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   Chapter 11 THE ENGLISH POSITION

The Audacious War By Clarence W. Barron Characters: 17191

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


A Quiet London-The Call to Arms-No Mourning-The Zeppelin

Scare-German Spies-The German Landing-Kultur War Indemnities.

It is worth a winter trip across the Atlantic to stand with a London audience and hear it respond to the call, "Are we downhearted?" with a thunderous "NO!"

It is then you first realize that the British Empire is at war; and what that war means; and that that Empire has piped to its defense a free people inhabiting one fifth of the territory of the globe.

The British Empire has war upon its hands a major part of the time. It may be in the Soudan; it may be in South Africa. From some quarter of the globe war is almost always before the Empire. But a war summoning the whole British Empire to arms on land and sea,-that has not been dreamed of for a hundred years.

You expect to find in London an armed camp, the flags flying, the drums beating, the troops marching; an excited people discussing causes and effects of the military and naval programmes; military encampments with white tents over the plains. But you find nothing of the sort. If you attempt to motor in the country and figure on reaching a certain place in two hours, you may find it takes you four, as you are very likely to run into troops, companies, regiments, and armies in training, but mostly without arms and only partially uniformed. They are trudging the highways and the lanes of England from 5.30 A.M. until dusk,-rain or shine. Here is Kitchener's army being put into condition, with no fuss, feathers, or trumpet beats. The army is "rolling up" and "hardening up." But not on the tented campus. It is quartered in the towns and villages all over England, and board and lodging is regularly paid by the government.

There are no noticeable drum beats over England; no displays of bunting. Monuments, public buildings, and conspicuous corners, and, most conspicuous of all, the glass fronts of the taxi-cabs, bear signs calling the men of England to arms:-

"Fall in-Join the Army at once."

"Your King and Country need you. England expects that every man this day will do his duty."

"Enlist for the duration of the War."

"Enlist for three years."

"You are needed to fight for Honor and the Country's defense."

"No price can be too high when Honor and Freedom are at stake."

"Who dies if England lives?"

"He gives twice who gives quickly-join at once."

"'More men and still more until the enemy is crushed.'-Lord Kitchener."

And many more of the same tenor. Beyond these you will see little evidence in the London streets of an empire at war. Hotels are largely empty; managers very polite; restaurants must close at 10. P.M.; no after-theater supper at the hotels unless you are a guest. Men in khaki uniforms are more conspicuous; and bandaged heads, slung arms, and legs assisted by crutches are more noticeable than formerly.

The searchlights flash above the city; the street lights are shaded overhead in foolish fancy as a protection from aeroplanes or dirigibles. Curtains are closely drawn by police orders, in the houses and railway trains.

Yet one of the airmen who had been over London at night told me that the city was just as conspicuous as though it were wide open in illumination. Indeed, there is a general call among the Londoners for the police to let up and permit electric signs, lighted windows, and more light in the streets. But the only answer that came early in December was orders to turn down the lights further!

In Paris they turned on the lights, illuminated the streets, closed up the museums and galleries, buried their art and sent the Venus de Milo on a walk to some storage vault along with the banks' reserve gold. London's museums and picture galleries are wide open, and the endeavor to protect the streets from Germans peering down from above looks childish. The great strategy of the Germans consists of talking across the Channel about their plans for raiding England. I suspect that the English military authorities do not object. It encourages enlistment. When enlistment gets dull, the Germans stimulate it with some shells thrown on the English coast.

There are only two or three new plays in London this season; the great war-plays and dramas, and indeed the literature of this war, have yet to be written. Nearly all the new presentations for which London is so famous were set back on the shelf when the business of war started. Most of the theater programs are revivals of old favorites, and a few of the theaters are still closed. All that are open begin promptly at 8 P.M. Five hundred English actors have gone to the front.

You have to make the circuit to find the heart of England at war, but you find it-horse, foot, and dragoons; men, women, and children. "Are we downhearted?" answered by a thunderous "No!" Then again silence, and turning down of the lights, and the steady work! work! work!

"Have you a bed here?" said Kitchener when he entered the War Office.

"Never heard of such a thing here," was the response.

"Get one," said Kitchener; "I have no time for clubs and hotels."

Not only Kitchener but the whole staff camped down in the office, working days, nights, and Sundays, until Lady -- turned over her house nearby to Kitchener and his staff.

