Skip to main content

Full text of "A woman's diary of the war"

See other formats

















Helier Percival, 9TH Batt. the Welch Regt 

Richard Young, qth Batt. the Welch Regt. 

Alan Young, ist Batt. the Welch Regt. 

Colin Macnaughtan, 2nd Dragoon Guards 


I. London , 


II. Antwerp 

, 29 

III. Antwerp 

. 41 


• 55 


. 69 

VI. British 

. 85 


• 97 

an. FuRNES 

. 116 

IX. La Panne 


X. La Panne , 

► 143 

XI. From a Ki 




• 157 




Hardly anyone believed in the possibility of war 
until they came back from their August Bank 
Holiday visits and found soldiers and . 
sailors saying good-bye to their families ^ 
at the stations. And even then there ^ ^' 
was an air of unreality about everything, which 
rendered realization difficult. We saw women 
waving handkerchiefs to the men who went away, 
and holding up their babies to railway carriage 
windows to be kissed, and we saw pictures of this 
afterwards in next morning's journals ; but that 
the thing which we had talked about, and laughed 
at, and sung funny songs about, was really going 
to happen, and that we were going to war 
with Germany, seemed incredible for a time. 
We were breathless, not with fear, but with 


Most of us will remember that a summer of 
very fine weather had just passed. The long 
light days and the sunshine are already insepa- 
rably connected in the minds of some of us with 
the thought of last times, which makes the 
memory of the summer exceptionally dear to us. 
Already the blooming of roses suggests days that 
will not come again, and the memory of lives 
that were more to us than a thousand Junes. 

On a certain radiant morning before the hay 
was mown, we learned that a man and woman had 
been murdered in a distant country. Murder has 
a particularly horrible sound about it on a sum- 
mer morning with red roses in bloom. We felt 
deeply for a great family who had known many 
tragedies, and we said sorrowfully that here was 
another awful happening to an ill-fated house. 
For a woman done to a violent death also we felt 
pity and horror. But the murder was an historic 
event and not a personal one, and after a time 
it was forgotten or left undiscussed. Events did 
not happen quickly after the deaths of the Grand 
Duke and Duchess of Austria. To royal houses 
such things, with all their tragedy, had hap- 
pened before and might happen again. There 
was nothing to show that the world was astir 
with amazing possibilities, and there was no 
whisper sent forward of the news that was to 
follow. Sometimes it seems possible that our 


own statesmen knew less of the things that were 
to happen in the immediate future than did even 
the common man who is called the " man in the 
street." The man in the street had often scented 
war, and war-scares at this time were regarded 
as the special prerogative of harmless lunatics. 
Books and pamphlets on Germany and the 
German invasion had ceased to be interesting, 
in view of the fact that across the narrow strip 
of water that divides England from her Celtic 
sister there was more than a faint murmur of 
tumult to be heard. The fires of battle were 
kindling, and the eyes of the world were turned 
upon the little green island across the Channel, 
and away from a nation who, to speak the truth, 
had been for some time relegated to the pages 
of our lesser comic magazines. 

When Austria sent her ultimatum to Serbia 
there was still — except perhaps amongst the few 
who knew — only the vaguest interest taken in 
the impossible terms dictated by a great Power 
to a small one. We had scattered from towns, 
where things are discussed, to holiday places, 
where journalism is lazily criticized and generally 
believed to be untrue. Besides this, everything 
that was happening was happening in distant 
countries, while Ireland and the Ulster crisis 
were near at hand. 

When the sound of the tumult actually at- 


tracted our attention, the hand that loves to hurl 
thunderbolts was already on our neighbour's door. 

Much ink has been spilt in explaining why 
we went to war with Germany. Many learned 
treatises have been written on the diplomatic 
situation, and on the moral conditions that lie 
behind diplomacy. Almost everybody who is 
worth hearing has given his or her views, and 
those who are worth reading have written them. 
Almost it seems as if the last word had been 
said and the last criticism uttered. Men and 
women of every creed and of every race have 
expressed their sentiments about this war and 
about all wars since that day in August v/hich 
made war inevitable. Probably a schoolboy, 
briefly and simply, might be able to put the 
matter as concisely as anyone else, and his creed, 
for all its simplicity, is a national one : " When 
you see a little chap being downed by a big one 
you cut in as soon as you can. And if the big 
bully says it's your turn next and begins to swing 
his arms about, you take him on for all you're 

England has never allowed her friends to be 
bullied, and no one who knew her dreamed that 
she was going to allow it now. Her children — 
unexpectedly for those who did not know her 
— began to stop quarrelling with each other, and 
buckled on their swords to meet the common foe. 


We were not ready — we did not pretend to 
be ready — but we meant to fight whether we 
were ready or not. Also, we meant to go on 
fighting till the end. The schoolboy's simple 
creed resolved itself into action. War had 
been declared ; the thing which we had talked 
of for years had happened ; and with the 
lifting of the veil of that peace which concealed 
the hate behind it, Germany stood revealed as 
England's old and implacable enemy. The 
revelation that we have been hated is always 
rather contemptible than enraging ; and to our 
everlasting credit let it be said that England 
went to war with no notion of reprisals in her 
mind, and that only the subsequent dishonour- 
ableness with which she and her allies were 
treated even suggested reprisals. The war was 
a matter of national honour, and we went out 
to fight like gentlemen. We had a small army 
and not enough ammunition or rifles, and we 
had listened quite lately to politicians who, like 
mean folk at bargain counters, had demanded 
" still further reductions," and we went into the 
business as hopefully as usual, while in our heart of 
hearts the person we felt sorry for was the Kaiser. 

Certainly he was sweeping through Belgium 
in a noisy vulgar way, trampling on everything 
that was beautiful, throwing down and hurting, 
killing and destroying, wantonly and odiously. 


But " the little chap " with his back to the wall 
and his face set was putting up a fight, was 
contesting every inch of the ground that he still 
held, and was daily losing it by inches. 

It is admitted, I suppose, on all sides, that we 
were unprepared. But we meant to " get one 
in,*' and with every echoing crash of falling 
cathedrals and beautiful buildings that we heard 
from the other side our determination and our 
indignation increased. It was crudely expressed, 
of course ; England is a plain-spoken body with 
a very poor power of self-expression. She can 
only sing, " It's a long way to Tipperary," when 
she goes out to die, and her war poems have 
sometimes made one smile. 

But the spirit was there all the same, and 
a nation of shopkeepers keeps tucked away on 
her topmost shelves a good deal of sentiment, 
which is only brought down on very rare occa- 
sions. When it appears it generally surprises 
customers, who up till then had no idea that 
such a commodity was kept on the premises. 

The shop people and the manufacturers, and 
the men who dig coal out of mines, and the men 
who stick pins into the lapels of their coats and 
measure out ribbons and speak of things being 
sweetly pretty, met each other unexpectedly in 
the trenches afterwards, and it was good for 
them to meet. 



Meanwhile, older men were informing the world 
generally that they had better just wait a little ! 
Why, " seventeen of our lads " had gone from 
the office or the counter, and this was going 
to mean trouble for Kaiser Bill. Belgian forts 
might be falling, towns sacked, cathedrals 
destroyed ; we still pointed to maps with 
little flags stuck into them, and explained that 
" Bill " was in a tight place, and we thought it 
too ! 

It was foolish because at the moment it was 
not true, but it was fine because we meant it 
should be true some day; and if "seventeen of 
our lads " never came back, and many times 
seventeen times seven had still to go, we felt 
big enough for the job in front of us, and to 
feel big enough for the job in front is practically 

We sent our little army out, and began to 
manufacture a big one. We manufactured it 
quietly and quickly, and without much ostenta- 
tion. The nation of shopkeepers took down 
from their topmost shelves the boxes labelled 
" Sentiment," which had grown very dusty for 
a while, and we realized what we had always 
known before, that the contents of the boxes 
were not saleable, but were given with both 
hands and ungrudgingly. " The lads " began to 
learn the art of putting on puttees in spirals 


round their legs, and took off the black coatj 
with the white pins stuck in the lapels, an< 
gave up Saturday afternoon bicycle rides witl 
their best girls. Thus a new army began t< 
be made. 

It was not too soon. There was a soldiei 
living at Ascot then, a small soldier eighty yean 
of age, an upright and God-fearing man, with^ 
eyes which had seen many things and saw far — 
one who had not unloosed the sandals from his 
feet nor untied his shoe-strings when his march- 
ing days were over, but had " slogged it," as sol- 
diers say, from one place to another in England, 
calling for an army, passionately demanding 
fighting men. But we were busy over strikes 
and appeals for higher wages, and money-getting; 
and we were rather smug too, and did not want 
to be disturbed. So, while we admired the old 
soldier's energy, and gave him a hearing, because 
we are always glad to hear good speakers, his 
appeal failed every time. We were all right. Some 
one had said that we might sleep comfortably 
in our beds, and the soothing phrase had caught 
on, as the saying goes. It was a much more 
agreeable prophecy than the one the soldier was 
preaching ; and, grown lazy in our comfortable 
security, we took the pleasant advice that was 
offered to us, and slept. England had neither 
sufficient rifles nor sufficient men when the war 



broke out, and " Bobs " never once said, " I told 
you so." 

I like to think that almost the last thing I 
did before I left England was to motor down to 
have lunch at Ascot with Lord Roberts, and to 
bid him good-bye. He was full of news of the 
war, and in so far as it was possible he talked 
simply and openly about it, without that almost 
overdone discretion with which those who are 
privileged to have near information about things 
often do talk, and I was struck anew by the fact 
that a man who had been in the thick of so 
many fights was full of tenderness towards the 
suffering which war brings. His mind seemed 
filled with distress and indignation at the cruelty 
of the German method of warfare. He said : 
" I have fought in the Indian Mutiny, and 
against Afghans, and Zulus, and Kafirs, and Hill 
tribes, but none of these have ever committed 
such deeds of savagery as the Germans have 
done." We were hearing of Louvain then, and 
of Liege, and of Lille and Namur, and we were 
almost near enough to stricken Belgium to catch 
the echo of women's cries and the shrieks of 
young girls ; we were near enough to know 
all about the unarmed helpless people who 
were not spared by the soldiers in the gray coats. 
Afterwards, the saddest experience that I had in 
the war was to see the undeserved sufi^ering of 

(1.866) 2 


non-combatants, and I know nothing more 
heartrending than to find old women with their 
white hair stained with blood, or Uttle toddUng 
creatures wounded by shells. Lord Roberts 
believed that German barbarism was a byword 
amongst civilized people. For myself, I think 
we may forget all about it, for our memories 
are proverbially short ; but I do not think 
Belgium ever will forget, and France will never 

Lord Roberts told me that he meant to go to 
the front even if he could get no farther than 
Ostend ; and he seemed to brush aside his years 
and his declining health as if no consideration 
could have any weight when there was work to 
be done. He reached the front, as we know, 
and he died there. And so this war became 
another of his victories — his last, and perhaps 
the greatest of all. . . . 

Many people returned to London in the month 
of August, for there was an impatient longing 
to be near the centre of things. Also, com- 
mittees sprang up like mushrooms in a night, 
and must be attended. The need for action 
made itself felt everywhere and in many different 
ways, and energy was expressed by " in- 
quiries '* everywhere. My own Red Cross 
Corps summoned its members to return to 
London. It was called " mobilizing at head- 


quarters " — for we were all inclined towards 
military terms in those days — and I used to 
find that by wearing a red cross, one was im- 
mediately believed to be a sort of peripatetic 
bureau of information. From searching questions 
as to how to make a shirt, up to the general and 
most pressing needs of the British Army, I was 
appealed to for directions, while the British 
Red Cross Society at Devonshire House was 
beset by persons in search of information of the 
same sort. 

Women were, I think, exceptionally military 
in those days. It sometimes took the form of 
wearing a soldier's greatcoat, rather large and 
heavy, thrown open, and with a belt at the back 
and a good deal of material about it. Uniforms 
became a necessity, but more important even 
than uniforms were badges. One could hardly 
knit a pair of khaki socks without a brassade 
on one's left arm, and work became easier if 
accompanied by a stamped metal button. Every 
one was making "calls to women," and the 
women responded by calling at bureaux, and 
were frequently snubbed, which left them 
wondering why they had been called. It was 
in those days that one first heard people 
humming the soldiers' song which one now 
hears all over Belgium, but which, as a battle 
slogan, has always seemed to me a little thin. 


At music halls and revues^ girls, dressed as 
admirals and colonels, saluted with alarming 
sharpness all the time. 

War " wasn't such a bad thing " then : it 
was going to do every one good and brace every 
one up, and the man in the street, watching 
some regiment march away, began to talk of 
armies who would be " wiped out " in three 
weeks or so. Meanwhile, the women bought 
badges and the men expensive kits. Both 
became very shabby before very long, and both 
took their proper place in the scheme of things 
in le bon Dieus good time. But London stamped 
her name on preparations at first, and buttons 
and things in leather cases were important. 
Alas ! they have strewn many a battlefield since 
then ; and the field-glasses which we gave our 
boys have been left in muddy trenches or given 
to some comrade after poor So-and-so was gone, 
and all the smart straps and buckles have got 
dim with hard usage. But the buttons and 
the badges have helped to keep men's and 
women's spirits up, and just as we used to fight 
for a rag of bunting, so now we are content 
to die for the sake of some brass letters on the 
shoulder straps of our coats. 

It was when the boys' new uniforms began 
to arrive, and they tried on flat caps in front 
of the mirror in the drawing-room, and buckled 


on bright swords which were expensive and 
beautiful, that we began to feel, not how dear, 
but just how young they were ! We did not 
pretend it was not heart-breaking. All the 
dearest ones were soldiers and sailors, as they 
ought to be, but would this world be much fun 
without them, just suppose. . . . Besides, their 
mothers were crying. 

Mr. Punch, God bless him ! was our best 
consoler in those days, just as he has been our 
comforter and friend in many distant lands, and 
in many rough and lonely places ever since we 
knew him. Mr. Punch found the soul of the 
war, and acknowledged the bleeding price of 
it, and he showed pictures of things as they 
were in Belgium and in France, where already 
the fields were strewn with dead, and the blood 
of their children cried from the ground. And 
he showed us a man standing bareheaded beside 
his flag, and defying his enemy to make him 
or his country lose their souls whatever else 
might be lost. He told us not to give men 
and boys drink because it made them feel 
ashamed the next morning ; and he told them 
also, gravely at first, what they were fighting for 
and why. And then he began, in his inimitable 
way, to have some fun with them, and to tell 
the soldiers in the trenches that the man with 
the big moustaches was a theatrical humbug, and 


that Uhlans were heavy swells, and he snapped 
his brave old fingers at both ! He did not refer 
again to burning villages and murdered women, 
because, like the wise old boy he is, he never 
rubs things in ; but he gave us some jokes which 
men under fire had made, and he laughed at 
raw recruits and made funny verses about them, 
although half the time his heart was almost break- 
ing. He was always on the right note — never 
discordant and always a gentleman, not flippant, 
but with the same old grin for every one ; and 
let it be remembered that Mr. Punch is a hunch- 
back, and can still grin, and that, like many 
other non-combatants, he is fighting every inch 
of the way. 

We, for our part, were " military," and 
bandaged little messenger boys with the rest. 
Wc talked about " rashions '* and " revellies," 
and we " fell in " frequently, because nothing 
makes a section leader so happy or so surely a 
soldier as saying " Fall in ! *' and we had a drum- 
head service, and raarched (rather badly, I am 
afraid) through London, but the Sunday crowds 
cheered us, and I do believe we all felt like 
doing our bit. 

Often afterwards, when wounded and dying 
men were lying thick on a field-hospital floor, 
and the ambulances were bringing in their 
ghastly burdens from the field, and when there 


was hardly time even to remove the dead from 
amongst the dying, I used to think of the drill 
and the white-capped stretcher-bearers at home, 
and the little messenger boys with their innocuous 
wounds, which were so neatly and laboriously 

The messenger boys' wounds were always 
conveniently placed, and they never screamed 
and writhed or prayed for morphia when they 
were being bandaged. And shoulders were not 
shot away, nor eyes blinded, nor men's faces — 
well, not much good ever came of talking of 
the things one has seen, and they are best left 
undescribed. " These are not wounds, they are 
mush," I heard one surgeon say ; and then I 
thought of the little messenger boys and their 
convenient fractures. 

One day in London, as I walked back after 
drill, across the park, I met an old friend of 
mine, who told me that Mrs. Stobart was taking 
out a women's unit to Belgium, and she suggested 
that I should join her. Mrs. Stobart herself 
seconded the suggestion, and I went on to the 
committee that was then formed, and we began 
to have hot little meetings in rather a small 
room. It was all somewhat fatiguing, I re- 
member, and there were a great many delays 
about passports and the like ; and we interviewed 
a large number of voluntary workers, who spoke 


of " Atthefront " as if it was one word, and who 
all said they were strong and did not mind what 
they did. We chose our staff in what must have 
appeared to be rather a haphazard fashion. But 
the average of humanity is good, and, on the 
average, is seldom disappointing. 

Mrs. Stobart left for Brussels to establish her 
hospital there ; but Brussels fell, and she was 
taken prisoner, and that caused a delay. We 
continued to sit in the small room and to talk, 
and no doubt, like many others, we justified our 
reputation as a women's committee by finding 
each other a little lacking in intelligence, and 
not always successfully concealing the fact. 

We were all, I think, glad to get off on the 
20th September. Our many attempts at start- 
ing had often resulted in disappointment, and 
we had begun to say " red tape " with a snort 
of indignation. We all said " red tape '* in those 
days whenever things were delayed or did not 
go to our liking — it was another name for 
opposition. We also talked of the War Office 
as being "hidebound." It did us good, and it 
did no one else much harm. 

At last we got off. 

It was Sunday when we started, and one was 
struck by the fact that the whole of the months 
of August and September had been very like a 
Sunday in Lon.don. I have never seen so little 


traffic in the streets, and except for the marching 
regiments one saw but little stir. England, we 
learned, " had not quite realized the war yet." 
One forgave the expression then, because it takes 
a little while to get anything into English 
people's dear slow heads. But afterwards — 
when every man was wanted and some did not 
come — the old excuse began to get a little bit 
loose in the glue. To lend a hand should be an 
instinct surely. And to our credit be it said 
that it has been an instinct on which we have 
acted throughout the whole of our national life. 

One likes the answer of the wee Scottish 
recruit, who, when asked if he had enlisted, 
replied, " Ay, I thocht it was time : yon 
Kaiser is goin* ower far." Or the gentleman, 
recorded in the pages of Punchy who, when 
he was refused at the recruiting station because 
of his age or his size, replied in a rage, "All 
right, only don't blame me if you lose this 

Each of these men felt the whole responsibility 
of England on his own shoulders. It is the only 
way in which to join the army. 

I remember a long wait at the railway station 
when we were leaving London for Tilbury, and 
I remember also that I forgot my passport and 
sent my maid, who had come to see me off, 
flying back for it in a taxi, and I also remember 


hoping sincerely that no one in the corps would 
hear anything about it. My official title was 
Head of the Orderlies, and for a head orderly to 
forget her passport would doubtless sound rather 
bad ! However, a more truly cordial lot of 
people it would be difficult to find than our unit 
turned out to be. The passport was successfully 
retrieved, and we set sail. 

It was one of those voyages which produce 
the deeply-sworn " never again " of suffering 
passengers. One regretted living on an island. 
One was willing to vote millions for a Channel 
tunnel, and the only comforting verse of Scripture 
that suggested itself for one's tombstone was 
" There shall be no more sea." One promised 
oneself one more voyage only, as long as life 
lasted, and that was back to England again. 

At Antwerp we were met by carriages sent 
for us by the British Consulate, and, feeling 
empty, we put on the Patent Patriotic Smile, 
which we believed to be suitable for " the Front." 
The Patent Patriotic Smile helped afterwards, 
and it was just as well to begin to practise it, 
even though one was still feeling very seasick. 

There was a great deal to do. The medical 
stores and part of the luggage were taken out 
of the boat, and we drove to the " Harmonic," 
where we found a large summer concert-hall 
placed at our disposal as a hospital. It was an 



ideal building, except, of course, as a protection 
against shell-fire. The high ceiling and the 
many windows gave plenty of light and ventila- 
tion, and the whole place had a bright and 
friendly air. The good nuns at the convent 
opposite gave us sleeping accommodation and 
a dining-room, while a few bedrooms were 
available for surgeons and orderlies in the 
hospital itself. We began to put up beds, and 
to allot to each person her special post. The 
girls, of course, and very naturally, were all 
keen about ward work. No one had come out 
to Antwerp to wait on or cook for an English 
staff, for instance. They must serve soldiers ! 
There was a determined competition for heavy 
work, while not many " H.M.S. Helpfuls," as 
certain of my young friends have now named 
fussy workers, were present. I have always felt 
that zeal has a right to expend itself like any 
other form of energy, and that it can be ex- 
pended wholesomely if it has an outlet, while 
assuredly it will not make for peace if that 
outlet is denied it. It should, I believe, be given 
a wide scope in the matter of work, even if it 
takes the curious form of a jealous passion for 
sweeping out a ward with a long-handled broom. 
In a few days there was not so much 
anxiety to claim the whole share of every one's 
work on the part of our staff as there was at 



the outset, and they began to settle down into 
their stride in a very commendable spirit. The 
wounded had begun to arrive almost before our 
130 beds were in order, but at first the cases 
were not so serious as those which afterwards 
came to us. Free from anxiety, and with 
patients doing well, the time passed pleasantly. 
The authorities gave the hospital unstinted 
praise, and we were visited by various personages 
of high position. We liked the Belgians, and I 
believe they liked us, and in the delightful gar- 
den of the " Harmonie " we made many friends. 
Of course, we had our favourites amongst the 
patients — Alfred, whose bed was always sur- 
rounded because he spoke English ; and Sunny 
Jim, who had, on some pretext or another, 
remained in the hospital until long after he was 
quite well ; and a few English soldiers who 
wrote post cards, and convalescents in red flannel 
jackets, who sat on benches in the sun and 
smoked. A not too rigorous routine was estab- 
lished, and we found ourselves very well content 
with Antwerp, and talked of passing a consider- 
able time there. 



