PART V: RELIEF WORK IN BELGIUM AND IN NORTHERN FRANCE
HERBERT HOOVER AND "ENGINEERING EFFICIENCY"
Before 1915 the name of Herbert Hoover was unknown in the United States save to a few mining engineers and financial men interested in mining ventures, and save also to the home circle in the little village of West Branch, Iowa, where he was born in 1874. Educated as a mining engineer at Leland Stanford University, where he was graduated in 1895, he passed his apprenticeship days in the service of the United States Geological Survey in Arkansas and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, then became an assistant manager of mines in New Mexico and California, and finally acquired a large and varied experience in managing mines in West Australia and as chief engineer to the Chinese Bureau of Mines, finally reaching London in 1902. This was quick work---to go from college to a partnership in a great London mining house in seven years; but Hoover, as the whole world has since come to know, was an exceptional man. He has written a chapter in the history of the Great War which will be read with the deepest interest for hundreds of years to come.
It is no part of the task of the present writer to describe in detail the work of the Commission for Relief in Belgium which Mr. Hoover organized and directed. The full story may be read in Professor Vernon Kellogg's "Fighting Starvation in Belgium," and in his "Headquarters Nights." Originally a pacifist and a humanitarian by conviction, Mr. Kellogg left Stanford University, where he was Professor of Entomology when the war started, and went abroad to do what he could to help relieve human suffering. He soon joined his friend of many years, Herbert Hoover, in the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and, except for a brief period when he was obliged to resume his university duties, he remained with the " C. R. B.," as it was called, until the Americans left Belgium. After being graduated in 1889 at the university of his native State of Kansas and after having studied at Cornell, Professor Kellogg passed several years in further study in Leipsic and in Paris. His consequent command of the German tongue made him especially valuable as the representative of the commission at the German headquarters in Belgium, and, when necessary, at the Great Headquarters of the General Staff of the German Army.
Only the briefest survey can be made here of the problems that the commission had to solve and of the means that were adopted to solve them. First, however, it may be advantageous to quote a paragraph from an address which Mr. Hoover delivered before the New York Chamber of Commerce in February, 1917, for the light that it throws upon the motives of the American volunteers who gave their services to this great cause:
The rights or wrongs of neither of these fierce contentions are for me to discuss. It is enough for an American that here, ground between millstones, are millions of helpless people whom America, and America alone, could save. Not only was it our duty, but it was our privilege. It was our privilege to forfend infinite suffering from these millions of people, to save millions of lives, and it was our opportunity to demonstrate America's ability to do it in a large, generous and efficient way, befitting our country; but far beyond this, it was our opportunity to demonstrate that great strain of humanity and idealism which built up and in every essential crisis saved our Republic. We could throw a gleam of sunshine into the sweltering dungeon into which Europe has been plunged.
The three tenets of the organization were: first, volunteer service; second, high ideals, and third, decentralization. The difficulties involved in the problems of the purchase, transportation and distribution of huge food-supplies to the nine and a half million hungry people of Belgium and northern France are thus outlined by Professor Kellogg in his "Fighting Starvation in Belgium":
Rice from Rangoon, corn from Argentina, beans from Manchuria, wheat and meat and fats from America; and all, with the other things of the regular programme, such as sugar, condensed milk, coffee and cocoa, salt, salad oil, yeast, dried fish, etc., in great quantities, to be brought across wide oceans, through the dangerous mine-strewn Channel, and landed safely and regularly. in Rotterdam, to be there speedily transferred from ocean vessels into canal boats and urged on into Belgium and northern France, and from these taken again by railroad cars and horse-drawn carts to the communal warehouses and soup kitchens; and always and ever, through all the months, to get there in time---these were the buying and transporting problems of the Commission. One hundred thousand tons a month of food-stuffs from the world over, in great shiploads to Rotterdam; one hundred thousand tons a month thence in ever more and more divided quantities to the province and district storehouses, to the regional storehouses and mills, to the communal centres, and finally to the mouths of the people. And all to be done economically, speedily, and regularly; to be done, that is, with "engineering efficiency."
The great central clothing supply station in Brussels. Before this building was taken over by the Commission it was a music-hall and circus.
