Paris in the early days of the war: August 4, 1914 — (Charles Inman Barnard)



(see previous post in this series: August 3 — Charles Inman Barnard)

Tuesday, August 4, 1914. We are now in the third day of mobilization. Weather slightly cooler, 17 degrees centigrade, with moderate southwest wind.

At seven this morning I went with Sophie to the registration office for Germans, Alsatians, and Austro-Hungarians, Number 213 Place Boulevard Perière. A crowd of some five hundred persons—men, women, and children—were waiting at the doors of the public schoolroom now used as the Siège du District for the seventeenth arrondissement. Although a German by birth, Sophie is French at heart. She came to Paris when only eight years old and has remained here ever since—she is now sixty-one—and has been thirty-two years with me as housekeeper and cook. All her German relatives are dead. Hers is a hard case, for if expelled from France, she would have to become practically a stranger in a strange land. Fortunately she has all her papers in order, and can show that she has nine nephews actually in the French army. I made a statement in writing for her to this effect, which she took to the registration office, but she had to wait, standing without shelter from eight in the morning to six o’clock at night. After carefully scrutinizing her papers, the officials told her that her papers must go for inspection to the Prefecture of Police, and that she must come back for them to-morrow. She had with her photographs of three of her nephews in military uniforms. One of these nephews had received a decoration during the Morocco campaign for saving his captain’s life during an engagement.

I managed to see the Commissary of Police of the quarter and spoke to him about Sophie, explaining her case and saying that as she was such a splendid cook it would be a great pity if Paris should lose her services. The commissary smiled and said: “It will be all right. Sophie will be allowed to remain in Paris!” I profited by the occasion to obtain a permis de séjour, or residence permit, for myself. The commissary, after noting on paper my personal description and measuring my height, handed me the precious document authorizing me to reside in the “entrenched camp of Paris.” These papers must be kept on one’s person, ready to be shown whenever called for. Outside of the office about three hundred foreigners, including Emile Wauters, the Belgian painter, and several well-known Americans and English, were waiting their turn to get into the office. I congratulated myself on having a journalist’s coupe-file card that had enabled me to get in before the others, some of whom stood waiting for six hours before their turn came. This is an instance of stupid French bureaucracy or red-tapism. It would have been very easy to have distributed numbers to those waiting, and the applicants would then have been able, by calculating the time, to go about their business and return when necessary. Another instance of this fatal red-tapism of French officialdom came in the shape of a summons from the fiscal office of Vernon, where I have a little country place on the Seine, to pay the sum of two francs, which is the annual tax for a float I had there for boating purposes. This trivial paper, coming in amidst the whirlpool of mobilization, displays the mentality of the provincial officials.

After doing some writing, I went on my new bicycle to the chancellery of the United States Embassy and saw a crowd of about seventy Americans on the sidewalk awaiting their turn to obtain identification papers. I met here Mr. Bernard J. Schoninger, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris. The news of the outbreak of war found him at Luchon in the Pyrenees. All train service being monopolized for the troops, he came in his automobile to Paris, a distance of about a thousand kilometers. All went smoothly until he reached Tours, when he was held up at every five kilometers by guards who demanded his papers. Chains or ropes were often stretched across the roads. Mr. Schoninger showed the guards his visiting card, explained who he was, and said that he was going to Paris on purpose to get his papers. The authorities were very civil, as they usually are to all Americans who approach them politely, and allowed him to motor to Neuilly, just outside the fortifications of Paris.

I proceeded on my wheel to the Embassy, where I found our Ambassador very busy with the American Relief Committee and with the American Ambulance people.

Several Americans at the Embassy were making impractical requests, as for instance that the American Ambassador demand that the French Government accept the passports or identification papers issued by the American Embassy here in lieu of permis de séjour. If the French Government accorded this favor to the United States, all the other neutral nations would require the same privilege, and thus in time of war, with fighting going on only a little over two hundred kilometers from Paris, the French Government would lose direct control of permission for foreigners to remain in the capital.

It is estimated that there are over forty thousand Americans at present stranded in Europe, seventy-five hundred of them being in Paris. Of these fifteen hundred are without present means.

The Embassy is literally besieged by hundreds of these unfortunate travelers. There were so many of them, and their demands were so urgent, that the Military Attaché, Major Spencer Cosby, had to utilize the services of eight American army officers on leave to form a sort of guard to control their compatriots. These officers were Major Morton John Henry, Captain Frank Parker, Captain Francis H. Pope, Lieutenants B.B. Summerwell, F.W. Honeycutt, Joseph B. Treat, J.H. Jouett, and H.F. Loomis. The last four are young graduates of West Point, the others being on the active list of the United States army.

Ambassador Herrick set his face against any favoritism in receiving the applicants, and some very prominent citizens had to stand in line for hours before they could be admitted. Mr. Oscar Underwood, son of Senator-elect Underwood, is organizing means to alleviate the distress among his countrymen and countrywomen in Paris. He has also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to extend the time allowed for Americans to obtain formal permission to remain in France, and his request will no doubt be granted.

Doctor Watson, rector of the American Church of the Holy Trinity, in the Avenue de l’Alma, has offered that building as temporary sleeping quarters for Americans who are unable to obtain shelter elsewhere, and is arranging to hold some trained nurses at the disposal of the feeble and sick.

