IF there is one division above all others of the American Red Cross activities for the soldier which the American Expeditionary Force in France holds dear, it is, I venture to state, that of the Bureau of Home Service. Many a soldier is anxious over wife or sweetheart, or aged parents, left, too often, without adequate means of support, or unheard from, it may be for months. The Home Service of bridges the thousands of miles of silence, and relieves suspense with aid, or best of all, with information. Infinite pains are taken in this D service; millions of dollars spent. To what 0 end? Primarily that the American soldier, freed of anxiety, may be a more efficient pawn in the great game of war.
It is also, I venture to state, in its role of; home service, that is, of service to the soldier's family, that the American Red Cross has made its most valuable contribution to the French Army as well, and to the French nation during the war. For it is in terms of home service that the activities of the Department of Civilian Relief of the American Red Cross in France can best be interpreted to America. It is according to the moral even more than to the material evaluation of this: service that the millions of Red Cross members, who have by their sacrifices and their; contributions made it possible, should take stock of their contribution to the Great War.
Picture to yourself the mental state of a French soldier mobilized hastily in 1914 in the northern regions of France, so soon overrun and so tenaciously held by the enemy. Multiply him by thousands. Send him through the campaigns of the Marne, of the bitterly contested Chemin des Dames, of the defense of Verdun, if you wills and bring him thus to the little hamlet whence he started. What will he find? What did he find? I quote from an eye witness [Raymond Joubert: Verdun.], whose company was just going into repose after twenty-two days in the front line trenches, twenty-two days in the "hell of Verdun." They saw, along the road, "a modest house, which had been disemboweled by an exploding shell. Its steps were half demolished, its blinds hung crazily; the gaping windows showed the emptiness of the interior. 'My house,' cried a man suddenly, and darted in. It was not difficult to do, since the wicket of the little garden, held in place by only one hinge, flapped to and fro in the wind.
"The man, when we saw him again," continued the narrator, "was all agog, his arms waving, his body convulsed with hilarious surprise. Everything was reduced to dust in his house, and methodically and minutely destroyed. He had good cause to laugh! He would never have believed his misfortune so complete."
And what of his family, his wife, his children, his parents? In every case, one of two things had happened. They had either remained to be taken prisoners by the Germans, or they had fled before them, fugitives. All degrees of misery are comprised in these two classifications. They make the subject matter of two main divisions of our Red Cross civilian relief; that of rehabilitation, acting in the devastated area, and that of refugees, following the families in their dispersion into every department of France. Yet there can be no hard and fast distinction; for civilian prisoners, sent into slavery in Germany and later shipped back by the thousands daily, became refugees; and there were thousands more, refugees from destroyed villages, gathered into the larger as yet undestroyed centers in the devastated territory itself. In short, the story of rehabilitation in the devastated area, which is all the present volume pretends to, is the story in epitome, of all Red Cross home service in France.
Civilian prisoners! America has heard of them, and shuddered at the revival by Germany of the methods of pre-Christian warfare, in this twentieth century. "You have sat at the funeral of dear sons," cried a member of the Belgian Relief Commission working on the German side of the lines, "But you have never sat at the funeral of a city."[John II. Gade: National Geographic Magazine.] And he goes on to describe in poignant terms the first levy of the citizens of Mons. All the z night, after the deportation, he walked the streets of that stricken city, unable to sleep, equally unable to escape from the shrieks of the bereaved. Mons, Valenciennes, Lille and a score of others---their sorrows were the same. Counting the last and most infamous deportation of fourteen thousand young lads and graybeards just before the armistice, there were forty thousand old men and women, young men and maidens carried into slavery from Lille alone. "I saw," says an eye witness of this last atrocity, "I saw, in August, 1914, our valorous regiments set forth for the war. I saw, in October, 1918, the interminable columns of civilians set forth into exile, and I remarked in the latter, at the end of four years of weakening occupation, as in the former, on the threshold of glory, the same bearing, the same faith, the same valiance, the same anxiety to do honor to France, and to proclaim on high its heroism and its mighty vitality." [Pierre Bosc: Les Allemands A Lille.] The words of the Old Testament recur like a dirge: "How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people, how is she become a widow that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! "
Lille was a great manufacturing city, forming with Roubaix and Turcoing, her neighbors and companions in misfortune, the pre-war triumvirate of textile industries in France. Arras, Cambrai, Lille, famous in our ears to-day as landmarks in the flux of battles, were formerly famous for the productions to which they gave their names, array cambric, and lisle. "Even the Sultan knew well the tapestries of Arras,"[Albert Demangeon: La Picardie.] in the fourteenth century.
