ST. MATTHEW. 25:40
On August 12, 1917, the National Red Cross organized its work for the women and children of France under the Children's Bureau of the Department of Civil Affairs in France, with Dr. Wm. Palmer Lucas, Professor of Children's Diseases at the University of California, as Chief of the Bureau. Dr. Lucas' work in 1916 for Mr. Hoover in Belgium, where he made a careful health survey of the Belgian children for the Commission for Relief in Belgium, brought a wide and valuable experience to the French problems.
Mrs. Lucas accompanied her husband to France, and for ten months worked with him in the organization and establishment of the American Red Cross work for the children.
Many formal reports of the work have been issued by the National Red Cross Headquarters. Many splendid accounts of the scope and magnitude of the work of the American Red Cross in France have been published by...
I PROMISED to write about the rapatriés at Evian; well I'll make a beginning.
Rapatriés are easy to define but most difficult to describe; indeed that generalization fits a good many situations in France to-day, but I want to tell you about the rapatriés, and I'll begin with a definition.
They are the people; old men, old women, a few young women, children all ages, babiesa few, that the Germans are sending back into France through Switzerland. These people have been in either Belgium or Germany since the Germans took their villages. Now, as winter comes on, these many mouths to feed must be gotten rid of, and so the Germans are sending back all those they are unable in any way to use in factory, trench, or agriculture. That is the definition of rapatriés.
They are coming into France at Evian-les-Bains on Lake Geneva, two trains a day, bringing five hundred at a time. And they are leaving Evian daily, in special convoys, to the assigned destinations in the interior of France.
The little station at Evian gives you a picture, no, a realization, of what war can mean to the civil population that even a devastated village fails to give. The arrival of the train is most dramatic. It comes slowly into view and the crowd of rapatriés on the platforms begins to cheer, and those in the train crowd the windows and shout and wave their hands calling, "Vive la France! Vive la France!" The doors of the train are eagerly opened by nurses, our ambulance men, government aides and members of the local committees who are helping, and the train empties quickly. The old women with their precious bundles are so cheerful it breaks your heart. They try to smile and look ready for the new demands. The old men seem more depressed. There is a finality about it all for them that you never forget. The children are dirty and tired, but excited and eager to see what is going to happen next.
The sick and the feeble are taken to the ambulances in wheel chairs and on stretchers, and our American Red Cross men have a way with them that helps so much with these weary people. They put them into the ambulances, and a big bus takes the smallest kiddies, and on they go down the little winding street to the Casino. The rest of the crowd walks down.
The sunset train load get a wonderful welcome from their beloved France: the great splashes of pink in the soft sky, the distant hills deep and green, the blue waters of the Lake below reflecting all the glory of the sunset, and they feel it. A sweet faced Sister said to me as we came down in the ambulance: "Oh, it is so beautifulmy France must be saved!"
At the Casino the weary people find the big cheerful room full of light, and the color of the flags everywhere helps to make them realize that they are home at last. The hot meal is ready for them and they take their places quickly, and very soon the warmth and kindness of it all reaches their tired hearts and they begin to smile and talk to each other or to you.
After a little, the band, made up of rapatriés who are detailed in Evian to help, begins to play some gay stirring French air. The children laugh at first, but the older ones cannot bear it and you see many tears. Then the Préfet of the District speaks to them in a friendly stirring fashion, welcoming them to their country once more, and with all the tenderness of the French language, speaks of their sufferings, of the sufferings of France, of the bravery of their soldiers, of the final victory of France. "Vive la France," he shouts in closing, and those homeless people respond with a cheer that blinds and chokes you. You wonder how they can, and yet you see that they must. It helps them to go on. Then comes the playing of the Marseillaise. They cannot sing at firstit sounds like a great sob from a heart-broken people, but the ringing "Marchons, Marchons . . ." becomes a cry of victory.
The balcony above is a most interesting place. It is the children's place. While the older people pass into the big room adjoining to go through the long careful process of registering, the little ones are taken up to the balcony, checked, and left there to be washed and brushed and amused. There are many tears at first; they fear to be separated from their mothers, but the nurses are so friendly and so kind, and the boxes of glistering toys on a low table quite convenient for small fingers, are so tempting, that the battle is soon won. There are rows of little mattresses on the steps of the balcony that have clean pads and fresh little pillows where sleepy or tired children can rest. But it is too exciting for most of them.
That balcony is rather a critical spot in the whole care, for here is the grave danger of contagion most evident, the skin lesions, the dirty heads, the vermin in their clothesand it is here that the American Red Cross will begin to help by cooperating with the dispensary just under the balcony, in more care in selection of the children and cleaner methods in handling them, than have been possible to obtain in the hurry of this daily rush of caring for one thousand people.
The registration is so carefully done and it is so important, you must know about it. The big circular desk at which some two hundred government clerks sit, is arranged alphabetically and the people pass along in line, there is no hurry. Each rapatrié is talked with carefully and kindly, and many stories are listened to. This registration bureau is also in receipt of many inquiries from relatives and friends who are making every effort to get in touch with their own as they come through; and each rapatrié's name is instantly referred to that section of the registration, and in a few minutes you may see the telegram or letter delivered to a sweet-faced woman or a trembling old man, that tells them they are claimed by one who knows them and cares. You find yourself longing so for many more letters and telegrams than there are. You cannot bear the disappointed look, the sort of dumb resignation that is in many faces. After their registration they pass on to another room, and there they are assigned to their lodgings for the night.
The dispensary sends the sick men and women and children to the different hospitals and here is where help is needed. So the American Red Cross has opened an acute hospital of two hundred beds for children.
The Casino slowly empties; the volunteer workers fall to and clean the great room ready for the morning; the tables are laid, and it is long after midnight when the last worker goes.
The little village quiets down. It was clear moonlight last night, as I walked back to our little Hôtel des Quatre Saisons and stood for awhile on the terrace looking across at the Convent Clarisses. The façade of the chapel stands high above the wall and there in the moonlight stood the figure of the Christ with a little child in His arms. The pure white of the stone figure, with a great cross above, seemed startlingly full of meaning. Back in the quiet quadrangle the old and sick rapatriés, full of their weariness and suffering slept perhaps, and dreamed of the loved village left so long ago. There was a great feeling of shelter and safety in the quiet sky above the dark roofs and the white figure seemed to be guarding the old convent. On the gateway was written: "The Patronage of Jeanne d'Arc." Perhaps she saved France once?