"Where is --?" I asked of his next-door neighbor. The response was,

"Oh, he is at the War Office, and gets a Sunday home with his family

about once in six weeks." That family was not fifteen miles from

London.

When a citizen has been suddenly notified that where he could formerly get a train for home every fifteen minutes, the railroad has been taken for military service, and he must get his supper in town, there is not the slightest word of complaint. He only wishes he could contribute more to the Empire.

I spoke with Lord K., of B-- & Co., concerning the loss of his eldest son, as I had known Lord K. for many years. The manner, the gesture, the speech, in response, were all one, and brief; just an indication of sacrifice that had to be made for the Empire; and that sacrifice had only just begun; deaths in the family just honorable incidents in the life of the Empire.

You see crutches and broken heads in London, but you will see no mourning.

"Yes," said Lord C. to me, "the average income tax in England is now doubled until it is one eighth, or about 12 1/2 per cent, but my friends in the banking world have to pay an increasing supertax. I know many who must now give one quarter of their income to the government. They not only do it gladly, but expect it will be a half next year, and they will contribute that just as gladly."

From the top to the bottom in the Empire, all that is asked at the present time is a protected food and clothing supply, and everything else can go into "the cauldron of war."

"Did you ever see anything like it?" said an American banker in London to me. "Are n't these people wonderful? Did you ever see such resolution, such steady work, such sacrifices, such unity of empire?"

It was indeed worth a winter's trip across the ocean to see it.

Although the newspapers complained of the censorship, there was only one general complaint from the people in the British press. They wanted to know what the regulations were, or were to be, concerning self-defense when the Germans arrive in the country. Should a citizen without uniform take up arms against the invaders? Had he a right individually to shoot a German invader? Was the old rule that an Englishman's home is his castle, and that he has the right to defend it, now superseded by any rules of international warfare?

Some independent people of note were declaiming in the public prints that any German invader of England was a thief and a robber and that any weapons might be used to attack the invaders; and that there was no rule of warfare that could prevent an Englishman defending his home by any weapons against any foreign invaders.

Nevertheless the spirit of the people was, even under invasion, to respect law and order and rules of warfare, and be guided by the government as to all forms of individual or collective defenses. They simply wanted the rules promulgated.

The English are reconciled to Zeppelin raids from Germany, and rather expect them. But there is yet no unanimity in preparation or action. The Rothschilds have put four feet of sand on the roof of their building, but the amount of their gold in store must be incomparably less than that in the Bank of England, where no precautions are visible.

Trenches by the beaches and barricad

es by the highways are noticeable along the entire south and east coasts of England, but they are without stores or equipment. You run across these trenches in the moonlight as you journey about the country and for the moment you wonder for what purpose somebody dug those long ditches by the shore, and what the trench or irrigation scheme is. Your answer comes when you run straight into a timber barricade across the highway nearby. Then you look down the coast and see flashing searchlights, note the lights of steamers passing up and down the coast, and reflect that there is no universal law in war. The Channel steamers are carrying lights in the war area, but the North Atlantic steamers still cross the ocean without showing even port or starboard lights. The street cars moving in the English coast cities must, of course, be lighted and the streets must have some illuminant; but the railroad carriages, hotels, and private houses must draw their curtains. Yet railroad terminals and piers must have their lights, and harbors must have their searchlights. General service lights must be ablaze, but individual glimmers must be curtained. It reminds one of Cowper, the English poet, who, in the same kennel, cut a big hole for his big dog and a little hole for the pup.

The most talked-of war subject in England is the German spy system. It is estimated there were between 30,000 and 40,000 German spies, and many times this number of German reservists, in England at the outbreak of the war. For years England has laughed over German theoretical discussions of how best to invade England, and German studies of English coast lines and country resources.

I heard years ago of a young Englishman who disputed in Berlin the war-office plans of his father's estate. He declared that he thought he ought to know the land where he was born and brought up as a boy, and that there were only two springs of water thereon, instead of three. The German general staff said their maps of England were correct and were not based on English authority. The young man found on his return to England that the German maps were correct and that his father's estate had three springs whence men and horses could be watered, although his family had never noted the existence of a third.

Two years ago some friends of mine were playing tennis in an English village and inquired the occupation of two young Germans, who seemed to be good tennis-players, but without family relations or settled business.

