Gateway to the Classics: The Little Book of the War by Eva March Tappan
The Little Book of the War by  Eva March Tappan

"Kitchener's Mob"

During the first two months of the war, two new countries joined the Allies besides those that have been named, Japan and Montenegro. Japan had before this made an agreement to stand by England, in the East; but she had also two strong reasons of her own for wishing to have a hand in the struggle. One was to win the friendship of Russia, so Russia would not interfere with her occupation of Korea and Manchuria; the other was to get possession of the district of Kiao-chau in China, and probably by returning it to China to make a firm alliance with the Chinese nation.

Some years earlier two German missionaries had been murdered in China, and in reprisal Germany had seized Kiao-chau and obliged the Chinese to give her a lease of the district for ninety-nine years together with other valuable privileges. Japan lost no time in sending her ultimatum, or last word, to Germany, advising her, in the interests of peace, to deliver up Kiao-chau within a certain number of days. The Japanese have a keen sense of humor, and they must have enjoyed writing this ultimatum, for they modeled it, phrase for phrase, upon one which Germany had sent to Japan, requiring her to give up some territory which she had taken in a war with China. Germany made no reply, and Japan promptly began a bombardment. Kiao-chau surrendered.

Montenegro, "glorious, immortal Montenegro," as Gladstone called it, is a tiny kingdom whose capital Cettinje is perched on a mountain-top thousands of feet above the Adriatic Sea. There is a story that an emperor of Austria once said to a prince of Montenegro, "My brother the prince lives high." "True," replied the prince, "my brother the emperor has taken all the sea, the Turks have taken all the land; so there is nothing left for me but the sky." The Montenegrins have always been famous as fighters and as patriots, and for centuries they maintained their freedom by frequent struggles with the Turks. They are a proud, honorable people, hospitable and courteous and brave as lions. They are Serbs by race, and they promptly joined Serbia in the war against Austria. Many Montenegrins were living in Canada when the war broke out, and as they could not reach their own country, they enlisted with the Canadian forces.

For many years Germany had been at work to gain control over Turkey. The Kaiser himself had paid a visit to Constantinople, and had declared himself to be the firm friend of all Mohammedans. Indeed, a story was spread throughout Turkey that he had become a convert to the faith of Mohammed. In the Balkan Wars, German officers aided the Turks. When the "Young Turks" brought about a revolution in 1908, Germany was more than ready to give her advice and help, to drill the Turkish troops, to provide officers and equipment, and little by little to get control into her own hands. "When our government is in shape, we shall say good-bye to Germany," declared the Young Turks; but Germany's aims were quite different. She wanted, first, a Turkish decree permitting her to build a railroad to Baghdad, which should open the way for Germany in the East; and this she had already obtained; second, she wanted Turkey, when "the day" should arrive, to be a well-trained and obedient military ally.

On the day that Germany began the war, Turkey signed a secret treaty with Germany, and, although posing as a neutral, soon began to perform unneutral acts. She closed the Dardanelles, thus cutting off Russia from communication with her allies, and she bombarded Russian seaports on the Black Sea. Moreover, when two of Germany's fastest cruisers were in danger of capture in the Mediterranean Sea and reached the closed Dardanelles, they hoisted the Turkish flag and sailed through into safety, as they had been ordered by wireless to do. By German trickery there had been a mock sale of the cruisers to Turkey, who could not possibly pay for them. So it was that she was forced into the war and was now in the power of Germany. There is a story that a Turk said, in friendly fashion to a Belgian then in Constantinople, "I have terrible news for you; the Germans have captured Brussels." "But I have even more terrible news for you," said the Belgian, pointing to the two cruisers lying at anchor. "The Germans have captured Turkey."