As I watched, suddenly from the shadowy courtyard the figure of a Sister stepped quickly out into the light of the street and went hurriedly away into the night. I waited. In a few minutes the Sister came back with a priest. He limped badly; they could not walk so fast; the moonlight shone on his cross above his heart and the white flaps of the Sister's hood. They disappeared under the low archway. In a few moments I saw a light in the room above the gate. The old priest came close to the window and knelt in the full light of the lamp, his hands before him with his rosary held high. I knew he was kneeling at the foot of a bed; I could see the white cover. The little Mother Superior I had seen earlier stood near with her hand over her eyes. I could not see the dying rapatrié, but I knew that all the comfort this world can give was being offered. It was a long time before the room was darkened again; then the old priest came slowly out and went down the winding street in the moonlight and his shadow looked like that of a giant against the convent wall. The figure above seemed clearer.
This morning about eleven I saw the end of the little scene of last night. The bells began to toll and from the sunny courtyard under the archway bearing that magic name, came the sad little processiontwo little altar boys, one carrying the cross, and the old priest in his white robes. The chanting was just peaceful as the little procession of friends and family of the dead rapatrié walked slowly behind the hearse. The Mother Superior stood long at the gateway looking after them. It was all very real and very sad, these old people reaching their beloved country in time to die. One of the workers told me that 30 per cent. of the old have died in the first month after their return.
The children are so pathetic too, many of them without their mothers, just sent along in a crowd in care of the older women, and some of them are too little to know their names and the old people have forgotten; they come from a certain village and that is all that is known. And many, many of these children are sick and diseased, and the arrival in Evian of about five hundred children daily presents a most tremendous problem.
Our Children's Bureau is to take charge of the medical end of it; and with an acute hospital of two hundred beds and several convalescent hospitals near, we are going to help those plucky French people with a task they have already undertaken with vigor and foresight.
THE morning train came in at a most chilly hour this morningat seven o'clock. A heavy mist hung over the hills and the station was like a tomb, but the rapatriés cheered just the same. They were so glad to get out of the train after three days of travel. There was a boys' school from Laos about a hundred little chaps of all sizes, and tired and dirty as they were, they sang their school song lustily when they gathered on the platform. That boys' school cheered me up; the future of France looked strong and hearty. Those blue caps above their shining young eyes gave me a sense of solidarity, of future security. There was a convent school of girls also, in charge of five Sisters,about sixty young girls. They did not seem so happy, but frightened by the experience. They clung to the Sisters, who kept their little brood together as they went off to the Casino.
I started down the street with a boy of fourteen who had been digging trenches for the Germans for the last five months. He looked delicate, probably tubercular, or he would not have been allowed to go, I think. He was much interested, as they all are, at finding Americans at work. I suppose they have been told by their captors that we are not going to do anything about this war. Well, the first thing that greets the rapatrié's eye outside the little station is a row of ambulances marked "American Red Cross."
This morning was full of interesting incidents. One old man who had started to walk down from the station with the young lad and me, gave out before we had gone very far, so I persuaded him to wait for an ambulance to come along and pick us up. He was a very bright little old man with a sensitive face. He was all bundled up in an old French army overcoat that had been given him at the Swiss border. I could see that he was very proud of it. He told me he had three sons in the French army, and that if he could only find them he would be cared for. His story was most pathetic. In the flight from Lille he had become separated from his wife, and in his efforts to find her the Germans had taken him prisoner. They held him for two days and then he escaped to the woods. After hiding there for two days, hunger forced him out on the road and the first humans he met were three Boches. To his amazement, as he put it, "the miracle happened," and they gave him bread and let him go.
I wish I could reproduce for you this eager old man. He hated to admit that he was tired, and climbed into the ambulance most reluctantly, but he was really very weary, and so anxious to find out whether he would find a message from his sons. I found myself almost as eager as he was, and when we did find a telegram from his son in Paris waiting for him at the Casino, I assure you we both wept for joy. I have an old army button I am treasuring. He asked me to cut it from his coat and keep it to remember his "two miracles" by.
There were so many sick children this morning---whooping cough and bad throats seemed to predominate. Really it makes you shudder, the possibilities of epidemics and the opportunity for the spread of disease through the interior of France.
Diphtheria has given us all one dreadful fright but that has been checked now. It is impossible to give you any idea of the size of this problem here; from the point of view of public health, I doubt if there has ever been a situation of larger scope. This little town on the very edge of France is receiving a thousand people daily, and these people depleted and worn out from privation and hardship. About five hundred of the daily thousand are children, who show the effects of three years of dirt, limited bathing facilities or none, lice, skin lesions of all kinds, beside the low food rations on which most of them have been living. All these conditions lower their resistance, as the doctors say, and they are under par. The above statement does not mention the tuberculosis to be found in many of them, but it does show the absolute necessity of helping in this medical situation here; and the American Red Cross is so glad to be here where its Children's Bureau finds one of the greatest opportunities to serve France.
But you don't want any theories about the situation, you want to hear about the people; you are quite able to form your own conclusions from the facts I give you.
This evening's convoy brought a bit of evidence against the enemya child of fifteen with a year old Boche baby in her arms. The little mother looked so sick, you felt that was why she had not been held; indeed, the baby was ill too, and the grandmother was in despair about it all. Another woman was so depressed because of her two little boys, both paralyzed and covered with impetigo, which is a polite medical term for the results of unutterable hygienic conditions. Our ambulance boys thought the kiddies had smallpox until a nurse explained. They were only eight and ten years old and in such a frightful condition. The mother insisted that the paralysis was from the terror. I don't know; I should think almost any strange physical phenomenon might come out of what they have all been through.
One woman had her husband and a strong young son of about twenty-two with her and neither of the men could speak. "Since the bombardment," she said; I suppose this is the civilian shell shock.
And so it goes. After you have met the two trains daily and watched the weary crowd pass by with their bundles and talked with many of them, you can think of nothing else. You begin to feel beaten and sore yourself; it is too much human tragedy to look upon in a few minutes. The relentlessness of it all, in those words of Maurya, in Synge's "Riders to the Sea," as she looked upon her last son drowned in the great storm, came to me so often here. You remember, she says: "There isn't anything more the sea can do to me now." And as you meet these homeless people you feel that there is nothing more that war can do to them. It has taken all.
