POLISHING THE TARNISHED MIRRORS
IN the midst of its separate activities, the American Red Cross as a distributing center must not be overlooked. There were two warehouses, one at Ham, and the other at Nesle, supplying the region from Péronne to Golancourt. These had a transportation service of five trucks. The activity of this. branch may be judged by the testimony of a representative of the French Red Cross that it furnished sixty per cent of all the aid given in this sector. Yet there were strong and efficient agencies in the field; that of the Government itself not being the least. M. Quellien, the special sous-préfet at Nesle charged with the problems of reconstruction, was intensely interested in the needs of his department. He made the federation of the societies working with him to this end a real thing, calling them into conference together each month, sharing with them what supplies he had at his disposal, and requiring of them in turn monthly reports. He went about in person, not only to inspect, but to learn how he might be of service to them. His zeal on behalf of the civilians was, if anything, surpassed by that of the commandant of the Third Army in charge of this sector, stationed at Ham. He again was rivaled by his colleague, the commandant at Guiscard, whose interest ranged from large contributions from his private purse, and rebuilding of villages by details of soldiers, to hunting up a donkey---a very small and gentle donkey--- to carry relief supplies. The Department of Agriculture, already mentioned, was also strong in the Somme. Its tractors were busy plowing almost on the heels of the German retreat. The military chefs de service had their offices in every considerable group of villages; the repairing of farm implements, and the selling of army horses no longer fit for campaigning, but still useful in the furtherance of their plan, were systematically carried on.
Among private agencies, the French Red Cross, represented by the Union des Femmes de France, was most fortunate in its delegates at Nesle, M. and Mme. Amedée Vernes. M. Vernes, a manufacturer of large interests and a member of one of those Protestant families of culture which have kept their faith since the days of the Huguenots, took his wife and went to live in Nesle. The fact. that they had themselves lost much, and had given their two sons to the cause, made them peculiarly sympathetic with the people whom they were trying to assist. It was M. Vernes who was designated by the Ministry of the Interior to be the head of the departmental federation of private organizations under M. Quellien. At Ham, Mme. Roussel headed another committee for the Union. She, too, is a remarkable character---for she, like M. and Mme. Vernes, is again back at her post. Though eighty years of age, she nursed the French wounded in Ham throughout the German occupation. German officers, naturally, were quartered upon her; gentlemanly appearing men, very punctilious in handing her in to dinner every night. But on the day of their departure, they packed up her ancestral clock before her eyes, and loaded it onto a van, and took it to Germany.
Mme. Vernes and Mme. Roussel, besides distributing relief supplies running up into between twenty and thirty thousand articles, organized two flourishing sewing circles. In Nesle, one hundred and sixty women were employed. The material and the sewing machines and a considerable amount of money were in each case furnished by the American Red Cross. In fact the Union des Femmes de France speaks itself in its Bulletin de Guerre of the aid accorded it throughout by us. " The American Red Cross," it reads, "places generously at the disposal of the delegate and the nurses of the Union des Femmes de France, articles of every kind and lends them the precious assistance of its automobiles in visiting the villages and assuring their supply of food."
Located at Nesle was also another efficient relief agency, the French Wounded Emergency Fund. This was a British unit, of eight to ten workers, having nineteen villages west of Nesle in their charge. But as they had their own warehouse and their transport services they were little indebted to us. On the taking over of the :French lines by the British, however, in January, 1918, they were compelled by the regulations of the British Army to retire, these regulations not allowing British civilian workers so near the front. Their villages were then taken over by the Union des Femmes de France.
