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CITY OF GLOOM

TALKS WITH TOMMIES. THEIITsONGS. The following extracts are taken front an interesting contribution by Mr RBlatehford to' the ' Weekly Despatch : We have been living for 10 days in * city of dreadful silence. Day after tay tit about half-past three a crowd of Parisians congregates round a window in the Avenue de l'Opera and reads eagerly the French official communique. Every* morning the French papers come out with tho ""official communique in big V.ack type. And it Is always the same. [ will qaote it : No detailed information is to hand. On our left wing cavalry engagements are still going on in the neighborhood of La Bassee.'Estaires, and Hazebrouck. Between Arras and the Oise the enemy have attempted several attacks, which have failed. This report, seems to be stereotyped. We get it day after day. The Parisians read it and try to be hopeful. It is characterised by a modesty and caution which, however well meant, are calculated to get n one's nerves. This afternoon I met an Did' friend on the boulevard, a London journalist, and he asked me very wistfully what I mad? of the situation. "" It seems to me." lie said, "that we make no progress at all. Antwerp has fallen, and we Feern to be held up. I have' been in France for two months, and T begin to think the war will last for years. Do you know anything? Is there any news?" There is no news in Paris. It is a city of dreadful silence. Judging from the Parisian papers, we have had throe weeks of " violent attacks." and nothing lias come of them—nothing but the fall of Antwerp and tho dropping of bombs in Pans. ' Apparently the cavalry engagement "on"our left wing" has been going on for the last 10 days. The Parisians are very brave and patient, but they are also ve'rv anxious. Thev feel like my friend the London journalist, that tho war threatens to become a war of" extermination. I think the French Headquarters Raff ought to be less reticent. You in London must be better informed than we are here. In fact, the only news we get comes to us through the 'Daily Mai!.' But I do not form my opinions upon the newspaper reports. 1 judge>. by the facts. I sent my London friend away comforted, and I will tell you how I did it. I will put it to you as I put it to him, because you in England can have no idea of the terrible silence in which we live in France. While the French official communique has been repeating day after day the bald gtatement that ''on our left wing the enemy have made violent attacks, which have "been repulsed," I have noticed that the locality of the "violent attacks" has shifted. The right wing of the enemy is no longer where it was. Instead of being close to Amiens it is now on and over the Belgian frontier. The Battle of the Aisne is no longer on the Aisne. The Germans have been driven back. Since their repulse on the Marne they have been defeated time after time. Never from the day when Von Kluck was cheeked north-east of Paris have the Germans scored a single point. German guns and German prisoners are being carried west day after day. Day after day the irresistible advance of the German army has been towards the rear. The French and British, fighting like heroes, have repelled all attacks, have carried one position after another. The legend of German invincibility has been shattered. Germany is beaten: it is only a question of time, and time is on the side of the Allies. There is no cause for anxiety: only rause for pride and comfort. But this Is a very big war: the greatest war in known history, and we must steel our hearts to patience. We have a three-fold grip upon the enemy. Here in France the Allies hold the enemy with the hold of a bulldog. In the east the Russians move forward like a creeping tide. On the sea the British Navy has a strangle hold, which nothing can" shake off. The Germans know it. Their frantic boasts, their desperate outrages are sufficient proof. Note the brag of their admiral. Von Tirpitz. From Antwerp they will begin the " new war upon England." But what does Admiral Jellicoo say ? Not a word. The Kaiser raves to Grid, but Sir ■John French and General Joffre say nothing. Only every day for weeks the French state cokllv that "on our left wing there have been violent assaults, which have been repulsed." The Russians are as reticent. They do not talk, but they move up more' troops, and more troops. Those oi ycu v.-lira Unovr l?tvr\s. cannot imagine what it is like at present. My youiig friend and I have tried two hotels, and found them, gloomy and almost deserted. In the great hotel whero I am now writing we appear to be the only guests. Th» staff has almost vanished. If we want a drink or a smoke we must have it in our bedromu. If we want breakfast we must have it served in cur bedroom. At eight all the cafes are closed. At half-past 10 the boulevards are nearly dark and nearly deserted. At midnight the streets of Paris are empty and silent. I have gone out and found no life; not a straggler, not a passing vehicle: only along the wide grey vistas of the boulevards, at long intervals,, a. couple of policemen. Of the shops more than half are closed. Amusement there is none. When one has lunched and dined and had one's coffee, one may go home to bed. This great hotel is as silent f.s a ehureh at night. At 10 the great iron gates are closed : at. 12 the place is locked up. Is this Paris? In the day time we go and sit outside the cafe and watch tho boulevards. Here are some new features. Among the trafiic very many military motor cars may be seen, and very many cars and ambulances carrying the Bed Cross flag. Cuming from the east are dosed ambulances -carrying wounded and he;i#y 'waggons, dusty end worn, lumbering in from the front. Yesterday, as wo sat. a train of motor vans halted almost in front of us. I sawon one of them the legend " Hartley's Marmalade" and on another " The Bon Marche. Brixton," and I ran out to talk to the khaki-clad driver. A small crowd code.ted instantly, hungry for news. I spoke to the driver of one van. a typical English Tommy, with a three-days' beard i'.nd a stained and ragged uniform, and asked him whence he came. He said : " Wo are in from the front. We are taking all these vans to get repaired, then we shall go back with new ones. We have been two days coming from Soissons." T. said : "What is it like out there ?" and he answered i " Yery rongh. We've had a devil of a time. The roads are all cut up with heavy traffic, guns and waggons. The land out there is cut to pieces with shell fire. You never saw anything like it. The Gorman 'Black Marias' and the French ami English howitzers have cut the roads to pieces-. There aTe holes blown in the ground big enough to hide one of these vane in. The fields are torn to pieces. Itplays the deuce with our tyres." " I suppost." I said. " it is pretty hot out there .'" " Well. 3tr." said the young soldier, " nbfcody Could tell you what it's like : you would have to see ji toTTnderstand. The guns keep on night and day. Tire- row is enough to deafen you. Yon can hear it miles away. Are you .from London, sir?" 1 said 1 was from London, and had not been out here long. Then he leaned down dnd his face kindled and he said : " How tlec3 it look in town? What do they think about it ? It's good to see. someone from home." I gave h"im such information aa I could, and handed him some newspapers and my tobaeco pouch, and he bv.<] ■. "Do you think this war will be over by Christmas, sir?" I told him I was afraid n<-*. "Well." he said, "I'd like to he in town at Christmas. And if it lasts longer than that, why, there won't be airy haliy Germa-ms left alive." I asked him tken why ho thought that, and he ecsid : " Th#y can't go on g*fctiag killed like they ar« doing now, sir, no matter how many there niav be. Why, I was up behind tho firing lino, giving a hand to the bearera when the Germans made an attack on the Guards, Why, the Guards shot them down in sections. They dropped in fours and fives. Our chaps JlaW been laying- them out like that- for *re«k9." At this moment an excited Fwnchvoimm pushed her way through the

