Current History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 online

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Dublin on April 20, with John Dillon presiding, and passed a resolution
in which they declared that the enforcement of compulsory military
service on a nation without its assent constituted "one of the most
brutal acts of tyranny and oppression of which any Government can be

Fifteen hundred delegates of labor unions met at the Mansion House,
Dublin, on April 20, and pledged their resistance to conscription. They
also fixed April 23 for the stoppage of all work as an earnest of this
resolve and to enable all workers to sign the pledge of resistance. The
complete stoppage of work was duly observed on the day mentioned, and
passed off for the most part in a quiet and orderly manner.

Sunday, April 21, was observed throughout Catholic Ireland as the day
for the administration by the priests of the anti-conscription covenant.
From every Catholic pulpit conscription was the subject of discourse,
and the action of the Bishops and political leaders was explained. The
assemblies where the pledge was taken were generally outside the
churches, sometimes in the open air, sometimes in a hall. The practice
followed in many cases was for the priest to read the pledge, sentence
by sentence, the people reciting after him. In other cases the pledge
was given by the raising of hands or the signing of a paper. The Bishops
took part with the inferior clergy in administering the pledge,
addressing the people and generally warning them against isolated and
unconsidered action. They urged obedience to the orders of the
recognized leaders, who act in co-operation. All classes, including
lawyers, bankers, and merchants, as well as farmers and workmen, took
the pledge.

On May 1 an Order in Council was issued by the British Government
postponing the operation of the National Service, or conscription, act
in Ireland beyond that date, to which it had been previously postponed.

Premier Lloyd George, commenting on the new attitude of the Irish Home
Rulers in a letter addressed on May 2 to Irish workers on the Tyneside
in England, wrote:

The difficulties have not been rendered easier of settlement by the
challenge to supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament in that
sphere, which always has been regarded as properly belonging to it
by all advocates of home rule, which recently was issued by the
Nationalist Party and the Roman Catholic Hierarchy in concert with
the leaders of the Sinn Fein.

While Nationalist and Catholic Ireland had already begun its campaign of
resistance to conscription, the Ulster Unionists, under the leadership
of Sir Edward Carson, prepared to oppose home rule. Sir Edward Carson
declared that the Government had broken its pledges to Ulster by
undertaking to pass a Home Rule bill, and on April 24 he advised the
Ulster Unionist Council to reorganize its machinery for the impending

The appointment of Field Marshal Viscount French as Lord Lieutenant of
Ireland and of Edward Shortt, member of the House of Commons for
Newcastle-on-Tyne, as Chief Secretary for Ireland was officially
announced on May 5.

Lord French, before his new appointment, was Commander in Chief of the
forces in the United Kingdom and had gone to Ireland in that capacity a
few days before he became Viceroy. Edward Shortt, in addition to being a
Home Ruler, had voted against the extension of conscription to Ireland
until an Irish Government had been established.

Greatest Gas Attack of the War

_W. A. Willison, Canadian correspondent, cabled from the Picardy front
on March 22, 1918:_

While British and German troops were struggling far to the south in the
opening clash of the Spring campaign, the greatest projector gas
bombardment in the world's history was carried out by the Canadians
tonight against the enemy positions between Lens and Hill 70. Sharply at
11 o'clock the signal rocket gave notice of the beginning. A moment
later over 5,000 drums of lethal gas were simultaneously released from
projectors, and were hurled into the enemy territory from the outskirts
of Lens, and northward to Cité St. Auguste and the Bois de Dix-Huit.

From his front lines and strong points favoring winds carried the
poisonous clouds back upon the enemy's supports, reserves, and assembly
areas. The whole of the front was lit up with enemy flares, dimly seen
through the heavy mist, while the men in our lines could hear the
enemy's gas alarms and cries of distress from the hostile trenches.

Nine minutes later our field artillery, supported by heavy guns and
heavy trench mortars, opened up with a slow bombardment, which gradually
increased in intensity, until, forty minutes later, the enemy positions
were swept with a short, intensive, creeping barrage, which raked his
forward and rear areas with high explosive. Caught by our gas without a
moment's warning, caught again as he was emerging from his shelters by
our artillery, the enemy's casualties must have been very heavy, for the
effectiveness of our smaller gas operations has been emphatically proved
by the evidence of prisoners.

