AMID the innovations of the present, the provisional house built of wood---itself an anachronism in a land long deforested---the tractor in place of white-yoked oxen, the McCormick binder, the mechanical sower in place of "La Semeuse," it seems as if the life of the past had fallen to ruin as surely as the houses of brick and wattle and the sentinel churches above them. Is it then unworthy or impossible of preservation, that life of before the war? Is there anything that we as a community center should do to preserve or restore it? At least we should understand what the social fabric was which the war destroyed.
Primitive it certainly was, and simple, and yet progressing with the progress of the times. In fact the country as we know it dates only from the Revolution. Then it was that the châteaux and the rich monasteries fell a prey to their former vassals, and then that for the first time the peasant became the arbiter of his person and the owner of his lands. This stir of change is apparent in a quaint description of our region contained in the "Histoire de la Ville de Roye" written by Gregoire d'Essigny, fils, and published at Noyon just a hundred years ago. "The inhabitants of our plains of Picardy," we read, "have nothing that distinguishes them from the usual French type; as to physique, the men are robust, the women, above all the young ones, have something pleasing about them,---in fact, villages can even be recalled where they are pretty as a rule; the Picard patois sometimes borrows grace from their lips.
"The French Revolution has brought among them a luxury which they never had before. In olden times, one used to see them take from their wardrobes on the days of great fêtes, the suit which they had for their marriage. It was usually of a grayish white stuff, cut very long skirted, with large pockets, and with buttons down the entire length, on the tabs of the pockets, and at the cuff. To-day our villagers desire their suits made in the latest mode, and of fine material; they add to them an elegant waistcoat, silver buckles at knee and at instep, and a French hat beautifully turned. (I am speaking of those who are in easy circumstances and of the costume which they wear on Sundays and fête-days.) The dresses of the women are not less affected: beautiful caps of muslin embroidered in wide folds, neckerchief of the same material, bodice and skirt of lovely chintz, with an apron of red India lawn or of black silk, a heavy cross and earrings of gold."
Alas! our peasants of to-day dress more soberly, but they have lost their distinctive costumes for the same reason; they too follow the fashions of the city in their Sunday best. But if their dress has deteriorated, their housing has improved. Our villages of substantial brick, of massive gateways, of patterned gables, of red-tiled roofs, were unknown a hundred years ago. In 1818, "earth, wood and straw or thatch suffice almost always for the construction of the cottages of our plains. The door, quite often, serves also as window; the area is almost never paved; sometimes it is made of brick, frequently it is merely earth, and not level at that."
Rustic fare was much the same as now. "When they can buy a pig, they fatten it and corn it; it is the chief part of their nourishment." Yet our author painstakingly notes that Picardy is perhaps the province of France where the most bread is eaten. "It is beautiful there, good and abundant. Their dinner and their supper," he continues, "consist principally of vegetables. Peas, string beans, kidney beans, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, are what they live on ordinarily. They eat a deal of soup, which is made with the vegetables and the pork; this diet is sensible and gives them strength. Our villagers drank formerly water, cider or beer. The relaxation of manners since the Revolution has multiplied in the country the number of those houses where a man comes to lose his powers through the abuse of wine, and often to ruin at the same time his health and his purse."
For unknown centuries, the farmers have grouped themselves in villages, isolated farms, except manorial estates, being rare. These villages in Picardy are very compact, for the reasons that land is valuable, and that it is parceled out to successive descendants. A contemporary village of the plains, then, recalls no such picture of cottages embowered in orchards, or half hidden by hedges, as one may see in more hilly or less broadly cultivated parts of France. It stretches often along an old Roman road, and presents flush with the street, doorsteps or shallow gardens, high walls, cavernous gates, and the sloping roofs of enormous granges where, not so many years ago, the harvest of wheat was threshed as well as stored. The gate opens into a square court, which is usually the barnyard. Within, each farmer is master of an integral domain.
The village church, in old times the nucleus of the village, more often than not forms an obstruction to the comparatively modern streets.
In such a village, "at the entrance to the church, surrounded by a wall, is found the ancient cemetery, where sleep their last sleep more than twelve generations of ancestors. . . . Facing the square, one admires the splendid schoolhouse. On the right of the entrance is found the lodging of the instructor, on the left, that of the instructress. The two classes [boys and girls], as indicated by the separate lodgings, are separated by a wall. A beautiful great garden, well planted, completes this magnificent property.
