The badly paid war slaves of Essen are working the whole twenty-four hours, seven days a week, in three shifts a day of eight hours each, under strict martial law. The town is a hotbed of extreme Social Democracy, and as a rule the Socialists of Westphalia are almost as red as those of the manufacturing districts of Saxony. But Socialists though they be, they are just as anti-British as the rest of Germany, and they like to send out their products with the familiar hall-mark of “Gott strafe England,” or “Best wishes for King George.” It is the kind of Socialism that wants more money, more votes, less work, but has no objection to plenty of war. It is a common-sense Socialism, which knows that without war Essen might shrink to its pre-war dimensions.
Essen is very jealous of the great Skoda works near Pilsen in Austria. My hotel manager spoke with some acerbity of the amount of advertising the Austrian siege howitzers were receiving. “You can accept my assurance,” he said, “that the guns for the bombardment of Dover were made here, and not at the Skoda works, as the Austrians claim.”
Every German in Essen seems to feel a personal pride in the importance of the works to the Empire at the fateful hour. The 43-centimetre gun “which conquered Belgium”—as the native puts it—is almost deified. Everybody struts about in the consciousness that he or she has had directly or indirectly something to do with the murderous weapon which has wrought such death and glory in Germany’s name. “The Empire has the men, Essen has the armour-plate, the torpedoes, the shells, the guns. It is the combination which must win.” That is the spirit in Kruppville.
TOMMY IN GERMANY
One day the world will be flooded with some of the most dramatic, horrible, and romantic of narratives—the life-stories of the British soldiers captured in the early days of the war, their gross ill-treatment, their escapes, and attempts at escape. I claim to be the only unofficial neutral with any large amount of eye-witness, hand-to-hand knowledge of those poor men in Germany.
One of the most difficult tasks I assumed during the war was the personal and unconducted investigation of British prisoners of war. The visitor is only allowed to talk with prisoners when visiting camps under the supervision of a guide. My tramps on foot all over Germany gave me valuable information on this as on other matters.
My task was facilitated by the Germany policy of showing the hated British captives to as many people as possible; thus the 30,000 men have been scattered into at least 600 prison camps. In the depleted state of the German Army it is not easy to find efficient guards for so many establishments. Prisoners are constantly being moved about. They are conveyed ostentatiously and shown at railway stations en route, where until recently they were allowed to be spat upon by the public, and were given coffee into which the public were allowed to spit. These are but a few of the slights and abominations heaped upon them. Much of it is quite unprintable.