Tonight's bombardment was three times greater than anything of its kind
ever attempted by us on the Western front, and much greater than
anything ever launched by the Germans, though the score of the second
battle of Ypres and other reckonings are still to be settled, and will
be settled.

Plucky Dunkirk

By Anna Milo Upjohn

_Inspector in Paris for the Fraternité Americaine_

[Since this article was written Dunkirk has faced a new peril from the
blow struck in her direction by the powerful German armies around Ypres,
to the southeast; but the author's vivid and sympathetic description of
the daily life of the little city remains as true as in the Winter days
when it was penned for CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE.

In the track of the wind stands the plucky little City of Dunkirk, still
flapping the flags of courage and constancy in the face of an
increasingly rabid enemy. It is the only city of France that is
subjected to bombardment from land and sea and sky.

What is the every-day life in a town near enough to the front to be
never free from the menace of a triple bombardment? That is what I went
to find out, traveling by way of Calais in stygian darkness, for the
train was without lights to avoid the danger of bombs.

A little before dawn the train drew into the black station of Dunkirk,
through whose roofing the sky showed dimly in spots where air-raid
shells had spattered. The silent crowd jostled through the darkness, the
soldiers separating themselves from it at the military exit. Inside,
only a ray from a dark lantern, held by the officer who scanned the
passports one by one, made a spot of light among the overlapping
shadows. The wind sighed through the draughty place, the snow entered
freely, the floor was sloppy with mud. Outside in the empty square not a
vehicle, not a porter, in sight. The street cars had stopped running.

My hotel lay beyond the centre of the town. In the driving storm,
through unknown streets, I knew it would be foolish to attempt to find
it. An officer passed and to him I appealed. "To the right, in the
middle of the square," he said, with outstretched arm, "is the Lion de
Flandre. If they can't put you up there, come back and we will see."

Not a point of light indicated the identity of the Lion de Flandre. On
nearer approach all the houses appeared boarded up, as though long since
abandoned. In the middle of the square was an oblong hump, like the
roofed-over foundation of a demolished building. I learned later that
this was a public refuge built for the inhabitants of the section.


As I turned irresolutely in the direction of the dark façades, the
silhouette of a man in casque and puttees passed across the snow. A
crack of light gleamed from a hidden doorway, and through it he
disappeared. I followed hard after him and stepped into a lighted room
full of smoke and soldiers, a _man's_ place, with sand-strewn floor and
bottles conspicuously in evidence. Nevertheless, the comfortable woman
behind the bar received me without surprise. A room she could give me,
but as for food, that was a different matter. The boches had the habit
of coming at about dinner time, and it had become a nuisance to abandon
the untasted meal every night and to dive into the cave - it really had!
So she had given up trying to have anything hot at night and let the
fires go out at 6. But if I would like a sandwich and some beer - ?

After the long, starved journey this was not alluring.

"Not a cup of tea with the sandwich?" I pleaded. A collaborator was
called, a plump, dark woman, and after a hurried conference I was asked
to wait in the room behind the café. Nothing could be more dismal than
this compartment. It was high for its floor space, like a deep box with
a lid, and had no outside windows, being wedged between the café and the
kitchen. The ornate glass divisions were gone or clinging in fragments,
the walls pierced in many places, the plaster down. A tiny point of gas
burned high above the table.

They were very good to me, these warbound women, one of whom, I
discovered, had an ulcerated tooth, the other two little boys captive in


In a short time a small bit of steak and a potato cut in quarters and
fried were placed before me, and simultaneously a large black dog with
wistful eyes but determined manner stationed himself at my side. The
steak was followed by a chilly little salad, bread and cheese, and more
butter than I had seen for many a month in Paris - and a cup of tea
which, for its grateful warmth, I drank without challenge.