"On the first floor, giving on a balcony, is the office of the mayor. There is located also a town library containing serious works. It is there that the municipal council meets for its important deliberations, the bureau of charities, the tax-collector on the day appointed, the mutual benefit society, etc.
"At the opposite end of the square is seen the attractive structure for the fire brigade; in the wings of this, two pretty chambers for poor travelers in search of free lodgings.
"Near the church . . . one remarks a superb square planted along its edges with great lindens beneath which are placed at regular intervals benches for their tired admirers."(7)
Here on Sunday afternoons, the village bands were wont to play. Here was held each month the village fair, and here each year on the fête days of the village saint, the booths of petty merchants spread like mushrooms, and the strains of the merry-go-round made discord with the violins that called to the village dance.
One of our villages, Esmery-Hallon, was the possessor of a merry-go-round which not only served its own fêtes, but toured the fêtes of the countryside. It is to be doubted, however, if any of these were as recherché as Esmery's own, held in July for three days in honor of St. Vaneng. This saint of the seventh century was the founder of a monastery in Normandy whence the incursions of the Northmen drove the monks. They brought the relics of their saint to Esmery. To this day, after many vicissitudes, they repose there in the little gymnastic hall of the village now used as a church. In this same hall, with fragments of old wood carving and mutilated statues, is another relic of medieval life, the crimson banner of St. Sebastian, patron of archery. Nor is it inappropriate that the church should have found shelter in the gymnasium, nor that the sole remaining banner of the Company of Archers of Esmery-Hallon should float above the relics of St. Vaneng. In this most catholic Picardy, sports are under the patronage of the Church, from the Company of Archers with its five hundred years of history behind it, to the gymnastic society "La Valliante" founded by a schoolboy of the village for his former playmates under the patronage of M. le Curé in 1911.
In the Annuaire-Général du Département de la Somme of 1913, which gives the resources of each commune, Esmery-Hallon is thus listed: Esmery-Hallon, 903 inhabitants, canton of Ham, distant 6 kilometers; post-office and railroad at Ham; telegraph, telephone; Fête patronale, the third Sunday of July; annual fair, September 22. Then follows the list of dignitaries: the mayor, the municipal councilors, the secretary, the curé, the four teachers, the tax collector, the town crier, the Company of Pompiers, or volunteer fire brigade, and the Company of Archers. Hombleux could add to this list another ancient company, her fanfare, or village band.
It was Charles the Seventh who, in 1448, first organized the companies of archers as a branch of his army. Their meets were for the yeoman what the tourneys were for the knights. In order to be eligible, then as now, the candidate for the very noble and high sport of archery must be of good life and honest conversation. Then, every parish of fifty hearths throughout France was bound to furnish such a man for the King's army. To-day, the sport is confined to Northern France, where in 1914, there were ten thousand archers still wielding the bow. The companies in our villages, of which there are three, have thirty members each. Near the cemetery, usually, is the jardin au tir, or shooting ground, where the approved target is a paraquet or nightingale carved in wood. Here on Sunday afternoons practice the members of the company, and here are held meets between villages, or if the commune is wealthy and important enough, a yearly meet for all the companies of the Federation, called the Bouquet Provincial. At this event, a notable of the department serves as President of Honor, and Monseigneur the Bishop assists at the ceremony. Many prizes are distributed, and he who wins the grand prize is the King of the Archers for the ensuing year.
In Esmery, in Hombleux, and in Brouchy are to be found to-day the presidents of these companies of archers. But alas! the Germans have destroyed every bow and arrow; the uniforms, the banners, the targets, all are lost. The secretary at Esmery shows with pride a proclamation of a meet in the Oise in 1908, which he had saved among his buried treasures. "The companies shall arrive," begins this proclamation, "in good order, drum beating and banners deployed." It was all he had left of the annals of his company. A like destruction befell the musical instruments, which the Germans requisitioned and melted up, so that to the silence of the village bells, those loquacious chroniclers of village lite, has been added the silence of the bands. Offoy, Brouchy and Hombleux had such organizations, averaging, like the companies of archers, thirty members each. They were encouraged by the grands cultivateurs who subscribed an amount sufficient to cover the cost of instruments. Hombleux also had a choral society of boys and girls, trained by her gifted and public spirited curé. Nor must it be thought that those villages not having bands or archery meets of their own were necessarily less progressive. Douilly, Sancourt, Muille-Villette, appertained in culture to Ham, with its Company of Archers, its theater and its philharmonic. The same was true of our villages neighboring Nesle.