crowd and aalced in very (broken English whether tho Germans had ibeen driven out of the quarries. The London Tommy smiled. "Why, no," ho said, "I don't think so; but I don't mind telling you they soon will be." "Meanwhile a group of Parisians was clustered roimd tho lino of worn and dusty vans, examining them and pointing 1 out to each other tho marks of shrapnel and shell splinters. Tommy smiled. "It's thick out there," ho .said; " 1 shall bo glad of a sleep and a bath and a shave. Xo time to shave there, sir. Chaps have to be fed; and we do feed 'em. They got their grub, and plenty of it. It has to be a strong man to eat his full rations. Why. one of the Irish Guards brought in two German prisoners, and they did in a day's rations in five minutes. They were .starving; but they oidy managed one ration. Rotten, I. call it, feeding those chaps. They don" play tho game, sir. They put up tho white flag and then fire on us. In one attack some of 'em emptied their magazines and then called out 'Spare me, I'm a London waiter.' But the Guards were not having that. Dirty, 1 call it. But our chaps get. good grub ; and they need it, ton." And then tho front van "hooted, and my von rig soldier shook hands with me, and I saw him no more. The Mime evening, as we went t<j dinner, we found outside the cafe a group of French waiters around a war-worn British soldier. Tommy was covered with dust. He had a st"rnbby beard, .and over his left eye a patch of lint or plaster. He had "dumped down on the pavement a large- bundle, and was searching his pockets for a match. " It's no use talkin' French to me." he said to one of the waiters, " I only know ' We. we." C:m you talk Hindcstanee'.' Well, then, look here. I -want some di.ggln's. I'm tired, and I warn some diggin's. madam. Goon. 1 don't want a grand hotel. I'm fit to sleep on a meat hook. See? Been in the bally trenches, fight in' and fish-tin'. Been on the ballv march, liooflin' it._ See that bundle? 'it's baccy and shirts. That's what- we want : good"baccy ail' clean shirts. Been iightin' till I'm What? T want "somewhere to sleep." I looked at To-inmv, for I thought he was not sober. But 1 saw that he was just exhausted. His eves closed as he spoke. He fumbled for matches, leaning on his rifle, and kept harping on tho two ideas which remained clearly visible to him : that he had been fighting, and that he wanted to sleep. And the French wait-era, one of whom spoke English, took care of him and sent him off to some " diggin's," where he could sleep. The last "we heard of him was hie declaration : "Don't want money. Got money. Gob baccv and shirts : what"l want " The next morning we left Paris and travelled by a 20-mi'les-an-hcur express to a city which I will call Nowhere. At tire first stop (we stopped at evcrv station, and generally stayed lon-) there V>t into our tram a British soldier and a"French soldier, the. latter wounded in the leg. I went to the Juiglisbman and had a chat. Ho was from London and belom-cd to the Ordnance Corps. He had eciiie up to Paris- from the base in charge of an aeroplane, and was returning when™ ho came. Ho said he had a 12-hours' ride in front of him. We got him and the wounded Frenchman seats in. a first-class smoker, and wo carried on a difficult conversation, the Englishman and I talkin? in English, while tho wounded man and two civilian compatriots talked in French. My man was. very intere.-ting. He-said : "We go back and "to, taking stores, clothing, nuns and letters to the front, and bringing back wounded and damaged, waggons and cantered guns. It's rough scrapping at the front. AW fee a good deal of it. Yo-u see. sir. while we are waiting they put us to any job—carrying wound?d or taking ,i turn in the firing line, or anything fha's going. The shell fire, is a caution. Big "sheik fail, and blow a. motor waggon all to scraps. They d'g out a hole in the, ground big enough fma. beer cellar. They sling burrow leads of; earth all over the "chaps. Often you get half buried, and while you are crawling out another comes and does you in again! | Worse, too. my chum was 'killed. "Ws wero acting as bearers. Tie had gone across from one doctor to another to get a roll of bandage for a wounded gunner who was bleeding badly, and a shell bmet and cat him right in two. It slashed across his chest and cut him in half. He was onlv a few yards away." After a whilo the Ordnance Corps man began to talk again. He said: " Our chaps at the front have better times now. They fightin reliefs, so as. to let the men get- efleep. They arc well looked after, too. They have evervthing thev want. Thev are well fed. * We "send 'them up fresh' meat and fruit. There are great heaps of stores at. our base.' I tell vou it is a line fihow. Works like a clock." Wo cent a heat) of captured German guns over this week, ami 12 idiips cmvying wounded for England. I (len't think this" war will last long, sir, do you?" It is rather remarkable, that all the. soldiers I have spoken with believe that the war cannot la-t long. The Ordnance Corps mm based his opinion on the German losses, just as did the man of the Armv Service Corps. "Thev are killing them like flk's." he said. "J'he laud i* planted thick with Gorman dead. When 1 was up there a lot of tho w.ue covering the graves with quicklime. The. | German trenches we have taken are in a shocking state. It's a wonder they don't take cholera «r something. Dyc-enleiy thev have. now. Their hospital service is poor. Thev don't, seem to care, for their i men. They don't care how many they iofo. and 'when a man's, wounded and can't light lie's just so much rubbish. i You ."bonk! hear the German prisoners talk about their either.-. Thev don't half hate them! Well, that's not p <„d, is it,

