They imagined the Overseas Dominions were too weak in men and ships and training to be of any use; and they never foresaw that the manhood of Great Britain would come forward in vast numbers to take up arms for which their national character has to a large extent given them the necessary qualifications. All this might have been discovered if the Germans had employed men of a higher education and social position.
In addition to finding out military details about a country, such as its preparedness in men, supplies, efficiency, and so on, these agents have to study the tactical features of hills and plains, roads and railways, rivers and woods, and even the probable battlefields and their artillery positions, and so on.
The Germans in the present war have been using the huge guns whose shells, owing to their black, smoky explosions, have been nicknamed “Black Marias” or “Jack Johnsons.” These guns require strong concrete foundations for them to stand upon before they can be fired. But the Germans foresaw this long before the war, and laid their plans accordingly.
They examined all the country over which they were likely to fight, both in Belgium and in France, and wherever they saw good positions for guns they built foundations and emplacements for them. This was done in the time of peace, and therefore had to be done secretly. In order to divert suspicion, a German would buy or rent a farm on which it was desired to build an emplacement. Then he would put down foundations for a new barn or farm building, or—if near a town—for a factory, and when these were complete, he would erect some lightly constructed building upon it.
There was nothing to attract attention or suspicion about this, and numbers of these emplacements are said to have been made before war began. When war broke out and the troops arrived on the ground, the buildings were hastily pulled down and there were the emplacements all ready for the guns.
Some years ago a report came to the War Office that a foreign Power was making gun emplacements in a position which had not before been suspected of being of military value, and they were evidently going to use it for strategical purposes.
I was sent to see whether the report was true. Of course, it would not do to go as an officer—suspicions would be aroused, one would be allowed to see nothing, and would probably be arrested as a spy. I therefore went to stay with a friendly farmer in the neighbourhood, and went out shooting every day among the partridges and snipe which abounded there. The first thing I did was to look at the country generally, and try to think which points would be most valuable as positions for artillery.
Then I went to look for partridges (and other things!) on the hills which I had noticed, and I very soon found what I wanted.
Officers were there, taking angles and measurements, accompanied by workmen, who were driving pegs into the ground and marking off lines with tapes between them.