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   Chapter 6 FRANCE AND THE FRENCH

The Audacious War By Clarence W. Barron Characters: 12409

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Signs of War not Conspicuous-Paris reopened-A Rejuvenation-English and American Help-French Casualties-French Heroes.

One enters France nowadays by the Folkestone and Dieppe route, which is a four-hour Channel trip or longer, or by Folkestone and Boulogne, a Channel trip of ninety minutes more or less. All the routes to Calais are used by the government for its troops, supplies, and munitions. England's hospital base is at Boulogne. Here is the center of her Red Cross work, with a dozen big hospital ships commandeered from the P. & O. line and bearing distinctive stripes around their hulls. One hospital ship is set apart for the wounded Indians, and the apartments within are fitted up according to the various religious castes prevalent among the troops of India now fighting in France and Flanders. Here at times puts in Lord Zetland's yacht, fitted out by Queen Alexandra for wounded English officers.

When you travel by rail, if you did not know that war was in the country you would never suspect it, unless you wondered why a red-hatted, blue-coated guard, with a rifle carelessly swung over his shoulder, is noticeable now and then by a cross-road or near the buttress of an important railroad bridge. You pass trains of troops, but the uniforms are quiet, the men jovial and unwarlike. The wounded are not conspicuously moved by day.

Although you are not many miles away from the firing line, where an average of more than ten thousand are daily falling, the country is as peaceful and quiet as can be imagined. The big black and white horses are winter ploughing. The red and black cattle and the sheep and hogs are grazing in fields and pastures. The reddening willows speak of an early spring, and the full blue streams tell the brown grasses, and the tall poplars that their colors will soon be gayer.

As the shadows fall, no guard comes as in England to pull your curtain down according to military orders; and, as you approach Paris, you see families dining by uncurtained windows in blazing light. You are astonished after your London experience of semi-darkness to find the boulevards ablaze and no apparent fear of aerial enemies or sky-invasion, although aeroplanes and Zeppelins and bombs may be flying and fighting only eighty miles away. Now and then a searchlight illumines the heavens, but even searchlights are far less conspicuous than in London. In January the lights were ordered to be lowered; but Paris will not stand for long London fog, gloom, or darkness. The French atmosphere and life demand light.

Paris is gradually getting accustomed to the situation. More than 30 first-class hotels are partially opened and advertising. Many of the business streets have a semi-Sunday appearance. Boulevards running from the Place de l'Opéra are well filled with people, and nearly all of the stores are now open. In the first weeks of December you could see the reopening day by day, and when on the 10th the government returned to Paris, the art stores and the jewelry stores joined with the confectioners, trunk dealers, and book-men, and threw open shutters that had been closed four months.

Paris is now normal but not crowded. Theaters are reopening, but the restaurants must be closed at ten P.M. The inhabitants young and old picnic in the Bois de Boulogne and evince most interest in the defences about the Paris gates,-the moats, the new trenches that have been dug, and the tree-trunks that have been thrown down with their branches and tops pointing outward as though to interrupt the progress of an enemy. Buildings have been taken down, and the forts of Paris stand forth as never before; but when you learn how unmanned and how useless they are in modern warfare, you can but smile and join with the people in their curiosity excursions. A single modern shell can put a modern stone-and-steel fort, garrison and guns, entirely out of commission.

A year ago Paris looked dirty and decadent. Her building fronts were grimy, her streets were dirty, and there was a general carelessness where before had been art, precision, and cleanliness. To-day Paris streets are clean. There is even more evidence of rebuilding and of modern conveniences. Motor street-sweepers whirl through the squares, not singly but in pairs and more extended series, and they move with automobile rapidity, quickly cleansing the pavement.

I was reminded thereby of a personal experience at the breaking out of the Spanish-American War. At breakfast on a Sunday morning with one of America's most successful millionaires, I said, "How is it possible that the stock market can be rising as the country is going to war-a war that may cause some of our new warships to turn turtle and may bring bombardment upon our sea-coast cities? Yet before the guns are booming the stock market is booming. Indeed, the stock market began to boom from the time we declared a state of war."

And this successful multi-millionaire replied quietly, "Stocks are going up because I am buying them and every other intelligent capitalist is buying them. Look out of the window there. That sweeper at the crossing has straightened up and is sweeping that crossing better and with more energy because the flags are flying, and the bells are ringing, and the guns will soon be booming. War is the greatest energizer of a people. There is now profit in industry and enterprise, and financial equities have increased value." And for nearly ten years the stock market booms followed in the wake of that war boom, while construction and upbuilding went steadily forward despite agitation and restricting laws.

It would astonish Mr. Wilson and Mr. Bryan to know how many patriotic Americans are helping France and what they are doing in Red Cross and other work. I was surprised to meet a former member of the New York Stock Exchange in a khaki uniform. I said, "Are you still an American citizen?" He responded promptly, "Certainly I am, but would not the boys on the floor of the Exchange be astonished to see me in this uniform?"