Yet it is not in the destroyed cities, not even in Soissons or Reims, rich in historic associations---though these are referred to as "murdered "---that the heart of France is centered. The cities of the Northern provinces grew up out of the small industries of the villages. Lille, Arras, Amiens, all took the produce of the country, the flax, the wool of the flocks, even the lucid waters of the Somme, as the raw material of their wealth. To a larger extent than most manufacturing centers, they depend still for their hands---or did before the war---on the winter leisure of the farmers. North, south, east, west, wherever you go in France, it is the land that is the source of individual, of national wealth.
The land and the people, they are inextricably bound together. Books are written explaining the character of the peasant (paysan) by the character of the locality (pays) which has bred him, and his fathers and grandfathers before him. The texture of the soil, the nature of the crop, have determined the routine of his life, the style of his building, the temper of his soul. Two-thirds to nine-tenths of the farmlands in the invaded departments are owned by the farmers themselves. Of these, the small farmers or peasants make up the bulk, "each family having its house, its land, and passing on to the children its home, its traditions, its agricultural implements."[Albert Demangeon: La Picardie.] The family, the home (foyer), the locality (pays), the land; these are the cumulative passions which blend and fire the patriotism of France. You will hear not so often "beautiful France," as the "beautiful land of France." You will hear one Frenchman ask another "Of what pays are you?" In the Marseillaise itself---though not alas! in the English translation---the soldier fights to rid the furrows of the hated invader. The invaded region, despoiled, profaned, is "notre grande blessée, la terre de France." The very apple trees, girdled and dying, have a personality; the villages are "assassinated;" the windowless houses are " blind."
This love of the land, one finds it in France the basis not only of defense but of reconstruction. Mme. Moreau, President of the Villages Libérés, notable among the associations for reconstruction formed by French women, says in addressing her colleagues: "In this task we, women of the frontier, have the part Providence has given us. This work is woven with our lives and mingles itself with our memories, our affections, with the heavy responsibilities of our situation. It is not ours to assume it or not to assume it. It imposes itself. Who then will raise again the family home, restore our fields, our vines, replant for our little children the woods which our grandfathers have planted, if it is not we? The names of villages and the corners of farms, which in the Communiqués are only names, we have known since our infancy every stone and every spring of them---and all that we love there is gone. Whether we belong to the Marches of Lorraine with my compatriot, the blessed Joan of Arc, to the Nord, to the country of Soissons, to the Marne, or to the Ardennes, we have the honor to be of the chosen land, the land of the front, and I say it proudly, we, we, too, belong to the Twentieth Corps."[Report]
Again, listen to the plea of the Justice of the Peace of Combles, sent in 1917 to the American Red Cross. "Ladies and Gentlemen of Free America" he begins, "I have the honor to call to your attention one of the most unfortunate regions of France, devastated and destroyed by more than two years of war ---the village of Combles, chief town of a Canton composed of twenty-one communes in the department of the Somme.... If a journey is made at the present time through these regions, so alive and so fertile before the war, but now so desolate, nothing is to be seen but a vast chalky plain, quite white and everywhere reduced to powder. The ground which had a fertile soil of one meter in depth, has been completely turned up and the shells and the machine guns have brought to the surface the subsoil of pebbly chalk. This soil, which is now mixed with an sorts of rubbish and scraps of shells, will take more than fifty years to recover its fertility.
"Shall I relate to you, ladies and gentlemen, the sufferings, the endurance, the courage and heroism displayed by the unfortunate inhabitants of Combles and of the communes of Hardecourt-aux-Bois, Guillemont, Ginchy, Maurepas, and later of Morval, Rancourt, Sailly-Sallisel (the first-mentioned places situated on the Front opposite the Anglo-French positions established at Maricourt), the courage displayed in the face of such misfortunes and destruction and in the midst of vexations and violence of all sorts to which they were subjected?
"Maricourt! a village ever to be remembered, which a very ancient tradition speaks of as consecrated to the Virgin, curtu Mare (Village of Marie). This village has, in fact, never been trodden under foot by the invading hordes, neither in 1870 nor in the present war!