At the close of the year 1914 ten nations had entered the struggle. If a formal declaration of war had been necessary to precede fighting, matters would have been in a queer state of confusion. Japan, for instance, had declared war against Germany, but Germany had not declared war on Japan. Germany and Austria-Hungary had declared war on Belgium, but Belgium had simply tried her best to defend herself, and had not stopped for any declaration of her purposes. At the end of 1914 Germany and Austria-Hungary and their friend Turkey stood against England, France, Belgium, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Japan.

Almost every country of the world maintains a standing army, and in nearly all countries men are obliged to prepare themselves for war and to serve as soldiers if there is need. In Germany, for instance, every able-bodied young man is required to begin his military training at the age of twenty, and he may be called upon at seventeen. For seven years he is a member of, first, the standing army, and then of the reserves. Of course, this does not mean that he is under arms for seven years except in war-time. Cavalrymen and artillerymen are in service three years, others two years. Students who have passed a state examination are required to serve but one year. At the age of twenty-seven, the German becomes a member of the home guards. Twelve years later, he is put into a force known as the Landsturm;  and here, for six years longer, or until he is forty-five, he may be called upon in any emergency for such services as guarding bridges or military supplies.

In the matter of equipment, too, Germany is thoroughly systematized. When the call was given to mobilize, every man in the land knew in just which storehouse his equipment was kept. His clothes, shoes, hat, etc., had all been tried on before, so there was no delay in finding a fit. All that he had to do was to walk into the storehouse, say, "I am Fritz —," or, "I am number —," and receive a large bundle, which he carried off to a dressing-room. In this bundle were two uniforms complete with leggings, trousers, shoes, and underwear. There were also four pairs of socks, a hat, blankets, housewife or "comfort bag," and a brass tag stamped with his official number. He put the cord of the brass tag around his neck, dressed himself, made up the rest of his equipment into one roll to carry with him, and the clothes in which he came into another to leave with the clerk. His rifle, belt, and ammunition he got either at the same building or another, but just as quickly; and in a few minutes the civilian had become a soldier all ready to march to battle.

England, however, had never introduced compulsory service. Her troops were made up of men who had volunteered to serve. The result of the two methods was that in Germany, when the war broke out, every man had been trained as a soldier. In less than two years England had to resort to conscription, but at the beginning of the war she had only her small standing army to fall back upon for immediate service. This is why she could send only 150,000 troops to aid the French in the battle of the Marne. Evidently a large force must be raised as soon as possible, and the business was put into the hands of "Kitchener of Khartum."

Earl Kitchener was an Irishman of brilliant military genius, which he had proved many times, but especially in the capture of Khartum in the Sudan. He now went to work to create the largest volunteer army in the history of the world. Men enlisted, but arms, equipment, even uniforms, were wanting. Before long, clothes were sometimes fastened together with shoestrings and safety pins, and shoes without holes were almost unknown. "All men needing boots, one pace forward, march!" the quartermaster once commanded a company, and the whole company moved briskly and hopefully forward. But only a single dozen pairs had arrived, and these were in just two sizes. The British soldier, whom his country nicknames "Tommy Atkins," has a keen sense of humor, and he promptly dubbed himself and his companions "Kitchener's Mob." Indeed, as far as outfit went, the "Mob" were hardly better off than the little ragamuffins of the town who paraded up and down the streets of London with paper caps and wooden swords, gravely bearing a banner with the legend, "We will fight for our country and defend the King." Among those who wished to enlist were many who were under the regulation height. Kitchener suggested that they form a division of their own. These were nicknamed the "Bantams."

Earl Kitchener was a silent man, and he was not much given to letter-writing, but when his "Mob" was ready to embark its first troops for "somewhere in France," each man received a copy of his letter to the troops ordered abroad. This said in part:—

You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience. Remember that the honor of the British Army depends upon your individual conduct. . . . You can do your country no better service than in showing yourself, in France and Belgium, in the true character of a British soldier.

Be invariably courteous, considerate, and kind. Never do anything likely to injure or destroy property, and always look upon looting as a disgraceful act. You are sure to meet with a welcome and to be trusted; and your conduct must justify that welcome and that trust.

