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Edward H O'Hara.

World war at its climax; being personal imprints of the great conflict and close up glimpse of the world tragedy online

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WORLD WAR

AT

ITS CLIMAX

Being Personal

Imprints of the Great Conflict

and Close up Glimpse

of the

World Tragedy



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PRINTED BY

THE ROYCROFTERS

EAST AURORA

N. Y.



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COPYRIGHT, 192?

BY

EDWARD H. OHARA

SYRACUSE, N. Y.



To

GEORGE WILLIAM O'HARA

(My Son)

Who volunteered to follow the Stars
and Stripes, performing his full part
in the hazardous work of a machine
gun battalion in Flanders fields and
France, escaping unhurt, this narra-
tive is dedicated with a heart
full of gratitude for his
deliverance. THE
NARRATOR



Of this edition

World War At Its Climax

there are printed

Five Hundred Copies

for private

circulation

This book is

number



31'*



?




Foreword

[N NARRATING or portraying his un-
usual experiences in the thrilling scenes
of 1918 which marked a momentous and
notable journey by twelve newspaper
men under most favorable auspices and
the escort of the British Government, the
writer does not attempt to dignify his
production by calling it a book or himself an author. Nor
has he the vanity to predict for it general circulation or
currency. Not for one moment does he harbor the thought
that untold thousands avidly await its appearance, antici-
pating that it is to contain wonderful World War secrets
or will seek to solve the many vexatious problems arising
out of that great conflict. On the contrary, it is a tale told
by a newspaper publisher whose aim is to collect a few of the
outstanding things he saio and wrote about ivhile abroad,
and talked of when he returned home. Primarily, kith and
kin were first and foremost in his mind, and if the record
of his experiences and observations in the terrific, crashing
days which brought an end to the most cruel and awful war
in history, interests or enlightens those for whom its
compilation is intended, he will feel himself fully justified
for time taken in writing his humble effort, " All of which
he saw and a part of which he was."
When events herein recorded were occurring Germany was
charged with monstrous outrages, with vandalism and
brutalities; and Allies and Allied sympathizers sought to
wreak vengeance upon her unfortunate head. Time may
soften, and history correct, reports made in the heat and
bitterness of war at its zenith, when such aspersions were
uttered. Three and a half years have elapsed since hostilities



ceased, but solemn pledges made by Americans and the
Allies, that never again would they buy anything made in
Germany, have been broken, and every country is now
seeking eagerly to re-establish former trade relations.
In his own way, too, the writer will tell the part, as he
observed it, which American boys played in a great world
fight under west European skies, where their deeds of heroism
icere almost as countless as the stars themselves, and where,
as one chronicler of that day ivrote: " Millions of men have
stood immovable or have pushed forward with courage
which is greater than that required to face death. Death
is merely a part of the hideousness of war — the part which
has made a cemetery of each hillside in Eastern France"
<$ " The thing is unimaginable — the sights that shock the
brain, the scent of poisonous gases, the thin, sharp sound of
flying fragments of steel, the whistle of shells, increasing
rapidly in volume, until with deafening noise there comes
the explosion — all tend to tear down the will to ivithstand,
and to destroy the will to advance."

" Under such conditions men do not pause to make small
calculations; they act by virtue of that which is either
inbred or inherent. Their fears are terrific, and yet they
push these aside, trample over them and attain the heights
of ideal courage."

In all history can be found no other three months so
epochal, so fraught with mighty happenings. Never before
was it vouchsafed to a little band of civilian observers like
ours to be at the very storm center of events in the most
crucial period of a war, the greatest of all wars. On our
arrival in Liverpool, news came that United States troops
had taken St. Mihiel; French and Americans had attacked
in the Argonne; Bulgaria had signed an armistice and
surrendered, while soon aftenvard Kaiser Wilhelm with-
drew from battle fronts, where in desperation he had gone
to rally in person his retreating army, and returning to
Berlin, " sulked in his tent." There were rumors that he



