Paris in the early days of the war: August 12, 1914 — (Charles Inman Barnard)

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(see previous post in this series: August 11 — Charles Inman Barnard)

(see also the post by ME Clarke for August 12)

Wednesday, August 12, 1914. Eleventh day of mobilization. Hot weather, with light northerly breeze. Temperature at five P.M. 29 degrees centigrade.

Breakfasted with M. Galtier at the Cercle Artistique et Litteraire, Rue Volney. Several members of the club had just arrived from various watering-places. One of them, who came from Evian-les-Bains, said that he was sixty-two hours en route. The trains stop at every station so that they have uniform speed, thus rendering accidents almost out of the question. Only third-class tickets are sold, but these admit to all places.

It seems certain that the first part of the German plan—namely to come with a lightning-like, overwhelming crash through Belgium, via Liege and Namur—has failed. But the battle of millions along the vast front of two hundred and fifty miles between Liège and Verdun has opened, and the opposing armies are in touch with each other. Every one in Paris has confidence in the final result.

There is news of stupendous importance in the official announcement that Germany is employing the bulk of her twenty-six army corps against France and Belgium between Liège and Luxemburg. The disappearance of the German first line troops from the Russian frontier is now explained. By flinging this immense force upon France, Germany gains an advantage of numbers. How will she use it?

Paris seems to have seen very little, after all, of the mobilization. Most people may have seen an odd regiment pass, or perhaps numbers of horses obviously requisitioned. But they realize none of the feverish bustle of the mobilization centers.

Versailles relieves Paris of all this, and Versailles, since the first day of August, has been amazing. The broad avenues of the sleepy old town have been packed from side to side with men in uniform, men only partly in uniform, or men carrying their uniforms under their arm. At the first glance there seemed nothing but confusion, but the appearance was misleading, for at the Chantiers Station trainload after trainload of troops–men, guns, horses, material—have been despatched, taking the route of the Grande Ceinture Railway around Paris to Noisy-le-Sec, and on to the Est system.

At Versailles one realizes very fully that France is at war. For there are lines and lines of guns awaiting teams and drivers, hundreds upon hundreds of provision wagons, rows and rows of light draught-horses, many being shod in the street, while out along the road to Saint-Cyr, in a broad pasturage stretching perhaps half a mile, are thousands of magnificent cattle tightly packed together. They are to feed some of France’s fighting force.

And at Saint-Cyr there is unheard-of activity. The second army flying corps is being organized. It consists of nearly eighty certificated volunteer pilots, including Garros, Chevillard, Verrier, Champel, Audemars, and many more well-known names. There are others than French airmen in the corps. Audemars is Swiss, while there are also an Englishman, a Peruvian, and a Dane. These men are all waiting eagerly the order to move.

Those at the American Embassy who are in charge of advancing funds to Americans in need of them had their busiest day since the work began, on Monday. Forty-six persons received a total of 3,514 francs.

The total amount of money distributed for the three days has been 8,869 francs. This has gone to 105 persons, which gives an average of the modest sum of 84 francs apiece, or less than seventeen dollars.

At least nine out of ten of the applicants are virtually without bankable credit of any kind. One man gave as security—because the money is advanced as a loan, not as a gift—a cheque on a Chicago bank, but he admitted that the cheque was not negotiable, as it was drawn on one of the Lorrimer banks of Chicago, which had gone into the hands of receivers since he left for Europe.

Callers included a number of negro song and dance artists who had come to the end of their resources.

The work of distributing money is entirely in the hands of American army officers, and they investigate every case which has not already been investigated by the relief committee appointed by the Ambassador. Major Spencer Cosby, the military attaché at the Embassy, is the treasurer of the fund. Investigations are made by Captain Frank Parker, assisted by Lieutenants William H. Jouett and H. F. Loomis. The cashier is Captain Francis H. Pope, with Lieutenants Francis W. Honeycutt and B.B. Somervell as assistants.

When the history of the great war is written, a very honorable place will have to be reserved for the women of Paris. In the work of caring for the destitute and unemployed of their own sex, and anticipating the needs of great numbers of wounded men, they are showing extraordinary energy. Every day new and special philanthropic institutions are started and carried on by women in Paris.

Comtesse Greffulhe has taken in hand the provision of food and lodging for convalescent soldiers, so as to relieve the pressure on public and private hospitals and ambulances. Mme. Couyba, wife of the Minister of Labor, is arranging for the supply of free food to girls and women out of work. Marquise de Dion, Mme. Le Menuet and other ladies are opening temporary workshops where women can obtain employment at rates that will enable them to tide over the hard times before them.

The Union des Femmes de France is doing wonderful work in the organization of hospitals and in sending out nurses to wherever they are most likely to be needed.

One of the finest examples of energy and devotion is being set by the wife of the Military Governor of Paris, Mme. Michel. She has identified herself specially with what may be briefly described as “saving the babies.” Her idea is to see that the coming generation shall not be sacrificed and that expectant mothers whose natural defenders have gone to the war shall not feel themselves forsaken.

Mme. Michel is the president of a committee of ladies who have undertaken, each in her own district, to seek out needy mothers, to see that they and their children receive assistance, and to give them all possible moral support.

Mme. Michel is putting in about eighteen hours’ work a day in the discharge of her duties. She is up at daylight, and after dealing with a mass of correspondence, is out in her motor-car before seven o’clock, on a round of the various mairies, to see that the permanent maternity office, which it has been found necessary to start in every one of these municipal centers, is doing its work properly.

At eleven o’clock she is back at the big house which is the official residence of her husband, close to the Invalides, and is presiding over a committee meeting. She lunches in about a quarter of an hour, and plunges into more committee work, which usually lasts until well after four o’clock.

The latter part of the afternoon is taken up in another tour of inspection, dinner is a movable feast to be observed if there happens to be time for it, and then there is another pile of letters and telegrams a foot high to be gone through and answered; and so to bed, very late.

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

(see the next post in this series: August 13 — Charles Inman Barnard)

Published in: on August 12, 2014 at 12:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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