"UNLESS he happened to be in Europe early in August, 1914, it is quite impossible for an American to picture to himself the opening tragedy of war in a country having universal military service. Novels, the accounts of eyewitnesses, moving pictures, have all tried to give some idea of the scene; but it is so utterly removed from anything in our national experience that an American would have to be made over again before he could grasp all that was implied to the French by the words 'General Mobilization.' It reached out into every city, village, and home, taking with one fell swoop all that was most precious there. The suddenness of the act, the violence of the change, was followed by an appalling silence which remains for me my most poignant memory of Paris. Everybody was outwardly calm, but it was the tense calmness of one who says, 'Whatever happens I must hold on to myself.' Regiments going to the railway stations marched through the streets for days; except for the blare of their trumpets there was not a sound. Men who knew they would be shortly called went about their preparations without any seeming emotion, their women folks quietly aiding. It was like some oft-repeated experience for which everybody was prepared. And then that desolate stillness fell upon the empty streets. It was the same in every town or village, and in the burning heat of the harvest fields the absent men and horses left a gap that had its counterpart in every anxious soul that remained.
"It seemed incredible to my wife and me that we had no personal stake in all that was happening about us. Some of our servants had been taken, the older men and the women alone remaining; in other ways our home went on for a little while as it did before. But no diplomatic immunity could protect us from the horror of it all; it did not even seem right that we only should be spared.
"But action soon came to relieve the tenseness of our feelings, and there was immediately much to be done. My office had to be reorganized to meet the emergency, and the first needs were filled by army officers who had been attending government schools in France and by volunteers from the Americans living there. Thousands of our compatriots began to arrive at the chancery, asking for advice and help, while the mails were loaded with similar appeals. It was the height of the tourist season, and upon the declaration of war, from every quarter of Europe whence they could escape, travelers poured into Paris on their way to the channel ports of France and England. Their experiences and their real hardships during the journey have been often described. They expected that their troubles would be over when they reached Paris, when in fact they had often only begun. Train service was everywhere disorganized by the requirements of mobilization, busses and private automobiles had been requisitioned, taxis became scarce, hotels began to close, the whole mechanism of modern life was topsy-turvy. And they had no money and could get none.
"Even men in the highest official positions found themselves helpless. Take Monsieur Jusserand's case. He was in Paris on leave and his government was most anxious for him to return to Washington. He was trying to reach Havre and sail, and all he could find was one automobile for himself, his wife, servants, and baggage. One of the first things I had done was to take over for my embassy large numbers of American-owned cars. The proprietors were only too willing, as in this way their motors escaped requisition
I gave to Monsieur Jusserand a car, he went to Havre, crossed to England, and finally sailed incognito with false passports. All this seemed unbelievable in August, 1914!
"The most pressing thing, therefore, so far as my compatriots were concerned, was to find a way to get them money. For no bank would cash their checks, however good, and naturally they clamored, often angrily, always loudly. They could not understand. They had money on deposit, they were neutrals, they only wanted to go home, why were they prevented?
"I appealed to the French government, I addressed the banks, I consulted Harjes. Everywhere the answer was polite, the explanation simple but firm: 'We are at war. No money can be taken out of the country. We regret the inconvenience caused your people but the Germans, not we, are to blame. They secretly precipitated this war and without the smallest warning. We will do all we can, but the nation's life is at stake and we are sure you will understand the gravity of our situation.'
"Then Harjes came to me with a scheme which eventually settled this difficulty. Like all good solutions it was eminently simple. It was evident that the French government would soon be buying large supplies in America, and to pay for them they would need credits in New York. If there were no credits existing, we could suggest to the French to hand over francs to Morgan Harjes; they would use these to pay the checks of Americans on their home banks, and then J. P. Morgan in New York would credit the French government with an equivalent sum. That would help all parties and injure none. Harjes learned through the Rothschilds that the government had no funds in New York; then, armed with my approval, he went to the Minister of Finance with his plan; it was approved, the francs advanced, and our people were enabled to draw money from their home banks. They could pay their hotel bills---a matter which had caused great hardship all round---and their passage to America, whenever ships became available.
"Meantime, the Tennessee, or as she got to be called, the Gold Ship, had been made ready at home and was started off with a number of paymasters and a cargo of gold destined to relieve Americans stranded in Europe. I cabled Washington that entirely satisfactory arrangements had been made in Paris, and could doubtless be imitated in London and elsewhere, for meeting the wants of our countrymen, and that this ship was not necessary. But she was sent just the same, probably to appease the clamor of the press, which was filled with stories of our abandoned citizens. There is never any use in trying to force the government to do things when normal, private agencies can attend to them; but a government, even more than an individual, is peculiarly sensitive to criticism about some matters and is obliged at times to protect its reputation at any cost.
"I had known Hermann Harjes fairly well, but his cooperation with me in this matter was the beginning of an association which, from that moment on till his untimely death, was to bring me valuable assistance in the many problems which confronted my office. Harjes was neither emphatic nor suave in his way of talking. He had a rather hesitating way of submitting to your consideration his idea, even if it was a matter which he knew all about. I never saw greater modesty, a finer kindliness, a more ardent desire to serve. There were strong character and high-class ability behind this gentle exterior. I not only liked him but I admired him. He rendered great service to me, to America, and to France during both my terms as ambassador.