An interesting experiment at Rosières, half way between Nesle and Amiens, started oddly enough under the auspices of the British Army just as that same army closed down the work of its countrywomen at Nesle. But the work at Rosières was undertaken by a Franco-American agency, the Fund for War Devastated Villages, which did not come under the rules laid down by the British Army for organizations of its own nationality. To Rosiares and six neighboring villages comprising five hundred persons, one American worker was assigned. There is an advantage in not having a large staff which this worker fully realized; she got her cooperation from her villagers themselves. Among them she was fortunate in finding such mayors and country gentlemen as have been written about in all French accounts of the invaded territory, men---and women too---who by their bravery have upheld the best traditions of Picardy. At Beaufort, for example, lived in his Château the old Count de Lupel. In 1914, when the Germans first took the village, they requisitioned certain of the count's employees, to serve as hostlers, since the count was well known to them as a famous breeder of horses. But the count had hidden his men, nor would he deliver them over, although he was threatened and actually led out to be shot. In 1918, on the return of the Germans, equally solicitous for his dependents, he gave up his last horse and wagon to them and escaped himself on foot. The mayor of the commune was a man no less devoted, and possessed in addition, that marvel of energy in French village polities, a wife. The mayor's wife was a devout Catholic, and as such opposed to the public school, which in France, as in America, allows no religious instruction. She, therefore, opened a Catholic school, and saw to it that all the girls, at least, attended. She was interested in all matters of public welfare, and it was she who ordered and generaled the retreat of the villagers in the spring of 1918.
But in the three months from January to March, before that catastrophe, much had been accomplished in rehabilitation. The pressing needs of the villages had been met; seeds were ready for distribution; children's work was starting; a quantity of wool was in store for the knitting which was to become a village industry. In this general distribution, the American Red Cross gave its share.
About a month later than the experiment at Rosières there was opened at Péronne, a dispensary, hospital, and relief station under the joint management of the Village Reconstitué and the Secours aux Blessés Militaires of the French Red Cross. Before the German drive, 169 families, in nine villages, had been reached by the devoted nurses in charge.
Roye, southwest of Nesle, had two relief agencies, that of Mrs. Duryea of New York, and that of the Secours d'Urgence. The former operated in many villages, giving out emergency relief. The latter established here a poste de secours which was a model of its kind. The Secours d'Urgence makes the proud claim of being the first French society to undertake civilian relief in the devastated area, and Roye, situated for three years in the No-Man's Land of continuous bombardment, was its first post. Like most of the larger French societies, it had been occupied up to the spring of 1917 with the needs of the soldiers under the well-known name of the "Bureau Central des Écloppés."
With the liberation of the Somme, an appeal came to the Bureau on behalf of the civilian population, not from civilians, but from an officer in the army. Mlle. Javel went up at his request and saw the desert about Roye.
Yet what could the Bureau do, with its re-~ sources already strained to the utmost? The founders collected ten thousand francs among their friends as a beginning. They had, first, their typical shelter, and their nurses. With the cooperation of the army, they made repairs. They installed a large farm with a dairy, supplying butter and milk. They started industries, such as sewing, and in addition to sewing circles, gave out work at home. They had factories for mattresses and for furniture. They equipped and manned completely with doctor and nurses, a civilian hospital of twenty beds at Roye. They had gardens tended by children, where four thousand cabbages were raised. Eventually, they cared for sixty-nine villages. Aid for this work came to them from many sources, as they acknowledge them in their reports, from as far away as Sidney, and from the "Croix-Rouge Américaine." The support of the latter was whole hearted and generous to the limit of its capacity at Ham and Nesle.
Although, geographically, the latest effort of the Secours d'Urgence for the devastated area does not belong to the Somme alone, but to all of France, its place is here. It concerns itself with' Christmas. In 1917, throughout the liberated area, the government, the church, and agencies occupied with relief there, gave to the children the first Christmas they had had for three years. In 1918, a vaster field was freed by the armistice. The same effort was repeated. But it was the Secours d'Urgence which thought of an ideal way. With the approval of no less a person than M. Clemenceau they enlisted the children of all the public kindergartens, in all the departments of France, to make a Christmas for their "unknown brothers and sisters, deprived for so long of every joy." The presents came by the millions, each accompanied by a little letter to the unknown recipient. Most of them were given, not by children of wealth, but by the poor, many of them themselves tiny refugees. One little girl of five came with her teacher to the office of the society, to say that she would give her doll. "But," she added, "I want to remain with her as long as I can." The kind-hearted lady in charge of the office told her the very latest date on which she must return. When she came, with her eyes full of tears, her doll held tightly to her cheek, the lady thought she would never be able to give it up. But she did, saying only: "Please tell her that she must take care of my doll as I did, and love her as I used to do!" Another story is that of a little boy who had nothing, nothing at all except some pills. He had been a refugee, starved and ill, and these cod-liver oil pills, which a doctor had given him, had been a great help. He would share them! So, in the quaint English of the lady who told the incident, "he took them to the Bureau preciously, for those pills meant health to him, his own health."
