John Buchan.

Francis and Riversdale Grenfell, a memoir online

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picked up a good deal, and have as yet never received any-
thing but the utmost courtesy and hospitality. I find I get
most out of taxi-drivers. They are either old soldiers, sailors,
invalids, or Socialists. I met one who had been in the German
South- West African war. He told me 400 men died in his
regiment, and the loss in the army was terrific through bad
water arrangements. Another was in the navy. He told me
many of the men are not half trained ; they bring men from
Wiirtemberg as conscripts who have never heard of or seen
the sea, and have in three years to be taught everything. I
personally cannot see how three years' service can make sol-
diers or sailors. . . .

' These people are very methodical but terribly slow.
They take ten hours to do what we do in six. I have not yet
seen much of the wonderful education of which we hear, and
have met a good many thick heads. Several officers have told
me they have not read a book for ten years. Germany, to
my mind, is not half what we think it is in England. Some
things are done very well, but I have seen a great many done
far better, and I am not half as impressed as I was with


America. Nevertheless, I like these people. The women
Heaven save us from ever copying them I They are not
beautiful. . . .

" Berlin is one mass of demi-mondaines, caf6s, restaurants
one mass. The great entertainment place is the Palais de
Dance. It is most luxurious, and you might, if you did not
look at the women, think you were at a London ball. The
women are most respectable-looking, but you can see that if
you want to dance you will get plenty of exercise, as once
round any of the dancers is equal to about twice round

Germany revived Francis's interest in politics
and soldiering. In July he wrote a long letter to
Mr. Churchill congratulating him on a speech
he had made.

" All the people I have seen appreciated very much its
straightforwardness. The German character seems both to
understand and prefer plain speech to diplomacy. They are
a very suspicious people. They openly say that though they
understand that you spoke earnestly, they think you are un-
friendly. They want to be very friendly, but on equal and
not on inferior terms as at present. They openly talk of
going to war in the near future with France, partly from arro-
gance and partly from a craze so to weaken France that they
can diminish their military forces and increase their naval.
It does not look as if they would take on both France and
England together, and therein lies the hope of peace. They
want to crush France on land and to be strong enough on the
sea to detain or delay a British army from landing on the Con-
tinent, so as to discourage British participation in a war be-
tween France and Germany. My opinion of the Germans has
greatly declined since I came out here. They are not as good
in quantity or quality as they represent themselves. Their
character is to shake hands warmly and openly, but to keep


the other fist doubled in their pocket. . . . I am as certain
that the Germans are riding for a fall as I am that you are
riding to win."

In September came the Imperial manoeuvres,
that year held in Saxony, and Francis was deter-
mined to be present. The English representa-
tives had already been appointed, so he was unable
to go officially. Accordingly he hired a motor car
and went as a spectator, giving a lift to a journalistic
friend. When he arrived at the Bellevue Hotel
in Dresden, he had a bad sick headache and went
straight to bed ; so his friend filled up the police
paper in which Francis's name was entered without
his military rank. Unaware of this Francis sent
a note to the cavalry barracks, saying he had a car
and asking if any officer would like to go with
him. This discovered to the police the fact that
he was an English officer, and they promptly
decided that he was a spy. The result was that
a few days later, when he came back from watching
the manoeuvres, he found a police inspector in
his room, who presented him with a letter saying
that he must leave Dresden in twelve hours and
Saxony in twenty-four. Francis was in a sad
quandary, and, as was his practice on such occa-
sions, he appealed straight to Caesar. He re-
membered that he and Rivy the year before in
London had shown some kindness to a son of


the Saxon Chancellor, Baron Metzsch. Off went
Francis to the Chancellor's house. The great
man was not at home, but the Baroness received
him warmly and asked him to breakfast the next
morning. The matter was immediately straight-
ened out. The police authorities laughed and
shook hands, and Francis roamed throughout the
rest of the manoeuvres at his own sweet will.