"When the Bavarians and other Germans boasted that by means of renewed attacks they would succeed in taking the village, the women of Combles replied proudly: 'You will not take Maricourt, not even a brick: of it!' and the village and its trenches stood out against all the attacks of the Germans in 1914, 1915, 1916! Its defenders were intrepid and the place remained impregnable.
"William II and the Crown Prince themselves came to Combles, accompanied by Staff Officers of their allies, and pointed out to the latter the difficulty of taking the position.
"Numerous Bavarian regiments were used up in their fruitless attempts, renewed from month to month for more than two years, to take this village. The discouraged men remaining from these regiments were sent to other fronts. They were replaced by Prussian regiments who, more obstinate or better trained, wished to excel the Bavarians, but they in their turn were destroyed. Thousands of them lay in front of the Anglo-French trenches at Maricourt.
"During these alternate attacks and regular battles in which the villages of Guillemont, Ginchy, Maurepas, Hardécourt were under fire from the heavy guns, the population of Combles, continuously on the qui vive, was a prey to every kind of anguish.
"Many a time we hoped to see our victorious soldiers reach our town. We heard the French drums sounding the charge, we heard the reply of their artillery and their heavy fire, then the heavy guns hidden in the woods above Combles hurled their shells at our regiments which, in their eagerness, had drawn too close. Too frequently, in the middle of the night, when the troops had broken through the enemy and were rapidly advancing on Combles, violent storms occurred followed by torrential rain which soaked the hills and the valleys, and stopped dead the advance of our men who could thus no longer be seconded by their artillery. Then silence and darkness would reign again. For us, the hope of deliverance was once more lost, and we were happy if on the following morning we did not see the arrival of twenty or thirty French or English soldiers, harassed and with torn uniforms covered with blood and mud and escorted by Boche soldiers who led them away, prisoners, down the High street of Combles.
"These unfortunate prisoners were absolutely forbidden to speak to us, but we said a sympathetic word to them in a low voice. The greater part of them did not look dejected or discouraged, but rather indignant at having to submit to such captivity, and a gleam of courage and hope was still to be seen in their eyes, like heroes whom Fortune had betrayed!
"Over the six kilometres which separated Maricourt and Hardécourt from Combles the same tragedies were frequently renewed during the darkest nights, when the Germans opened furious attacks to surprise first the advance posts and then the trenches of Maricourt. What struggles, what hecatombs by thousands! According to German officers, there were heaps of corpses of soldiers and horses to the height of a man between the fronts of the two armies. More than thirty thousand of their soldiers were thrown pêle-mêle and buried in the quarries between Hardecourt-aux-Bois and Maricourt. Their wounded were continually passing through to the hospitals established at Combles. The tombs of soldiers and officers increased the size of the cemetery threefold. The bodies of superior officers were transported from Combles to Péronne, to be sent to their families in Germany.
"Our heroes, who have died for their country, and for the emancipation and liberty of nations, also sleep by thousands at Hardécourt and Carnoy, where the struggle was so obstinate, and on all this part of the banks of the Somme, which they have bathed with their blood, where they have left their bones, to arrest the vandals of Germany!
"But the day of our departure and of our forced evacuation, was also the prelude to the destruction of Combles!
"On the 28th of June, 1916, after a bombardment which raged for five days and five nights, the inhabitants were obliged to leave their unfortunate town, abandoning to the cupidity of the enemy everything which we had been able during the previous two years to retain in our dwellings everything we possessed in the way of furniture, bedding, clothing, silver, books, pictures, family heirlooms--- in fact everything that was precious remaining to us. It was only on the following Pith of September that Combles was finally occupied by the Anglo-French troops who took possession of it after terrible struggles.
"Fifteen hundred wounded Germans were found in the vast subterranean quarters twenty meters in depth, the entrance to which was situated in the center of the town, and more than six hundred prisoners were at the same time captured in the borough which had been surrounded on all sides by the Allied troops.
"The Germans retired to the north towards Sailly-Sallisel and continued the bombardment of what remained of Combles, in order to hinder the advance of the Anglo-French armies.
"The town being thus successively under the fire and crushed by the shells of both armies, was converted into a mass of ruins, to such an extent that it would be difficult to recognize the sites of its principal houses, its public monuments, the church---several centuries old---the town hall, schools, squares, and old streets.
