William Le Queux.

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[Illustration: THE GREAT FIGHT.]






"I sometimes despair of the country ever becoming alive to the danger of
the unpreparedness of our present position until too late to prevent
some fatal catastrophe."

This was the keynote of a solemn warning made in the House of Lords by
Earl Roberts. His lordship, whilst drawing attention to our present
inadequate forces, strongly urged that action should be taken in
accordance with the recommendations of the Elgin Commission that "no
military system could be considered satisfactory which did not contain
powers of expansion outside the limit of the regular forces of the

"The lessons of the late war appear to have been forgotten. The one
prevailing idea seems to be," said Earl Roberts, "to cut down our
military expenditure without reference to our increased responsibilities
and our largely augmented revenue. History tells us in the plainest
terms that an Empire which cannot defend its own possessions must
inevitably perish." And with this view both Lord Milner and the Marquis
of Lansdowne concurred. But surely this is not enough. If we are to
retain our position as the first nation of the world we must be prepared
to defend any raid made upon our shores.

The object of this book is to illustrate our utter unpreparedness for
war from a military standpoint; to show how, under certain conditions
which may easily occur, England can be successfully invaded by Germany;
and to present a picture of the ruin which must inevitably fall upon us
on the evening of that not far-distant day.

Ever since Lord Roberts formulated his plans for the establishment of
rifle-clubs I have been deeply interested in the movement: and after a
conversation with that distinguished soldier the idea occurred to me to
write a forecast, based upon all the available military knowledge - which
would bring home to the British public vividly and forcibly what really
would occur were an enemy suddenly to appear in our midst. At the outset
it was declared by the strategists I consulted to be impossible. No such
book could ever be written, for, according to them, the mass of
technical detail was far too great to digest and present in an
intelligible manner to the public.

Lord Roberts, however, gave me encouragement. The skeleton scheme of the
manner in which England could be invaded by Germany was submitted to a
number of the highest authorities on strategy, whose names, however, I
am not permitted to divulge, and after many consultations, much
criticism, and considerable difference of opinion, the "general idea,"
with amendment after amendment, was finally adopted.

That, however, was only a mere preliminary. Upon questions of tactics
each tactician consulted held a different view, and each criticised
adversely the other's suggestions.

One way alone remained open - namely, to take the facts exactly as they
stood, add the additional strength of the opposing nations as they at
present are, and then draw logical conclusions. This, aided by experts,
was done: and after many days of argument with the various authorities,
we succeeded in getting them in accord as to the general practicability
of an invasion.

Before putting pen to paper it was necessary to reconnoitre carefully
the whole of England from the Thames to the Tyne. This I did by means of
a motor-car, travelling 10,000 miles of all kinds of roads, and making a
tour extending over four months. Each town, all the points of vantage,
military positions, all the available landing places on the coast, all
railway connections, and telephone and telegraph communications, were
carefully noted for future reference. With the assistance of certain
well-known military experts, the battlefields were carefully gone over
and the positions marked upon the Ordnance map. Thus, through four
months we pushed on day by day collecting information and material,
sometimes in the big cities, sometimes in the quietest and remotest
hamlets, all of which was carefully tabulated for use.

Whatever critics may say, and however their opinions may differ, it can
only be pointed out, first, that the "general idea" of the scheme is in
accordance with the expressed and published opinions of the first
strategists of to-day, and that, as far as the forecast of events is
concerned, it has been written from a first-hand knowledge of the local
colour of each of the scenes described. The enemy's Proclamations
reproduced are practically copies of those issued by the Germans during
the war of 1870.

That the experts and myself will probably be condemned as alarmists and
denounced for revealing information likely to be of assistance to an
enemy goes without saying. Indeed, an attempt was made in the House of
Commons to suppress its publication altogether. Mr. R. C. Lehmann, who
asked a question of the Prime Minister, declared that it was "calculated
to prejudice our relations with the other Powers," while the late Sir H.
Campbell-Bannerman, in a subsequent letter apologising to me for
condemning in the House a work he had not read, repeated that it was
likely to "produce irritation abroad and might conceivably alarm the
more ignorant public at home."