sir? Bound to tell kagainst an army. Stands to reason they're not going to hold cut against us. Cur omeer.s are just- lipping chaps. Know their job, too. Look thete, .sir. That's the idea." 1 looked out- of the window, and on the white, high road lying parallel to tho railway 1 saw a long Hue- of motor transport cars of many diiterent kinds, and with them a large i'or.e of British soldiers. I asked mv friend what- it might betoken, and he said: " New cars, sir, "going up to the, front, to replace old ones. It's Just as I told you, hit; it works- like a clock. It astonishes tho French—no doubt of that. I don't suppose any army ever had smh a supply system. Cars, guns, grub, and rciuhneements going up one line : prisoners, wounded, and captured artillery aiming down the other. Ir is read good business." I havo given all this information because 1 do "not know whether you in England realise- to the full how perfect are tho organisation and training of the British "Army of to-day. I have for 50 ve-ars heard our War Office censured and ridiculed for its blundering, wasteful incompetence, and the blame has been deserved. It is only fair, then, to recognise that the War Ot'Uce of the present is entitled to the gratitude and praise of the whole Empire. In the mattcm of supply and transport, of training, equipment and arms, of food, clothing, and medical service, tho British Army "lias -established a record. The. wnoothness and quietness with which the whole organisation has worked are simply wonderful. It is a new thing to mo to "sav that I am proud of the War Office, but- I must say it, and I hope the British public will eay the same. Thin reminds me of Ladv Jellicoe's letter to the 'Daily Mail.' Sir John .Tellicoe states that, although tho Admiralty is supplving winter clothing to the .Navy, the snpplv will bo inadequate to tho special needs. Knitted he!m"ts, glove?. and jersevs a.re needed, and sea boots and oilskins also. These things should bo supplied nt. once i: fh-ey can W bought, for money. Nothing tho Admiralty " thinks right-'to fpenl on the care- and comfort of the. Navy will be grudged by the nation. I cannot believe that the articles needed arc r.ct to be botisht in the United King-_ dom, or in America or the colonies-. It they can be bought, the men ought, to liava them at once. If they cannot he bought, they can he made ; but the work of malting them, should be. organised and directed, and if needful paid for, by the Admiralty. One day in a tram we heard a shout, and tho tram conductor clapped his hands and dh-o«red, and half a dozen jolly L'nglish Tommies leapt en board, with the-ir caps on the backs of their heads and their white tew-tli uutrldrm bruiht slile across their