"For more than two years, either at Combles or in the northern region to which we were evacuated, and where we were still under the German domination, I have personally encountered the same dangers, endured the same sufferings, and the most trying vexations after having lost practically all that I possessed and seen my family dispersed, two of my children having been wounded and the third being at present on the battle front.
"I appeal therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your generous intervention in favor of our town of Combles and its communes which, by their long martyrdom and their courage, have well deserved universal sympathy.
"You will thus contribute, Ladies and Gentlemen of Free America, of the Great Sister Republic, to the renewal of our valiant rural population and to the re-establishment of Our France, with whom you are entering into the struggle for the triumph of justice, of the liberty of nations and of the future of humanity."
"Alas! the commune of Combles, even the impregnable "Village of Mary" fell to the invaders in the spring of 1918. But its appeal is typical of the touching confidence of France in her sister ally. In answering the spirit of such an appeal, America has builded even better than she knew. She has asked, through her Red Cross, to be admitted into the very heart of France, into that place doubly sacred in France from the intrusions of strangers---the home. And she has been doubly welcomed. In the words of Mme. Eduard Fuster, who has given invaluable service in guiding the policies of the American Red Cross: "You have come here not only to help us win the war, but to share with us all our burdens, all our sufferings; those of the front and those of the trenches, and those also behind the lines.... All the victims of war have laid their problems before you, all our sorrows have found an echo in your hearts."
TO WIN THE WAR
THE American Red Cross is, like the present American Army, young. Although the Geneva Convention, called in 1863, was signed by fourteen nations in 1864, America did not sign it until 1882, and it was only in 1905 that the volunteer organization styled the American Red Cross was established by Act of Congress as the official relief organization of the United States. Its purpose as then defined is: "To continue and carry out a system of national and international` relief in time of peace and to apply the same in mitigating the sufferings caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods and other great national calamities and to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same."
But the Red Cross is not so young as the American Army in its intervention in France. Prior to our entering the war, it had already its representative in the field in the form of the American Relief Clearing House, through which contributions in money and in supplies were shipped and distributed for two years. The American public was already familiar with pleas on its behalf, such as that made by President Wilson in January, 1917: "Another winter closes around the great European struggle, and with the cold, there comes greater need among soldiers in the fighting line, and in the hospitals, and still more among the women and children in ruined homes or in exile."
Yet it remained for the declaration of war to develop the astounding resources which the conscience and the imagination of the American people placed at the disposal of the Red Cross. The preparation of the Army was not more swift nor more far sighted than that of its service of mercy. A war council of seven members, created May 10, 1917, placed the organization on a war basis. The Chairman of that Council brought to it a name renowned in the business world. The campaign drives of the Red Cross, resulting in the collecting of $350,000,000, attest not only the generosity, but the confidence of the nation in the integrity and sagacity of the administration of those funds. The membership of the organization leapt into the millions; the American Red Cross became what the French were quick to call it---the expression of the heart of America toward France.
For it was not to our own army, but to the needs of our Allies, particularly of France, that the initial service of our Red Cross was dedicated. To us, in America, it seemed the logical, the tangible thing to do, to send the Red Cross personnel as an advance guard, an earnest of the army that was to follow. The civilian activities of the Red Cross at home, the contributions, already large, which we had made to the relief of Belgium and of France through other agencies, had accustomed us to look upon civilian relief in a foreign country as natural.
Not so was our advent regarded by Europe. France welcomed us, but as something new, unheard of. Her response was enthusiastic in proportion to her wonder. Other allies had given of their treasure, and we must never forget, more largely than we, to the same cause; they had given what we had not yet had the opportunity to do, their millions of lives. But America brought for the first time in the history of the Red Cross, a war service in aid of civilians as well as of soldiers,---I would say, \for the first time in the history of nations. Private societies, such as the English Quakers as far back as the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, rendered a similar service to France, in France, on the advent of the Red Cross, they and many other foreign-born organizations were already engaged in civilian relief. The significance of the entry of the American Red Cross lay in the fact that it represented not a private agency, but the American Government. The President of the United States, as its president as well, spoke through it to the people of France. "Wherever these Red Cross men and women go," he said, " they are carrying the message that Americans cannot rest without seeking to relieve such suffering." The spirit with which they went to that service is equally illustrated in the charge given by the Chairman of the War Council to one of the first groups to cross the ocean: "Make the French glad that you have come."