"Then the matter of passports arose. Every foreigner in France was at once asked by the police to show his. No Americans had any---none needed any except to go to Russia or Turkey. (Imagine the happy days when nobody needed to have a passport!) After conferring with the Foreign Office, we got up a form of certificate, had large numbers printed, and we issued them to all those who could in any reasonable manner prove their American citizenship. It was a tedious, delicate, and difficult job.
"The moment general mobilization was decreed, I realized that we were going to have a million unexpected things to do and that my staff would need all the help that it could get. I have a great respect for official action and official men, but if there is anything slow under the sun, it is a government. It is partly habit, partly fear, and chiefly politics that inspire the fear. Government officials are generally just as efficient and ready to work as other citizens, and frequently they are more self-sacrificing; but how often is there shilly-shallying about giving immediate orders, in the dread of reproof, or for fear that someone will turn up to say it isn't legal or that Senator So-and-So will surely make a row. The American people love their government, but most of them prefer private enterprise whenever it can be made to do the work, and I share that view.
"And so I determined to supplement the official agencies then at my command by volunteers chosen from capable business men, and on August 2nd I called a meeting at my house and organized a committee. Judge Gary was appointed chairman, Harjes, secretary, with the following as members: Laurence V. Benét, W. S. Dalliba, Charles Carroll, Frederick Coudert, James Deering, Chauncey Depew, William Jay, Frank B. Kellogg, Percy Peixotto, Valentine Blacque, and Henry Priest. I don't think that any man could ask for a better list if there was work to be done and organization to be effected. They first established a program: (a) Create gold credits with local banks so that Americans could cash their checks or draw on letters of credit; (b) raise a fund to extend financial aid to destitute Americans; (c) obtain rail and ship transportation for Americans desiring to go home; (d) consider the best means to protect American property and life.
"Any American can easily imagine what it meant to me to have such men at my disposal and the vast burdens they took off my hands while at the same time furnishing me with expert advisers to whom I could go with any problem when I wanted help. I read one morning in the newspapers that a second committee had been formed by Bishop Hamilton and Senator Fletcher. I therefore invited these two gentlemen to come and see me. I told them of the other committee, saying that its immediate concern was to raise $25,000 but I was sure if they would assume that part of the task, my committee would be happy to turn it over. At the end of our talk I asked them to go and see judge Gary and Mr. Kellogg at the Ritz and combine efforts. They promised to do it, so I telephoned the judge. He replied, 'That's all right, send 'em along. We'll make it fifty thousand dollars instead of twenty-five.'
"What a treat to have to do with men like that!"
Writing to his children August 9th, the ambassador thus described events then occupying him:
"The embassy is now filled with a staff and committees which I have organized. The ballroom is a big office, and the details that I don't write would make a book larger than Farm Credits, a book of history, but also scenes which are heartbreaking. . . .
"Your mother has many American women in her committee which has raised a substantial fund for the Hospital....
" So far there seem to have been no mistakes of importance and we have the whole situation in hand and organized. The people often say these days 'What would we now do if we did not have the big embassy where thousands come?' All night the army wagons and soldiers march past the house along the Cours-la-Reine, and gay Paris is another city. The wounded are now beginning to arrive from the front and the brilliant life is gone. I wonder when it will return....
"The days pass in rapid succession, full of the greatest care of my life, I should say our lives, for your mother has her place and is fine and level-headed. I am glad to have the chance to be of value and I am surprised that I have been able to do so much that counts, but it does count every day....
"Every minute is full of interest and every day is a month or a year in events. This war is destined to prove our argument on a merchant marine, that in case of a general European war we might have an abundance of food supplies but no ships in which to carry them.
"The Department is fine in its attitude toward me. Takes advice and grants at once requests. This crisis also proves that an ambassador must have friends in order to accomplish his plans; also, in a crisis, must have an embassy.
"I wonder when Sharp will come. As soon as I can leave after he arrives, I want to take a Rip Van Winkle sleep."
I add here another letter to his son, dated August 26, 1914, as it gives a good picture of the ambassador's most intimate thoughts as to the events then passing. Before quoting it, this seems a good place to say that I have never known Mr. Herrick under any circumstances, big or little, to write something which he thought would sound well for posterity or find a place in that book which, already, he was being urged to write. This was not any conscious rule of conduct, and I never heard him mention the subject; it was simply something which it never occurred to him to do. Not a trace of this foible can be found in any of his personal or official correspondence.
"These are serious days! I cannot begin to give you the history of events from day to day. There is not time enough, nor space. I can only say that we are handling the situation as best we can. My great care now is to get the Americans out of Europe. I have made arrangements for trains to bring them out of Switzerland, and the government here is assisting me both as regards train service and boats; in fact, is doing everything in a most splendid way.
"I do not like the news from the front, which is very meager, but an invasion from the north would not find me unprepared, and I prefer to have as many of our people as possible away from here.
"Our problem now is 'the Americans.' Then, of course, we have charge of the interests of Germany, Austria, and many other things besides. There are many things appearing in the newspapers at home which disturb the French, and it keeps one thinking all the time to have things adjusted and agreeable. Thus far we have been successful, and our motives have been understood, since we have nothing to conceal and our actions are perfectly straightforward.
"I would like to have your mother go home now and I have talked with her about it; but that is out of the question, for she will not go without me. I could get her off on the France on September 5th. Since everything is packed up, and our house is an information bureau, railway and steamship office, there is little home life for us. I spend my days at the chancery, and practically the nights also; but I am in excellent health, and as long as I feel that I am performing service---and this I feel that I am doing with the splendid assistance of the embassy committee, army officers, etc.---I am content.