This morning at the Casino I asked our photographer if he thought he could get a picture of them as they sat at the tables. We were standing on the balcony looking down on them. Hemmet thought a moment as his keen photographer's eye took in the scene: "It can't be done. They are all black, black and white; black clothes, white facesyou couldn't get them."
I cannot forget that remark, it is so true, black clothes, white faces, hundreds of them you can't get them.
Sometime I want to tell you what these wonderful French people are doing here with those poor country folk of theirs. If the Lord does help those who help themselves, the French are going to have a tremendous amount of assistance.
CAN you imagine what a Government delousing station would be like? No, you can't. Neither could any one else before this hideous war began. It used to be an occasional problem in an emergency situation. Now it has become a business, this keeping vermin off human beings. I suppose it will soon become a profession. I met a woman up back of the lines who had a dug-out not far off and she earned her living cleaning vermin from soldiers and their clothes. I used to be sensitive about mentioning fleas in San Francisco. Now, . . . but all values are relative, n'est-ce pas?
Well, I want to tell you about the Annex Gordon here at Evian which has been established for the particular purpose of getting the lice and vermin off of these poor rapatriés and curing the skin lesions which result from such conditions.
I think the best way to describe Annex Gordon is to tell you the story of a woman and her eleven children I saw in one of the wards there. When this poor rapatrié and her little brood were examined at the Casino dispensary, it was discovered that all twelve heads were inhabited and diseased and that three of them suffered with itch. They were sent to the Annex Gordon. The first room to receive them is divided into little compartments; each compartment is numbered. The family were put into twelve compartments, a bag with the same number as the compartment hangs in each and into these bags went their clothes, and the mother and the children put on the toweling bathrobes and slippers provided in each compartment. The bags of clothing were taken immediately to the fumigating room. The little family went downstairs to the baths and douches. Here each one received, in separate rooms, the treatment prescribed; the three who had the itch went into sulphur baths. All the heads were cleaned and disinfected and in forty minutes our group was clean and had gone to another series of compartments on another floor to put on clean clothes. If their clothes are very bad, they are given a new outfit. This often happens. They remain here from two to ten days, depending upon the seriousness of their trouble. During the past four weeks, six hundred and twenty have stayed from two to ten days or longer; three hundred and fifty have passed through with baths, and three hundred and sixty with head douches.
The dormitories are clean and attractive. Different towns and cities such as Nancy, Paris, Toulouse, St. Etienne, Cannes, Rouen, have furnished these "salles" and great pride is taken in them. It is a perfectly run establishment; the kitchens are spotless and the food appetizing.
I know that by this time you are thinking that this process must be a dreadful one and that only the lowest classes among the rapatriés are ever sent to Annex Gordon. Well, that is almost the greatest tragedy here in Evian; the fact that these rapatriés number many, many refined, decent people who have never been in any but comfortable and pleasant surroundings. I saw in Annex Gordon, three middle-aged people, a sister and two brothers. The men were educated gentlemen, professors both of them, and yet they were coming in with one hundred and forty-five others to be cleaned up. I saw one lovely little child therea little girl of ten with such beautiful auburn hair; great tears rolled down her face and her mother's face also, as the nurse gently cut away the great masses of soft hair to get at the poor little head.
No, I have failed utterly in giving you any idea of rapatriés if you have a sort of a "scum-of-the-earth" picture in your mind. These poor people are sick, dirty and weary after three years of suffering and lack of all home comforts, but they are many of them just the type of people you would find in small New England towns.
Another big work the Government has undertaken is the care of about sixteen hundred old people at the Collège, a fine old building on the Lake, which has been well adapted to the uses of the old people. Here the old homeless folks, who have not been claimed, are taken and cared for, gently and sympathetically. Many of them cannot read or write and the women of the Evian local Committee spend hours talking with them, helping them to remember friends they may have in the interior of France, and writing their letters for them. In this way some three hundred of the sixteen hundred have been put into touch with friends.
I wish I could make you feel the tenderness and kindness with which these French volunteer workers help these people. I saw such a touching little scene at the Collège. An old woman, ninety-two they said, was standing in the vestiare room having a new white cap tried on. She looked up at the kindly workers with such a sweet old smile, as the friendly hands tied on her cap for her. Then the old woman tried to put on over the cap the old handkerchief which she had worn before. The worker remonstrated smilingly, but tied it on and the old woman went off happy. And it isn't one old woman that is treated thus, but hundreds, and you love and admire these splendid French women who give their service so devotedly.
The workers at the Annex Gordon too, are splendid in their work. I saw such kindness there, so much real understanding of what it meant to be in such a pitiable condition.
Every night as I listen to the welcome given these people at the Casino, I am more and more deeply impressed with the way in which the French offer their help to these homeless countrymen. It is done with a delicacy of touch, a simple directness, a warmth, all as lovely as the shady roads through their beautiful villages. You always hear that the French have such a sense of approach to their buildings. Well, that sense of theirs is not limited to the buildings!
The way in which they have asked the American Red Cross to help in Evian has been perfectly choking in its warm gratitude and desire to have us do just what we think best. Our men spend a great deal of time assuring these tired people here that the Americans want to help them in the way the French want to be helped. What we are doing seems such a drop in their great bucket of war and its sufferings. And these people look at us with glistening eyes and thank us so constantly.
A rapatrié asked me to-night if I were French. I said: "No, American." "Ah! c'est la même chose la même chose, Madame!" Think of that!
I WANT to tell you about this morning while my heart is still thumping about it. We were in Lyon looking over the ground for a convalescent home for the little rapatriés from Evian, and the French Committee which had us in charge brought us an invitation last night from the French Colonel, to be on the platform early this morning to meet the train bringing the first big groupfour hundred and thirteen of English exchange prisoners from German prisons. Well, we were there! The platforms were packed with people, the officials of the City of Lyon, the Mayor, the Counselors, the Reception Committee in brilliant uniforms, the French Colonel and his staff, and the British officer, Major Wilkinson, who had come over from Berne to meet the train. The French Red Cross infirmières with their baskets of tri-color flowers made a fascinating picture in their white and blue uniforms.