Aside from the moral support which was doubtless given by the actual presence of their new ally in their midst---to whiff,, from the day of our advent until now, the trench press and people give tribute---there were sound military reasons why the Red Cross should add civilian to battlefield relief. War, never confined to the actual field of combat, has always caused destruction of property, and loss of civilian life. But never before has war been organized, nation against nation, as was the war which Germany organized and launched against the whole world.
When the heroic Mayor of Noyon, that ancient city where Charlemagne was crowned, protested against the infractions of the terms of the Hague convention by its German conquerors in 1914, he was told: "We are not making the war solely against the French Army: we are making it against the whole of France; our aim is to ruin it, to weaken it by every means possible. You complain of being pillaged; well, we consider every store, every unoccupied house as belonging to us:
Where there are legal occupants, we are disposed, by indulgence, not to take more than is necessary for the well-being of the German army. If we spare ever so little the civil population of that war, and do not compel them to undergo all its consequences, it is because we are not barbarians; such are our methods of war, the harder they are, the more inexorable, the shorter will be the war! "[Noyon pendant l'occupation allemande: Ernest Noël, in La Revue Hebdomadaire.]
It was the realization of this menace, driven home by the violation of Belgium, the sinking of merchantmen, the well-attested atrocities of Northern France, that arrayed the civilized world against the outlaw, Germany. The defense of civilization was being made over there, on the plains of Picardy, along the Chemin des Dames, in the forests of Ardennes, at Verdun.
"Whatever may be the character of the American Red Cross in time of peace," said the first Commissioner to France of the American Red Cross, before the Anglo-American press on September 17, 1917, "to-day in the midst of this catastrophe, its supreme function is to aid in every way possible the winning of the war. It would be a pitiable and mistaken conception to regard it from the point of view of a charity at a moment like this. For three years our Allies have taken upon themselves our part in the battle. They have carried all the burden of anguish, they have suffered all the wounds, they have died for our sakes. It is inevitable that some time must yet elapse before our troops can play their part seriously in the trenches. Meantime, the American organizations should claim it not only as a privilege, but as a strict obligation, to do all that is in their power to aid the valiant nations to whom our people are so deeply indebted."
THE FIELD OF OPPORTUNITY
THE American Red Cross Commission arrived in France in June, 1917. It consisted of eighteen members, each contributing some special part toward the great end in view, the winning of the war. Battlefield relief, it was understood, would be effected immediately under the supervision of the War Department, but "civilian relief will present a field of increasing opportunity in which the Red Cross organization is especially adapted to serve."
In the devastated area, which bounds the horizon of the present narrative, the field was indeed ample, and the opportunity ripe. One cannot picture wholesale destruction. Not even an eye witness of it, mile after mile, and village after village, can have the concept of it which would be his were the cottage razed, the village decimated, the region ruined, the country fought for, his own. Not only so, but that part of Northern France overtaken by perfidy in 1914, was, historically, the home of France. The modern names of the departments involved: the Nord and the Ardennes, completely swallowed up, the Pas-de-Calais, the Somme, the Aisne, the Oise, the Meuse, the Meurthe and Moselle, and the frontier of the Vosges, scenes for four years of gigantic struggle,-these revolutionary appellations lose completely their savour of antiquity. But let us mention the provinces of Artois, of Picardy, of Champagne, of Lorraine, of the Ile de France, whence came the very name of the French nation, and there move before our eyes like a pageant the medieval powers, the spiritual dominions, the literary glory which have made the France of to-day. One of our soldiers, stationed near Domrémy, was asked by a Frenchman, who was showing him about, if he knew Joan of Arc. "Sure," was the response, "I went to school with her." "And when was that?" inquired the astonished Frenchman. "In 1429," he replied. Whether many of our privates, like this one, have gone to school with French history or not, the children of France have done so generation by generation. Even a geography is not complete without its political account of the soil. Soissons, Reims, the Marches of Lorraine, the Santerre of Picardy, now laid in ruins, yet stand as representatives of the ideals of a race.
Figures convey their picture of economic destruction. The devastated area, in its entirety, covered---and covers at the present moment---six thousand square miles of France. It comprised that area most thickly populated, richest in manufactures, and richest in agriculture. One quarter of the wheat crop was formerly raised in it. Eighty-seven per cent of the beets from which France derived her sugar came from it. 2,000,000 people had made in it their homes. In it were the, deposits of iron, of potash and of coal, greedily coveted by Germany; so much so, that the possession of them became that military necessity which turned into a scrap of paper the neutrality of Belgium and of Luxembourg.
