Paris in the early days of the war: August 2, 1914 — (Charles Inman Barnard)

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(see previous post in this series: August 1 — Charles Inman Barnard)

Sunday, August 2, 1914. —This is the first day of mobilization. I looked out of the dining-room window of my apartment at Number 8 Rue Théodule-Ribot at four this morning. Already the streets resounded with the buzz, whirl, and horns of motor-cars speeding along the Boulevard de Courcelles, and the excited conversation of men and women gathered in groups on the sidewalks. It was warm, rather cloudy weather. Thermometer, 20 degrees centigrade, with light, southwesterly breezes. My servant, Félicien, summoned by the mobilization notices calling out the reservists, was getting ready to join his regiment, the Thirty-second Dragoons. His young wife and child had arrived the day before from Brittany. My housekeeper, Sophie, who was born in Baden-Baden and came to Paris with her mother when a girl of eight, is in great anxiety lest she be expelled, owing to her German nationality.

I walked to the chancellery of the American Embassy, Number 5 Rue de Chaillot, where fifty stranded Americans were vainly asking the clerks how they could get away from Paris and how they could have their letters of credit cashed. Three stray Americans drove up in a one-horse cab. I took the cab, after it had been discharged, and went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where I expected to find our Ambassador, Mr. Myron T. Herrick. M. Viviani, the President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs, was there awaiting the arrival of Baron de Schoen, the German Ambassador, who had made an appointment for eleven o’clock. It was now half-past eleven, and his German excellency had not yet come.

I watched the arrival of the St. Cyr cadets at the Gare d’Orsay station on their way to the Gare de l’Est. These young French “West Pointers” are sturdy, active, wiry little chaps, brimful of pluck, intelligence, and determination. They carried their bags and boxes in their hands, and their overcoats were neatly folded bandelière fashion from the right shoulder to the left hip. Then came a couple of hundred requisitioned horses led by cavalrymen. Driving by the Invalides, I noticed about five hundred requisitioned automobiles. I was very much impressed by the earnest, grave determination of the reservists, who were silently rejoining their posts. Some of them were accompanied by wives, sisters, or sweethearts, who concealed their tears with forced smiles. Now and then groups of young men escorted the reservists, singing the “Marseillaise” and waving French, British, and Russian flags. At the Place de la Concorde, near the statue of “Strasbourg,” was a procession of Italians, who had offered their military services to the Minister of War in spite of Italy’s obligation to the Triple Alliance.

In the German quarter, near the Rue d’Hauteville, a couple of German socialists who were so imprudent as to shout “A bas l’armée!” were surrounded by angry Frenchmen, and despite an attempt of the police to protect them, were very roughly handled. A German shoemaker who attempted to charge exaggerated prices for boots had his windows smashed and his stock looted by an infuriated crowd.

The news that the German shops were being attacked soon spread, and youths gathered in bands, going from one shop to the other and wrecking them in the course of a few moments. Further riots occurred near the Gare de l’Est, a district which is inhabited by a large number of Germans. A great deal of damage was done.

Measures were taken at once by the authorities, and several cavalry detachments were called to the aid of the police. The youths were quite docile on the whole, a word from a policeman being sufficient to turn them away.

The cavalry, too, only made a few charges at a sharp trot and were received with hearty cheers. Policemen and municipal guards were, however, stationed before shops known to be owned by Germans.

In spite of this rioting, responsible Parisians may be said to have remained as calm as they have been all through this critical time. Among those taking part in wrecking shops were few people older than seventeen or eighteen.

Already the familiar aspect of the Parisian street crowd has changed. It is now composed almost exclusively of men either too young or too old for military service and of women and children. Most of the younger generation have already left to join corps on the front or elsewhere in France. It is impossible to spend more than a few minutes in the streets without witnessing scenes which speak of war.

There are long processions of vehicles of all sorts, market carts, two-wheeled lorries, furniture vans, all of them stocked with rifles for the reserves and all of them led or driven by soldiers.

Not a motor-omnibus is to be seen. The taxi-cabs and cabs are scarce. Tramway-cars are running, although on some lines the service is reduced considerably. In spite of the disorganization of traffic, the majority of Parisians go about their business quietly.

There is deep confidence in the national cause. “We did not want this war, but as Germany has begun we will fight, and Germany will find that the heart of France is in a war for freedom,” is an expression heard on all sides.

Everywhere there are touching scenes. In the early hours of the morning a chasseur covered with dust, who had come to bid farewell to his family, was seen riding through the city. As he rode down the street, an old woman stopped him and said: “Do your best! They killed my husband in ’70.” The young soldier stooped from his saddle and silently gripped the old woman’s hand.

~ ~ ~ Charles Inman Barnard, from his book Paris War Days: the Diary of an American (Boston: Little Brown & Co, 1914).

(see next post in this series: August 3)

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 9:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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