To have aided, much or little as the case may be, such efforts as are recorded here, is it not, in the words a noted French writer quotes in regard to this very society, to have helped in "polishing the tarnished mirrors, in restoring the ideal flame?"
BEHIND THE BRITISH LINES
THE activities centering at Amiens differentiate themselves sharply from those of the southern end of the department. In the first place, Amiens was behind the British lines which, at this point never broke. The city, itself, though severely bombarded during the last German advance in the spring of 1918, was not devastated, and stood as a bulwark for the territory stretching from it to the channel, which the Germans never took. But unscathed as it was at the time that the American Red Cross entered it, in September, 1917, it had been for three years---what it still is---one of the main gateways for the passing and repassing of refugees. In the Somme, there were over thirty-five thousand of these, not counting at all those who had remained in, or found their way back to, their villages in the devastated area itself. Half of these refugees were crowded into the city, which was further strained beyond its housing capacity by thousands of British troops. Add to this the fact that building---except for absolutely necessary army barracks for army purposes---had ended automatically with the call to arms, and one can see the enormous problem in public health and in housing presented by the city of Amiens. In short, in an acute and exaggerated form, the problem was the same as that facing our city charities at home; congestion and lack of employment, resulting in insufficient nourishment and the spread of disease.
The city of Amiens, the Department of which it is the capital, and the Ministry of the Interior behind both had already perfected an admirable scheme for the handling of the transient refugees, who passed from bombarded areas to the south, or from the south back to liberated villages. Shelters, in charge of the army, were always ready to accommodate them, to the number of twelve hundred and fifty at a time; a stipulated sum of money was given each refugee on his arrival for immediate needs, food, of course, and clothing as necessary. Afterwards he was painstakingly helped to reach his destination. Lieut. Pianelli, who administered this relief, was himself a refugee from St. Quentin, and his own wife was a German captive. It goes without saying that the handling of the endless stream of refugees at Amiens was done with sympathetic care.
But the refugee unable to get beyond Amiens, or choosing to remain there, became the concern of the city and of the prefecture.
If in need, he had, of course, his allowance from the government, as a refugee. Or if the dependent of a soldier, an approximately equal amount was paid. Of the ten thousand refugees in Amiens to whom these allowances were granted nearly fifteen hundred were the wives, widows or children of the soldiers of France. Committees, styled departmental committees, composed of public-spirited citizens, assisted in the care of the refugees of their respective departments. Of these, there were four; that of the Nord, that of the Aisne, that of the Pas-de-Calais, and that of the Somme itself. There were private agencies also, the largest and most influential being that of the Secours aux Blesses Militaires of the French Red Cross. The Secours d'Urgence, and the Somme Dévastée among French societies, had posts established here also, the latter being one of the many organizations founded by the wealthy and patriotic ladies of the devastated area itself.
Among foreign societies, and most directly concerning this narrative, were the Americans Fund for French Wounded and the Secours Anglo-Américain pour les Réfugiés. The latter, under American management, had already been operating two years among the fugitives in Amiens when the American Red Cross delegate arrived. Five resident workers, of whom one was a nurse, and six French volunteer workers comprised its staff. With the close cooperation of the Préfet, one of whose daughters was a regular volunteer visitor, they organized the type of charitable relief we know in America as district visiting. They also started the first workroom in Amiens for the women refugees. Their support, while drawn from many sources, came largely, at this time, from the American Relief Clearing House. They therefore naturally turned to the American Red Cross for a similar subsidy. The result was that the latter took over and enlarged their activities and absorbed their personnel.
In addition to this, and in cooperation with the American Fund for French Wounded, the American Red Cross through its Children's Bureau opened a dispensary for the refugees in Amiens, in March, 1918. This was an extension of the dispensary of Nesle. But in so far as these two lines of service affect the refugees, the details of their development fall outside the limits of this book. In fact, the delegate of the Red Cross in Amiens, being assigned to the undevastated area of the Somme, was in reality the first of the many refugee delegates who were later sent by the Refugee Bureau of the Red Cross to similar service in every department of France.
