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iy GEOFFREY WINTHROP YOI




FROM THE TRENCHES



FROM THE TRENCHES

LOUVAIN TO THE AISNE, THE FIRST
RECORD OF AN EYE-WITNESS



BY

GEOFFREY WINTHROP YOUNG



LONDON [ T. FISHER UNWIN
i ADELPHI TERRACE W.C.



1 wish to express my obligation to the Proprietors of the
" Daily News " for permission to use material contributed to
their cJivmns.



Firit Publislwl October, 1914.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I. THE OUTBREAK. IN AND OUT OF

PARIS 7

II. THE FIRST DAYS IN BRUSSELS 23

III. THE BELGIAN ENGAGEMENTS. EGHEZEE,

HAELEN 34

IV. NAMUR AND THE FRENCH LINES - 59

V. LOUVAIN AND WATERLOO 83

VI. THE LAST OF BRUSSELS. THE FLIGHT

AND THE FLOOD 95

VII. ANTWERP AND MALINES - 132

VIII. PARIS AND THE TRENCHES - - 151

IX. THE MOVEMENTS IN THE NORTH - 174

X. THE BATTLES ON THE MARNE - - 193

XI. ON THE OISE AND THE SOMME

XII. ON THE AISNE - - - -

XIII. THE SHADOW OF THE WAR

XIV. ARMS AND THE MAN



255
293
302



FROM THE TRENCHES

CHAPTER I

The Outbreak. In and Out of Paris.

On Tuesday, 28th of July, I returned from
the Alps ; the weather conditions had been
arctic and the climbing more than usually ex-
citing. During a bathe in the Lake of Geneva,
which has become the customary end of the
climbing season, I remember saying to my
companion, " Well, this is the end of all sensa-
tion for the year. Now for the usual dull
winter's work."

On Thursday I volunteered to go with the
Servian Army as War Correspondent for the
Daily News, but the European conflagration
was already too imminent. On Sunday, it
was arranged that I should go to Paris to join

the French Army.

7



FROM THE TRENCHES

The journey started normally. But at New-
haven it was startling to see three English
travellers turn and rush off the boat at the
last minute. It was the first and unforgettable
sign of the break-up in our order of life. To
take a ticket and start a journey no longer
meant the inevitable procession to its end. We
were beginning the life of the unexpected ; when
event and interruption was to take the place of
the decent ordering of hours by convention and
system.

On the boat were only men ; older men called
up to the colours. Most of them were fathers
of families. One man sat in tears over a photo-
graph of his five children spread out before him.
Some had lived all their lives in England. " Well,
you're an Englishman, at any rate," said the
steward to an obvious cockney. But he was
French, though he could scarcely speak it. A
very old priest was returning, after twenty
years, to "die among his soldier children " in a
French frontier village — " or perhaps my grand-
children," he corrected, with a faint smile.

As we neared Calais the cloud began to pass.

8



THE OUTBREAK

The men clustered and spoke together: a few
started singing. When I had crossed a few
days before, the quay had been lined with
the usual cheering children, and a few condescend-
ing tourists had waved back. Now there was
a line of soldiers in the same place. Our passen-
gers rushed to the side and cheered them. A
number of French cruisers guarded the entrance.
It was the first real proof that we were passing
into the facts of war. The odd nightmare
feeling of those few first days, that witnessed the
collapse of the structure of civilisation upon
which our lives had hitherto rested, intensified.
The war was true after all ; not merely a terrible
darkness of sensation into which we kept waking
up, with a shrinking discomfort, whenever our
attention came back from reading some book
or following some ordinary chain of thought.

At Calais there had been no regular train
traffic for three days. A number of travellers
who had got as far as Calais on previous days
decided to return by our boat to England.
The porters stood round vaguely, with the
distracted strained look that we learned to

9



FROM THE TRENCHES

associate later with the presence of the war
atmosphere. I discovered to my surprise a train
waiting in the station with steam up : — it was
" Lord Kitchener's Special," prepared to carry
him on his way to Egypt. But Lord Kitchener
at the last moment had not come, for reasons
that have since proved amply sufficient. By
various persuasive arguments we at last con-
vinced the undecided station-master that as the
line had been cleared the express might run
through ; and we reached Paris in four hours ;
the " last " unofficial express during the war.

