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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER XVIII - THE WAR YEARS IN AMERICA


AFTER I had been to the front that first time--I went back on more than one occasion and carried out similar programmes—my mind was held by one supreme purpose. That was to aid my country and the Allies in every way possible. What I had been privileged to see behind the lines inflamed me with a tremendous zeal. So I came home to London and renewed my hospital work, my lecturing, and my visitations of the military encampments with as much energy as I could throw into the task. Yet anything I could do seemed so small, so ineffective, compared with the stupendous job our men were carrying on in France, that I again began to chafe for a more active share in the fight.

I do not think it would be advisable on my part just to say how the suggestion came about—war diplomacy is a ticklish thing to deal with even ten years after the event— but a few months after my return from France I was approached to know whether I would go to America and tell the people there the simple story of what I had seen in the war zone. Not as a propagandist, purely and simply, but as an actual observer. America, it was well known had been over-run by all kinds of special pleaders, and these had been stating their case too often with an eye on what the United States had to give in a material sense. So much had this been the case that many Americans had grown tired and suspicious, and small blame to them, too.

The project was discussed from all its angles. When I was asked my own considered viewpoint I said that I did not think I should go to America and get audiences simply to lecture them. If I went at all I should go as an artiste, doing my work as I had done for many years but always accepting any opportunity of putting the British case before the people of the States. Curiously enough at the very time the question of my going over the Atlantic was being discussed in high diplomatic quarters an urgent invitation arrived from my friends in New York. Here was a way out of any difficulty. I cabled back at once stating my willingness to go on condition that I was allowed a free hand to speak as much as I cared to, quite apart from my professional duties, on Britain's part in the titanic struggle. This was agreeable to my friends both in London and in New York and a few days later it was announced that the American Y. M. C. A. had invited me to make use of their great organization to address the youth of America.

So once more I found myself on the Atlantic. The U-boat menace was very real at this time and I remember we spent one or two most anxious days on board the Mauretania, especially when we were running without lights at night. I had been under shell-fire in France several times but it always seemed to me that there was something tangible, as it were, inland warfare—at least you had a chance of being missed or passed over! At sea, on the other hand, with invisible and swift Death hissing its way towards you from beneath the waves a full ship-load of innocent and helpless people might be launched into Eternity in a few moments. Bullets and shells, it appeared to me, were inhuman enough; torpedoes an invention of the Devil himself! I never was at ease while on board ship all through the war years. But though I crossed the Atlantic and the English channel many, many times between 1914 and 1918 I never saw an enemy submarine at close quarters.

I fired the first shot in my new American campaign at a great gathering in the Hippodrome, New York. It was held on a Sunday evening and the big building was crowded to the doors. The platform party embraced many notable and important figures in the civic and business life of the city. There was also a good sprinkling of well-known British men and women present. I rather forget now just the lines I followed in my speech—the longest one I had ever deliv ered in my life up till that night—but I told them all about my trip to the war zone and laid special emphasis on the work done at home by the women of Britain, France, and Belgium. My idea was to give American womanhood some idea of the responsibility that lay before them when their own men went to the war. All my life, at all events since I first started going to America, I have had a very genuine regard for the women of America. They are the most purposeful and completely competent women in all the world and well I realized how vital it was to have them heart and soul behind their husbands and sons in the field. Throughout my campaign I addressed myself particularly to the women. That opening night in New York they listened to me with rapt attention; I could perceive many wet eyes as the women followed my stories of feminine bravery and sacrifice across the sea. And how they laughed, too, at my tale of the English woman scrubbing the floor of a Red Triangle hut at a base in France. "Hi, there!" she called out to a young soldier passing along the hut. "Bring me some more water, will you?" The young man stopped, looked down at the woman in astonishment and replied, "My good person, I'm an officer. Dash it all, you can't address an officer like that." Quick as lightning came the retort from the woman with the scrubbing-brush in her hand, "Dash it all, man, I'm a Duchess."

