The World Suddenly Turned Upside Down
( Originally Published 1918 )
DEMORALIZATION, like the black plague of the middle ages, spread in every direction immediately following the first overt acts of war. Men who were millionaires at nightfall awoke the next morning to find themselves bankrupt through depreciation of their stock-holdings. Prosperous firms of importers were put out of business. International commerce was dislocated to an extent unprecedented in history.
The greatest of hardships immediately following the war, however, were visited upon those who unhappily were caught on their vacations or on their business trips within the area affected by the war. Not only men, but women and children, were subjected to privations of the severest character. Notes which had been negotiable, paper money of every description, and even silver currency suddenly became of little value. Americans living in hotels and pensions facing this sudden shrink-age in their money, were compelled to leave the roofs that had sheltered them. That which was true of Americans was true of all other nationalities, so that every embassy and the office of every consul became a miniature Babel of excited, distressed humanity.
The sudden seizure of railroads for war purposes in Germany, France, Austria and Russia, cut off thousands of travelers in villages that were almost inaccessible. Europeans being comparatively close to their homes, were not in straits as severe as the Americans whose only hope for aid lay in the speedy arrival of American gold. Prices of food soared beyond all precedent and many of these hapless strangers went under. Paris, the brightest and gayest city in Europe, suddenly became the most sombre of dwelling places. No traffic was permitted on the highways at night. No lights were permitted and all the cafés were closed at eight o'clock. The gay capital was placed under iron military rule.
Seaports, and especially the pleasure resorts in France, Belgium and England, were placed under a military supervision. Visitors were ordered to return to their homes and every re-sort was shrouded with darkness at night. The records of those early days are filled with stories of dramatic happenings.
On the night of July 31st Jean Leon Jaurès, the famous leader of French Socialists, was assassinated while dining in a small restaurant near the Paris Bourse. His assassin was Raoul Villein. Jaurès had been endeavoring to accomplish a union of French and German Socialists with the aim of preventing the war. The object of the assassination appeared to have been wholly political.
On the same day stock exchanges through-out the United States were closed, following the example of European stock exchanges. Ship insurance soared to prohibitive figures. Reservists of the French and German armies living outside of their native land were called to the colors and their homeward rush still further complicated transportation for civilians. All the countries of Europe clamored for gold. North and South America complied with the demand by sending cargoes of the precious metal overseas. The German ship Kron Prinzessin with a cargo of gold, at-tempted to make the voyage to Hamburg, but a wireless warning that Allied cruisers were waiting for it off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, compelled the big ship to turn back to safety in America.
Channel boats bearing American refugees from the Continent to London were described as floating hells. London was excited over the war and holiday spirit, and overrun with five thousand citizens of the United States tearfully pleading with the American Ambassador for money for transportation home or assurances of personal safety.
The condition of the tcrror-stricken tourists fleeing to the friendly shores of England from Continental countries crowded with soldiers dragging in their wake heavy guns, resulted in an extraordinary gathering of two thousand Americans at a hotel one afternoon and the formation of a preliminary organization to afford relief. Some people who attended the meeting were already beginning to feel the pinch of want with little prospects of immediate succor. One man and wife, with four children, had six cents when he appealed to Ambassador Page after an exciting escape from German territory.
Oscar Straus, worth ten millions, struck London with nine dollars. Although he had letters of credit for five thousand, he was unable to cash them in Vienna. Women hugging newspaper bundles containing expensive Paris frocks and millinery were herded in third-class carriages and compelled to stand many hours. They reached London utterly fatigued and unkempt, but mainly cheerful, only to find the hotels choked with fellow countrymen fortunate to reach there sooner.
The Ambassador was harassed by anxious women and children who asked many absurd questions which he could not answer. He said:
"The appeals of these people are most distressing. They are very much excited, and no small wonder. I regret I have no definite news of the prospects or plans of the government for relief. I have communicated their condition to the Department of State and expect a response and assurances of coming aid as soon as possible. That the government will act I have not the slightest doubt. I am confident that Washington will do everything in her power for relief. How soon, I cannot tell. I have heard many distressing tales during the last forty-eight hours."
A crowd filled the Ambassador's office on the first floor of the flat building, in Victoria Street, which was mainly composed of women, school teachers, art students, and other per-sons doing Europe on a shoestring. Many were entirely out of money and with limited securities, which were not negotiable.
The action of the British Government ex-tending the bank holiday till Thursday of that week was discouraging news for the new arrivals from the Continent, as it was uncertain whether the express and steamship companies would open in the morning for the cashing of checks and the delivery of mail, as was announced the previous Saturday.