It was all very tense as we waited. The French officials saw that every provision for the comfortable handling of the men was made, after much talk and many changes. You felt they were marking time; there must be some outlet. Major Wilkinson laughed and talked with us but his eyes moved constantly in the direction from which the train was to come. He seemed to get taller and taller as we waited. He is a magnificent looking man, towering above every one. His keen British face looked as unshakable as Gibraltar. Nothing cheers one so much about this whole war as that particular type of British officer. I found myself being ridiculously glad that Major Wilkinson looked just as he did, that the men would see him first as the train came in.
A blast from the engine whistle out in the train-yard brought a tightening of the crowd and the band began to play. Why must there be bands at such a moment? I don't know. Perhaps, you couldn't get through such moments without one, but as the train rolled slowly past us, "God save the King" became "Tipperary," the crowd on the platforms cheered and waved, the nurses threw the flowers into the crowded windows; we sang, we cheered, we wept, we shook the eager outstretched hands of those poor, gaunt men, and all the while the band played "Tipperary." The train stopped and those starved men climbed down from the cars, formed in little pathetic squads with an officer at the head, and went by usthe lame, halt, blind (three of them)with a gallantry indescribable, and saluted the officers waiting to receive them. I shall never forget Major Wilkinson. A British officer moved is one of the most inspiring sights, his jaw tightened, his eyes glistened, but he stood quietly at attention, never missing one of the sad evidences those men bore, of their weary broken bodies, for those were broken men, men who would never be what they had been before. We knew that, because that was why they were being exchanged, men who could no longer be used against the captors. And some of those plucky Tommies had their pet dogs on leashes, and how we cheered those pets! They broke the tension a bit. One car of the train was filled with the men too sick to walk and they were carried out last to the ambulances.
The great concourse of people moved down the station steps to the big room below and there the men and officers were welcomed by the officials; the French, warm, glowing, eager to express their hearty greetings of those poor fellows; the English Major, brief, with a grimness and determination in his voice that was about as moving as "Tipperary." And the men,they were too happy; it broke your heartfree at last and on the way to Blighty!
In front of the station were the lines of automobiles to carry them off to the barracks. A company of French cavalry on black horses, with their shining helmets, and swords flashing in the sunlight, acted as escort, and the band played "Tipperary" over and over. The cheers grew stronger and stronger, the music got into your feet. You were marching to victory; you, just a plain woman in petticoats, touched for a high, glorious moment the vision that puts humans through blood and fire for the sake of an ideal.
We followed them to the barracks to have luncheon with the thirty-five officers. I sat next to a young Captain of the Royal Lincolnshires, an Oxford man. He looked so thin and drawn, his eyes, deep set and full of reserves. He told me that was his trouble, nerves. He came to France in August, 1915, was captured in a hospital after the Mons fight. His trouble had been dysentery. In a weakened condition he was marched to Germany. There he was crowded into a freight car with thirty-five other men, so tightly wedged in they could neither sit down nor lie down. There they stood for ninety-eight hours with one cup of coffee given during that time. Many of the men never survived those ninety-eight hours. Captain P. lived, as he said, in Hell, for the first nine months. Seldom was food offered him that was not spit on. It was eat or starve. After the first year things grew better. I hated to have him talk about it, he looked so tired and so worn, but I was held by the story; to hear at first hand such experiences, after three years of rumors and denials, of exaggerations or belittling of hardships.
Captain P. spoke feelingly of one thing"I am so tired of being yelled at; everything that has been said to me for three years has been yelled at me from a distance of about three inches from my face; I am jumpy about it." Then too, he talked interestingly about his short share in the war. He was holding a house with thirty others near M. It was getting too hot for them, as two machine guns were busy. They decided to make a dash for the shelter of the village street; one by one they climbed the six-foot bank and made a dash across an open road and up a side street. "We didn't expect to make it, any of us, and we jolly well pelted, I can tell you."
It is difficult to give it to youthat room full of officers, each with his own terrible experience of war shut up within himself. One young Lieutenant of the West Kent regiment, that famous regiment that has never lost a trench, looked so startlingly frail, and yet there was a glow about him of returning vigor, perhaps. He had come out of his prison in a dying condition, but an operation in Switzerland had saved him.
Colonel Neish of the Gordon Highlanders, was the senior ranking officer among the prisoners and his response to the speech of welcome was so Scotch. There was really nothing that could be said so he did not say it. You just felt the tenseness all through the room: "We are glad to be here, but you will not blame us for longing to get home."
My officer said: "I can't believe anything really until I am actually in England; I have been lied to so many times!" I asked him what he wanted to do most when he reached home. His answer came quickly: "I want to go down to the sea, where I used to go as a little lad. I have been dreaming about it for months! How lazy I am going to be! No yelling, just the old comfortable boom of the sea!"
As I read this over I have been wondering whether it would stir in you certain feelings that came to me, at the station and at the luncheon. I seemed to see American menour men young lads I have watched playing tennis in the sunshine, older men pouring out of a baseball game, coming home broken men. I could not get the thought out of my mind. We must make it short, my dear, by holding nothing back at the beginning, our men and our Red Cross, our two strong hands here in this war-stricken France!
"It's a long, long way to Tipperary" Well, it's longer still to the homeland. We must make it short. There must be few such men as I saw this morning!
I THOUGHT I had told you everything. I haven'tin some ways I have not begun. Today at eleven was almost the most dramatic, the most thrilling moment of all at Evian. Six hundred and eighty Belgian children arrived on the morning train. It was indescribable; all these little children, thin, sickly looking, alone; all of them between the ages of four and twelve. It is impossible to picture it for you. Those poor children calling "Vive la France," then, "Vive la Belgique" for the first time in three years. Those of us who stood on the platform could only wave to them,cheering was impossible.
The boys were livelier than the girlsthe little girls of ten and twelve, in charge of four or five brothers and sisters, cried bitterly. Two-thirds of these children have been taken from their parents because their fathers would not work for the Germans and the mothers were willing to let the children go rather than see them starve. I have never seen anything more poignant than those little groups of children clinging to the oldest sister and brother as they marched down the little street to the Casino. It was the saddest, the cruelest sight not one grown-up, just children, little children, marching bravely along, singing, and crying.