refused to leave Berlin and that death to him was preferable
to surrender. Also, there were hints at suicide. In the
interim of our arrival in Liverpool and return to London
on the night of November 10, fighting had been the most terrific,
the most awful in the history of a world which had stood
aghast. But the mighty hordes of Germany, with the vaunted,
impenetrable Hindenburg line, began to yield, the shell of
Central Europe tottered and crumbled, and on November 9
the Kaiser abdicated and the day following fled to Hol-
land. Next day the Armistice was signed.
So the newspaper group had seen the battle fronts from
Belgium down through Eastern France, a long, black strip
of ruin from one to forty miles wide, had seen war in its
fiercest activities and in its cataclysmic finish.
When in New York in late November, their mission ful-
filled, the little band of Editorial pilgrims bade each other
a fond adieu, with a God-be-with-you-till-we-meet-
again, it ended THE GREAT ADVENTURE— which,
in the writers life, remains the supreme event or experience
whose friendships and glories are destined to enrich,
brighten and gladden his memory down to the day when the
summons shall come for him to pass on.

Edward H. O ' Hara



PART 1

How it Began



By Whom and Why a Momentous
Mission was Conceived



Convoy Crossed the Atlantic

in Worst Tempest During

World War



Wreck of the Otranto

Only Ship Lost in

War Because

of Storm



CHAPTER I



Birth of a Big Idea



Broad Visioned Beaverbrook Devised a way to Nullify the Effect of
German Propaganda and England Created a Ministry of Infor-
mation with Lord Beaverbrook at its Head — Leading American
Newspaper and Magazine Editors or Publishers, asked by
English Ministry to Cross Seas and See loith Their Otvn Eyes
what World War was Like and What Great Britain s Part in
It Had Been.

N reciting such a journey as is herein
described naturally the first question
asked is, " What was its inception? '
If In the winter of 1917-1918, England
was thrown into a fervid frenzy at re-
ports that Germany had assiduously
and insidiously circulated malevolent
Anti-British propaganda throughout America. So general
were these broadcasted, and so accredited, that Parlia-
ment arose to the necessity of a searching investigation
of the entire question with a view of offsetting, if not
entirely undoing, the evil effects of this sinister propa-
ganda. Any inquiry, it was agreed, should be thorough,
exhaustive, intelligent and efficient, if a helpful solution
of the perplexing problem was to spring from it.
That false and damaging reports w T ere being disseminat-
ed through the medium of American newspapers and
magazines was firmly fixed in the minds of English
War and legislative leaders, who apparently believed
that if important American newspapers were not

— 1 —




World War actually owned by Germany, many of them were sub-

At Its sidized by junkerdom. Heated discussions followed in

P T tm a v the House of Lords. Lord Beaverbrook, himself owner of

v_/LIMAX _ . „ ' .

a great London newspaper, Ine Express, eloquently
combatted the assumption that American newspaper
men were corrupt or venal or Prussianized. Originally
a lawyer by profession, then a banker, and a keen
and able observer of social life and public affairs in
America, while living in his earlier days in Canada, which
he quit for the land of his adoption eight years before,
it was not egotism for him, he believed, to say he was
fully qualified to judge of the tendencies, aspirations
and aims of American newspaper publishers.
Reports of a Prussianized American press were not
only maliciously untrue, but manifestly absurd.
America had between 8,000 and 10,000 daily newspapers,
to say nothing of vastly outnumbering weeklies and
monthlies. To acquire these would mean billions of
dollars. Side by side with allied troops, American boys
were fighting, and it would have been unthinkable
treason for American newspapers even to give an
appearance of deserting their government at such a
crisis. Nor would a public so outraged stand for such
newspaper conduct. Unmistakably demands in such
conditions would be made for government confiscation
or suppression.

As shedding light upon England's concern over what
she believed were Germany's activities and attitude in
America it is necessary to call attention to what was
then going on in Mexico and between Mexico and Ger-
many, for England, innocently, no doubt, had con-
founded the United States with Mexico.
For more than three years Mexico had been in constant
revolutionary turmoil. In every way our neighboring
republic had sought to draw us into the vortex of the

— 2 —



maelstrom which her intrigues, bandit uprisings and World War
imbroglios had made. Germany was broadcasting deadly At Its
propaganda in Mexico and seeking to incite Mexican c LIMAX
hatred of us because we had aligned ourselves on the ^
side of the Allies. Before the war, both Germany and *
England had enjoyed far better trade relations with
Mexico than had the United States. Her dream of world
conquest once realized, Germany aspired to command
Mexican resources and trade.