As every one now knows, the life of the hospital 
was very brief, but while it lasted it was very 
satisfactory. I believe many wounded ^^ , 

soldiers will remember with pleasure ^ 
the big airy concert-hall and the pleas- ^ ^* 
ant garden which surrounded it. The hall and 
the garden always had a certain air of gaiety 
about them, in curious contrast to their present 
uses ; but this was good for the men who had 
looked on far other sights not many miles away. 
Under the trees were groups of chairs and marble 
tables, reminiscent of "refreshments" and an 
open-air social life. The tables formed ward- 
tables afterwards ; and in the wide, sunny balcony 
of the hospital the rows of chairs were always in 
use by convalescents, who used to shiver in the 
sunbeams, delicate still, and with horny hands 
rolled up dry tobacco in cigarette papers. 

We must have been singularly fortunate in 
our patients, or else, as I shrewdly suspect, the 


Belgians arc naturally good mannered. Their 
gratitude was shown in a thousand ways; but I 
believe nothing gave the hospital staff more 
pleasure than when it took the form of presenting 
Mrs. Stobart with a couple of handsome bronze 
medals in a case. She herself was much touched 
by this gift, and made a nice speech in return 
for it. Our patients seemed to consider that 
when they said, "Je suis tres content de restcr 
ici," they might remain in the hospital as long 
as they liked ; and indeed we should have been 
contented ourselves to have had them remain. 

We grew fond of the patient, quiet, small 
men, who, even when they were in pain, were 
always grateful and always polite, and who 
seemed to have a genuine enthusiasm for Eng- 
land. Their " Thank you verra moch *' was 
always spoken in English, out of compliment to 
their allies, I believe ! 

One wishes the pleasant useful time could 
have lasted longer. According to the news- 
papers, it was going to last indefinitely. And 
every day we read in the journals, " pour le reste, 
tout est calme " in Antwerp, while if one's own 
ears were to be believed, the sound of firing 
seemed to get nearer every day. We used to 
amuse ourselves at breakfast-time by asking for 
newspaper accounts of what was happening, and 
contrasting them with what we saw for ourselves, 



until at last even the newspapers admitted that 
the forts were " threatened.'' 

I took a little carriage one afternoon and drove 
to the second line of fortifications. In Belgium, 
which is the muddiest country in the world, and 
where water lies long on the level roads, there is 
always a slightly raised track of stones in the 
middle of the streets, with a slough of mud on 
cither side of it. Subsequently, one knew these 
roadways well, and got accustomed to the sudden 
dives which motor cars and ambulances took 
when passing each other on the narrow ways ; 
but at first one was puzzled to find oneself 
driving on cobbles right out into the country. 

My knowledge of military matters is small 
indeed, and my knowledge of fortifications and 
constructions is even less; yet I must confess to 
a feeling of surprise — for which I offer excuses 
to those who know much better than myself — 
when I saw the forts. I had always heard that 
Antwerp was one of the best-protected towns in 
the world, and, indeed, I had often heard it 
called impregnable ; but the grass-grown ram- 
parts and the old stone-built forts looked to my 
ignorant eyes like remnants of mediaevalism : it 
was impossible to think of them as being designed 
to stand a heavy siege of modern artillery ; 
indeed, the impression that was conveyed to the 
mind was that of some slumbering old fortifica- 


tion, such as one is often taken to sec because o 
its historic interest. I passed fields in which men 
were laboriously placing wooden stakes which, 
they told me, were put there to lame horses ! 
And there seemed to linger about Antwerp a 
notion of cavalry charges up to the walls of the 
city. Even the wire entanglements looked lik 
mere playthings, and quite unfit to stop hosts of 
marching men. Antwerp was shelled from six 
miles away ! The wooden pegs, which looked 
as if some gardener was preparing to plant a field 
with bulbs, could be avoided by making a detour 
of one hundred yards on either side of them ; and 
the wire entanglements no doubt were subse- 
quently pulled up with one hand, and could 
hardly, it seemed to me, have stopped a regi- 
ment of schoolgirls armed with bonnet-pins. 

I never saw the outer forts, but I enjoyed a 
survey of the inner ones, in much the same way 
in which one enjoys seeing oubliettes and draw- 
bridges and loopholes for arrows, and other 
interesting remnants of a bygone system of 
defence. Cavalry advancing by road and through 
a ploughed field might have found Antwerp an 
awkward place to negotiate ; otherwise I could 
not discover what the defences were for. 

A few lines of trees had been cut down, while 
others had been spared, and a great many small 
gardens had been trampled out of existence, in 


preparation for an assault by 1 6-inch guns ! 
The place seemed to my ignorant mind to be 
doomed beforehand, and no doubt that doom 
was hastened by treachery within the walls. A 
large German population is not easily or im- 
mediately sorted out at a crisis, and the fall of 
Antwerp, which took so many persons by 
surprise, could hardly, I think, have been un- 
anticipated by those who were in the city. 

On the 25th we began to hear the sound of 
guns, and one afternoon a Taube flew overhead. 
One grew well accustomed to the visit of these 
destructive birds in the weeks that followed, but 
this was the first one I had seen. They are 
singularly graceful in their flight, and it is 
difficult to connect their dove-like sailing over- 
head with dropped bombs and " silent death " 
and destruction. 

Our guns fired at the one which sailed over 
the hospital, and there was some little com- 
motion in the street outside ; while a piece of 
shrapnel fell through the roof of our hospital 
and considerably startled a wounded man beside 
whose bed it landed. The bursting shells looked 
like bits of cotton wool in the sky, and amongst 
them the Taube sailed away again, having had a 
look at us and laid an egg very rudely in our 

The firing could constantly be heard after this, 

(1,866) 3 


and the work of the hospital became very heavy. 
Two orderlies always took turns in sitting 
up at night so as to be able to give a helping 
hand to the nurses and doctors, who were kept 
busy day and night. The bell at the street gate 
used to ring, and we knew that one vehicle, 
moving more slowly than the others that tore up- 
and down the road, contained wounded men 
slung on stretchers behind the canvas tilt of 
the ambulance. Our work had developed into 
routine very quickly. We used to go down the 
long passage to the gateway, where a little 
crowd with a taste for horrors always assembled 
to see what could be seen, and here we received 
the different cases and took their names and 
regimental numbers before handing them over to 
the surgeons. Later, clothes had to be sorted 
and labelled, and sent to be disinfected and 
cleaned ; and it became a work of some magni- 
tude to empty the men's pockets of their various 
treasures, and label and number them and put 
them away. The Belgian loves his small pos- 
sessions, and carries about with him the most 
curious collection of things ; and in his knapsack, 
whose principal merit might seem to be that it 
should be light, he often carries presents for all 
his family ; and I have frequently been called 
upon to admire the silk scarves, the baby's shoes, 
and the bottles of scent which they contained. 


In their greatcoats we used to find loaded 
revolvers side by side with sardine tins and 
candle ends and oddments of every description. 
They were all very pockety, and many of them 
were not of the sort that can be conveniently 
baked in a furnace ; but I think we loyally 
looked after them all, and each patient got his 
queer goods when he was discharged. 

We used to serve oxo to the men as soon as 
they were brought in, and we had hot water bottles 
ready for them. The worst of it all was that 
everything had to be done in the dark. Orders 
were compulsory about lights being turned out 
by eight o'clock, and after that hour a good deal 
of groping used to begin, and marble tables 
with unsuspected legs were frequently over- 
turned with a crash. We used to hold electric 
torches for the doctors who were dressing 
wounds, and I think I have never seen such 
exhaustion as the soldiers showed. They often 
went to sleep while the bandages were being 
placed upon them, and I have even seen a man 
doze heavily while a cut in his forehead was 
being stitched. 

The darkness and the want of water were the 
two baffling things about that time in Antwerp ; 
and indeed the groping about, when the short 
days closed in, was one of the worst things about 
the whole winter. The Germans destroyed the 


reservoir near Antwerp, and all the water for the] 
hospital and for our own men had to be fetched] 
in buckets from a neighbouring well. We use( 
to go out after supper, offering to carry things 
for each other as women will, and fill every! 
available receptacle and carry them back to the] 
two houses before going to bed. 

About this time we got orders to evacuate the 
wounded ; but later, when all the patients who 
could move were dressed, we were begged to 
remain and to keep the hospital open. The 
authorities told us frankly that the town would 
without doubt be bombarded, and that the Govern- 
ment, etc., were leaving ; also that any of the 
hospital unit who wanted to return home were at 
liberty to do so. Only one or two took advan- 
tage of the permission, and the rest remained. 

There was a certain sense of strain about the 
days that followed. The weather was still and 
quiet, and the autumn leaves dropped plentifully 
in the convent's peaceful garden where we 
lodged, while the booming of guns went on all 
the time, and every one began to leave the city. 

The Government officials and the Consulate 
departed for England, and every boat was packed 
with crowds of refugees of all classes. There 
was no panic, but certainly a very fixed deter- 
mination to get away. Meanwhile, we still read 
" Tout est calme ; " and I suppose that when a 


town IS nearly emptied of its inhabitants it has 
rather a calm appearance. We might ourselves 
have imagined that all was calm had it not been 
for the frequently arriving ambulances at the 
door. Each case seemed more pitiful than the 
last, and at night time especially it was heart- 
breaking to hear the cries in the wards. From 
a distance, I fancy that the actual suffering that 
war brings is sometimes not appreciated, or may 
even be overlooked. It is not, perhaps, well to 
insist upon it, but a hospital at the front leaves 
nothing unrealized in this respect. And still the 
news from the trenches was bad. Even English 
soldiers and sailors said it was bad ; and when 
English soldiers and sailors admit that they are 
not winning hands down, one may begin to 
suspect that the outlook is serious. 

I often went to the gate of the garden to see 
the ceaseless stream of motor conveyances tearing 
up and down between our hospital and the 
trenches. The stream never ceased, and the 
hooting of horns never ceased, while the sense 
of hurry and stress went on all the time. 
When the cars were English, the occupants 
would often stop to ask the way at the cross- 
roads ; and to one's question, "What news.?'' 
there would come a shake of the head and, 
" Not very good." 

We all spent most of our days in the wards 


then, and got Belgian women to do the other 
work. At night time the concert-hall, with its 
platform and gay pillars and the forgotten air 
of gaiety about it, always struck me as being 
particularly sad. It seemed like a living protest 
against the destruction of simple happiness in a 
big provincial town, where men and women had 
enjoyed music, and tea at little marble tables, and 
a concert-hall with singers in it. Now it was 
plunged in darkness, and nurses with tiny lights, 
going up and down between the straight little 
beds, had to listen to cries of " A boire, 
mademoiselle,'' all through the night. They 
moved about softly with their little torches and 
straightened a pillow here and there, while over- 
head was a great arch of decorated ceiling, all 
gay with painted flowers. Wounded men coming 
in out of the dark used to blink oddly at the 
concert-hall and at the nurses and doctors ; but 
I used to think they did not question anything 
or think of anything much except their own 
suffering. I had had an idea that I should be 
kept busy writing letters for them, or sending 
messages to their homes, but a good many of 
the poor fellows were too ill for this ; and as 
time went on, our hospital being nearest to 
the actual fighting, we used to receive cases all 
night long. 

The guns were now so close that the air used 


to shake with them ; and, alas ! we had to refuse 
many patients owing to want of room. On 
Sunday, the 3rd, however, we were quite sure 
that all would now be well, for some London 
omnibuses had arrived, and it was quite impos- 
sible to associate a respectable London omnibus 
with defeat ! They still had advertisements on 
them, redolent of familiar streets, and were filled 
with naval men. We admitted that we were 
" thrilled,'* and we went to the gate to wish 
them " good luck '* as they passed, and to tell 
them to come to us to be nursed if they were 
wounded. In more emotional days the feeling 
of safety which our countrymen gave us might 
have excused expressions of sentiment ; as it 
was, we were " cheery,'' according to the fashion 
of our day, and according to the fashion of 
the hospital, where the meals were always of 
a lively description. We gave the men the best 
" send off" that was possible, and they shook 
hands with us and said, " We will take care of 
you, sister." In our minds there was a sense of 
relief; for there is no doubt about it, omnibuses 
and sailors do give a great sense of security ! 

It is far too early to speak of the diplomatic 
side of the war, or to venture on criticism. 
The arrival of the Naval Brigade did not pre- 
vent the fall of Antwerp. And let us leave it 
at that. 


The hurrying motor cars and ammunition vans 
began to go more swiftly up and down the road, 
and now we noticed that many of them were 
damaged. The men who were driving them 
showed us great lumps of shell which they had 
picked up on the roadway, or would point to 
disabled engines and broken wings, and say, in 
answer to our exclamation, " It would have been 
a lot worse if that piece had fallen on my 'ead.*' 
They seemed sorry not to be able to give us a 
better account of how things were going ; and 
when they got the chance they always ate largely 
and stolidly, and wiped their mouths, said " Good 
morning,'* and went into the firing-line again. 
They would not have parted with an old beloved 
pipe in those days for a ransom, and, like most 
soldiers and sailors, they could grumble about the 
want of sugar in their coffee, and then lay down 
their lives without a murmur. 



The bombardment began on the yth of October 
at midnight. One does not wish to include 
unnecessary personal narrative in an ^ . / 
account of work at the front, but the 
first sound of shells is unexpected and a " ^* 
little startling. Some people have described the 
noise as being a scream, and others have called it 
a yell, and we get such expressions as " whizzing " 
and " whistling," but I do not think any of these 
words quite describe it. It is a curious sound of 
rending, increasing in violence as the missile 
comes towards one, and giving one plenty of 
time to wonder, if one feels so disposed, whether 
it intends to hit one or not. This has its useful 
side if one is inclined to take cover, but it cer- 
tainly adds a little to the mental discomfort 
which being under a prolonged bombardment 
involves. I slept in a small room — the museum 
of the convent school — with a large window in 
it. When the first shell arrived in Antwerp it 
came past my open window and fell quite close 


to the convent. So then we began to dress 
ourselves and, looking rather like a girls* school, 
I thought, we walked over in the bright moon- 
light to the hospital on the other side of the 
road. I suppose it was a matter of honour with 
us all not to walk quickly. There is a British 
obstinacy, of which one saw a good deal during 
the war, which refuses to hurry for a beastly 
German shell ! It has cost a good many lives, 
but it is good all the same. 

We found the hospital staff already very busy. 
As soon as the shells began to come over, the 
helpless wounded all began to scream, while 
some of those who, we imagined, would not 
walk again leapt out of bed. The nurses 
quieted everybody, and an assurance that we did 
not mean to desert them seemed to bring a curious 
sense of safety to the men — as if a handful of 
women could protect them from bursting shells ! 

The hospital, as I have said, was a lightly 
built structure, mostly made of glass, and under- 
neath it was a small coke cellar. I do not fancy 
it gave any protection whatever, and there was 
always the chance that the building above might 
collapse and fall on the top of us, preventing 
our getting out, but that was one of the chances 
which had to be accepted, and the fact of being 
in any sort of cellar had a certain pretension of 
safety about it which satisfied the men. 


On the day previous, we had done what we 
could in the way of removing iron gratings and 
bars which might choke the entrance to the 
little cellar ; also we had arranged mattresses in it 
and stocked it with some provisions and plenty 
of water. Every one had been instructed where 
to find it, so there was no confusion. Our staff 
consisted solely of women : two girls went out 
and turned off the gas at the main, to pre- 
vent an explosion if we should be hit, and 
the others worked at the stretchers, carrying 
men from the hospital above into the small 
space below. I saw one little red-haired nurse 
carry three men in succession on her back down 
the little coal-shoot which formed the cellar's 
entrance ! 

Meanwhile the shells were " coming pretty 
thick," as a wounded English sergeant said. 

Our orders were that everything was to go on 
as usual, and we were asked who was on night 
duty. We said good-night to those who were 
returning to the convent opposite, and the rest 
of us lighted little night-lights and stayed with 
the wounded. There were over a hundred of 
them in the cellar, but we had mattresses for the 
worst cases, and we went to the hospital above 
for extra pillows and blankets and to see that 
every bed was evacuated. 

Most of the men slept, as soldiers seem able 


to do under any circumstances ; but we had 
various distressing cases of painful gangrenous 
wounds and sickness, and these got no rest all 
night. Also, there were some disabled men 
who stood upright all the time, because the 
position was easier for them ; and still others 
who slept on the little piles of coke that re- 
mained in che cellar. The small flames of the 
night-lightS threw curious shadows on the groups 
of soldiers in their greatcoats and with heads or 
arms bound up, and on the white faces of those 
who lay on the mattresses. 

I think the men liked having us with them, 
and they seemed to think it was civil of us 
women not to leave them, for I heard one man 
say to another, as he rolled round on his blanket 
on the floor, " Mon Dieu ! que les Anglaises 
sont comme il faut ! " 

It " bucked one," as schoolboys say, to hear 
one's country well spoken of. But indeed I 
believe a friendship has been established be- 
tween us and Belgium which will not lightly 
be broken. 

The night in the cellar seemed long ; there 
was a constant noise of shivering glass as the 
impact of the shells destroyed our poor hospital, 
and we were anxious about our friends in the 
convent, for one shell certainly, crashing through 
masonry, sounded as though it must have seriously 


damaged the building. We looked at each 
other and said, " That's the convent gone ! " 
But as a matter of fact it was the house next it 
which had been struck, and this was soon in 
flames. The convent itself had only a bit of its 
cornice taken off and some shutters damaged. 
We ourselves came in for rather more than our 
fair share of attention, I fancy, for we were 
(it was explained to me) on a line with the 
arsenal, against which fire was being directed. 
Be that as it may, the morning showed us much 
damage done — trees split up in the garden, 
and a hole six feet deep, where some nurses 
had laid some washing out to dry in front of 
the hospital. 

The wounded English sergeant told us that 
firing would probably cease about dawn, because 
the enemy always liked to keep their guns 
concealed. Consequently, dawn was pretty wel- 
come that morning. But the shelling was 
heavier than ever ! 

At six o'clock the " girls' school " walked 
over from the convent again, and very calmly 
began to prepare breakfast. I must confess that 
had some of the younger girls shown faintness or 
fear I should not, for one, have blamed them ; 
but I did not see anyone give way even for a 
short time. I remember catching a friend's 
eye when a shell came very close to us, and 


so unpleasant was it, that we both began to 

The nurses were bright and lively all the time, 
and chatted all through the night, and the wants 
of the sick and wounded kept most of us busy. 

We could, I admit, have done with less firing 
when the men began to quit the hospital after 
breakfast. A military order came that all those 
who could walk were to leave ; so they set out, 
and that was a pathetic and ghastly business. 
For they had not even crutches or sticks ; but 
we cut up old boxes for them and, leaning on 
little bits of board, doubled up with pain and 
holding on to their comrades, they limped 
off down the long empty road, with "Jack 
Johnsons " still whizzing overhead. 

But only a small part of our difficulties was 
over when all the men who could limp or crawl 
had left us, for not only were we filled with 
anxiety as to what would become of them on 
their slow and painful journey to places of 
shelter, but we still had to determine how the 
" intransportables " could best be looked after 
and cared for. It was, of course, impossible 
that they should remain in the cellar or in the 
hospital. Already the latter place was partially 
wrecked, and it remained unsafe until (I am 
informed) it was hit by a shell and took fire just 
after we left it. 



Three of our party started off to the town 
to see what they could arrange in the way of 
transport, while a young girl, whom we called the 
Transport Orderly, went unobserved and stood by 
the gate at a time when shells were flying "pretty 
thick,'* and remained there for an hour in the 
hope of seeing some empty vehicle coming back 
from the trenches which would take our poor 
wounded away. She informed me afterwards 
that she had " minded " for the first five minutes 
but not afterwards, and she seemed concerned 
that some soldiers had ducked behind a stone 
wall instead of " standing up to " the shells. 

Either the right people were in Antwerp that 
day or else bombardments do not affect English 
nerves very much, or else, as I once heard a 
soldier say, "We are too well-bred to show 
it ! " I have since always seen it stated that 
shells were bursting at the rate of four per 
minute, and although I cannot vouch for this 
statement, I do know that the noise never 
stopped for a moment all day and all night, and 
it was officially stated that many thousands of 
shells fell in the town. In the midst of it a few 
straggling soldiers sheltered where they could, 
while some of our little party, walking for three 
hours in the deserted streets, found an Englishman 
who had discovered an entrance into a tuck-shop 
and was buying a German sausage, and taking 


great care to cut it into neat slices ! At the 
field hospital the patients were having breakfast 
in the open air, after two shells had fallen into 
the courtyard ; and nurses, questioned after- 
wards as to whether they felt frightened or not, 
always replied, " Oh no, much too busy ! " 

I was interested to discover from the various 
remarks I heard on the subject what was the 
motive — or perhaps one ought to say the 
sustaining power — behind the unfailing pluck 
which I saw on all sides. " Much too busy " 
was, as I have said, a common answer to the 
inquisitive questioner who wanted to know what 
were the exact sensations of being under shell- 
fire. Others exclaimed, " I wasn't going to be 
frightened of Germans — rather not ! " While 
there were those who merely remarked with 
dignity that they hoped they were ladies ! And 
still others of thoughtful minds placed their 
confidence somewhat deeper. I was affected 
to observe that these latter were always to be 
relied on at all times and even under trying 

Our transport difficulty was not overcome, 
but it was certainly much relieved when our 
transport orderly who watched by the gate came 
in and said she had found a motor wagon, driven 
by a British soldier, who said he would help us 
to move our wounded. We filled it up with 


our worst cases and had them conveyed to a 
hospital in the town where there were excellent 
cellars, and then the transport wagon came back 
again and we loaded it once more with every 
man that could be packed into it. We sent two 
nurses in it also, and a surgeon and the ward 
interpreter ; and the sole direction that it was 
possible to give them was to get out of the 
range of fire as soon as possible, and to send back 
some conveyance for us if they could do so. 

