One day, I mind, the newspapers were full of the tale
of a crime in an odd spot in Europe that none of us had ever heard of
before. You mind the place? Serajevo! Aye—we all mind it now! But then
we read, and wondered how that outlandish name might be pronounced. A
foreigner was murdered—what if he was a prince, the Archduke of Austria?
Need we fash ourselves about him?
And so we read, and were sorry, a little, for the
puir lady who sat beside the Archduke and was killed with him. And then
we forgot it. All Australia did. There was no more in the newspapers.
And my son John was coming—coming. Each day he was so many hundred miles
nearer to me. And at last he came. We were in Melbourne then, it was
near to the end) of July.
We had much to talk about—my son, and his mother and
I. It was long months since we had seen him, and we had keen and done so
much. The time flew by. Maybe we did not read the papers so carefully as
we, might have done. They tell me, they have told me since then, that in
Europe and even in America, there was some warning after Austria moved
on Serbia. But I believe that down there in Australia they did not dream
of danger; that they were far from understanding the meaning of the news
the papers did print. They were so far away!
And then, you mind, it came upon us like a clap of
thunder. One night it began. There was war in Europe—real war. Germany
had attacked France and Russia. She was moving troops through Belgium.
And every Briton knew what that must mean. Would Britain be drawn in?
There was the question that was on every man's tongue.
'What do you think, son?" I asked John.
"I think we'll go in," he said. "And if we do, you
know, Dad—they'll send for me to come home at once. I'm on leave from
the summer training camp now to make this trip."
My boy, two years before, had joined the Territorial
army. He was a second lieutenant in a Territorial battalion of the
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It was much as if he had been an
officer in a National Guard regiment in the United States. The
Territorial army was not bound to serve abroad—but who could doubt that
it would, and gladly? As it did—to a man, to a man.
But it was a shock to me when John said that. I had
not thought that war, even if it came, could come home to us so
close—and so soon.
Yet so it was. The next day was the fourth of
August—my birthday. And it was that day that Britain declared war upon
Germany. We sat at lunch in the hotel at Melbourne when the newsboys
began to cry the extras. And we were still at lunch when the hall porter
came in from outside.
"Leftenant Lauder!" he called, over and over. John
beckoned to him, and he handed my laddie a cablegram.
Just two words there were, that had come singing
along the wires half-way around the world.
John's eyes were bright. They were shining. He was
looking at us, but he was not seeing us.
Those eyes of his were seeing distant things. My
heart was sore within me, but I was proud and happy that it was such a
son I had to give my country.
"What do you think, Dad?" he asked me, when I had
read the order.
I think I was gruff because I dared not let him see
how I felt. His mother was very pale.
"This is no time for thinking, son," I said. "It is
the time for action. You know your duty."
He rose from the table
quickly. "I'm off!" he said. "Where?" I asked him.
"To the ticket office to see about changing my berth.
There's a steamer this week—maybe I can still find room aboard her."
He was not long gone. He and his chum went down
together, and he came back smiling triumphantly.
"It's all right, Dad," he told me. "I go to Adelaide
by train and get the steamer there. I'll have time to see you and mother
off; your steamer goes two hours before my train."
We were going to New Zealand. And my boy was going
home to fight for his country. They would call me too old, I knew; I was
forty-four the day Britain declared war.
What a turmoil there was about us ! So fast were
things moving that there seemed no time for thought, John's mother and I
could not realize the full meaning of all that was happening. But we
knew that John was snatched away from us just
after he had come, and it was hard—it was cruelly hard.
But such thoughts were drowned in the great, surging
excitement that was all about us. In Melbourne, and I believe it must
have been much the same elsewhere in Australia, folks didn't know what
they were to do, how they were to take this war that had come so
suddenly upon them. And rumours and questions flew in all directions.
Suppose the Germans came to Australia? Was there a
chance of that? They had islands, naval bases, not so far away. They
were Australia's neighbours. What of the German Navy? Was it out? Were
there scattered ships, here and there, that might swoop down upon
Australia's shores and bring death and destruction with them?
But even before we sailed, next day, I could see that
order was coming out of that chaos. Everywhere recruiting offices were
opening, and men were flocking to them. No one dreamed, really, of a
long war—though John laughed sadly when some one said it would be over
in four months. But these Australians took no chances they would offer
themselves first, and let it be decided later whether they were needed.
So we sailed away. And when I took John's hand, and
kissed him good-bye, I saw him for the last time in his civilian
"Well, son," I said, "you're going home to be a
soldier, a fighting soldier. You will soon be commanding men. Remember
that you can never ask a man to do something you would no dare to do
And, oh, the braw look in the eyes of the bonnie
laddie as he tilted his chin up to me!
