the text, and
the Chasseur priest began :

" I have nothing to say against the priests serving


in the army as aumbnier as officer that is well-
very well one is mounted on a horse. . . ."

" That raises you at once above your fellows,"
laughed the jolly brancardier.

The other went on without heeding this levity :

;t The uniform is distinctive impressive the
cross on your breast marks you as one set apart
an officer in the army yes the army of the King
of Kings. But to wear the uniform of the simple
poilu " he cast a deprecating glance at his own
legs "to share his life in closest intimacy to be
under orders to any young officer a pert boy of
twenty Non, par exemple! a thousand times no
this is to lower the high prestige of the priesthood."

' Well, mon ami, that is not my experience and,
after all, the experience it is which convinces more
than arguments or reason," replied the brancardier.
" I find on the contrary that a priest he remains
always a priest for all, even those without religion,
whether his costume be that of the soutane or the
poilu's " horizon bleu." To share the lot of the simple
soldat that it is which makes one to know his heart.
As officer there is a barrier always the aumonier
never can he be as a brother."

The Chasseur shook his head and smiled: "Ah,
my friend you are democrat socialist almost ! Me,
I believe in retaining a little barrier, having around
one a certain atmosphere, so to speak, of mystery
and awe which appeals to the imagination. It is
this which gives to us the power to counsel to guide.


We must be not only brothers in Christ remember,
but fathers in God. The Kingdom of Heaven is not
a democracy it is a hierarchy."

And looking at the clean-cut, refined, ascetic face,
the high-bridged nose, penetrating, close-set eyes
and determined chin of the Chasseur, the broad
brow, kindly eyes and gallant bearing of the bran-
cardier, one realised that both these types have found
a sphere of invaluable service in the armies of France,
both have exerted in their distinctive ways, in-
calculable influence for good. It is true, as many
have testified, that in the trenches there were no
atheists. Undoubtedly one reason for this might
be found in the regenerating effect of that gallant
figure of the poilu priest "running like a spark
among the stubble," sharing the hard life, the
same rations or lack of rations the same pests, the
same dangers, meeting the same grim form of suffering
and death with cheerfulness, courage and faith a
faith amazingly contagious in that it restored to the
poilu something he had learnt at his mother's knee,
and never quite forgotten. One who has no doubts,
no fears, no misgivings as to the righteousness of his
cause, of the Angels fighting with him, and his military
service being, as Krishna said to Arjuna, " a sacrifice
of arms demanded of the gods," creates around him
without any word of preachment an atmosphere in
which faith germinates and courage takes heart of grace.

When volunteers have been needed for special
danger work, an advance patrol, a reconnoitring


expedition, a rescue party, stretcher-bearers to cross
a barrage of fire, the poilu priest has been ever to
the fore, " first over the top " his motto. The
unusual proportion of awards for valour, Croix de
Guerre, Medailles Militaires, Citations, awarded to the
priests serving in the ranks, bear witness to this.

Those who had formerly been wont to regard
priests as " eaters of the poor," proud prelates whose
perfunctory washing of the beggars' feet on Maundy
Thursday was the one travesty of service and
humility of which they were capable, were amazed
to find that there positively existed priests occupy-
ing high positions in the Church ready to live up
to their precepts quite literally, and to be in deed,
not word only, the servants of all. It revolutionised
the popular idea of the priest and the Church.

Imagine the effect in the British army if not only
all the curates of the Church of England had served
as Tommies but if, say, the Archdeacon of Westminster
and the Dean of Durham had been found working
as orderlies, scrubbing the floors and emptying the
slop-pails at the Second London General and the
Military Hospital at Durham. Yet these are but
everyday occurrences in France.

There was the Vicaire- Generate of the Archeveque

de C . a dignified and splendid personage even in

the uniform of the poilu, black-bearded and bronzed,
with a voice which involuntarily called up a cathedral,
even when making a joke. He was known as
44 Monseigneur," and his influence was compelling


as that of the Pied Piper. But when I first saw him
he was wielding a broom, and in a way that pro-
claimed him no novice in the art of sweeping.