Economically, our villages were well off before the war. The wheat of a hundred years ago had not yet yielded first place to the sugar beet; the fertility of the land was unimpaired. One main line railroad, one of narrow gauge running through the market gardens, and two canals supplied transportation through Amiens, Noyon and St. Quentin to more distant centers. The sugar beet had brought in three distilleries and one refinery; at Esmery were a brewery and a pottery, and at Offoy a flour mill of the first class. There was a telegraph or a telephone in five of the villages, and electric lighting in an equal number radiating from Ham. Almost every one, everywhere, owned some land, if only a garden. Canisy, Offoy and Eppeville grew opulent on their market produce; of larger farms there were about a hundred and fifty. One of these, that of Lannoy, employed three hundred hands. As the teacher of Sancourt writes of his own commune: "Favored by a fertile soil, and progress aiding them, the population, very hard working, are always attached to the soil, and enriched by it. In 1914, thanks to the installation of electricity, almost every house had its current, certain farms used electric power, the streets themselves were lighted. In a word, this little commune was heading more and more toward progress, toward good fortune, man making use of the gifts of science, when unhappily there broke out this horrible catastrophe, the war."
And yet, so tenacious here are the customs of the ancestors, that one could perhaps find no better description of home life on the small farm than that given in the history of Roye already quoted: "The cultivation of the land is the principal occupation of the inhabitants of our countryside. The fields are fertile. Every one toils. The men work, sow, harvest, stack, thresh and sell the grain; the women clear the fields of harmful weeds. They may be seen, any day in summer, carrying on their backs a load of these plants which they give to the cattle.
"In the good season, the air echoes continually with the shrill songs of these gatherers of herbs; they set their voices at the highest pitch, and yet these voices are not always without some harmony. They sing the old tales or Picard ballads, charmingly naïve. . . .
"In the winter, when the earth is stripped of its verdure, and when one can no longer gather greens, in the winter evenings, called watches, when the women of Picardy spin the flax, there is presented a spectacle truly picturesque. It is cold; the days are short; the night begins to fall; several families gather together in a room or in a cellar. There can be seen maidens, each with her wheel before her, her lover leaning on the back of her chair. In time to the turning wheel, each person narrates what he knows; the stories which pass from father to son are recounted. All eyes are fixed on the narrator and reflect the greatest interest. Often, to make a diversion, the sharp voices of the young villagers strike up together an old tune, or sing a carol.
"If among the men present at this gathering, there chance to be some soldier on leave, you will hear him speak in pompous terms of the campaigns which he has made; you will see him too trace in chalk the camps upon the walls."
One might add to this idyll, the twentieth-century picture drawn by M. l'Abbé Maurisse of his parishioners in a village only a few miles from ours: "This locality is inhabited by a substantial race of cultivators and their farm hands who have not degenerated in the least from their ancestors. Look at these good and energetic masters; look also at these servants driving their heavy carts, or seated upon their harvesters like kings upon their throne, or watering their horses; see these hands spread the fertilizer, hoe the poppies and the sugar beets; on Sunday and above all on fête days, see them at church, or in the afternoon at tennis, and in the evening at the cabaret. They converse, and the discourse is rude, the phrasing brusque, the word not at all shy of the thing, the buoyant gayety a little gallic, the repartee modest, and the invective energetic,--behold such are our rustics. . . . They have, none the less, imprinted on their features, courage and kindness. Has it not been said that under the hat of a peasant is often found the counsel of a prince?"(8)
EVEN more important for us as agents of rehabilitation is it to understand the methods used to destroy, and the effect of the destruction, of this social life of Northern France. What of the morale? In what temper do the thrice-tried refugees face the realities of reconstruction, and how will it mold their future? If we know that, we shall know how to continue for their good the influence of the "new little Smith College" we sent in 1917 to the Somme.