After that we had a long wait. Nearly all the 
wounded had been dispatched, and there was not 
much to do. We sat in the convent kitchen 
and felt amazingly tired ; also the noise of the 
bursting shells began to get rather maddening. 
At 5.30 we saw three English omnibuses coming 
back with ammunition from the trenches. The 
men who drove them offered to give us a lift if 
we would get in at once, and we did so. As soon 
as we were in the omnibus the spirits of all the 
girls rose with a bound. They climbed up on the 
roof, in order better to see the houses that were 
on fire all round us ; they sang " Tipperary,'* 
and they lighted cigarettes in an omnibus filled 
with ammunition and petrol ! 

Most people, I think, believe themselves to 
have been the last to leave Antwerp. We our- 
selves got away about six o'clock, and the bridge 
was blown up a few hours later. 

(1,866) 4 


The scene down by the river was very striking. 
Some immense oil-tanks were in a blaze and 
lighted up the sky and the river and the town 
like some gorgeous sunset, while across the red 
sky the shells still flew. 

Our omnibuses crossed the river in a ferry. 
I myself found the transit inconveniently slow, 
for the rumour was that fire was now being 
directed upon the shipping, and the crawling 
movement of the ferry hardly made motion 
perceptible ; but I did not ask anyone else if they 
also would have preferred a little more speed. 

When we reached the other side we set out to 
walk, with no fixed intention except to give as 
wide a berth as possible to the city of Antwerp. 
Before we had gone very far, however, some 
Belgian ambulances hove in sight, and these 
very kindly took us to the shelter of a convent 
at St. Gilles. The drive in the dark — for the 
dusk had now fallen — was full of vivid interest, 
for an endless stream of mounted soldiers and 
wagons lined the road. One heard the cracking 
of whips and the sound of horses' hoofs in the 
mud even when one could not see anything very 
clearly, and here and there were fires lighted 
under the trees, and some men cooking supper 
or sleeping — wherever they stopped, even for a 
few minutes, the men fell rather than lay down 
and slept. 


We got into St. Gilles very late, and ate the 
small store of provisions we had been able to 
carry with us, and then the nuns gave us per- 
mission to sleep on the floor of one of their 
schoolrooms. We turned in (if that is an allow- 
able expression for sleeping on a floor) about 
midnight, and at 3 a.m. we had to get up again, 
the news being that " things were worse." But 
this was a scare, I fancy, and the order merely 
meant that we must get up and start immediately 
in the outgoing train for Ostend. We came 
away with some of the Naval Brigade, in the 
longest and slowest train I have ever been in. 
I was reminded of the old joke about the notice 
in a railway carriage in America, which said, 
" Passengers are forbidden to write their names 
on the telegraph posts when the train is in 
motion." When our train was not crawling 
it stopped altogether, and we used to get out 
and sit on the railway bank for a time, and 
then, as it jerked forward again, we would get 
back into carriages which smelt of sardines and 

I think I have never felt more strongly than 
I did on that long journey that an Englishman 
never knows when he is beaten. It seemed to 
me that whatever we might do in the future — 
and we all m.can to " win in the end " — we were 
for the moment in the unhappy and horrible 


position of turning our backs on the enemy. 
I do not think the British who were our com- 
panions were downhearted or even conscious that 
they had had a reverse. Most of them in the 
third-class carriage in which I travelled were 
offering to bring me the Kaiser's head as a 
souvenir. Their minds ran on souvenirs, and 
they parted with buttons and bullets all the way 
down the line to villagers, who brought them 
apples and coffee. I did once meekly suggest 
to them that in order to get the Kaiser's head 
we ought to be travelling in the other direction ; 
but this was a view of the matter which did not 
suggest itself to the Britisher. " It's all right, 
miss ; if we don't get it for you to-day, you shall 
have it to-morrow." The Britisher was born 
cheery. Even when they were " gassed " they 
called out, " All right, AUemands, put another 
penny in the meter ! " 

We reached Ostend at midnight, having 
travelled since three o'clock in the morning, 
and found that every one in the place wanted 
to stop us and ask news of Antwerp. " Inter- 
views " were demanded almost in the gutters, 
and our small party had to hasten on through the 
dark (for Ostend also was in a state of eclipse) 
to try to find accommodation. This, after many 
disappointments, we were able to do, and we 
were accorded the privilege of sleeping on the 


marble floor of a restaurant. It was not a 
particularly comfortable way of passing our third 
night out of bed ; and the house for the moment 
could produce only three eggs and some bread 
for supper for our large party. I consider that 
it was very nearly a flight of genius on the part 
of one of us when it occurred to her to ask 
the patronne of the hotel whether the house 
could still produce some light champagne. It 
proved itself able to do so, and I was glad for 
the sake of the staffs, who had worked so hard, 
that the evening ended in a manner that was 
determinedly gay. We were all nearly nodding 
with fatigue, but we drank our chief's health, 
and made the best we could out of a somewhat 
sorry occasion. It did not do to think of 
our hospital, with its beds and its comforts 
perhaps destroyed ; and I was touched more 
than I like to say to hear the regrets of some 
of those who had lost all their small possessions 
in Antwerp. 

During the day I had heard a good deal from 
the men in the train about the equipment which 
they had been obliged to leave behind them on 
the platform of the town we had quitted. They 
told me that each man's kit cost ^^6, and that 
they would have to be fitted out again when 
they went back to Folkestone. They got an 
immense reception there, which I, for one, do 


not grudge them ; but women — the nurses and 
the orderlies and the staff — were adding up the 
value of the things that they had left behind, 
and I am sure no one ever knew when or where 
they landed in England ! They came back un- 
noticed, and began to save up out of their little 
salaries money enough to replace their caps 
and aprons. 

Still, we were able to wire home to our friends 
on the following morning that we were all right, 
and that was a certain satisfaction. 



At Ostend we found our little party of nurses 
and wounded men who had left us during the 
bombardment of Antwerp. One man ^.r / 
had died, and many others were very 
ill. A small house had been given up " ^' 
to them, but it was quite evident that we 
should not long be able to remain at Ostend. 

Our unit went back to England, and I was much 
struck to see the evidence of fatigue and strain 
on every one. More seasoned warriors than these 
women wore the stamp of the siege of Antwerp 
on their faces for a long time afterwards, and the 
" Antwerp look " passed into a sort of proverb. 
Our women had not slept for three nights ; they 
had been under heavy shell-fire for eighteen 
hours (and they were new to shells in those days) ; 
and they were returning home after three weeks 
of exhausting work. But no one complained, 
and all were ready to stay on with the wounded. 
The only sign of strain which anyone showed 
was an inability to hear what was said. It took 


some time for a question to penetrate, and it was 
significant to hear how often every one said 
" What ? " 

I did not return to England, but waited at 
Ostend, which I found very interesting for a 
few days. There was something a little bit 
like a panic in the place, and so crowded were 
the boats going to England that people used 
to wait at the docks all night for early morning 
sailings. The crowds were quiet but anxious, 
and every one was on tip-toe to get away. 
One heard of people crossing in open boats. 
I do not know if this was true or not ; but I 
saw the waiting crowds myself, and the wounded, 
and the men seemed terribly afraid of being 
taken prisoners. 

The Germans were not iur off, and it was 
a great bore clearing out in front of them again. 

At Ostend I met Dr. Munro, retreating like 
the rest of us with his ambulances and his staff. 
He suggested I should join them, which I did ; 
and on Tuesday, the 13th, after a confused break- 
fast, served in a hurry, we mounted the ambulances 
and went to Dunkirk. The road was lined and 
filled with people, walking or in carts or carriages, 
all trying to get away. Everywhere we were asked 
for " lifts," and every one was carrying something. 
It was a stormy day of wind and rain, which added 
a great deal to the distressfulness of the scene. 


At Dunkirk there was no room for any of us 
at any of the hotels, so we went out to Malo 
les Bains, which is the little seaside suburb of 
Dunkirk, approachable by tramway, and we com- 
mandeered there a little hotel which had been 
shut up for the winter. All the carpets were 
up, and Malo at that time suggested nothing 
to me but an empty bathing machine, so sug- 
gestive was the little place of summer visitors, 
all now fled and gone. 

As far as I remember, the evening ended 
pleasantly on bacon and eggs, served by an 
excitable landlady with black hair. 

I was interested to find the ladies of our 
corps with maps and motor cars. Most of them 
were good chauffeurs, and all were well posted 
up in war news. I heard a man in a responsible 
position say to a girl, " How far are we from 
the firing-line ? " and she was able to inform him, 
of course. Later, I used to hear the same sort 
of appeals made constantly, " Have you been 
able to get our passports ? " " Where are we to 
get petrol ? " " Can you find us tyres ? " " What 
is the password ? " 

Perhaps the ladies' superior knowledge of 
French gave me the idea that much of the 
organization and practical work, both of hos- 
pitals and ambulances in Belgium, were due to 
them. Later on I was struck by their pluck 


and their resourcefulness ; but at Malo I firs 
learned what good organizers they can be. 

News was very scarce at first, but the news 
papers, like some dear old hurdy-gurdy with 
only one tune to play, loyally drummed out 
tales of victories. The sound of firing was 
still audible, and I am interested to note that 
during nine months in Belgium there were 
not many days on which the boom of guns 
could not be heard either near or far away. 
When the firing was loud and heavy, it was 
our invariable custom to remark that those must 
be British guns. Of the German artillery we 
always spoke as if high explosives and heavy 
field-pieces were some happy chance fallen from 
heaven on that very undeserving people. 

The " preparedness ** of our cousins, who have 
declared friendship for us for so many years, and 
have had, so to speak, the run of the house, both 
here and in India, gave one much to ponder over 
and consider. Everywhere there was evidence 
that war had been intended for years past. In 
Belgium itself pretty, innocent-looking villas, 
inhabited by some stout German bourgeois, were 
found to be well provided with concrete floors 
for mounting guns, and even the carriage drives 
had been carefully prepared for the traffic of 
heavy ammunition vans. Artillery that had, 
perhaps, been sent to some local exhibition had 



been unaccountably left there, and was con- 
veniently discovered when wanted, and no doubt 
Germany must often have smiled when some 
of our peace-loving politicians advised drastic 
economies in our army and navy. 

Malo was such a serene little place that it was 
almost impossible to associate it with the thought 
of war. One saw a level sea and a few fishing 
boats going out with the tide. On the long 
gray shore shrimpers waded with their nets, and 
often the only colour on the beach was the little 
wink of white that the breaking waves made on 
the sand. The rows of empty bathing-boxes 
gave it the air of a theatre seen by daylight 
when the audience is no longer there ; but it 
was evidently a place of simple amusements 
and friendly holiday times. 

Damaged ambulances and cars coming in from 
the front seemed out of place at Malo. I 
remember seeing one that had been brought 
to the arsenal to be repaired. It had been a 
German one once, painted gray, and with the 
Prussian eagle upon it. This had been obliterated 
with a few streaks of colour to suggest the French 
tricolor^ and mechanics were now repairing it. 
Its sides were literally riddled with bullet-holes, 
and its engine smashed. The man behind the 
wheel must have known something of what 
fighting means. He was killed, of course, and 


one realized that to sit behind a wheel with one*! 
car rapidly becoming like a sieve must requin 
some nerve. 

Speaking of Malo, one cannot do less thai 
mention some of the excellent hospitals whicl 
were afterwards established there. The on< 
which I personally saw most of belonged t< 
Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland, and I canno 
speak too highly of her work. A Frencl 
soldier, who was wounded and taken there, told 
me afterwards of his experiences. He said the 
hospital was almost full when he arrived, 
and that it was proposed that the last available 
bed should be given to an officer, but " Madame 
la Duchesse " said, " No ; a wounded man is 
a wounded man, and there is no distinction 
between them." 

So the wounded soldier got the bed, and I 
never heard what became of the officer. 

There was plenty of good work done by 
various people — sometimes by those of whom 
one least expected it. I remember, for instance, 
hearing some doubt expressed in the earlier 
stages of the war as to whether a barge with 
ladies, generally associated in the public mind 
with social life, would be of much service in 
distributing clothes and necessities to Belgian 
refugees. But no one who has seen them visit- 
ing in the poorest houses and pinning bundles 


of clothes together with their own hands, could 
for a moment doubt their usefulness. The work 
of these ladies, and of many others during the 
war, seemed to produce a favourable and most 
grateful expression of feeling on the part of the 

On the 22nd of October we moved out to 
Furnes. On the road there, one saw what one 
was afterwards to get so well accustomed to — 
an endless stream of motors and men. The 
motors were of every size and description, and 
everything on wheels had to carry what it could. 
A gray-lined, once sumptuous car would often be 
filled to the roof with loaves of bread, while a 
lumbering camion^ hooting noisily like everything 
else, would show an interior stacked with planks 
or petrol tins. One's previous notion of soldiers 
" marching as to war " may have been associated 
in one's mind with bands playing, and the stirring 
sound of marching feet. Here, one saw some 
tired men grimly slogging along, their uniforms 
covered with mud, and their boots often worn 
out. But every inch of Belgium was being 
contested by them ! They were flying no 
banners, but they stuck to the trenches, and 
with one little corner of their country left to 
them, they held their own and fought stubbornly 
and obstinately. 

Nothing was ready for us at Furnes, so we had 


to motor back to Malo to sleep, and we starte( 
again the next morning at 5 a.m. The road 
were nearly empty then, and I remember w( 
made the journey in a Brooklands racing car, ii 
which I was somewhat insecurely perched 01 
some petrol tins. Our chauffeur said when w 
arrived that he had " knocked sixty miles ar 
hour out of her.*' This may or may not have 
been true, but I do not ever remember travelling 
so fast before, and I could have done with a 
more secure seat than the one I was on. 

When we reached the hospital we heard that 
lighting had been going on all night, and already 
the wounded were beginning to come in. We 
often spoke afterwards of the time that followed 
as the busiest we had ever known. It certainly 
was one which emphasized what is glibly spoken 
of as the horrors of war. 

A large ecclesiastical college had been made 
over to the field hospital, and wards were not 
only already prepared, but were already filled. 
Our ambulances, together with those of the 
Belgians, brought in the wounded both by 
day and by night. Men and women drove 
these ambulances, and they were coming 
in ceaselessly all the time. The courtyard of 
the college was always filled with cars, and 
filled, too, with the sound of throbbing engines 
and clutches being jerked, and all the noises 


which arrival and departure involve. Stores 
were being unpacked, and one noticed how many 
people said, " Where ? '' and then hastened on 
without waiting for a reply. " Where is the 
chloroform ? " " Where are the stretchers ? " 
" Where are the Germans ? " " Where (even) are 
the dead to be put .? " 

No one stopped to answer. The wounded 
continued to come in, and the guns were firing 
all the time. The first of the ambulances that 
had been out all night used to arrive about 10 a.m. 
carrying battered men on its pitiful shelves. 

" Take care ; there are two fearfully bad cases 
inside. Step together ! The man on the top 
stretcher is dead, lift him down. Steady ! Lift 
the others out first. Now, carry them across the 
yard to the overcrowded ward, and lay them 
on the floor, for all the beds are full. Lay them 
down, and go for others. Take the worst cases 
to the operating theatre, and cut off^ the shattered 
limb. Here is a man in the ward just dead ; lift 
him out, and make room for another." 

All round the stoves on the floor the stretchers 
are lying closely packed. A hurrying nurse 
covers a man's face as she passes, and the bran- 
car diers carry him out. A doctor enters with 
disinfectants, and sprinkles the floor where he 
can, for nearly all of it is covered with stretchers. 
A half- starved boy with both his hands in 


bandages is unable to hold a spoon, and wher 
he is fed with a bowl of porridge and milk 
he stops before it is half finished and says, " Fn 
afraid there won't be enough for the others.' 
A few cushions in the corner of the room an 
all that we can give him, and even these mus 
be given up soon, for every man who can trave 
must go on to Calais or Dunkirk. The firinj 
is pretty near now, and the wounded are comin] 
in sometimes at the rate of a hundred a day. 

A young friend of mine at home said to me 
" I suppose, though, on the whole, you an 
having a very good time." 

A French boy of sixteen dies very slowly an( 
painfully ; and children are brought in, and girll 
with their legs smashed, and old women wit! 
white hair are horribly wounded. These lattei 
cases must go to the civil hospital. Onlj 
soldiers can remain in the field hospital. An( 
there isn't nearly enough room for them ! 

It is about five o'clock in the afternoon, whei 
the light fails, that the worst hour in the hospita 
begins. The dim lamps are lighted, and peopl< 
begin to fall over things. Also, this is the hour 
it seems to me, when men feel pain most, when 
the wounded in beds and on the floor begin to 
cry out. How they sufi^er ! Here is a young 
boy with his eyes shot out ; and several beds in 
a row contain men with head wounds, the result 


of bursting shrapnel overhead. And there are 
other cases far too pitiful to describe ; and men 
who have lost their reason ; and men moaning for 
morphia ; and a baby of three years old with 
both his legs broken and a little bandaged hand 
at which he looks with wonder. 

It isn't a good time. War is not a merry 

Blood -covered mattresses and pillows arc 
carried out into the courtyard. There is always 
a great pile of rags and bandages being burnt 
outside. A curious smell pervades everything. 

In the midst of it all doctors and nurses keep 
their heads and are never flurried, never less than 
careful and attentive. They sit up all night, 
and in the noisy daytime get but little sleep ; 
they have become inured to seeing death and 
suffering without being hardened by it, and their 
patience is admirable. 

On an afternoon the Queen of the Belgians 
came to visit the hospital. It seemed to me 
then, as it seems to me now, that few things 
could so wring the heart of any woman as 
to visit the wounded of an army in the remnant 
of a kingdom as she did. 

On the day she came, the wards were as full 
as usual, and she spoke to each man there. In 
the evening an old friend of my own appeared, 
coming in out of the darkness, in the unexpected 



way people do in war time, and we went round 
the wards together. Mme. Curie and her daugh- 
ter were attached to the hospital for a time, and 
looked after the X-Rays, and some journalists 
came before the stringent rules were subsequently 
enforced that none were to be admitted. 

There was heavy fighting at Dixmude at that 
time, and one night was especially full of interest 
and of excitement. The town was being heavily 
shelled, and some of our ambulances went in to 
get the wounded. The account that some of 
these men gave afterwards of the scene which 
they witnessed was dramatic in the extreme. 
One friend of mine told me that Dixmude was 
like some city which a man might see in a 
drunken dream. Houses were falling, and build- 
ings were literally reeling as the shells struck 
them ; spires had been knocked crooked, and it 
hardly seemed possible that anything could 
remain alive through that night. As far as I 
can remember, eight men of our corps went in 
on ambulances when the shelling was at its worst 
to fetch the wounded out of the cellars where 
they had been laid. 

A son of the Belgian War Minister was with 
us in those days, and he it was who saw to the 
loading up of the ambulances, and who gave 
orders for them to start. When all were full, 
the chauffeur on the last ambulance believed 


that the order had been given for him also to 
start, and it was not until the three heavily laden 
vehicles were a considerable way from the town 
that it was discovered that our Belgian ally was 
missing. One of our ambulances instantly turned 
back, after the two men in charge had transferred 
the wounded to another transport and had sent it 
on to the hospital. It must have required more 
than a little nerve to go back into Dixmude that 
night. The bombardment continued, and the 
two gentlemen were so long in returning that 
it was believed without doubt that some serious 
misadventure had overtaken them in their efforts 
to find the missing man. Without waiting very 
long, a second ambulance with two men went 
back into Dixmude to look for the first, and 
about midnight both of them returned, but, alas ! 
without having been able to find our friend. 
It was a terribly anxious and trying time for 
every one, and the feelings of the little party 
can be imagined when they returned to Furnes 
without him. Every one remembered the fact 
that he had helped to load up the ambulances, 
and had called out "All right," but from that 
moment no tidings could be obtained of him, 
and there was no one to ask for information in 
the confused and tormented town. 

However, all's well that ends well. When 
our spirits were at their lowest, he appeared 


at the door and explained that he had been 
obliged to descend into a cellar a second time 
to make sure that no wounded were left in 
it, and that when he came up into the air again 
there was no trace of the ambulances to be seen. 
He got out of the town on his feet, and was 
picked up later by a Belgian conveyance, which 
brought him to the door of the hospital. 

Wherever our ambulances were wanted they 
always went, and I have never known a case of 
their turning back. Dixmude was a case in 
point, and there were many others which I could 



On my birthday — one is a little apt to fix 
dates in this egotistic way in war time, because 
one's own personality is of so little ^ , 
account, and one is so small in the 
vastness of it that one clings to what ^ ^' 
there may be left of it as one recalls one's features 
in a mirror — I was out with the ambulances. 
I remember looking forward to my day in the 
open air very much, and feeling very saddened 
when I went over to the civil hospital with 
a wounded old woman, and found the nuns 
washing on the green there, and under a rude 
open shed I saw many dead laid. They were 
only partially covered with blankets, and I 
noticed how tired, even in death, their poor 
soiled feet looked. The nuns, with their black 
robes tucked up, went on with their washing, 
and the dead slept beside them. 