"I am so glad that you and Agnes are not here, and that you are safe at home with the dear little ones.
"This morning I attended the funeral services for the Pope at Notre Dame. All the ambassadors and ministers were present. It would seem now that before my time for going arrives the direction of events will be determined. While I am loath to leave by reason of the warm attachment of those who have served with me so faithfully through this crisis, yet when we are once aboard ship, our faces turned homeward, it will be a happy day.
"I note what you say about the newspapers. It looks to me as though America must be very prosperous in the very near future, but it will take generations to rebuild what has been destroyed, and to reorganize the credit of the world, or to resume anything like the conditions that existed before this conflict began.
"One of our well-known publishers at home has sent me a letter, which I have not yet answered, asking me to write a book on this situation. As I feel now, I fear that I shall not undertake any more books; don't think it is in my line; authorship is not my vocation."
Mr. Herrick was destined to be pursued until the end of his life by publishers wanting a book from him. I also tried in vain during years to induce him to write something. He did not even keep a diary, his engagement books being the only record which remains of each day's occupations. Finally, a few months before he died he agreed to lend himself for an hour or two each day to relating what I am now setting down. He instinctively felt that the time was short and that something ought to be done before it was too late. His only book, Farm Credits, had cost him a great effort, and its failure to command immediate attention was a disappointment. But for that the book is not to blame. The war and all its consequences are alone responsible.
Fortunately Mrs. Parmely Herrick recorded every day's events in her own diaries, which I have had the privilege of consulting. It is to be hoped that she will soon allow them to be published, for apart from their literary charm they constitute a most valuable document.
A SMALL American Hospital had been organized in Paris long before the war. It was modern, well run, and had an excellent staff. It was intended solely for Americans, having the usual arrangements for the poor who paid nothing and the rich who paid well. The accident ward of this hospital has always been kept busy by jockeys. There were, and still are, a large number of American jockeys and stableboys in France, and accidents with them are frequent. They always want to go to the American Hospital when they get something broken in a fall.
As soon as hostilities started the governors of this institution decided that they wished to do their share in alleviating suffering, and Mr. Herrick gave the following account of how it was expanded into a military "ambulance," to use the French term, which later on became quite famous:
"In the first days of the war, when we were forming a committee to take care of the Americans in Europe, Dr. Magnin, our family physician, came one day to the embassy and suggested that we prepare his hospital as a war 'ambulance' of small dimensions. He said the governors were anxious to do this and he spoke with their authority. He thought we could put some tents in the big garden and prepare to receive and care for a few of the wounded soldiers. I did not really think it of much importance but I approved of the idea as a step in the right direction.
"Inconsequential things often determine larger events. Dr. Magnin, by oversight, had not been put on the committee which I organized to make plans for caring for Americans, and the poor doctor was just a little hurt. In the morning when I woke, I thought of his bruised feelings; you know we are prone to think of these things in the morning. I called him up. He was rather stiff when I spoke to him, but when I mentioned my plan for carrying out his idea his voice became very cheerful. He said he was delighted and 'would come right over.'
"He came, and I took him to see Dr. Février, Surgeon General of the French army. The general was a man of big ideas, and when he heard what we proposed, he asked if we would not prefer to take over the Pasteur High School building at Neuilly. None of the Red Cross organizations, he added, could do so; it was too big. But he thought we Americans ought to be able to manage it. We told General Février we would take his suggestion under consideration.
"The next step was to call the Americans together and lay the question before them. It was calculated that the hospital could be equipped and financed for one year for about four hundred thousand dollars, and it would be necessary for the Americans to underwrite the proposition; in other words, they would become responsible for that sum of money and also for the running of the hospital. By that was meant that they must enlist in the service of this hospital just as soldiers enlist to go to the front, and not leave Paris in case of a siege but remain at their posts. All this was accepted; we agreed to the underwriting and made ourselves responsible for the first year's budget of four hundred thousand dollars before any appeal was made to the American public for assistance. We also agreed to the other provision as to conducting the hospital; after which it was formally accepted by the government.
"It is hard for me not to say too much about the American Hospital. From the day its war annex was organized until I left France, and after that during all the rest of the war, it was constantly in my thoughts and those of my wife. We worked for it together, and if her life was shortened, as I think it was, by her efforts to help the hospital and the Clearing House, coming as they did immediately after the strain she bravely and cheerfully suffered in Paris, I can only say she gave it in a cause for which she was willing to make even that sacrifice.
"In government affairs a precedent is always useful as a provision against the chance of criticism, and we had one in what concerned our Ambulance. An American hospital for the wounded had been organized in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The man responsible for it was George B. McFarland and my predecessor, E. B. Washburne, of Minnesota, had aided him.(1) The record of that undertaking was a highly honorable one and we hoped to equal it; but we little knew what a long pull lay ahead of us. We certainly never imagined that the wards we were creating would later on be filled with wounded soldiers of the United States army.
"After the French government accepted the offer of the hospital, I informed the State Department of what was being done, and everybody went to work with a will to get ready as quickly as possible to receive the wounded. The huge school building was just as the plasterers had left it, the floors covered with trash, electric wires hanging from the ceilings, only some of the doors and windows in place. But with money on hand, plenty of capable volunteers eager to work each in his specialty, coupled with their keen desire to be of use, everything quickly took shape, and early in September the first wounded arrived.