As all of these vast supplies of food were procured, controlled and distributed by the neutral American members of the commission, the people of Belgium not unnaturally looked upon them as the gift of the American people or of tile American Government. As a matter of fact, the financial help which America gave the commission was so comparatively insignificant as almost to be negligible. Their own governments were incurring heavy debts in order to feed the people of Belgium and northern France.
Up to June 1, 1917, the commission had received from all sources $297,000,000 to carry on this work---$89,000,000 from the British Government and $66,000,000 from the French Government in the form of loans to the Belgian Government for relief work in Belgium; $108,000,000 from the French Government for relief work in the German-occupied provinces of northern France; $17,000,000 and $11,500,000 respectively as charity from private sources in Great Britain and in the United States; and finally $5,000,000 in profits in its commercial transactions, which were transferred to the commission's benevolent account. In June, 1917, the United States Government undertook to finance the work of the commission in the form of periodic loans to the French and Belgian Governments.
AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS IN FIELD SERVICE
At first Mr. Hoover turned naturally for executive assistants in his work to his American friends and associates in the engineering profession in London, Brussels and other near-by centres. He did not, however, confine himself to men of any one class. In time he secured the services, in Professor Kellogg's words, of "half a dozen college professors, a lawyer of large practice, two clergymen of practical turn of mind, a well-known explorer and sportsman, a dietetic expert, an architect of high repute, a magazine editor, a famous forester, a stock broker, a consul, an expert in children's diseases; altogether a wholesome variety!" Professor Kellogg himself was one of this group, several of whom also worked with the younger men as provincial delegates. The list of the American volunteers, mostly young men, who came in more or less direct contact with the Belgian and French people in this relief work, successive resident directors, assistant directors, head delegates and assistants, numbers in all hardly a hundred and fifty, no more than forty of whom were ever on duty at one time in both Belgium and northern France.
Of these men, "representatives of an American type," Professor Kellogg, who as director at Brussels knew them well, says, in his "Fighting Starvation in Belgium"
They came from forty-five different American colleges and universities; more from Harvard than any other one. Twenty of them had been selected by their colleges and their States to be Rhodes Scholars in Oxford University. These twenty had been thus already selected on a basis of scholarship, youthful energy, general capacity, and good-fellowship. They had not, however, been selected on a basis of experience in business or---least of all ---relief work. And the rest of the one hundred and fifty were selected by us on about the same general grounds, adding the more special one of a usable, or buddingly usable, knowledge of the French language. Several could read German, a few speak it. That was also useful. But the Commission asked primarily for intelligence, character, youthful vigor, and enthusiasm, rather than specific attainments or experience.
In his "Journal from Our Legation in Belgium," Hugh Gibson, the First Secretary of the Legation, under date of December 20, 1914, has this to say of these young volunteers:
The first group of Americans to work on the relief came into Belgium this month. They are, for the most part, Rhodes scholars who were at Oxford and responded instantly to Hoover's appeal. They are a picked crew, and have gone into the work with enthusiasm. And it takes a lot of enthusiasm to get through the sort of pioneer work they have to do. They have none of the thrill of the fellows who have gone into the flying corps or the ambulance service. They have ahead of them a long winter of motoring about the country in all sorts of weather, wrangling with millers and stevedores, checking cargoes and costs, keeping the peace between the Belgians and the German authorities, observing the rules of the game toward everybody concerned, and above all keeping neutral. It is no small undertaking for a lot of youngsters hardly out of college, but so far they have done splendidly.
Of the work that these young Americans did Professor Kellogg speaks in the highest terms:
Its members have crossed the channel in convoyed English despatch boats, passed through closed frontiers, scurried about in swift motors over all the occupied territory in which few other cars than German military ones ever moved, visited villages at the front under shell fire, lived at the very Great Headquarters of all the German armies of the West, been trusted on their honor to do a thousand and one things and be in a thousand and one places prohibited to all other civilians, and have lived up to the trust. They have suffered from the mistakes of uninformed or stupid soldiers, and spent nights in jail; they have taken chances under bombing airmen, and been falsely but dangerously accused as spies; but despite obstacles and delays and danger they have carried the little triangular red-lettered white C. R. B. flag to every town and hamlet in the imprisoned land, and have gulped and passed on wet-eyed as the people by the roads uncovered to the little flag, with all its significance of material and spiritual encouragement. Under this flag they have been protector and protected at once.