From the lips of an eminent American physician who
served our government in Mexico in a secret capacity
for more than three years during and immediately fol-
lowing the World War, I learned that in Mexican oil
fields German agents were extremely active. Posters
calling upon Mexicans to burn American wells were
posted throughout the oil regions, but promptly pulled
down bv Americans. In some instances the torch was
actually applied with disastrous results. This was but
one of the many forms of pernicious activity by Ger-
mans or German sympathizers. American citizens in
Mexico besought President W T ilson to intervene. The
President's reply was that he was pursuing a policy of
" watchful waiting."

Former President Roosevelt, with all the vigor and
vehemence of his aggressive nature, denounced his suc-
cessor as " too proud to fight," declaring that were he in
Presidential office he would follow Villa and his bloody
bandits to their mountain fastnesses, capture them and
settle details afterwards as to the right thing to do.
1§ Notwithstanding Colonel Roosevelt's hostile attitude,
he seemed personally more popular with the masses in
Mexico than President Wilson. Then, as always, bull
fighting was the national sport in Mexico. At such
events, as well as in theaters and wherever else the
public congregated, the name of Wilson was coldly

— 3 —



World War received, while that of Roosevelt evoked huzzas loud
At Its and long. ...

Climax This seeming digression is made to explain how Great
Britain had mixed Mexico up with the United States
*** in taking for granted that Germany was making friends
with American newspapers and American people.
So convincing were arguments of Lord Beaverbrook a
committee appointed to find an escape from the dilem-
ma was told by him that the only way was to create a
bureau or ministry of information which would send a
commission to America to select a delegation of pub-
lishers or editors of leading magazines and newspapers
who, as guests of the British Government, would cross
the ocean and see for themselves what Great Britain had
done and was doing, what her part in the World War was,
had been, and must be.

Because of his Canadian antecedents, Lord Beaver-
brook had been appointed by the British government
historian of Canada's part in the World War and official
photographer at battle fronts for Great Britain. For
more than three years in this dual capacity he had
shared, with the infantry, the perils and hardships of
w T ar, and so vigorously and zealously had he prosecuted
this work that his health broke under its privations and
hardships &o so

In accordance with Lord Beaverbrook's recommenda-
tion a Ministry of Information was promptly created.
This ministry was somewhat similar to certain divisions
of our Department of the Interior. Beaverbrook was
chosen as its head.

Because ill health would not permit him to continue
such extraordinary efforts as he had put forth at the
front, Lord Beaverbrook decided to accept the great
honor and to choose as an assistant an able and energetic
young man upon whose shoulders should fall the bur-

— 4 —



dens of office. Looming large in the public eye at the World War
time, on account of his civic activities in London, was At Its
Major Evelyn Wrench, having just organized the popu- Climax
lar English -Speaking Union and placed Mr Arthur J. *
Balfour at its head. Also his record for valor and achieve- *
ment at the fighting front was widely known and uni-
versally commended. Lord Beaverbrook accordingly
drafted Major Wrench, promptly placed him in full
charge of the Ministry of Information, himself remain-
ing in the background wholly in an advisory capacity.
At once the task of organization was energetically
begun. Early in 1918 a commission of five members was
sent to New York city to open offices, where a large
force of secretaries and clerks worked diligently for six
or eight months.

Sir Geoffrey Butler, brother of the former Governor-
General of India, headed the commission; Louis Tracy,
novelist, who had recently put out his thrilling novel,
" On the Wings of the Morning, " was a second member;
a distinguished officer, Commander Belt, who had been
wounded while with General Allenby in Asia Minor and
awaited a return to health, was a third; Major Lancaster,
member of The London Times organization and Vis-
count Northcliffe's legal adviser, who, in that office
served all of the Viscount's vast newspaper interests,
was fourth, and Henry Goode of New York city, an
American, was the fifth.

After three months of careful and scrutinizing investi-
gation, the following party was chosen by the Com-
mission: Edward W. Bok of the Ladies' Home Journal;
Duncan Clark, Chicago Evening Post; Alfred Holman,
San Francisco Argonaut; Dr. Charles R. L. VanHise,
President of the Wisconsin University; F. W. Kellogg,
San Francisco, Cal.; L. W. Nieman, Milwaukee Jour-
nal; R. T. Oulihan, New York Times; Ellery Sedgwick,

— 5 —



World War Atlantic Monthly; Dr. Albert Shaw, Review of Re-
At Its views; James N. Thompson, New Orleans Item; C. H.
Climax Towne, McClure's Magazine, Dr. E. J. Wheeler,
Everybody's.



