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A Minstrel in France
Chapter 3

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 prepare.

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 reply.

"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 husband!

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, probable!

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 warning.

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 that day.

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 behind it.

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.


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