Mr. Punch's History of the Great War online

. (page 12 of 17)
Online LibraryPunchMr. Punch's History of the Great War → online text (page 12 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

beginning of the end, the supreme test of the soul of the nation:

The little things of which we lately chattered -
The dearth of taxis or the dawn of Spring;
Themes we discussed as though they really mattered,
Like rationed meat or raiders on the wing; -

How thin it seems to-day, this vacant prattle,
Drowned by the thunder rolling in the West,
Voice of the great arbitrament of battle
That puts our temper to the final test.

Thither our eyes are turned, our hearts are straining,
Where those we love, whose courage laughs at fear,
Amid the storm of steel around them raining,
Go to their death for all we hold most dear.

New-born of this supremest hour of trial,
In quiet confidence shall be our strength,
Fixed on a faith that will not take denial
Nor doubt that we have found our soul at length.

O England, staunch of nerve and strong of sinew,
Best when you face the odds and stand at bay;
Now show a watching world what stuff is in you!
Now make your soldiers proud of you to-day!

Of our soldiers we at home cannot be too proud, from Field-Marshal to
officer's servant. As one of Mr. Punch's correspondents at the front
writes: "Dawn to me hereafter will not be personified as a rosy-fingered
damsel or a lovely swift-footed deity, but as a sturdy little man in khaki,
crimson-eared with cold, heralded and escorted by frozen wafts of outer
air, bearing in one knobby fist a pair of boots, and in the other a tin mug
of black and smoking tea." As for the charities and courtesies of war, as
interpreted by our soldiers, Mr. Punch can wish for no better illustration
than in these lines on "The German graves":

I wonder are there roses still
In Ablain St. Nazaire,
And crosses girt with daffodil
In that old garden there.
I wonder if the long grass waves
With wild-flowers just the same,
Where Germans made their soldiers' graves
Before the English came?

The English set those crosses straight
And kept the legends clean;
The English made the wicket-gate
And left the garden green;
And now who knows what regiments dwell
In Ablain St. Nazaire?
But I would have them guard as well
The graves we guarded there.

And when at last the Prussians pass
Among those mounds and see
The reverent cornflowers crowd the grass
Because of you and me,
They'll give, perhaps, one humble thought
To all the "English fools"
Who fought as never men have fought
But somehow kept the rules.

[Illustration: MADE IN GERMANY

CIVILISATION: "What's that supposed to represent?"

IMPERIAL ARTIST: "Why, 'Peace,' of course."

CIVILISATION: "Well, I don't recognise it - and I never shall."]

To turn from the crowning ordeal of our Armies to the activities of British
politicians on the eve of the great German attack is not a soul-animating
experience. Indeed, the efforts of Messrs. Snowden and Trevelyan, Pringle
and King almost justify the assumption that Hindenburg would have launched
his offensive earlier but for his desire not to interfere with the great
offensive conducted by his friends on the Westminster front. Our
anti-patriots, however, are placed in a dilemma. They were bound to side
with Germany, because of their rooted belief that England always must be
wrong. They were bound to hail the Bolshevik self-determinators because of
their entirely sound views on peace at any price. But now their two loves
are fighting like cats. Hence the problem: "Which am I (both can't well be
right), Pro-German or Pro-Trotskyite?" Discussions of pig shortage,
commandeered premises, the relations of the Government and Press, and the
duties of the Directors of Propaganda leave us cold or impatient. But
members of all parties have been united in genuine grief over the death of
Mr. John Redmond, snatched away just when his distracted country most
needed his moderating influence. For in their anxiety not to interfere with
the deliberations of those patriotic Irishmen who are trying to settle how
Ireland shall be governed in the future, the Government are allowing it to
become ungovernable by anybody. A new and agreeable Parliamentary
innovation has been introduced by Sir Eric Geddes in the shape of an
immense diagram showing the downward tendency of the U-boat activities.
Other orators might with advantage follow this method. Indeed, there are
some whose speeches would be more enjoyable if they were all diagrams. As
for that pledge of the New Citizenship, the Education Bill, the debate on
the second reading has been such a long eulogy of its author that Mr.
Fisher would be well advised to offer a propitiatory sacrifice to Nemesis.



CUSTOMER: "Here, waiter, take a coupon off this and ask the band to play
five-penn'orth of 'The Roast Beef of Old England.'"]

