And yet England “engineered the war!” England’s hypocrisy and greed demanded the crushing of Germany—hence the lying “excuse” of Belgium—that apparently is what all good Germans—except those who know better—believe; what every German child is being taught. As I listen to my companion’s story, I am reminded, however, of a puzzled remark which reached me lately, written just before Christmas last, by a German nurse in a Berlin hospital, who has English relations, friends of my own. “We begin to wonder whether it really was England who caused the war—since you seem to be so dreadfully unprepared!” So writes this sensible girl to one of her mother’s kindred in England; in a letter which escaped the German censor. She might indeed wonder! To have deliberately planned a Continental war with Germany, and Germany’s 8,000,000 of soldiers, without men, guns, or ammunition beyond the requirements of an Expeditionary Force of 160,000 men, might have well become the State of Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. But the England of Raleigh, Chatham, Pitt, and Wellington has not generally been reckoned a nation of pure fools.
The military camps of Great Britain tell the tale of our incredible venture. “Great areas of land had to be cleared, levelled, and drained; barracks had to be built; one camp alone used 42,000 railway truck-loads of building material.” There was no time to build new railways, and the existing roads were rapidly worn out. They were as steadily repaired; and on every side new camps sprang up around the parent camps of the country.
The Surrey commons and woods, the Wiltshire downs, the Midland and Yorkshire heaths, the Buckinghamshire hills have been everywhere invaded—their old rural sanctities are gone. I walked in bewilderment the other day up and down the slopes of a Surrey hill which when I knew it last was one kingdom of purple heather, beloved of the honey-bees, and scarcely ever trodden by man or woman. Barracks now form long streets upon its crest and sides; practise-trenches, bombing-schools, the stuffed and dangling sacks for bayonet training, musketry ranges, and the rest, are everywhere. Tennyson, whose wandering ground it once was, would know it no more. And this camp is only one of a series which spread far and wide round the Aldershot headquarters.