After watching the thoroughness of his work I
complimented him on his mastery of a job so outside
his profession.

" It is not quite in vain I have heard my good Jose-
phine, she who takes care of me and my little presbytere,
instructing and correcting the femme de menage these
fifteen years past," said he. " Ah, but I much doubt
whether I have yet attained to her standard of cleanli-
ness it is a woman of high ideals, the old Josephine ! "

I enquired whether she approved of her master's
present employment. He looked round nervously
and lowered his voice :

" She knows not that I have attempted to under-
take this work, I live in fear she may descend
suddenly upon me and discover it. She would
regard it with displeasure."

i4 Finding it was beneath your dignity of course ? "

" All to the contrary," he laughed. " Josephine
she would fear that I might in this metier descend
to the mediocre that which she abhors. She
requires of me, see you, that I should merit the gold
medal in everything that I perform nothing less
satisfies her ; that I obtain not the gold medal is
merely by reason of the injustice of a wicked, envious
world. If I write a book she is convinced no man
ever wrote a book so remarkable if I give a discourse
on theology it is superior in wisdom to all the dis-


courses of the year when I join the army and
shoulder a rifle the soldiers will now see how to kill
the sales Boches as they ought to be killed. The same
will apply to this broom with this difference that
in this work she is in a position to criticise. Ah,
but it is a great effort to maintain the Alpine heights
of the standards of Josephine ! "

He "turned to his broom with renewed energy,
the voice of old Josephine clearly ringing in his ears.

His first year's service had been in the trenches
weeks together, knee-deep in mud. Frozen feet
and severe rheumatism had driven him to the rear.
But so soon as he could stand he found work in the
big evacuation hospital and sorting station at the
back of the lines ; sometimes doing clerical work,
by which was meant taking copies of the wounded
men's fiches name, regiment, and nature of wound,
as they were brought in, sometimes giving first
aid by cutting off boots or applying drops to gassed
eyes and giving anti-tetanus injections when the
convoys come in so fast doctors and nurses could
not cope with them. At other times he worked in
the wards as orderly, while on Sundays he became
a priest, bicycling to a far distant village to take
early mass for a flock left without a shepherd.

" Les cures, sais-tu, c'est rudement chics les
cures " was the verdict of an anti- clerical poilu
surprised out of his pre-war prejudices by coming
up against the Vicaire- Generale in his many and
divers capacities at the evacuation ambulance.


IT was a strange new Paris, as wholeheartedly given
up to war as she had in other days been to pleasure.
The Ville Lumiere was in twilight, but in no way
depressed on that account. Dancing, singing, and
feasting were replaced by untired zealous work.
Everyone shoulder to shoulder uniting in the one
supreme task, ready to sacrifice everything many
having already done so pour la patrie !

Visitors to London were often heard to say that
except for the air raids in the darkened streets they
would hardly have known there was a war on in which
England was fighting for her existence. In Paris
from the day of the mobilisation, there was no room
for doubt It was curious to walk down the Champs
Elysees and note the transformation the long avenue
on both sides given up to ceumes (works), the nature
of which was indicated by flags of every nationality,
British, American, Belgian, Italian, Serbian, Monte-
negrin, hanging out their colours. There was an
ceuvre for Blesses, Mutiles, Eclopes, Reformes, for
Orphelins Franpais, Beiges, etc., for Prisonniers and
Refugies. The Grand Palais was converted into
huge workshops where all sorts of trades were being
taught to the wounded, sufficiently convalescent to



come daily from their hospitals and attend the
classes where they could become blacksmiths, saddle-
makers, carpenters, glassblowers, tailors, anything
they fancied, and from the start have the satisfaction
of earning money.

Service and official cars. Red Cross lorries and
transports were the only conveyances to be seen
racing up and down the broad avenues. Gone were
the smart equipages and autos gone the smart
Parisiennes and the smart dandies who watched
them admiringly gone even the laughing children
and their gay-ribboned nou-nous (nurses).

