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Chapter 7

The Spirit Of The English


When I left England for home I had just returned from France and had motored many miles in both countries. Everywhere in this greatest crisis of the century I found the people of England showing the most undaunted and splendid spirit. To their common enemy they are presenting an unbroken front. The civilian is playing his part just as loyally as the soldier, the women as bravely as the men.

They appreciate that not only their own existence is threatened, but the future peace and welfare of the world require that the military party of Germany must be wiped out. That is their burden, and with the heroic Belgians to inspire them, without a whimper or a whine of self-pity, they are bearing their burden.

Every one in England is making sacrifices great and small. As long ago as the middle of September it was so cold along the Aisne that I have seen the French, sooner than move away from the open fires they had made, risk the falling shells. Since then it has grown much colder, and Kitchener issued an invitation to the English people to send in what blankets they could spare for the army in the field and in reserve. The idea was to dye the blankets khaki and then turn them over to the supply department. In one week, so eagerly did the people respond to this appeal, Kitchener had to publish a card stating that no more blankets were needed. He had received over half a million.

The reply to Kitchener's appeal for recruits was as prompt and generous. The men came so rapidly that the standard for enlistment was raised. That is, I believe, in the history of warfare without precedent. Nations often have lowered their requirements for enlistment, but after war was once well under way to make recruiting more difficult is new. The sacrifices are made by every class.

There is no business enterprise of any sort that has not shown itself unselfish. This is true of the greengrocery, the bank, the department store, the Cotton Exchange. Each of these has sent employees to the front, and while they are away is paying their wages and, on the chance of their return, holding their places open. Men who are not accepted as recruits are enrolled as special constables. They are those who could not, without facing ruin, neglect their business. They have signed on as policemen, and each night for four hours patrol the posts of the regular bobbies who have gone to the front.

The ingenuity shown in finding ways in which to help the army is equalled only by the enthusiasm with which these suggestions are met. Just before his death at the front, Lord Roberts called upon all racing-men, yachtsmen, and big-game shots to send him, for the use of the officers in the field, their field-glasses. The response was amazingly generous.

Other people gave their pens. The men whose names are best known to you in British literature are at the service of the government and at this moment are writing exclusively for the Foreign Office. They are engaged in answering the special pleading of the Germans and in writing monographs, appeals for recruits, explanations of why England is at war. They do not sign what they write. They are, of course, not paid for what they write. They have their reward in knowing that to direct public opinion fairly will be as effective in bringing this war to a close as is sticking bayonets into Uhlans.

The stage, as well as literature, has found many ways in which it can serve the army. One theatre is giving all the money taken in at the door to the Red Cross; all of them admit men in uniform free, or at half price, and a long list of actors have gone to the front. Among them are several who are well known in America. Robert Lorraine has received an officer's commission in the Royal Flying Corps, and Guy Standing in the navy. The former is reported among the wounded. Gerald du Maurier has organized a reserve battalion of actors, artists, and musicians.

There is not a day passes that the most prominent members of the theatrical world are not giving their services free to benefit performances in aid of Belgian refugees, Red Cross societies, or to some one of the funds under royal patronage. Whether their talent is to act or dance, they are using it to help along the army. Seymour Hicks and Edward Knoblauch in one week wrote a play called "England Expects," which was an appeal in dramatic form for recruits, and each night the play was produced recruits crowded over the footlights.

The old sergeants are needed to drill the new material and cannot be spared for recruiting. And so members of Parliament and members of the cabinet travel all over the United Kingdom--and certainly these days it is united--on that service. Even the prime minister and the first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill, work overtime in addressing public meetings and making stirring appeals to the young men. And wherever you go you see the young men by the thousands marching, drilling, going through setting-up exercises. The public parks, golf- links, even private parks like Bedford Square, are filled with them, and in Green Park, facing the long beds of geraniums, are lines of cavalry horses and the khaki tents of the troopers.

Every one is helping. Each day the King and Queen and Princess Mary review troops or visit the wounded in some hospital; and the day before sailing, while passing Buckingham Palace, I watched the young Prince of Wales change the guard. In a businesslike manner he was listening to the sentries repeat their orders; and in turn a young sergeant, also in a most businesslike manner, was in whispers coaching the boy officer in the proper manner to guard the home of his royal parents. Since then the young prince has gone to the front and is fighting for his country. And the King is in France with his soldiers.

As the song says, all the heroes do not go to war, and the warriors at the front are not the only ones this war has turned out-of-doors. The number of Englishwomen who have left their homes that the Red Cross may have the use of them for the wounded would fill a long roll of honor. Some give an entire house, like Mrs. Waldorf Astor, who has loaned to the wounded Cliveden, one of the best-known and most beautiful places on the Thames. Others can give only a room. But all over England the convalescents have been billeted in private houses and made nobly welcome.

Even the children of England are helping. The Boy Scouts, one of the most remarkable developments of this decade, has in this war scored a triumph of organization. This is equally true of the Boy Scouts in Belgium and France. In England military duties of the most serious nature have been intrusted to them. On the east coast they have taken the place of the coast guards, and all over England they are patrolling railroad junctions, guarding bridges, and carrying despatches. Even if the young men who are now drilling in the parks and the Boy Scouts never reach Berlin nor cross the Channel, the training and sense of responsibility that they are now enjoying are all for their future good.

They are coming out of this war better men, not because they have been taught the manual of arms, but in spite of that fact. What they have learned is much more than that. Each of them has, for an ideal, whether you call it a flag, or a king, or a geographical position on the map, offered his life, and for that ideal has trained his body and sacrificed his pleasures, and each of them is the better for it. And when peace comes his country will be the richer and the more powerful.


Richard Harding Davis

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