The Gare du Nord was empty of porters ; but
the long lines of platform were piled ten feet high
down the centre with enormous trunks — the
abandoned luggage of escaping tourists.

Outside the station the approaches were
barred by barriers, where dragoons demanded
passes from every foot passenger. Troops poured
past, starting for their different centres of
concentration. The suburban traffic had ceased.
The streets were full of people kept in the town
against their will by the demands of the mobili-
sation.

10



THE OUTBREAK

Paris had not yet settled down. It was
seething in those first three days of panic that
seemed throughout Europe to follow the declara-
tion of war. More an atmospheric feeling than
a state with definite symptoms. People, for
these days, seemed to be moving and speaking
semi- consciously, with the nervous suggestion
in their faces that they expected something
novel and shocking to happen at any second.
The supposed German shops and houses were
being wrecked and looted. Every now and then
there was a hurried rush of feet through the street,
as some suspect was hunted or maltreated. The
spy-hunting mania seems to have been a universal
infection during this time. The disorderly ele-
ments in the big towns got the upper hand for
the moment and the cold-blooded brutality of
these silent man-hunts was to me infinitely
more shocking than the sight and sound of the
more terrible destruction on the battlefields.
It was the first growl of the beast that we had let
loose, the savage animal in man waking for our
purposes of war. Under my window was a
great courtyard, in which hundreds of German

11



FROM THE TRENCHES

and Austrian men, women and children were
confined for their protection. They had to
sleep on the stones in the open air ; and it was a
pitiable thing, while the crowds outside the gate
were execrating and hustling those who were
thrust in to join them, to hear them singing
French songs and cheering for France. Most
of them were French by education and sympathy,
and only German by extraction.

The apache element, which had been en-
couraged by the thinning out of the Gendarmerie
for military service to make patriotism the cover
for convenient looting and brutality, was soon
brought into order. Cavalry pickets patrolled
the streets in the evening ; a curious sight, their
horses trampling on the pavement of the Rue de
la Paix. The worst haunts were raided ; many
hundreds were arrested, and the police in large
motor wagons ran through deserted quarters,
stopping and pouncing in batches upon suspected
passers-by. The civil hand had released its
hold, and it was a day or two before the new
military administration could get a firm grip.

Government offices were in a not unnatural state

12



THE OUTBREAK

of confusion — they had been weakened by the
withdrawal of a large proportion of their effective
staff, at the same moment that they became
responsible for an enormous mass of novel duty.
The civilian, under military government, found
himself of a sudden unable to move or exist
without official permits. The whole social struc-
ture had to be reorganised, and the offices were
crowded with jostling individuals asking for
permissions and explanations which the over-
worked officials were unable to supply. One
of the most painful memories of the war was the
sight of refined-looking Austrians and Germans,
men and women, artists and writers, with the
puzzled hunted expression of people in a night-
mare, forced to appeal in public to hurrying
footmen and office boys for some indulgence
that might allow them to continue to earn their
living.

The guiding principle of most public offices at
this time, not only in Paris, seemed to be that
of sending people backward and forward until
their endurance should wear out. With what
should happen to them in case they did not

13



FROM THE TRENCHES

comply with all the new regulations the
military outlook was not concerned. Every
effort was to be concentrated on the preparation
for war. The civilian in such an atmosphere
has no further rights. If we permit, as nations,
the whole civilised order of existence to be
pitched into a whirlpool of primitive passions,
we must expect to have to scuffle personally for
our life-belts.

On the third day of my stay in Paris the
situation was indescribably relieved by the
declaration of war between England and Germany.
The rush on the banks stopped. Prices fell.
Money became easier, and the crowd of British
and other tourists, sitting on their boxes in
nervous lines before the Consulates, diminished.
The growing hostility of the Parisians to our-
selves disappeared. The organization in the
responsible offices, in so far as the public was
concerned, began to assume some order.

Night and day the regiments passed through
and round the city. The mobilisation was rapid
and extremely orderly. There was no apparent
hitch. We became confident that the prophecies

14



THE OUTBREAK

that France would be found unprepared
would be proved totally wrong. Gradually
the requisitioned cabs and trams began to
reappear in the streets. The women quietly
stepped into the men's places as ticket-
collectors, etc. With reduced numbers and
closed shops, a graver population took up its
ordinary life.