Such a reflection, cast by the late Prime Minister upon the British
nation was, to say the least, curious, yet it only confirmed the truth
that the Government are strenuously seeking to conceal from our people
the appalling military weakness and the consequent danger to which the
country is constantly open.

To be weak is to invite war: to be strong is to prevent it.

To arouse our country to a sense of its own lamentable insecurity is the
object of this volume, which is somewhat compressed from the form in
which it originally appeared, and that other nations besides ourselves
are interested in England's grave peril is proved by the fact that it
has already been published in the German, French, Spanish, Danish,
Russian, Italian, and even Japanese languages.


Speaking in the House of Lords on the 10th July 1905, I said: - "It is
to the people of the country I appeal to take up the question of the
Army in a sensible practical manner. For the sake of all they hold dear,
let them bring home to themselves what would be the condition of Great
Britain if it were to lose its wealth, its power, its position." The
catastrophe that may happen if we still remain in our present state of
unpreparedness is visibly and forcibly illustrated in Mr. Le Queux's new
book which I recommend to the perusal of every one who has the welfare
of the British Empire at heart.

29. Nov. 1905 Roberts, FM






Two of the myriad of London's nightworkers were walking down Fleet
Street together soon after dawn on Sunday morning, 2nd September.

The sun had not yet risen. That main artery of London traffic, with its
irregular rows of closed shops and newspaper offices, was quiet and
pleasant in the calm, mystic light before the falling of the smoke-pall.

Only at early morning does the dear old City look its best; in that one
quiet, sweet hour when the night's toil has ended and the day's has not
yet begun. Only in that brief interval at the birth of day, when the
rose tints of the sky glow slowly into gold, does the giant metropolis
repose - at least, as far as its business streets are concerned - for at
five o'clock the toiling millions begin to again pour in from all points
of the compass, and the stress and storm of London at once recommences.

And in that hour of silent charm the two grey-bearded sub-editors,
though engaged in offices of rival newspapers were making their way
homeward to Dulwich to spend Sunday in a well-earned rest, and were
chatting "shop," as Press men do.

"I suppose you had the same trouble to get that Yarmouth story through?"
asked Fergusson, the news-editor of the "Dispatch," as they crossed
Whitefriars Street. "We got about half a column, and then the wire shut

"Telegraph or telephone?" inquired Baines, who was four or five years
younger than his friend.

"We were using both - to make sure."

"So were we. It was a rattling good story - the robbery was mysterious,
to say the least - but we didn't get more than half of it. Something's
wrong with the line, evidently," Baines said. "If it were not such a
perfect autumn morning, I should be inclined to think there'd been a
storm somewhere."

"Yes - funny, wasn't it?" remarked the other. "A shame we haven't the
whole story, for it was a first-class one, and we wanted something. Did
you put it on the contents-bill?"

"No, because we couldn't get the finish. I tried in every way - rang up
the Central News, P.A., Exchange Telegraph Company, tried to get through
to Yarmouth on the trunk, and spent half an hour or so pottering about,
but the reply from all the agencies, from everywhere, in fact, was the
same - the line was interrupted."

"Just our case. I telephoned to the Post Office, but the reply came back
that the lines were evidently down."

"Well, it certainly looks as though there'd been a storm, but - - " and
Baines glanced at the bright, clear sky overhead, just flushed by the
bursting sun - "there are certainly no traces of it."

"There's often a storm on the coast when it's quite still in London, my
dear fellow," remarked his friend wisely.

"That's all very well. But when all communication with a big place like
Yarmouth is suddenly cut off, as it has been, I can't help suspecting
that something has happened which we ought to know."

"You're perhaps right, after all," Fergusson said. "I wonder if anything
has happened. We don't want to be called back to the office, either of
us. My assistant, Henderson, whom I've left in charge, rings me up over
any mare's nest. The trunk telephones all come into the Post Office
Exchange up in Carter Lane. Why not look in there before we go home? It
won't take us a quarter of an hour, and we have several trains home from
Ludgate Hill."