War is a wonderful leveler, but there could hardly be a greater piece of irony perpetrated by Fate than compelling well-to-do Americans, who have no share in the quarrel on hand, to sleep in a church in France like destitutes before any of the French themselves are called upon to undergo such an experience.

At the Chamber of Deputies I witnessed a historic scene never to be forgotten. Some of the deputies were reservists and had come in their uniforms, but the rules prevented them from taking their seats in military attire. In the Diplomatic Tribune sat Sir Francis Bertie, the British Ambassador, side by side with M. Alexander Iswolsky, the Russian Ambassador. The Chamber filled in complete silence. The whole House, from royalists to socialists, listened, standing, to a glowing tribute by M. Paul Deschanel, president of the Chamber, to M. Jaurès, over whose coffin, he said, the whole of France was united. “There are no more adversaries,” exclaimed M. Deschanel, with a voice trembling with emotion, “there are only Frenchmen.” The whole house as one man raised a resounding shout of “Vive la France!”

When M. Deschanel concluded, there was a pause during the absence of M. Viviani. The Premier entered, pale but confident, amid a hurricane of cheers and read amid a silence broken only by frenzied shouts of “Vive la France!” a speech detailing the whole course of the diplomatic negotiations, in which he placed upon Germany crushing responsibility for the catastrophe which has overtaken Europe.

The Chamber, before rising, adopted unanimously without discussion a whole series of bills making provision for national defense and the maintenance of order in France.

M. Viviani’s speech was interrupted by terrific cheering when he referred to the attitude adopted by the British and Belgian governments. All rose to face the diplomatic Tribune, cheering again and again.

M. Viviani’s last phrase, “We are without reproach. We shall be without fear,” swept the whole Chamber off its feet.

The vast hemicycle was a compact mass of cheering deputies, all waving aloft in their hands papers and handkerchiefs. From the Tribunes of the public gallery shout after shout went up. At the foot of the presidential platform the gray-haired usher, with his 1870 war medals on his breasts, was seated, overcome with emotion, the tears coursing down his cheeks.

Paris is back in the days of the curfew, and at eight o’clock, by order of the Military Governor of Paris, it is “lights out” on the boulevards, all the cafés close their doors, the underground railway ceases running, and policemen and sentinels challenge any one going home late, lest he should be a German spy. Paris is no longer “la ville lumière“— it is a sad and gloomy city, where men and women go about with solemn, anxious faces, and every conversation seems to begin and end with the dreadful word “War!”

There is no more rioting in the streets. The bands of young blackguards who went about pillaging the shops of inoffensive citizens have been cleared from the streets, and demonstrations of every kind are strictly forbidden. So far is this carried that a cab was stopped at the Madeleine, and a policeman ordered the cab driver to take the little French flag out of the horse’s collar.

In the evening the city is wrapped in a silence which makes it difficult to realize that one is in the capital of a great commercial center. The smallest of provincial villages would seem lively compared with the boulevards last night. But for large numbers of policemen and occasional military patrols, the streets were practically deserted.

There is, however, nothing for the police to do, for the sternly worded announcement that disturbers of the peace would be court-martialed had the instant effect of putting a stop to any noisy demonstrations, let alone any attempts at pillage. Policemen can be seen sitting about on doorsteps or leaning against trees.

Parisians are already going through a small revival of what they did during the siege of 1871. They are lining up at regular hours outside provision shops and waiting their turn to be served. Many large groceries are open only from nine to eleven in the morning and from three to five in the afternoon, not because there is any scarcity of food, but on account of lack of assistants, all their young men being at the front or on their way there.

Great activity is already being shown in preparing to receive wounded soldiers from the front, and all the ambulance and nursing societies are working hand in hand.

The women of Paris are being enrolled in special schools where they will be taught the art of nursing, and thousands of young women and girls in the provinces have promised to help their country by making uniforms and bandages. Others will look after the children of widowers who have gone to the front, and in various other ways the women of France are justifying their reputation for cheerful self-abnegation.


The Medical Board of the American Hospital held another meeting at the hospital in Neuilly, to consider further the organization of the hospital for wounded soldiers, with an ambulance service, which it is proposed to offer as an American contribution to France in her hour of trouble.

Just how extensive this medical service will be depends upon the amount of money that will be obtained from Americans. The enterprise was given its first impulse at a meeting of the Board of Governors and the Medical Board of the American Hospital held on Monday at the request of Ambassador Herrick.

It is intended to establish at first a hospital of one hundred or two hundred beds, fully equipped to care for wounded French soldiers. Several places are under consideration, but at present no information of a definite character can be given on this subject. Later, if Americans are sufficiently generous in their contributions, it is proposed to obtain from the French Government the use of the Lycée Pasteur in Neuilly, not far from the American Hospital. In this building a thousand beds could be placed, and it is hoped that funds will be available to undertake this larger ambulance service.

Meanwhile the American Hospital at Neuilly is not to be affected in any way by this emergency undertaking, but it will continue its work for Americans in need of medical attention. The special hospital for soldiers is to be an American offering under the auspices of the American Hospital and under the direction of the Medical Board of that institution.

The Medical Board of the American Hospital consists of Doctor Robert Turner, chairman; Doctor Magnier, who is well known as the founder of the hospital; Doctor Debouchet, Doctor Gros, Doctor Koenig and Doctor Whitman.

Mrs. Herrick, Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mrs. Carolan, and other prominent American women have applied for service with the Red Cross.

~ ~ ~ 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 5 — Charles Inman Barnard)

Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 11:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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