There is a popular idea that Napoleon was a super-genius who won his battles single-handed. It is wrong. He had a lot of Frenchmen along to help. Much the same kind of Frenchmen live to-day. Not until they fought again would the world believe this. It seems that the excitable Gaul, whom some people thought would become demoralized in face of German organization, merely talks with his hands. In a great crisis he is cool, as he always was. I like the French for their democracy and humanity. I like them, too, for leaving their war to France and Marianne; for not dragging in God as do the Germans. For it is just possible that God is not in the fight. We don’t know that He even approved of the war.
To the traveller, Calais had been the symbol of the shortest route from London to Paris, the shortest spell of torment in crossing the British Channel. It was a point where one felt infinite relief or sad physical anticipations. In the last days of November Calais became the symbol of a struggle for world-power. The British and the French were fighting to hold Calais; the Germans to get it. In Calais, Germany would have her foot on the Atlantic coast. She could look across only twenty-two miles of water to the chalk cliffs of Dover. She would be as near her rival as twice the length of Manhattan Island; within the range of a modern gun; within an hour by steamer and twenty minutes by aeroplane.
The long battle-front from Switzerland to the North Sea had been established. There was no getting around the Allied flank; there had ceased to be a flank. To win Calais, Germany must crush through by main force, without any manoeuvre. From the cafes where the British journalists gathered England received its news, which they gleaned from refugees and stragglers and passing officers. They wrote something every day, for England must have something about that dizzy, head-on wrestle in the mud, that writhing line of changing positions of new trenches rising behind the old destroyed by German artillery. The British were fighting with their last reserves on the Ypres-Armentieres line. The French divisions to the north were suffering no less heavily, and beyond them the Belgians were trying to hold the last strip of their land which remained under Belgian sovereignty. Cordons of guards which kept back the observer from the struggle could not keep back the truth. Something ominous was in the air.
It was worth while being in that old town as it waited on the issue in the late October rains. Its fishermen crept out in the mornings from the shelter of its quays, where refugees gathered in crowds hoping to get away by steamer. Like lost souls, carrying all the possessions they could on their backs, these refugees. There was numbness in their movements and their faces were blank—the paralysis of brain from sudden disaster. The children did not cry, but mechanically munched the dry bread given them by their parents.