."•«»




Rt. Hon. Lord Beaverbrook



— 6 —



CHAPTER II



Newspaper Men Take Up the Torch
Thrown Down by Magazine Brethren

Go Over to End War and Finish the Job Their Predecessors Were
Impotent to Do — Refused to Go if Bound by Any Understanding
Except an Open Mind Which Should Tell of Things as They
Saw Them — England Said She Would Lay Her Cards Upon
the Table Face Up.

AGAZINE MEN, constituting group
one, who had gone over in late June,
having failed by early September to end
t war, twelve newspaper publishers were
drafted as group number two. Insofar
as most of us were concerned it was a
hurried and an unexpected S. O. S. In
the writer's case his mind was made up only forty hours
prior to the time of sailing. It was too late to go to
Washington for passports, but Secretary of State Lans-
ing generously stepped into the breach and designated
a federal officer in New York City who provided the
necessary credentials. The ever present difficulty then
was that America and the Allies had commandeered
the whole Atlantic ocean and held that no one had the
right to cross it unless to fight. War, or service therefor,
were the only grounds upon which passports were
issued s+ s&

Few in our party had the faintest conception of what was
expected of them until they arrived at New York.

— 7 —




World War Unquestionably the most impelling reason for accepting

At Its invitations was that many had sons in action overseas

Climax anc ^ were rea dy and willing to make any sacrifice for an

^ opportunity to meet them.

* It should be emphasized in connection with choosings
for this most important mission that no one was named
for his beauty or his brains. Few, perhaps, would have
been able to qualifj^ upon those grounds. England went
about the task in her usual cold, calculating, business
way.

Each newspaper was employing as war corres-
pondents a staff of able commenters and illustrious
reporters capable of wielding more forceful, trenchant or
facile pens than any one of our party. England's wish
was rather to reach the man in control of newspaper
policies and destinies, and Viscount Northcliffe and Lord
Beaverbrook, wise in their business of newspaper-
making, told the powers that be that that man was the
publisher £» s«*

Twenty-thousand four-hundred and thirty-one news-
papers are printed in the United States with an aggre-
gate circulation of fifteen and a half billion copies a
year. From out this vast number Twelve Newspapers
were chosen— one from every seventeen hundred and
sixty newspapers — which tells the story of the high
compliment conferred by Great Britain in selecting our
Editorial party and stresses her belief that she had
selected newspapers of the greatest influence and pres-
tige in their respective localities. It will be seen on a
close study of the map of the United States that in the
selection made every division of the country was repre-
sented — the Pacific Coast, the Rocky Mountain Region,
the Middle West, the South and the Middle East and
the East.

In the choice of newspapers high honor and esteem was

— 8 —






intended, the men selected as representatives being World War
merely coincidental. At Its

At Sherry's famous restaurant, whither we were directed c LIM ax
to go by England's Ministry Commission, we found in
waiting a dinner at which Sir Geoffrey Butler was toast-
master. Without entering into details, Sir Geoffrey said
his government wished us to cross the ocean and see for
ourselves, first hand, what was happening over there
and how much of a part Great Britain was taking in
it all.

One of our members opened the discussion by saying
apologetically that there were many things in our school
books which obviously perverted history and was unfair
and derogatory to England and he contended that all
such false and damaging teachings should be expurgated
from text books.

The member from Oregon, Mr. Piper, was next speaker.
So great a period had elapsed since his school days, he
declared he could not recall just what our text books
did contain. Whatever their content, he was decidedly
and unequivocally opposed to delving into such subjects
or sitting in judgment upon them. Traveling farthest of
anyone to be present, he asserted that if a revision of
American text books or commitment to any course of
conduct was the purpose of the trip, he must respect-
fully decline to go. He would prefer to take the first
train back home.

After others had spoken like sentiments, Sir Geoffrey
Butler, for the Commissioners, said he was greatly
pleased with the frankness of the newspaper men.
England would be deeply grateful if the publishers
became her guests and would lay all her cards on the
table face up, exacting no promises whatsoever. He
told the publishers they would be free to return home
and say whatever they pleased, if only they consented

— 9 —



World War to make the trip. While over there letters or messages

At Its must pass through censor's hands, all such documents

Climax wou ld De submitted by Ministry of Information officers,

^ so that Sir Geoffrey felt the liberty of the press would

* not be materially abridged.

