The Great War, I was there - Part 5

39* October 4-8,1914 DOOM OVER ANTWERP I Witness a Nation's Exodus by J. M.N. Jeffries 'Daily Mail’ Correspondent, I9N-I933 The utterly harrowing scenes which accompany the flight of a civilian population have never been more poignantly described than by Mr. Jeffries, who was representing his paper in Antwerp during the city’s last hours. In the words of a master journalist he tells of the final attacks o f the Germans, o f Mr. Winston Churchill’s effort to save the city, and o f the despairing trek to refuge o f the remnants o f a nation EYE-WITNESS AT ANTWERP When war broke out the younger corre­spondents of newspapers were sent to the countries where fighting was not expected to be heavy. Mr. JelTries, then anew member of the staff of the “Daily Mail,” arrived in Brussels on August 3,1914, and went back with the retreating Belgian Army to Antwerp. Andrew Paterson, Inverness October 5 was the last of Antwerp's hopeful nights, though courage kept up appearances on the following one. Everything really altered next day. By then our Naval Brigade had been reinforced to six thousand with fresh R.N.V.R. units, full of courage, but untrained and, as Mr. Churchill says, “incapable of manoeuvre.” They were rushed to the front where, very soon, in the phrase­ology of communiques, they were briskly engaged. How wonderful are these military expressions !“Briskly ”—you would imagine that British and Germans had an alert wash-and-brush- up together. Though some of the R.N.V.R. till then had scarcely ever discharged rifles, they made good enough use of them. However, the Germans, forcing the river, got into shattered Lierre town. British and Belgians counter-attacked in the evening, drove the Germans back over the river. I went frontwards again, reached much the same position as on the previous day, and found the engagement much warmer. A s the hours advanced there were signs of breaking and disorder amid the troops. At some bifurcation or cross- point close to the front on the Lierre road, Contich perhaps, or was it Linth ?—memory is not very precise about it— there was great confusion, jamming of vehicles to and from the front, rearing of horses and shouts, ambulances in­volved with ammunition wagons, cars all honking and screaming at each other, with the prospect of enemy shells landing at any moment in the midst of the disorder, and no one to direct, no one to disentangle the jumble which grew worse every minute. No one, that is to say, till a man jumped from a car and, hoisting himself to vantage upon some unseen pedestal or other, began to outcry at the mob in Anglo-French, and to point with vigorous, imperative gestures to this or that centre of the maelstrom. He was a remarkable and in that place an inexplicable figure, clad in a flowing dark blue cloak, clasped at the neck with silver lionheads or something of that sort, after the fashion of the cloaks worn by prelates in Rome, and this cloak fell in great folds from his stretched oratorical arm. But there was purpose in his gestures, and power in his voice, and under his direction cars and carts were unlocked from each other, and the traffic gradually sorted into streams. The car in which I was fell into its own channel and went past with the others, but as I looked back he was still at his post, poised alike statue, watching till the order he had created was installed with durable momentum .It was Mr. Winston Churchill. did not fail to mention this character­istic and valuable little piece of work, for valuable it was, in my telegram that evening. But all was forbidden appear­ance by the censors in London, even my identification in harmless pleasantry of the blue cloak (and I seem to re­member there was a dark yachting-cap) as the active-service uniform of an Elder Brother of Trinity House. Its wearer must have been on his way then to confer, if he could reach him, with General Paris, who commanded the Naval Brigade, and was somewhere inaction down Lierre way. This brigade of Paris’s held stubbornly to its rough-made positions. You could scarcely call these trenches they were only defensive troughs. The British Brigade, too, was in continual 179 •danger of being outflanked and so of being cutoff, owing to the weakening of resistance on its left. Resistance, indeed, was ebbing most definitely. As I crossed the fields again, I was aware of troops dropping back, dropping back. Uncertain of my own situation, and obliged to keep away from the roads which were no places to linger near, I skulked about close to the railway-line behind hedges. Suddenly there came the blast of resounding fire from near CHURCHILL IN UNIFORM l'he taste for unusual in uniforms which Mr. Winston Churchill showed at Antwerp was again displayed when he was in France in March 1916. He is here wear­ing a French steel helmet, a trench coat and sea boots. K1
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