In the theatres and restaurants one saw mostly
strangers, English and American officers with only
a sprinkling of horizon bleu on leave no doubt because
the latter preferred their own homes when near
at hand, and their womenfolk were in no mood
for going out. In the year 1917 it was difficult
to find a family that was not in mourning. The first
thing which struck one in the streets of Paris was
the number of black-robed figures, with the long
black veil which to English eyes makes every woman
look like a widow. In France the veil is worn equally
for a son or a parent.

If you wanted to find a concourse of the women
of Paris, however, you had but to go into the churches.
There you would see them not only flocking in crowds
on Sundays and feast-days but at any hour every day,
passing in and out, women of every class, from the
great lady, very plainly garbed, to the market woman,


basket by her side, kneeling at the side altars absorbed
in prayer.

I went to the Madeleine one Sunday morning. This
new Paris showed an impressive assembly crowded
with these black -robed women anyone in bright
colours was sure to be a foreign bird of passage.
There were even more men than women men in
every variety of uniform, Chasseurs Alpins, Aviateurs,
Zouaves, Staff officers and poilus, side by side a
true democracy as the Church should be.

The war had touched the tongue of the preacher
as with a coal of fire. His sermon was of the one
great subject aims and ideals of the war, service
and self-sacrifice, comfort for the bereaved, reality
of the supernatural all around us. So different
from the old doctrinal discourses of other days
the dreary hammering in of theology only the
real things mattered now.

Among my own special friends there was hardly
one whom the terrible war had spared none of course
whose menkind were not in hourly danger. All
were working, either in hospitals or war workrooms,
teaching, amusing the wounded, or engaged in one
of the endless ceuvres of which Paris was the centre.
Not only was their work urgently needed, but for
themselves it was their salvation. As one gallant old
lady of seventy-eight said to me, for two years going
every day to her war workroom, never missing a day :

" When one has lost all, and is quite alone in the


world, then is the time one must not lose courage.
Oh no ! For the sake of those who have given their
lives, we too must have courage to the end."

One rarely saw any wounded in the streets of Paris
the ambulance cars went by night I was told.
The killed and wounded were so numerous it was a
significant fact that, unlike our English papers with
their daily " Roll of Honour," the French papers
never published the figures. It would have appalled
the nation had they done so, and caused a depression
which might have had disastrous effects ; for the
French losses it must be remembered were, in pro-
portion, infinitely greater than our own great losses.

But in spite of the individual sorrow and loss
from which no one was exempt, there was a quite
extraordinary atmosphere of quiet confidence, of
equilibrium in the French capital. When good news
came, no burst of joy and boasting, when reverses
were announced, no depression or loss of courage,
rather an addition of grim resolve, a greater output
of steadfast faith in ultimate victory. Undoubtedly
the presence of the Americans aided in producing this
effect. Though but a small number were yet actually
in the firing-line, it was the moral rather than the
material help which proved of such value. They
realised that victory was only a question of time.

Still the noble figures of " Lille " and " Strasburg "
in the Place de la Concorde wore their draperies of
crape, but with the eye of faith we saw them before long
garlanded with flowers holding high the flag of France.


THIS has always been kept as a solemn feast day
throughout France, but the war has made it the great
Day of the year to remain so always for all those
who have lived through the great ordeal.

Formerly it was to all, whether orthodox Catholic
or unorthodox Freethinker, the Day of Remembrance
dedicated to nos chers morts. To the devout Catholic
it was besides a tryst, a day of special meeting,
when, on the ladder of love, uniting this earth and
the heavenly spheres, the beloved departed and
the mourning earth- dwellers met and held sweet
communion, prayer ascending and descending like
the angels of God.

The war has made this Day of Days of an added
significance to all. It has become impossible to
think of that great company of splendid youth,
gone over in the full tide of buoyant joyous life and
vigour, as the " dead." Nos chers morts is unthink-
able as applied to them. There was " no dying "
in their case no sickness or decay, no age and waning
powers. Death touched them so swiftly with " the
might of his sunbeam " that it was a translation
like Elijah they were caught up living to continue
the fight for Right on the spiritual plane, where



the real war was being waged of which the earthly
conflict was but the physical manifestation.