Snatches of honest English, mingled with French, filtered in from the
café, where the fire was not quite extinct and where beer was served
until 9 o'clock. Before that hour I was fumbling upstairs guided by the
patronne, who carried a two-inch stub of candle between her fingers.
"This is the way to the cave," she explained, pointing to a doorway
under the stairs. "In case of an alarm you have only to rush down there.
There will be a light burning at the entrance." Passing through the
hallway she indicated the spot where a man had recently been killed. "If
he had stayed where he was, at the table where you have just eaten,
Madame, he would have been all right, but as he ran to the refuge a bomb
exploded outside in the square, burst open the front door, traversed the
length of the corridor, passed through the kitchen wall and into the
garden beyond. But you can rest assured that nothing will happen
tonight, Madame," continued the patronne, who seemed as familiar with
the habits of Gothas as a farmer's wife is with those of fowls - "Not in
this wind, oh, no!"

After that first night I groped my way alone to bed, the candle stub
having come to an end, feeling my way along the pitch dark passageways
to the room with the linoleum mat, the room which had not known fire for
three years and a half, whose paneless windows were boarded up, the one
room in the house which had not lost a ceiling or floor or whose walls
were not clipped through with shells. The regular inmates of the hotel
slept nightly in the cellar. It saved time and was warmer.

Notwithstanding the reassurances of the patronne I confess to going to
bed with half my clothes on. But under the wing of the storm Dunkirk
slept tranquilly for three successive nights. Of course, there was
always the soft bum-bum of the cannon on the northern horizon, strange
tremors shook the bed, and the night was full of weird sounds, the
rattling skeletons of dead houses.


Like an arm held up to protect the face, the coast between Calais and
Dunkirk bears the brunt of storm from the North Sea. A dark sea, sombre
and brooding, girdled by lowering clouds; on the snow-driven plain a few
detached towers, etched as though in sepia against the gray sky and
rising abruptly above the low line of roof - this is Dunkirk on a
Winter's day. A homely little town with a deep fringe of docks and
waterways on its seaward side and a girdle of fortifications built by
Vauban encircling the rest. The whole set in a ring of dark water which
fills the moat. It is thoroughly Flemish in character, and, seen from
the water, must resemble a city on a delft tile. The moral attitude of
the town has always been one of robust activity. Even its patron saints
are among the most industrious and enterprising in the calendar - notably
St. Eloi, who brought Christianity to the Dunkerquois and to whom the
original Dunkirk (church on the dunes) was dedicated.

All the history of the town is tinged with a vigor which has blown in to
it from the sea. Here the crusading ships of Baldwin of Flanders, and
later those of St. Louis of France, were fitted out. After the momentous
marriage of Marie of Burgundy had thrown the city for a time under the
dominion of Spain it played a brilliant part in the game of the
period - piracy.

The quaint tower on the quay - called Lugenhaer, the Liar - was used at
that epoch to give false signals to ships at sea. But it dates from a
much earlier period, and was one of twenty-eight towers with which
Baldwin of Flanders bound together the wall with which he surrounded
the city. The Liar and the belfry of the recently ruined Cathedral of
St. Eloi were the only interesting architectural bits left in Dunkirk.
The thirteenth century tower, dark and strong at its base, rises to a
great height, flowering into restrained tracery at the top and
shepherding under its shadow the heart of the town, which lies below it.
This is the lodestone. Toward it I turned after leaving the battered
hotel that first morning at Dunkirk.

[Illustration: A photograph, full of human interest, showing Americans,
headed by a regimental band, marching to the front in France

(_American Official Photograph_)]

[Illustration: The Harvard University Regiment marching through the
streets of Boston

(© _Underwood_)]


From the snowy Place de la Gare the street cars started regularly in
divergent directions, but oh, the gloom of those dead streets which they
passed! Wide streets, winding between rows of low houses, plain and
solid, but built on a neighborly plan. Their desolation is the more
marked because of this innate, homelike quality. In almost all of them
the window and door spaces were boarded up, and the first impression was
rather that of a deserted city than of a demolished one. But a second
glance showed that destruction had come from the sky, tearing away the
roof, annihilating the interior, and rendering the house uninhabitable,
perhaps irreparable, though the walls might to a certain extent be left
standing. Often the havoc was more apparent, exposing the bare skeleton
of a home and the shattered remnants of household comforts in shocking

The freakishness of destruction by bombardment is proverbial. It is this
which creates in the timid an intense anxiety and in the hardy the
willingness to take a chance. The 8-year-old son of the chief surgeon at
the Military Hospital, stretching out his hand during a bombardment,
said calmly, "Of course it _may_ fall on _that_, but there is plenty of
room on each side." And this rather sums up the spirit of the
Dunkerquois who remain.