In October he returned to England and put
the result of his German experiences into a little
pamphlet, which he printed privately and circu-
lated to a number of friends. He returned to
Germany for a short visit in December, and real-
ized that his pamphlet, if it got about, might do
him serious harm. On Mr. Churchill's advice he
accordingly recalled all the copies. Its contents
were simply an elaboration of what he had written
in his letters. As it turned out, he had rightly
diagnosed the trend of German feeling. " They
are conscious of having attained such a position
in the world that they resent being second to any,
and they feel that the English block their way ;
consequently they are not only jealous at heart,
but can scarcely conceal their jealousy. No
amount of pacific and philanthropic talk either
in England or in Germany will prevent the latter
from trying to get stronger and stronger, with a
hope of some day being the foremost Power of


the world. Even the Socialists would favour a
war against France, because once France is
crushed there is a chance of military service being
less rigorous in Germany. . . . Careful observa-
tions convince me that if we wish to preserve
peace it is necessary for us to be so strong that
it will be impossible for the Germans to make
war, as they would jump at any opportunity
should they find us weak and isolated."

While Francis was in Berlin Rivy had been
deep in polo, and had got badly bitten with
ballooning. The year before he had made an
airplane reconnaissance with Loraine during his
yeomanry training, and in June Captain Mait-
land* took him up at Hurlingham in one of the
new military balloons. They passed over Middle-
sex, Hertfordshire, Huntingdon, and Lincoln-
shire, and made an exciting landing six miles
from Hull at 11.35 tnat night. A little later I
find him writing to Francis suggesting that they
should enter with Maitland for the long-distance
ballooning record, at that moment held by the
French. The year before Maitland had travelled
1,1 1 8 miles into the middle of Russia, and he
now wanted to break the French record of 1,200
miles, starting in November when the westerly
gales began. Nothing came of the scheme.

* Now Brig. -General Maitland, C.M.G., D.S.O.

(2,187) 12


Business took Rivy to Canada with his brother
Arthur on i6th August. They travelled in a
large party, and made a stately progress through
the Dominion. I can only find one letter from
Rivy during the tour, describing Sir Arthur
Lawley's speech. " Joe Lawley made a speech
on the responsibilities of Canada at Ottawa
which brought tears to people's eyes, and made a
very great impression. I will bring back a copy
of it. It was by far the best speech that any of
us had ever heard in our lives. I never realized
he could do such a thing, and it made us very
proud to think that we had an Englishman who
could make such a speech, especially after Sir
Wilfrid Laurier's very moderate effort."

In December of 1912 Arthur Grenfell had a
bad horse accident, and Rivy found himself in
consequence more closely tied to his office. In
January 1913 the 9th Lancers went to Tidworth
on Salisbury Plain, and in order that the brothers
might spend their week-ends together, Rivy took
the Red House in the neighbourhood, where he
marked out a training ground for his polo ponies.
In September 1912 Francis had been gazetted
captain, and a little later was appointed adjutant.
In the summer of 1913 he was working for the
Staff College examination, and finally entered for
it in great pain from a sprained ankle, w r hich,


taken in conjunction with the variety of his
recent pursuits, made his success in qualifying the
more remarkable. I find Francis writing to the
King of Spain in January begging him to visit
the Qth Lancers at Tidworth, and in any case
to let his Military Attache come and stay with
them. " I can always give him horses or ponies
to ride and introduce him to other officers of the
garrison, including general officers, of which there
are almost as many here as private soldiers. . . .
Should you manage to come over to England for
Cowes, my regiment is stationed only about forty
miles from Southampton, and we could give you
a good game of polo every day. You could motor
over quietly and privately, and no one need know
anything about it. Please keep this in mind, as
a match between the i6th Lancers, with your
Majesty playing, and the 9th Lancers, would
make a fine combat. We have read with great
interest about the reforms you have introduced
in Spain, and the courage you have shown. It
might well be said of Spain what Frederick the
Great once said of England about Pitt, ' England,
at any rate, has now a man at the head of affairs.'
I am afraid it will not be possible for me to come
over to Spain in the spring and enjoy the good
sport we had two years ago. I am now adjutant,
and find it hard to get away. We are very busy


in case of a war, which we are quite ready for
and looking forward to. If we go to war, as
many Spanish officers as want to see it should
join the Qth Lancers, for our one hope is to be
in the advanced guard.'*