As they passed along, the rapatriés on the sidewalk called to them: "Don't cry, you are going to have meat!" And the boys shouted: "Meat, we are going to have meat!" as they marched. You couldn't believe it. You were looking at starving children, Belgian children. Many things flashed into my mind. "Seven cents a day feeds a Belgian baby." Do you remember our Belgian Commission cards at home? Everything we did or tried to do last year for the "C.R.B." came back to me. Here were some of the children we didn't feed, perhapsthe long, long line. It seemed to stretch out for miles before you. You seemed to see that little wavering line of starving children passing on and on over miles of devastated country. There are no words for it, my dear. Only Raemaker could picture it.
As I say, I thought of everything I had heard about Belgium and her sufferings and I realized that nothing I had ever heard had given me any conception of starving Belgian children. Some of our C.R.B. men were there; they are Red Cross men now, working like beavers, and yet they felt that sight to-day as few could. They knew what these little ones had come from. You felt glad that Mr. Hoover was not there to see that special bit of tragedy he worked so hard to prevent. I understand now that look in his face when he talked about Belgium last year, a deepening of those splendid lines about his mouth, that made you feel that he would never give up the fight to save the Belgian children.
The Casino was glowing with good cheer; the meat was there, plenty of it, with potatoes and hot chocolate and hot roasted chestnuts. How they ate! Yes, they just stuffed that good dinner! They were hungry and they were children. I shall never forget their hands, little bird-like claws, so thin, and when they sang they waved those pathetic little hands. I shall never forget. And such singing! The spontaneity of it! As we stood watching the eager faces, suddenly they would sing, with all their might; those shrill little voices shouted out a song against the Germans. Those songs must have been learned in secret, and yet every tiny child knew every word. When Mlle. G. sang their beloved Brabançonne for them, they were absorbedly silent until the chorus and then such a volume of song as came from those Belgian children! "Le Roi, la loi, la Liberté!" No one could bear it; the French, the Americans, the Belgian officials who had come to receive them, all stood with tears on their faces. You seemed to be touching with bare hands the agony of those thousands of Belgian women who have watched their little ones suffer for three years. And they were so little, few over twelve years old, and such a small twelve. An underfed child; it is no longer a phrase to us, it's a reality. Famine children of India, I remember as a child, seemed too distant to be real. Those Belgian children who for three years have not had enough to eat, have a look about them that makes you ache, it's so wrong; and then you stiffen. You feel that you will fight for a hundred years if necessary, to prove such methods wrong!
Well, I must go on with my story. After the eating and the singing, these children were questioned and registered, and I imagine those records are perhaps the most interesting little documents we have had from Belgium for a long time. Children have a way of telling things clearly, as they saw them, with a directness that never confuses the issue in your mind or theirs. They were so glad to tell their story---and they crowded into the great Bureau Room regardless of barriers and proper alphabetic order. They were children who understood that they were with friends.
Then came the medical inspection and I was glad that an American Red Cross doctor was there to help. I talked with him afterwards; he was not ashamed of his tears. He told me the little claw-like hands were only an indication of the whole under-nourished condition of those children. But he said: "We have them in time, a few weeks of proper feeding and no epidemic and they will pull up." The contagious cases, like mumps, skin infections, etc., were isolated and the children were arranged for the night. Each little child left the Casino with two flags, Belgian and French, clasped tightly in one hand and a bright new franc in the other. They were full of food and we were full of hope. Those two sensations seem bound up together these days. They go off to-morrow to places near Paris which have been provided for them. The kind Belgian doctor goes along with them. He was just mobbed by the children at the station when he came. They wanted to be kissed, and that man kissed on both pale little cheeks every child he could reach!
My dear, I want to be in Brussels when the King comes home!
WE came down here from Paris last night. Cold! Well, I have never sat in a refrigerator so I don't really know whether my comparison is truebut if I ever had sat in a refrigerator I am sure I should have felt as we did this morning in that cold compartment. Outside, gray mist and snow over the hills and fields; inside, human steam and cold that went through all your layers of clothing and came out the "other side" unwarmed.
Miss P. of the English Friends was in our compartment; she looked like a little squirrel in her uniform of gray. She has a wonderful face, great dark eyes, full of everything, light, gladness, sympathy, fire,oh, just all you demand of eyes. She was on her way to the Friends' Hospital for tubercular people at Sermaize. She told us about it in her quick, energetic way. She needs more nurses and we hope to lend her several from the hospital here.
That is one of the wonderful things over here, there is so much opportunity for team work; and the Red Cross seems to me to stand for just that, not swallowing up or absorbing work already existing and doing well, but just helping every organization to do more and better work.
Well, I began to tell you about the cold, and then Miss P. popped into the letter because she made us forget the cold, and that's rather typical of experiences over here; you start with a discomfort and you end with some bit of service that makes you forget everything but the results.
That has surely been the story at Evian. It was not an easy task to convert a rather unwieldy summer hotel into a hospital quickly, when to get supplies and transportation for equipment is one of the most difficult of tasks, and yet to-day we found a smoothly running hospital with seventy-five cases of contagious diseases being cared for after just a month of work. The nurses looked tired but happy; they have worked so devotedly. The whole staff has done all sorts and kinds of work to hurry the hospital along to this point because the need was so great. One thing helped out' the convoys of rapatriés stopped for two weeks ; that gave us just time enough to get ready.
You can be proud of your American Children's Hospital. The Hotel Chatelet makes a most modern and comfortable hospital and as I stood on the steps and watched our ambulance men carrying the little patients into the big entrance hall, wrapped in blankets on the stretchers, and saw the efficient service given by nurses and aides, I was sort of choked by it alljust a glad choke. I am so glad this comfortable haven is here for those sick, homeless children. Our nurses adore so just cleaning them up and making them comfortable, and these ambulance men give a service that can never be described. Many a child comes without tears because he has seen the twinkle in the eyes of the man who treats him like a little brother.