Of a population of 40,000, about 5,000 are left, and most of these have
become modern cave men. To be thoroughly up to date one must live in a
"casemate." In every quarter of the town posters announce the locality
of these public refuges. They are either cellars reinforced overhead,
or dugouts in the public squares, strongly roofed with corrugated iron,
which is covered with wood and sandbags. Often there is extra trench
work inside, always a tight little stove with a pipe running the length
of the cave, plank benches along the sides, and usually beds with army


Into these refuges the Dunkerquois has learned to precipitate himself
with extraordinary celerity. He considers a minute and a half sufficient
time in which to gain safety, no matter where he may be when the
"alerte" is given. When there is a bombardment from the land side the
alarm is sounded as the obus leaves the gun at the front. It takes 90
seconds for its flight to Dunkirk. So accurately is this calculated that
casualties seldom result from a land bombardment. The inhabitants
scuttle into safety, and the damage is limited to bricks and mortar. The
peppering from sea is also taken lightly. The firing is very rapid, but
it is soon over, and the shots are comparatively small, passing clean
through the walls without shattering them. It is the air raids which are
dreaded, and these are increasingly frequent and destructive. Often the
chugging of the motors can be heard in the thick darkness for a quarter
of an hour or more before there is an explosion, and this is a
nerve-racking experience.

A striking feature of the streets in Dunkirk is the incumbrance of the
sidewalks by boxes filled with stones and sandbags. These cover the
windows and approaches to the cellars and serve as shock absorbers
against flying pieces of shell.

And why does any one stay in so precarious an outpost on the verge of
the fighting line? Some perhaps because to set forth alone or with a
brood of children into an unknown world already trampled by countless
refugees seems an equally perilous outlook. Others because their
maintenance still depends upon the docks and shipyards, though the 6,000
longshoremen usually employed about the piers have disappeared. Then
there are those whose interests are bound up in a shop or other
investment in the town, and business is brisk in Dunkirk, owing to the
presence of two armies. A few there are who are not only _of_ Dunkirk
but who _are_ Dunkirk itself, upon whose presence depends the prosperity
of the town and its usefulness to the State.


For if the picturesque landmarks have disappeared, Dunkirk has by no
means lost its sea prestige. It is the third port of France, and though
its position is singularly exposed it is largely through its harbor that
the British Army has been revictualed since the beginning of the war.
This renders still more remarkable the fact that not one ship has been
lost between Dunkirk and the English port of clearing. One does not
appreciate at first glance all that this implies. It means for one thing
that some one must sit tight at Dunkirk. Traffic by sea has gone on
uninterruptedly and until recently has been quite that of normal times.
Now, owing to the recent restrictions on imports and exports, it is
greatly reduced, though still regular. The sailings and dockings take
place on schedule time.

One of those largely responsible for the order of the port is the
Consular Agent of the United States, M. Morel, also President of the
Chamber of Commerce of Dunkirk. His house, a mere skeleton, has long
since been abandoned for the superior comforts and safety of the cellar.
Attached to the jamb of the almost equally ruined office building his
small sign in black and gold makes a brave showing. The front of the
building had been largely torn away and with it a part of the roof.
Looking up one saw a dizzy arrangement of laths and rafters, suggestive
of the underside of a heap of jackstraws. But the staircase was firm and
led to a small back room, where a bright fire burned and where business
was transacted as usual; not only the business of the port, for while I
was there an American Red Cross doctor and a bevy of nurses came in to
have their passports renewed.