From the door of his ruined home, the teacher of Sancourt looked across to the ruined church. A camionette belonging to the Unit was drawn up in the irregular little square. He had just brought out a basketful of books from the tiny school baraque, to be exchanged, and stood a minute talking. "Yes," he was saying, "our church was built in the thirteenth century. The Germans took away the bells in February, 1917. Before that , they used to ring for German victories. No, Sancourt has not suffered so much, only six of her soldiers killed, and property destroyed. But it is morally that we have endured the greatest losses: the pealing of those bells, the privation of no news from our families, from our soldiers, the humiliations which the enemy inflicted, repeated summons, forced labor, fines, confiscation of crops, carrying away of civilians as prisoners, and to crown all, the burning of our village and all that it contained."
From the Baron de Thézy of Lannoy and Breuil, from Hombleux and Buverchy, from all our villages one hears the same estimate of the common loss. It was the soul of the community, as well as its body, that the Germans had aimed to destroy. In Hombleux, after recounting their many hardships, even to the taking of their curé as a hostage, the most poignant lament is for the carillon of the church, "poor émigrés." "Sound, Anne, Marie, Pélagie," writes the curé's sister, calling the bells by their baptismal names, "sound the last note for all those whom thou hast gathered in this way to baptism, and conducted to the grave. Sound for all the times that thou hast sung and for all the hopes that thou hast blessed!"
The Mayor of Buverchy says: "The hamlet of Buverchy, the ancient site of the city of Caletot, will rise anew . . . but it is not in it to recover its old time habits of gayety, to fête its Patron at Assumption in its chapel of Notre Dame de Lourdes, to-day entirely demolished amid its graves and tombs overthrown by shells."
This same Mayor of Buverchy was himself a hostage in the north of France and in Belgium. His wife, who became mayor in his place, contrasted one day the flight of the village in 1917 and in 1918. "In 1917, one had more, one was taken away in a wagon and could save a little linen, not much, but some pieces of good linen, and I my husband's records. I would rather have lost everything of my own than those papers. But in 1918,---fancy,--one got away on foot. There were those who had sons, or a horse, but I had only my daughter of thirteen. I started with her and a wheelbarrow. On it were the town records.
"You remember M.-----?" (a suspected spy, who had disputed the office of mayor with her). "He had three horses of his own and besides that the horse and wagon allotted to the village. (He had not been home two days before he got that away from me.) He saved everything, as in 1914, all his bedding, his mattresses, his linen, his furniture. And never a place for any of us. I went to him to ask if I could put the town records in the cart, the cart, mind you, that belonged to all the commune. 'Madame,' he said, 'what would you? The cart is full; save them yourself!' I have told this to several people, and they told me to write to M. le Préfet,---but I am only a country woman, I have not written.
"So, I put the papers on the wheelbarrow, and asked the English soldiers along the road to help me. But all the lorries were loaded, they could not help. I walked to Rosières; at Rosières I turned toward Guillancourt. Every one said, 'Trains no longer running; turn back.' I met M. le Sous-préfet; he said the same, 'Turn back.' I turned, I passed through I know not what towns and villages; my legs became so swollen I could hardly travel. I abandoned the wheelbarrow. Oh, Mesdemoiselles, I slept at the station in Amiens one night in the height of the bombardment; I slept in other stations; I walked eight days. At the end of that time, I slept a whole day without waking, and when a kind woman told me there was a bed, and would I not like to lie in that, I did not understand her.
"In the Interior, what did I do? I worked in a cotton factory, for the army. One must live. Not one gift did I ever have from any one, not a chemise, not so much as a pin. An ungenerous people, who do not understand! But they think they work hard at their bit of a garden, or vineyard. They have not the heavy labor all the year round of the North.
The North, Mesdemoiselles, is the most interesting part of all France. I have come to travel during the war, and I see it. It has in its five departments the riches of all the rest of France together. But we here have not the easy life they have. One crop succeeds another. You see that the harvest is now finished. Next it will be potatoes and after them the beets. Oh, the beets! the refineries at Moyencourt, at Hombleux, at Ercheu, at Ham! It is a labor to tire both man and beast, that culture. Then too, there is the winter sowing; always the toil and never the time to take a walk for pleasure or see the world!
