Paris in the early days of the war: August 8, 1914 — (M.E. Clarke)



(see also the post by Charles Inman Barnard for August 8)

Saturday, August 8, 1914. The events, the emotions, the revelations, which have been packed into this first week in August 1914, will remain for ever with those who have been through them. When Germany declared war on France, Paris was indulging in dusty summer slackness and the tourists shared with the concierges the delights of the holiday season. But, on the issue of the order for general mobilisation, the whole country sprang to action with a gesture as graceful as it was orderly, and Paris put off her holiday garb for one of more martial appearance.

From the first moment, the mobilisation plans worked with clock-like regularity. The men obeyed their summons eagerly and the women bravely seconded them. In a week, Paris has been stripped of her young men, and it is impossible to walk down any street or avenue in the city without feeling the sting of sudden tears, or that grip at the throat which is even more painful. Yet no men could have gone off in better spirits, and there have been few open demonstrations of grief from the women they have left behind. Both the highly and the lowly born have shown a most admirable self-control on all occasions. I saw to-day, a tall, slim man in the pale-blue uniform of a hussar regiment walking with his wife, his two children, and a nurse; he bent to say something to his wife, then caught his little girl by the hand and ran with her down the avenue, laughing gaily. The boy stayed with his mother and as I passed I caught a glimpse of the pain in the woman’s face, and my own eyes grew dim.

Avenue de L'Opera nearly deserted, August 1914

Avenue de L’Opera nearly deserted, August 1914

Another day I was on the Metro’ and the carriage was full of little soldiers of the line on their way to the Gare de l’Est or the Gare du Nord. Each man had a group of relations and friends with him; wife and children, mother and father, sweetheart and friends. They were all laughing and talking. The rare signs of distress came from the women, although now and then a man would begin kissing his child with passionate affection, or you would see a husband possess himself of his wife’s hand and her lip would quiver as she returned his pressure. It was very painful, and even the poorest jokes were welcomed. I remember seeing a carriage full of people grow almost hysterical with laughter because an unmarried soldier with no belongings asked a married man with too many, whether he had brought the armoire à glace . It was not a brilliant effort, but it relieved the tension.  All too often the last good-byes were but broken attempts at smiles, for not even love for La France could soften the pain of that last embrace. Yet how great that love is, no one can ever doubt who has seen the country mobilise.

~~~ M.E. Clarke, from her book Paris Waits, 1914 (London: GP Putnam’s Sons, 1915).

(see next post in this series: August 12)

Published in: on August 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

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