Then the talk ranges round the blockade, the difficulties and dangers of patrol work, the complaints of neutrals. “America should understand us. Their blockade hit us hard enough in the Civil War. And we are fighting for their ideals no less than our own. When has our naval supremacy ever hurt them? Mayn’t they be glad of it some day? What about a fellow called Monroe!”—so it runs. Then its tone changes insensibly. From a few words dropped I realise with a start where these pleasantly chatting men had probably been only two or three days before, where they would probably be again on the morrow. Some one opens a map, and I listen to talk which, in spite of its official reticence, throws many a light on the vast range of England’s naval power, and the number of her ships. “Will they come out? When will they come out?” The question runs round the group. Some one tells a story of a German naval prisoner taken not long ago in the North Sea, and of his remark to his captors: “Yes, we’re beaten—we know that—but we’ll make it hell for you before we give in!”
For that final clash—that Armageddon that all think must come, our sailors wait, not despising their enemy, knowing very well that they—the Fleet—are the pivot of the situation, that without the British Navy, not all the valour of the Allies in France or Russia could win the war, and that with it, Germany’s hope of victory is vain. While the Navy lives, England lives, and Germany’s vision of a world governed by the ruthless will of the scientific soldier is doomed.
Meanwhile, what has Germany been doing in her shipyards all this time? No one knows, but my hosts are well aware that we shall know some day.
As to England—here is Mr. Balfour moving the Naval Estimates in the House of Commons—the “token votes” which tell nothing that should not be told. But since the war began, says the First Lord, we have added “one million” to the tonnage of the Navy, and we have doubled its personnel. We are adding more every day; for the Admiralty are always “wanting more.” We are quite conscious of our defects—in the Air Service first and foremost. But they will be supplied. There is a mighty movement afoot in the workshops of England—an effort which, when all drawbacks are allowed for, has behind it a free people’s will.
In my next letter I propose to take you through some of these workshops. “We get the most extraordinary letters from America,” writes one of my correspondents, a steel manufacturer in the Midlands. “What do they think we are about?” An American letter is quoted. “So you are still, in England, taking the war lying down?”
Are we? Let us see.
In this second letter I am to try and prove to you that England is not taking the war “lying down.”