The conditions in the German-occupied portions of northern France differed greatly, of course, from those in Belgium, but the conduct of the Americans was equally to their credit. On this point Professor Kellogg says:
It is gratifying to be able to say that in the whole history of the stay of the Commission's men in northern France, during which at least thirty different men were used, no single complaint of dishonorable or unneutral conduct on their part was made by the German military authorities. Some of the escort officers occasionally had complaints to make of the immaturity of some of the Americans, or of their manner, not sufficiently stiff or precise properly to impress other German officers dining with them, and one complained rather bitterly---I remember, to my amazement---that his American persisted in wearing a ragged overcoat! But despite the strain of sympathy and anger imposed on them by being compelled to see the sufferings of the helpless French under the rigors of military control, and, too often, military brutality, our men held their strong feelings in check. They were not only bound in honor, but they knew that their mission could be accomplished only by the maintenance of a correct behavior; they could help the imprisoned people much more by limiting themselves to the all-important work of the ravitaillement than by giving way to any temptation, however strong, of unneutral acts or speech.
AMERICAN IDEALISM AND HUMOR
Professor Kellogg observes that most of the young Americans in Belgian relief work were fortunate in having two things that were of the greatest value to them: "a supporting idealism and a saving sense of humor." In illustration of the unexpected revelation in a single German of this latter trait, he tells, in his "Fighting Starvation in Belgium," a story of Edward D. Curtis, of Chestnut Hill, Boston. Curtis, a graduate of Harvard, was at Cambridge University, England, when the war began. He immediately joined Mr. Hoover's London committee to help stranded Americans get home, and followed his chief to Belgium, remaining in the service of the commission until the end, in April, 1917. Of him Professor Kellogg says:
Curtis, the first of our Brussels-Holland couriers, had to have these qualities to stand his seventeen arrests by German sentries, and Warren [Note: Robert H. Warren, an American Rhodes scholar at Oxford, who died at Bordeaux in November, 1916] his three days in a military prison at Antwerp, and yet keep unconcernedly on with their work. Curtis's sense of humor was fortunately well matched by a German's---a single German's---when the young American, a little annoyed by an unusual number of stoppings on the road one day, handed his pass to the tenth man who demanded it, with a swift, highly uncomplimentary personal allusion to his tormentor, in pure Americanese. The sentry handed it back with a dry, "Much obliged, the same to you." He was probably a formerly-of-Chicago reservist who knew the argot.
A Yale man, Scott Hurtt Paradise, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, experienced a similar surprise once which he described in the Yale Alumni Weekly:
It is only fair to say that in Belgium one hears much less about atrocities than one does in the United States or England. The old Landsturmers, with their dingy uniforms, their long beards and their gentle eyes, seem sadly out of place guarding the railroad tracks in the cold rainy nights. One of them once remarked to us, to our great astonishment, as he read our passes, "Haven't you any English or American newspapers? I'm so damned lonely I don't know what to-do," and this in perfect Yankee.
In the same communication Paradise called attention to the curious coincidence that Horace Fletcher, the apostle of mastication, should have been in Brussels when the colossal problem of feeding the whole Belgian people was being solved:
In fact, Horace Fletcher, the great advocate of mastication, a merry, rosy, little old gentleman comfortably ensconced in Brussels, attributes the unusually good health which prevails in Belgium this winter [1914-15] to the necessity for sleeping much, eating little and chewing that little very much, and is quite jubilant over this conclusive vindication of his theories.
In the list at the end of Professor Kellogg's book Mr. Fletcher is recorded as having been in the service of the commission from February to November, 1915.