"We began with private automobiles, driven by their owners, as a means of transporting men from the dressing stations; but we soon bought Ford chassis and mounted ambulance bodies on them, thus starting a movement which took on a wider and wider extension as the conflict progressed. There were no such useful ambulances in all the war as those little Fords which could go anywhere. During the Battle of the Marne our hospital, though only half organized at that time, rendered services that were immediately recognized. The British were especially grateful for the attention they got there. They of course appreciated hearing their own language, but they liked even more our ways of cutting red tape and getting men straight from the field to the operating table without disastrous formalities. Mr. J. H. Spender, editor of the Westminster Gazette, had a great deal to say on that subject which was pleasant to us, though the comparisons and criticism may have been less agreeable to the British authorities. But he wrote me he had gotten results and that was all he was after. At this time we had 240 beds.
"I used to go out to the hospital very often. It was a source of pride to see American efficiency executing America's desire to help. And then, almost everyone in the place was an old friend and each would tell me of amusing incidents that were always happening, even in the midst of this suffering. But the wounded were so glad to be there that there really was a gay atmosphere all over the building. Poor fellows! It was like heaven after all they had been through.
"One day I saw a nurse at work upon the feet of a huge black Senegalese, and it occurred to me that nurses might not be good chiropodists and that in any case someone else should perform that service for soldiers. I asked one of the men to go in to Paris and bring out some chiropodists. He found two French professionals, told them what was wanted, and said that the ambassador would pay them. They were very much hurt and replied, 'Do you mean to say that we, who can do so little, will not be permitted to furnish this service free of charge?'
"The people who worked in the hospital and the functions they performed had a picturesque side interesting to Americans and showing a fine desire to be useful in any capacity. There was Vally Blacque, for instance, grandson of the famous old doctor, Valentine Mott, and something of a bon vivant. He was the concierge, and dressed to look the part. No nonsense, no frills, just a janitor, and a good one. He died at his post a year or two later. Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt was a nurse, and if anything was wanted that was not on hand, she went out and bought it. Her great resources in executive ability and money made a useful combination which could not be hidden beneath her modesty. How often shy people are extraordinarily capable!
"Ours was the only hospital in all France that started with a dental department, and this feature soon excited wide comment, mixed with some derision. But the facial operations instituted by Dr. Hayes became revelations to army surgeons, and in a short time many French hospitals organized similar departments and created schools for furnishing specialists in this sort of work. It saved many men from disfigurement and eventual starvation.
"Every American in Paris seemed especially interested in the hospital. He or she not only worked, subscribed, or did both, but stirred up friends at home, starting that wonderful flow of funds which never ceased. Then great surgeons like Dr. Blake, Dr. Cushing, and Dr. Crile came over and gave all their time to the Ambulance, while of course Dr. Du Bouchet and others who belonged to the old hospital did the same. It is no wonder that orders were soon issued to the British army to send all badly wounded officers to our Ambulance up to the limit of its capacity. I have even heard it said that some British soldiers going into battle put a note inside their pockets asking to be sent to the American Hospital if they were hit. This of course may be a kindly exaggeration. In any case, the hospital had, and retained to the end, a great reputation.
"Shortly after my return to America General Gallieni wrote me a letter, whose references to our hospital I enjoyed as much as I did the rest of what he had to say:
GOUVERNEMENT MILITAIRE DE PARIS
CABINET DU GOUVERNEUR
Paris, le 19, 4, 15.
DEAR MR. MYRON HERRICK:
Your letter gave me great pleasure as does the promise to send me your photograph soon.
As I have already told you, the Parisians of September, and above all myself, will never forget you. The sympathy of your great nation, the nation of Washington and of Lincoln, is precious to us, and only a few days ago I could see it for myself when I again visited the beautiful American Hospital at Neuilly. A great number of our wounded ask as a favor to be taken there.
I am grateful to you for sending me "A letter to the Times "---and it is interesting. My respects to Madame Herrick and accept my cordially devoted sentiments.
P. S. Here we and our allies are more and more decided to go on with the fight to the end, no matter how long it lasts, or what it costs. We will continue until the final result is achieved.
"Soon after the hospital was decided upon I wrote to my old friend Samuel Mather, asking his powerful aid in collecting funds:
MY DEAR SAMUEL:
I was delighted to receive your letter, and to hear a word relative to you and your confederates. I had hoped that we would see you and Will here before our departure, which, alas, has now been indefinitely postponed. However, we are not idle. The situation is getting well in hand. We have succeeded in arranging for funds and are relieving the outlying districts. Of course, the problem is to get our compatriots home. If the invading army is checked, the demand for return passage will not be so great, but should it break through the Allied forces and come toward Paris, it will be difficult to say who will be the hardest to restrain ---the attacking troops or the stampeding Americans. However, I do not expect this to come to pass. Meantime, I look upon the outcome of this war as one upon which the future advancement of civilization for the next fifty or a hundred years depends.
I want to call your attention to something which I believe will appeal to your sympathies, and which should excite active interest in America. The question has arisen as to whether Americans should give their money simply to the Red Cross, which of course is a splendid institution, or whether we should become a branch of that organization, having at our disposal one of the best hospitals in France ---whether, in a sense, we should be independent, or absorbed by the Red Cross.