Two phases of the Red Cross work in Amiens belong here, however; that of the warehouse, and that of the workroom already mentioned, started by the Secours Anglo-Américain. From a group of twelve workers, in September, 1917, this had grown in February 1918, to thirty-two workers, turning out four hundred and eighty finished garments a week. It consumed materials on a wholesale scale, as illustrated by requisitions for four thousand meters flannel, fifteen hundred meters sateen, black, for pinafores, fifteen hundred meters velveteen; for suits, thirty-six dozen boxes of thread, and ten thousand buttons. But the unique service of this workroom was the one designed and carried into operation by the Red Cross delegate. It cut and shipped to all workrooms within reaching distance, the garments which they in turn made up. Thus it became the center of supply for the ouvroirs at Nesles, Ham, Lassigny and Noyon, already mentioned, an important cog in the chain of cooperation which the American Red Cross was trying to forge. It was also, with every ouvroir in France, a connecting link between the refugees temporarily, at least, static, and the refugees in transit or in process of establishment, the one class being engaged in filling that immense reservoir from which the other might draw.
The warehouse in Amiens, like the workroom, served both classes of unfortunates, the refugees in the undevastated area, and the sinistrés (sufferers) and rapatriés, (repatriates) as the French conveniently designate them, who were trying to make a fresh start in the two devastated departments north of the Somme, the Nord and the Pas-de-Calais. Arras had been selected as a center for the latter,>and a separate delegate appointed to it, but an actual warehouse was never established there. This city, in normal times possessing a population of 29,000, had been under constant bombardment since the beginning of the war, until in the spring of 1917, the victory of Vimy Ridge freed it from immediate menace. At one time only three hundred souls remained in it, subsisting in cellars. Its historic town hall was already in ruins; the wheat lands about it were devastated by one of the greatest struggles of the war. The porticoes of the Petite Place, where "on the prettiest stage in the world the triumphal fete of the grain was conducted with all its peaceable outcry," lay shattered; the fields themselves were shell-plowed wastes.
Yet the prefecture and the army were already at work, with tractors and construction gangs. The American Red Cross, entering on its activities here simultaneously with the private French agencies, instead of after them, as in the Somme and the Oise, put itself as did they, at the disposal of the civil authorities. No federation of the societies was attempted for this reason; and the cooperation of the Red Cross delegate with the government was direct. This was considered the most practical method also, owing to the stringent rulings of the British army zone.
As it was, great difficulties were encountered, no warehouse could be found, and no transportation by truck arranged. To make the situation more difficult, there was notes there is not to this day [January, 1919.]---a direct rail communication with Amiens. The railroad across the battlefields has been wiped out. But at last, on February 25, 1918, the first general distribution to the outlying villages was made. The mayors of thirty-two communes were invited to come in person to receive the goods allotted to them. Into the ruins of Arras, that wintry day, they came, in every imaginable makeshift of a vehicle, not to chaffer or to buy, but to receive the gifts to their communes of the American Red Cross. From the Church of the Ardents, half-destroyed, were taken four hundred and twenty-seven wheelbarrows which had been stored there; from the warerooms loaned by the Prefecture, two hundred and twelve sacks of sugar and twelve thousand francs' worth of farming tools.
What a contrast to former market days when "under the arcades were heaped casks, boxes, coils of rope, hardware, faïence, old iron, a host of heterogeneous objects. And amid them all, the smell of the barrooms, of pipes, of 'bistouilles,' of pungent beer; the slow descent and balancing of the tame pigeons, and at regular intervals, the melodies of the chimes which seemed to shake from their toy gables showers of goblins and gnomes."[Henri Potez: Villes Meurtries de France: Arras.]
Yet a beginning . in rehabilitation in the Pas-de-Calais was made, and plans were under way for a second delegate and a larger staff to push a larger scheme of service when the spring drive came. To-day Arras lies level with the plain about it---not even the belfry stands to mark the site of the old town hall.
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
WHO has not heard of the bitterly contested Chemin des Dames, of the well-nigh impregnable plateau of Craonne, of the capture of Soissons, crowning place of Clovis, of St. Quentin, and Château-Thierry where the American dead lie to-day on the hill slopes, a memorial to the valor of the American Army to which was given the glory of saving Paris in 1918? All these allied victories belong to that comparatively small political division now called the Aisne, but formerly known by the proud title of the Ile de France. All were preceded by defeats which laid in ruins the five arrondissements of the department.