To us also, in Anglican England, this Day has
taken on a new meaning with the spiritual awakening
of the Great War. To pray for the " dead " was a
custom which met with little favour in England
or Scotland in pre-war days, but to pray for
the living departed, those beloved ones so vitally,
buoyantly alive only yesterday how could any
Church regulation or theological doctrine prevent
the anguished heart going forth in prayer which must
pierce the walls of jasper and storm the gates of
heaven itself. Though they do not pray for the
dead in English and Scotch churches the war has
taught us to pray for the departed whether they set
out on duty for Salonica, Mesopotamia, Flanders,
or the longer journey " Whereabouts Unknown."

And so we now see in one street after another
in our austere, beloved old London, the strangely
touching, foreign-looking little shrines with the long
" Roll of Honour " where many of us have learnt
for the first time to pray for the so-called dead,
and some of us have learnt for the first time to pray
at all.

Irresistibly the little London shrines seemed
linked to the Paris cemeteries that day, as the songs
of love and praise rose for that glorious company
of young warriors of both lands. In France it
would be hard to find a single home which has not
one member often alas many, marts pour la patrie.



The losses of France outnumber all others the
nation is truly decimated. Yet it is not as among
the dead but the living that France thinks of her
slain sons. Morts pour la patrie, yet not dead,
but living, more vitally, truly living than we who
remain. In Paris, as throughout the length and
breadth of the land, the day is observed as a solemn
feast. Shops are shut, churches are crowded all
day long. Carrying wreaths and pots of flowers,
never-ending processions wend their way to the
cemeteries. Women in long black veils, little children,
old men bent and white-haired, here and there
an old couple arm in arm. " Que de fleurs ! Que
de pleurs ! " as Pierre Loti says in his beautiful
" Jours des Morts au Front " ; for there too they
were keeping the tryst with the departed, all along
that grim line where the Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse Sword and Sickness, Famine and Death
rode up and down, and back and forth unceasingly.
At the entrance to the Passy Cemetery I paused
a moment at the big tomb and chapel of Marie
Bashkirtseff, wondering to see she was still affection-
ately remembered, with fresh flowers and little words
of loving regret. Strange, after all these years in
a foreign land and at such a time of recent mourning
in every home. Her name " immortal " says the
inscription by Andre Theuriet. How absurd it
sounds ! Her gallant spirit no doubt but her poor
little name !

Concession a perpetuite," on more than one


imposing tomb, struck another false note curiously
false in those days of real things, of rapid convulsive
changes, when Paris was holding herself ready for
anything, when the guns of the Hun any day might
hammer on her gates, the bombs of the Hun liable
any moment to create a huge crater where that
consecrated spot stands with its " Concession a

" Hommages aux Soldats tues a Fennemi," was
inscribed on the flags, mounting guard over a big
enclosure, covered with a mountain of fresh flowers.
In a cemetery near by this homage was rendered
also to the British soldiers. Many a French mother
brought her offering and whispered a prayer for
the English boys who had died so far from home ;
that enclosure where the Union Jack waved was a
garden of flowers brought by French hands. With
these links forged by mutual sympathy in sorrow
and aspiration the entente cordiale has become a
very living reality. Mothers all over the world
speak the same language, and nothing has drawn
the French so near to the English as this suffering
of the mothers. Perhaps the women of Britain
have not so vividly realised what the overwhelming
losses of France have been how could they do so
since the French papers never published their losses !
And we English do not visualise easily we need
facts in concrete form. The French had the war
in concrete form on their own soil. They knew
what the mothers and wives of England were endur-


ing. They saw the British wounded and dying
the pathetic little graveyards at the back of the
lines with the crossed sticks and the little Union
Jacks. They saw and they said : " Ah, the poor
English mothers. They suffer even as we others ! "
And their hearts warmed towards those mothers
across the Channel.

