Meantime, both in England and in France, there has been a growing sentiment that the government’s policy of silence has been a mistake. The cudgel of public opinion is a heavy one. The German propaganda in America has gone on steadily. There is no argument where one side only is presented. That splendid and solid part of the American people, the German population, essentially and naturally patriotic, keeping their faith in the Fatherland, is constantly presenting its case; and against that nothing official has been offered.
England is fighting heroically, stoically; but her stoicism is a vital mistake. This silence has nothing whatever to do with military movements, their success or their failure. It is more fundamental, an inherent characteristic of the English character, founded on reserve—perhaps tinged with that often misunderstood conviction of the Britisher that other persons cannot be really interested in what is strictly another’s affairs.
The Allies are beginning to realise, however, that this war is not their own affair alone. It affects the world too profoundly. Mentally, morally, spiritually and commercially, it is an upheaval in which all must suffer.
And the English people, who have sent and are sending the very flower of their country’s manhood to the front, are beginning to regret the error in judgment that has left the rest of the English-speaking world in comparative ignorance of the true situation.
They are sending the best they have—men of high ideals, who, as volunteers, go out to fight for what they consider a just cause. The old families, in which love of country and self-sacrifice are traditions, have suffered heavily.
The crux of the situation is Belgium—the violation of her neutrality; the conduct of the invading army; her unnecessary and unjustifiable suffering. And Belgium has felt that the time to speak has come.
The Belgian Red Cross may well be proud of the hospital at La Panne. It is modern, thoroughly organised, completely equipped. Within two weeks of the outbreak of the war it was receiving patients. It was not at the front then. But the German tide has forced itself along until now it is almost on the line.
Generally speaking, order had taken the place of the early chaos in the hospital situation when I was at the front. The British hospitals were a satisfaction to visit. The French situation was not so good. The isolated French hospitals were still in need of everything, even of anaesthetics. The lack of an organised nursing system was being keenly felt.
But the early handicaps of unpreparedness and overwhelming numbers of patients had been overcome to a large extent. Scientific management and modern efficiency had stepped in. Things were still capable of improvement. Gentlemen ambulance drivers are not always to be depended on. Nurses are not all of the same standard of efficiency. Supplies of one sort exceeded the demand, while other things were entirely lacking. Food of the kind that was needed by the very ill was scarce, expensive and difficult to secure at any price.