NOW indeed we began to get real news of the war. We
heard of how that little British army had flung itself into the maw of
the Hun. I came to know something of the glories of the retreat from
Mons, and of how French and British had turned together at the Marne and
had saved Paris. But, alas, I heard too of how many brave men had died;
sacrificed, many and many a man of them, to the failure of Britain to
That was past and done. What had been wrong was being
mended now. Better, indeed—ah, a thousand times better!—had Britain
given heed to Lord Roberts, when he preached the gospel of readiness and
prayed his countrymen to prepare for the war that he in his wisdom had
foreseen. But it was better now to look into the future.
I could see, as all the world was beginning to see,
that this war was not like other wars. Lord Kitchener had said that
Britain must make ready for a three-year war; and I, for one, believed
him when others scoffed and said he was talking so to make the recruits
for his armies come faster to the colours. I could see that this war
might last for years. And it was then, back in 1914, in the first winter
of the war, that I began to warn my friends in America that they might
well expect the Hun to drag them into the war before its end. And I made
up my mind that I must beg Americans who would listen to me, to prepare.
So, all the way across the continent, I spoke, in
every town we visited, on that subject of preparedness. I had seen
Britain, living in just such a blissful anticipation of eternal peace as
America then dreamed of. I had heard, for years, every attempt that was
made to induce Britain to increase her army met with the one, unvarying
"We have our fleet!" That was the answer that was
made. And, be it remembered, that at sea, Britain was prepared!
"We have our fleet. We need no army. If there is a Continental war, we
may not be drawn in at all. Even if we are, they can't reach us. The
fleet is between us and invasion."
"But," said the advocates of preparedness, "we might
have to send an expeditionary force. If France were attacked, we should
have to help her on land as well as at sea. And we have sent armies to
the Continent before."
"Yes," the other would reply. "We have an
expeditionary force. We can send more than a hundred thousand men across
the Channel at short notice—the shortest. And we can train more men
here, at home, in case of need. The fleet makes that possible."
Aye, the fleet made that possible. The world may well
thank God for the British fleet. I do not know, and I do not like to
think, what might have come about save for the British fleet. But I do
know what came to that expeditionary force that we sent across the
Channel quickly, to the help of our sore stricken ally, France. How many
of that old British army still survive?
They gave themselves utterly. They were the pick and
the flower of our trained manhood. They should have trained the millions
who were to rise at Kitchener's call. But they could not be held back.
They are gone. Others have risen up to take their places—ten for one; a
hundred for one! But if they had been ready at the start! The bonnie
laddies who would be living now, instead of lying in an unmarked grave
in France or Flanders! The women whose eyes would never have been
reddened by their weeping as they mourned a son or a brother or a
So I was thinking as I set out to talk to my American
friends and beg them to prepare—prepare! I did not want to see that
country have the experience of Britain. If she needs must be drawn into
the war—as I believed, profoundly, from the time when I first learned
the true measure of the Hun, she would—I hoped that she might be ready
when she drew her mighty sword.
They thought I was mad, at first, many of those to
whom I talked. They were so far away from the war. And already the
propaganda of the Germans was at work. Aye, they thought I was raving
when I told them I'd stake my word on it, that America would never be
able to stay out until the end. They listened to me; they were willing
to do that. But they listened doubtingly. I think I convinced few of
anything save that I believed myself what I was saying.
I could tell them, you ken, that I'd thought at
first, as they did ! Why, over yonder, in Australia, when I'd first
heard that the Germans were attacking France, I was sorry, for France is
a bonnie land. But the idea that Britain might go in, I, even then, had
laughed at. And then Britain had gone in! My own boy had gone to
the war. For all I knew I might be reading of him, any day, when I read
of a charge or a fight over there in France ! Anything was possible—aye,
I have never called myself a prophet. But then, I
think, I had something of a prophet's vision. And all the time I was
struggling with my growing belief that this was to be a long war, and a
merciless war. I did not want to believe some of the things I knew I
must believe. But every day came news that made conviction sink in
deeper and yet deeper.
