“Stick to the army you are with!” an eminent American had told me.
“Yes, but I prefer to choose my army,” I had replied.
The army I chose was not about to enter Brussels. It was that of “mine own people” on the side of the schipperke dog machine-gun battery which I had seen in the streets of Haelen, and the peasant woman who shook her fist at the invader, and all who had the schipperke spirit.
My empty appointment as the representative of the American Press with the British army was, at least, taken seriously by the policeman at the War Office in London when I returned from trips to Paris. The day came when it was good for British trenches and gun-positions; when it was worth all the waiting, because it was the army of my race and tongue.
Back from Belgium to England; then across the Channel again to Boulogne, where I saw the last of the French garrison march away, their red trousers a throbbing target along the road. From Boulogne the British had advanced into Belgium. Now their base was moved on to Havre. Boulogne, which two weeks before had been cheering the advent of “Tommee Atkeens” singing “Why should we be downhearted?” was ominously lifeless. It was a town without soldiers; a town of brick and mortar and pavements whose very defencelessness was its best security should the Germans come.
The only British there were a few stray wounded officers and men who had found their way back from Mons. They had no idea where the British army was. All they realized were sleepless nights, the shock of combat, overpowering artillery fire, and resisting the onslaught of outnumbering masses.
An officer of Lancers, who had ridden through the German cavalry with his squadron, dwelt on the glory of that moment. What did his wound matter? It had come with the burst of a shell in a village street which killed his horse after the charge. He had hobbled away, reached a railroad train, and got on board. That was all he knew.
A Scotch private had been lying with his battalion in a trench when a German aeroplane was sighted. It had hardly passed by when showers of shrapnel descended, and the Germans, in that grey-green so hard to see, were coming on as thick as locusts. Then the orders came to fall back, and he was hit as his battalion made another stand. He had crawled a mile across the fields in the night with a bullet in his arm. A medical corps officer told him to find any transportation he could; and he, too, was able to get aboard a train. That was all he knew.
These wounded had been tossed aside into eddies by the maelstrom of action. They were interesting because they were the first British wounded that I had seen; because the war was young.