On the first floor of the hospital are the offices and nurses' room, the dining-room for the staff, and then a big room for the mothers the visiting-room. It is warm and beautiful with a fine view of the Lake and Lausanne in the distance. Here every day the mothers come for an hour and are taken upstairs, a few at a time, to see their children. Now I know you are wondering how we can do that in a contagious hospital. Well, it isn't easy and it isn't scientific and it has a certain small risk, but it's human. These poor families cling to each other in a way difficult to describe. The women, especially the older ones, are emotionally unstrung and hysterical. They have paid such a heavy price for freedom and these children are all they have left, and they cling to them with an intensity that breaks your heart. To quarantine these children rigidly is just out of the question. It would be the easiest way to get the best results medically, but our whole staff is cooperating in making the visiting as safe as possible. The mother puts on a sterile robe and washes her hands and face thoroughly before leaving the ward, and the hospital provides little toys for the women to take to the children so as to prevent if possible the giving of food to those who are sick. One thing we do insist upon, and that is that the children cannot be taken away until our Médecin-chef and the French Médecin-chef approve. But these poor people in one short month have learned that the American Hospital is their friend, and although new ones come each day, good news travels fast. The grounds around the hospital are large and there are five villas, one for the nurses, one for staff, two for service, and one Dr. has decided to fill with some well children and mothers who are waiting for little brother, sister or mother to get well at Evian. We are here as friends, you know, and we must be friends.
As I came away from the hospital this afternoon I walked down the grounds to the lower gate. It was just sunset and the winter trees against the haze of pink brought the homeland back to me with new and precious vividness. At such moments I feel as if some day I must smooth with my hand every loved spot at home. It is wonderful to feel that your beloved country is worth suffering for.
I stood for a moment looking back at the hospital, when suddenly one of our aides ran down the path ahead of me and opened the big gate and I saw from the now empty villa a little procession coming. The small brown coffin was carried by our men, the aide and one of our staff men following; that was all, under the winter trees. The little aide is an Irish girl with blue black hair and deep blue eyes; as she passed me the tears were rolling down her cheeks.
Oh, I know there have been thousands of children sacrificed and there will be thousands more. This was a boy of twelve, dead from tuberculosis through lack of food and care, motherless and fatherless by German shells.
I find I can't bear these things unless I twist some comfort out of them somehow, and as I came back through the dusk I felt that the little brown coffin had a big significance: American evidence of that hideous doctrine "German military necessity." And then came the feeling that there are still things German military forces cannot touch. The soul of the little lad had gone winging on its way somewhere beyond the haze of the winter sunset. I kept thinking of Maeterlinck's "Blue Bird" in the scene called "Memory" where Thoughts of those on Earth make happy the ones in the Land of Memory. Do you remember how beautifully that was done,the little Normandy cottage, the sweet old couple and the little children, just the kind of a spot this little boy may have come from? Somehow I like to think he has gone to just such a scene, and when they crowd to welcome him and hear of Earth, he'll say: "Yes, the Americans have come. They cared for me. I died in an American Hospital." Can't you just hear the cheer those spirits of the men of Mons, the Marne, and of Ypres, would give?
No, the little brown coffin under the winter trees is not all!
Robert, who has just come to lay my fire, is a little rapatrié of twelve too, but he is well and strong with chubby face and such nice "little boy" eyes. He lays the fire most carefully and sits close watching the flame catch each piece of wood as he lays it on. I imagine it is the only time of day that he gets warm. He told me he came from a little village "that is all gone now but was such a nice village once."
Don't scold me, but I just gave him a franc; he almost fell into the fire from astonishment, but I could not give Robert just ten centimes to-night. I know the professional philanthropist would scorn me but I really can't investigate him; he hasn't any sources of information, they are all gone blown up; he hasn't any past, present or future; he is just Robert, a rapatrié, and I am far from home too,so there! Gracious, he is still bringing up wood! I'll be warm to-night, and his face shines with smiles.
There are people in the world, I know, who would say that the other little lad would probably have died anyway, and that Robert is no worse off than thousands of others. All right, I can't argue with them and I won't, as long as they give money to the Red Cross.
It is a clear cold night, and up on the hills seventy-five sick children are comfortable and safe.
I think I'll give Robert another franc in the morning!
Ours has been a long day. The morning convoy comes in at a quarter before six; it is quite dark and very cold but I find that nothing quenches the spirits of these homeless people. They go marching down this little street, old and young, keeping step with the buglers who lead the procession now. This morning it was too dark to distinguish faces as they passed, but one could tell by the noise of their wooden shoes that many little children were marching along, the short quick step together with the longer step of the older ones, and some of them were singing as they went.
But this letter is to be a "bath story." Yes, Evian-les-Bains now lives up to her former reputation. Every one here has felt that if only the rapatriés could have baths and clean clothes immediately upon arrival, that much disease and a great deal of discomfort could be remedied. The job was not ours but belonged to the French, and it seemed doubtful if it could be done. However, the Government appointed a very wonderful man as Médecin-chef for Rapatriés, Dr. Paul Armand-Delille and he was determined to offer baths to these rapatriés. His helpers discouraged him, said it was not possible, that he would have a revolution if he tried to force baths upon these returning people. Well, you know the world has learned anew a certain French quality, the quality that makes French soldiers get ahead of their protecting fire in their determination to reach their goal. The French Médecin-chef wanted baths; he believed in baths; and there are baths.
Yes, I have been for two hours watching his interesting demonstration. He has had the regular army shower barracks erected close to the big Casino and reached by a covered passageway. The central barrack is a general check room where the people leave their valuables; then the men have a barrack, the boys have theirs, and the women and girls and tiny children share another.
We went first to see the boys. The big room was warm and steamy; at the far end are the big steam sterilizers for their clothes, and the whole water control. In the center are the showers, twenty-four sprays, and in front of the showers are the boys, sitting in rows waiting for their turns. Half of them are undressed at a time, their clothes placed in rope bags and put into the sterilizer. The other half sit watching and waiting the signal for them to undress. I wish I could make you see it alltheir eager happy faces, their squeals of delight when they drop their bath robes and prance out under the shower for their scrub. Two young priests in rubber suits superintend the scrubbing, and how they work! The big boys go at themselves with vigor, beginning with their heads and thoroughly cleaning themselves. The little boys have to be helped because they get so excited they drop their soap, and there is many a scramble to get the slippery piece back. The room gets full of steam and you see the young white bodies flashing about through the gray mist. One small boy managed to stand on his head under his spray, just as a final expression of joy, before he stepped out to give place to another.