This area, varying with the fortune of battles, consisted, in June, 1917, of the territory still in the hands of the Germans, of the actual front, and of the territory from which the Germans had been driven out. The former was being cared for, as well as it could be in captivity, by the Dutch and Spanish delegates who took over the operation of our Belgian Relief Commission on our entry into the war. The front, at least fifteen miles in depth at any given point, was reserved for military operations. Back of this front were situated the " régions libérées," of civilian relief. They extended in a broad swathe a hundred miles long by thirty wide, up the valley of the Marne. They paralleled the road to Verdun. They lay in a fringe along the northern border of the frontier provinces of the Meurthe and Moselle and the Vosges. Most recently uncovered, and hence offering the clearest opportunity, they comprised the 1580 square miles of the Somme, the Aisne and the Oise cleared of the Germans in the " Great Retreat" of March, 1917. It was to this area that the American Red Cross first turned its attention. A preliminary survey was made.
Contrast may help to picture what the Commission saw. In a certain classic on agriculture,[Albert Demangeon: La Picardie.] may be found this description of the regions through which the Commissioners passed. "They comprise those orchard lands, gardens and vineyards picturesquely mingling with, or bordering a field of wheat, a patch of vegetables, a bit of clover, a cluster of vines, often tilled by the spade, by a race of petty farmers. The division of the soil is pushed to the extent that the trees of the one owner overhang the property of the other; beneath the tangle of apple trees, of pears, of peaches, of apricots, of plums, of cherries and of nuts oftentimes trellised, are hidden a thousand varied crops which succeed one another without lapse; here the asparagus and the grapes of Laon; there the artichokes and the string beans of Noyon, everywhere, as far as Clermont, all the lucrative products of intensive culture, which have given to the valley of Thèrain between Clermont and Creil the name of the " Vale of Gold " (Vallée Dorée). Nothing can equal the charm of those sunny and verdant slopes, at the same time orchards and gardens, their roads deep rutted by the coming and going of the laborers' heavy boots. This aspect of nature fresh and picturesque, this culture minute and varied, separates us widely from those plains Of immense and monotonous toil where the eye loses itself at the horizon above the fields of grain."
A writer of greater power passed this way in the summer of 1917. "In Egypt, behind the quarries on the Nile, there is a place as desolate where nothing living moves. But this is France---dear, rich, green France--- this scorched and arid desert, with the cruel gaping wound torn in her fair side. This is France---and it is full summertime! Weeds and poppies and grasses, poppies and grasses and weeds, trenches and broken wagon wheels, a nightmare of ugly things. And here a pitiful group of crosses---and there another, tens of them, hundreds of them, close to the road....
"Come now and look from this mount.
"A livid sky---a forest of blackened stumps and poles and the interminable stretch of weeds---nothing but this as far as the eye can see.
"Here you should count three hundred villages, with each a little church.
"Villages?---Churches?---not even heaps of stones remain to mark their sepulchres.
"Gone---blotted out." [Blinor Glynn: Destruction. Duckworth & Co., London.]
Yet this is not the whole picture. There are intermediate tones. Not only were there such communes, like Combles, caught and crushed between opposing artillery, there were the greater number too quickly taken by the Germans to have suffered bombardment. Each, except for certain centers of refuge, suffered the same fate, to be held for a varying period, to be depopulated by successive deportations, to be sacked and finally to be systematically destroyed.
"The Germans, when they retreated in March, 1917, certainly believed that they had thrown insurmountable difficulties in our path. They left behind them smashed bridges and roads ripped up by tremendous explosions, which sometimes, as in Licourt, caused craters fifty feet across and fifty feet deep. Some regions were flooded. Trees cut down across the highways were to be an obstacle to immediate pursuit. And far behind the fighting lines, the enemy placed fields of barbed wire. Every bit of ground which had any strategic importance was fortified, trenched and camouflaged for the eventual battles and for a prolonged resistance."