It was very early, and dawn always suggests 
a forward look. One wanted something good 
for these unconsidered soldiers, with a number 


slung round their necks, who had given even 
their names for their country. 

We started immediately after breakfast to go 
and bring in the wounded. It was a gusty, wild 
morning — one of those days when the sky takes 
up all the picture, and the world looks small. 
The mud was deep on either side of the cobbled 
roadway, and I heard the chauffeurs say that the 
ambulances steered badly, and that it was heavy 
going. When we reached the scene of action, it 
was necessary to put out of mind altogether the 
tin-soldier notion of battle, which one had learned 
upon the nursery floor. Squares and serried 
ranks and battalions are not visible — indeed, 
nothing was visible except the smoke of burst- 
ing shells. There was an air of untidiness, if 
one may so express it, which is very different 
from the straight lines of soldiers on the nursery 
carpet. First, one came to straggling lots of 
men covered with mud coming back from the 
trenches to rest, or a corps of bicyclists, per- 
haps, ploughing through the mud. Every one 
seemed bent on but two things — to lie down 
somewhere, and to get something to eat. 

All the soldiers were squatting in groups be- 
hind the guns, trying to cook things. I saw 
one man with a couple of loaves spitted on 
his bayonet and carried over his shoulder, and 
another with half a sheep*s carcass across his 


back. Still another — with a good deal of faith 
— was trying to tempt a fish out of the canal, 
with a line held on a piece of stick. After the 
straggling soldiers came a line of ammunition 
vans, and then the long gray guns, tilted at 
various angles, and beyond, the bursting shells 
like black and white tufts against the sky. 
The shells made noise enough ; but the long 
gray guns, when we got beyond them, had a 
curious streaky sound. 

I got an unexpected touch of humour when 
I saw one of our chauffeurs put out his hand to 
signal to a gun not to fire down our road, in 
exactly the manner of a '' Bobby " regulating 
London traffic. And I was reminded of a funny 
sight I had seen in the city of Delhi, when one 
of the gorgeous elephants of the Durbar was 
swinging along in his lordly way in the middle 
of the road, and a small clerk in gray clothes and 
a topee, seated on a bicycle, came up behind and 
pinged his little bell to make the elephant move. 
These nationalized characteristics of English 
people endear them to one very much, even 
as one laughs at them. 

When we came back to the road, which we 
had quitted for a time, we were directed where 
to find the wounded. By the roadside was a 
little house where, within, one could see surgeons 
in white coats busily dressing wounds, and some 


of these supplied cases for the stretcher-bearers, 
while others were to be found in the churches. 

Nearly all the churches in Flanders were used 
for the soldiers, and their appearance was piti- 
fully desolate. The chairs of the place were 
stacked together in the middle of the building, 
which was then filled with straw, and on this 
the men slept or rested, or ate their dinner, 
or nursed their wounds. Frequently there were 
great shell holes in the walls and roof. The 
altar always had the Host removed from it ; 
but Calvaries still hung on the walls, and figures 
of saints with meek faces and sightless eyes, and 
virgins with gilt gowns, looked down on tired 
soldiers resting for a while before going out 
again to kill or to be killed. 

One day, while the troops rested at Lam- 
prinesse, a spy gave notice where they were, 
and probably directed the fire too, for the shells 
fell with horrible accuracy, killing and wound- 
ing on every side. I have often, indeed all the 
time, at the station at Furnes, seen men coming 
in straight off the battlefield, but I have never 
seen any quite like those who came in that morn- 
ing from the church at Lamprinesse. They 
were men who, no doubt, were accustomed to 
sleep heavily, and they had been rudely awakened. 
In their faces was a look of complete bewilder- 
ment, and they were dazed and unable to answer 



when one spoke to them, like dreamers who 
have seen some horrible vision. 

The church which I saw first, with its straw- 
covered floor and the piled chairs and the deadly 
cold of it, remains in my mind as a scene of 
absolute desolation. Outside was a group of 
English men and women looking like a shooting 
party at home, but now engaged in finding out 
where wounded were, and bearing a hand with 
stretchers on which to take them away. 

When we got back to the hospital there was an 
ambulance, as usual, in the yard, and I was sur- 
prised as we unbuttoned the canvas tilt to hear 
an English voice from inside. We had not before 
had English patients, as we were quite away from 
the British lines, and it was amazing to hear one's 
own tongue from a wounded man. The voice 
from within the ambulance went on, "Just give 
the poor chap above me a drop of water, will 
you ? He is pretty bad." 

We drew the curtain back, and discovered a 
man with a cigar in his mouth, laughing gaily. 

" Best joke in the world," he said — " both 
my legs broken, and you'll have to lift me out. 
Give the chap above me some water first. I am 
all right." 

The man was Mr. Reading — " Dick Reading," 
as I always heard him aff^ectionately called. He 
was serving with the Belgian army, and, as we 


subsequently heard, he was standing behind a 
gun-carriage when a shell burst close to him, 
breaking both his legs. The gun-carriage started 
at a gallop, and Mr. Reading caught hold of it 
and held on behind, and was dragged in this 
fashion for some hundreds of yards, his legs being 
useless, but he himself conscious and determined 
to hold on and get away from bursting shells. 
He was taken to the operating theatre, and I 
did not see him again till the afternoon, when, 
having been under chloroform, he was concerned 
to know whether he had " behaved like a baby," 

We wished we could have kept Mr. Reading 
with us, but every patient had to be cleared out 
of the hospital, as we were under orders to 
evacuate Furnes. 

We went the next day to Poperinghe, thirty 
miles off, and although, as it turned out, the 
move was unnecessary and we came back again 
in two days, the drive there was extraordinarily 
interesting. On either side of the road troops 
from every part of the world seemed to be 
assembled. There were Arabs with flowing 
robes and fine clothes, and there were Turcos 
with baggy trousers, and English Tommies, and 
French Chasseurs. They were nearly all cook- 
ing things for supper, and the waning sunset 
and the ruddy light of the fires made the whole 
scene wonderfully picturesque. 


We found beds ready for us in a convent at 
Poperinghe (and remarkably welcome they were), 
but there was nothing to eat, and we went and 
bought chops, which we cooked in a little cafe, 
which smelled of burned fat. 

One was glad to renew one's acquaintance 
with the British soldiers, whom one met every- 
where, and who were invariably cheerful and full 
of jokes. To the nurses who passed, they merely 
said, " No, miss, not yet ! '' and in rain or in sun 
their spirits never failed. 

There was not much to do at Poperinghe, 
and we were glad to get back to Furnes, although 
our welcome there consisted of some shells, 
which fell close to the hospital, and were 
picked up by souvenir grafters. While there 
wasn't much to do, I made one of those ex- 
cursions, which were afterwards so stringently 
forbidden, to Nieuport. One wishes one had had 
more of them. But I happened to be busy most 
of the time. Nieuport had been heavily shelled 
for some time by both German and Allies' guns, 
and in its wretched and ruined condition it 
seemed to me like some town that one sees in a 
nightmare. Some houses were still left standing 
when I was there, and have probably since dis- 
appeared ; but there was not a pane of glass in 
the place, and few buildings that had not been 
touched. Roofs were gone and frontages had 


fallen forward into the streets, leaving s 
domestic interiors exposed. The brutality of the 
whole thing struck one painfully, and the expo- 
sure of humble dwellings and the naked desolation 
of it all were piteous in their simple tragedy. 

There was something about Nieuport which 
seemed to me like the people who had fought for 
it — something kindly and domestic and given to 
inexpensive little pleasures, and now most cruelly 
wronged and yet uncomplaining. The shattered 
walls and wrecked windows and the fallen front- 
ages at Nieuport gave me many a glimpse into 
little insignificant houses, with supper set on the 
kitchen table, and little ornaments still left stand- 
ing on the chimney-piece above the stove. Here, 
where the outer wall was gone, one saw a whole 
section of a house, as when one opens the front of 
a doirs house and sees the upper and the lower 
stories displayed. The servants' rooms in the 
upper attics, with their tin boxes and pendent 
dresses, had descended to the basement, and a 
baby's cradle hung between the floors. The 
iron of the bedsteads was twisted into strange 
shapes, and pictures waved despondently on the 
walls. In the roadway outside were great holes 
where shells had fallen, and at an inlaid table of 
great beauty that stood in the garden, some 
soldiers ate their breakfast and cut their bread 
with their clasp knives. Many of the houses 



were completely hollowed out by fire, but there 
was one toy shop at a corner where a counter 
and shelves remained, although doors and win- 
dows were gone. The little shop was filled with 
the dust and debris of fallen roof and wrecked 
windows ; there wxre holes made by shells, and 
the inner walls lay in one helpless mass on the 
floor, while the upper part of the house was 

Across the ceiling a line of elastic hung and 
remained, where solid things had all been de- 
stroyed and had fallen, and on the elastic line 
was a row of bobbing, foolishly grinning dolls, 
with eyes that still gleamed behind the dust that 
covered them, and painted lips that smirked. 
When the wind blew through the empty case- 
ment the dolls all danced upon their rubber line, 
and in the curious quiet of the deserted town 
their waxen feet beating together made a little 
pattering sound. 

The cathedral was roofless, but had an outer 
wall and two half-ruined aisles standing when I 
was in Nieuport, the trees all round it were 
slashed and scorched by shell-fire, and the autumn 
leaves which still hung on them were burnt up 
and shrivelled. In a furniture-shop, goods were 
exposed for sale, and some advertisements had a 
futile look about them like trivial things viewed 
from some large eternity. 


Death was almost consciously present in this 
little town where so many have fallen, and the 
poor small houses in the humbler streets seemed 
to hold out piteous protesting hands to one, as. 
though, like other non-combatants in this hideous 
war, they were asking why they had sustained 
these terrible hurts. i 

The following Sunday there was an important 
meeting at Dunkirk of Lord Kitchener, Mr. 
Churchill, General French, General Joffre, and 
Monsieur Poincare. I was on my way to Calais 
to meet some ladies who were returning from 
England, and had the pleasure of seeing some of 
these celebrated men. The ladies did not arrive, 
and I stayed for a time at Dunkirk and gave what 
help I could at the station there. The great 
railway shed was known by the ghastly name of 
" The Shambles,'' and it merited the sobriquet. 
On the first occasion that I visited it, it was in the 
company of a naval doctor, who had gone there 
with the intention of dressing some of the un- 
tended wounds. But so bad was the atmosphere 
of the place that he declared it was impossible 
to remove a single bandage. 

A long platform ran down the middle of the 
shed, and the railway lines on either side of it 
were covered with straw. On these the wounded 
and sick lay in numbers so large that I fear to 
give them without corroboration from others 


who worked there. Two ladies gave the numbers 
as something exceeding a thousand a night. The 
men had been brought by train from every part 
of the country to be put on hospital ships or to 
go to England, and they waited transportation in 
the sheds, lying on the golden straw in their dark 
uniforms, and looking, it seemed to me, like 
nothing so much as shot pheasants laid out in 
rows after some big shoot in the coverts. The 
lights burned very dimly in the huge place, 
because lights always must burn dimly in war 
time, and there were no stoves. It was winter 
weather, and from the train half-frozen men used 
to pour into the sheds in their torn uniforms, 
whose seams had been for the most part slit up 
to give place to bandages. It touched one in- 
expressibly to see each one's care of his wound, 
for one felt that, however difficult realization 
might be of suffering on so large a scale, every 
man in this most pitiful band was bearing pain 
and bearing it alone. As they alighted from 
the train or passed through the doorway of the 
shed, their poor hands used to be put out to 
prevent an accidental touch from anything, and 
all that seemed to keep them alert in the com- 
fortless cold was the fear of being hurt afresh. 

No one ever complained. It was la guerre. 
Upon this scene of desolation — and I have feared 
to picture it too vividly — came some ladies, 


so vigorous and at the same time so careful, 
that much was accomplished by them in a 
very short space of time. The odious and heavy 
smell of the great sheds gave place to sanitation, 
and a lean-to kitchen was put up at small cost, 
where soup and coffee were made. Dressing- 
stations were established at either end of the 
sheds, where surgeons and nurses worked all day 
and all night. Wounded Germans got attention 
with the rest, and stoves were distributed all 
down the sheds, while on the long platform, clean 
straw mattresses were laid out in rows, and a 
band of workers came each night to give soup 
and to attend to the sick. 

There was one aspect of work in the war 
which struck me so often that it seems worth 
while mentioning it here. There were difficulties 
— there were bound to be difficulties at first — 
and with the enormous number of men pouring 
through the country, the dislocation to traffic was 
often unavoidable, just as it was impossible to raise 
hospitals all over the country in a night. One's 
astonishment was that things arranged themselves 
so quickly ! One's astonishment increased when 
one found that hardly a thing which the soldier 
has wanted in this war has been denied him. 
Money has poured in from all sides. There has 
scarcely been, even in those journals which are 
famous for exploiting grievances, a single genuine 


case of unrelieved distress or of suffering made 
worse by want of care or forethought. It seems 
to me that never have sacrifices been made more 
willingly and never have men and women worked 
with more disinterested and splendid endeavour 
than during this war. 

The aspect of it which I have to consider is 
that in many cases — as in the matter of the 
station at Dunkirk, for instance — an evil which 
had existed and had remained unremedied for a 
considerable time, was discovered and overcome 
by the tireless work of a few individuals. It was 
in affairs of this sort that women excelled. They 
seem to have an eye for detail and a capacity for 
treating even large numbers individually which 
is admirable and I believe uniquely feminine. 
Their vigour and their non-acceptance of im- 
possibilities are factors also in the success of their 

The thing that strikes one unfavourably some- 
times is that, when work has been established, 
order restored, and that " first step," which 
costs so much, has been made, the Voice of 
Authority (one is obliged to write the words 
with initials) can be heard making rules, 
dismissing workers, and abrogating to itself full 
command of the work which has been so hardly 
wrought. Even where its influence is not so 
drastic as this it issues rules and regulations and 

(1,866) 6 



frames notices hung on nails. The initiative 
which has had the courage to launch schemes 
becomes hidebound and even penalized. And 
workers, turned away from the doors of their 
own workshops or regulated by a ticket of 
entrance, are relegated to that humble corner 
which is known as "their proper place." 

One hardly ventures to specialize instances of 
this sort which might only provoke discussion, 
and would, as our leading politician alv/ays says, 
" serve no useful purpose." But they occurred 
often enough to induce the belief that in the 
aggregate they might furnish food for thought. 

... It was still possible to get permits and 
passports to Dunkirk up till the month of Novem- 
ber, and one met many friends unexpectedly 
arrived from England and elsewhere. A large 
number of hospitals was being installed, and 
money seemed to be forthcoming for everything. 

It has been my lot to see a little of warfare 
before this present crisis. I happened to be 
present at the bombardment of Rio de Janeiro, 
and later, I and some friends rode through the 
Balkans — not during the actual war, but when 
much fighting and still more massacring were 
going on. I was fortunate enough to find work 
to do in the South African War, and I believe I 
may call this present war my fourth campaign. 
And after such experience as I have had (and 


much more that I have read about) I should 
be indined to say that in the matter of care 
of the sick and wounded, and abundance of 
food and clothing, there has never been a war 
which has left one so little to regret, and almost 
the only thing forgotten seems to have been 
ammunition. The number of workers has been 
large and efficient, the organization has been good, 
and where mistakes have been made or grievances 
discovered, they have been put right as soon as 
possible. At first, every one suff^ered from the 
unpreparedness which distinguished the outset of 
the struggle, but I think there has been nothing 
that has wrung one's heart as in the awful tales 
of the wounded in the Crimea, nor has there been 
unnecessary suff^ering for any great length of 
time. This, I believe, must be consoling to all 
those who at home are grieving over the 
necessary horrors which war brings. 

In the matter of transport alone, the diff^er- 
ence between fighting in South Africa and 
fighting four hours from London can hardly 
be exaggerated. A man wounded to-day in 
Flanders sits up in his cot at Netley for his 
breakfast to-morrow, and rubber-tyred am- 
bulances convey their burdens swiftly, and as 
much as possible painlessly, to field hospitals or 
to the base. As soon as a man is found he can 
be sure of attention. The tragedy of suff^ering 



hangs round those who are not found or who 
remain undiscovered for days, and of this one 
had many and most painful instances at Furnes 
station. Still, one was able to feel thankful for 
the difference between motor ambulances and 
Kafir ox wagons, with their grievous jolting 
journeys of perhaps seven days before a hospital 
was reached, or the long, slow-moving trains 
where one used to see English soldiers lying on 
the floors or under the seats with their boots for 
pillows ! 

If war has grown more hideous — as of course 
it has done, and it is daily becoming worse — it 
has at the same time become more merciful ; 
and during the long pause in the winter's 
fighting, time and opportunity were found for 
arranging and preparing comforts on a generous 

At first, as I have said, nothing was in order. 
Our field hospital was sending ofi^ cases every 
day which ought never to have left the wards 
had space been available ; and they were send- 
ing them off, too, in trucks lined with straw 
and with neither lights nor attendants nor the 
means of getting the men so much as a cup of 

I believed that a soup kitchen might be useful 
at Furnes station, and I, with three Belgian 
Sisters, established one there. 



While the kitchen was being installed at Furnes 
a message reached me that one of my nephews 
had been wounded at Ypres, and I was 
fortunate enough to get a car return- -^ 

ing to Boulogne, in which I was able " ^' 

to go to him at once. 

This first Battle of Ypres has not, I believe, 
been fully, or at least, generally understood yet. 
One does not like to deal in superlatives, but it is 
hardly too much to say that it was one of the 
great events of our history, and probably there 
are not many battles that can compare with it. 
A sergeant returning wounded said to me, " It was 
proper 'ell, miss." The battle had, indeed, some- 
thing about it which suggests things so infernal 
that the sergeant's remark alone seems to describe 
it. The weather was thick and heavy during the 
prolonged fighting in and around the old town, 
and in the stillness one could hear the guns very 
tar away. The air was dour with smoke, and 
news was pitifully scarce. Men were dying in 



numbers too large for us to dare to count, an 
one never heard who had fallen or who was safe. 

Only in years to come shall we hear all about 
it. Soldiers themselves will always probably say 
very little. Hardly anyone ever talks about hell 
when they have been there ! It is only by a 
chance word or a chance conversation here and 
there that one will learn much. 

Here and now, it seems hardly a digression to 
speak of the work done by what are called " The 
Regulars " in war time. As I have belonged 
to two voluntary corps, I am, perhaps, one of 
those persons who are privileged to say something 
on the matter. For I feel that voluntary work 
has had its well-deserved meed of praise, and that 
its really splendid work has been handsomely 
acknowledged. The real business of war is, 
however, in the hands of the regular army, the 
Territorials, the Colonial troops, and other trained 
military bodies, and the nursing is done by regular 
certificated women. These and the soldiers are 
not often photographed, except in those blurred 
and indistinct groups that one sees in the morning 
papers, and they seldom have the chance of appear- 
ing individually before the eyes of the world. 
At Ypres one learned what plain unsung British 
line regiments can do ; while it is noted of one 
regiment of Guards that they have never given 
up a trench ! Plain soldiers, doing their duty 


plainly and unpretentiously, under circumstances 
which cannot fitly be described either by the 
familiar term of " frightfulness " or " horror," 
won the Battle of Ypres. 

Some generals know this. There was a 
moment when regiments were falling back, and 
two men watching the battle may have despaired 
or they may not. At any rate, other men say 
their faces were white and the order was given 
to retire, when one of them exclaimed, " My 
God, the s are sticking it !'*... . 

They say the general tried three times to thank 
the regiment who had saved the day, and was 
unable to do so. 

Every man knew that success or failure lay with 
himself ! Their manner of meeting death was 
always heroic, and worthy of the names which 
they bore. The list of names is a good one 
and highly esteemed amongst us. In the roll 
of honour one is reminded of a calling-over at 
Eton, where so many names have an historical 
interest ! One need not particularize them ; all 
the best of English birth and of English man- 
hood were there. The men whose forefathers 
fought at Agincourt, or Crecy, or Waterloo, 
carried the old names unstained at the Battle 
of Ypres. 

It is the name that counts ; and one might 
write a volume on the subject ! It is the name 


that is the real meaning of a "scrap of paper/' 
and the honour of a thing lies in the fact that 
when a man has put his signature to it he sticks 
by it. There were men at Ypres who died for 
the sake of a tradition, or for the sake of the 
names of their regiments. 

We are only getting news of it all now, in the 
tales that boys tell in hospital, or that soldiers 
write home from the front; and we are getting 
the tales told jerkily and inconsequently, as I 
got them in the hospital at Boulogne. No 
one was up to very much talking, and at one 
bed one heard only of a man's wounds, while at 
another, bits of news came unexpectedly, or a 
chance word would conjure up a recollection of 
the fight. One learned then what, perhaps, we 
had hardly realized before, that the British 
cheerfulness and the amazingly good jokes which 
they make are not confined to the pauses of 
battle, but are shouted out from the very lines 
of firing, and are irrepressible even in the 

" Don't get downhearted, my dear ! " Thomas 
Atkins calls out to his German foe only thirty 
yards away from him. " You have started for 
home, and you will soon be travelling a little 
faster than you want to ! *' 

" Fm only firing in order to give my lady- 
friends flower vases,'' says an impertinent boy 


behind a gun, knowing how fond women 
are of brass shell-cases. And two Irishmen 
settle a long-standing quarrel between them 
by having it out with fists under heavy shell- 

Here is a " home-like " description of a 
trench : — 

^^ April 23^^, 191 5. 

