With The First War Ambulance in Belgium

Young Hilda at the Wars

By

ARTHUR H. GLEASON
AUTHOR OF
"Golden Lads," "Our Part in the Great War,"

With Frontispiece

A. L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers New York
Published by Arrangements with
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

1915

HILDA
in her motor-ambulance uniform
wearing the "Order of Leopold II,"
conferred on her by King Albert in person.

 

TO

CHEVALIER HELEN OF PERVYSE

 

                CONTENTS
  EXPERIENCE (by way of Preface).

I.
YOUNG HILDA AT THE WARS
       Good Will

II.
THE RIBBONS THAT STUCK IN HIS COAT
       The Belgian Refugee

III.
ROLLO THE APOLLO
       The Brotherhood of Man

IV.
THE PIANO OF PERVYSE
       Lost.

V.
WAR
       In Ramskappele Barnyard

VI.
THE CHEVALIER
       With the Ambulance

VII.
THE AMERICAN
       The Bonfire

VIII.
THE WAR BABY

 

EXPERIENCE
(By way of Preface)

OF these sketches that tell of ruined Belgium, I must say that I saw what I have told of. They are not meditations in a library. Because of the great courtesy of the Prime Minister of Belgium, who is the war minister, and through the daily companionship of his son, our little group of helpers were permitted to go where no one else could go, to pass in under shell fire, to see action, to lift the wounded out of the muddy siding where they had fallen. Ten weeks of Red Cross work showed me those faces and torn bodies which I have described. The only details that have been altered for the purpose of storytelling are these: The Doctor who rescued the thirty aged at Dixmude is still alive; Smith did not receive the decoration, but Hilda did; it was a candlestick on the piano of Pervyse that vibrated to shell fire; the spy continues to signal without being caught; "Pervyse," the war-baby, was not adopted by an American financier; motor ambulances were given to the Corps, not to an individual. With these exceptions, the incidents are lifted over from the experience of two English women and my wife in Pervyse, and my own weeks as stretcherbearer on an ambulance.

In that deadlock of slaughter where I worked, I saw no pageantry of war, no glitter and pomp, at all. Nothing remains to me of war pictures except the bleakness. When I think suddenly of Belgium, I see a town heavy with the coming horror:---almost all the houses sealed, the curtains drawn, the friendly door barred. And then I see a town after the invaders have shelled it and burned it, with the homeless dogs howling in the streets, and the pigeons circling in search of their cote, but not finding it. Or I look down a long, lonely road, gutted with shell holes, with dead cattle in the fields, and farm-houses in a heap of broken bricks and dust.

And when I do not see a landscape, dreary with its creeping ruin, I see men in pain. Sometimes I see the faces of dead boys---one boy outstretched at length on a doorstep with the smoke of his burning body rising through the mesh of his blue army clothing; and then a half mile beyond, in the yard of a farmhouse, a young peasant spread out as he had fallen when the chance bullet found him.

That alone which seemed good in the horror was the courage of the modern man. He dies as simply and as bravely as the young of Thermopylae. These men of the factory and office are crowding more meaning into their brief weeks by the Yser and under the shattering of Ypres than is contained in all the last half century of clerk routine.


Chapter One