Baines looked at his watch. Like his companion, he had no desire to be
called back to his office after getting out to Dulwich, and yet he was
in no mood to go making reporter's inquiries.

"I don't think I'll go. It's sure to be nothing, my dear fellow," he
said. "Besides, I have a beastly headache. I had a heavy night's work.
One of my men is away ill."

"Well, at any rate, I think I'll go," Fergusson said. "Don't blame me if
you get called back for a special edition with a terrible storm, great
loss of life, and all that sort of thing. So long." And, smiling, he
waved his hand and parted from his friend in the booking office of
Ludgate Hill Station.

Quickening his pace, he hurried through the office, and, passing out by
the back, ascended the steep, narrow street until he reached the Post
Office Telephone Exchange in Carter Lane, where, presenting his card, he
asked to see the superintendent-in-charge.

Without much delay he was shown upstairs into a small private office,
into which came a short, dapper, fair-moustached man with the bustle of
a man in a great hurry.

"I've called," the sub-editor explained, "to know whether you can tell
me anything regarding the cause of the interruption of the line to
Yarmouth a short time ago. We had some important news coming through,
but were cut off just in the midst of it, and then we received
information that all the telephone and telegraph lines to Yarmouth were

"Well, that's just the very point which is puzzling us at this moment,"
was the night-superintendent's reply. "It is quite unaccountable. Our
trunk going to Yarmouth seems to be down, as well as the telegraphs.
Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and beyond Beccles seem all to have been suddenly
cut off. About eighteen minutes to four the operators noticed something
wrong, switched the trunks through to the testers, and the latter
reported to me in due course."

"That's strange! Did they all break down together?"

"No. The first that failed was the one that runs through Chelmsford,
Colchester, and Ipswich up to Lowestoft and Yarmouth. The operator found
that he could get through to Ipswich and Beccles. Ipswich knew nothing,
except that something was wrong. They could still ring up Beccles, but
not beyond."

As they were speaking, there was a tap at the door, and the assistant
night-superintendent entered, saying:

"The Norwich line through Scole and Long Stratton has now failed, sir.
About half-past four Norwich reported a fault somewhere north, between
there and Cromer. But the operator now says that the line is apparently
broken, and so are all the telegraphs from there to Cromer, Sheringham,
and Holt."

"Another line has gone, then!" exclaimed the superintendent-in-charge,
utterly astounded. "Have you tried to get on to Cromer by the other
routes - through Nottingham and King's Lynn, or through Cambridge?"

"The testers have tried every route, but there's no response."

"You could get through to some of the places - Yarmouth, for instance - by
telegraphing to the Continent, I suppose?" asked Fergusson.

"We are already trying," responded the assistant superintendent.

"What cables run out from the east coast in that neighbourhood?"
inquired the sub-editor quickly.

"There are five between Southwold and Cromer - three run to Germany, and
two to Holland," replied the assistant. "There's the cable from Yarmouth
to Barkum, in the Frisian Islands; from Happisburg, near Mundesley, to
Barkum; from Yarmouth to Emden; from Lowestoft to Haarlem, and from
Kessingland, near Southwold, to Zandyport."

"And you are trying all the routes?" asked his superior.

"I spoke to Paris myself an hour ago and asked them to cable by all five
routes to Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Kessingland, and Happisburg," was the
assistant's reply. "I also asked Liverpool Street Station and King's
Cross to wire down to some of their stations on the coast, but the reply
was that they were in the same predicament as ourselves - their lines
were down north of Beccles, Wymondham, East Dereham, and also south of
Lynn. I'll just run along and see if there's any reply from Paris. They
ought to be through by this time, as it's Sunday morning, and no
traffic." And he went out hurriedly.

"There's certainly something very peculiar," remarked the
superintendent-in-charge to the sub-editor. "If there's been an
earthquake or an electrical disturbance, then it is a most extraordinary
one. Every single line reaching to the coast seems interrupted."