The significance of the story was fully appreciated. After the laughter had died down I pointed out that that was the spirit in which all our people, rich and poor, high and low, were conducting the war. And then, towards the dose of my remarks, I warned the women of America that soon the long lists of casualties would be flashing to them beneath the tides, spoke of the heart-pains and the tragedies that were bound to come, and counselled them to clench their teeth and hold fast to the purpose of victory. This New York war rally in the Hippodrome was the grandest meeting I have ever addressed in my life. I shall never forget it. The papers published full reports and I was inundated with requests for speeches from all over the country. Before leav. ing New York I was invited to speak outside the Sub Treasury on the occasion of a big Victory Bond demonstration. The chairman on that occasion was U. S. Vice-President Marshall, if my memory serves me rightly, and we sold over half a million dollars' worth of Bonds in a few minutes. It was estimated that the crowd amounted to fully two hundred thousand people. The enthusiasm was so intense that my emotion got the better of me and I cried for very joy to think that this mighty nation was now with us in the conflict. If at times I had begun to despair of the war being soon over I now felt that complete victory could not long be denied the Allies, supported and encouraged by the soul and the endless resources of America. That great surging, cheering, high-spirited concourse at Wall Street did me more good than anything else for months. I was so affected that I had to go home to my hotel and lie down for an hour or two.

Of course every town I visited did not respond so readily or so whole-heartedly as did the people of the vast commercial metropolis. Here and there my efforts were frowned upon. I was again told that I was not wanted in my capacity of British booster. Open hostility was shown to my work in some places. Misunderstandings and criticisms met me at many turns. Even newspapers which had been marvellously kind to me as an artiste were severe in their condemnations of my war speeches. Threats were levelled against me in cities where the German element was strong. But I felt like a soldier; I was "carrying on?' for the sake of my country and my dead son. Occasionally I was encouraged in a very difficult task by incidents which proved to me that, after all, America was really with the Old Country in sentiment and ideals and in her determination to put a stop to the Bloody Thing. A poem which appeared about me in one of the New York weekly journals gave me much pleasure at the time. I came across it a few days ago when rummaging among my American documents and readers of my memoirs may forgive me if I reprint it here.

THE FIERY CROSS
(Dedicated to Harry Lauder)

He stood behind the footlights and he set the crowd a-laughing
With the same old crooning chuckle that we loved in other years,
And only those who knew could guess the grief behind the daffing
But for those who did, the laughter had a secret salt of tears.
Then at the last he came out in his grass-green coat and bonnet
With his gaudy tartans coloured like a garden in the sun,
The same quaint little figure—but a different face was on it
When he sang about the laddies that so well had fought and won.

A face lined hard with furrows where the plough of pain had driven.
Blue eyes that now were shadow-set through many a sleepless night,
The face of one who more than life ungrudgingly had given
Who called on us to do as well—and, ah I we owned his right.
We saw in him the Fiery Cross of Scotland, charred and gory
And our spirit burned within us to the challenge that he gave,
For the player was a prophet as he spoke his people's glory,
"We're a wee land, and a puir land, but, by God above, we're brave."

Please do not think for a moment that I take the liberty of reprinting these verses because I agree with their all too flattering picture of myself at the time of which I am writing. But they certainly represented the spirit in which I appeared before the American public in 1917. The authoress signed herself "Amelia J. Burr," but I do not know her and never met her. Many different people sent me copies of the New York Outlook in which the poem appeared and the mere fact that they did so showed that my efforts were being generally appreciated—and understood.

My theatre work was interspersed daily with attendances at Rotary and Kiwanis Club meetings, with trips to U. S. Training Camps, or cantonments as they were called, and with private functions all convened for the pursuit of war aims and movements. My Sundays were given up entirely to entertaining the troops in training. Here I would like to say a word or two concerning the magnificent young manhood which represented the first fruits of the United States war effort. These boys were simply wonderful. Every man- jack of them was a study in physical and mental fitness. They filled me with intense admiration, reminding me of the early Scottish regiments that had marched away to battle three years before. And their spirit was as high as their bodies were clean and strong and handsome. With all the American soldiers I was a great favourite I am glad to say and they sang my choruses with lusty glee and vim. I wrote a song specially for "the boys" and taught them to sing it as well. It was entitled "Marching With the President." It was sung in every camp all over the States and also in France later on.

To see young America in training for the art and practice of war, as I saw her in these months of '17, was to realize something of the greatness of this robust, vital, energetic, and pulsating nation. Probably no American citizen, with the exception of several in high places, had half the opportunities I had of seeing the flower of her young army. Here were indeed Lindberghs in the making--many of them. Clear-eyed, clean-mouthed, frank of face, heads held high; I was as proud of them as though they had been wearing the tartans of my own land. And when they went to France they fought with tremendous gallantry as I knew they would. Never mind who won the war! If you really ask me that question I will tell you. I was asked it once at a big social affair in New York two or three years ago and the answer I made them is the answer I will give you now—."After long and serious consideration of the whole subject I have come to the conclusion that the English and the French and the Belgians and the Americans all admirably assisted Scotland to win the war!"