"Yet, we were well fixed here in Buverchy, with the Canal du Nord carrying coal from the mines to Paris, and the railroad from Noyon to Nesle."
A neighbor interrupted for some errand. "She too was taken prisoner," resumed Mme. Carpentier, "with her daughter. Yet never a day did they work. Why? Simply because the Germans waged a second war in taking the civilians capable of work away from France. I used to tell them sometimes---three and a half years they were here---: 'War is a conflict between soldiers. Ours are at the front to fight you. But we, the civilians in the rear, all we ask is to cultivate our fields and remain in our homes; we are no part of the war.'
"But they considered us just that. They set us to work in corvées. And while the harvesters got pay---two and a half francs here and five at Lannoy-my husband, being mayor, got not a sou. It was always, night and day, knock, knock on the door. 'M. le Maire?' 'Make this list.' 'Give me this information.' 'Post this order.' The worst was, one never knew what to expect. One woke in the morning with the thought, 'Oh, that this day was over!' One went to bed at night wondering, 'What will happen next?' Young girls routed out at three o'clock in the morning to cut willows in the marshes, standing in the water up to their knees all day long; requisition this, requisition that, fines, regulation of crops,---that is not war.
"Then, too, we had our own refugees to harbor, and no place to put them, with soldiers billeted everywhere. And not having breadthe Germans never would give us bread,---and had it not been for the Spanish-American Commission(9) what would have become of us? I myself went out and showed them my own garden of beautiful potatoes, and told them it was free to every one.
"Oh, those days! And then, one night, knock, knock; and the prisoners must be collected then, in the middle of the night, and sent, one knew not where. . . . One can recount, one can recount, but only those who have passed through it understand!"
Mme. Carpentier spoke for the civilian refugees, those sheep before the storm, three times driven from their homes. In August, 1914, we see them thus fleeing the approach of the enemy, leaving their cattle in the fields, their harvests in the barns, taking the road with thousands like them, farther, always farther, toward the south. We see them, left behind by the retreat of the English and the French, bewildered, halted by the advancing enemy, and finally turning north again through the German lines. We see them, in 1916, huddled in the mud and rain, in the courtyard of the Château of Ham---that dungeon which looked down on the betrayal of Jeanne d'Arc---awaiting the first shipment. of civilian prisoners to Germany. We see them in 1917 suffering a wholesale deportation---from Esmery-Hallon alone went on that winter night 420 persons---and in March the remnant driven from their burning homes. We see them again a year later, in the saddest, most hopeless of exiles, dispersed family from family among strangers none too eager to receive them in the interior.
But what of the civilian prisoners themselves? From our villages, 1,800 of these were taken. Some, like the mayor of Buverchy, spent their days in Belgium or in Northern France, a manufacturing country, without tilled gardens. They ate fodder beets, leaves, potato tops, anything to keep alive, and many died. Others were detailed to the German army itself, and made trenches, emplacements, or roads for the artillery. They came back, many of them, with the German army, to their own villages in the spring of 1918. Twenty-five thus saw the ruins of Hombleux, from a German prison camp and worked in her streets. One boy of Canisy was just across the river in Ham, and watched the bombardment of his village while he laid tracks for the guns. Meantime, his mother, his lame father and his sisters, together with thirty of his neighbors, were starving for three days in the cellars there, and were then sent north by the victors, prisoners too.
Refugees, civilian prisoners, there is still one. other class of exiles to chronicle, the soldiers with the colors. Six hundred of them marched away to the sound of the drum and the ringing of bells in the summer of 1914. One hundred and fifty fell for France on the field of honor and ten died in German prison camps. For three and a half years, these men fought without news of their families; the majority of them never saw kith or kin until after the Armistice. Ask any one of them now where he fought, and he will say simply, "Everywhere." But through all their campaigns, on the Marne, in Champagne, along the Yser, in the Somme itself, there sounds like a thunder, Verdun. Yes, our men were there; thirty-two months, said one, in the artillery, and another decorated for bravery at the recapture of Fort Vaux. Yes, as Mme. Carpentier said: One can recount, one can recount, but only one who has been on the hills of that Golgotha, that Place of Skulls and of Calvaries unnumbered, can understand.