Compulsory rationing is now an established fact, and the temporary
disappearance of marmalade from the breakfast table has called forth many a
_cri de coeur_. As one lyrist puts it:

Let Beef and Butter, Rolls and Rabbits fade,
But give me back my love, my Marmalade.

And another has addressed this touching vow to margarine:

Whether the years prove fat or lean
This vow I here rehearse:
I take you, dearest Margarine,
For butter or for worse.

It is reported that the Government's standard suits for men's wear will
soon be available. One is occasionally tempted to hope that women's
costumes might be similarly standardised.


The German Press announces the death of the notorious "Captain of
Koepenick," and the _Cologne Gazette_ refers to him as "the only man
who ever succeeded in making the German Army look ridiculous." This is the
kind of subtle flattery that the Hohenzollerns really appreciate.

_April, 1918_.

We have reached the darkest hours of the War and the clouds have not yet
lifted, though the rate of the German advance has already begun to slow
down. On the 11th the enemy broke through at Armentières and pushed their
advantage till another wedge was driven into the British line. On the 12th
Sir Douglas Haig issued his historic order: "With our backs to the wall,
and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the
end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind depend alike upon
the conduct of each one of us at the critical moment." The Amiens line
being under fire, it was impossible to bring French reinforcements north in
time to save Kemmel Hill and stave off the menace to the Channel ports. The
tale of our losses is grievous, and for thousands and thousands of families
nothing can ever be the same again. The ordeal of Paris has been renewed by
shelling from the German long-distance gun, the last and most sensational
of German surprise-packets. These are indeed dark days, yet already lit by
hopeful omens - the closer union of the Allies, the appointment of the
greatest French military genius, General Foch, as Generalissimo of the
Allied Forces, and his calm assurance that we have as yet lost "nothing
vital." America is pouring men into France and, without waiting to complete
the independent organisation of her Army, has chivalrously sent her troops
forward to be brigaded with French and British units. Even now there are
optimists, who are not fools, who maintain that Germany has shot her last
bolt and knows that she is losing. It is at least remarkable that German
newspapers are daily excusing the failure of their offensive to secure all
its objectives. There is clearly something wrong with the time-table and,
in the race of Man Power, time is on the side of the Allies.

Truth, long gagged and disguised, is coming to light in Germany. This has
been the month of the Lichnowsky disclosures - the Memoir of their
Ambassador, vindicating British diplomacy and saddling Germany with the
responsibility for the War. The time of publication is indeed unfortunate
for the Kaiser, who has been telling us how bitterly he hates war.



FATHER: "Here's to the fighter of lucky eighteen!" SON: "And here's to the
soldier of fifty!"]

For now from German lips the world may know
Facts that should want some skill for their confounding -
How Potsdam forced alike on friend and foe
A war of Potsdam's sole compounding.

How you, who itched to see the bright sword lunged,
Still bleating peace like innocent lambs in clover,
In all that bloody business you were plunged
Up to your neck and something over.

And, having fed on little else but lies,
Your people, with the hollow place grown larger
Now that the truth has cut off these supplies,
May want your head upon a charger.



THE KAISER (on reading the appalling tale of German losses): "What matter,
so we Hohenzollerns survive?"]

And what has England's answer been, apart from the stubborn and heroic
resistance of her men on the Western Front? The answer is to be found in
the immediate resolve to raise the age limit for service to 50, still more
in the glorious exploit of Zeebrugge and Ostend, in the incredible valour
of the men who volunteered for and carried through what is perhaps the most
astonishing and audacious enterprise in the annals of the Navy.

The pageantry of war has gone, but here at least is a magnificence of
achievement and self-sacrifice on the epic scale which beggars description
and transcends praise. The hornet's nest that has pestered us so long, if
not rooted out, has been badly damaged; our sailors, dead and living, have
once more proved themselves masters of the impossible.

