OH, that some Florence Nightingale would arise in France to break down the bars of professional jealousy and official red tape, so that those who are giving so freely their lives might receive the loving care that is their due when they are wounded on the battlefield!
Without exception, the newspapers of the French capital have taken up this question. They have spoken as freely as the censor would allow them, and have bitterly contrasted the inefficiency of the Service de Sante Militaire with the admirable arrangements they claimed were made by their British allies.
It has now come to light that conditions in the British army in regard to treatment of the wounded are not a bit better than they were at the time of the Crimean War. There is the same fatal clash between army surgeons and civil surgeons, between the Royal Army Medical Corps and the many enterprises of a private character that have been trying in vain to cooperate in the care of the wounded.
Ten days ago, I heard from an officer who returned from the front heartrending stories Of the complete breakdown of the medical service at Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne. He spoke of the hospitals and field ambulances as a disgrace to civilization. What he told me seemed incredible. But since then I have had it from so many different sources that I can no longer doubt that the British army surgeons have been as criminally negligjent as those of the French army.
It seems that the British wounded have been piled into the hospitals of the Royal Army Medical Corps by the thousands, that they have been allowed to remain for days with their bandages untouched, and that the condition of these ambulances is one of unspeakable filth. The reason of all this is the lack of surgeons, nurses, and orderlies. After waiting in agony for days, many of the wounded have been sent to England, or have died.
There is, of course, no people in the world, not even excepting the Americans, who are so generous and so willing and so capable in the organization of relief as the British. Huge sums have been given for Red Cross work in England. The volunteers for field work, amongst whom are highly skilled physicians and splendidly trained nurses, have reached the thousands. Ambulances, with the personnel and the supplies necessary for caring for an unlimited number of wounded, have come from London to Paris. Some of the finest hotels on the Champs-Elysées have been fitted up into British auxiliary hospitals. But at no time since the war started have they been filled. Most of the physicians and nurses have sat around waiting vainly for the opportunity of serving. While the British Tommies are dying in the trenches, or are heaped up in the improvised hospitals of the R. A. M. C., those who are willing and anxious to care for them have been systematically ignored, or, if they insisted upon pushing themselves into the army circles, have been unmercifully snubbed.
Some time ago I heard a prominent French physician, whose surgical skill is second to none in Paris, say that when he offered his services he was received as if he had come to borrow five francs !
The mentality and the callous caste idea and the rigid red tape of the British medical service is unbelievable.
Train loads of British wounded have been brought right to the gates of Paris, have waited for hours in surburban stations, and then have pulled out again for parts unknown, while the British Red Cross hospitals at the Astoria, Claridge’s, the Majestic, etc., could have taken them all in had they only been given the opportunity.
The other day a young Englishman, a graduate of Oxford University, who is here as a volunteer in an ambulance of a hundred physicians, dessers, nurses, and orderlies, dined with us. He said that the ambulance to which he belonged had been fitted out lavishly by a wealthy peeress in London, and that its physicians were men of wide reputation. They had been waiting in a Paris hotel for nearly four weeks to get permission to go to the front. They are waiting still, and the wounded are dying.
Shades f Scutari !
In both armies, as well as in the Red Cross societies, the same evils of mismanagement inefficiency, jealous desire to refuse volunteer aid for fear sharing the glory, and self assumed importance of workers enrolled are revealed again. as we have seen them in former wars. Among the army surgeons, there is that same unwillingness to cooperate with civilians that Florence Nightingale struggled against in the Crimean War.
Hospitals in Paris are waiting for their wounded. Physicians and nurses are ready. Large sums have been expended. But the wounded do not come. Is it that the battles are less severe than they *ere a few weeks ago? Is it that the Government still fears the possible capture f Paris, and the passing into the hands of the Germans of all the wounded, as prisoners of war? From the accounts of those who come from the front, the battles seem to be just as fierce as ever, and from many signs one has reason to believe that the Government does not fear any immediate advance upon Paris.
It is the old question of red tape, and of official and prfessional jealousy, and rivalry. There are plenty of wounded. But willing hands and hearts are not allowed to be of service in alleviating their suffering. Men are still dying without proper medical attention, with physicians and nurses only a few miles away, willing to risk life to carry to the soldiers on the battlefield competent and skilful care.
When this war is over, perhaps before it is over, the medical corps of the contending armies will be called upon to answer embarrassing questions. Human ingenuity, so diabolically successful in destroying human life, should be exercised with equal success in solving the problems of saving human life during military operations.
WERE it not so awfully funny, it would be pitiful to listen to one’s friends who are returning in increasing numbers from London, from Bordeaux, from Marseilles, and from Switzerland. When you meet them in church, at the club, in the café, on the boulevard, of course you act as if they had never been away from town at all. But some evil spirit compels them to bring up the subject themselves. You have to listen. And, as there is an anxious questioning note in their voice, you have to agree that they were called away during the first week of September by urgent business in London, that they had to go to Havre or Marseilles because they could not risk, in their line, being cut of from cable and mail communication with the outside world, or that their presence at Bordeaux was, indispensable to the national safety. The Government could not have got along without them. Certainly not!