How did the families of this dispersion find one another, and why did they come back? In some cases through the records of the refugee bureaus at the gateways of the frontiers, in some by watching day after day at crossroads, in some by chance, in some by the coöperation of German captors, the scattered families assembled. But not all. Our villages mourn one hundred dead during the evacuations, and fifty who have disappeared.
They came back by instinct, by habit, to their plains. "Ah, the Somme! the love of the morsel of soil one possesses, where one has always lived, that is the most tenacious thing in these poor, dislodged souls. Even when they know that their home no longer exists, that of their village there remains nothing but a hideous upheaval, they still hope to collect some of the fragments, to reconstruct in better fashion; in fine, to recover their land where bit by bit, they will piece together again the memories which are the fragments of their lives."(10)
And with the help of the men, of German prisoners---of whom last summer there were forty-odd thousand working in the Somme---they are rebuilding the ruins, reëstablishing the economic life. A month after the Armistice, sixty souls were already living in our villages. As new arrivals met in the streets, they kissed one another with the salutation, "Bon Courage!" That was in the winter, in the first shock of the devastation. But the words echo down all the months.
Courage! Said the oldest inhabitant of Sancourt, a man of over eighty, last summer: "I wish I were younger, perhaps forty, so that I could take part in this rebuilding of the land, and see it done. But to each his turn." Said the Préfet of the Department in addressing a congress of the mayors of all the communes, about that same date: "Gentlemen, take courage, have patience. . . . Firmness of purpose and tenacity of action are the virtues which the sons of Picardy should have from their inherited soil, which gives not up its secrets save to those who wrest them away with desperate toil.
"Your clear valleys shall regain the calm and the freshness of other days; your plains, appeased, liberated, shall take pride in their riches, and your houses, rejuvenated, shall shelter the laughter of your children, of whom your sufferings will have been the ransom.
"And on that day there shall remain no other trace of the passing of war through the land of Picardy than the honor, the imperishable honor, of having paid by its unmerited wounds, the price of the salvation of France."
That day is far in the future. But among the ruins, the tapestry of life is being rewoven to-day in colors as lovely as those that adorned once in this same Picardy, the Field of the Cloth of Gold. It is a hot day in summer; the light is strong on the naked walls of Ham; dust powders the trees that still cast a shade along the esplanade by the canal; dust swirls from the clanging engines that carry away the débris. But suddenly, through the clangor, one is aware of laughter, of a cadence hummed, and of feet keeping time to it. A bridal procession is coming down the street! Behold the groom in soldier blue, and the bride in her fair white veil; behold the troupe that marches happily behind them, behold youth and happiness and love reborn.
Another pageant, on another day, a windy Sunday in September, winds through these same streets. It is the children of a dozen communes, marching to their confirmation, the girls in bridal veils, the boys crowned with white chaplets, a hundred and sixty of them. Our children are there, our villagers are there, banking in the flowing stream with somber borders of black; for, as M. le Curé says, "We all bear in our heart, is it not true? a gaping wound from the war." On up the street winds the procession, singing shrilly, following the one splash of gorgeous color, the crimson-belled miter of the Bishop of Amiens. To the ruined church of Notre Dame they march, and up the steps. The Bishop paused and turned to the crowd in the street. His jeweled crozier towered above the golden miter, a gold embroidered stole flanked his rich vestments, his face was worthy of its splendid setting.
He spoke, quite simply, of the usage of patience, of toil, of regularity, of law. He entered, and the crowd entered after him. Overhead was the vaulted sky, for organ, the wind and the rain. But in the choir, like a panel of Bellini, sat in state the Bishop, and his canon in ermine, and M. le Curé, gray-haired, his black cap on his knee.
THERE are many ways of measuring what the Smith College Relief Unit in the Somme has accomplished. There is the way of statistics, of the number of dollars raised and expended, of the personnel engaged throughout two years and a half upon civilian relief, of the number and kinds of articles distributed during that time. Such compilations may be found in treasurers' reports, or in monthly statements. There is the way of audits, official endorsements, citations. These also are in the Unit archives and have already become a heritage to the College. But there is another way in which to test the success of the Smith College Unit. Mrs. Harriet Boyd Hawes, in her message to the alumnæ before she sailed, said:
"To make the French glad we came, that is what we must work for. The most efficient charity organization is a failure if it cannot qualify by this test. And when people tell me they do not approve of our going as a unit, since they can see good only in centralized effort, I think, 'Ask the French'; ask them whether they prefer to be helped by a central bureau, or whether they like the personal touch of friends living with them, learning first-hand their needs, doctoring their ailments, sharing with them and making their heroism known to a world eager to show homage to it in gifts. Ask the French, and we of the Smith Unit will accept their decision."