At home Parliament, resuming business after the Easter recess, began by
giving a second Reading to a Drainage Bill, and ended its first sitting in
an Irish bog. Ireland throughout the month has dominated the proceedings,
aloof and irreconcilable, brooding over past wrongs, blind to the issues of
the War and turning her back on its realities. Mr. Lloyd George's plan of
making Home Rule contingent on compulsory service has been described by Mr.
O'Brien as a declaration of war on Ireland. Another Nationalist Member, who
at Question time urged on the War Office the necessity of according to its
Irish employees exactly the same privileges and pay as were given to their
British confrères, protested loudly a little later on against a Bill which
_inter alia_ extends to Irishmen the privilege of joining in the fight
for freedom. Mr. Asquith questioned the policy of embracing Ireland in the
Bill unless you could get general consent. Mr. Bonar Law bluntly replied
that if Ireland was not to be called upon to help in this time of stress
there would be an end of Home Rule, and that if the House would not
sanction Irish conscription it would have to get another Government. It
remained for Lord Dunraven, before the passing of the Bill in the House of
Lords, to produce as "a very ardent Home Ruler" the most ingenious excuse
for his countrymen's unwillingness to fight that has yet been heard.
Ireland, he tells us, has been contaminated by the British refugees who had
fled to that country to escape military service.



Zeebrugge, St. George's Day, 1918

ADMIRAL DRAKE (to Admiral Keyes): "Bravo, sir. Tradition holds. My men
singed a King's beard, and yours have singed a Kaiser's moustache."]

The Prime Minister, in reviewing the military situation, has attributed the
success of the Germans to their possessing the initiative and to the
weather. Members have found it a little difficult to understand why, if
even at the beginning of March the Allies were equal in numbers to the
enemy on the West and if, thanks to the foresight of the Versailles
Council, they knew in advance the strength and direction of the impending
blow, they ever allowed the initiative to pass to the Germans. It is known
that hundreds of thousands of men have been rushed out of England since the
last week of March. Why, if Sir Douglas Haig asked for reserves, were they
not sent sooner? These mysteries will be resolved some day. Meanwhile
General Trenchard, late chief of the Air Staff, and by general consent an
exceptionally brilliant and energetic officer, has retired into the limbo
that temporarily contains Lord Jellicoe and Sir William Robertson. But Lord
Rothermere (Lord Northcliffe's brother), who still retains the confidence
of Mr. Pemberton Billing. remains, and all is well. The enemy possibly
thinks it even better. "At least we should keep our heads," declared Mr.
Pringle during the debate on the Man-Power Bill. We are not sure about
this. It depends upon the heads.

It is a pity that the "New Oxford Dictionary" should have so nearly reached
completion before the War and the emergence of hundreds of new words, now
inevitably left out. The Air service has a new language of its own, witness
the conversation faithfully reported by an expert:


_First Pilot_. Why, it's Brown-Jones!

_Second Pilot_. Hullo, old thing! What are you doing now?

_First Pilot_. Oh, I'm down at Puddlemarsh teaching huns - monoavros,
pups and dolphins.

_Second Pilot_. I'm on the same game, down at Mudbank - sop-two-seaters
and camels. We've got an old tinside, too, for joy-riding.

_First Pilot_. You've given up the rumpety, then?

_Second Pilot_. Yes. I was getting ham-handed and mutton-fisted,
flapping the old things every day; felt I wanted to stunt about a bit.

_First Pilot_. Have you ever butted up against Robinson-Smith at
Mudbank? He was an ack-ee-o, but became a hun.

_Second Pilot_. Yes, he crashed a few days ago - on his first solo
flip, taking off - tried to zoom, engine konked, bus
stalled - sideslip - nose-dive. Not hurt, though. What's become of
Smith-Jones? Do you know?

_First Pilot_. Oh, yes. He's on quirks and ack-ws. He tried spads, but
got wind up. Have you seen the new - - -?

_Second Pilot_. Yes, it's a dud bus - only does seventy-five on the
ceiling. Too much stagger, and prop stops on a spin. Besides, I never did
care for rotaries. Full of gadgets too.

_First Pilot_. Well, I must tootle off now. I'm flapping from
Northbolt at dawn if my old airship's ready - came down there with a konking
engine - plug trouble.

_Second Pilot_. Well, cheerio, old thing - weather looks dud - you're
going to have it bumpy in the morning, if you're on a pup.

_First Pilot_, Bye-bye, you cheery old bean.



The Emperor Karl of Austria, by his recent indiscretions, is winning for
himself the new title of "His Epistolic Majesty." His suggestion that
France ought to have Alsace-Lorraine has grated on the susceptibilities of
his brother Wilhelm. But a new fastidiousness is to be noted in the Teuton
character. "Polygamy," says an article in a German review, "is essential to
the future of the German race, but a decent form must be found for it."

