M. HENRY CARTON DE WIART,
Keeper of the Seals,
Vice-President of the Cabinet-Council of the
Kingdom of Belgium.
Monsieur le Ministre,
Permit me to dedicate to you these notes from a Military Hospital which portray, under one of its most moving aspects, the War which is covering our two countries with so great a mourning and so great a glory.
After your heroic Sovereign, and with your illustrious President of the Cabinet, it is you whose name to all nations, and first of all to France, most absolutely represents Belgium, that voluntary martyr for the right, which for all time will remain the wonder of the human race.
But even this great honour takes from your spirit nothing of its Christian simplicity, and you continue to trust as a friend him whose heart, for close upon twenty years, has beaten in unison with yours for the same God and the same ideal. Agreeing on literature, on sociology, on religion, we now find ourselves united in the cause of the most intense national anguish. My sympathy, already so profound, grows all the greater for it. That is why, dear Monsieur le Ministre, I felt drawn to express it to you once again by dedicating to you these pages of suffering, which are also pages of hope.
AMBULANCE AMÉRICAINE DE NEUILLY
12th January, 1915.
ANSWER OF M. HENRY CARTON DE WIART
14th January, 1915.
Dear Monsieur l'Abbé,
I had read in the Revue des Deux-Mondes your Impressions d'Ambulance with curiosity from its first lines---with emotion from its first pages.
I do not wonder that your qualities of mind and heart, which for a long time past have---notably in Belgium---won for you so much admiration and friendship, were found by the Great War at the service of the purest patriotism and the noblest charity. Nor do I wonder that your philosophy so plainly detected and set forth---mingled with the atmosphere of our battle-fields and our hospital-wards---that fragrance of Heroism of which humanity had well-nigh lost the memory.
That penetrating and comforting fragrance, which overcomes and makes up for so many physical and moral horrors !
I rejoice at the thought that your book will help its to preserve it.
You wish to associate my name with such a work.
In the name of Belgium I proudly accept the honour. This homage of a tribute to a fine endurance offered by a Frenchman and a Priest to Belgium which is suffering so greatly, at a moment when our soldiers are fighting side by side to liberate our devastated soil, is yet another link between us.
H. CARTON DE WIART.
THE real Ambulance is that which operates on the field of battle. But those hospitable abodes which continue and complete its work, can also claim some right to that name which stands for a fine devotion.
Prevented by insufficient strength from joining the first kind, it was in one of the second, that, under the name of Chaplain, the author of these pages was able to work.
The American Hospital at Neuilly, to which he was called, was privileged, as soon as opened, that is to say from the beginning of September, to go forth to gather in the wounded from the very Front. Moreover, the Front at that time was only too near us ; we went forth to it in the morning and came back from it at evening. Since that time of anguish, the fields of battle, thank God, have gone further off; but the wounded, brought back from them after twenty-four or forty-eight hours, retain an only too lively impression of them.
These notes, taken day by day, will therefore give a sufficiently straightforward picture of the War. If they are worth less than those written by the fighters, at least they come from a witness, a friend, who receives and listens to them still, trembling from the struggle.
If, on the other hand, they do not breathe the heroic joy of battle and depict its trials rather than its glory, it will not be very difficult to find consolation for him who, no more than we, cares not for exalting in himself the warlike instinct.
Civilized peoples, and it is to their credit, so little love war for war's sake, that the greatest crime of which they accuse Germany is of having unchained it.
But, though having had themselves no wish for it, though only seeking to rid the world of it and to cut it off at the root, they are fighting to-day with no less courage and no less determination.
In order to give these impressions one merit which I hope will supply the place of many others---sincerity,---I will tell them just as they followed each other in my mind. I will nevertheless abbreviate those of the first month, while the War did not yet show itself as seen from a hospital, leaving just enough to serve as an introduction and recall the feelings that moved us all during that unforgettable month of August, and to show in what state of mind I approached my new duties.
One defect which I shall take care not to correct is that I have more than once expressed fears or hopes that were not justified by events ; my excuse, if there were need of one, would be that my impressions changed with the incidents of the War itself. Let those cast the first stone at me who experienced in their own hearts---I don't say who manifested sentiments exactly similar after the defeat at Mons and the day after the victory of the Marne ! Let me add that at the time when I was making these notes I was far from thinking they would be so quickly published. If they have not, as I conjectured, waited for the lengthened delay which might have improved them, the fault is that of others rather than mine ; and I am not afraid to lay it to the excessive benevolence of two Editors of Reviews and a friendly Publisher.
But what does all this matter in such tragic days ?
Let us tell the truth; that is enough. I hope that each reader, living with our wounded, will feel for them still greater love and gratitude; I hope that at the sight of their courage, his confidence in the cause for which they suffered will be redoubled ; I hope that, seeing the atrocious evils of this War, he will be strengthened in the sole determination to which all our energies should tend: so to weaken Germany, responsible for all, that she can never again commit the same crime.
FÉLIX KLEIN, NEUILLY,
31st January, 1915.
VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE CABINET COUNCIL OF BELGIUM
(3-10 August, 1914)
(29 August-3 September)
(25 September-2 October)
(31 October-7 November)
(19 and 20 December)