Incessantly harassed and annoyed as they were by the number and variety of regulations which the Germans imposed upon them, the Americans kept their tempers and even managed to see the humorous side of some of the situations. Thus, according to Professor Kellogg, the delegate at Liege, being in a facetious mood, is said to have written his confrere at Namur as follows:
I started three canal boats last week for Namur. I thought it safer to send three in order that one should finally reach you. The "Attends Je Viens" has already been stopped--- the towing horse had no passport. I hear that the "Marchons Toujours" is also not likely to get through, as the skipper's wife has given birth to a baby en voyage whose photo is, naturally, not on the passport. Betting is strong, however, on the "Laisse-moi Tranquille." Be sure to take up the bottom planks when she arrives, as I understand Rotterdam thinks she may be carrying contraband.
At first the Germans were utterly unable to understand the humanitarian idealism which had prompted the Americans to undertake so huge a task as the feeding of the destitute Belgians. Professor Kellogg narrates this incident in illustration of their sceptical attitude:
In an interview Mr. Hoover had with one of the most important officers of von Bissing's staff, this official broke off the general discussion to say abruptly:
"Now, we are all just human here, and I want to ask you, as man to man, one question: What do you Americans get out of this business ? Why are you doing it ? "
"I tried to explain first with evenness of temper and then more emphatically," writes Mr. Hoover in his memorandum of the conversation, "that the whole thing was simply a humane effort; and that not only did none of us get anything out of it, but that most of us lost something by it. But I found it too difficult to be emphatic enough about this to make any real impression on him."
Educated for years in a school which taught that in time of war any act however treacherous or dishonorable was justifiable, if it was committed in the interest of the State, the Germans were utterly unable to believe that the American delegates would not act as spies or as carriers of contraband, if the opportunity presented itself. This characteristically Teutonic attitude of mind was met by a frank honesty that was baffling though by no means convincing. Thus Hugh Gibson, in speaking in his "Journal " of Edward Curtis in his relations with the Germans, says:
He exudes silence and discretion, but does not miss any fun or any chance to advance the general cause. Of course it is taking the Germans some time to learn his system. He is absolutely square with them, and gets a certain amount of fun out of their determined efforts to find some sort of contraband on him. They can hardly conceive of his being honest, and think his seeming frankness is merely an unusually clever dodge to cover up his transgressions.
NARRATIVES OF PRINCETON MEN
From the start Princeton men took a prominent part in the work of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and the narratives of their experiences and observations will be material of interest to the historian of the future. Early in 1916 the Princeton Alumni Weekly printed a lively account, received through Dean Howard McClenahan, who had been in Belgium, of some of the experiences of three young Princeton graduates who had been engaged in the field-work of the commission. They were Gilchrist B. Stockton, 1914, William H. Tuck, 1912, and Richard R. Lytle, Jr., 1913, Lytle and Stockton having been among the Rhodes scholars at Oxford who dropped their work in response to Mr. Hoover's call for American volunteers. Selections from this communication follow:
Stockton was Ed. Curtis's successor as courier. That means he raced back and forth from Brussels to Bergen-op-Zoom carrying the mail and confidential messages. His G. G. pass" was an extraordinary monstrosity conceived and executed by the Germans, and worn in a celluloid case about his neck. The exact -dimensions of the "G. G. pass" I do not know, but it looked about a yard square. It bore his photograph in a soft shirt and was signed personally by Governor-General von Bissing. One adventure of Stockton's which I remember was his finding a German soldier, on the Putte frontier, who came from Jacksonville, Fla., [Mr. Stockton's home] and he spoke the same kind of English that Stockton speaks. From the position of Mercury to the Commission he was promoted to the Antwerp staff, where I was his chief.
The day he arrived I sent him out to take the inventory of all of the regional warehouses and mills in the province. Stockton can speak almost no French, but by the sign language and by use of certain well conned phrases he managed to bring in a perfect report by evening. He evolved a system of questionnaires, and very methodically and easily kept track of the communes in his charge. His brief describing the method for using these questionnaires went to all the provincial delegates in Belgium as a model for their work.
After two months' service in Antwerp--- from August 1st to the last week in September ---he was transferred to St. Quentin in the North of France, where his daily life is carefully supervised by a German official whom we call a nurse, and where his professional life is closely looked after by a whole staff of army people. He works there with a French committee instead of with Belgians, but every conversation, every telegram, every letter and every note book is carefully censored.