Do your duty bravely.

Fear God.

Honor the King.

Kitchener Field-Marshal

"Kitchener's Mob" had become Kitchener's army, and when they went into battle, it was said of them, "Nothing stops them except being killed." Less than two years after the breaking-out of the war, Earl Kitchener was on his way to Russia on war business for the nation. His vessel either struck a mine or was torpedoed not far from the Orkney Islands. It was hard to think of the energetic soldier as quiet in death, and a myth quickly arose that he had been captured by a German submarine and was kept a prisoner in Germany.

When Kitchener's men reached the front, they found quite a different sort of warfare from any in which Englishmen had ever been engaged before. Modern explosives are of such terrific power that forts cannot withstand them. Bodies of men, advancing in regular formation, would be mowed down like grass. This led to "trench fighting." The general plan of the trench is a deep zigzag ditch stretching along on the front toward the enemy. Somewhat parallel with this and fourteen or fifteen yards behind it is a second trench, connected with the first by many passageways. In the walls of the second trench recesses were dug to serve as berths for the men; and running back from it were deep and narrow blind alleys in which they could take refuge when the bombs became too furious. Here and there were shell-proof "dug-outs," twenty feet or more under ground. In some of the captured German dug-outs, evidently meant for officers and prepared for a long residence, there were armchairs, electric lights, ventilating fans, bookcases, rugs, and even wall-paper. One dug-out is described by the soldiers as large enough to hold several thousand men. It had been a quarry, but now it contained, besides places for the men, a first-aid hospital, and a cooperative store. Later, the "pill-boxes" were introduced. These are turrets of concrete and steel, connected by short trenches. They give much better protection against barrage fire than do the open trenches. Both trenches and pill-boxes are protected from infantry attack by extensive barbed-wire entanglements.

As the war progressed, a captured trench became almost as dangerous as one occupied by the enemy, for the Germans left their trenches full of traps. Cutting a thread might explode a detonator. A piece of equipment left with scraps, an empty shell, a helmet, bayonet, anything that would be likely to attract a soldier's notice was risky to touch. Later, the brutal traps used for catching bears were sometimes chained firmly in No Man's Land in the hope of catching an opponent between their steel teeth.

When a trench was dry, it was fairly endurable, even though great fat lazy rats roamed through it at their own will; but when it was wet—! It is no wonder that the irrepressible Tommy sang,—

"I never knew till now how muddy mud is, I never knew how muddy mud could be."

The Irish especially were full of pranks. In one terrific charge the members of the London Rugby Club kicked a football before them as they made the first dash. "On the ball, London Irish!" they shouted, and those who were not brought down by the storm of bullets actually kicked that ball straight into the enemy's trenches, which they captured with a jubilant shout of "Goal!" In another dash up a hill in the face of machine guns in full blast during the struggle near the Aisne, a tall Irish Guardsman rushed on in front of the line, flourishing the green flag, which he had tied round the barrel of his rifle, and shouting, "Ireland forever!"

Soon a double line of such trenches as have been described extended from the North Sea to Switzerland, one line held by the Germans, the other by the French and what the Kaiser called "the contemptible little English army." This line swayed from time to time a few miles toward Germany or a few miles toward France, as the case might be. The Germans overran nearly all of Belgium and twice made an effort to break through the French and English lines in that country, once at the Yser River in the attempt to reach Calais, and once at Ypres, which the disrespectful Tommy insisted upon pronouncing "Wipers." The attempts to reach Calais and Paris were unsuccessful. On the other hand, the Germans held Belgium and also northeastern France, the portion of France which is rich in coal and iron.

It was at Ypres that Tommy discovered an old printing-house with paper and ink, and in the spirit of conservation he set to work to publish a paper which he called the Wipers Times. It advises its subscribers to insure against submarines; describes the trench as "the best-ventilated hall in town"; advertises quack medicines warranted to cure cold feet; asks the loan of an umbrella as a protection against taking cold when going out to cut barbed wire; and finally bursts into verse and thus describes home life in the trenches:—

"Take a wilderness of ruin,

Spread with mud quite six feet deep;

In this mud now cut some channels,

Then you have the line we keep.