It was not a happy trip, that one across the United
States. Our friends did all they could to make it so, but we were
consumed by too many anxieties and cares. How different it was from my
journey westward, only nine months earlier! The world had changed for
ever in those nine months.
Everywhere I spoke for preparedness. I addressed the
Rotary Clubs, and great audiences turned out to listen to me. I am a
Rotarian myself, and I am proud indeed that I may so proclaim myself. It
is a great organization. Those who came to hear me were cordial, nearly
always. But once or twice I met hostility, veiled but not to be
mistaken. And it was easy to trace it to its source. Germans, who loved
the country they had left behind them, to come to a New World that
offered them a better home and a richer life than they could ever have
aspired to at home, were often at the bottom of the opposition to what I
had to say.
They did not want America to prepare, lest her weight
be flung into the scale against Germany. And there were those who hated
Britain. Some of these remembered old wars and grudges that sensible
folk had forgotten long since; others, it may be, had other motives. But
there was little real opposition to what I had to say. It was more a
good-natured scoffing, and a feeling that I was cracked a wee bit,
perhaps, about the war.
I was not sorry to see New York again. We stayed
there but one day, and then sailed for home on the Cunarder Orduna—which
has since been sunk, like many another good ship, by the Hun submarines.
But those were the days just before the Hun began his
career of real frightfulness upon the sea, and under it. Even the Hun
came only gradually to the height of his powers in this war. It was not
until some weeks later that he startled the world by proclaiming that
every ship that dared to
cross a certain zone of the sea would be sunk without
When we sailed upon the old Orduna we had
anxieties, to be sure. The danger of striking a mine was never absent
once we neared the British coasts. There was always the chance, we knew,
that some German raider might have slipped through the cordon in the
North Sea. But the terrors that were to follow the crime of the
Lusi-tania still lay in the future. They were among the things no
man could foresee.
The Orduna brought us safe to the Mersey and
we. landed at Liverpool. Even had there been no thought of danger to the
ship, that voyage would have been a hard one for us to endure. We never
ceased thinking of John; longing for him and news of him. It was near
Christmas, but we had small hope that we should be able to see him on
All through the voyage we were shut away from all
news. The wireless is silenced in time of war, save for such work as the
Government allows. There is none of the free sending, from shore to
ship, and ship to ship, of all the news of the world, such as one grows
to welcome in time of peace. And so, from New York until we neared the
British coast, we brooded, all of us. How fared it with Britain in the
war % Had the Hun launched some new and terrible attack?
But two days out from home we saw a sight to make us
glad and end our brooding for a space.
"Eh, Harry—come and look at yon!" some one called to me. It was early
in the morning, and there was a mist about us.
I went to the rail and looked in the direction I was
told. And there, rising suddenly out of the mist, shattering it, I saw
great, grey warships— British battleships and cruisers. There they were,
some of the great ships that are the steel wall around Britain that
holds her safe. My heart leaped with joy and pride at the sight of them;
those great, grey guardians of the British shores, bulwarks of steel
that fend all foemen from the rugged coast and the fair land that lies
Now we were safe, ourselves 1 Who would not trust the
British Navy, after the great deeds it has done in this war? For there,
mind you, is the one force that has never failed. The British Navy has
done what it set out to do. It has kept command of the seas. The
submarines? The tin fish? They do not command the sea! Have they kept
Canada's men, and America's, from reaching France?
When we landed, my first inquiry was for my son John.
He was well, and he was still in England, in training at Bedford with
his regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. But it was as we
had heard. Our Christmas must be kept apart. And so the day before
Christmas found us back in our wee hoose at Dunoon on the Clyde. But we
thought of little else but the laddie who was making ready to fight for
us, and of the day, that was coming soon, when we should see him.