_May, 1918_.

With the coming of May the Vision of Victory which had nerved Germany to
her greatest effort seemed fading from her sight. With its last days we see
them making a second desperate effort to secure the prize, capturing
Soissons and the Chemin des Dames and pushing on to the Marne. This time
the French have borne the burden of the onslaught, but Rheims is still
held, the Americans are pouring in to France at the rate of 250,000 a
month, and have proved their mettle at Cantigny, a small fight of great
importance, as it "showed their fighting qualities under extreme battle
conditions," in General Pershing's words, and earned the praise of General
Debeney for the "offensive valour" of our Allies.

[Illustration: The Threatened Peace Offensive

GERMAN EAGLE (to British Lion): "I warn you - a little more of this
obstinacy and you'll rouse the dove in me!"]

The British troops have met Sir Douglas Haig's appeal as we knew they

Their _will_ to _win_ let Boches bawl
As loudly as they choose,
When once our back's against the wall
'Tis not our _wont to lose_.

Those who have gone back at the seventh wave are waiting for the tide to
turn. To the fainthearted or shaken souls who contend that no victory is
worth gaining at the cost of such carnage and suffering, these lines
addressed "To Any Soldier" may serve as a solvent of their doubts and an
explanation of the mystery of sacrifice:

If you have come through hell stricken or maimed,
Vistas of pain confronting you on earth;
If the long road of life holds naught of worth
And from your hands the last toil has been claimed;
If memories of horrors none has named
Haunt with their shadows your courageous mirth
And joys you hoped to harvest turn to dearth,
And the high goal is lost at which you aimed;

Think this - and may your heart's pain thus be healed -
Because of me some flower to fruitage blew,
Some harvest ripened on a death-dewed field,
And in a shattered village some child grew
To womanhood inviolate, safe and pure.
For these great things know your reward is sure.

The Germans have reached Sevastopol, but the Kaiser's Junior Partner in the
South is only progressing in the wrong direction. While Wilhelm is
laboriously struggling to get nearer the sea, Mehmed is getting farther and
farther away from it. The attitude of Russia remains obscure. Mr. Balfour
tells us that it is not the intention of the Government to appoint an
Ambassador to Russia. But there is talk of sending out an exploration party
to find out just where Russia has got to. Russia, however, is not the only
country whose attitude is obscure. The Leader of the Irish Nationalist
Party is reported to have said to a New York interviewer: "We believe that
the cause of the Allies is the cause of Freedom throughout the world." At
the same time, while repudiating the policy of the Sinn Feiners, he
admitted that he had co-operated with them in their resistance to the
demand that Ireland should defend the cause of Freedom. The creed of Sinn
Fein - "Ourselves Alone" - is at least more logical than that of these
neutral Nationalists:

And is not ours a noble creed
With Self uplifted on the throne?
Why should we bleed for others' need?
Our motto is "Ourselves Alone."

Why prate of ruined lands out there,
Of churches shattered stone by stone?
We need not care how others fare,
We care but for "Ourselves Alone."

Though mothers weep with anguished eyes
And tortured children make their moan,
Let others rise when Pity cries;
We rise but for "Ourselves Alone."

Let Justice be suppressed by Might,
And Mercy's seat be overthrown;
For Truth and Right the fools may fight,
We fight but for "Ourselves Alone."

Meanwhile, the gentle Mr. Duke has retired from the Chief Secretaryship to
the Judicial Bench; Mr. Shortt, his successor, recently voted against
conscription for Ireland; Lord French, the new Viceroy, is believed to
favour it. The appointments seem to have been made on the cancelling-out
principle, and are as hard to reconcile as the ministerial utterances on
the recent German push. Thus Mr. Macpherson declared that the crisis came
upon us like a thief in the night, while on the same day Mr. Churchill
observed that the German offensive had opened a month later than we had
calculated, and consequently our reserves in munitions were correspondingly
larger than they would have been. Anyhow, it is a good hearing that the
lost guns, tanks, and aeroplanes have all been more than replaced, and the
stores of ammunition completely replenished, while at the same time
munition workers have been released for the Army at the rate of a thousand
_a_ day. These results have been largely due to the wonderful work of
the women, who turned out innumerable shells of almost incredible
quality - not like that depicted by our artist.