"I will remember, Dad!" he said.
And so long as a bit of the dock was in sight we
could see him waving to us. We were not to see him again until the next
January, at Bedford, in England, where he was training the raw men of
Those were the first days of war. The British Navy
was on guard. From every quarter the whimpering wireless brought news of
this German warship and that. They were scattered far and wide, over the
Seven Seas, you ken, when the war broke out. There was no time for them
to make a home port. They had their choice, most of them, between being
interned in some neutral port and setting out to do as much mischief as
they could to British commerce before they were caught. Caught they were
sure to be. They must have known it. And some there were to brave the
issue and match themselves against England's great naval power.
Perhaps they knew that few ports would long be
neutral! Maybe they knew of the abominable war the Hun was to wage. But
I think it was not such men as those who chose to take their one chance
in a thousand, who were sent out, later, in their submarines, to send
women and babies to their deaths with their torpedoes!
Be that as it may, we sailed away from Melbourne. But
it was in Sydney Harbour that we anchored next—not in Wellington, as we,
on the ship, all thought it would be ! And the reason was that the navy,
getting word that the German cruiser Emden was loose and raiding,
had ordered our captain to hug the shore, and to put in at Sydney until
he was told it was safe to proceed.
We were not much delayed, and came to Wellington
safely. New Zealand was all ablaze with the war spirit. There was no
hesitation there. The New Zealand troops were mobilizing when we
arrived, and every recruiting office was besieged with men. Splendid
laddies they were, who looked as if they would give a great account of
themselves. As they did—as they did. Their deeds at Gallipoli speak for
them and will for ever speak for them—the men of Australia and New
There the word Anzac was made—made from the first
letters of these words: Australian New Zealand Army Corps. It is a word
that will never die.
Even in the midst of war they had time to give me a
welcome that warmed my heart. And there were pipers with them, too,
skirling a tune as I stepped ashore. There were tears in my eyes again,
as there had been at Sydney. Every laddie in uniform made me think of my
own boy, by now well on his way home to Britain and the duty that had
They were gathering, all over the Empire, those of
British blood. They were answering the call old Britain had sent across
the Seven Seas to the far corners of the earth. Even as the Scottish
clans gathered of old, the greater British clans were now gathering. It
was a great thing to see that in the beginning; it has comforted me many
a time since, in. a black hour, when news was bad and the Hun was
thundering at the line that was so thinly held in France.
Here were free peoples, not held, not bound, free to
choose their way. Britain could not make their sons come to her aid. If
they came they must come freely, joyously, knowing that it was a right
cause, a holy cause, a good cause, that called them. I think of the way
they came; of the way I saw them rising to the summons, in New Zealand,
in Australia, later in Canada. Aye, and I saw more; I saw Americans
slipping across the border, putting on Britain's khaki there in Canada,
because they knew that it was the fight of humanity, of freedom, that
they were entering. And that, too, gave me comfort later in dark times,
for it made me know that when the right time came America would take her
place beside old Britain and brave France.
New Zealand is a bonnie land. It made me think,
sometimes, of the Hielands of Scotland. A bonnie land; and braw are its
people. They made me happy there, and they made much of me.
At Christchurch they did a queer tiling. They were
selling off, at auction, a Union Jack—the flag of Great Britain. Such a
thing had never been done before, or thought of. But here was a reason
and a good one. Money was needed for the laddies who were going—needed
for all sorts of things. To buy them small comforts, and tobacco, and
such things as the Government might not be supplying them. And so they
asked me to be their auctioneer.
I played a fine trick upon them there in
Christ-church. But I was not ashamed of myself, and I think they have
forgi'en me, those good bodies at Christchurch!
Here was the way of it. I was auctioneer, you ken;
but that was not enough to keep me from bidding myself. And so I worked
them up and on; and then I bid in the flag for myself for a hundred
pounds—five hundred dollars of American money.
I had my doots about how they'd be taking it to have
a stranger carry their flag away. And so I bided a wee. I stayed that
night in Christchurch, and was to stay longer. I could wait. Above yon
town of Christchurch stretch the Merino Hills. On them graze sheep by
the thousand —and it is from those sheep that the true Merino wool
comes. And in the gutters of Christchurch there flows, all day long, a
stream of water as clear and pure as ever you might hope to see. And it
should be so, for it is from artesian wells that it is pumped.