"Yes. It's uncommonly funny," Fergusson remarked. "I wonder what could
have happened. You've never had a complete breakdown like this before?"

"Never. But I think - - "

The sentence remained unfinished, for his assistant returned with a slip
of paper in his hand, saying:

"This message has just come in from Paris, I'll read it. 'Superintendent
Telephones, Paris, to Superintendent Telephones, London. - Have obtained
direct telegraphic communication with operators of all five cables to
England. Haarlem, Zandyport, Barkum, and Emden all report that cables
are interrupted. They can get no reply from England, and tests show that
cables are damaged somewhere near English shore.'"

"Is that all?" asked Fergusson.

"That's all. Paris knows no more than we do," was the assistant's

"Then the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts are completely isolated - cut off
from post office, railways, telephones, and cables!" exclaimed the
superintendent. "It's mysterious - most mysterious!" And, taking up the
instrument upon his table, he placed a plug in one of the holes down the
front of the table itself, and a moment later was in conversation with
the official in charge of the traffic at Liverpool Street, repeating the
report from Paris, and urging him to send light engines north from
Wymondham or Beccles into the zone of the mystery.

The reply came back that he had already done so, but a telegram had
reached him from Wymondham to the effect that the road-bridges between
Kimberley and Hardingham had apparently fallen in, and the line was
blocked by débris. Interruption was also reported beyond Swaffham, at a
place called Little Dunham.

"Then even the railways themselves are broken!" cried Fergusson. "Is it
possible that there has been a great earthquake?"

"An earthquake couldn't very well destroy all five cables from the
Continent," remarked the superintendent gravely.

The latter had scarcely placed the receiver upon the hook when a third
man entered - an operator who, addressing him, said:

"Will you please come to the switchboard, sir? There's a man in the
Ipswich call office who has just told me a most extraordinary story. He
says that he started in his motor-car alone from Lowestoft to London at
half-past three this morning, and just as it was getting light he was
passing along the edge of Henham Park, between Wangford village and
Blythburgh, when he saw three men apparently repairing the telegraph
wires. One was up the pole, and the other two were standing below. As he
passed he saw a flash, for, to his surprise, one of the men fired
point-blank at him with a revolver. Fortunately, the shot went wide, and
he at once put on a move and got down into Blythburgh village, even
though one of his tyres went down. It had probably been pierced by the
bullet fired at him, as the puncture was unlike any he had ever had
before. At Blythburgh he informed the police of the outrage, and the
constable, in turn, woke up the postmaster, who tried to telegraph back
to the police at Wrentham, but found that the line was interrupted. Was
it possible that the men were cutting the wires, instead of repairing
them? He says that after repairing the puncture he took the village
constable and three other men on his car and went back to the spot,
where, although the trio had escaped, they saw that wholesale havoc had
been wrought with the telegraphs. The lines had been severed in four or
five places, and whole lengths tangled up into great masses. A number of
poles had been sawn down, and were lying about the roadside. Seeing that
nothing could be done, the gentleman remounted his car, came on to
Ipswich, and reported the damage at our call office."

"And is he still there?" exclaimed the superintendent quickly, amazed at
the motorist's statement.

"Yes. I asked him to wait for a few moments in order to speak to you,

"Good. I'll go at once. Perhaps you'd like to come also, Mr. Fergusson?"

And all three ran up to the gallery, where the huge switchboards were
ranged around, and where the night operators, with the receivers
attached to one ear, were still at work.

In a moment the superintendent had taken the operator's seat, adjusted
the ear-piece, and was in conversation with Ipswich. A second later he
was speaking with the man who had actually witnessed the cutting of the
trunk line.

While he was thus engaged an operator at the farther end of the
switchboard suddenly gave vent to a cry of surprise and disbelief.

"What do you say, Beccles? Repeat it," he asked excitedly.

Then a moment later he shouted aloud:

"Beccles says that German soldiers - hundreds of them - are pouring into
the place! The Germans have landed at Lowestoft, they think."