It was very soon apparent that no official
correspondents were to be allowed with the
French or British forces. A large proportion of
the remaining officials, not to say ourselves,
could have been saved infinite bother if the inten-
tion had been declared from the first. After a
week spent without profit in ante-chambers and
bureaus, I decided to get through to Belgium,
where there seemed to be better possibility of
approaching actual events. Chance helped me
to secure a more picturesque fashion of return
than I could have hoped for.

Saturday, August 10th.

I am just back from the first, and " probably
the last," visit that a civilian will be able to pay

15



FROM THE TRENCHES

to the French frontier until the situation has
considerably developed.

To have to wait a day in a queue to obtain
a permit to leave, another to secure a ticket,
and even a third to confirm it by getting a
definite seat on a numbered train, can dis-
courage the most patient. The miracle of
deliverance, however, took place ; and it was
brought about by the agency of a chance meeting
with a genial chauffeur. There followed an
introduction to his employers, a party of Belgian
officers returning to their own army, and an
amiable invitation to evade some of the weari-
ness of the irregular train journey by taking
a lift.

That this was extended beyond all limits con-
templated by military regulations must be
attributed to a reluctance to turn out on a dark,
wet night, in unknown districts, one of a nation
whose intervention, as I was assured, has con-
tributed much to the magnificent spirit with
which the Belgian troops have supported the
first rush of the " invincible machine."

We left Paris with the Boulevards almost

16



THE OUTBREAK

as crowded as ever, but with half the colour
and light gone, and a note of unusual gravity
in the aspect and talk of the moving stream.

Out through the long, dark suburbs, with
the last signal, the flare of the searchlight from
the Eiffel Tower, blinking its messages across
the clouds high above our heads in front. In
the first two miles we were stopped half-a-dozen
times ; business-like question and answer in
quick, suppressed voices. Then the checks de-
creased as we ran out into the dark fields, though
the flash of fight upon arms, the challenge and
halt came still at bridge and corner. The
' word of the day ' passed us at only reduced
pace through the larger pickets, but the less
well-informed solitary sentry had to be more
fully satisfied; and the more, the further from
Paris.

Then longer and longer intervals of tremendous
racing, unchecked ; for the car drove at full
speed, and there is no peace traffic ! The light
of the Eiffel Tower disappeared behind, but
there was still the consciousness, in the most
remote darkness, that above us darted ceaselessly

17



FROM THE TRENCHES

the continuous stream of wireless messages
linking the brain of the army in the little room
in unseen Paris with every movement of the
vast protecting arms that already lie outstretched
to guard France. Through Senlis, Compiegne,
St. Quentin, and, at last, Cambrai. It was only
possible to calculate the probable towns by the
intervals of time, for in each case we were turned
off on to side circuits.

When I had passed south to Paris a few days
before, on a more westerly line, the country
had still seemed inhabited, though by a mixed
race : crowds of little red and blue soldiers
resting, marching, crammed in troop trains, and
knots of men and women at the village corners,
or staring at the gates of the huge deserted
factories.

Now it seemed an empty land. All the life
had passed east into the great war cloud. Only
now and again the flash of the lamp on a cluster
of boys and older men, sitting or lying by the
road ; the non-combatants of the villages from
the war region tramping west, with blue check
bundles tied on the handles of their reaping

18



THE OUTBREAK

hooks, to earn what they could, for the later
repair of their losses, by helping to harvest.
Need for it, too, as the sight of the immense
fields of grain, unreaped or half reaped, yellowing
the lonely fields of the uninhabited country,
suggest ruin to the traveller passing in the train.

Before Cambrai we passed under a thicker
darkness of cloud, and met a torrent of rain
that for the rest of the night and morning hid
everything but the glint of the lamps on falling
drops or the more vivid gleam of fixed bayonets.

As we neared the frontier the country seemed
to become populous again. The cottages had
lights; lights in the fields and through the
trees. Only, as we passed, the strangeness
increased, for the population had come from a
different planet. Quiet cottages, with the glow
of uniforms through the wet panes, fields with
a few tireless peasant women, helped by good-
humoured soldiers, using even the darkness for a
desperate effort to get in the forsaken crops.
The sight of arms and wagons seemed all the
less fitting in the quiet villages because there
was no suggestion of war.