Naturally the devastation of the Aisne is quite complete. In the summer of 1917, after the German retreat, the heights of Craonne, and the Chemin des Dames upon their summit, were still in the hands of the Germans. About the base of this promontory to the south and the west lay the lowlands of the liberated area, from which fifty per cent of the civilians had been carried into captivity, and the remainder of the population had fled as refugees.
Before. the war, "the Ile de France was always a great center of crowded population, a population gay and seemly, distributed not in large cities, but in little villages and hamlets which clustered in the valleys and on the hills, animating the countryside and the perspective of the horizon by the picturesque silhouettes of their lovely churches, and by the grouping of their cheerful cottages embowered in orchards and gardens. Chateaux, ancient and modern, princely or bourgeois, were numerous. Everywhere breathed a sense of well-being, of ease and of wealth."[Martin Vachon; Les Villes Martyres de France et de Belgique]
Into this region, once so fertile and now so disfigured, the American Red Cross entered in September, 1917, establishing at Soissons what grew to be the largest of its warehouses, which never carried a stock of less than ten thousand dollars' worth. The other agencies at work in this department for the returning fugitives were only four in number; the government and the army, the American Fund for French Wounded, the Aisne Dévastée and the Village Reconstitué working together, and the Bishop of Soissons. Between the American Fund for French Wounded as a whole, and the American Red Cross, a definite affiliation had been established, and this was extended to the civilian section of the American Fund located in the eastern part of the Aisne at Blérancourt. The history of this society and of our relations with it, which covered work in six of the devastated departments, becomes of interest.
The American Fund for French Wounded was, in point of time, the first of all American societies to come to the aid of France. It grew out of the American Committee formed by Mr. Hoover in London for the relief of American refugees, who, by the thousands, were driven out of the continent at the opening of hostilities in 1914. By autumn, their needs had been met, but in October a French woman came to the office of the Committee and chanced to find Mrs. Lathrop there. She begged for the French wounded and so effectively that a committee was formed by Mrs. Lathrop in London, with a supporting branch in America. In 1915, this American branch established its own headquarters in Paris, as the American Fund for French Wounded. It has worked from the beginning with the French army and more recently with the American army. But it has also done work for civilians, for the same reason that the American Red Cross has done work for civilians, because war was carried systematically by Germany into the homes of civilians. The first appeal for this help came from Noyon. From that time the A. F. F. W. began the collecting of supplies for civilian relief. In all the chapters of the society in America, garments cut in French patterns were made. Money was raised, equipment bought, and in June, 1917, the Civilian Section began its work. To it the military authorities assigned two posts in the devastated area, one at Blérancourt in the Aisne, and the other, manned by the Smith College Unit, already mentioned, in the Somme.
In Blérancourt itself three hundred of the fifteen hundred peace-time population were backs Besides Blérancourt, fourteen neighboring villages were assigned to the unit. Before the spring offensive of 1918, these villages had increased to forty. Repair world was effectively carried on with the help of the army; and the shelters erected were in each case furnished throughout. A dispensary was opened in charge of a nurse, and later of a doctor. A children's department under a French teacher of special training in industrial schools was established, with cooking classes for the girls, carpentry classes for the boys, and gymnastics for all. It is interesting to note that the cooperation of army officers was enlisted for these carpentry classes, and the actual teaching done by soldiers assigned by them for the purpose. The material used was largely the boxes in which supplies for the committee had been packed. The tables, chairs, and book cases made went either to the school, or to the boys' own homes.
There was a model dairy, from which fifty families were supplied with milk. Most important of all, there was a comprehensive agricultural programme commensurate with the richness of the soil, which yields normally three times the average crop per acre of that produced in other parts of France.