I had the feeling that we could be of peculiar service by forming a hospital known as the American Ambulance. This has been done, and has been most heartily approved of by the government. Of course this American organization can have great stores of supplies brought over for hospital work. As you know, France is not as advanced as America or England in hospital organization and I think that this American Ambulance will have an opportunity to do something superior.
The committee is starting a movement in America for the collection of funds. It will require more than half a million dollars to carry it through. Quite a bit has been subscribed. The Americans meet at the embassy from time to time and give this point their consideration. I wish you could cable your peace foundation and other organizations and obtain funds for this undertaking....
We have been occupied day and night; the chancery and the embassy are constantly filled with people. The gratifying part of it all is that we have been able to accomplish something.
Give my love to the boys and tell them that I hope we shall meet ere long. I do not know when we shall go; we had part of our things packed and were about to leave when this war came, and now I don't know what will happen. When it broke out I cabled to the State Department suggesting that we amend our commerce laws so that foreign bottoms owned by Americans, or with the stock majority so owned, could carry the American flag. If this could have been done it would have released a considerable number of ships. You remember how often we have contended in our Marine League that should there be a general war we would be without ships. How little did we think then that we should have such a practical demonstration of the soundness of our theories!
When Mr. Herrick left Paris three months later the following note was sent him by Monsieur Cachard in the name of the hospital authorities:
"The Board of Governors of the American Hospital and the Ambulance Committee have expressed a desire that a record should be made of their deep appreciation of the help which has been so constantly given them by His Excellency the American Ambassador and by Mrs. Herrick. Never has this help failed, never has wise counsel been lacking when most needed; and what has been accomplished for the relief of human suffering . . . could never have been realized but for that patient perseverance in holding us to the ideal of the finest service which Americans could render, and which has commanded our admiration, and made effective our possibilities of helpfulness."
Francis (afterward Colonel) Drake went to America in the autumn of 1914 for the purpose of raising money for the American Ambulance. Mr. Herrick had asked him to be sure to go to Cleveland and suggested the advisability of conferring with Dr. George W. Crile about surgical matters. The methods of gas anesthesia and shockless surgery which the latter was then practicing were entirely unknown in France, and Colonel Drake was led to discuss with Dr. Crile some arrangement by which they could be introduced into the American Hospital in Paris. From these conversations arose the idea of sending a complete hospital unit to France. With the consent of the Lakeside Hospital trustees and by means of money subscribed by people in Cleveland, what was known as the Lakeside Unit, so called after the hospital, was organized, and on December 11, 1914, Mr. Herrick, who had now returned to Cleveland, was able to telegraph that a unit, composed of Dr. Crile, three other surgeons, four surgical nurses, and complete operating apparatus, was ready to leave, the whole being financed in advance for six months. They arrived in Paris and went to work early in January, 1915. Before sailing Dr. Crile sent letters to several universities and medical schools informing them of what had been done by Lakeside Hospital and suggesting that similar action might be taken by these institutions. The result was that the Harvard and Philadelphia units quickly followed the Lakeside Unit. They helped to augment the current of sympathy on the part of Americans for the Allied cause.
The creation of these organizations for service in France had a most useful result when we entered the war, for upon his return to America Dr. Crile began a correspondence with the Surgeon General of the Army, Dr. Gorgas, on the subject of war organization for hospitals with the result that, so far as War Department policy permitted, preparatory studies for the use of these surgical units were undertaken. As a consequence when we entered the war this whole matter had received attention in the surgeon general's office and a system based on experience could be put into effect for American troops immediately.
1. The history of this hospital is related in an extremely rare volume, a copy of which can be seen in the library of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris. The hospital was located in the open spaces of what was then the Avenue de l'Impératrice and which after 1871 was called the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, now the Avenue Foch. It would seem to be the first case in which tents were used in Europe, or at least in France, for hospital purposes. The only known picture of it, made at the time, is now in the possession of Mr. James Hazen Hyde. Much of the equipment used came from America, some of it being material left over from our Civil War. The tents were of this origin.---T. B. M.
GENERAL PERSHING has declared "Mr. Herrick was our first volunteer." Among the noble company of young Americans who followed his example many were killed in battle, and the memory of them all is honored in France as we honor that of Lafayette and Rochambeau. A beautiful monument commemorating their deeds stands in the Place des États-Unis, and every Fourth of July officials from all the departments of the French government assemble there and pay them grateful homage. These first volunteers came mostly from students and other American residents who, when they saw their comrades going off to the front, were stirred by a desire to enlist in the army and strike a blow for France and civilization. But they first wanted to know whether they had a right to go and a group of them decided to consult their ambassador. Mr. Herrick could never speak of this visit without a flash of emotion.
"I forget the exact date," he said, "when the first of those boys came to ask me about enlisting, but it must have been very soon after war was declared. Some of their names I remember, probably because later on they were among the first to be killed in the Lafayette Escadrille. Such were Kiffin Rockwell, Raoul Lufbery, and Norman Prince.
"They filed into my office with that timidity which frequently characterizes very courageous men, more afraid of seeming to show off than of any physical danger. They came to get my advice. They wanted to enlist in the French army. There were no protestations, no speeches; they merely wanted to fight, and they asked me if they had a right to do so, if it was legal. That moment remains impressed in my memory as though it had happened yesterday; it was one of the most trying in my whole official experience. I wanted to take those boys to my heart and cry, 'God bless you! Go!' But I was held back from doing so by the fact that I was an ambassador. But I loved them, every one, as though they were my own.