Then there were those who had not the excuse of business. In the first week of September they yielded to an irresistible longing to taste good old roast beef, “for you know the French can’t cook a roast.” Now they are coming back from England, having discovered that the English “never do give you vegetables other than perfectly naked boiled potatoes and water-logged cabbage.”
But the reason for the September exit from Paris and the November exit from London is neither in business nor in food. When you get down to rocks, it isthe Germans.
How one feels about the Germans is largely a matter of imagination. I have come to this conclusion after much puzzling over the actions f many Parisians. If a man is all the time imagining that a bomb is going to drop from an aeroplane right on top of his head, or that the shells from the German siege guns will explode in his immediate vicinity, he cannot be blamed for feeling uneasy. It is altogether natural that nervous and excitable people should get away from the possible danger of a bombardment. They got away from Paris because they feared that the Germans would bombard this city. They are getting away from London now and back to Paris because they think that the German effort has been diverted from Paris to London. The burden of their conversation is no longer the irresistible horde of barbarians at Compiègne, Chanfilly, and Meaux, but the Zeppelins that are being manufactured at Brussels and Antwerp, and the one hundred and twenty-five submarines that are going to send the British fleet to the bottom of the sea. So Paris is pretty good after all.
One may not have control of his nerves, and may yield to the panic of his imagination. That is perfectly comprehensible. We are not all built the same way. And who is more contemptible than the man who boasts of a moral superiority which is due entirely to physical causes’?
But there are many froussards who have not the excuse the perfectly valid excuse of neurasthenia. Have they not fallen short in civic duty, in patriotism, by showing a lack f faith in those who were defending their homes?
The panic stricken crossed bridges before they came to them. They accepted as a certain future event what was only a remote possibility. Where they could not be blamed for fearing that the bombs would hit them, they could be blamed for not having faith in the ability of the defending armies to keep the siege guns from getting near enough to send their shells into the streets of Paris. Where there was lack of faith two months ago in the allied armies, there is lack of faith today in the British fleet, and in the armies on the Yser.
The froussards are coming back ! It is a curious sight. We saw them madly piling into freight trains, after having waited forty-eight hours in line to purchase first-class tickets. We saw them leaving in autos, in wagons, in river boats, for which they paid fabulous prices. They were inextricably mixed up with their baggage, enjoying emigrant accommodation at millionaire prices. It was a case of sauve qui peut. For the Germans were coming to Paris, and they had no desire either to feed on cats arid dogs and horses’ and rats, or to sit in their cellars while the shells burst overhead. Now they are coming back !
In the railway stations two opposing floods meet each other. The refugees from Amiens, Compiègne, Chantilly, Senlis, Soissons, and Meaux are going home; the refugees from Paris are coming home. But the former are different from the latter. Those who are going home fled from the sight and the sound of the Germans : the Paris froussards fled from the thought of the Germans.
Honi soit qui mal y pense. Has any one the right to pass judgment on the froussards? Perhaps not. We are free agents. When it is a question of the unwritten code, we must decide for ourselves, and let others decide for themselves. But we who did not despair of the Republic, and who rmained quietly at home attending to our business an living our normal life have saved ourselves much expense and discomfort. And we do not have to explain to our friends why it was necessary at a certain particular moment to leave Paris.
The froussards may have come back too soon. For we cannot be sure as yet that the Germans will not make this week another determined effort to reach Paris. The question we are asking ourselves now is whether our friends who have made the journey to the country and back again to Paris, will once more feel it necessary to pay a thousand francs for an automobile, or two hundred and fifty francs for a seat in a river boat to Rouen.
The fortunes of war may change again, and we may once more hear the German cannon at the gates of Paris. It may even be that the German General Staff will decide to take a gambler’s chance and stake all upon the capture f Paris. Is one wise in feeling that the Battle f the Marne has been decisive in relieving Paris from the German menace?
It is a curious fact that the froussards seen to be most optimistic the moment the immediate cause of their fears is removed. The two million Parisians who stayed quietly at home and awaited the issue of the Battle f the Marne did not exult in that victory. There was no great popular demonstration of joy in Paris. This is a fact that cannot be too strongly set forth. The work of defending the city was still pushed with feverish haste. Even now, two months later, every night we still see the searchlights sweeping the skies in their watch for aeroplanes and Zeppelins.
The “sowers of panic” are the ones who are now absolutely certain that all goes well. It is from the froussards coming home that we hear exclamations of delight and confident assurances that the Germans have been crushed.
This evening, at the club, a number of well-in formed and thoughtful men were discussing the new phase of “siege operations” which the war seems to have taken. One was maintaining that, even if the German offensive was definitely checked, an offensive on our part, at the present moment, would have little chance f success against the German lines. “Without conscription in England,” he said, “I fear we shall not be able to drive the Germans out of France much less recover Belgium.”
A Samson of a froussard had just turned from the billiard table. As he put up his cue, he caught the last sentence.
With a lordly wave of the hand, he pooh-poohed our fears.
“You fellows are talking rot,” he broke in. “Before Easter we shall be in Berlin.”
The man whom he interrupted took off his glasses, and rubbed them with his handkerchief. Then he readjusted them, and gazed at the froussard.
“Is that the way they feel at Bordeaux?” hé asked.