Besides the American Fund for French Wounded, the Aisne Dévastée and the Village Reconstitué were the only private agencies which had established themselves in the district. The function of the Village Reconstitué, here as elsewhere, was to erect the plant for the society distributing relief. There was need of this; for at the head of the Aisne Dévastée were two devoted women of the department, the one, Mme. Firino, having given over what remained of her chateau to the army, and the other, Mme. Houdé, being likewise a typical châtelaine of the north country---the châtelaine of a ruin. But Mme. Houdé was typical in another, more vital sense. Before the war she had taken the greatest interest in the welfare of her dependents. À friend who lived with her was a nurse. With her help she established gymnastic classes for a hundred young girls and boys of the village: She was concerned also about their manners and their morals, instructing classes herself in that greatest of all arts, the making of a home. It was inevitable that Mme. Houdé should have interested herself, after the invasion, not only in the welfare of her own people, but in that of the entire department. It was owing to her that the Aisne Dévastée was organized. In the early spring of 1917, it had been able to send emergent help to more than fifty communes. It had its workrooms, in the uninvaded departments, from which its storeroom in Paris was supplied. But it had not that most essential thing in the devastated area, transportation.
This lack, the American Red Cross and the American Fund for French Wounded, uniting in the Red Cross center at Soissons, did their best to meet. As more of the invaded territory was freed by the successive advances of the French army during the autumn, lack of personnel was another keenly felt want. Two members of the Blérancourt Unit, and two members of the staff of the American Red Cross, were therefore sent out as agents to report on the actual needs of the villages in the care of the Aisne Dévastée. In accordance with the findings of the visitors, the goods in the warehouse were distributed.
Other distributors of Red Cross relief were the Bishop of Soissons and his priests. From the latter came indirectly a touching appeal for help. It was brought by the Comtesse de Bigode, whose own chateau and village were laid in ruins, and whose husband, remaining for three years as mayor of the village during the German occupation, had been taken like so many, a hostage to Germany. But the Comtesse asked help only for the Bishop, who was "in complete need of everything for his clergy and had nothing with which to celebrate divine service---a black misery." Nor did he know where to turn for help, though he had come back to his ruined cathedral in Soissons to do what he could. The Bishop's equally touching thanks for the aid the American Red Cross gave belong here also. " With the sending of my receipt for the packages which you shipped me," he writes, "I consider it my humble duty to express to you my warm feelings of gratitude. I pray God, the source of all charity, to reward worthily those who, following his Holy Commandments, have compassion on their unfortunate brethren."
But this help was by no means given to the usual poor relief of the church. For instance, one village cure, using his head as well as his heart, found that his parishioners in need of the stoves and boilers furnished him by the American Red Cross for distribution, were anxious to pay for them. He therefore sold them on the installment plans netted ninety-five francs and reinvested this capital in articles the Red Cross did not carry in stock.
The sous-préfet and the mayors of the communes, as in the Pas-de-Calais, owing to the few agencies at work, had more put at their direct disposal in the Aisne than in the departments where the relief agencies were more numerous. Here, too, cooperation was excellent. One town received a carload of provisions which was unloaded by the school children and placed in the mayor's cellar awaiting his distribution. In another, Pommiers (Apple Orchards), where the mayor, an old man, was also the delegate of the Aisne Dévastée for the district, hot lunches were provided for the school children during the winter. Without this the children, many of whom walked two or three kilometres, could not have attended school. In another village, practically inaccessible to markets, an old woman was set up in a grocery store; a double form of help, giving her an income and the village a means of subsistence.
It becomes evident that toe work of the American Red Cross in the Aisne, centering as it did both investigation and supply in the warehouse organization at Soissons, and using so few outside agents, was the most personal of the four warehouse organizations already studied. It was the least formal, requiring no set federation, but preventing overlapping by this centralization. Yet it covered a wide territory, and already had another branch established at Château-Thierry, a hospital, and a chain of workrooms in process of formation when the spring drive came.
It abounds in personal incidents, such as that of the young girl who ran to embrace the visitor of the American Fund for French Wounded, thanking her for what she had done. "But," the visitor protested, "I have never seen you before." "No," was the reply, "for I was not here, but you did everything for my mother and my grandmother, and that is more than if you had done it for me." There was the poor old woman in Château-Thierry who pressed thirty francs upon the Red Cross delegate saying that she and some of the neighbors wished to give them as a contribution because the Red Cross had moved some sick friends of theirs from the danger zone to Paris. There was the small merchant whose house and store were destroyed by bombs, but whose household goods were rescued. "Say also," he writes, "to those gentlemen of the American Red Cross how grateful I am to them for having saved my cherished heirlooms. What the days to follow may bring, we do not know, but the remembrance of the kindly feelings you have evoked in us, will remain alive and be for us a precious comfort."