bronzed young faces. They were, privates 0 f Artillery and Londoners to a boy. They slapped the conductor on -the back. shook hands with two French soldiers, and immediately began to whistle, in concert •Ragtime Cowboy Joe.' They looked full of mischief and/were good to sop. They we.ro as clean as new dolls and bubbling over with high spirits. And they sang: isonge of the" music-halls and songs of Hurry Lauder, and we felt quite gay. But after a wliilo oik 1 of the boys, who seemed to act as chairman, .struck up a different air, and they all sang ' It's a Long Wav to Tipperary/ and I felt a lump come into my throat." Perhaps that sounds strange "to you. But when you have heard a regiment sing it as they started for tho front, and when you have seen the ambulances and the hospitals, and. when you hear it sung by English boys in France, I can assure you it gets home at you. Well, I suppose, "(lie fact is I'm very sad and tore, and feel as it the. dear Tommies in tho trenches and in the shell-lire and on the hospital beds wer-o sons of mine. And it is no ii.se talking about'it all, ifl it? It is too horrible. Tommy has won his way to the hearts of the French girls, and is having the time of his life. Time after time we came across single Tommies or pairs of Tommies em-rounded by groups 1 of girls and children. Most of the Tommies I saw had not a shoulder plate to bless themselves with. Tho girls enwded iv/nrd thorn, prattling away, while Tommy stood and beamed, or now and t'hvn took up a French child in his arms. "It gives one confidence," said a British journalist to me in Paris, "to see our men in tho streets." And he was .right Our soldiers look so solid, so cheerfully composed, go clean and healthy, so nice, that upon my word 1' am as much in love with them as are any o{ the girls of Nowhere. As for our officers, they arc a race, of giants. 1 have never scon eo many tall, .straight, active oftioer«s in my life as I have seen in France. And to sec them striding along the old French streets, wellbuilt, well-groomed, manly fellows really dees one good. If the German professors who prated so much of our decadence had beheld as in a vision these British giants full of life and masters of "their job" they would have moderated their transports and done their crowing in the minor kev.

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Bibliographic details

CITY OF GLOOM, Evening Star, Issue 15692, 5 January 1915

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3,520

CITY OF GLOOM Evening Star, Issue 15692, 5 January 1915

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