" The trenches here are only about seventy 
yards apart, and ours are very good in places, while 
one part, called the Keep, has been made into 
a sort of rock-garden with various battalions* 
badges worked in shrubs, and a certain number 
of flowers planted. The paths between are 
bricked with the remains of walls, etc. — all very 
clean. It apparently was the courtyard of a 
farm at one time." 

A boy friend scribbles for me the type of 
letter a soldier writes — what he says in it, what 
he says afterwards : — 

Before : 

" Dear mum, dad, wife, and child, — I now 
take great pleasure in writing you these few 
lines, hoping they will find you in good health, 
as it leaves me at present. We have had a lot 
of fighting lately, and have had a good few 
casualties. Poor old Bill has gone, and Alf is 
wounded. I thank God, He has preserved me 


so far. Give my regards to Nell, and tell her I 
would give a lot to be with her now. I hope^ 
Lizzie is getting the money all right. She ought 
to write about it if she ain't. Well, God bles 
you all. From your dear boy, Bert.' 



" Damn, boy, come on now ; there's three' 

mucking in that tin of jam. Garn, boy, 

I tell you it is so. Ask the 

sergeant ! There ! You ! Didn't I 

well say so i An' I don't want no 

old buck, or I'll knock your face in 

The same boy writes 

" Scene : A trench. Time : One hour before 
dawn. Silence only broken by stentorian snores 
(no one in the world snores like the British 
soldier). One receives a dig in the ribs like 
the kick of a horse, and hears a gruff voice : 
' Sir ! Sir ! Beg pardon, sir ; four o'clock, 

" One opens one's eyes and recognizes the burly 
sergeant of the guard. With an oath one tells 
him to wake the men and tell them to get to 
their fire positions, and one gets up oneself from 
one's covering of straw or overcoat. The in- 
junction to ' Stand to arms ! ' and hardly sup^ 
pressed ' langwidge ' announce to one that the 


company is waking up. The voice of the 
company wit can be distinguished : 

" ' Good morning, gentlemen. And how am 
I ? Sausages, eggs and bacon, kippahs, ham, 
tea or coffeeh. What ! only bully and biscuit ? 
Nevah mind ; very nourishing.' 

" Wit hastily suppressed under the livery eye of 
the company captain : 

" ' Not so much talking there. Put out that 
cigarette. Do you want to get a bullet in the 
mouth, fool ! Pass the word. No smoking 
before dawn. Quartermaster-sergeant!* (Arrival 
of same.) 

" ' Sir ! ' 

" ' Is there any tea for the men this morning?' 

" ' No, sir ; company cooker couldn't come up, 
sir, on account of shell-fire.' (Much stamping 
of feet and audible curses.) 

" Quartermaster-sergeant : ' There's a hissue of 
rum, sir. Shall I give it out, sir ? ' 

" ' No. Wait till daylight.' 

" ' Very good, sir.' 

" In this manner one gets through the horrible 
hour of standing to arms before dawn. 

" We were marching back for a short rest 
after rather a hot engagement," the boy says. 
" One of our men remarked in a jocose manner, 
' Are we downhearted ? ' Instead of the usual 


chorus of ' No,' a little man near me said quietly, 
'Let every one speak for himself/ 

" Having lunched one morning on the Aisne, 
a sergeant said in broad Scotch, ' Aye, I think I 
got some o' them the morn ! They put theiri 
heids a wee thing too high aboon the bracken ! 
However, Fm awa' noo to mak' sure/ He 
came back and said, ' Aye, they're lying oot as 
dead's mutton ! ' He was a born sniper, and 
revelled in it. If there was nothing doing with 
his own regiment, he would join another for the 
sake of killing a German. And he continued 
' daein' his wee bit,' as he called it, until he 
himself was killed." 

I heard from another soldier that during a 
charge he passed a Highlander who appeared to 
be badly wounded, and he thought he was dead ; 
but on returning he found him sitting up hum- 
ming a Scottish ballad, and picking his tartan 
hose out of a wound in his leg with his bayonet. 

When soldiers win the V.C. they ask, "What 
for ? " and are as surprised as when they have won 
a " Tit-Bits " competition. " I didn't do much," 
they say ; " there was a poor chap outside and I 
brought him in." They laugh at everything 
except the death of their comrades, and what 
they do not laugh at they grumble at ; and 
above all, they must have nicknames for every- 
thing. And " Jack Johnsons," and " Beer 


barrels," and "Mothers," and "Black Marias" 
have an absurd sound about them which must 
be maddening for Germans. A nation which 
preaches a gospel of hate would doubtless like 
something more serious in return for what it 
feels ! But Englishmen do not feel hate, although 
they very often feel rage. And now even Ger- 
mans are trying to write little comic letters 
which they drop from Taubes, but none of them 
are very witty. 

Side by side with the Britishers' little jokes 
death stalks grimly. One regiment went into 
the campaign i,ioo strong, and now only 73 
are left. Another counted its numbers by 
1,350 men : they had not quite 300 left after 
the Battle of Ypres. One knows of another 
regiment who were in the trenches for three 
weeks, and buried their dead there, and lived 
on amongst the straw and muck. One hears 
a boy cry out " Stick it, the Welch ! " with his 
last breath, just as he used to call it out at foot- 
ball matches and the like, and of another who 
had only breath enough left to whisper, " Have 
we won ? " A middy of fifteen on board ship, 
suspecting uneasiness on the part of his men 
under heavy fire, gathers a group of them 
round him, and sitting down he giavely consults 
with them as to whether thev consider that the 
new engineer is shaping well. 


When they lie ill in bed we try to keep from 
them the newspapers which tell of the colone 
fallen or the comrade gone. For our own part 
we believe that we shall not very easily find the 
like of these good men again. There is one 
especially whom we recall. He was a verj 
chivalrous person, and a most courteous anc 
charming friend. It seems to us as though 

when Colonel died something fine anc 

good died with him. We remember his loyalty 
to his friends, and the courage which faced with 
every day, health that was far from good. Wc 
heard of him that the wound he had receivec 
would not, perhaps, have killed a man of more 
robust physique, but that he had had no sleep 
for four nights, and that while the bullet hac 
done little more than graze him, he was utterly 
tired and slept, and so continues to sleep. 

There are those who envy him even now 
There are old comrades of his who watched the 
regiment march away, who have only one feel- 
ing of regret, and that is that they were not 
with him. 

Days in hospital are very long, and for some 
men the memory of what they have seen has 
gone very deep, and they try to tejl one what it 
is like to be eight or fourteen days under shell- 
fire, but they are unable to do so, and stop and 
say, " It was beastly ! " 



A boy with a little table beside him covered 
with things which he cannot eat, and a packet 
of " goodies," which shows how young he is, 
rolls round in his bed, and says it is "beastly" 
for the other fellows to hear him groaning when 
he is not quite himself o' nights. His companion 
says, " You see, what is pretty ghastly is that when 
you have taken a trench or lost one, the wounded 
are often left out in the open. You can't reach 
them " (the boy turns in bed again and puts his 
arms out on the sheets). "It is impossible to 
get at them," he says ; " sometimes they die of 
starvation within sight of us. We see them 
raise themselves on an arm for a minute, and 
yell to us to come to them, but we can't. Yes, 
at Ypres the Germans got our range to an inch, 
and began shelling our trenches. A whole com- 
pany next me was wiped out. It was beastly ! " 

One boy has to take a message to his colonel, 
and the communication trench by which he 
goes is not quite finished. So the boy climbs 
out into the open, and races across to where 
the unfinished trench begins again. He is not 
aware, of course, that a boy running for his life 
should strike one in a pathetic light ! 

He was badly hit, but he managed just to 
tumble into the next bit of trench, where 
two men found him. He was bound up and 
carried four miles on crossed rifles to the hos- 


pital at Ypres, and then the train journey had tc 
begin. Fortunately, morphia does its work. 

" I got half my men away/' says an infant 
with his moustache not grown, " but I lost th( 
rest.'' And when he is asked how he spent hi 
nineteenth birthday in the trenches, he replies 
in a voice hardly audible through weakness, " '. 
got up early and killed a German ! " 

When they are better the last thing they evet 
want to talk about is the bad times they have 
had ; and, quite wholesomely, they have an in- 
satiable desire for picture papers and revues. It 
is a good thing to be alive after all ! 

Our King's visit to Flanders did every on 
good. There was a review held in the Grani 
Place at Furnes, and the Belgian soldiers, who are 
enthusiasts, turned out well. There were some 
pretty black days just then, when the water lay 
all round the little town where we lived and th 
nights were cold and wet. Oddly enough, war 
has a dull side to it, as soldiers know. But there 
was a good time coming, and even although the 
print at the top of newspaper sheets was not 
always very large, we were holding on, and that 
was everything. The King knew this ; and w 
knew that he knew it. 




The first soup kitchen was a very small, dark 

little place. It was really only a small space 

^ J under an archway, and cut off from 

•^ the rest or the station by a door or 

^ ^' sacking stretched on a wooden frame. 
The actual space within the room measured 
eight feet by seven feet, and in this not very 
lordly apartment was a small stove which 
burned, and a large one which didn't. There 
were a few kettles and pots, and a little 
coffee grinder, too, with a picture of a blue 
windmill on it, for which I conceived an earnest 
hatred, such as inanimate things sometimes 
inspire in one ! It was so silly and so in- 
adequate, and in order to get enough ground 
coffee its futile little handle had to be turned 
all day, while the blue windmill looked busy 
and did nothing, and was perfectly cheerful all 
the time. 

With these not very useful tools to work with 
(and it was very difficult to buy anything at 

(1,865) 7 


Furnes at that time), there came a rush of work, 
which is not unusual in war time, and there was 
a great deal to do at the kitchen. 

The first convoy of wounded men used to 
come in about 10.30 a.m. They arrived always 
in one of those road trains which are common 
in Belgium, and which make circuits and stop 
at various small stations. We used to hear a 
horn blown, and then the noisy outer door of the 
station slammed, and we knew the train-load 
of men had arrived. The " sitting cases " were 
always brought in first. These were men 
damaged for the most part in their feet or 
hands, or with superficial scalp wounds, or frost- 
bitten. They hobbled in, or were carried on 
men's backs, or leaned against some comrade's 
shoulder. And across the entrance hall of the 
station went, day and night, a long stream of them, 
to pass under the archway, and out at the other 
side of the hall, and so on to the waiting 
train on the platform. It was a little pathetic 
to find how many soldiers thought they would 
have to pay for what was served to them, and 
to find them diving into their poor pockets for 
coins ! They used to refuse cigarettes until quite 
sure that they were a free-will oflfering. 

The brancard (stretcher) cases arrived next. 
They were all men who were gravement 
blesses — one learned the term too well ! — and 


they were laid in rows on the floor of the 
entrance hall of the station. All were quite 
helpless ! — wounded men with a number round 
their necks and a label on their coats, pinned 
there by the surgeon at the first dressing-station ! 
I never saw any one of them look about him or 
take the smallest interest in his surroundings. 
They had been sent into the trenches, and had 
had a bullet through them, or a piece of shell, 
and they had been put into ambulances and 
labelled and sent somewhere. I think many 
of them were quite unaware that they were in 
a station. A steaming basin of coffee or soup 
revived them greatly, and even having to decide 
which of these refreshments they would have, 
and helping themselves to bread, pulled them 
together a little. Otherwise they most often 
seemed dazed and with no thought for any- 
thing but their wounds. One was struck by 
their silence. No one spoke or even, except 
on rare occasions, moaned much. There was 
that dogged patient Flemish tenacity about 
them which seldom expresses itself in words. 
They were soldiers dumbly enduring, and the 
sight impressed me afresh every day. 

There was just one thing which added a good 
deal (and unnecessarily, I think) to the suffering 
of the wounded men, and it might be avoided, 
I believe. It was the difference in the size 

100 FURNES. 

of the stretchers used for transportation. The 
patterns were different and the sizes were 
diff^erent. Now stretchers, both in ambulances 
and in trains, have to be slung, and must fit 
into the sockets provided for them. So that it 
is obvious that a uniform size should be main- 
tained. But the ambulance stretchers are an 
inch and a half too wide for the train ; and the 
Belgian, French, and English patterns all diff^er 
slightly from each other. (The Belgian one|j 
seemed to me to be the best, while the French 
had the best ambulances.) The consequence 
of this was that the wounded men were con- 
stantly being shifted from one stretcher to 
another. The men on the ambulances, or on the 
road train which brought them in, were unable 
to carry them directly to the train and sling 
them into the sockets which were fixed there. 
But each stretcher had to be placed upon th 
floor, and then the unhappy man who lay on it 
was lifted on to a train-stretcher laid alongside of 
it. If his uniform was fairly sound, or he was 
a Turco with baggy trousers, the hrancardiers 
could take hold of these and make them serve 
as a sort of sling to transfer the patient. But 
many of the men who came in were in rags, 
or their clothes had been cut by the surgeon, 
and the process of shifting them was horribly 
painful, and frequently produced cries which they 

FURNES. loi 

were unable to stifle. When they reached their 
destination at the base the same shifting process 
had to be gone through. Added to this, there was 
always an outcry about lost stretchers and com- 
plaints about the different patterns getting mixed. 

If it is too late now, or too expensive, to 
provide stretchers of the same pattern for three 
armies, I do not think it would be at all difficult 
to make the sockets in the ambulances expanding 
rather than fixed, or there might be an alternative 
socket on which the larger stretchers might be 

It used to make one miserable that, for the 
sake of one and a half inches of space, men 
should be put to such real agony as transferring 
them frequently involved. I asked a surgeon 
who came to visit the station to write to the 
Press about this, for I felt sure that a word from 
him would mean much more than many words 
from me. But I could never hear of anything 
being done. 

When the men were in the train we used to 
take them hot coffee and soup and bread. I had 
a little red hand-cart which was very useful in 
this respect, and which, for some unknown 
reason, always delighted the soldiers. And 
afterwards, through the kindness of the people 
of the parish of Coldstream in Scotland, two 
very superior soup carriages were sent to me, 


with trays for bread, and a fire to keep 
soup hot. 

Lately, since the warmer weather has come 
in, and since new regulations have been made 
about feeding the wounded in the hall of Aden- 
kerke station — and not in the train — -these 
carriages have been presented to the Belgian 
army, who are delighted with them. 

There was a good deal of desultory shelling 
going on at Furnes in those days, although no 
actual bombardment. One morning, when I 
was giving out my soup at the train and the 
Belgian Sisters their coffee, three shells came 
with their unpleasant scream into the station. 
The first passed disagreeably close just overhead. 
Afterwards, in order to enhance my value in the 
eyes of my relatives and friends, I persuaded 
a friend of mine to take a photograph of the 
big hole which it made in a wall that was 
just behind me. Beyond the wall was a huge 
hay store, and in the closely packed bales of 
hay the shell, no doubt, expended itself. But 
we picked up pieces of it cfuite hot, and, alas ! 
the flying fragments killed two men in the 
station, while another man showed me his 
watch crumpled up like a piece of paper by a 
bit of shell. 

Every window and every breakable thing in 
the train was shattered by the impact of the 

FURNES. 103 

explosion, and it was a bad moment for helpless 
men lying within, and unable to stir or help 
themselves. The train was stationary, and had 
no engine attached to it, and had the shelling 
continued, it might have been very serious for 
them. But there was no more of it that day. 

At Cuxide, however, there had been a con- 
siderable bombardment, and the refugees were 
flying into Furnes, and were being evacuated by 
our ambulances. All of them were destitute, 
having been obliged to leave everything behind 
them, and their large numbers made feeding 
them a little difficult. However, we did what 
we could, and I was rather pleased with the 
exploits of the kitchen that day. Its actual 
output of liquid always seemed, I thought, to 
be in excess of its size ; but on that day we 
had been asked unexpectedly to give breakfast 
to 260 men going into the trenches, and after- 
wards there were about 80 or 100 refugees to 
feed twice, besides all the wounded, who some- 
times now numbered about 500 per day. 

Sometimes a soldier would come in and help 
in the kitchen, and my own friends were 
most kind in looking in at night when I was 
alone, and not only helped to take soup 
to the train, but often assisted me to cut up 
vegetables ; and would frequently keep me com- 
pany before the last convoy came in, which 

104 FURNES. 

was generally between eleven o'clock and mi 
night. The three Belgian Sisters took entire 
charge of preparing the coffee and worked from 
early morning till 6 p.m., and we had a better 
coffee grinder now. I was told to keep the 
little blue windmill one in case it should come 
in useful. But I gave it to a soldier when no 
one was looking, and was glad to get rid of it ! 

The work divided itself into shifts, which 
made it easier than might be imagined. The 
convoys came in at 10.30, at 4 o'clock (at 
which time some of the Furnes ladies helped 
to pass food round), and again at near midnight. 
The midnight convoy always seemed to me the 
most sad, as it certainly often vsras the largest 
that arrived. The men used to come in half- 
frozen from the road-train (which there was 
no means of warming), and were hardly able to 
walk. Very many of them had frost-bitten 
feet through standing in the bitter cold water 
knee-deep in the trenches. Every one wore 
bandages which gleamed white in the light of 
the dim oil lamp that burned in the big entrance 
hall of the station, and I used sometimes to 
think that only the pen of a Zola could fittingly 
describe the scene. 

When it was possible, I used to place my soup- 
cart under the lamp, and ladle out the soup as 
the men entered. But this plan had to be given 

FURNES. 105 

up later because of the number of stretcher- 
cases that came in and had to be laid on the 

The order used to be given out, " Preparez vos 
quarts, s'il vous plait, Messieurs," and the men 
would search stiffly in their wallets for the little 
tin cups they carried with them. Under the 
smoky lamp one saw one's marmite filled with 
its steaming mixture, and above it hands of 
every colour — brown, white, or black — holding 
out their tin cups. There were dim forms 
beyond, and frosty breaths, and bandages show- 
ing white in the gloom, and one heard rather 
than saw the men drinking soup. Then they 
passed out under the archway, and one somewhat 
prosaically cleaned up the kitchen and walked 
home through the dark little town with one's 
lantern gleaming on seas of mud ! 

Very naturally there was a considerable number 
of strangers who looked in to see what was going 
on at the kitchen, and these also were so kind 
as to lend a hand sometimes with distributing 
soup. One began to separate the sheep from 
the goats, and to classify one's visitors ! 

There was one particular class whom I 
always called " This-poor-fellow-has-had-none." 
I saw these both at the station and in hospitals. 
Their attitude (which, I am sure, was quite 
unconscious) always seemed to be that until 

io6 FURNES. 

they arrived on the scene — and they seldom 
stayed long ! — no one had had any proper 

In the wards one used to see them stop some 
busy nurse to say, " The man in the corner must 
have some water ; he says " (reproachfully) " he 
has asked for it three times." That the man 
had been forbidden water never seemed to occur 
to them. Their intentions were good, but they 
were not always very useful. Their graceful 
attitude as they stooped over a sick man was 
often connected with requiring many things 
passed to them, and they were really not so 
much help as, I am sure, they meant to be. 
I was always glad when " This-poor-fellow-has- 
had-none " departed, for the indiscriminate 
feeding of sick men is attended with a certain 
amount of danger. 

There were many other types for whom one 
often tried to find an adjective. In particular 
were those persons who, whenever there was 
news of a reverse, always said, " Why don't 
we do something ? " and others who meant " to 
get things straightened out," and there were two 
types who were the antithesis of each other, one 
whom I called " I-won't-be-bossed," and the 
other " I-will-be-crowned." But all of them 
had excellent points, and the average of hu- 
manity was, as usual, good. They took the 

FURNES. 107 

rough with the smooth, and even enjoyed the 
rough, or denied that it existed. I heard an 
apology made to a delightful visitor, who came 
to see us at Furnes for two days, and to whom a 
not very appetizing breakfast was offered. She 
replied in her cordial way, " I have done very 
well, indeed, thank you. I have had a nice piece 
of bread and some excellent margarine." 

As a matter of fact, that margarine was not 
excellent. It was proved afterwards to be some 
that had been discarded by the Royal Navy as 
unfit for consumption ; its odour was certainly 
strong, and I had had grave suspicions about it 
from the first. 

Some "good sorts" who were bent on rough- 
ing it, seemed to believe that war and a want of 
house linen were inseparable, while a scarcity of 
hand-towels was obligatory ! In this matter, ab- 
stention was easy, for I never remember an over- 
abundance of them. But then, one must admit 
that the supply was somewhat depleted by the 
uses they were put to, and I have seen them 
serving as pillow-slips, dinner-napkins, table- 
cloths, pocket-handkerchiefs, and for Jane to 
sleep on ! 

Jane was a dog. She was large and red, and 
with a boisterous manner, and she had been 
found by one of our party at Pervyse, and given 
a home at Furnes. As a refugee one was 

io8 FURNES. 

obliged to give Jane a welcome ; but as a dog" 
she was not a success. She never took things 
seriously, and she always pretended to be asleep 
when she had taken the best place (on which 
she always left a legacy of red hair). But she 
had a gift of cadging for meals which almost 
raised her to distinction. I have seen her my- 
self looking longingly at food at the villa until 
some was placed on the floor beside her ; and 
later — for she really was not a dog of high 
character — she had exactly the same wistful 
appeal in her eye at the hospital, until some 
one said, " The poor brute is starving ; "while a 
visit to the butcher's shop would disclose the 
fact that some charitable Belgians were feeding 
her under the table. I never heard if anyone 
murdered Jane later on (she developed a habit of 
appropriating gloves and candles) ; but I fancy 
she was given to some unfortunate Belgian officer, 
who may even have had to look pleased with the 
gift. She disappeared out of our lives, and only 
the red hair, which somehow she managed to 
knit skilfully into every cushion she sat on, 
remains as a memorial of her. 