[Illustration: THE DUD]

Mr. Bonar Law has brought in his Budget and asked for a trifle of 842
millions. We are to pay more for our letters, our cheques, and our tobacco.
The Penny Postage has gone, and the Penny Pickwick with it. For the rest we
have had the Maurice Affair, which looked like a means of resurrecting the
Opposition but ended in giving the Government a new lease of life, and Sir
Eric Geddes has given unexpected support to the allegations that the German
pill-boxes were made of British cement. At least he admitted that the port
of Zeebrugge was positively congested with shiploads of the stuff.
Proportional Representation has been knocked out for the fifth time in this
Parliament; and we have to thank Sir Mark Sykes for telling us that the
Whip's definition of a crank is "a wealthy man who does not want a
Knighthood, or a nobleman who does not want to be an Under-Secretary."

War is a great leveller. The Carl Rosa Company are about to produce an
opera by an English composer. And war _is_ teaching us to revise our
histories. For example, "'Nelson,' the greatest naval pageant film ever
attempted, will," says the _Daily News_, "tell the love story of
Nelson's life and the outstanding incidents of his career, including the
destruction of the Spanish Armada." No scandal about Queen Elizabeth, we
trust. The _Daily News_, by the way, is much exercised by Mr. Punch's
language towards the enemy, which it describes as being in the Billingsgate
vein. In spite of which rebuke, and at the risk of offending the readers of
that patriotic organ, Mr. Punch proposes to go on saying just what he
thinks of the Kaiser and his friends.

The price of tobacco, as we have seen, is becoming a serious matter, but
Ireland proposes to grapple with the problem in her own way. The
Ballinasloe Asylum Committee, according to an announcement in the
_Times_ of May 14, have decided, with the sanction of the authorities,
to grow tobacco leaf for the use of their inmates. "A doctor said that if
the patients were debarred from an adequate supply of tobacco there would
be no controlling them."

As a set-off to the anti-"Cuthbert" campaign in the Press the War Cabinet
has in its Report declared that "the whole Empire owes the Civil Service a
lasting debt of gratitude." It looks as if there was something in red tape
after all. We must not, however, fail to recognise the growth of the new
competitive spirit in the sphere of production, and Mr. Punch looks forward
to the establishment of Cup Competitions for Clydesdale Riveters and London
Allotment workers. Woman's work in munition factories has already been
applauded; her services on the land are now more in need than ever.

[Illustration: WOMAN POWER

CERES: "Speed the plough!"

PLOUGHMAN: "I don't know who you are, ma'am, but it's no good speeding the
plough unless we can get the women to do the harvesting."

(Fifty thousand more women are wanted on the land to take the place of men
called to the colours, if the harvest is to be got in.)]

_June, 1918_.

The danger is not past, but grounds for hope multiply. The new German
assault between Montdidier and Noyon has brought little substantial gain at
heavy cost. The attacks towards Paris have been held, and Paris, with
admirable fortitude, makes little of the attentions of "Fat Bertha." "The
struggle must be fought out," declared the Kaiser in the recent anniversary
of his accession to the throne. In the meanwhile no opportunities of
talking it out will be overlooked by the enemy. He is once more playing the
old game of striving to promote discord between the Allies. At the very
moment when the official communiqués announced the capture of 45,000
prisoners, the Chancellor began a new peace-offensive, aimed primarily at
France, and supported by mendacious reports that the French Government were
starting for Bordeaux, Clemenceau overthrown, and Foch disgraced. But the
campaign of falsehood has proved powerless to shake France or impose on the
German people. Commandeered enthusiasm is giving place to grave discontent.
The awakening of Germany has begun, and the promise of a speedy peace falls
on deaf ears. In the process of enlightenment the Americans have played a
conspicuous part, in spite of the persistent belittlement of the military
experts in the official German Press. The stars in their courses have
sometimes seemed to fight for Germany, but they are withdrawing their aid.


IMPERIAL TRAINER (to his dog Karl): "Now then, no nonsense: through you

[Illustration: THE CELESTIAL DUD.

KAISER: "Ha! A new and brilliant star added to my constellation of the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryPunchMr. Punch's History of the Great War → online text (page 12 of 17)