The Red Cross kept its economic end in view, to aid the producers, and primarily the agricultural producers, of the Aisne. It kept in touch also with those needs which are met only by personal interest. One is reminded of the ether dream of a certain soldier, who fancied that he of all living beings had survived the destruction of the world. Only he and God were left to survey the ghastly inferno of His once fair handiwork. So vivid was the dream, so horrible the sense of utter isolation, that the patient turned to the nurse: "I beg your pardon," he said, "but would you mind just touching my hand?" That personal contact is the most valuable gift that the Red Cross gave in the inferno of the Aisne.
OUR PRESENCE WITH THEM
ON March 21, 1918, began the German drive. It was not unexpected; all through the winter the thunder of guns shook the barracks and the ruins of the re turning refugees, who crept ever nearer to the lines. From Cambrai, St. Quentin, and the Chemin des Dames came daily rumors of advance or of retreat. Overhead the German aeroplanes increased their activities. Each month the moon, rising to the full, and lighting the earth with traitorous beauty, became more true to the name the poilus gave it, "La lune boche."
But no one anticipated the brutish strength of the German impacts least of all the British army, consolidating the new lines from Cambrai to St. Quentin which it had taken over from the French. It was just northeast of Ham, toward St. Quentin, that the British line gave way. Not two miles from this front was the outpost of a Friends' constructive unit; in like manner the Philadelphia Unit, only five miles back, was in full track of the German flood. At Rosières, at Nesle, at Grécourt, at Roye, the various relief units, isolated, without news except from the flying troops, placed all their resources of transport at the service of the civilian authorities and of the army, to evacuate the populace. With their protégés they kept just out of reach of the Uhlan cavalry. Down through Lassigny and Noyon swept once again the German army, confident of reaching Paris at last. Back before it fell the relief workers; from Noyon to Compiègne, from Compiègne to Senlis, and from Soissons at length to Château-Thierry, where the great drive stopped.
Meantime from the Paris office, the head of the Bureau of Reconstruction and Relief hurried northward, to take charge of the situation so far as the Red Cross was concerned. With him went also the head of the refugee service. From this point until the armistice on November 11th, the history of the activities of the American Red Cross is a history of emergent relief. In all the territory where it was working out its experiments of constructive service, its work was swept away, and the people for whom it labored joined the already vast army of homeless refugees.
The loss of property, of the home built like an island of coral by the patient toil of hundreds of years above the vicissitudes of fortune---again we have no conception of what its loss meant to the peasant of France. It was attachment to his home, his property, that had rooted him, immovable, in the path of the invader. He literally stayed until the last gun was fired. And even in his flight, behold him, encumbered with rabbits, chickens and pet canaries, or driving before him in the hurly-burly of bombardment, his sheep or his herd of cows. " I remember," said a French woman of letters already quoted, "a poor old woman (a refugee) whom I saw at the Gare du Nord; she had lost two sons at the front, suffered many miseries; she said to me: 'To suffer, to lose one's children, it is sad and it is hard, yet when one is at home, everything can be endured. But when one has to flee, to abandon his house and all that he has to the keeping of others, that is the worst of all."'
Like the American Red Cross, every relief agency turned its hand to the immediate need not only of the refugees but of the soldiers. For there were in the path of the German advance at this time as yet no regular delegates of the military department of the
American Red Cross, so unexpected had been the catastrophe. The warehouses, hastily emptied, went to the supply of the British, French or American armies, and whatever could not be utilized in this way was burned. One reads of night rides of Red Cross delegates over shell-swept roads to bring bandages to a first-aid dressing station installed in one of these warehouses. Our own men, the soldiers of the immortal Rainbow Division, were supplied with hot drinks and food at a wayside canteen. Italian soldiers of the Garibaldi command, wounded and lying upon straw, were given sheets and bedding and bandages. The evacuation of Reims and of Châlons taxed the transportation service. A military hospital at Beauvais, so desperately emergent that no Red Cross nurses could be gotten up in time, was taken charge of by the Smith College Unit. In like manner, the Philadelphia Unit drove its cars as ambulances behind the French lines. Other units, such as the American Committee for Devastated France, into which the civilian section of the American Fund for French Wounded had separated, were large enough to carry on both refugee and military aid. Soldiers' canteens, canteens for the harvesters who followed hard on the wake of the Allied advance, dispensaries, farm colonies, children's colonies and refugee committees in the uninvaded departments to which their delegates had accompanied the refugees indicate the wide scope of their work.