Another home which I had the privilege of entering, that of Commandant
Boultheel, had been more fortunate, for it stood as yet untouched by
disaster. Here in an atmosphere of warm charm, a serene and gracious
hostess dispensed hospitality to her friends. Pewter and old china on
the walls and a great fire of logs dispelled the depression of the
outside world. Around the table were men of war and men of the world,
who represented the finest qualities of the French. Among them was a
valiant Préfet du Nord, who had spent ten months as hostage in a German
prison, using his time to study English and reread Horace. In fact, I
felt, as I had on the train, that the further I got from Paris the
nearer I came to the heart of France.

A glimpse of "cave life" I had in the pharmacie maintained by the
Sisters of the Sacré Coeur in the basement of the Hôtel de Ville, where
it had been temporarily installed by the city, its own quarters being
untenable. This was a large space lighted by electricity and crowded
with bottles and jars, bundles of herbs and bandages, and made cheerful
by the bright faces of the sisters. In another portion of the cellar
they sleep, living entirely underground.

Families are large in Dunkirk, and children troop unconcernedly to and
fro between home and school. To them the nightly flight to the casemate
is no longer a wild adventure.


The business part of the town has not the sad aspect of the residence
streets, for it is full of life. The decrepit shops, half boarded up,
many of them resembling a face with a bandage over one eye, are doing a
lively business. With the demands of a large floating population of two
armies, Dunkirk is not suffering commercially. Department stores, book
shops, shoe stores, provision shops of all kinds, make the most of a
short day. Oranges, figs, dates, nuts, and conserved food of all kinds
are much in evidence, also warm clothing, blankets, boots, and novels.
The restaurant of the Hôtel Chapeau Rouge was filled with French and
English officers, and an excellent meal was served much as it would be
in Paris. At 4:30 everything is closed. Lights are extinguished, windows
and doors are sealed with their householders behind them, unless the
latter are among those who seek the comparative safety of the suburbs at
nightfall. For though the entire surrounding country is subject to
bombardment, the town is the centre of attack. In the twilight of the
unlighted streets scarce a footfall is heard. Only the occasional rumble
of a heavy cannon shakes the air. Behind the wall of darkness pulses a
full life undismayed by the terrors of the approaching night or the
possibilities of the tomorrow.


In the heart of the forest I once saw a stag leading his herd to the
shelter of a rock in the rush of an oncoming storm. Having urged them
into crouching positions around him, he turned and with a simple gesture
lifted his head to the storm. There was that in his attitude which
compelled reverence. One mentally saluted, though one might think "poor,
silly beast, in what way could he mitigate the lash of the tempest?" But
instinctively he had obeyed the highest for which he had been created,
the protection of the weak. And his calm presence caught away all panic
from those around him. Often while in Dunkirk this scene came back to
me, recalled by the simple matter-of-courseness with which these brave
men and equally brave women stayed on because it was the place for them
to be.

At the Military Hospital of Rosendael, with the exception of the
intrepid surgeon and the almoner, it is the women who hold the position.
Originally the city hospital, it was taken over by the army at the
beginning of the war. An immense building with modern equipment and a
capacity for 700 patients, it has been necessary of late to evacuate
many of the sections because of the increasing frequency of the
bombardments. The hospital has been struck many times and one ward
completely destroyed. As it happened there were no soldiers in that
section, it being used as a maternity hospital for the city. Several
women and little children were killed and also the sister in charge,
Sister St. Etienne, so dear to her co-workers that she is never spoken
of without tears. She had just finished her rounds for the night when
the alarm came. Her one thought was to save her ward from panic. A bomb
crashing through the roof hurled a beam across the sister, killing her
instantly and wrecking the entire wing.


In spite of this tragedy and of recurring attacks, the other sisters and
the head nurse, Mlle. Guyot, have held their posts with quiet heroism
and have never lost an hour's duty. The patients now are mostly
convalescent, because fresh cases are no longer brought there.

The supplies of shirts, pajamas, and bandages sent from America were
gratefully commented upon by Mlle. Guyot, and I was touched by similar
expressions from the men. One poor aviator, terribly burned, but

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 22 of 30)