The National Security League was one of the most important organizations in the States during the war. It was my privilege frequently to co-operate with the League in its mass meetings. It was a real "ginger" body and a lady who had much to do with its success was Mrs. Preston (formerly Mrs. Grover Cleveland) whose work as secretary was tireless and indefatigable. She and I had many long "cracks" together about the League and its labours. There can be no doubt that the N. S. L. rendered service which for precision and thoroughness can seldom have been equalled in a national emergency. Altogether I found America, during the latter months of 1917, in a grip of war fervour I had never thought, even dimly, possible. This fervour conscripted industry, intellect, -Wealth, time and devotion of men, women and children in a manner which amazed me then and has amazed me ever since. Happy shall I always be that I was able to lend a humble hand in this period in the history of the country. Hail, Columbia!

This tour took me from coast to coast. I also spent several weeks in Canada, going right up to Montreal from Boston. I was now, as you may imagine, worked up to a white heat of enthusiasm and patriotism. I felt that it was now or never. I knew the situation at home. I had just come from the States where a wave of war effort, tremendous and unparalleled in its own way, was sweeping everything before it. It had been arranged that I should address the Montreal Rotarians immediately on my arrival. I looked forward with immense delight to renewing my intimate and enjoyable relations with my Canadian friends. I had a lot to tell them, too, of the immortal bravery of their own Canadian troops at the front—soldiers who had carved their names in letters of Fire and Death while serving with one or other of the British corps on the Somme, the Ancre, or in Flanders. It was common knowledge in Europe that the Canadians had proved amongst the very best and most gallant fighters in all the dramatic happenings of the past eighteen months. Britain was ringing with their exploits. With all this on my mind I was distressed, on reaching Montreal, to find so many young and splendid fellows stroll- ing about the streets. I could not believe my eyes as I walked down St. James' Street and observed crowds of what I deemed to be eligible men in mufti.

Naturally, the first thing I did, on rising to my feet at the Rotarian lunch, was to make reference to the impression that was uppermost in my mind. I did not stop to think of any racial or religious or political undercurrents among the French Canadians. As a matter of honest fact I knew of none. I am no politician, thank God, and I have always said just what I thought at most times, thank God again. But when I began to speak at that meeting about Mother France pouring forth her dearest blood from every vein and asked if the French blood in Canada was not mingling as freely as it ought with that of the Motherland I sensed that I had ventured on dangerous ground. My speech created a furore. What I said was said in all innocence, with one desire only in my heart—to strengthen the hands of those who were fighting for the security and the sanctity of human rights. But I was entirely misjudged. The Montreal newspapers did not do anything to lessen the turmoil my speech had created; one or two of them fanned the flames and openly accused me of referring to the citizens of the town in terms of opprobrium and race prejudice. The excitement was terrific. By tea-time the town was in a swirl of rage at Harry Lauder and his insolent speech. Aggressive callers at the hotel and angry ringers-up on the telephone showed how much I had annoyed certain citizens. I was casually threatened with bodily punishment for my presumption. My friends advised me to stay indoors for the rest of the night and some of them implored me to cancel my week's show at the theatre. Both pieces of advice I refused to act upon. Instead I put on my kilt and Balmoral bonnet and walked alone as far as St. Catherine Street and St. Lawrence Boulevard. I was not molested in any way but I had to listen to many awkward and nasty observations. Guards were posted outside the place where I was living and I was told that troops were being held in readiness to cope with any outbreak that might take place. At eight o'clock I drove down to His Majesty's Theatre and had a great reception from a large crowd. The theatre itself was full to the doors and after my performance I made my usual speech but refrained from adding any fuel to the fire I had unwittingly kindled earlier in the day.

All this matter of the Montreal adventure I refer to now so that I can officially and emphatically deny that there was anything behind the remarks which caused such a sensation. As God is my witness I had not the slightest intention of coming across anybody's fingers or interfering with religious or political affairs or complications. I am getting to be an old man now and as my record and reputation are every- thing to me I wish them to bear no stain of prejudice or unworthy motive, particularly in the work I attempted to do during the Great War.

From Montreal to Toronto. Any fear that I might have forfeited the affection of my Canadian admirers was dispelled for ever from my mind by the extraordinary reception I received there. And in every other city in Canada throughout that tour the same story was told—"We are with the dear Old Mother Country to the last man and the last dollar!"

 


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