I’m going to smash the Kaiser.”
I have been present when packed audiences have gone mad in reiterating the American equivalent for Tipperary, with its brave promise,
“We’ll be over,
We’re coming over,
And we won’t be back till it’s over, over there.”
But nothing I have heard so well expresses the cold anger of the American fighting-man as these words which they chant to their bugle-march, “We’ve got four years to do this job.”
WAR AS A JOB
I have been so fortunate as to be able to watch three separate nations facing up to the splendour of Armageddon—England, France, America. The spirit of each was different. I arrived in England from abroad the week after war had been declared. There was a new vitality in the air, a suppressed excitement, a spirit of youth and—it sounds ridiculous—of opportunity. The England I had left had been wont to go about with a puckered forehead; she was a victim of self-disparagement. She was like a mother who had borne too many children and was at her wits’ end to know how to feed or manage them. They were getting beyond her control. Since the Boer War there had been a growing tendency in the Press to under-rate all English effort and to over-praise to England’s discredit the superior pushfulness of other nations. This melancholy nagging which had for its constant text, “Wake up, John Bull,” had produced the hallucination that there was something vitally the matter with the Mother Country. No one seemed to have diagnosed her complaint, but those of us who grew weary of being told that we were behind the times, took prolonged trips to more cheery quarters of the globe. It is the Englishman’s privilege to run himself down; he usually does it with his tongue in his cheek. But for the ten years preceding the outbreak of hostilities, the prophets of Fleet Street certainly carried their privilege beyond a joke. Pessimism was no longer an amusing pose; it was becoming a habit.
One week of the iron tonic of war had changed all that. The atmosphere was as different as the lowlands from the Alps; it was an atmosphere of devil-may-care assurance and adventurous manhood. Every one had the summer look of a boat-race crowd when the Leander is to be pulled off at Henley. In comparing the new England with the old, I should have said that every one now had the comfortable certainty that he was wanted—that he had a future and something to live for. But it wasn’t the something to live for that accounted for this gay alertness; it was the sure foreknowledge of each least important man that he had something worth dying for at last.
A strange and magnificent way of answering misfortune’s challenge—an Elizabethan way, the knack of which we believed we had lost! “Business as usual” was written across our doorways. It sounded callous and unheeding, but at night the lads who had written it there, tiptoed out and stole across the Channel, scarcely whispering for fear they should break our hearts by their going.