It needs only one testimony of many to prove the answer, that of M. Lemaire, Mayor of Grécourt. Three years a prisoner, having been taken to Belgium as hostage for his village, he heard when he came back through Amiens in 1918, that be need have had no anxiety about his family, "for," said the official in charge of refugee records, "a committee of Dames Américaines has been looking out for them." This summer, "M. Lemaire's eldest daughter, Giselle, made her first communion. Her father and mother invited the Unit to coffee after the service. The family are living in two patched-up shacks and a semi-cylindrical Nissen hut in the courtyard of their old farm. In the hut, they had set a table, where places were laid for them and for us. Giselle, looking like some medieval saint, her eyes hollowed with fasting, sat at the head, her father at the foot. Her mother, her aunt, her little sister, and an apple-cheeked old lady in a white cap, "who was the first person to dress Giselle at her birth," and we, completed the circle. White wine, four different sorts of small cakes, a baked custard, and coffee commemorated what M. Lemaire, referring to his own communion, called "the happiest day of my life." His greatest fear during his years of exile had been lest he should not be released in time to see Giselle's. And when at last, with healths and congratulations, the party was over, he rose and made a little speech, explaining that we had been asked because they considered us their family for all we had done for Grécourt. "We only wish," he said, "that we might better express our gratitude."
But it is we as a Unit, we as representatives of Smith College, who should with more reason express our gratitude for what Grécourt has done for us. In that imponderable debt, there need figure no lack in transportation, no non-existence of supplies, no lagging of material fact behind the ideal plan. The only limitations to that high experience were the limits of comprehension, of endeavor, of fellowship, set by our own personalities. Such failures, our College, eager to honor us, will fortunately overlook. There remains to us as individuals and as a Unit, a priceless memory of spiritual horizons limitless as the sky of stars and moon and sunsets above our spacious plains.
Would that we, who were sent by you "for a dream's sake," O Alma Mater, might bring you back from those fields of glory, a tithe of what is your own! And yet, here again, who shall measure for the College the force of this our tradition of the Great War? In 1917, Dean Comstock bade the Unit the gracious Godspeed: "In thinking of the various influences which will affect the tone of our next college year, I can find none upon which we can rely more surely for an inspiration to steady, cheerful work, to right feeling, to sane, intelligent thinking than the unseen presence of the members of our Unit. Never in their busiest undergraduate days, never in their later successes, will they have been more truly and vitally and helpfully present in Northampton than during their days in France."
It was through its sponsor, the Alumnæ Association, that the Unit became a nucleus, behind which stood Smith College, "a Unit too." The home organization in its early days was very simple. The first circular sent to the alumnæ on behalf of the Unit mentions as officers only the Director of the Unit and the Secretary and Treasurer. It was not until Commencement, 1917, that the alumnæ body formally assumed the responsibility of the Unit, and appointed a Committee of six members of which Mrs. Helen Rand Thayer was chairman. In addition to the Committee, there was a shipping agent, also an alumna, in New York, and a publicity department ready made in the Alumnæ Secretary and the Alumnæ Quarterly in Northampton. Throughout the United States, the forty-two Smith Clubs, linking from coast to coast, became centers in their turn of publicity, and furnished the sinews of war. Loyal alumnae of Japan and the Philippines were eager to contribute. In these clubs, thousands of garments were made and stockings knitted, first for the Unit, and later for the pooled supplies of the Red Cross.
On the other side of the ocean, in Paris, the central Committee had also its delegated committee, of which Mrs. Harriet Bliss Ford was the chairman, so that the Unit was not cut off from its source of inspiration and of authority. It shared the heavy responsibilities of decision, and benefited by the counsel of one peculiarly fitted, by her position in the American Red Cross, her knowledge of French policies, and her standing with the alumnae at home, to advise.