The year 1913 was passed pleasantly by both
Twins in London and Tidworth, with such breaks
as a trip to Paris with the Duke of Westminster
at Christmas. Their real home was at Roe-
hampton with their brother Arthur, for whom
they had a deep affection. There among his
children they seemed to be children themselves
again. It was a period of that close companion-
ship which for both was the main secret of hap-
piness. I have never seen anything like their
fidelity to each other. They had their own
secret whistles and calls, and if either heard the
other's summons it was his duty at once to leave
whatever he was doing and obey it. In ordinary
company they were just like two dogs. Francis
would rise and leave the room, and Rivy would be
apparently unconscious for some minutes of his
departure. Then he would grow restless, and
presently get up and saunter out to find his twin.

At this time they were most conspicuous
figures in English society. They knew every one
and went everywhere ; and I fear that Rivy's
devotion to letters must have declined, for with


his quicksilver brother at home he had small
opportunity for the studious life. But he did a
remarkable thing, which I think must be almost
unprecedented. To help Francis in his Staff
College work he took many of his classes with
him, read the same text-books, and went through
the same coaching. This must have been a real
effort, since at the time he was deeply engaged in
his brother Arthur's business and carrying many
new responsibilities. For the rest, both led the
varied and comfortable life which used to be the
perquisite of well-credentialled, reasonably rich,
and socially agreeable young men in England.
Each had the gift of oxygenating the atmosphere
in which he moved and waking a sense of life
in the flattest place. This was partly due, I
think, to the curious charm of their appearance :
they seemed always to be moving, or poised for
movement ; the ardour in their eyes was an anti-
dote for ennui; they gave the impression of
never in their lives having been bored or idle.
Partly it sprang from their real ingenuousness.
They were acutely interested in everything in
the world, and refused to hide their interest after
the conventional English fashion. Often the
results were comic. They had vast stores of
ignorance, and would ask questions of an un-
believable naivete. But comic or not it was a


most endearing trait, for it was perfectly natural,
without pose or premeditation. It was this habit
that especially attracted older men. Francis and
Rivy were at their best with their seniors. Al-
ways respectful, they yet managed to treat an
elder as if he were only a much wiser contempo-
rary one in whom the fires of youth were by no
means dead. Their attitude was deferential in that
it recognized superior wisdom, familiar since it
assumed a comradeship in everything else. Also
they revelled in " shop," and welcomed anybody
who would tell them anything new. I have seen
Rivy, with bright eyes, hanging on the words of
an aged general, or banker, or professor, or
quondam master of hounds, cross-examining him
in an earnest quest for knowledge ; and the
flattered face of the examinee showed how he
relished the compliment.

To most of us the dividing line between the
old and the new world was drawn in the first
week of August 1914. But for the Twins it
came earlier. Three months before the cataclysm
of the nations they felt their own foundations
crumbling. . . . Their brother Arthur's firm,
in which Rivy was a partner, had had a career of
meteoric brilliance, and had naturally aroused
much jealousy among others who had entered for


the same stakes. From 1912 onward it had been
riding high speculative tides, where the hand of a
skilled helmsman was badlv needed. But Arthur 's


accident in the winter of that year kept him away
from business for a considerable time, and when


he returned it seemed to many of his friends that
he was not the man he had been. Rivy had to
deal on his own initiative with intricate matters
which he probably never understood, for his
business training had always been sketchy and
inadequate. The affairs of the firm grew more
and more involved, with the result that in the
early months of 1914 a crash was imminent. In
May the blow fell. The downfall of their brother 's
business involved every penny of the Twins'