The prevailing note of the cemeteries that day,
however, was not one of gloom. Sorrow there was
of course, but, mingled with such an uplift of faith
already passing into vision, of mourning which has
found consolation, that one felt a kind of serene
peace descending like dew, as one passed down
those avenues of acacia- shaded tombs.

Only one sad grave, I remember, chilled the
atmosphere of that sunny autumn day a great
slab of granite no name no date only a shower
of fresh chrysanthemums, golden, crimson, pink,
and purple. But deeply engraved on the stone,
as without doubt on the heart from which sprang
the thought, were the words :

" Tout est mystere
Hormis notre douleur."

Yet the mystery of suffering is the greatest mystery
of all ! And when that is realised in all its signi-
ficance, then, through the mystery of suffering pierce
faint rays, showing colours in the darkness which
seemed so unrelieved, so impenetrable. For mystery
engenders the spirit of enquiry, of discovery ; it is not


a final state but a fluid changing condition, and the
first discovery one makes, the first ray that pierces
our sorrow is that there may be a meaning at the back
of it. The mystery of suffering is perhaps still un-
solved, but not unsolvable.

Standing by this sad slab of granite I thought
of one stricken family among my French friends
of whom these words were tragically true. Of a
happy circle of boys and girls just opening out
in their first bloom and promise three years before
so joyously, so brilliantly, all thought of war as
far removed from their visions and projects as the
wars of Charlemagne. And now, what is that home ?
Two young sons have been killed in action, the third
and sole remaining one is a prisoner in the hands
of a brutal foe, whose war code enjoins him to wreak
his hate and spite on his defenceless prisoners of
war. One young daughter is a war widow serving
in a hospital at Salonica, another a nurse in the war
zone at an ambulance constantly bombed by the
enemy. The father fills every hour of the anxious
days as they pass with incessant work, but the poor,
poor mother, an invalid for many years, she who
cannot drown her sorrow in work the war like
a flood has swept over her soul and loss loss is
the only thing of which she is as yet capable of being
hourly conscious. Truly these words are engraved
upon her heart : " Tout est mystere Hormis notre
douleur ! "



Many young aviators rest here. Their own pro-
pellers, quiet at last, keep watch over the hands
that so skilfully, daringly, guided their flights across
the sky. A chapel was dedicated to a whole group
of fallen aviators of the Third Company Mort pour
la patrie.

Pour la patrie ! You cannot go a step in France
without being brought up sharp against this one
absorbing, all engulfing aspect of the war. Herein
lies a difference between England and France, wide
as the poles apart. Nine out of ten of our brave
Tommies would tell you that they " were blest if
they knew what they were fighting for " it never
made them fight one whit less well, fortunately
so well no men fought better. But here in France
there was no question in the mind of the simplest
poilu as to what he was fighting for pour la patrie
is written not only on his grave but in his heart.
And so no doubt would it have been on British
hearts, Sinn Feiners included, had the savage hordes
of the Hun taken possession of Lancashire, Yorkshire
and a large slice of the Emerald Isle, with a Von
Bissing and his kinsmen dispensing the law. Oh !
men know what they are fighting for when the green
beauty of their sunny land, their peaceful, well-kept
homes are turned into a grey wilderness of charred
ruins and bleeding tree-stumps, when the familiar
church of their childhood lies in a heap upon the
surrounding graves, and the white-haired cure has
been shot against the wall when their girls have


been dragged from their beds at dead of night and torn
screaming from their agonised mothers to be deported
to Germany to " work " for their savage captors.
Pour la patrie is no sentimental poetic phrase, such
as is very often conveyed by " King and Country v
on English lips. The latter is a toast, pour la patrie
is a dedication of life itself. Duke et decorum est
pro patria mori breathes a high-souled ideal appealing
to the Sir Philip Sidneys and their chivalrous
descendants who volunteered in their thousands,
forming an army of a spirit so invincible they saved
the civilisation of the world in those first crucial
days. For them it was sweet and seemly to die
not only for their own country but even for another
man's country, in her need. But pour la patrie

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Online LibraryConstance Elizabeth MaudMy French year → online text (page 8 of 17)