All who heard those ominous words sprang up dumbfounded, staring at each

The assistant-superintendent dashed to the operator's side and seized
his apparatus.

"Halloa - halloa, Beccles! Halloa - halloa - halloa!"

The response was some gruff words in German, and the sound of scuffling
could distinctly be heard. Then all was silent.

Time after time he rang up the small Suffolk town, but in vain. Then he
switched through to the testers, and quickly the truth was plain.

The second trunk line to Norwich, running from Ipswich by Harleston and
Beccles, had been cut farther towards London.

But what held everyone breathless in the trunk telephone headquarters
was that the Germans had actually effected the surprise landing that had
so often in recent years been predicted by military critics; that
England on that quiet September Sunday morning had been attacked.
England was actually invaded. It was incredible!

Yet London's millions in their Sunday morning lethargy were in utter
ignorance of the grim disaster that had suddenly fallen upon the land.

Fergusson was for rushing at once back to the "Dispatch" office to get
out an extraordinary edition, but the superintendent, who was still in
conversation with the motorist, urged judicious forethought.

"For the present, let us wait. Don't let us alarm the public
unnecessarily. We want corroboration. Let us have the motorist up here,"
he suggested.

"Yes," cried the sub-editor. "Let me speak to him."

Over the wire Fergusson begged the stranger to come at once to London
and give his story, declaring that the military authorities would
require it. Then, just as the man who had been shot at by German advance
spies - for such they had undoubtedly been - in order to prevent the
truth leaking out, gave his promise to come to town at once, there came
over the line from the coastguard at Southwold a vague, incoherent
telephone message regarding strange ships having been seen to the
northward, and asking for connection with Harwich; while King's Cross
and Liverpool Street Stations both rang up almost simultaneously,
reporting the receipt of extraordinary messages from King's Lynn, Diss,
Harleston, Halesworth, and other places. All declared that German
soldiers were swarming over the north, that Lowestoft and Beccles had
been seized, and that Yarmouth and Cromer were isolated.

Various stationmasters reported that the enemy had blown up bridges,
taken up rails, and effectually blocked all communication with the
coast. Certain important junctions were already held by the enemy's

Such was the amazing news received in that high-up room in Carter Lane,
City, on that sweet, sunny morning when all the great world of London
was at peace, either still slumbering or week-ending.

Fergusson remained for a full hour and a half at the Telephone Exchange,
anxiously awaiting any further corroboration. Many wild stories came
over the wires telling how panic-stricken people were fleeing inland
away from the enemy's outposts. Then he took a hansom to the "Dispatch"
office, and proceeded to prepare a special edition of his paper - an
edition containing surely the most amazing news that had ever startled

Fearing to create undue panic, he decided not to go to press until the
arrival of the motorist from Ipswich. He wanted the story of the man who
had actually seen the cutting of the wires. He paced his room excitedly,
wondering what effect the news would have upon the world. In the rival
newspaper offices the report was, as yet, unknown. With journalistic
forethought he had arranged that at present the bewildering truth should
not leak out to his rivals, either from the railway termini or from the
telephone exchange. His only fear was that some local correspondent
might telegraph from some village or town nearer the metropolis which
was still in communication with the central office.

Time passed very slowly. Each moment increased his anxiety. He had sent
out the one reporter who remained on duty to the house of Colonel Sir
James Taylor, the Permanent Under-Secretary for War. Halting before the
open window, he looked up and down the street for the arriving
motor-car. But all was quiet.

Eight o'clock had just boomed from Big Ben, and London still remained in
her Sunday morning peace. The street, bright in the warm sunshine, was
quite empty, save for a couple of motor-omnibuses and a sprinkling of
gaily dressed holiday-makers on their way to the day excursion trains.

In that centre of London - the hub of the world - all was comparatively
silent, the welcome rest after the busy turmoil that through six days in

Online LibraryWilliam Le QueuxThe Invasion → online text (page 1 of 24)