Doctors J. Riddle Goffe, of New York; Frank F. Simpson, of Pittsburgh; Arthur D. Ballon of Vistaburg, Mich., and B. F. Martin, of Chicago, formed themselves into a commit-tee, and asked the co-operation of the press in America to bring about adequate assistance for the marooned Americans, and to urge the bankers of the United States to insist on their letters of credit and travelers' checks being honored so far as possible by the agents in Europe upon whom they were drawn.
Dr. Martin and Dr. Simpson, who left Lon-don on Saturday for Switzerland to fetch back a young American girl, were unable to get beyond Paris, and they returned to London. Everywhere they found trains packed with refugees whose only object in life apparently was to reach the channel boats, accepting cheer-fully the discomforts of those vessels if only able to get out of the war.
Rev. J. P. Garfield, of Claremore, N. H., gave the following account of his experiences in Holland:
"On sailing from the Hook of Holland near midnight we pulled out just as the boat train from The Hague arrived. The steamer paused, but as she was filled to her capacity she later continued on her voyage, leaving fully two hundred persons marooned on the wharf.
"Our discomforts while crossing the North Sea were great. Every seat was filled with sleepers, the cabins were given to women and children. The crowd, as a rule, was helpful and kindly, the single men carrying the babies and people lending money to those without funds. Despite the refugee conditions prevailing it was noticeable that many women on the Hook wharf clung tenaciously to band boxes containing Parisian hats."
Travelers from Cologne said that search-lights were operated from the tops of the hotels all night searching for airplanes, and machine guns were mounted on the famous Cologne Cathedral. They also reported that tourists were refused hotel accommodations at Frankfort because they were without cash.
Men, women and children sat in the streets all night. The trains were stopped several miles from the German frontier and the passengers, especially the women and children, suffered great hardships being forced to continue their journey on foot.
Passengers arriving at London from Mont-real on the Cunard Line steamer Andania, bound for Southampton, reported the vessel was met at sea by a British torpedo boat and ordered by wireless to stop. The liner then was led into Plymouth as a matter of precaution against mines. Plymouth was filled with soldiers, and searchlights were seen constantly flashing about the harbor.
Otis B. Kent, an attorney for the Interstate Commerce Commission, of Washington, arrived in London after an exciting journey from Petrograd. Unable to find accommodations at a hotel he slept on the railway station floor. He said:
"I had been on a trip to Sweden to see the midnight sun. I did not realize the gravity of the situation until I saw the Russian fleet cleared for action. This was only July 26th, at Kronstadt, where the shipyards were working overtime.
"I arrived at the Russian capital on the following day. Enormous demonstrations were taking place. I was warned to get out and left on the night of the 28th for Berlin. I saw Russian soldiers drilling at the stations and artillery constantly on the move.
"At Berlin I was warned to keep off the streets for fear of being mistaken for an Englishman. At Hamburg the number of warnings was increased. Two Russians who refused to rise in a café when the German anthem was played were attacked and badly beaten. I also saw two Englishmen attacked in the street, but they finally were rescued by the police.
"There was a harrowing scene when the Hamburg-American Line steamer Imperator canceled its sailing. She left stranded three thousand passengers, most of them short of money, and the women wailing. About one hundred and fifty of us were given passage in the second class of the American Line steamship Philadelphia, for which I was offered $400 by a speculator.
"The journey to Flushing was made in a packed train, its occupants lacking sleep and food. No trouble was encountered on the frontier."
Theodore Hetzler, of the Fifth Avenue Bank, was appointed chairman of the meeting for preliminary relief of the stranded tourists, and committees were named to interview officials of the steamship companies and of the hotels, to search for lost baggage, to make arrangements for the honoring of all proper checks and notes, and to confer with the members of the American embassy.
Oscar Straus, who arrived from Paris, said that the United States embassy there was working hard to get Americans out of France. Great enthusiasm prevailed at the French capital, he said, owing to the announcement that the United States Government was considering a plan to send transports to take Americans home.
The following committees were appointed at the meeting :
Finance—Theodore Hetzler, Fred I. Kent and James G. Cannon; Transportation—Joseph F. Day, Francis M. Weld and George D. Smith, all of New York; Diplomatic
Oscar S. Straus, Walter L. Fisher and James Byrne ; Hotels—L. H. Armour, of Chicago, and Thomas J. Shanley, New York.
The committee established headquarters where Americans might register and obtain assistance. Chandler Anderson, a member of the International Claims Commission, arrived in London from Paris. He said he had been engaged with the work of the commission at Versailles, when he was warned by the American embassy that he had better leave France. He acted promptly on this advice and the commission was adjourned until after the war. Mr. Anderson had to leave his baggage behind him because the railway company would not register it. He said the city of Paris presented a strange contrast to the ordinary animation prevailing there. Most of the shops were closed. There were no taxis in the streets, and only a few vehicles drawn by horses.