The holding of the Germans at Château-Thierry was succeeded, as all the world knows, by the victorious offensive of Marshal Foch. Everything bent to the grim final effort, and the civilian service of the American Red Cross with it. On the one hand, it enlarged its personnel and its supplies in the departments of the interior to serve the refugees. On the other, it shared its personnel, its stores and its warehouses with the military service of the Red Cross for the soldiers. These latter were no longer exclusively the poilus for whom the
Red Cross had labored up to this time. They were overwhelmingly, overpoweringly our own. In the trenches, in the hospitals, marching along the road or lying under the wooden crosses beside it, one saw them everywhere, our boys. America had come at last into the war.
With her advent on the front, there was not only a change in emphasis between the department of military affairs and the department of civilian affairs of the Red Cross. There was a corresponding change of organization. Instead of the centralization of authority in Paris which had existed up to the time of the drive, authority was now centralized in the field under a zone commander who controlled the activities of both military and civilian officers therein. The zones of control, furthermore, corresponded to the army zones into which all France had been divided. Warehouse space was shared, or military and civilian warehouses complemented each other in the same region. There could be no sharp demarkation between emergencies, civilian or military. It was a time to spare red tape and to meet the emergency. The health of children, the scourge of tuberculosis, merged into public health as affecting our army. The Children's Bureau was, therefore, detached from the Department of Civilian Relief, and placed in charge of the Medical and Surgical Department. Civilian sweaters and food supplies went for soldiers going into or coming out of action. Civilian units, such as the Smith College Unit and the various units of the American Fund for French Wounded ran military canteens, or took barge loads of wounded down the canals to the hospitals in Paris. Conversely, our soldiers became intensely interested in the needs of the civilians in the villages where they were billeted, insomuch that an entire new bureau of the Red Cross has been created to care for the orphans adopted by them.
The military development of the Red Cross, hastened by the catastrophes of the spring campaign, was, nevertheless, in the minds of the War Council from the beginning; the work of the civilians deriving much of its value from the fact that we were not at first able to put our alliance to effective use on the battlefield. Once we took our place in the line, however, our prime duty, to the Allies as well as to ourselves, was to our own military needs. The change, sudden as it was, was logical. The service of the American Red Cross in the devastated area, far from being a loss, was of direct military value both during its prosecution and during the retreat. The large programme of rehabilitation in which it played its part, was as much a measure of war as the maneuvers of the army. Like them, it was subject to defeat.
In the words of the head of the Bureau of Reconstruction and Relief, just before he left Paris to take charge of the danger zone: " On the second day of the great German offensive, when the communiqués plainly showed the gravity of the situation, the possibility of a second invasion, and the destruction of our work in the devastated region, this Bureau wishes to go on record as absolutely convinced that it has done too little rather than too much and that it intends to continue the work, whatever menace may be ahead, so long as the French civilians are allowed near the lines and so long as they are in need. It is not too much to say that the work of this Bureau has been the main reliance of those civilians in at least three French departments. If the work is to be wrecked, we can only bow to the fortune of war, but we want no one to think that we regret the presence of civilians in the zone or our own presence there with them, or to think that we count as lost one cent of money or one ounce of effort expended in their behalf."
Our presence with them, that is what counted. The sous-préfet of Compiègne said to our delegate there: "I shall never forget that you stood by us when everyone else had left." In spite of the German drive, in spite of military exigencies, to have kept in touch with his civilian co-laborers, such is the record of the American Red Cross delegate in the Oise. Most of the agencies there, dislodged and deflected as they were, are back in their old villages. Through the warehouse in Compiègne, the American Red Cross has been able to render them more valuable service this year than last. The vicissitudes, the losses shared together have made a stronger bond of union than could otherwise have been welded. New societies have come into the field. The American Red Cross itself at the first return of the civilians has opened a new service in a traveling dispensary.
The cardinal fact of the retreat, then, is this: That everywhere, in the Oise, in the Somme, and in the Aisne, where the lines of the armies were broken, the lines of the American Red Cross---those lines of mercy, of succor, of emergent service---held.
Chapter XIII. The Road to Verdun.
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