Aweel, I bided that night, and by nest day they were
murmuring in the town, and their murmurs came to me. They thought it
wasna richt for a Scotsman to be carrying off their flag, though he'd
bought it and paid for it. And so at last they came to me, and wanted to
be buying back the flag. And I was agreeable.
aye—I'll sell it back to ye!" I told them. "But at a price, ye ken—at a
price! Pay me twice what I paid for it and it shall be yours!"
There was a Scots bargain for you ! They must have
thought me mean and grasping that day. But out they went. They worked
for the money. It was but just a month after war had been declared, and
money was still scarce and shy of peeping out and showing itself. But,
bit by bit, they got the siller. A shilling at a time they raised, by
subscription. But they got it all, and brought it to me, smiling the
"Here, Harry, here's your money!" they said. "Now
give us back our flag!"
Back to them I gave it—and with it the money they had
brought, to be added to the fund for the soldier boys. And so that one
flag brought three hundred pounds sterling to the soldiers. I wonder did
those folk at Ohristchurch think I would keep the money and make a
profit on that flag?
Had it been another time I'd gladly have stayed in
New Zealand a long time. It was a. friendly place, and it gave us many a
new friend. But home was calling me. There was more than the homebound
tour that had been planned and laid out for me. I did not know how soon
my boy might be going to France. And his mother and I wanted to see him
again before he went, and to be as near him as might be.
So I was glad as well as sorry to sail away from New
Zealand's friendly shores, to the strains of pipers softly skirling:
"Will ye no come back again?"
We sailed for Sydney on the Minnehaha, a fast
boat. We were glad of her speed a day or so out, for there was smoke on
the horizon that gave some anxious hours to our officers. Some thought
the German raider Emden was under that smoke. And it would not
have been surprising had a raider turned up in our path. For just before
we sailed it had been discovered that the man in charge of the principal
wireless station in New Zealand was a German, and he had been interned.
Had he sent word to German warships of the plans and movements of
British ships ? No one could prove it, so he was only interned.
Back we went to Sydney. A great change had taken
place since our departure. The war ruled all deed and thought. Australia
was bound now to do her part. No less faithfully and splendidly than New
Zealand was she engaged upon the enterprise the Hun had thrust upon the
world. Every one was eager for news, but it was woefully scarce. Those
were the black, early days, when the German rush upon Paris was being
stayed, after the disasters of the first fortnight of the war, at the
Everywhere, though there was no lack of determination
to see the war through to a finish, no matter how remote that might be,
the feeling was that this war was too 'huge, too vast, to last long.
Exhaustion would end it. War upon the modern scale could not last. So
they said—in September, 1914! So many of us believed; and this is the
autumn of the fourth year of the war, and the end is not yet in sight.
Sydney turned out, almost as magnificently as when I
had first landed upon Australian soil, to bid me farewell. And we
embarked again upon that same old Sonoma that had brought us to
Australia. Again I saw Paga-Paga and the natural folk, who had no need
to toil nor spin to lire upon the fat of the land, and be arrayed in the
garments that were always up to the minute in style.
Again I saw Honolulu, and, this time, stayed longer,
and gave a performance. But, though we were there longer, it was not
long enough to make me yield to that temptation to cuddle one of the
brown lassies! Aweel, I was not so young as I had been, and Mrs.
Lauder—you ken that she was travelling with me ?
In the harbour of Honolulu there was a German
gunboat, the Geier, that had run there for shelter not long
since, and had still left a day or two, under the orders from
Washington, to decide whether she would let herself be interned or not.
And outside, beyond the three-mile limit that marked the end of American
territorial waters, were two good reasons to make the German think well
of being interned. There were two cruisers, squat and ugly and vicious
in their grey war paint, that watched the entrance to the harbour, as
you have seen a cat watching a rat-hole.
It was not Britain's white ensign that they flew,
those cruisers. It was the red sun flag of Japan, one of Britain's
allies against the Hun. They had their vigil in vain, had those two
cruisers. It was valour's better part, discretion, that the German
captain chose. Aweel, you could no blame him ! He and his ship would
have been blown out of the water so soon as she poked her nose beyond
American waters, had he chosen to go out and fight.
I was glad indeed when we came in sight of the Golden
Gate once more, and when we were safe ashore in San Francisco. It had
been a nerve-racking voyage in many ways. My wife and I were torn with
anxiety about our boy. And there were German raiders loose; one or two
had, so far, eluded the cordon the British fleet had flung about the
world. One night, soon after we left Honolulu, we were stopped. We
thought it was a British cruiser that stopped us, but she would only ask
questions—answering those we asked was not for her!