It is wonderful! They are all laughing and shouting; you cannot believe they are the same depressed looking children you helped off the train an hour before. I spoke to the Médecin-chef of that. He said: "Ah, you see, Madame, another reason why I wanted the baths; these poor people are too sad, they must laugh or they cannot live."
He took me to the other barracks. It was just the same, young and old men were laughing like the boys. To be free and to be clean, it's a wonderful combination!
The only protests were heard in the women's barrack where some of the tiny children were frightened by the noise of the sprays and the steam. The women's barrack has the showers arranged with linen curtains in between so that each person is standing in a small compartment.
It is a splendid bit of French efficiency No one is forced to bathe, but it is all presented in such a way that no one wants to miss it. There are posters up in the trains that bring them, telling of the wonderful hot douches to be had at Evian-les-Bains. Handbills are scattered around explaining just how it is all done. It is part of France's welcome to her people; it is all free, and it is done for their comfort. Barbers are there for the men and boys and coiffeurs for the women.
Even babies are provided with separate little tubs, and in the middle of all that din and steam in the women's and girls' barrack I saw a small tot in his tub quite absorbed in chasing the soap around as it floated, just as I have watched your small David do at home. This mite's mother was taking her bath inside the curtain and she kept putting her head out and talking to him, and the baby would laugh and splash. He finally ended by throwing the soap at me just to make friends.
I had wondered about those baths when I heard they had been installed. It seemed to me a tremendous undertaking to bathe fifteen hundred transient people daily and do it thoroughly and well. And yet there it is running smoothly, and already the people in the Interior are speaking of the improvement in the condition of the rapatriés when they arrive.
I must say I like the laughter quite as much as the cleanliness for them all. You can hear the gay sounds quite a distance away. The whole place seems happier. I can't explain it; I am not at all like the American who came down here to see this great moving tragedy and attributed all the emotions he saw at the Casino to the band, said that all tears were caused by the vibration of the solar plexus and therefore those who sat nearest the music cried the loudest! But I liked Dr. Armand-Delille's expression, "they are too sad, they must laugh or they cannot live." That bath does not change the great hideous facts for them, but they laugh heartily for the first time in many weary months, and if you have done that once, I only claim it is easier to do it the second time.
It is snowing to-night and the twinkling lights everywhere look so cheerfullike a Christmas post-card.
I HAVE been up at the hospital all day and' have spent most of my time in our dental clinic. Indeed, you see, we offer every attraction. Dr. W. has his office in one of the villas where we have a daily dispensary for cases not in need of hospital care. The office itself is mighty interesting, an illustration of Yankee ingenuity. Dr. W.'s chair did not appear with the rest of the equipment; no one knows where it is. It may appear, it may not. In the meantime Dr. W. has made a perfectly comfortable dentist's chair out of a wine barrel; one side is scooped out so you sit comfortably, and then all kinds of pieces are nailed on back and sides so that when it is covered with its clean cover it looks just like the real torture chair we all know.
It is not easy for the doctor, because he can't adjust it, but Dr. W. is the kind of man who adjusts himself.
I wish you could see him with the children. He simply has them hypnotized. I expected to hear nothing but howls; instead, just occasional groans such as grown-ups give forth under like circumstances. Dr. W. lays it all to the chair; he says the "good spirits" emanate from that. Well, it is marvelous, whatever the cause, and he hurts them too. But the children are very proud to be taken care of by an American doctor. I saw one small boy's arms and legs stiffen with the pain, but he never clutched the doctor's arms once, as I should have done; he just bore it. The stimulus of an audience is effective too, I think. The chair faces the window on the road, and small heads reach to the window-sill and many pairs of eyes gaze in admiringly.
There were many pathetic cases to-day. One boy of eight with his entire head still bandaged from wounds from shell fire sat so patiently in the chair, his blue eyes fastened upon Dr. W.'s face with a look the doctor will never forget, I am sure. Another case was a little girl of twelve with one leg gone way above the knee; she was hurt in the bombardment of her village. She had soft dark eyes and such pretty hair, but her teeth were in such bad condition she said they ached all the time. But really, my dear, I often wonder whether there are any here who do not ache all over all the time!
The real moment in the dental chair is when you have a tooth pulled out. That is now a glorious experience. Dr. W. calls the bad tooth that must come out "a Boche," and I tell you they come out quickly. "Out with the Boche!" says Dr. W., his eyes twinkling, and everybody stiffens, small hands grip the sides, and the "trench is taken!" Really, you know, the dentist who can make himself popular with half-sick, frightened children is inspired. And the older people come too, and are so grateful. None of these things have been available for the civil population for over three years, and these people have suffered so many little inconveniences as well as the big tragedies. You can easily imagine that a grinding toothache is more difficult to bear than a bombardment. One little boy said most emphatically when asked which tooth ached: "They all ache,pull them all out."
It is amazing to see how reasonable these youngsters are after all they have been through; and yet there is a side to their obedience that hurts. They act as though they had lived under strict orders and did not dare to breathe if told not to.
As I stood on the steps of the villa before coming back to the hotel to-night, a big 'duffy collie dog came bounding up to me in a most friendly fashion. I was astonished to see such a beautiful, well-groomed dog with the rapatrié tag on, but a fine-looking elderly man came up with her and called her off, as she was almost embracing me.
The man had come to take the little crippled girl back to their lodgings. We talked awhile as he waited.
"Julie," he said, "is so eager to find my wife. She died last spring, and Julie has never understood. There are only Julie and Marie left."
He nodded toward the clinic. He was not asking for sympathy, just stating facts. I find such moments hardest to bear. You want to put your arms around these people,wellI gave the dog a big hug. She was such a beauty! And when Marie came out on her crutches, you never dreamed of such gentleness as that dog expressed. She just hovered around the child and yet never got in her way. And I heard a thoughtless person criticize these poor people for bringing such pets with them! Well, I can't imagine leaving a dog I loved behind.
Our hospital has one small black-and-white dog living there. It belongs to a very sick little lad up in the scarlet-fever ward, and all day long that little dog sits on the steps watching the door. Many children are carried in and he shows little interest, but let a child come out, and every hair quivers.
It is the little things, the poignant little things that stiffen resolves over here. When you stand in a ward just back of the line, filled with those terribly wounded men, you are all dumb. It is too awful to grasp or sense; you come out dazed; your feelings are all big and general. But when you come down here to these results, especially with the old people and the children, you find the whole wretched business a personal matter.