This was the true tragedy of their lives, for
the war brought no such bitterness. It meant
that Rivy was a broken man in his profession,
and that Francis must give up most of his am-
bitions. It made one's heart ache to see
them, stunned, puzzled, yet struggling to keep
a brave front, and clamouring to take other
people's loads on their backs. Uncomplainingly
they played what they decided was their last
game of polo, and sold their ponies. Rivy was
like one in a dream, trying to make out landmarks
in an unfamiliar universe. Some terrible thing


had happened, and by his fault for his quixotic
loyalty made him ready to shoulder all the blame
but he could not understand how or why.
He was full of schemes to restore their fortunes,
and I have rarely known anything so tragic as
to listen to his schemes and endeavour to ex-
plain their bottomless futility. ... It was a time
when a man's friends are tested, and nobly
most of their friends stood the trial. But there
were others who, in the noonday of prosperity,
had been ready to lick their boots, and who now
invented slanders and gloated over the downfall.
In my haste I considered that a public thrash-
ing would have best met such cases ; but the
brothers seemed to be incapable of anger. It was
their gentleness that was so difficult to watch
unmoved. They neither broke nor bent under
calamity, but simply stood still and wondered.
All that for fourteen years they had planned to-
gether had gone by the board, but they grieved
about everybody's loss more than their own. It
was the same with both : in that bad time they
spoke and felt and thought with one spirit.

In the late summer of 1914 those of us who
were trying against heavy odds to reach a settle-
ment of the brothers* affairs were aware of a
mysterious current moving throughout the world's


finance, which thwarted all our efforts. Though
we did not know it at the time, it was the first
muttering of the great storm. By the middle of
July it was clear that nothing could be done, and
then suddenly that happened which submerged
all personal disasters in a universal downfall. On
Tuesday, 4th August, Britain sent an ultimatum
to Germany, and at midnight entered upon war.
What to most people was like the drawing in of
a dark curtain was to the Twins an opening of
barred doors into the daylight. For Francis the
career which seemed at an end was to be resumed
upon an august stage, and for Rivy the chance
had come to redeem private failure in public


IN 1909, when Francis went hunting north of
the Zambezi, he travelled to the Victoria Falls
with Colonel Marling, V.C., then Brigadier- Gen-
eral commanding the Potchefstroom district. He
used to stare across the veld for hours at a time
out of the window of the observation car, and
once Colonel Marling asked what he was think-
ing about. " I was thinking how beautiful all
this is," was the answer. " It makes me long to
do something great. " What makes the hero?
Emerson asks, and replies,

" He must be musical,
Tremulous, impressional."

I never heard that Francis was musical, and he was
about as tremulous as a brick wall. But he was
always most sensitive to impressions, and in both
the Twins a vein lay hidden of unspoken poetry.
They now entered upon the struggle with a kind
of awed and hushed expectation. It had long been
at the back of their minds, and consciously and



unconsciously they had been preparing for it.
This little book is not a war memoir,, for only a
fraction of the Twins' lives fell under the great
shadow for Rivy about five weeks, and for
Francis less than ten months. But, looking back,
the war seems to have been always a part of their
outlook. Both had the standpoint of the regular
soldier ; neither suffered the hesitations and
divided impulses of the less fortunate civilian.
But their outlook in one sense was not the common
professional one of the man who looks forward
to the practice of an art in which he has been
trained. Coming, as it did, to relieve them from
their perplexities, the crisis seemed to them to
carry with it a solemn trust, which they undertook
with willingness, indeed, but with something of
the gravity of those who feel themselves in the
hands of destiny.

The declaration of war found them together
at Tidworth. Rivy was determined to go out
with Francis, so he managed to get himself trans-
ferred from his proper unit, the Bucks Hussars,
as a reserve officer of the 9th Lancers. Every
moment of his time was devoted to sitting at
his brother's feet and learning what he could
teach him of the art of war, and to buying his
equipment with feverish haste. The Twins de-
cided to take six horses between them, and they


borrowed an additional groom from the Duke of
Westminster. " I am to take command of a
squadron," wrote Francis in glee to Lord Grenfell.
" My regiment was never better or more prepared
in its history. . . . My dear old Uncle, you
have been so kind to us that words to thank you
fail me. If we survive you, we will look after
your children and see that they get jolly well
swished at Eton." On Thursday, I3th August,
I find this note in his diary :