The butcher's shop was a feature in our 
variable menage for a time. There was a sort 
of restaurant beyond it, where we had our 
meals. At night as one came back through 
the butcher's shop, one used to find oneself 



running into sheep's carcasses, for everything 
was very dark in Furnes. One carried a 
lantern everywhere, and sometimes it showed 
strange unexpected " war pictures " — a regiment 
sleeping under an archway, and once, in the 
covered way through which I had to pass, a 
whole batch of troop horses, tightly packed, 
under whose heads and tails I had to dodge to 
reach my door ! And above all things, and 
through and over all things, it showed one mud ! 

There may have been something providential 
in the fact that rain fell so constantly and so 
heavily as it did in Flanders last winter — shut- 
ting out, as floods do, the foe ; and one can only 
say that, under other circumstances, one could 
have done with a little less of it. 

Christmas Day was brighter and very cold. I 
believe that in many parts of the fighting-line a 
truce was held, and soldiers forgathered, and 
firing ceased for a time. At Furnes it began 
before dawn, and I heard the cannon as I 
walked home about i a.m. 

At 6 o'clock High Mass was celebrated in the 
largest ward in the hospital ; a temporary altar 
had been erected by the priests amidst the gay 
decorations with which the nurses and doctors 
had brightened the bare walls. The altar 
candles made little points of flame in the big 
darkness of the place, and a boy's voice filled 



the ward with his exquisite singing. Every- : 
where, across the room and round the windows, 
were the bright wreaths and paper decorations 
of Christmas, and beyond the Christmas trees, 
with their little presents dancing on the boughs, 
was the high altar at the far end of the room. 
It was a curious scene, half-pagan, half-Christian. 
Dimly, and almost like a personal memory, came 
the thought of an ancient worship — of a people 
who walked in darkness, no doubt, and yet who 
made sacred all that they knew of the best, and 
who did reverence to the berried plant, whose 
roots touched not earth, but grew between it 
and heaven, and who heard what the wind was 
saying, and knew trees to be their brothers and 
their gods. While the forward memory, catch- 
ing a radiance from the palely burning candles on 
the altar, leapt to a diviner homage, and caught 
a fleeting vision of a greater light. 

And all round the room wounded men lay in 
their narrow beds, and louder than the boy*s 
voice at the Mass was the heavy sound of firing 
in the dim twilight of the morning. 

Our own services were held in one of the 
schoolrooms, and there was some singing of 
Christmas hymns. At the station all was 
much as usual ; but a wounded soldier, who 
had passed through there, sent a telegram 
to the iiCossaise a la gave wishing me a 


happy Christmas, and I was much touched by 

In the afternoon there was an entertainment 
for all the refugee children at the civil hospital. 

Two French officers once opened the door of 
the soup kitchen, and one said, "English, of 
course ! No one else ever does anything for 

I was reminded of the remark (which pleased 
me more than I like to say) when I was at the 
civil hospital on Christmas afternoon. When all 
our faults are made into a big heap and laid upon 
the scale, I do believe a few humble folk whom 
no one has ever heard about, will place on the 
other side of the balance a measure of English 
kindness. Very humbly I submit that this is a 
fine trait in a ruling race. 

I wish I dared at this moment — and while the 
children are waiting for their Christmas tree — 
inflict my own views on some of the character- 
istics which have made us beloved and hated in 
the world. I wish I could think that anyone 
would be sufficiently interested to read a few re- 
marks from me about the excellent hearts which 
blundering manners do their best to conceal, and 
the swagger which often covers a certain innate 
humility of which few people suspect our good 
Britisher. (I wonder if we should be at war 
with Germany now, did she not think we " tried 

112 FURNES. 


to boss ! *') But, above all, there is that plain 
and unpretentious kindness which when it 
pities always puts its big rough hand into its 
pocket and says nothing about it. And I am 
not writing quite without knowledge of British 

The piles of woollen goods alone which have 
passed through my own hands, and which I have 
seen pass through the hands of others during the 
war, have brought a message from home with 
them which has often moved me to tears. (On 
Christmas morning may one admit this !) The 
endless lines of khaki stitches which I have seen ! 
the countless bales of socks and shirts and scarves 
which I have counted ! and none of them — I 
can honestly say — have ever seemed to me mere 
scarves and socks and shirts, any more than ; 
wounded men seem to me to be " cases." Each 
one is stamped with a certain individuality and 
bears the touch of the maker's hand upon it, 
whether it be a wounded man or a pair of 
socks ! and each one makes an appeal of its 
own. There are the socks with not quite 
enough of the same coloured wool to finish them, 
and the socks with the bit of extra wool to mend 
them, and the socks which have a tiny little 
present thrust inside them — a packet of chocolate 
or half a dozen cigarettes — and which give such 
an amazing amount of pleasure ! An unknown 

FURNES. 113 

friend in Scotland used to send small books of the 
Gospel of St. John in French in the toes of her 
socks — and very much were they liked. " Every- 
man " in Edinburgh sent me five boxes of groceries ; 
and I had gifts from Benger's Food Company and 
the Tiptree Jam Works. To give avsray these 
things was always as great pleasure to me as it 
was to the men to receive them. 

The scarves and socks and vests meant the work 
of people at home ! These workers never had the 
stimulus of seeing for themselves the needs of the 
men, nor did they have the pleasure of bestow- 
ing their own gifts. Yet the supply never 
ceased, and the quality was always of the best. 
They represented hours of toil — and the wool 
was not got for nothing ! 

On this very Christmas afternoon, I remember 
working in the storeroom with a friend of mine, 
and we were discussing the boxes of tobacco 
which had been received, and the sacks of 
knitted things which came so easily that perhaps 
it was excusable sometimes to forget that they 
did not drop from heaven like dew ! My friend 
drew from a very small parcel a little note which 
said : " We should like to send more, but money 
is very scarce this week." 

Is it any wonder that one didn't see socks and 
scarves and Balaclava helmets quite clearly for a 
minute or two ! . . . 

(1,865) 8 


114 FURNES. 

The children's Christmas Tree was a great 
success, and they sang " God sef our nobbier 
king" (in English), and nearly lost their heads, 
poor babies, over simple boxes of English toys. 
They had lost much since the ist of August, 
but they and their English allies have found each 
other in a very remarkable way. And if any- 
one wants joy over presents, he can come to 
Belgian children for it ! 

Many of the little creatures were v/ounded, 
and in the hospital was a dear little boy who was 
always called the Civilian. One mite was in- 
troduced to me as " Une blessee, Madame," and 
the women had the clothes they stood up in and 
nothing else in the world. But they all enjoyed 
Christmas Day, I think, and we came away after 
the treat with that parishy feeling which so 
intimately recalls England, and is generally con- 
nected with " taking a little rest now that it is 
all over." 

While taking the required rest in a remark- 
ably cold room, we were disturbed by shells, 
one of which came with its usual unexpectedness 
and its long whistling shriek quite close to the 
hospital. (Somehow one never expects a shell !) 
The next minute a child was brought in covered 
with dust and dirt, and crying bitterly. Her 
mother had been badly wounded and her arm 
completely blown off before the child's eyes. 



She got immediate attention, of course. But the 
shelling did not cease till about 8.15, when we 
had a very cheery Christmas dinner, with crackers 
and speeches, and turkey, and plum-pudding. 
In all the wards and the refectories, etc., the 
fare was the same as our own. But few Belgians 
could " stick " the plum-pudding, and, indeed, 
one wondered whether a Christmas pudding or 
Christmas shells require the greater amount of 



If there is one thing which an Enghshman dis- 
likes more than asking the way, it is having to 
show his passport. The unspoken sug- ^ , 

gestion that he may not have the rip:ht 

I o I c 
to be where he is, always annoys him. ^ •^' 

Women, perhaps, will always rather enjoy the 
mot. There is a certain amount of " thrill " 
about not being able to get past a barrier with- 
out leaning from a car and whispering " Albert " 
or " Mons " into a sentinel's ear ; but a man likes 
to shout "Ongley" and drive on. 

One day I remember going for a considerable 
journey with a delightful friend whose know- 
ledge of French was limited, and with whom 
I had a varied drive. Our horn was a poor 
thing, evidently afflicted with a cold in its 
head ; so^ instead of using it, my friend always 
yelled " A droite ! " to every car or wagon that 
we overtook ; and not only so, but expressed 
a wish that I should do the same. I fear the 
" madness " of the English may have stamped 



itself anew upon our foreign cousins as we sat 
side by side shouting lustily. 

But the real trouble was at the barriers, where 
we believed we ought to have been sufficiently 
well known to pass unchallenged. And the only 
thing by which my companion could explain 
having to produce his papers was that the guard 
must have recently been changed. 

We both fumbled in the depths of our cloth- 
ing for laissez-passers and identification cards, 
while my friend murmured wrathfully to the 
guard, " Vous etes nouveau ; vous etes nouveau." 

Another friend took me into France with no 
equipment in the way of language except two 
words, which I understood him to say were 
French, and to every sentry and at every barrier 
or gateway he remarked conversationally, " Poor 
Cally," and then drove on. 

I began to feel sorry for some one unknown 
who was so evidently to be pitied. Of course, 
we never asked the way ! and returning very late 
on an absolutely black night, my guide could 
only fix his bearings by the colours of the houses 
he had passed on his outward journey. I used 
to hear him say to himself, " I know we turned 
off^ at a blue house ; " and the car would swing 
round again, until at last directions were asked 
and never understood. 

A knowledge of French was not the most 

ii8 FURNES. 

marked characteristic of the English in Belgiurn, 
and it only became fluent when talking to a 
Flamand who was unable to understand any 
tongue but his own. 

The number of wounded who passed through 
the station increased very much as the weeks 
went by, and it became difficult to leave the 
kitchen. The daily stream of suffering men 
began to have something very ghastly about it. 
The trains (which were now provided with 
brancard carriages, and priests in charge of the 
wounded, and stoves, etc.) were far more com- 
fortable than they had been at first. But they 
were, alas, much fuller ! Also, they were made 
to leave the station much more quickly than had 
been the case in earlier days — because of the shell- 
ing that went on — and there was not time to speak 
a word to anyone. One never saw again the men 
who passed before one in such an endless stream. 
One never knew how they fared, or whether 
they recovered or not. One fed them and they 
went on. 

I cannot tell how many men used now to pass 
through the station, but I understood that the 
trains which left three times in the day held 230 
men, and certainly they were often full and some- 
times overcrowded. 

The worst cases, of course, were those who 
had been left longest untended. And it was 

FURNES. 119 

w^onderful to me how some of these survived. 
I remember one man w^ho had lain for four days 
in a trench half full of ice-cold w^ater vs^ith both 
his legs broken, who did very well in the hos- 
pital afterwards. Another who had not been 
found for eight days was still living, but he died 
later. He was a particularly fine-looking young 
fellow, and we were all full of regret that he 
had not pulled through. 

About this time Furnes became rather an un- 
healthy place ! There still continued to be no 
regular bombardment, but the whiz of shells 
was not uncommon, and there were some very 
sad casualties. Some French friends of mine 
used to say, " Bon soir, pas d'obus," in much 
the same way as at home one says, " Sleep well ! " 
A fine morning always brought the Taube out. 
One day I remarked to the woman who usually 
cleaned my bedroom that she had forgotten to 
do it. She replied, " Mais, mademoiselle, il y a 
un Taube qui se promene au-dessus de la maison, 
et j'ai peur de monter en haut." 

It was a novel excuse for not cleaning a room, 
but a very genuine one. I liked the qui se pro- 
mene which described the flight of an aeroplane. 
The pigeons on the church roofs were always the 
first to see a Taube coming. They seemed to 
know by sight their hateful brothers, and fluttered 
with a flash of terrified white wings far away. 

120 FURNES. 


Even children knew the different aeroplanes by 
sight, and when I used to return home at night, 
a little French girl was always able to inform me 
how many bombs had fallen during the day and 
how many had burst. One could see that she 
had the smallest possible opinion of those which 
ne seclatent pas ! 

We had a sad business at the station one day 
when a number of men working on the line and 
some soldiers were looking at an aeroplane that 
hovered overhead and were nearly all killed by 
a shell. It all happened in a moment, and it 
produced a very painful impression upon those 
of us who worked in the place. 

Also, it began to be evident that a station 
liable to bombardment was not the place for 
wounded men to lie. A story gained credence 
at the time that a spy always gave notice of the 
arrival and departure of trains. I do not know 
whether this was true or not, but I fancy there 
was something queer going on, and I can't envy 
the man or the woman who could deliberately 
direct an enemy's fire on helpless wounded men. 

One is always sorry for the soldier to whom 
one sometimes hears the question put : '* What 
does it feel like to be under fire ? " My own 
impression is that anything descending from 
above is, subconsciously, so intimately associated 
in one's mind with a fall of rain, that it is 

FURNES. 121 

difficult not to seek some singularly inadequate 
shelter where one feels perfectly safe. And I 
well remember going and standing under a glass 
roof for some time while shelling was going on ! 
Men have told me that to get inside the canvas 
tilt of an ambulance makes them feel quite 
secure ! I remarked to a friend that at Antwerp, 
as we crossed the road to the hospital under very 
heavy fire, I was glad I had an umbrella ; but 
she never saw the little joke. 

I always thought Furnes rather a weird little 
place, but that may have been because I so often 
walked through it after dark. The Grand Place 
is certainly lovely ; but there is a good deal about 
Furnes that is small and rather mean-looking. 

Some of our party at this time went out to 
Pervyse to establish a poste au secours there. 
I went out to see them once, and I wish I 
was able to tell more at first hand about their 
interesting work there. The fleeting glimpse 
I had of them (very uncomfortably established 
in the remains of a house in a ruined village, in 
which hardly a roof was untouched) gave me a 
very high opinion of their tenacity and pluck. 

One approached the village by a long straight 
line of trees, at the end of which stood a 
haggard-looking church like a sentinel with both 
eyes shot out. Nothing was left but a blind 
stare. The tower had great holes in it ; the 

122 FURNES. 

aisles had fallen ; and in the debris one 
twisted iron and fragments of carved masonry. 
The churchyard looked as though some devil 
had stalked through it, tearing up crosses and 
digging up graves. Even the dead are not left 
undisturbed in war ! And many a body, long 
since committed to the dust, was disinterred by 
deep-burrowing shells. 

Many persons believed that ladies should not 
expose themselves to the dangers that so con- 
stantly threatened Pervyse ; but they not only 
did so, but remained till the place was bom- 

As a convoy we were much less together than 
I anticipated. Much of the work was scattered, 
and the absence of a general mess, where one 
might have learned the doings of the various 
members, makes it difficult to write anything 
more than a personal narrative. 

I saw more of the hospital staff than of any? 
other, and I was daily struck by their efficiency, 
and daily impressed by their attention to duty 
and the good work that they did. All the 
nurses gave their services gratuitously ; and I 
need hardly say that I found this out for myself, 
for no one ever mentioned the fact! Alwavs, 
about the hospital, there was a friendliness which, 
I am quite sure, many strangers appreciated and 
will always remember. The simple hospitality 

FURNES. 123 

that was extended to every one who arrived there, 
the good temper of those who had extra work to 
do, and the never-failing courtesy of the staff 
were very conspicuous at a time when so many 
people had no spare time to attend to anything. 

The hospital had to contend with all the 
difRculties which attend a big undertaking of 
this sort at any time. And there were, besides, 
those perfectly " unnecessary difficulties " which, 
I think, nearly every one noticed during the war, 
and whose origin it is difficult to trace. But 
nothing was ever allowed to hinder the work. 
And it may interest those who subscribed to the 
hospital to know that waste of any sort was 
unknown. The mess was run at less than a 
franc per head a day, and the food was always 

I always liked the way in which the hospital 
opened its doors before it was half ready, because 
wounded men wanted to come in. And so long 
as there was space to lay a stretcher on the 
floor, I don't think anyone was ever refused 

When the spring came, with its floods and its 
cold, the long war became a long wait, where 
for months men stood in open graves looking at 
a mud wall in front of them and trying to keep 
their feet dry. 

One night there was some severe trench fighting, 

124 FURNES. 

and the station was very full that night. A young 
French officer, wounded in the head, came and 
sat by the kitchen fire ; and I was interested to 
listen to his account of the fight, and to notice 
how much a man will say when he has only been 
for an hour out of the trenches, and to contrast 
his early account of a fight with those later 
accounts which are sent " to cheer up the missus," 
and which appear afterwards in the pages of the 
morning papers. 

The French boy by the kitchen fire was not 
laughing. He was covering his face with hij 
hands, and saying, " Oh, it was awful — awful ! " 

And war is awful. Recruiting will go on all 
the better if men know they are not going to lay 
down their lives for a merry picnic, and that 
they are not going to join the army when the 
war is " nearly over." But when they know 
that men are covered with blood, and moaning, 
and that the agony of a shattered limb is not to 
be measured by words, then they will respond 
till there are no fighting men left in England ; 
because, when comrades are falling, one must 
be with them. And when death comes in a 
horrible form, and boys with their beards hardly 
grown are standing up to it grim and steady, 
then they will want to do their bit too, if I 
know anything at all about it. 

I went home for a fortnight's holiday, and 

FURNES. 125 

found every one working hard and rather fond of 
" spy " stories. But I was much struck by the 
dignity of acceptance of a terrible time which I 
saw on all sides. 

It was strange to find oneself down in the 
country driving about respectable, quiet lanes, 
and I realized, as I had not done before, that 
one had grown accustomed to hearing the sound 
of firing nearly every day. 

The only thing that was difficult to accept 
was the often-made statement that England " did 
not realize " the war. If it was so, I believe 
that the insistent optimism of the Press had 
something to do with it, and the ragtime letters 
from the front ! Of course, this had its excellent 
side ; but war as a " good time '* seems to me 
simply ridiculous. 

The number of people in deep mourning was 
deeply impressive, and the still, settled look on 
the women's faces was as tragic and as fine as 
anything I have ever seen. One felt that to 
have spoken to them of their losses would have 
been worse than sending a " card of sympathy.*' 
Their best had gone for ever, from homes 
which would never be even a little happy again, 
and it seemed to me then that one didn't need 
to be in Belgium to realize war, but that in its 
deepest intensity one saw it written on the faces 
of wives and mothers in England. 

126 FURNES. 


When I got back again, I heard that Furnes 
was being heavily shelled, and that the hospital 
had moved to Hoogstadt, and every one was be- 
ing evacuated. I do not fancy it was too soon. 
One of our nurses was, alas ! killed by a shell ; 
and although all of them volunteered to remain, 
it was deemed advisable to shift quarters, and 
most people were sent, in the meantime, to 
La Panne and to Dunkirk. There was, how- 
ever, a considerable section of the English 
colony who remained on at Furnes ; and I heard 
afterwards that one might have flown the British 
flag from every house in the place, so touched 
were the Belgians by the devotion of their allies. 

The number of casualties in the little town 
was sad indeed ; and a girl of our party had 
a dreadful experience, being called into a humble 
house near the canal where two old people sitting 
by their fire had had their heads blown off. The 
ambulances were busy all the time, and houses 
which we knew well were completely wrecked. 

The villa where I myself had stayed all the 
winter, and in which, through the kindness 
of a Belgian doctor and his wife, I had been 
given a room, had all its windows broken by 
the impact of a shell, which destroyed the house 
next to it. This villa is connected in all our 
minds with our first days at Furnes. We found 
it empty, and by permission it was commandeered 

FURNES. 127 

by us. It had only three beds in it, and we 
were then a party of eighteen persons ! Even 
mattresses were scarce, but we settled down as 
we could, and my only regret was for the usage 
the poor villa got. We found it just as the 
Belgians to whom it belonged had fled from it, 
and it used to remind us of some house dug 
out of the ruins of Pompeii in which every- 
thing had been left suddenly. The cooking 
pot was on the stove, and a child's toys on the 
table, and some wine-glasses remained as they 
had been left. Here we established ourselves 
for a time. I grieve to say that the villa was 
neither very tidy nor very clean after our 
large party had been there. There were so 
many overcoats and so much mud, and so many 
thick boots to bring it in ! Picture nails 
may sometimes serve as clothes pegs. But I 
think I never before so fully appreciated the 
Scriptural injunction to put candles on candle- 
sticks ! The cover of a kitchen tin is not a 
good substitute, and every one knows how 
disreputable an empty bottle can look by day- 
light. Now, a Belgian lady's house is always 
the last word in cleanliness and order, and I 
shall not soon forget the horror of the poor 
doctor's wife when she returned. Nearly all 
of us were obliged to find lodgings elsewhere 
and madame and her sisters scrubbed and scoured 

128 FURNES. 

the villa ceaselessly for a week. At the end 
of that time I heard a simple good man say 
that, on returning to the villa for something, 
he had noticed the " w^oman's touch " every- 

I feel sure that many people think that 
cleanliness and order can be restored by waving 
a wand ! 

There was no real settlement in Furnes after 
it had been bombarded. The large hospital 
became a sort of dressing-station, where two 
young doctors and our commandant remained 
all the time, and several of the chauffeurs 
remained with them. A small house on the 
Ypres road was found for some of the staff. 
The soup kitchen moved to Adenkerke station, 
and La Panne, which is near by, provided 
lodging for the rest of us. 



La Panne is a pleasant little seaside place 

amongst the dunes ; it has probably never before 

. y been inhabited in the winter. All the 

^ little villas in the place — and they are 

^ ^* set on every sand heap — are designed 

for summer visitors, and there is rather a nice 

sea frontage, w^ith good hotels. 