The response of the hostess was: "Oh, they are just two German spies of good education and charming manner looking over the country here, and we find them very useful in making up our tennis tournaments." It was looked upon as just a part of the German map-making plans, and England was an open book for anybody to map. Baedeker published the guide-books of the world: why should n't the Germans make all the maps of the world,-especially if German map-making were cheaper than English map-making?

A banker friend of mine found two young Germans in his village, with no other occupation than motoring the country over and making notes and sketches of cross-roads, railroad junction-points, important buildings, bridges, etc. He thought the authorities ought to know what was going on, but received a polite invitation from the local police to mind his own business. When once he lost his way on a motor-car trip, and ran across these fellows, he was very glad to get the right directions for the shortest way home. They knew more about the roads of that country than did the people who were born there.

About 20,000 German spies and reservists are in detention camps on the west coast, and on the islands. Even the German prisoners are kept away from the east coast, where it is expected the Germans may eventually struggle for their landing.

I have not the slightest confidence in any invasion of England by Germany, but I do not understand why German Zeppelins do not move in the darkness over the British Isles and drop a few bombs about the country at important places. It may be that the German Emperor is right in his calculation that such action would do very little damage, and would strengthen tremendously the enlistments and war-expansion plans of the English.

When West Hartlepool, Whitby, and Scarborough were bombarded by the German warships on the morning of December 16, the English excitement concerning it was only a small part of what an American would have expected. Not far from this bombarded coast is a summer resort town, where for many years a legend has existed that when in some future age England decayed and Germany came in, this would be the first landing-point.

An Englishman two or three years ago took it upon himself to find out how far this legend might have its base in any near invasion. He looked up the record and found that all the leading summer hotels and strategic points were in the hands of Germans. Then one day he quickly addressed his German waiter in his native tongue, demanding to know where his post was in that town in the event of hostilities. Promptly the German replied, "Down at the schoolhouse!" Further investigation showed that every reservist had his allotted place before and after the landing, and his place in the civic organization to follow. The Germans had also compiled lists of the people of property in that vicinity and exactly the character and amount of resources that could be commandeered from them.

If the Germans were free to map England, why should they not be free to map all its resources, individually as well as collectively?

I know a building in the heart of the London financial district that carries on its roof a Zeppelin-destroyer gun. A few days before I was last in this building a fine-looking fellow in khaki uniform entered in haste and asked the janitor to show him to the roof that he might quickly inspect that gun and see that everything was in order, as raids might be expected at any moment. Of course, he was taken to the roof, and his inspection quickly completed. Ten minutes later the London police were there to inquire for a man in khaki uniform.

The English officer said, "Very singular, we are ten minutes behind that fellow everywhere. He is the cleverest of all the German spies, and we are not able to catch him!"

If that spy had been caught in his English uniform inspecting English defenses, would not everything have been kept quiet in the endeavor to pick up the lines of his foreign communications?

In writing home from England, even to my family, toward the close of 1914, I thought it just as well to be brief and not too definite with any information. I had seen some of the censorship regulations and envelopes resealed with a paper bearing heavy black letters, "Opened by censor," with the number of the censor, showing that there are more than one hundred people engaged in this work; and also directions from the censorship that "responses to this inquiry must be submitted," etc., etc.

Nobody could believe until this war broke out and there descended upon peaceful Belgium not only armies and demands for their shelter, maintenance and food, and drink, but also huge demands for financial indemnification-war tax levies upon cities, towns, and provinces, with individuals held as hostages for their payment-that German war plans meant the looting, not only of nations and states, but of individual fortunes and properties.

It now seems that the march to Paris through Belgium and the imposition of a huge redemption tax upon Paris and France were but the preliminaries to larger demands upon London and England.

Indeed, judged by the demands upon Belgium, the German plans contemplated the transfer of the wealth of France and the British Empire to Germany; and such enslavement of these peoples as would make Germany rich, powerful and triumphant for many generations, if not forever, over the whole habitable globe. The German minister at Washington sounded a true German note when he asked who should question the right of Germany to take Canada and the British possessions in North America. Were they not at war, and if Germany were able, should she not possess them?

It had been understood before this war that countries were invaded under ideas of national defense. But possession of countries for the absorption of their wealth and the enslavement of their people, to work thereafter for the victors, was believed a barbarism from which this world had long ago emerged in the struggle for the freedom of the individual.

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