" The Colonel [David Campbell] had dismounted parade
at two o'clock. He made a splendid speech in which he
recalled all the great deeds of the past which had been per-
formed by the gth : how in the Mutiny the regiment had
carried out its duties and several officers obtained V.C.'s,
with such distinction that when it left India the Viceroy gave
orders that it should be saluted by forty-one guns. This
had never been done before, and has never been done since.
In Afghanistan it had been greatly praised by Lord Roberts ;
in South Africa it fought for two years with the greatest
distinction, and received the highest compliments from all its
commanders. He also reminded us that Lieutenant Mac-
donald had on one occasion fought till every man and himself
had been killed. He told us that we were going forth to the
war with the greatest traditions to uphold. Nothing could be
finer than his speech, or could possibly have appealed more
to the officers and men."

The regiment embarked on the i5th. That
morning Francis wrote to Lord Grenfell :

" You will receive this when we have gone forth to war.
We entrain to-day at i p.m., and hope to reach France to-


night. We leave very quietly as if marching to manoeuvres,
but a more magnificent regiment never moved out of barracks
for war. Every one is full of enthusiasm. Rivy goes with
me, and it is a great thing having him. Good-bye, my dear
Uncle. You have all my affection, and no one has ever been
kinder than you have been to me during my lifetime. So far
I have been the luckiest man alive.. I have had the happiest
possible life, and have always been working for war, and have
now got into the biggest in the prime of life for a soldier.
We will tell you some fine tales when we return with a bottle
of the best from the Rhine."

That same day Rivy wrote to me the last
letter I had from him. " I cannot leave the
country without writing to thank you, my dear
John, for all you have done for me in our troubles.
. . . Thank God, we are off in an hour. Such
a magnificent regiment ! Such men, such horses !
Within ten days I hope Francis and I will be
riding side by side straight at the Germans. We
will think of you, old boy."

They got to Boulogne late on the evening of
the 1 6th, and, passing through Amiens and Mau-
beuge, detrained at Jeunot in the afternoon of the
17th. The letters home from both during those
days were very scrappy, consisting chiefly of
references to the hard game of polo which they
expected to play at any moment, and the close
touch which they had established with the other
players. Francis, however, kept a careful diary,


and it is curious, considering what was to happen,
that his main object seems to have been to record
every moment which he spent with Rivy, and all
that Rivy said or did. He was in command of
" B " Squadron, and was determined to keep it up
to the mark. Take, for example, this entry on
1 8th August : "I had reason to find fault with
the turn-out of the men, boots and spurs having
been allowed to get rusty ; so I formed up the
squadron and told them I insisted on the turn-out
being good throughout the campaign, as it was
proverbial that the best turned-out troop was
nine times out of ten the best fighting one. I
said that because the men were on active service
there was no reason why they should imagine
that they had ceased to be the Ninth and become
colonials. I ordered the few men whose turn-out
was very bad to march two miles on foot on the
way home, and I told them in future that any
man who was reported to me badly turned out
would have his horse taken away from him and
be made to tramp. I am certain that this had a
great effect on the squadron."

From Jeunot the Ninth moved to Obrechies.
" B ' Squadron was the first cavalry unit to
arrive, and naturally had a great reception from
both French and Belgians. On the iQth and 2Oth
it did a reconnaissance into Belgian territory,


and on Friday the 2ist marched to Harmignies.
There Sir John French, it will be remembered,
was taking up position in advance of the left flank
of the French Fifth Army, preparatory to a move
against the German flank in Belgium. The pres-
ence of von Billow's Second Army was fairly well
known, but there was more or less a mystery
about the whereabouts of von Kluck. He was
believed to be somewhere in the neighbourhood
of Waterloo, but neither the French nor the British
Staff had any guess at the strength of his forces,
or the great wheel which he was to undertake.
That Friday night the Twins were billeted in
Harmignies, and on Saturday the 22nd they
remained there till the evening, when the Ninth
were sent out to Thulin, where they arrived early
in the morning of the 23rd. They were now

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Online LibraryJohn BuchanFrancis and Riversdale Grenfell, a memoir → online text (page 12 of 16)