FOR KING AND COUNTRY
March in England is spring. Early in the month masses of snowdrops lined the paths in Hyde Park. The grass was green, the roads hard and dry under the eager feet of Kitchener’s great army. For months they had been drilling, struggling with the intricacies of a new career, working and waiting. And now it was spring, and soon they would be off. Some had already gone.
“Lucky beggars!” said the ones who remained, and counted the days.
And waiting, they drilled. Everywhere there were squads: Scots in plaid kilts with khaki tunics; less picturesque but equally imposing regiments in the field uniform, with officers hardly distinguishable from their men. Everywhere the same grim but cheerful determination to get over and help the boys across the Channel to assist in holding that more than four hundred miles of battle line against the invading hosts of Germany.
Here in Hyde Park that spring day was all the panoply of war: bands playing, the steady tramp of numberless feet, the muffled clatter of accoutrements, the homage of the waiting crowd. And they deserved homage, those fine, upstanding men, many of them hardly more than boys, marching along with a fine, full swing. There is something magnificent, a contagion of enthusiasm, in the sight of a great volunteer army. The North and the South knew the thrill during our own great war. Conscription may form a great and admirable machine, but it differs from the trained army of volunteers as a body differs from a soul. But it costs a country heavy in griefs, does a volunteer army; for the flower of the country goes. That, too, America knows, and England is learning.
They marched by gaily. The drums beat. The passers-by stopped. Here and there an open carriage or an automobile drew up, and pale men, some of them still in bandages, sat and watched. In their eyes was the same flaming eagerness, the same impatience to get back, to be loosed against the old lion’s foes.
For King and Country!
All through England, all through France, all through that tragic corner of Belgium which remains to her, are similar armies, drilling and waiting, equally young, equally eager, equally resolute. And the thing they were going to I knew. I had seen it in that mysterious region which had swallowed up those who had gone before; in the trenches, in the operating, rooms of field hospitals, at outposts between the confronting armies where the sentries walked hand in hand with death. I had seen it in its dirt and horror and sordidness, this thing they were going to.
War is not two great armies meeting in a clash and frenzy of battle. It is much more than that. War is a boy carried on a stretcher, looking up at God’s blue sky with bewildered eyes that are soon to close; war is a woman carrying a child that has been wounded by a shell; war is spirited horses tied in burning buildings and waiting for death; war is the flower of a race, torn, battered, hungry, bleeding, up to its knees in icy water; war is an old woman burning a candle before the Mater Dolorosa for the son she has given. For King and Country!