"I got out the law on the duties of neutrals; I read it to them and explained its passages. I really tried not to do more, but it was no use. Those young eyes were searching mine, seeking, I am sure, the encouragement they had come in the hope of getting. It was more than flesh and blood could stand, and catching fire myself from their eagerness, I brought my fist down on the table saying, 'That is the law, boys; but if I was young and stood in your shoes, by God I know mighty well what I would do.'
"At this they set up a regular shout, each gripped me by the hand, and then they went rushing down the stairs as though every minute was now too precious to be lost. They all proceeded straight to the Rue de Grenelle and took service in the Foreign Legion. These were the first of our volunteers in the French army. They were followed by others, and in a short time a large group of them had enlisted.
"I think the people of the United States owe a very special debt to these boys and to those who afterward created the Lafayette Escadrille. During three terrible, long years, when the sting of criticism cut into every American soul, they were showing the world how their countrymen could fight if only they were allowed the opportunity. To many of us they seemed the saviors of our national honor, giving the lie to current sneers upon the courage of our nation. Their influence upon sentiment at home was also tremendous. Amidst the haggling of notes and the noise of empty protestations, here were Americans shedding their blood for a cause in which America's heart was already enlisted and to which later she pledged the lives of four million of her sons. I suppose that without them we doubtless would have entered the war, but the shout they sent up as they left my office was answered by millions of passionate voices urging the authorities of their government to act. Nothing is more just than that these first defenders of our country's good name should be singled out for special love and reverence by ourselves, just as they have been by the French.
"Upon one occasion, in talking of these volunteers General Gouraud made a very pertinent observation (I quote from memory): 'People everywhere are in the habit of speaking of men killed in battle as heroes. They all deserve our praise and most of them were brave fellows; but a distinction should be made between duty and heroism. We Frenchmen who fought in the war, and even those who died, were merely performing a duty required by the laws of our country. The two million American soldiers who came to France did so in obedience to the orders of their government, and while we admire and honor them, we have to recognize that, like our own, they were merely fulfilling a legal requirement. But when men who have no obligation to fight, who could not possibly be criticized if they did not fight, yet nevertheless decide, upon their own individual initiative, to risk their lives in defence of a cause that they hold to be dear, then we are in the presence of true heroism.'
"The young Americans who entered the Foreign Legion and the Lafayette Escadrille were in every sense heroes, and we owe them all the homage that word implies."
Returning to the first days of the war, the ambassador continued:
"Our newspaper men were very unhappy at this time. Here were the biggest events the world had ever known going on a few miles away and they not allowed to see them; or, if they happened to run into something interesting, not permitted to cable about it. And their papers were shouting for news---news of battles, stories about people until yesterday never heard of, descriptions of the war, anything and everything. I admit it was tantalizing. They came to me all the time with their grievances, and hoping for some effective intervention on my part that would get them to the front---the real front, not the imaginary one created by the General Staff for special application to newspaper correspondents. If all the foreign journalists in Paris could have been mobilized when Gallieni sent off the taxicabs during his famous flank attack, he might have had another regiment at his disposal. I could do little for them that was satisfactory, but we would sometimes go together to the map in my office, where the steady progress of the invading troops toward Paris was marked, and I would try to comfort them by pointing out that if they could not go to the front, a little patience would solve the difficulty, for the front was rapidly coming to them!
"James Gordon Bennett was a delight. He dropped in to see me frequently, and his explosions at least I could enjoy more than those of the enemy's bombs. He got married in the midst of it all---just to prove, I sometimes suspect, how little he cared for Germany and all her works. While the wedding service was being read, the noise of the shells dropped on Paris occasionally filled the silence of the church. Richard Harding Davis was at the embassy at this time, and through some error I took with me to the wedding his passport. Perhaps I mistook it for Bennett's birth certificate; I know we had to manufacture one for him at the chancery. When I got back, I learned of Richard Harding doing a veritable war-dance in his white tennis shoes, shouting for his papers and asking why James Gordon Bennett should get married anyhow---my good Miss Singleton, who related this, adding, 'As if I was supposed to know!'
"Paris was now full of stories about spies. You would have thought they were being arrested by the dozen and shot every minute. Then concealed wireless sets and gun platforms became the rage. One day I saw Mr. Edward Tuck go by the door of my office---it was frightfully hot and I kept it open. I asked him in, but he replied, 'I must not take up your time, I have got to go back to see Frazier.' Observing that he was profoundly agitated, I made him tell me what was the matter, though he protested against using up my precious minutes.
"It seemed that some stupid officer had visited the hospital that Mr. Tuck had given to the town of Rueil and had found what he thought was a wireless set on the roof. He had then gone to Mr. Tuck's villa near by and searched the place from end to end.
"'I am going to get out of this country as quickly as I can and I am never coming back,' Mr. Tuck declared, white with rage. I had no success in calming him down, so I finally said (he had insisted upon going):
"'Will you wait here five minutes ?'
"He agreed, and I called up General Gallieni, the governor of Paris, and told him what had happened. I added, 'If you don't know Mr. Tuck send somebody over here and I will tell you about him.'
"Gallieni said, 'I will give orders immediately to that officer at Rueil, and without waiting for any report I will go to see Mr. Tuck myself and offer him our excuses.'