In the College itself, the undergraduates were quickly drawn into the circle of fellowship. In October, 1917, the Committee organized the first, but by no means the last, rally for the Unit. The undergraduates expressed their gratitude by an immediate pledge of $4,641. That refreshing pamphlet, "War Activities of Smith College," issued by the Student War Board in June, 1919, narrates that "many a Freshman at Christmas time displayed a ringless finger and told a bewildered family that 'we sent the money instead to the Unit,"' and that "on November 7, 1917, we proudly hung from College Hall a service flag for the Unit, containing seventeen stars."
From that time until June, 1918, the war activities of the College, centering about the S. C. R. U., as the Smith College Relief Unit is fondly nicknamed, grew. The original Committee expanded into a War Service Board of thirteen members and appropriate sub-committees. Through the Smith Clubs, an organized drive for money apportioned by quota, was successfully, carried out, not only for the original Unit, but for the Smith College Canteen Unit, the Smith College Refugee Unit, and the Smith College Near East Unit. The service flag blazoned in all two hundred and ninety-six names.
For the patriotism of the College overflowed the bounds of its own special Units and Committees. From the days when its alumnæ founded the College Settlement in New York until now, Smith has stirred with a pioneer spirit for social service. And the Unit, in the eyes of its founders, was never conceived as an end in itself. Before it was even indorsed by the alumnae, it had sent out two representatives "to present the plan to other women's colleges." "We hope," states the first circular, "that other women's colleges will form similar units and that eventually a service will grow up as useful in its way as the American Ambulance Service, as creditable to our country and as valuable in tradition to our colleges."
Out of this hope emerged two movements, the Association of Intercollegiate Alumnae closely affiliated with the War Service Board of Smith, which recommended two hundred and thirteen college graduates for posts with the American Red Cross, and the Young Men's Christian Association; and the score of units from women's colleges which went to France under the American Red Cross. Among those units with which Smith College was privileged to advise were the Barnard Unit, the Vassar Unit, the Goucher College Unit, the Leland Stanford Unit, and the Wellesley Unit. It is true that the exigencies of war dispersed the personnel of these units abroad until after the Armistice. But they were fulcrums of enthusiasm and of support in each of their several colleges, and as such of value not only to the colleges but to the Red Cross which approved them.
After the Armistice, three of the Units began, where we too began over again, the rehabilitation of allotted territories under the French Government, independent of the American Red Cross. In point of time, we were again the pioneers. But we were closely followed by the Barnard Unit of five members, which went as a direct representative of the Ministry of the Liberated Regions, to Marcoing and its group of destroyed villages about Cambrai on the Hindenburg Line. The third was the Vassar Unit, which merged itself with a French committee charged with the care of the returning refugees of Verdun. The fourth and youngest was the Wellesley Unit at Lucy-en-Bocage, on the hills above Château-Thierry, Hill 204 and Vaux.
In Esmery-Hallon there is a garden where in the summers before the war five hundred roses bloomed. Of the house, formerly embowered in vines, only jagged walls and the frames of windows and doors remain. But the window ledges are set with brass shell cases, polished and filled with flowering plants, and the garden, seen through the apertures, glows with scent and color. They are not roses, those gorgeous flowers, but stately dahlias and delicate petunias. The rose bushes, newly grafted, will bloom in years to come a thousand fold. But they will share the glory of that garden with those later comers, whose seeds the war has wafted thither with returning refugees from the gardens of Carcassonne.
Again, for the seed which we have scattered, how shall one calculate the harvest? A few months, and the Units themselves will be nothing but names in the little communities they have lived among. In one way or another, their work will be given over to those who can best carry it on, the French. But each community assures us that those names will be handed down to future generations, to be to them also an heirloom and a tradition. Such, no less than destruction, are the imperishable fruits of the Tree of War.
This we know, that whatever traditions gather about the Smith College Relief Unit, here or there, they will be derived from the spiritual heritage bequeathed by Sophia Smith to the College of which it is an offshoot. As her adviser, John M. Green, interpreted her trust, "It was usefulness, happinesss and honor that the College was to furnish to women." It was to be "a developing instrument designed to enable women more effectively and freely to assume their share in the decisive affairs of an ever-changing world."
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