With this satisfactory explanation the entire party
agreed to sail next day.

Next me sat Louis Tracy, the novelist. Noticing I wore
a service button, he congratulated me upon going across
with a prospect of meeting my son, and then remarked,
with a deep touch of sadness in his voice, that his own
son had made the supreme sacrifice.
" Killed in action? " I inquired.

" Yes, thank God, a captain leading his men; just as I
wished him to die and as I know he would have pre-
ferred to die. Noble boy."

Before we arose from our delightful meal, Sir Geoffrey told
us that the mystery and secrecy attending all sailings
must be observed, but he felt safe in saying our ship
was to be a giant greyhound of such high speed that
submarine danger would be reduced to a minimum, if
not wholly eliminated. We were told to report at a
certain pier next day, at an appointed hour, and ask for
a ship known to us only by number.
With mixed anticipations and forebodings over our
embarkation on the morrow, our enjoyable dinner came
to an end.

Those who went were: Franklin Potts Glass, of The
Birmingham, Ala. News; Edward W. Barrett, Birming-
ham Age-Herald; Edward H. Butler, Buffalo Evening
News; Herschel V. Jones, Minneapolis Journal; Frank
Richardson Kent, Baltimore Sun; A. M. McKay, Salt
Lake Tribune; Edgar Bramwell Piper, The Oregonian,
Portland, Ore.; Edward Lansing Ray, St. Louis Globe-
Democrat; Col. Charles A. Rook, Pittsburgh Dispatch;

— 10 —



Lafayette Young, Jr., Des Moines Capitol, Des Moines; World War
W. A. Paterson, Western Newspaper Union, Chicago At Its
and New York, and Edward H. O'Hara, The Syracuse Climax
Herald £••£•» *



11 —




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CHAPTER III



A Ship of Death




A Hideous Voyage — Spanish Influenza and Pneumonia take
Frightful Toll — Worst Storm in Fifty Years Resulting in Loss
of One Transport and Many Lives.

}00N following dinner at Sherry's
found our Editorial voyagers at pier
59 North river. Ship number 718, for
which we were told to ask, proved to be
not the promised Cedric, a modern
floating palace, but a poky, stuffy
8,000 ton troopship, the Orontes. From
mysterious whisperings among her crew, it quickly
leaked out that Spanish influenza had been discovered
aboard before reaching Boston one week earlier, at
which port twenty cases were taken off. Customs officers,
health officers and our British hosts were summoned
for conference, and twice we threatened to quit the ship.
On repeated assurances that all reports were grossly
exaggerated, that there had been thorough fumigation
and disinfection, an officious federal representative,
whose word was law (martial law at least) imperiously
waved us away, and after twenty -four hours of almost
constant wrangling we put out to sea. Then we learned
it was the first voyage of the Orontes to America.
Hitherto she, British owned, had plied between Australia
and Great Britain bearing English colonial troops to
war. England had never permitted her to carry more
than 750 soldiers, as the ship's maximum capacity was
not more than nine hundred passengers. In America's

— 13 —



♦•



World War mad rush to get men over 1834 troops, including 500
At Its negroes, had been herded into cramped quarters.

Climax -^ ar ou ^ a ^ sea we reacne d our convoy, which apparently
had been lying in wait for us. There were eleven camou-
flaged vessels, comprising a fleet of twelve, carrying
28,000 troops and protected by a destroyer, a cruiser
and a giant man-o'-war — fifteen ships in all. Seaplanes
and dirigible balloons hovered above or sailed about us.
With these and the mystifying, tortuous, shuttlecock
movements of our convoy, we got our first big thrill and
simultaneously we realized we had indeed entered upon
A GREAT ADVENTURE.

After a few hours, these " eyes of the sea," as hydro-
planes were known, withdrew their protecting wings,
their hum and roar grew fainter and fainter until
finally they died away in the shoreward distance. A
sense of great depression came over us as we realized
we were alone with our fate. As told in the rhymes of the
Ancient Mariner we were:


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Online LibraryEdward H O'HaraWorld war at its climax; being personal imprints of the great conflict and close up glimpse of the world tragedy → online text (page 1 of 18)