"They slyly prepared other ambushes which were to add to the effect of the obstacles in the path of the French troops. Their massing of the entire civil population which was not sent back to Germany, all the useless mouths, into certain villages which were, relatively speaking, spared, was a military maneuver whose true purpose was not intuitively recognized by our incurable and candid generosity. We regarded it for a moment as a sort of manifestation of German pity! But it was all brutally clear when, immediately after the retreat, in the terrible confusion of battle, we had to feed those home-coming French people suffering unimaginable distress. Little towns whose normal population was from three to five hundred saw these figures multiplied by five; at Roye more than six thousand people were without food; at Chauny the frightened population at first received our troops, whose uniform they did not recognize, with stupor; at Ham it was again the army which had to provide improvised supplies. There was no means of communication; there was nothing on the spot, the Germans having taken everything away; the regions which had been spared were in total isolation in the midst of a desert, where nothing disturbed the horrible solitude except the whirl of neighboring battles." [Le Temps, Jan. 6, 1918.]
THE PLAN: ORGANIZATION
SUCH was the immediate field of opportunity presented to the American Red Cross. Its needs were patent. Housing was necessary, food was necessary, the revival of agriculture and of industries was necessary. What few doctors were left in the region had been deported by the Germans; even medicines had been packed in the great vans that bore every mobile article of value away. Doctors were necessary for the children and the old people insufficiently nourished and abnormally depressed. The cures had shared the fate of the doctors. Spiritual and moral encouragement, the restoration of normal life---these were the things most necessary of all.
But, as has been said, the American Red Cross did not have its chosen field to itself. Its first problem of organization was to determine its relation to the many agencies already operating in the devastated area, some of them since the beginning of the war. They grouped themselves in three classes: governmental, military, and private. There was no question of the place of the American Red Cross in regard to the two former. It came to France by invitation from the French Government; it would work in the army zone only by consent of the armies of occupation. Its duty was to subordinate its purpose to that of the government and of the army, and to place its resources at the* disposal. But the third group, that of private agencies, presented matter for careful study.
The American societies, up to the time of the arrival of the American Red Cross, had accomplished their work for the French army and for French civilians under the authorization of the French Government. In fact, they were incorporated in the Service de Santé of the French Army. What was to be the relation between these groups, already established, and the American Red Cross? The status of the American Relief Clearing House, the forerunner and official representative of the Red Cross in France, was a determining factor in the policy finally adopted.
This was " an organization which came into existence during the early months of the war, for the purpose of relieving the confusion into which relief supplies coming from America had been thrown, and of expediting their distribution to those in need. It was found that without some organization devoted especially to these purposes, the relief of which the sufferers were in such urgent need, was subjected to great delay in reaching them; that it was frequently misdirected through lack of proper information on the part of the senders; that through ignorance of the formalities of French ports, supplies were frequently denied entry altogether; and that quite as often for various reasons many valuable gifts were lost.
"The purpose of the organization is therefore to centralize and control as far as possible at Paris the receipt of all relief from America destined for France and her Allies, as the most convenient point for distribution: ,
"To investigate the needs of all localities, to keep the New York office informed as to the requirements of different districts and by constant advice to prevent overlapping and duplication.
"To clear at all points of entry all goods consigned from America.
"To forward to destination, without undue delay, all goods received and, through the facilities offered by the French Government, to expedite the transshipment of goods cleared from Port of Entry and to require receipts from consignees at point of final destination.
"To secure from the French authorities free transportation both by sea and by rail in France of all goods destined for relief, and, therefore, to minimize the expenses incident to the work of all relief societies co-operating with the Clearing House.
"To distribute to best advantage, according to our information as to actual present needs, any relief that may be entrusted to the discretion of the Clearing House for this purpose; and to keep and render strict account of the same.
"The functions of the Clearing House briefly are:
"1. To forward to destination all relief supplies sent through it consigned to particular societies;
"2. To receive and distribute relief supplies where most needed;
"3. To receive money and to purchase supplies either with or without definite instructions as to distribution;
"4. To provide these facilities free of all expense to the donors." [ARC]
The American Red Cross automatically absorbed the American Relief Clearing House and its functions. Its Director General became the Director General of the Red Cross, and a number of its prominent officers took positions of responsibility in the new organization. At the same time, the policy of the Red Cross toward all the organizations, French, American or British, subsidized to any degree by the Clearing House underwent a radical change. Whereas the Clearing House had assumed the responsibility of forwarding supplies and money to particular destinations, the Red Cross hastened to state that it considered its function to be the impartial distribution at its discretion of all supplies sent from America to the relief of France. The reasons for this change were two-fold. First, there was great inequality of distribution to the different organizations dependent on the Clearing House, varying with the size of the receiving society, and the effectiveness of its propaganda, rather than with the actual needs of the localities served. Second, and more vital, there was the cutting down of transportation facilities from America, incident to our active participation in the war.