19



FROM THE TRENCHES

One picture stands out vividly ; the glare of
the lights through the rain on a sentry motionless
on guard, while a dozen peasant women, tired
doubtless from the day's reaping, slept in his
charge, lying under the ridge of the field where
they had been working.

Beyond Cambrai I was not at liberty to note
our direction or record any details — a natural
condition.

In fact, there would be little to record ; for
the night was a continuance of sounds, of lights,
of moving unseen men and horses ; and of sudden
challenges, coming out of the darkness through
the rush of rain. Only I may add that in one
village our welcome was marked by a different
French intonation as the men gathered round
us, and a Belgian advance patrol exchanged
jokes with my companions.

Our route from Cambrai, as a matter of fact,
took us to Valenciennes, where the Belgian
officers left me, hurrying to Maubeuge, while I
returned by car to Douai.

In the grey of the morning I emerged, passing
north of Douai, and now without my companions.

20



THE OUTBREAK

As we raced west, still through rain, we passed
again into deserted countries. The great
machine had done its work. The mobilisation
was complete. The dotted sentries, gradually
changing from the smart field soldier to the
paternal reservist squeezed into a uniform — or
partial uniform, seemed the only jetsam of the
coloured turmoil of the early week.

The crawling railway, the American ladies
complaining of the slow trains and closed buffets,
brought us back to ordinary life. Officials,
struggling to make us take their passports and
their war- regulations seriously, failed to revive
any reality of impression.

The war frontier, in rain and darkness, was
drifting back into the vague excitement of
newspaper reports.

The separation by nationalities was in full
progress. France was being cleared of all
strangers. The consuls, for reasons not clear,
were advising all British residents to return to
England at once. The chief sufferers were the
children, boys at school in France, children left
for visits or cures with French families or in

21



FROM THE TRENCHES

boarding houses. Before I reached Folkestone
there must have been at least fifteen such small
strays who had had to be adopted and looked
after during the succeeding stages of the journey.



22



CHAPTER II

The First Days in Brussels

Restarting almost immediately, I crossed to
Ostend. On the way there were the usual re-
assuring but unrecordable sights of the sentinel
cruisers and busy submarines that T made these
frequent passages seem, after later weeks in the
war countries, like an escape into a comfortable
atmosphere of home.

At Ostend a party of efficient St. John
Ambulance nurses with whom I had travelled
were received with delightful enthusiasm, and
free lemonade, by the Belgian soldiers.

Brussels proved a contrast after Paris. The
panic days, which took a milder form here in
spite of, or because of, the greater proximity of
danger, had passed. The townsfolk were abso-
lutely calm, the shops open, the life, except for
the absence of means of traffic, undisturbed.

23



FROM THE TRENCHES

Only at intervals, as the chance of the German
occupation increased, and the news diminished,
there would come over the city for a few hours,
one of those electric restless waves which we
got to know as signs of approaching danger.
They arose from no definite news. The crowds
repeated no rumours. It was merely an uneasy
feeling in the air. Something had happened
far off, and like the unseen fall of a heavy stone
in water the ripple reached and spread over the
city, that yet had no definite information to
disturb it.

Brussels, Monday.

In addition to the well- deserved enthusiasm
with which Belgian heroism in arms has been
greeted throughout civilised Europe, something
must be said of the success with which the
extraordinary demands have been met by the
departments of the civil administration of
Belgium.

During the last few days I have been in
contact with a variety of administrative offices
in the capitals of three of the belligerent Powers.
In one country it seems as yet unrecognised

24



THE FIRST DAYS IN BRUSSELS

that exceptional conditions demand exceptional
organisation. In another there is frank con-
fusion, due to the withdrawal of the majority
of the efficient administrative staff to the war
and the concentration of the remainder solely
on military requirements. Only in Brussels
has it been recognised in time that the civil
life of a country, properly controlled, is as
important to success as any section of the
work of mobilisation, and that it is not sufficient
to proclaim a state of war and leave everything
to an already over-worked military organisa-
tion.