"I told Tuck. His whole face changed in a way that proved how profoundly he had been hurt.
"'I would not have General Gallieni leave what he is doing to come to see me for anything on earth,' he said 'Stop him and say I realize it is all an error.
"I did stop the general from coming, but he wrote to Tuck and had an officer wait on him with formal apologies.
Mr. Herrick was so used to having Americans come to him in person about trivial things, or write letters containing preposterous requests, that it really surprised him that a distinguished citizen and old friend like Mr. Tuck would hesitate to bother him. But of course these are exactly the men that do not annoy ambassadors with their own little affairs.
Sometimes these occurrences had their amusing side. A man once wrote from America saying that his son collected cigar bands and that he would be much obliged if the ambassador would send him bands from cigars that had been smoked by Foch, Poincaré, Briand, and Clemenceau. This letter so amused Mr. Herrick that he replied to it himself. He expressed regret that it was impossible to comply with this interesting request, for "Foch smokes a pipe, Poincaré smokes cigarettes, Briand's cigars have no band on them, and Clemenceau chews tobacco!"
One day in 1912 the ambassador sent for me. In his office was an American woman to whom he introduced me, saying, "This lady has come to ask how she can get to Wiesbaden." Wishing to make sure that she was not a charity patient, I inquired delicately whether she had any money "Oh, yes," she replied; "but I don't know when the trains go or from what station, and then I want to ask about my passport.
I had it on the tip of my tongue to tell her that she had only to go to Cook's office instead of bothering the ambassador, but I knew that if Mr. Herrick had desired that sort of reply he would have made it himself; so I did what I knew he wanted done: explained everything to her as though she were my own mother.
His friends, his family, his staff, all protested against this waste of his time. They were always wanting to protect him from what they considered needless annoyances. They forgot that what might annoy them did not annoy him. He liked people, he was never bored by them, and the more humble the person---especially if it was a woman---the more he was happy in doing him or her some personal kindness. There was not the smallest pose in this and no calculation. It was the natural expression of his nature.
As soon as war was formally declared between the French and Austrians Mr. Herrick, already charged with German interests, was asked to take over the affairs in France of the Austrian Empire also. Later on the Turks made a similar request. The first duty imposed by this obligation was to care for the great throng of German and Austrian subjects whom the war had caught in France and who were picked up and segregated into detention camps, a practice immediately instituted by the Continental belligerents and later on in England.
The pitiful case of these people was a veritable nightmare to Mr. Herrick. At first, crowds of them besieged the chancery and his residence, asking for protection, food, money, or advice. Then they were collected in the empty school buildings while waiting for detention camps to be organized and transportation to be available. In the meanwhile, mobilization was in full swing and the energies of the government were concentrated upon that great business. No wonder that these civil prisoners for a while received meager attention.
Most of them were harmless enough, being humble creatures who had occupied various lowly employments in France before the storm of war arose and scattered them like bits of shipwreck on a hostile coast. No time or machinery was available for quickly separating those who might be dangerous from the rest, and all had to be guarded. Mr. Herrick took measures immediately to bring some material and moral comfort to these unfortunates, and as early as August 4th his officers were busy inspecting the places where they were confined, distributing food and money to the indigent, hearing their stories, taking care of their mail.
"Captain Pope reported to me," said the ambassador, "that while these people were most uncomfortable, none of them complained of harsh treatment. All wanted to get their belongings or send messages to their relatives. The women were shown real kindness and were allowed to go out and buy provisions and beer for those that had money. As soon as more pressing business left me time for it, I inspected the detention camps in person and told the prisoners I had come to listen to any complaints they had to make. These were surprisingly few. What worried them most was the difficulty of sending news to their relatives or getting any from them. I think the French did all they could to avoid unnecessary hardship for these people and at no time was any brutality toward them reported to me during my inspections.
"I soon got an efficient organization established at the chancery for handling everything connected with detention camps, and the American army officers assigned to me rendered most valuable services in this connection. Indeed, I do not know what I would have done without these ten officers whom chance threw in my way at the outbreak of the war.
"In thinking of the vast numbers of helpless and innocent people who were shut up all over Europe when the war came on, I have often asked myself, Has this horrible arrangement got to be repeated if ever we have another great conflict? Is no solution possible, to be arrived at now and made applicable if the emergency arises? Or are we going to repeat this savagery?"
AS HAS been said elsewhere, Mr. Herrick kept no diary, but he wrote to his son and his daughter-in-law constantly. Some extracts from these and others of his letters will help in getting a picture of what was going on at the American embassy in 1914:
"August 14. We now suppose that a great battle is beginning. If it goes one way the relief here will be great; if it goes the other way the pressure will increase. These are history-making days, but they are heart-breaking and nerve-racking. I do not know what our country could do without the great embassy with its garden. Later it will become more important. I cannot write much or very often for the days and nights do not give me time to do the things which crowd upon me with an insistence that cannot be denied. I will try to make memoranda of interesting events.
"August 26. I am waiting at the Foreign Office to see the minister, and find here my first moment in some days for a chance to scribble a line.