Tuck had just arrived a short time before I left. Everyone was very much impressed with his maturity and his familiarity with the French language. He was sent to Mons in the province of Hainault to take charge of that large and important province, and we all feel sure that he will make good.
Before Tuck was sent to Mons, however, he was "rushed" by about every province in Belgium. It was really amusing to see how we fell over each other in our frantic attempts to get Tuck, and how like a freshman being rushed for a college fraternity he proved to be.
Lytle plunged headlong into the work of the Commission in the province of Luxemburg. Immediately after the veteran delegate Wellington had gone back to Oxford he had a hard time. Worst of all he got finally into an automobile accident, in which his car smashed a car belonging to the :Kreischef of one of the principal regions of Luxemburg. Lytle's letter to the Governor of the province of Luxemburg was not calculated to smooth the feelings of the Governor, and the Governor wrote back stating that Mr. Lytle's letter and his bearing at the time of the examination and detention were such that he, the Governor, felt called upon to "proceed against him for insult"---unless Lytle personally apologize. Lytle preferred to leave the country and so the matter rested.
For three months, from January until the end of March, 1917, another Princeton man, Arthur Bartlett Maurice, formerly editor of The Bookman, was in the service of the commission in Belgium and northern France. Mr. Maurice contributed to several issues of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, in the following May and June, a detailed narrative of his experiences and those of the men with whom he was associated during this period. This paragraph describes how he and his companions were housed in Brussels:
Some of the men of the C. R. B. stayed in pensions. But most of us lived in houses which had been placed at the disposal of the Commission by the owners for the double motive of appreciation of the work that was being done and in order to keep them from being occupied by the "Boches." It was at No. 126 Avenue Louise, a broad thoroughfare lined by some of the city's finest residences and running from the circle of Boulevards to the Bois de la Cambre, that I went to live. The owner of the house had been lucky enough to cross into France before the occupation and was living in Paris. In the house, which had been left in charge of two servants, eight of us*, Leach, Maverick, Wickes, Kittredge, Arrowsmith, Curtis, Sperry and I had some sort of headquarters. It was seldom that more than four or five appeared at the breakfast table. Maverick was a North of France man. Wickes spent the greater part of the week in Namur. Sperry usually had an engagement elsewhere. But no matter what the number present, here was no chance to complain of the monotony of existence. "The life of an American delegate is a hard life," Maverick one day said whimsically. "Here we are forced to live in a place quite as humble as the average house that you see on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. I am reduced to the humiliation of riding about in an Overland car with a chauffeur only in half livery. To-night I shall probably be obliged to dine at the Taverne Royale." But in a way Maverick's flippancy was designed to cheer us up. When the words were spoken the thermometer at the side of the mantelpiece registered 8° above zero Fahrenheit. It was the bitterest winter in recent history and coal was not to be had.
*Dr. Charles N. Leach, of San Francisco; Robert V. Maverick, of San Antonio, Tex.; Francis C. Wickes, of Rochester, N. Y.; Tracy B. Kittredge, of Berkeley, Cal.; Robert Arrowsmith, of Orange, N. J.; Edward D. Curtis, o£ Chestnut Hill, Boston, and William H. Sperry, of Redwood City, Cal. Of this group of eight, seven were college men, there being two representatives of Princeton and one each of Stanford California, Williams, Columbia, and Harvard.
Of the daily life of the delegates Mr. Maurice wrote:
In Belgium last winter there were about thirty men, who were C. R. B. delegates in the strict sense of the term. A delegate gave his services. His transportation from the United States to Belgium was provided, and he was allowed a certain daily sum to cover the actual expenses of habitation and food. First among the delegates were the director, Warren Gregory, and the assistant director, Prentiss Gray. Both Californians. I am not going to tell what I think of them, because it would sound like fulsome Dattery of Mr. Hoover, who selected them. Under their direction the delegates were assigned and shifted. There were the North of France men. A North of France man was sent to Lille, or Saint-Quentin, or Valenciennes, or Charleville, or Longwy. Day and night he was in the company of a German officer. The two had desks in the same office and occupied adjoining bedrooms. Somehow or other the officer always got the best desk and the best bedroom. They breakfasted, lunched, dined together. They sat side by side in the back seat of the motor car. If the officer wished to hold nightly revel in some cafe, he had to persuade the delegate to accompany him. The American was supposed to hold no communication with any unit of the civil population save in the presence of his officer. It was a Siamese twins kind of existence.