The largest of these has been turned into a 
hospital, w^hich is governed and controlled by 
Dr. de Page, the physician to the Queen of the 
Belgians. There are a large number of English 
nurses there, and as far as an unprofessional eye 
like my own is able to judge, it seems to be 
excellently managed, and to provide the utmost 
comfort that is possible for the wounded. The 
big drawing-room overlooking the sea, the 
balconies, and the cheerful outlook make the 
hospital peculiarly attractive. 

On Easter Sunday the drawing-room became 
a chapel for the services of the English Church, 
and the nurses, with their usual skill in arranging 

(1.866) 9 

130 LA PANNE. 

and designing things out of nothing, had con- 
trived a white altar in ascending tiers, and this 
was literally covered with beautiful flowers. The 
fragrance of them recalled England and all that 
it means to most of us, in a manner that was very 
poignant, and I suppose I may say very tenden 
too. Flowers have been a rare sight during thJ 
war in Belgium, and the scent of pheasant-eyeJ 
narcissi and white stocks conjured up a thousanc 

I think all the English in La Panne came tc 
the Easter service, which, in its own simple 
way, struck me as being a very beautiful one. 

There were men in khaki, and rows of nursei 
with spotless w^hite kerchiefs covering theii 
heads, and at the far end of the room was the 
high white altar laden with its flowers, anc 
outside, seeming to encircle us, was the dim anc 
peaceful sea. 

It seemed to me that on Easter morning one 
was very near all those who had sufi^ered and 
had lost, and all those who had died for theii 
country in this war. It was the first Resurrec- 
tion Morning, as far - as we know, for many 
whom we had held very dear. And we thought 
of the boys who were gone — not indeed as 
angels with white wings, but as we used to 
know them — newly promoted to a " topper," per-; 
haps (for, alas ! so many of them were very 

LA PANNE. 131 

young), or in their white cricket flannels at 
Eton or at Lord's. We remembered all the 
pleasantness of them, their fine frankness and 
even their excellent manners, and the clean, good 
lives of most of them, and their aspirations which 
they never were able to speak about, and their 
games of which they spoke so much. We 
thought of their fathers and mothers, and we 
hoped humbly and sincerely that they would 
know somehow that we were thinking of them, 
and wishing we could help them. 

No doubt all of us prayed for some measure 
of comfort and consolation for the desolate wives 
too. Many of us could recall marriages of 
recent dates, and could see again some church 
crowded with friends, and a group of brides- 
maids near the door ; or we heard, like an echo, 
the band in the Guards Chapel, and saw the 
men lining the aisle, and the bridegroom in 
uniform, with some good pal beside him, waiting 
by the chancel steps. 

That was only a year, two years ago, or not 
much more. But last December, perhaps, or 
later still, in March, we heard that " he was last 
seen waving his sword," or was " first into the 
trenches." . . . 

They put a wooden cross up where he fell. 

We thought much, too, of the men and the 
women who have learned to love each other 

132 LA PANNE. 


better as the years go on. There is, we believ 
something singularly faithful and loyal about 
soldier's love for his wife. Most of them ha\ 
" taken the rough with the smooth " — the plaii 
of India or the dull provincial town. The 
face everything together, whether it is on 
small means or bad climates. And where a 
English officer and his wife go there is nev< 
much amiss. 

They will not be forgotten, these men of hig 
honour and courage, whom their regiments lovec 
and whom their men followed into hell fin 
We knew them in the old days, riding the; 
ponies at regimental races or playing polo in th 
sun ; and we knew them in South Africa, " huni 
ing De Wet," and singing songs (for they wer 
fifteen years younger then) about the " Soldiei 
of the Queen.'* It was always " Soldiers of th 
Queen " in South Africa, and not " Tipperary. 
We knew all the cheeriness of them, and the goo 
fellowship, and the idealism, too — for it leake 
out sometimes — and we thanked them for 
making England what it is. They faced most 
things blithely, and often went into danger for 
the sheer fun of the thing ! We think they 
were not afraid when they were called upon to 
meet the last enemy, which is Death ; and if they 
were, they were " too well-bred to show it." 

The news of the fighting at Neuve Chapellc 



reached us in very small supplies, and no doubt 
as much of it was known in England as at the 
front. It seemed to me to be a terrible victory. 
But I heard on all sides that it had " bucked " 
our men, who had grown tired of doing nothing. 
The spirit of every one seems to have been 
excellent, and I know that success in war cannot 
always be measured by territory. 

We heard such news as came through about 
the fighting in the Dardanelles. All the news- 
papers I was able to obtain cried victory, and 
perhaps cried it too soon. For even victory 
may come as an anti-climax when all the big 
adjectives have been used up to describe the 
preliminaries of a great engagement. 

The time at La Panne passed quietly. It is 
a brighter place than Furnes, and the lengthening 
spring days added much to the cheerfulness of 
every one. One saw this in the soldiers, who 
enjoyed games with roars of laughter in the 
sandy streets ; and the element of personal dis- 
comfort was much lessened for every one by the 
milder atmosphere which now prevailed. 

A Scotsman under very heavy fire said, in a tone 
of real North-country grumbling, " Shells make 
it uncomfortable for every one." There was an 
almost complete absence of shells in La Panne, 
but Taubes often arrived, and were not much 
regarded by anyone. 

134 LA PANNE. 

They came out of the blue on any fine mor 
ing, and generally rather early, when the soldie 
were washing. The Belgians are as fond o 
cold water as their English allies, and tb 
soldiers can turn out looking neat after a nigh 
spent upon straw. At La Panne every villa i 
filled with them ; one can hear the sound o 
life beginning about six o'clock, or even earliei 
when the sky is pale green before the dawn 
and the men kindle fires — orange red agains 
the quiet early morning light. While the 
are busy on annonce a Taube by the blowin 
of a steam syren ; a few heavy-footed, elderl 
women begin to run, and children are told t 
come indoors as one tells them to come in ou 
of a shower. The pigeons, of course, ar 
annoyed. They hate and fear the giant over 
head, and fly from every steeple. Some whit 
tufts appear in the sky, followed, perceptible 
later, by the sound of bursting shells. Th 
soldiers, washing themselves in little villa gardenj 
stop their ablutions for a moment, and witl 
hands above their eyes or caps held at arm'i 
length to keep off the glare, look up into th 
sky for a moment, and then go on with thei: 
washing. The syren continues to whistle, an 
some people get out of bed to look at the Taube 
and some lie still. 

I think that, to the British mind, there h 

LA PANNE. 135 

always been something a little comic about 
German aircraft. 

One day at Adenkerke station we saw one 
turned back by the fire that met it, and later, 
one of our friends saw a strange sight. The 
returning Taube was greeted by a rain of shells, 
and in the midst of this and in the thick of 
it a British and a French aeroplane came out 
and hovered over it like birds of prey, and fired 
upon it, and it burst into flames and fell to earth 
like a stone. 

Both men were dead and charred beyond all 
recognition. . . . 

About this time the work of the kitchen spread 
a little, because of the number of malades and 
eclopes who came to Adenkerke for a brief 
rest. A sick soldier is as deserving of sympathy 
as a wounded one. And yet, naturally perhaps, 
he does not get half the attention in war time 
that the other does. It seems to me that a 
man in good health can bear a great deal of 
pain and discomfort, but the man who has 
" gone sick " does not know what to make of 
himself or what is wrong. As a rule, he is 
suffering either from too much work or too 
little food, and he often has to put up with a 
long spell of suffering before the ambulances, 
which are instantaneous in their services on the 
wounded, come to take him away. 

136 LA PANNE. 

At the Pavilion St. Vincent at Adenkerke a 
the klopes used to come and rest. They were 
men for the most part with " little ailments " — 
sore feet, toothache, earache, or such like — and a 
few days' rest used to do them a world of good. 
The warmth of the stoves alone and the long 
sleep they got did much to restore them. Owing 
to the kindness of friends one was able to supply 
them with all the woollen goods — socks, scarves, 
etc. — that they required, and I found that slippers 
were more appreciated than anything else. An 
Eastbourne work-party, a Craigmillar work- 
party, and a mothers' meeting work-party at 
Chart Sutton kept me well supplied. 

It is impossible to leave La Panne without 
saying something about a little hospital which 
established itself just opposite the station where 
I worked. It belonged to Lady Bagot, and I 
always thought that there was something par- 
ticularly attractive about it — a quietness and 
serenity that was good for sick people. The 
one plain wooden ward, with its well-scrubbed 
boards, had a friendly air of goodness about it, 
which, of course, was due to herself and her staff; 
and although the little brown wooden building 
was only a " flying " one, it always looked restful 
and at peace. 

The soup kitchen became rather more mili- 
tary at Adenkerke than it had been before, 

LA PANNE. 137 

and I became officially attached to the Belgian 
Army. Two men came on as helpers in the 
kitchen. It was not quite so interesting to 
distribute soup which one had not entirely 
made oneself, but the new plan did not work 
at all badly. The only thing that struck me 
(if I may venture on so horribly egoistical a 
remark) was that, whereas the number of wounded 
coming through the station was reduced, owing 
to the lull in the war, from hundreds a day 
to perhaps a hundred, the work began to be 
thought rather strenuous. At Furnes we did 
not have any regular assistance, and the Belgian 
Sisters and I used to think our soup and coffise 
rather good. 

I can only imagine that it was the awful and 
alarming energy of the small woman that helped 
us. I am five feet nothing, and I was a little 
bit the tallest ! 

Meanwhile, the hospital was at Hoogstadt, 
and one missed one's friends of the staff, and 
hardly ever saw them. 

I shall always retain a vision of them all in 
the bustling yard of the college filled with motor 
ambulances, all of which, whether they were 
running or not, tried to make as much noise as 
possible and from underneath which men with 
rags in their hands and an odour of petrol about 
them used to creep unexpectedly. Every one 

138 LA PANNE. 

was in a hurry and stood about with cigarettes 
in their mouths. There was a feeling that one 
had to " hop in," followed by hours of alert 
waiting for nothing in particular. I fancy 
(although I fear to say anything so daringly 
indiscreet) that some of those hours were taken 
up and fully employed by determined accusations 
to each other of having " bagged my things,'' 
and persistent and indignant denials of the 

A habit of " pinching " prevails in war time 
which seems to affect even the most honest 
persons, and it is allowable to wonder whether 
in this respect characters may not be per- 
manently destroyed. No property — from motor 
tyres to bandages — was safe ! 

The result of this was that every one used to 
go about with all their portable goods in their 
pockets. This gave them a very bulgy appear- 
ance. Doubtless, however, one used to think 
that things carried with so much care and so 
carefully guarded must be of considerable 

A turned-out pocket generally disclosed a watch 
that had long since stopped and never meant to 
go again ; a fountain-pen which was not filled 
up, and when filled leaked ; an electric torch 
that required a refill ; a scarf which had been 
pinched from some one else and wanted care- 



ful watching ; a store of cigarettes and no 

There was a convenient habit — where so many 
were strangers amongst us — of calling men by 
the names of the cars which they drove, and one 
of them was always known even to the servants 
as " Monsieur le Pipe '* — a name which exactly 
suited him. 

A foreign chauffeur called the " Goat " always 
seemed to have a strange and deleterious effect 
upon all persons with whom he came in contact. 
No one ever went for a drive with the " Goat ** 
without coming back a worse man. Tempers, 
otherwise serene, were so effectually disturbed by 
him that they did not recover for hours after- 
wards, and language failed when speaking of or 
to the " Goat." 

On the only journey I ever made with him he 
seemed to be suggesting at every barrier that I 
was a German spy, and I think he was the most 
timid creature I have ever met. Why we were 
not all arrested and shot, on the evidence of his 
manner alone, I do not know. 

He had a car which always seemed to be part 
of him, and without which it is impossible to 
picture him. It was lined in an unusual man- 
ner with window muslin with blue flowers on it. 
It went loudly and slowly all its days, and was 
famous for being passed by every one on the road. 

140 LA PANNE. 

Personally I don*t believe that anyone but the 
" Goat " could have knocked a single spark out of 
it ! He used to spend all his days with his head 
inside the bonnet, coaxing and flattering the en- 
gine which he loved, and at night he slept, with 
all the windows up, inside the car. 

I have a lurking suspicion that he hated us 
as much as we hated him. He wanted to speak 
to his engine all day, and we wanted him to 
drive ; and when we thoroughly understood 
each other in this matter, it did not make for 

There was a good fellow who was very much 
liked by us, whom we used to call " Boots,'* 
because of the very thick ones he wore. They 
used to take complete charge of the wearer and 
marched him about where they listed. Their 
weight was so great that in coming downstairs 
they seemed to act like weights pulling him 
from step to step, and they had a determined 
and unyielding look about them, which gave 
one the impression that they led the wearer and 
not he them. 

" Boots '* had a passion for makeshifts, and was 
never so happy as when he was contriving some- 
thing out of nothing or diverting things from 
their original purpose. He was not really 
contented except when he was splitting up old 
boxes to serve some wise and great end ; and he 

LA PANNE. 141 

slept in a storeroom behind a blackboard, and 
had his bath in a waterproof sheet stretched over 
a motor tyre. 

Many people indulged, as English people 
abroad always seem to do, in unusual clothing, 
and a shower of rain, for instance, would 
produce oilskins and sou'westers, which no 
fishermen on the wettest day in the west of 
Scotland could have beaten. 

Belgium is wet, but the size of our boots 
was designed for a flood, and we affected hats 
of uncompromising sternness. 

Some of the ladies wore knitted caps in 
which they looked very nice, I thought. But 
no mountain-climber, no lady pig-sticker or 
huntress of wild beasts ever wore clothing so 
abnormally practical as we did. It even soared, 
in some cases, to masculinity. And a certain 
guileless maiden lady always nervously explained 
to Belgian officers that English ladies did not as 
a general rule dress in breeches and gaiters. 

The kindly Belgians explained it all in their 
polite way by saying that " Les Anglaises sont 

It has been said that England is bound in 
the best portmanteau leather. Straps, certainly, 
assist one much, and I am quite sure may even 
help some people to feel heroic. But the 
khaki and the straps and the gaiters came to 

142 LA PANNE. 

be associated in people's minds with very good 
practical work, and very plucky work too. 
" The only real danger," as I heard a young 
girl in puttees say, " will be when we return 
to London and fall over tight skirts." 



The weather continued cold but bright at 
La Panne. The lengthening days were a great 
Tkf^y I QIC. ^^.^^^ht, and spring came late, but 
y y J' with a wealth and a marvel of green. 
A wind was blowing in from the sea, and lilacs 
nodded from over the hedges. The tender corn 
rustled its delicate little chimes, and all across it 
the light breezes sent arpeggio chords of delicate 
music, like a harp played on silver strings. A 
big horse-chestnut tree burst suddenly into bloom 
and carried its flowers proudly like a bouquet, 
and the shy hedges put up a screen all laced and 
decorated with white may. It seemed as though 
Mother Earth had become young again, and was 
tossing her babies up to the summer sky, while 
the wind played hide-and-seek or peep-bo or 
some other ridiculous game with them. Only 
the guns boomed all the time, and the Belgians, 
quiet and patient as always, and the little French 
marrns, with their charming manners, and the 
Zouaves, wholly contemptuous of wounds and of 

144 LA PANNE. 

suffering, came in as before into the little station, 
and sat in the big hall there and talked very 
little, and in the evening the train was filled up 
as usual with them. The ambulances, with their 
brown canvas tilts, came in as they had always 
done, and fresh graves were dug in the spring 

Mother Earth, with her new-born babies, used 
to stop playing then for a time and tell us that 
it was all right ; and when a little procession used 
to come along the road with its humble burden 
carried shoulder high, she who is never unsympa- 
thetic as some would have us believe used to 
whisper, " They have come back to me, as all 
my children do : the leaves next autumn, and 
the boys perhaps to-morrow." . . . 

The work was not nearly so heavy as it had 
been, and one began to have some leisure. Two 
friends of mine, who play beautifully, used to 
come to practise duets on the piano at the villa 
where I lodged, and a great deal of pleasure it 
gave me. A painter, invalided for a time from 
the trenches, made some excellent portraits ; and 
Monsieur de la Haye, the well-known war artist 
and a member of the Paris Salon, was constantly 
at work with his sketch-book at the station, mak- 
ing some of his vigorous and splendid drawings. 

I suppose I ought to have known it, but as a 
matter of fact I had never realized before that 

LA PANNE. 145 

art flourishes in Belgium like a plant in a fair 
soil. It seems as natural for a Belgian to be a 
painter or a musician as it is for him to sleep or to 
eat. Even the soldiers whistle in tune, and in a 
manner more melodious than I have ever heard, 
and everyw^here one finds a love of pictures and 
an intimate know^ledge of music. Sometimes I 
fancied that the want of art in some other nations 
produces a feeling of genuine wonder in the 
minds of our allies. To know a good picture, 
for instance, is with them an instinct, and nothing 
more terribly enforces the realization of the loss 
which they have sustained in the destruction of 
their beautiful buildings than to discover (as one 
was doing every day in Belgium) that these had 
been not merely national memorials, to be shown 
off with pride to strangers, but the household 
gods of a people to whom beauty is a natural 
expression far more than a studied part. 

Everywhere one was getting evidence of it ! 
A soldier begs for a stump of pencil, and fills 
one's sketch-book with some inimitable studies 
of faces ; and a musician, who ought to be laid 
up as a treasure in heaven, delights one with his 
music on one evening and goes back into the 
trenches the next ! 

After a short period of leisure came a busy 
time again. There had been a great deal of 
heavy fighting, and some villages subjected to 

(1.865) 10 

146 LA PANNE. 

bombardment had paid the usual toll in the 
matter of wounded and killed civilians. Every- 
one has noticed the seeming indifference v^ith 
w^hich the inhabitants of Flanders — or all that 
remains of it — appear to regard the dangers of 
war. It has been the greatest difficulty with 
those who have had charge of refugee work to 
persuade villagers and dwellers in little hamlets 
to leave their farms and cottages ; and I have 
often heard it said, by men who have seen and 
had wide experience of the struggle that is now 
going on, that nothing has ever made them so 
astonished as seeing some old Belgian woman, 
in her black knitted cap, calmly hoeing turnips 
or digging up potatoes quite close to the firing- 
line, or while shelling has been going on. 
Always, these simple villagers are the last to 
leave a stricken neighbourhood, and even when 
every one else has fled, it is quite a common 
sight to see them sitting at their doors, having 
appeared from heaven knows where, and enjoying 
the evening sunshine, with their children about 
them, long after every one else has moved away 
to safer quarters. 

There is one woman with four little children 
who has lived in a tiny house near the canal 
at Nieuport ever since that much-bombarded 
place was subjected to shell fire. It is hardly 
too much to say that a more dangerous position 

LA PANNE. 147 

would be hard to find. The fields all round are 
pitted with shell holes, and woods and trees, and 
even the roadway, have suffered throughout a 
wide area for many months past. The Flemish 
woman stays on in her little cottage, and I am 
told that children in Flanders often take food to 
the trenches. 

I remember particularly one evening at Aden- 
kerke when many wounded civilians were being 
brought in from Ypres, Poperinghe, and various 
places in the neighbourhood. There was an 
ambulance filled with wounded children, for 
whom, I think, King Herod himself might have 
been sorry if he had seen them. They were 
such tiny things to be already in the war ! And 
they were lifted out of the ambulance wagons 
with their arms and legs in splints, or with their 
little curly heads bandaged. Two little mites, 
sitting on a long, full-sized stretcher, gazed 
solemnly at each other, and each was evidently 
filled with wonder at the unusual appearance of 
his little neighbour. There were sad tales to 
tell about nearly all of them. This baby had 
been found in a house, and no one could tell 
where his mother was. And that one had es- 
caped death in some marvellous way when her 
parents and her grandmother were killed. One 
little creature of three weeks old lay in the 
hospital for a long time with both its feet 

148 LA PANNE. 

wounded. He was " Albert," as all the children 
in Belgium are now, and Albert's young mother 
had died on the operating table, being, as they 
told me, riddled with wounds. 

One asked oneself whether this was not fright- 
fulness enough, while sorrowfully aware that one 
had seen only a very small portion of the suffering 
and the wrongs which have befallen Belgium. 

The scene at the railway station seemed to 
focus itself into an extraordinary picture. The 
railway lines run due west, and at the far end of 
them, where the gleaming rails seem to con 
verge, the sun was setting in a sky of extra- 
ordinary splendour. There were level rays of 
light which made the station in the unattractive 
little town look almost picturesque for the 
moment, and all along the platform were lying 
stretchers with women and children on them. 
The women were brown-haired, decent-looking 
young matrons, and it grieved one very deeply 
to see these innocent victims of what can only 
be called devilry. The long Red Cross com- 
partment of the train was first of all filled with 
the children, and the usual Englishman in khaki 
appeared carrying something with him. He 
shoved it down in a corner with the usual guilty 
look of an Englishman doing a little bit of 
kindness, and we found a box of groceries and 
sweet biscuits and milk, and everything that a 



little party of invalids could want on their long 
journey to Switzerland. Some young Belgian 
soldiers meanwhile had got into the train, and 
were making friends with the babies, and after- 
wards the women were brought in also. Pres- 
ently the train moved slowly off, and one could 
hear the plaintive crying of children who were 
going to bed in these strange quarters without, 
alas ! their mothers to tuck them up ; and one 
caught a glimpse once more, as one said good- 
bye, of the outstretched forms of the women. 
It occurred to one, as it has occurred to many 
people both at home and abroad, that it does not 
do to look at war too closely. Far away one 
may sing songs about it, but there were too 
many suffering people in Belgium ! 