"The great battle has been on for days and as yet we do not know what the issue is to be. It looks as though it would be another 'Tale of Two Cities,' perhaps three, for the Russians and Servians will try to get into Vienna. Bryan telegraphs me that Sharp sailed to-day. I have kept all the time a place on La France and shall hope now to use it the last of September on her return from New York. Much is bound to happen before that time. The organization of all the work here has now been made, but even so we spend our days and our nights at the chancery. One o'clock is early to bed, and if not up at eight the telephone makes sleep impossible. I have chartered boats and trains and have sent many of our people home. Three thousand came up from Geneva, one thousand a day for three days, to sail on chartered boats.
"What a different Paris! No gayety; most of the shops and hotels closed; few restaurants open. Occasionally one catches a glimpse of one of the society butterflies, who seems as out of place as a straw hat in January. There is a look of apprehension in the eyes of everyone, maybe one of fear. Then the sad faces of the women are most depressing. Every day now I learn of the death or wounding of some of our young friends. Everyone wants to ask you whether you think the Germans will really come to Paris. A pall is on the nation while it breathlessly awaits the issue at arms. Whichever way it may go we now know that it will take many years to readjust the world to normal conditions and the loss of life. One shudders to think of the wounded and dying now filling the railway trains and hospitals.
"The minister calls now, so must go."
On August 28th he writes to President Wilson:
"I shall do everything in my power to meet your expressed desire that I remain here after the arrival of Mr. Sharp and 'that the change of ambassadors be delayed until the strain is passed,' for I fully appreciate that in a crisis like this personal considerations and feelings must be subordinated.
"Should events so shape themselves that Paris is cut off from all communication and my departure is rendered impossible, either in or out of office, the situation would be most difficult and trying for both of us. Therefore I feel that in justice to Mr. Sharp and myself I should take my departure as early as possible after his arrival.
"I thank you very sincerely for the message of confidence which you conveyed to me through the Secretary of State.
"With assurances of my regard, etc."
September 2nd, to his son:
"The diplomatic train carrying the government, also the diplomatic corps, leaves to-night at 10.50 for Bordeaux. I drafted into service John W. Garrett, the minister to the Argentine who happened to be here. He leaves with the government, taking with him Louis Sussdorff, Jr., the third secretary, and Captain F. H. Pope, as military attaché.
"Harjes will set up a bank in Bordeaux; they have already sent a large part of their money there. Our government took no responsibility in advising me to go or to stay; but after weighing carefully all the circumstances, I made up my mind , in view of our many and great interests here, that there was a possibility that I might, as the representative of our great country, exert a restraining influence---to some extent at least....
"I suppose Sharp is arriving. I asked Bryan to give me notice of the ship on which he sailed and the time of his arrival, in order that I might arrange for customs courtesies and see that he was properly received. He has not replied. I am really very sorry for Mr. Sharp, for the way things have turned out he comes at a very inopportune time. Probably, under the circumstances, I shall have to remain until after the siege is over, whatever may be my desires. I would be glad if an opportunity offered by which we could gracefully leave. However, I shall not do so until I am convinced that I have discharged my duty to the full in every possible way....
"I do not want you and Agnes to be troubled over my decision in this matter, and I want you to know that it was the only possible decision that I could make under the circumstances.
"We shall not be in danger---that is, not very much. I know exactly what we are in for! I know that the embassy will be filled with frightened people, and there will be some terrible days; but we are strong, and shall be able to see it through to the finish. . . . Your mother is quite well now, and actively engaged in hospital work . . . . The wounded are just beginning to come in there to-day ....
". . . We have gotten all the people out of Switzerland. I have chartered boats and filled them, and we have indeed accomplished many things. Thousands have passed through the chancery. We have settled down to efficient work, and have been able to take care of everybody. I think I have not once been called to account, except by a woman---a D. A. R. from Georgia---who said she was going to look after my case. I asked her if she had any influence in Washington. She said she had 'and with the President.' I asked her if she would use it, and she said she would. I thanked her very cordially, and assured her that I hoped she would exert it to get me out of this place. I told her I had tried for one and a half years to leave here and had not been successful; if she could use her influence to have me removed so that I might reach home safely, I would feel most obliged to her. She left me in a rage, and said that I would hear from her later.
"Your mother is very busy to-day putting beds in the house, as we expect that we shall have many people to take care of later. . . . We are preparing for considerable hotel business later on, when the Germans come, if they come.
"Sir Francis Bertie came to call this morning and told me that Lord Kitchener was with him last night. He said that they had blown up the beautiful bridge over the Oise at Compiègne, that ten thousand of his soldiers were dead, that there were Germans working toward the east as well as to the west of Paris. I felt it was possible that, inasmuch as the Frenchmen were really fighting for their altars and their fires, they would die in their tracks before they would permit them to enter Paris. This may be true yet; but the terrible onslaught of the Germans seems almost beyond human resistance and they may take Paris in the near future. But I believe they will be defeated in the end....
"Your mother and I are very sad when we talk about the children, and about you and Agnes, and think how beautiful it is on the 'Heights' and how we would love to be with you. The future is not very bright and we have to turn our thoughts to other things. Fortunately for us there are plenty of things to turn them to. We go to the chancery every night, Robert Bliss and I, Frazier, Laurence Norton, and Sussdorff. They look like potato sprouts in a cellar, they are so pale and tired.... Hazeltine and his wife have been here constantly since the beginning, sitting in the hall, helping with the people. We are a bank and a relief society and a railway exchange; in fact, we transact all kinds of business. I have gotten in a good bookkeeper now to systematize it. It has grown so large, our business, that the halls are lined with people all their length, and the office and the library filled with them."
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