The German formula for the creation and maintenance of a great nation ruled from the top, "organization and obedience," could not, of course, be made to fit a democracy like America. How this German point of view was impressed upon the American delegates was illustrated by an incident which Mr. Maurice described:
But there are certain memories which we all of us took away, no matter how slight and short-lived was the acquaintance. We recall, save in one or two cases, an artificial politeness, an attempt at bonhommie which hardly concealed the sneer. "What is German militarism? " I will tell you. "It is order, discipline, obedience." That is always and ever the refrain. That covers all, explains all, justifies all. To them these virtues exist nowhere else in the world. We, in particular, are barbarians. There had been some slight infraction of one of the ninety and nine thousand rules that govern life in Belgium by a member of the C. R. B. and at the headquarters in the Place Royale Major B. was storming at Sperry of California. Sperry was not the offender, but as he was the passport man, official abuse usually descended upon his head. But a sense of humor had Sperry, and he bore it all stoically.
"You come from a country and a wild western state where you have no laws," so ran the indictment. "You don't understand what laws are or what they are made for. Don't you know there is a war?" "It seems to me," replied Sperry softly, "that I have heard of it." "Heard of it!" Major B. exploded. "I think we have heard of it. We have lost a million men."
Mr. Maurice was in the first group of seven Americans connected with the commission who left Brussels on March 29, 1917; the other Americans followed a few days later. The roundabout journey from Brussels to Paris along the Rhine and through Switzerland consumed six nights and five days.
EFFECT ON THE AMERICANS OF GERMAN METHODS
Originally, as we have seen, a pacifist, with humanitarian impulses, Professor Kellogg joined Mr. Hoover's forces in Belgium with an open, unprejudiced mind. His intimate contact with the Germans as the conquerors of Belgium, and his observations of their attitude of mind and of their methods as rulers, turned him from a pacifist into a would-be belligerent. Of the effect upon the active members of the commission as a whole who came in constant contact with the wheels and cogs, big and little, of the German war-machine, he says, in his "Headquarters Nights":
The experience of our Relief Commission with this machine has been wearing. It has also been illuminating. For it has resulted in the conversion of an idealistic group of young Americans of open mind and fairly neutral original attitude into a band of convinced men, most of whom, since their forced retirement from Belgium, have ranged themselves among armies devoted to the annihilation of that machine and to the rescue and restoration of that one of the victims, the sight of whose mangling and suffering brought unshed tears to the eyes and silent curses to the lips of those Americans so often during the long two and a half years of the relief work.
We were not haters of Germany when we went to Belgium. We have simply, by inescapable sights and sounds and knowledge forced on us, been made into what we have become.
The greatest single incident in bringing about this change of mind was the action of "the highest military authority"---not Von Bissing's Belgium government, Professor Kellogg says--- in deporting something more than a hundred thousand able-bodied Belgian men to Germany. The world, he says, needs the whole story. He goes on:
Unfortunately it cannot yet be written. Among other things lacking is the knowledge of just how many of the hundred thousand Belgian slaves have died or are to die in Germany. Some have been sent back hastily, so that they would not die in Germany; they die on the returning trains, or soon after they get back. Or, what is worse, some do not die, but continue to live, helpless physical wrecks.
The deportations were not hazy to us. They were the most vivid, shocking, convincing single happening in all our enforced observation and experience of German disregard of human suffering and human rights in Belgium....
The deportations occurred near the end of the period of our stay in Belgium. They were the final and fully sufficient exhibit, prepared by the great German machine, to convince absolutely any one of us who might still have been clinging to his original desperately maintained attitude of neutrality, that it was high time that we were somewhere else---on the other side of the trench-line, by preference.
Chapter XXVII. The Lafayette, or American, Escadrille
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