It was touching to see a little family of 
terrified children and their mother sheltering in 
a roadside Calvary one day when the shells were 
coming over. The young mother was holding 
up her baby for protection to the Figure on the 
Cross, and some little toddling creatures were 
clinging about her skirts. 

A Belgian officer told us that the most awful 
thing he had ever had to do was to order his 
men to fire on a German regiment which was 
protecting itself behind his own countrywomen. 

Some of our corps were evacuating the women 
and children at a small village, and one man. 

150 LA PANNE. 

seeing his wife and daughter stretched out on 
the ground, went mad, and ran up and down the 
field screaming. One saw a good deal of mad- 
ness on all sides. 

Another of our corps was helping to carry in 
on a stretcher a young girl whose shoulder had 
been shot away, and who was dying. A young 
Belgian peasant, who walked in front of my 
friend, helping to carry the stretcher, turned 
round and said quietly, " This is my fiancee." 

A dying French soldier, once measuring six 
feet four inches, and now lying with both his 
legs amputated, looked up and said, smiling to 
a friend of mine, " I used often to complain, 
mademoiselle, that my bed was too short, but I 
shan't have to grumble about that now." His 
old father and mother arrived to see him just 
after he had breathed his last. 

One almost envied the people of whom one 
heard it said that they had not begun to realize 
yet ! 

Once there came a sort of British morning, 
with a fresh British breeze blowing over the 
feathered tops of the waves ; and as I stood on 
the sands at La Panne, I saw one of our own 
men-of-war blazing away at the coast. The 
Germans answered by shells which fell rather 
wide, and must have startled the fishes (but no 
one else) by the splash they made. There were 



long, swift torpedo-boats, with two great white 
wings of cloven foam at their bows, and a 
flourish of it in their wake, moving along under 
a canopy of their own black smoke. It being a 
British day, one was fatuous enough to glory in 
the fact that even the coal was British, and to 
tell oneself that one knew where it came from, 
and to picture once more the grimy workmen 
who dwell in the Black Country and get it out 
of the ground. The man-of-war in front of us 
was burning plenty of it, and when she had done 
her work she put up a banner of smoke and 
steamed away with a splendid air of dignity 
across the white-flecked sea. One knew the 
men on board of her ! Probably not a heart 
beat faster by a second for all the German shells ; 
probably dinner was served as usual, and men 
had their tubs and got their clothes brushed 
when it was all over. 

I went down to my kitchen a little late, but 
I had seen something that Drake never saw — a 
bit of modern sea-fighting ! 

In the evening when I returned the long gray 
man-of-war was there again. The sun was 
westering now, and the sea had turned to gold, 
and the gray hull looked black against the glare. 
But the fire of the man-of-war's guns was 
brighter than the evening sunset ; and she was 
a spitfire after all, this dignified lady, for she 

152 LA PANNE. 

" let 'cm have it ! " while the long, lean torpedo 
boats looked on. 

About this time (because I was coming home 
to lecture at various ammunition centres) I was 
given permits to see one or two places which 
interested me very much. And most of all, 1 
think, I was impressed by visiting Nieuport, 
which I had not seen since last November. It 
was like coming back and finding a friend much 
worse than one had anticipated. Some one said 
to me, " Ypres smells of lilac and of death." I 
do not think there were any lilacs at Nieuport. 
The place was too shockingly destroyed for that. 
Everywhere about it there was the most extra- 
ordinary atmosphere of desolation and destruc- 
tion. So many shells had fallen on the bare 
earth and on the fields all round it, on which 
no harvest was ripening, that I can only describe 
them by saying that they looked like immense 
Gruyere cheeses pitted with holes. 

But indeed it is as difficult to find words to 
describe Nieuport as it is to talk of metaphysics 
in slang. The words do not seem to be invented 
that will convey the sense of desolation of the 
spot, or the supreme and aching quiet of it 
under the shock of constantly firing guns. 
Hardly anything is left now of the little homely 
things that, when I saw the place last time, re- 
minded one that this was once a city of living 

LA PANNE. 153 

human beings. Then, one saw a few interiors, 
exposed, it is true, and damaged, but still of this 
world ; now, it is one big grave — the grave of 
a city and the grave of many of its inhabitants. 

At a corner house nine ladies lie under the 
piled-up debris that once made their home. In 
another, some soldiers met their death, and some 
crumbling bricks were heaped over them too. 
The houses have all fallen ; some outer walls 
remain, but I hardly saw a roof left, and every- 
where there are empty window frames and 
skeleton rafters. I never knew so surely before 
that a town can live and can die. At Nieuport 
there is not a heart-beat left to throb in it. 
Thousands of shells have fallen into it, and con- 
tinue to fall. 

And at night the nightingale sings there, and 
by day the river flows gently under the ruined 
bridge. Every tree in the wood near by is torn 
and beheaded ; hardly one has a top remaining. 
The new green pushes out amongst the black- 
ened trunks. One found oneself speaking low 
in Nieuport — the place was so horribly dead. 

The streets, heaped up with debris and full of 
shell holes, were bright with sunlight, but were 
quite deserted. From the cellars in some ruined 
buildings, whose insecure walls looked as though 
they might totter and fall any minute, some 
Zouaves or an occasional French marin appeared. 

154 LA PANNE. 

Most of these ran out with letters in their hands 
for us to post. God knows what they can have 
had to write about from that grave ! 

In the cathedral and amongst its crumbling, 
battered walls a strange peace rests, and one 
notices — what scores of people have already- 
noticed in Belgium — that in the midst of 
the ruins there nearly always stands one sacred 
figure, which, when everything else has fallen, 
holds out pitiful arms in some shrine. In 
a little house almost entirely fallen, and with 
its remaining walls blackened by fire, I found 
a tragic-looking little crucifix still upon the 
walls. This I asked to keep. It must once 
have been very well carved, I think, and there 
was an extraordinary expression on the clear- 
cut face, while the broken limbs reminded me 
of much that I had seen during the war. Over 
the cathedral doorway the figures of a crowned 
Mother and her Child remain almost untouched, 
while almost at her feet there was a little grave- 
yard filled with crosses where the dead lie. A 
shell had entered, and torn some bones from their 
resting-place, and these lay amongst a few simple 
flowers which some soldier had laid on the graves. 

We went to see the dim cellars with their 
vaulted roofs which form the two pastes au 
secours. In the inner recess a doctor has a bed, 
and there was a table with a vase of scarlet 

LA PANNE. 155 

peonies upon it. In the outer cave some sol- 
diers were eating. There is no light there, even 
during the day, except from the doorway. The 
sunlight outside looked blinding compared with 
the deep shadows within. 

Mrs. Wynne comes every night and most 
afternoons to this poste^ driving her own ambu- 
lance without lights of any sort, and removing 
the wounded who wait for her there to the 
French hospital at Zuitecote. All through the 
winter, and whether the road has been shelled or 
not, she has always been there with a chauffeur 
and one of the gentlemen of our ambulance 
corps, who has a curious preference for shell fire. 
I hope that she will not think it an impertinence 
on my part to praise her work, or to record that 
it was always done with simplicity and courage. 

We wandered about Nieuport for a consider- 
able time in the unearthly quiet which persisted, 
even when guns began to blaze away close by 
us, sending their whizzing shells over our heads ; 
and we walked down to the river, and saw the 
few boards which are all that remain of the 
bridge. As we came away from the place in 
the gloaming, a bird broke into a rapture of song 
quite close to us. The birds never have any fear 
of bursting shells, and I have often heard soldiers 
say that they seem to sing all the louder for the 
noise that is going on. From many a field of 

156 LA PANNE. 

battle the larks mount up joyously, and I have 
heard of men making pets of robins in the 
trenches. There is a nightingale in a little wood 
in the long, uninteresting road which lies between 
Adenkerke and La Panne. Here every sort of 
vehicle is passing all day long, soldiers are 
marching, and there is the perpetual sound of 
motor horns, bugles, and the like, and in the 
midst of it, and especially after rain, the little 
brown bird in the bushes sings on undisturbed. 
While men are killing each other he loses him- 
self in a burst of song that recalls all the old 
joyous things which one used to know. The 
poetry of life seems to be over for a time. The 
war songs are forced and sometimes a little 
foolish ; pictures are put away in cellars, and 
stained glass, where it can be saved, is removed 
from church windows, and books are closed. 
But the nightingale sings on, and the old spirit 
of youth and of joyfulness looks out through 
smoke and carnage, and speaks of evenings in dim 
woods at home, or of dawn when one used to 
hear birds in the garden and turned round com- 
fortably in some sweet-scented chintz-furnished 
room and went to sleep again. The nightingale 
sings above the sound of death and of tears, and 
the little wood close to the tramway line becomes 
filled with one of those unexpected voices which 
one sometimes hears when one is alone. 



The last chapter of a woman*s book is always 

inclined to be a little discursive, I am afraid. She 

. can write with that "restraint," which 

June iQi c. . 1 -11 

^ -^ reviewers love to praise, throughout a 

volume ; but in the last chapter she is apt to 

fall from grace a little. 

From a kitchen window the great panorama 
of war limits itself to a view through little 
panes of glass — a glimpse of a limited area seen 
through a cloud of steam from boiling pots, 
and dimmed, although not necessarily distorted, 
by it. Bending over a stove — blackleaded and 
inclined to smoke — one may think of many 
things ; and when one goes to the window and 
looks out, one may think of many more. 

There was always a train in front of the 
window, and in the train were wounded men, 
and in the hospitals were wounded men, and in 
the ambulances, and in the waiting-rooms at the 
station, were more wounded men. One got 
more accustomed to seeing soldiers with ban- 
dages than without them, at the railway station 


during the war. And all were suffering, some 
less, some more, and nearly all were helpless. 
Two words began to say themselves in my 
head whenever the convoys of wounded came 
in, " Rendered inefficient." No doubt it is the 
main object of war, when it does not kill, to 
maim. But men meant to be useful, and to 
work and to be happy, were now limping, blind, 
sometimes mad, and struck off the roll of the 
useful ones ! The sight of these impressed me 
very painfully, especially, I think, at night. In 
the dim light the thin faces had a more haggard 
look, and the helplessness of the men on the 
stretchers seemed more marked than during the 
day. The train used to fill up and move out 
of the dim station into the greater dimness 
beyond, and the men sat or lay in the unlighted 
carriages, each one silent and holding an injured 

The death-roll was very long, and one saw, 
day after day, labelled humanity with a number 
on it passing in an endless succession upon blood- 
stained stretchers. It was not the exception but 
the rule to see them. Naturally, it influenced 
one's vision. Naturally, the writing of others 
who saw the life of soldiers in camp will bear a 
very different complexion. My own experience 
was much like that of persons who stand on 
the beach while others put out to sea, and at 


whose feet pieces of wreck and corpses are 
thrown up by the tide. The excitement of the 
heart of the storm is not for them, they only see 
the results of it. And the results are so pitiful in 
their dumbness and their loneliness, and in their 
pain ! One scruples to wring the hearts of those 
who are already doing all they can do, by a 
mere recital of things sad, and one fears still 
more to say anything that might even remotely 
savour of being sensational ; but there is no one 
with the smallest amount of imagination who 
cannot picture to himself what men who have 
been exposed to shell-fire or a rain of shrapnel, 
and who have come out of it alive, are like. 

The woman's view is almost bound to obtrude 
itself from a kitchen window. And women are 
asking many questions now. In the sorrow 
which has come to many of them they, who 
are not prone to complain, may even be asking 
themselves whether territory and commerce and 
treasure, and all those other things which men 
call "property," should perpetually demand the 
sacrifice of what in a very peculiar way belongs 
to them. The loss of the lives of their sons will 
always appear to women to be too high a price 
to pay for anything the world contains or is able 
to produce. The whole idea of the value of 
life is inherent in them. A woman probably 
never thinks of a boy as an eldest son or as an 


inheritor of lands, but merely as a great joy 
which came first. It is hard to part with him. 
And there comes a moment when she stands 
protesting passionately that she has had no voice 
in the making of war, and she rebels utterly and 
absolutely against having to pay this unthinkable 
price for it. In the almost unbearable pain of 
loss she demands to know, what is the logical 
connection between boys with their lungs shot 
through and their heads blown off, and a mad- 
man's greed for territory and power ? Sitting 
by some sick-bed when the candles are burn- 
ing low, she seeks some explanation of the 
sheer, horrible idiocy of the whole thing. 

She asks, what docs a boy of eighteen really 
know about commerce or world-power ? But 
they put him into a trench half-full of cold 
water, and plugged down iron and steel upon 
him, and sent him down to the station with a 
number on his breast, or back to the old house 
in the country where he was born, and where 
he lies on his back all through the spring days. 
What, again, does a little Belgian soldier know 
of the gambler playing for high stakes, who tried 
to take up a little country as he would gather 
up a small coin off the gaming-table ? The little 
Belgian soldier lies buried where he fell, and 
his womenkind also may be asking themselves 
whether there ever was a more mad way of 


settling a quarrel than to put a lump of lead 
into their boy's lungs. 

They demand, as of old, " Where shall wisdom 
be found ? " And the reply is still the same : 
" Destruction and death say. It is not in me." 

They do not blame anyone for this war 
except the man who brought it about. Even 
they know that it must be fought, and fought 
to the end. But on broader lines they ask 
whether war itself must not come to an end, 
and whether men of reason and nations of reason 
may not settle their quarrels and their differences 
like sober and reasonable beings. They deny 
that a need to kill is a male instinct, and they 
know men who tell them that when a fine 
morning comes they hate to go out and do 
each other to death. 

They have heard — who has not heard — that 
this war is a war of metals and of oil, of petrol 
bubbling in engines and steel hurtling through 
the air, and the almost naive question which 
they put is this : " Why not then eliminate the 
human element altogether ? " Let the gun that 
can throw farthest fire its shells against so much 
thickness of masonry or so much strength of iron 
plates. Why bring young men and boys into 
the matter ? A little German in spectacles, 
ten miles away, may be an excellent marks- 
man, and when war really becomes a matter of 

(1,8M) 11 


artillery and ammunition, let him blaze away in 
the most approved method at some distant mark 
or target. 

Women's questions are proverbially difficult 
to answer. And the odd part of it is, that they 
so often get a hearing. One trembles to write 
so big a thing, but the abolition of war may 
be one of the tasks which will in the future 
belong to them, and will be settled by them. 
Meanwhile the Dominion of Force puzzles them 
a good deal, because they so often hear its 
dominion contradicted or denied. 

The only attitude towards this war, and 
towards all war, which seems inadmissible, is the 
one which regards it with pious horror. Firstly, 
because, quite calmly considered, honour is a 
thing of more intrinsic value than life ; and 
secondly, because the reality of war does not 
lie solely in the suffering which it brings. 

The reality lies in the dim old battered bugles 
blown up to the sky in the early morning ; and 
the hungry men " sticking it," with their eyes 
grown haggard and the line of their cheek-bones 
standing out starkly from their faces. The 
reality lies with the tired men marching stolidly 
on, and with the sick men staying in the trenches, 
and with the simple soldier lying down and dying 
on a muddy field, and with the women laughing 
at shells and going to their doorways to see them. 


And the reality lies also in the extraordinary 
sense of freedom which war brings. Because 
in war we are up against the biggest thing in 
life, and that is death. Most people fear it, but 
in war time a curious thing happens, and men 
are released from fear. This cannot be explained 
by merely saying they have become accustomed 
to danger, but in its essence it is something far 
greater and more profound than this. War 
becomes not so much a fight for freedom as in 
itself a freedom. And death is not a release 
from suffering, but a release from fear. Soldiers 
know this, although they can never explain it. 
They have been terrified. They have been 
more terrified than their own mothers will ever 
know, and their very spines have melted under 
the shrieking sounds of shells. And then comes 
the day when they " don't mind." Death stalks 
just as near as ever, but his face, quite suddenly, 
has a friendly air. Bullets and pieces of shell 
may come, but it doesn't matter. This is the 
day on which the soldier learns to stroll when 
the shrapnel is falling, and to look up and laugh 
when the bullets sing close by. 

In war time all lesser disputes have an end, 
and it almost seems as though already we saw 
things from some larger standpoint and from 
some greater height. 

From a height alone, we know that the wider 


view is obtainable. Thus, already we are won- 
dering whether the trade disputes, for instance, 
of last year were so serious as we then thought 
them. Already we may be saying, quite reason- 
ably and meaning every word of it, that man 
cannot live by bread alone, whether it be a big 
loaf or a little one ; and already we may be 
wondering at the great and momentous change 
which has come over not our own country only, 
but many other countries. 

By humiliation Germany, who has already 
learned something, may have to learn a lesson 
of far more real " Rightfulness " than she has 
been able to teach. 

France has learned a noble seriousness which 
did not formerly belong to her, and France, 
believe me, is praying now, as, perhaps, she had 
a little bit forgotten how to pray. But she has 
not forgiven yet, and perhaps never will for- 
give. So when her turn comes, there will be 
trouble for those who so grievously and wantonly 
hurt and destroyed her ! 

Belgium was a little country with a potential 
soul. A little, exclusive, highly sensitive country, 
prosperous and happy, with a people who wanted 
to be left alone. By nature and by preference 
they were neutrals, until they found, what every 
honest-hearted nation must find, that neutrality 
is impossible as long as right is right and wrong 


is wrong. Belgium had begun, like some small 
clan or proud little family, to be independent, 
and, to use the common phrase, to " keep her- 
self to herself." She made her own laws and 
had her own social life, and her own institu- 
tions, and her own way of thinking about 
things and of doing them. It was narrow, 
but it had the elements of great things in it. 
And then there came, as it comes to pass to all 
exclusive and proud people, the call to mix with 
men — to mix with nations. Belgium had to 
rub shoulders with humanity and to suffer ; 
above all things to suffer. A tremendous re-birth 
had come, and a great soul was born, with a 
king for its father, whom the nations acknow- 
ledge as a worthy sire. 

Belgium had a little distrusted the world 
round about her, and was not even much inter- 
ested in it. And she found quite suddenly and 
unexpectedly that the world wanted her — that 
exclusiveness was no longer possible. She had 
done the big thing and the right thing, and she 
found hearts beating for her and men waiting to 
die with her. And the people who she thought 
were strangers came at a moment when trouble 
was at the door, and they had the faces of old 
friends. In her sorrow and in her ruin she 
has clasped hands with the world ! 

And what of England ? She is too dear to 


us to criticize. Almost one fears to write of 
her lest the deadly things which schoolboys 
call " slobber " and " gush " should find their 
way in, and like the sickly scent of a valentine 
almost destroy the motto and the verse ! 

England had not been at her best for some 
time, and there is no disguising the fact. 
National sentiment was getting a little bit cold ; 
military ardour certainly was not altogether the 
fashion ; emotion was exhausting itself without 
any adequate results ; and a queer sort of selfish- 
ness appeared to be becoming almost a national 
characteristic. It never went very deep, but it 
deceived our neighbours into thinking we were 
utterly degenerate. As a matter of fact, we were 
only going through a transition period, such as 
every growing child and every growing nation 
knows, and we had far too much energy and 
not quite enough to do ; and when this state 
of affairs returns again, we may probably go 
through another transition period. But it will 
never be quite the same again, because to our 
national memory is added the story of Ypres, 
because we have spent the winter in the trenches, 
and because we have learned many things which 
are far too serious to discuss here. At the back 
of it all there is still in England something big 
to draw upon — we may call it what we like. 
And it is something which is not going to fail 


yet awhile ; and which is certainly not going to 
fail until this war is over, and small nations arc 
protected, and mothers get their sons again. 

Meanwhile we go on learning many things. 
And we smile at many things too. We smile 
a good deal, for instance, at people who sit in 
chairs, holding a balance in their hands, and 
deciding that justice consists in keeping that 
balance equal ; whereas, of course, justice gener- 
ally demands that one side shall weigh to the 
ground and the other shall kick the beam. We 
smile a little at those who have adopted the wise 
and sensible course, which is seldom either wise 
or sensible, and have stayed at home, or have 
kept out of a quarrel, or are very busy pro- 
nouncing judgment upon it. We think (for we 
are all schoolboys in war time) that we would 
rather be fighting than looking on, however 
hard the knocks may be that we get. We 
do know a few things now. We know that 
heroes are fighting men, and not mere tillers of 
the soil nor mere money-getters, and we greet 
the parchment-faced old scribes, holding pens 
in their knuckled hands, and laugh with them, 
because of the asses* heads which they drew on 
the figures of the merely rich. Money and 
power and self-interest have been taking quite 
low seats lately ! And we have been finding 
out something about national honour and other 


beautiful things, and discovering what freedom 
means, and exactly how much sacrifice courage 
demands, and what is worth while, and what is not. 
During the war — it was almost bound to be 
so — there have been stories told of psychic ex- 
periences, and even of clouds that have stood 
between armies, and of glimpses of heavenly 
hosts. These may be true or they may not be 
true. They may be the result of men's fancy 
or of their imagination. But there is one vision 
which no one can deny, and which each man 
who cares to look may see for himself. It is 
the vision of something which lies beyond 
sacrifice. And in that bright and heavenly^ 
atmosphere we shall see — we may indeed se( 
to-day — the forms of many who have fallen. 
We believe they fight still, although unharme( 
now and for evermore, but warriors still on th( 
side of right, captains of a host which no mai 
can number, and champions of all that we hol( 
good. We think that when the last roll ij 
called we shall find them still cheery, still un- 
wavering, answering to their good names whic] 
they carried unstained through a score of fighti 
and still — who knows ! — on active service.