Some genius (we know now it was Burgomaster
Max) must have been behind the details of
city administration here, for in their way they
have been as successful in maintaining public
confidence as the personality of the mountaineer
King has been in inspiring magnificent en-
thusiasm in his army. The streets are kept
orderly, retail trade is almost normal, railway
traffic has been rarely interfered with by the
immense task of mobilisation; the compli-
cations of travellers and passports are simpli-



25



FROM THE TRENCHES

tied and dealt with efficiently and considerately ;
the Press control is effective but courteous ;
the hospitals are admirably organised ; and
the crowds are kept from the stations, on the
arrival of wounded or prisoners.

All civil organisations are made use of, and
even the Boy Scouts are doing excellent work
for all branches, without the error — increasing
across the border — of considering themselves
semi- combatants. The result is that though
the crisis, after the first few days, is being met
in all the capitals with gravity and quiet reso-
lution, Brussels — the most immediately threat-
ened — remains a model of civic life under strict
but considerate administration.

The moral, if any, is that even in actual war
nations are only the weaker for having to send
the whole of their manhood to the front. To
convert the whole community, with its varied
forces of activity, into a single military machine,
is to make the machine itself less effective.

Brussels, Tuesday.

I have been given to-day every facility

26



THE FIRST DAYS IN BRUSSELS

to inspect the excellent organisation for the
care of the wounded. A noticeable feature
at the central office is the extent to which
amateur help is made use of in organising, and
the efficiency and open mind with which un-
expected contingencies are met and suggestions
considered.

(Later a growing amount of the unqualified
" Red Cross " help was found to be open to the
same objections that were made to it as the
result of our own experience in the Boer War.)

If experience in Paris and Brussels can be
turned to account, the British authorities should
pay attention to the organisation of private
motor-cars lent to the force, to make them of
real service. A large proportion are apt to
race about without purpose or serviceable re-
turn — the usual difficulty with a crowd of
enthusiastic would-be helpers.

The prisoners at Bruges confirm the im-
pression that the commissariat arrangements
of the advance guard of the invading German
columns was very defective, owing to the un-
expected resistance. The nature of the wounds

27



FROM THE TRENCHES

bears out the reports of inexpert German shoot-
ing. A great number of the Belgian soldiers
brought back from the front are wounded below
the knee, and a smaller proportion in the scalp.

The Bruges authorities are most considerate
in allowing books and games to be sent to the
prisoners of war, and letters to be sent and
received. (We were permitted to send down
dozens of packs of cards etc., as a distraction
for the prisoners.)

The population remains completely calm,
even at a time when the next few days may
decide their fate. The passage of a German
aeroplane yesterday aroused only momentary
curiosity. (Every day at about five o'clock
the aeroplanes circled over the town. We got
to look for them. Almost every night also a
bright planet, the " Brussels star " was watched
by interested crowds, who took it for a " Zep-
pelin.")

I witnessed to-day the feeding of some 10,000
children of men at the front. The distribution
was excellently organised. Later I saw the
distribution of vegetables to the necessitous.

28



THE FIRST DAYS IN BRUSSELS

These days of anxious waiting are taken with
quiet resolution and much good humour.

Brussels, Wednesday.

The gallantry of the Belgian resistance has
astonished the world. It has surprised the
Belgians themselves. It would be a mistake
to look for its source only in the reconstitution
of the Army, a matter of the last few years;
or to find in it a justification of war, or a plea
for national military service as the regenerator
of racial vigour.

The war is only the opportunity for the
expression of a new Belgian democratic spirit.
The new service conditions have been merely
one of the agencies by which the idea of the
individual right to a greater share in self-govern-
ment, and the idea of the necessary condition
for such government, national independence,
have been disseminated.

If the Belgians are fighting heroically, it is
because they are fighting for an independence
which means not simply a national flag and a
coloured space on the map, but individual

29






FROM THE TRENCHES

liberty. They are defending, each man for
himself and his neighbour, a responsible share
in an increasingly popular Government. The
inspiration of the national resistance has been
the consciousness in each man of his share of


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Online LibraryGeoffrey Winthrop YoungFrom the trenches; Louvain to the Aisne, the first record of an eye-witness → online text (page 1 of 14)