Last night I came down to the Casino with an old, old woman, eighty-two years old, she said she was. She looked it. I begged her to ride but she insisted upon walking. She consented to my carrying her bundle. It was so heavysomething round and hard tied up in a thick linen towelthat as my arm ached my curiosity grew. I tried to think out what the bundle could contain. Finally I asked her.
"Ah, Madame! They are my best plates from my wedding day I have had them."
Little things! I feel all battered and bruised to-night. How are we ever to forget these little aching things? You feel that the very buildings in this town will breathe sadness for years to come. And yet think of all the pluck, the bravery and the hope! Yes, these are bigger than the sadness, after all. Good-night. That collie dog made me homesick, and I can't forget those wedding plates, and it's almost Christmas!
I WANT to tell you about this heavenly spot before it is actually opened. I have been waiting for time in which to tell you about it ever since the Red Cross decided to take it and make a convalescent hospital out of it. It is a wonderful old estate with a fine modern château on it that belonged to Monsieur Mangini, the French engineer who built the Riviera railroad. At his widow's death, the Lyon Hospital were given this estate to be used as a convalescent hospital for children. Owing to war conditions the Lyon Hospital Committee could not avail themselves of the château, so they offered it to the Red Cross free, if the Red Cross would leave it fitted up as a hospital after the war. Our Children's Bureau have been hard at work on the equipping of it for several weeks, and now we are ready for patients. It has been a big job and only through the untiring push and intelligence of Mrs. H., our business manager here, have we been able to open so soon.
In one way the château is an ideal spot for such a hospital. It stands high on a hill with a fine old forest around it of cedars, pines and redwoods, with a splendid farm running on the estate to supply us with milk, butter, eggs and vegetables. The house itself, being modern in arrangements and conveniencesit was built in 1885--- adapted itself guise easily to a hospital of wards, isolation rooms, play rooms, laboratory, and even a beautiful Gothic chapel for service, as it is a long walk to any village church. The great job was to supplement its heating facilities, to install a bigger hot water system, and to extend the electricity and arrange for the laundry work in hospital quantities. These things have all been done in the face of difficulties most people would have felt insurmountable, but nothing daunts Mrs. H., not even a stubborn Frenchman. She speaks French just as well as English, and she can sputter as long and as loud as her opponent and be perfectly good-natured and smiling when it is all over. A most healthy respect for her has been established in the chateau and the nearby villages she has dealt with, more than that,a real friendly affection. Even the servants, Jean, Marie and Clotilde, whom we inherit with the château, have been able to jump out of the grooves of forty years of service here and do things for her that they have never done before and never will do again in the world I fancy, for any one else but this American woman who astonishes them.
The château is a wonderful place to-night, everything is ready for the first cases; we will begin with ten at a time and work up to one hundred and fifty as our Evian Hospital fills up and needs an outlet for convalescent rapatriés, and of course the rapatriés children who reach Lyon and who need care are welcome whether they have been in our hospital at Evian or not. The little beds are all ready; the walls of the rooms have been carefully covered to protect them. Such beautiful carved woodwork! The lower part has been covered, but nothing hides the paintings in the play...
...it hard to forgive. The fine old oak table, large enough to seat twenty people, has been brought upstairs from the servants' kitchen and rubbed and oiled for the staff dining-room, which has been made out of Jean's china closet. The double blow of changing the table and invading his sacred cupboards has had a most solemn effect upon him. He passed all the food to Mrs. H. last at dinner last night; that is his way, we have found, of expressing his disapproval. But there are only six servants now and there is another big table for them. This one is so lovely we are to dispense with any linen for iteven doilies; that too hurts Jean. I think he considers us almost as difficult to bear as the Germans. To have been willed to the Lyon Hospital to start with, and to land in the hands of Americans who move his beloved things about!
And yet I have a feeling he likes us in spite of it all, at least some of us; the Doctor and one of our ambulance men, a boy with dimples and a twinkle in his eyes, get anything from Jean they want, but he has not yet smiled upon any of us.
Pierre is different; he is full of smiles; longs to get back to his beloved garden and grounds. I think he is glad of the new life we are bringing. When we came out here to see the place in early October there was the most exquisite display of gorgeous roses in the terrace garden, blooming alone in the golden sunshine. The château was closed, boarded up, with the servants living in the kitchen region. From that terrace you look down the valley toward Lyon, one of the most beautiful views of French country I have seen anywhere. I think Pierre feels he would rather have little rapatriés here than that awful emptiness that comes to loved places when those who made and loved them have gone. I hope Mrs. H. can get him secured for us. He would be a wonderful tonic for a convalescent child Pierre and his roses!
"I sometimes think that never blows so red.
The rose as where some buried Cesar bled;
That every hyacinth the garden wears
Dropt in her lap from some once lovely head."
I don't know just why that came into my head, but the beauty of the place, its dead past and all the future that is on the way to it, sort of fascinate me to-night. A French château, run by the Americans, for the care of little children victims of Prussian militarism! Was there ever such a soil before in which to plant a service?
It is interesting to feel the thrill in the house to-night as the staff wait for the first children. However vain may be the military powers in this world, something very big and beautiful must come out of such a work as this.
As I look across the valley the sunset glow still shines on the spire of a tiny village church piled up against the sky. The beautiful quiet of the night coming on is so peaceful, it is difficult to believe we are here because of war, and yet only yesterday in L--- I saw a little girl of twelve, blind in one eye, three fingers of her right hand gone and her right side injured, as the result of a loaded pencil given her by a German soldier.
Good-night, dear. When the children come, I'll try to tell you about each one of them, the first ones at least. They are coming out from Lyon and we are going in after them, ten of them. I hope at least a few will come from Evian because then they will find some of us friends here.
I wish you could see the lights and shadows creeping from the woods just back of us. It is going to be a wonderful night, what C. used to call a "Henley night"
"the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night,
Night, with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep."
Speaking of sleep, I must say just one thing more. We all have such strange dreams over here. Last night K. dreamed that over one hundred and fifty beds ordered for the château did not arrive and eight hundred children did, and Pierre planted them all in the greenhouses in rows, saying: "It's the best way for French childrenin the spring they come up again in good condition." Voilà!