"Now you get some wire that's spiky,

Throw it round outside your line;

Get some pickets, drive in tightly,

And round these your wire entwine,

"Get a lot of Huns and plant them

In a ditch across the way;

Now you have war in the making,

As waged here from day to day."

But Tommy is not all fun, and he closes with,—

"Oft we're told 'Remember Belgium,'

In the years that are to be;

Crosses set by all her ditches

Are our pledge of memory."

This was the condition of things on what came to be called the Western Front. There was also an Eastern Front, which gradually extended itself from Riga on the Gulf of Riga to the Black Sea. The Russians could not make their way into France, but they kept so much going on in the east that German troops had to be withdrawn from the Western Front and sent against them. Poland, in the western part of Russia, thrusts a square wedge between Germany and Austria. It looks on the map like an easy route for the Russians into the heart of the enemy's country; but the Grand Duke Nicholas knew very well that if he took it, the Germans could come from the north and the Austrians from the south and crush his forces between them; therefore he marched straight into the part of Germany which extends farthest into Russia. Now, there was in Germany a retired general, Von Hindenburg, who had long amused the military folk of the country by insisting that in case of war this region would be of the utmost importance. He made it such, for there he won a great victory over the Russian troops. No one smiled at Von Hindenburg's notions again.

Another army of Russians made a successful drive into Galicia, in northeastern Hungary. Unluckily for them, they were not so cautious as they were brave, and they were nearly destroyed by the German von Mackensen. They tried it again with fresh troops, and now they took Lemberg and began the siege of the unpronounceable Przemysl. This held out until well into 1915. Meanwhile, the Germans had made a drive into Poland and were aiming at Warsaw; but like Przemysl this did not change masters until 1915.

The Western and the Eastern were the two principal fronts, but as the war continued, other fronts developed. Just before the Germans occupied Louvain, the Austrians made a dash into Serbia, but were driven back. A second time they attacked Serbia, and from across the Danube they bombarded Belgrade into ruins and pushed on victoriously. Suddenly, as in Hawthorne's story of "The Gray Champion," there came galloping straight into the midst of the battle-field the white-haired Serbian King. More than forty years earlier King Peter had fought for the French in the Franco-Prussian War. Three times he had been captured by the Germans, and three times he had escaped. No fear had he of Prussian or Austrian, and he led his troops in so furious and unexpected an attack that the whole Austrian army retreated to their own country. Serbia's fall was yet to come, but for a year she was safe.

Germany had planned to become mistress of the seas. She had built the famous Kiel Canal, so that her war vessels could pass easily from the Baltic into the North Sea without having to go around Denmark; and here much of her fleet was gathered. In July, 1914, England had held in the English Channel a review of her warships, 215 in all. They had not dispersed, and so, the moment that war broke out, they were ready to do their part, and they bottled up the German fleet in Wilhelmshaven, west of the Kiel Canal. A few cruisers and torpedo boats escaped the patrol. Any one who knows the career of the German commerce raider Emden, how she destroyed shipping to the value of $10,000,000 before she was sunk by an Australian war vessel, can guess what damage the whole German navy might have done had it not been for the prompt action of the British fleet.

At the end of 1914, England still ruled the seas, but Germany had acquired nearly all of Belgium, about one tenth of France, and part of Russian Poland. At the Eastern Front, as at the Western, the war seemed to have come to a deadlock. The Russians had done excellent work not only in driving the Austrians out of the passes of the Carpathian Mountains, but in occupying the greater part of Austrian Galicia. The results of the war for 1914 have been summed up in one sentence—"Germany had failed to conquer Europe, but Europe had made no progress toward conquering her."

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