I said, "Were there not men enough here to do this work?"

He responded, "Possibly, but quick organization was wanted, and I volunteered and have held t

he job." And he was off in his high-powered automobile for a run down behind the firing line to one of the Channel ports.

As the casualties of the French have been ten times those of the English, American and English sympathizers have turned to France to see if they might "do something." An English lady with small feet and delicate hands responded to the spirit of the hour, left her English home and her servants, and went to the hospital front in France. She wrote home: "I am helping not only to dress the wounds, but to wash dishes. My soft hands are parboiled but hardening; my feet are sore; and my legs are swollen. I lie down thoroughly exhausted every night, but I am doing something and am happy."

Mrs. W. L. Wyllie, wife of the famous marine etcher on the south English coast, looked out upon the Channel war-scenes, and took ship for France. She found the center and south of the country one vast hospital. At Limoges alone she found more than 12,000 wounded, and 32,000 wounded had passed through that city. She found the hospital in need of special bandages and cross-bandages for multiple wounds, and back she flew to England for bales of bandages. For weeks she was crossing and recrossing the English Channel. Soldiers have recovered from as many as twenty and thirty bullet-wounds in the flesh.

An American lady assisting in the English Red Cross work told me that she saw 2000 wounded every day for eleven days arriving at Boulogne. About the middle of December I learned that orders had been given to clear the Boulogne hospital base and prepare for a large number of wounded. Relief days for the troops at the front were shortened, and it was intimated to me in good quarters that the Germans would enjoy no Christmas in their trenches. The Allies advanced, counted their dead and wounded, and ceased in the attack.

I do not believe that any great forward movement can be made on either side from or against these trenches in the winter time. In good strategy and diplomacy, the break-up of Germany should come from other quarters.

There is considerable typhoid arising from the trench-work, but I heard it stated in medical circles that the Servian troops, with their milder climate, had found a new way of healing wounds. Not having the hospital base and equipment of other countries, they heal their wounds in the open air with the result that there is no tetanus or lock-jaw. In Switzerland human tuberculosis is now being cured by exposing the chest, directly over the affection, to the full rays of the sun.

The casualties of this war have been tremendous for France. No lists of her dead or wounded are published; it was at first a life-and-death struggle. While the total casualties-killed, wounded, missing, and prisoners-were estimated in the press reports and by the people as 600,000, I happen to know that they were more than 1,000,000. Of these, of course, one third or more will return to the battle-line, and the French have the satisfaction of knowing that the German losses are far larger. But, viewed from a financial standpoint, if this war is not too prolonged or too costly in life and treasure, France will emerge from it rejuvenated and re?nergized.

Her people are serious and determined as never before. They now welcome strong work and strong hands, and if the Republic does not respond to the responsibilities of the hour, they will not as in 1870 burn and destroy, but will set up another government in quick order and wipe out the weakness and inefficiency found to exist when the strain came in August, 1914.

The French nation has never before been put to such a trial. In every other war there has been no threat of the destruction of France. Indeed, up to 1870 France was the great nation of Europe, greatest in war as well as greatest in peace. When she attacked Germany in 1870, she started for Berlin with full confidence in her greatness. And when she paid to the Germans a billion dollars in 1871, it was with scorn and contempt: "Take your money and get out!"

When Bismarck in 1875 discovered the prosperity of France, he cunningly set about encompassing her downfall. He knew the world would not approve of Germany attacking a foreign foe; there was no excuse that could be found.

Therefore, as he himself has confessed, he started France into empire-colonial upbuilding in Africa and Asia, with the full intention of leading her into a clash with England. When this point was reached many years afterwards, Delcassé clearly saw the situation, and, instead of war, made friends with England. All the world knows the result. Germany demanded his resignation from the French Cabinet under threat of war. France was humiliated, Delcassé dropped. Later he led the movement to strengthen the navy of France as well as the army. It may be declared that Delcassé created the Triple Entente and thereby saved France and Europe. To-day France fights a wholly defensive battle, supported on the one side by the Russian bear and on the other by the British lion. And strongest in the new cabinet of France stands Delcassé.

France was chastened by the war of 1870. She will be crushed or redeemed by the war of 1915. The spirit of her people to-day is the spirit of sacrifice. The French character never before shone forth so nobly.

"What a terrible disfigurement!" exclaimed a thoughtless lady as she visited the wounded in a great French hospital.

"Not a disfigurement at all, madame," exclaimed the French soldier. "A decoration!"

Out of this war may come great political and military heroes. There is one general in France to-day whose name is not widely known but of whom his associates say, "He is not only the equal but the superior of Napoleon." But the great hero throughout Europe to-day is the King of the Belgians, of that little country that grew daily bigger in the eyes of the world as it grew daily smaller in possessed territory. There are those who believe that France and Belgium will be hereafter closer together than before, and that-stranger things have happened-the King of the little Belgians might be no greater miracle for France than the little Corsican more than one hundred years ago.

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