At first only nine hundred tons per month were allowed to the American Red Cross for all its activities, military as well as civilian, on United States transports, and the maximum reached at any time by allowance was four thousand tons. Although this amount was increased by space paid for whenever possible on regular merchantmen, the average shipment per month of Red Cross supplies from America during the war, stands at about the latter figure, four thousand tons. Not only was the Red Cross thus made accountable to the home government for the amount of its shipments. It had scrupulous obligations to the French Government, which, in the midst of its heavy transportation of men and supplies for actual fighting, gave free transportation in the interior to the supplies and the personnel of the American Red Cross as it had done to those of the Clearing House.
Despite this limited tonnage, and the limited railroad transportation, the American Red Cross was in duty bound to greatly increase the volume of its output over that of the Clearing House. It must go into the market to buy. But here again were restrictions; the Army, French, British or American, had always the precedence. Thus it came about that supplies and their proper distribution assumed such importance as to become the crux of the whole administrative problem of civilian relief.
Naturally, readjustment on the new basis took time, and designated shipments were honored as such until an agreement could be reached. But it was the feeling of the American Red Cross that the ideal to be aimed at was the absorption rather than the affiliation of American relief agencies. They had as a guide in this policy, the centralized organization of our Belgian Relief Commission, which had worked on the German side of the lines in the identical territory into which the Red Cross was to enter. They had in mind the pooling of all resources, as was done in the United States itself. They had found the French oeuvres (societies), excellent in themselves, working in detachment, the one from the other. "Our French Red Cross itself is represented by three organizations which have been associated in a common committee only since the beginning of the war," wrote M. Firmin Roz [In La Revue Hebdomadaire.] in comparing it with the American Red Cross. What better service could the Department of Civilian Relief give to French societies having the same aim as itself than a working example of centralized organizations
All American relief agencies for civilians were, therefore, invited to confer informally, with the tentative idea of becoming integral parts of the American Red Cross.
This plan did not meet with success. It was perhaps undesirable that it should have done so. The other societies had their chapters, their clubs, their clientele at home, their affiliations with the French Government abroad. Their founders had been pioneers during our neutrality, giving, many of them, of their private resources, as an expression of the* passionate attachment to the cause of France. Most of their leaders were women of influence and of initiative. Otherwise, in the midst of the difficulties which confronted them, their organizations would never have been born. They had succeeded, and by their success held what the American Red Cross had yet to win, the confidence of the French Government. They felt, with justice, that they had much to offer the Red Cross in the way of resources and of experience.
All this they did offer, but they were unwilling to give up their identity.
A compromise was therefore effected. In the field of civilian relief, for instance, one society, that of the American Friends---a very large group---became a department under the Red Cross, but without losing its name. Another, the Smith College Relief Unit, retained both its name and its independent financial support, but worked as a direct agent of the Red Cross. A third, the Secours Anglo-Américain at Amiens, lost both its name and its outside support, its personnel becoming Red Cross workers. Others, such as the American Fund for French Wounded, and later the American Committee for Devastated France, were loosely affiliated, retaining their complete independence, receiving a monthly stipend, cooperating in transportation, supplies and personnel. With two societies, the American Fund for French Wounded and the Friends, the Red Cross made special arrangements as to designated shipments.
In general, however, the policy of the American Red Cross crystallized into that of cooperation with existing societies, whether American, French, Canadian or British. But, as to the two latter, it is only fair to state that the relations of the American Red Cross with them are best described as neighborly, both parties, with scrupulous Anglo-Saxon independence, returning all favors received. Toward all other agencies, in the words of one of the organizers of relief in the devastated area, the Red Cross became, not an oeuvre itself, but the "Mother of OEuvres." "We have looked," he writes, "on the liberated regions of France as an experimental field in which to create a personnel and a programme for the larger piece of work, when all of the north of France is disengaged. To this end we have used, as our agents, all possible existing relief organizations already in the field. We have endeavored to federate these organizations in order to deal with them more simply, and to plan for the more important demands which will come to us from them."
In brief, the policy of the American Red Cross in France has been subordination, coordination, cooperation; subordination to the French Government, the French and allied armies, subordination always to the needs of our own army; coordination and cooperation with all existing agencies,---a policy by no means easy to attain.
Chapter V. The Plan: Administration.
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