The armored cruiser Tennessee, converted for the time being into a treasure ship, left New York on the night of August 6th, 1914, to carry $7,500,000 in gold to the many thou-sand Americans who were in want in European countries. Included in the $7,500,000 was $2,500,000 appropriated by the government. Private consignments in gold in sums from $1,000 to $5,000 were accepted by Colonel Smith, of the army quartermaster's department, who undertook their delivery to Americans in Paris and other European ports.
The cruiser carried as passengers Ambassador Willard, who returned to his post at Madrid, and army and naval officers assigned as military observers in Europe. On the return trip accommodations for 200 Americans were available.
The dreadnaught Florida, after being hastily coaled and provisioned, left the Brooklyn Navy Yard under sealed orders at 9.30 o'clock the morning of August 6th and proceeded to Tompkinsville, where she dropped anchor near the Tennessee
The Florida was sent to protect the neutrality of American ports and prohibit supplies to belligerent ships. Secretary Daniels ordered her to watch the port of New York and sent the Mayflower to Hampton Roads. Destroyers guarded ports along the New England coast and those at Lewes, Del., to prevent violations of neutrality at Philadelphia and in that territory. Any vessel that attempted to sail for a belligerent port without clearance papers was boarded by American officials.
The Texas and Louisiana, at Vera Cruz, and the Minnesota, at Tampico, were ordered to New York, and Secretary Daniels announced that other American vessels would be ordered north as fast as room could be found for them in navy yard docks.
At wireless stations, under the censorship ordered by the President, no code messages were allowed in any circumstances. Messages which might help any of the belligerents in any way were barred.
The torpedo-boat destroyer Warrington and the revenue cutter Androscoggin arrived at Bar Harbor on August 6th, to enforce neutrality regulations and allowed no foreign ships to leave Frenchman's Bay without clearance papers. The United States cruiser Milwaukee sailed the same day from the Puget Sound Navy Yard to form part of the coast patrol to enforce neutrality regulations.
Arrangements were made in Paris by Myron T. Herrick, the American Ambassador, acting under instructions from Washington, to take over the affairs of the German embassy, while Alexander H. Thackara, the American Consul General, looked after the affairs of the German consulate.
President Poincaré and the members of the French cabinet later issued a joint proclamation to the French nation in which was the phrase "mobilization is not war."
The marching of the soldiers in the streets with the English, Russian and French flags flying, the singing of patriotic songs and the shouting of "On to Berlin!" were much less remarkable than the general demeanor and cold resolution of most of the people.
The response to the order of mobilization was instant, and the stations of all the railways, particularly those leading to the eastward, were crowded with reservists. Many women accompanied the men until close to the stations, where, softly crying, farewells were said. The troop trains left at frequent intervals. All the automobile busses disappeared, having been requisitioned by the army to carry meat, the coachwork of the vehicles being removed and replaced with specially designed bodies. A large number of taxicabs, private automobiles and horses and carts also were taken over by the military for transport purposes.
The wildest enthusiasm was manifested on the boulevards when the news of the ordering of the mobilization became known. Bodies of men formed into regular companies in ranks ten deep, paraded the streets waving the tri-color and other national emblems and cheering and singing the "Marseillaise" and the "Internationale," at the same time throwing their hats in the air. On the sidewalks were many weeping women and children. All the stores and cafés were deserted.
All foreigners were compelled to leave Paris or France before the end of the first day of mobilization by train but not by automobile. Time tables were posted on the walls of Paris giving the times of certain trains on which these people might leave the city.
American citizens or British subjects were allowed to remain in Francc, except in the regions on the eastern frontier and near certain fortresses, provided they made declaration to the police and obtained a special permit.
As to Italy's situation, Rome was quite calm and the normal aspect made tourists decide that Italy was the safest place. Austria's note to Serbia was issued without consulting Italy. One point of the Triple Alliance provided that no member should take action in the Balkans before an agreement with the other allies. Such an agreement did not take place. The alliance was of defensive, not aggressive, character and could not force an ally to follow any enterprise taken on the sole account and with-out a notice, as such action taken by Austria against Serbia. It was felt even then that Italy would eventually cast its lot with the Entente Allies.
Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo; John Skelton Williams, Comptroller of the Currency; Charles S. Hamblin and William P. G. Harding, members of the Federal Reserve Board, went to New York early in August, 1914, where they discussed relief measures with a group of leading bankers at what was regarded as the most momentous conference of the kind held in the country in re-cent years.
The New York Clearing House Committee, on August 2d, called a meeting of the Clearing House Association, to arrange for the immediate issuance of clearing house certificates. Among those at the conference were J. P. Morgan and his partner, Henry P. Davison; Frank A. Vanderlip, president of the National City Bank, and A. Barton Hepburn, chairman of the Chase National Bank.