Ministers In State. Paddington Prepares. The Military Band As Recruiter. Territorials And Christians
( Originally Published 1917 )
PARLIAMENT prorogued, honourable members at liberty to vanish on a holiday, but none of the charms of the moors, or the sands, or of peaceful, drowsy villages for his Majesty's principal Ministers of State. With the exception of occasional " week-ends," Downing Street and Whitehall for their Excellencies, so that the hundreds of Londoners who haunt those official thoroughfares with the purpose of beholding Mr Asquith and his colleagues in real flesh and blood will not be deprived of their favourite daily pastime. All classes of Londoners —Cockneys, fussy old gentlemen, timid old ladies, brisk city clerks, smart Territorials, flower-selling Pygmalions, professional photographers, alert newspaper reporters, and, of course, a strong contingent of those quiet, plainly dressed, indefinable people who, even in time of peace, appear to have nothing positive to do. And most of them have assembled in Whitehall and Downing Street to catch a glimpse of their own particular hero, their own special idol.
Truly, a remarkable array of heroes. In the matter of strength and popularity, never such a Cabinet. Its foes have become its friends, its critics its admirers. Only one single complaint against Mr Asquith and his colleagues : they don't " show " themselves enough.
" I wonder if we shall see Mr Asquith to-day," remarks one of the timid old Downing Street ladies to her daughter. " They say he has an appointment with the King at Buckingham Palace at three o'clock, and that he will drive there in a long green motor car."
" No sign of Churchill," exclaims one of the fussy old gentlemen. Constable, can you tell me whether it is true that Mr Winston Churchill is to visit 1VTr Asquith this afternoon ? "
" Can't say, sir. But not much good waiting, I should think," replies the constable.
" Churchill's car is claret-coloured, with the Call to Arms pasted on the back ; you can't miss it," relates an obliging bystander to the old gentleman.
Three o'clock—four o'clock—but not a sign of the Prime Minister, not a glimpse of the First Lord of the Admiralty, never the shadow of Mr Lloyd George, nor even the shoulder of Lord Kitchener, nor yet the very eyebrow of Sir Edward Grey.
" Of course, not wanting a fuss, they goes out by the back door," relates a flower-girl. How-ever, everything comes to those who wait, and after an infinite amount of waiting either in Whitehall, Downing Street or in front of Bucking-ham Palace, lo and behold ! the long green car of Mr Asquith, or the claret-coloured automobile of Mr Churchill, and then a rush forward of the Londoners, and cheers of the Londoners, and contentment of the Londoners that at last they have beheld their idols. Very different the expressions of England's statesmen. Mr Asquith—seated far back in his car—calm, grave, inscrutable. The First Lord—his hat pushed back, his arm slipped through the strap beside the window — pale restless, harassed. Both raise their hats to the admiring Londoners ; Mr Asquith with quiet dignity, Mr Churchill more impulsively and nervously. As they remove their hats one notices that Mr Asquith's white hair has whitened, and that Mr Churchill is going bald. More ravages of war.
Another rush forward, ringing cheers—Mr Lloyd George in a democratic taxi, brisk and smiling. Then, on foot, another hero—boyish of figure, quiet and studious of face—Sir Edward Grey ; but in spite of the Foreign Secretary's fame and popularity, the majority of the Londoners fail to recognise him.
" Some men, I should say—real daisies," an American remarks obligingly of our Cabinet.
" The Marqis of Crewe—a pal of the King's—that's 'im, across the road," cries a newsboy to a colleague.
" Course I knows the Marqis. Married Lord Rosebery's daughter," replies newsboy No. 2.
But out of this great and historic English Cabinet one figure remains invisible to the spectators in Whitehall and Downing Street. How he contrives to elude his admirers is a mystery ; but the admirers, although bitterly dis-appointed, cordially agree that " it's just like him."
" Couldn't tell you, I'm sure, miss. He's not the kind of gentleman to tell us what he's doing," replies a constable to a very blonde and perfectly fascinating English girl.
The incomparable, nineteen-year-old blonde (chaperoned by a younger brother) then proceeds to inform the constable that she has visited White-hall three afternoons in succession in the hope of catching just a "tiny " glimpse of Lord Kitchener.
Not easy to see," states the constable.
" The perleeceman's right, lady," says a flower-girl. " With Kitchener it's no fuss, and out by the back door all the time."
Every day sees the civilian public becoming more and more agitated as to what they ought to do if a German army actually landed in this country. To shoot or not to shoot—that is the question. Mr H. G. Wells says, " Shoot." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says, " Shoot." Mr Wedge-wood, once the most anti-militarist of M.P.'s, but to-day a khaki-coloured member of his Majesty's forces, goes further, and cries : " Shoot from behind hedges, out of windows, from roof-tops, from here, there and everywhere." But the Government, when invited to express an opinion on what action civilians should take in the event of an invasion, has vaguely replied that the Lord Lieutenants of the country are considering the question, and that at present it would be " undesirable " to make any definite statement.
Thus Westminster hesitates; but the borough of Paddington has made up its mind.
Paddington, indeed, has already begun shooting; not from behind chimneys or out of windows, but in the Kensal Road Public Baths, which have been drained of every drop of water in order that the manhood of the neighbourhood may learn how to bore a hole through the enemy. From eight o'clock in the morning till nine at night, Paddington shoots and shoots, so that the baths, which once resounded with divings and splashings, now echo sharply with the crack of the rifle. Eight shots for twopence and a range of twenty-five yards.
" Yes, swimming is off and shooting is hon," the grey-headed bath attendant informs me, as he presides over a table laden with rifles and ammunition. He speaks with satisfaction, even with zest. And his joy is intelligible. For years and years he has dealt with nothing but damp towels, witnessed nothing but wet, glistening bodies, inhaled nothing but moisture. To-day he is importantly in charge of bullets and guns, and so lives in a hot military atmosphere.
Very earnest and deliberate is Paddington in its shooting. No standing up casually and blazing away at the targets. Lying down flat on 'a pile of coarse rugs, the marksmen carefully study the distant bull's-eyes, and glance steadily and lengthily along the barrels of their rifles before " letting go." Only five targets. But as the five marksmen fire almost simultaneously, there's plenty of noise, and there's also quite a military smell of powder ; and the scene is made further-more war-like by the presence of six or seven professionals in khaki, who comment at once encouragingly and jocosely upon the efforts of gallant Paddington. As for the marksmen, they are clerks, tradesmen's assistants, unshaven young men minus collars, elderly and somewhat stout middle-class gentlemen (who find it rather difficult to lie flat on the rugs), and fresh-faced young Londoners not yet released from the Public Schools. As for their performances, well, they vary, so that visitors to these war-like baths are warned by printed notices to be prudent. No-body must stand round or about the range of fire, but must remain strictly behind the prostrate forms of the marksmen. And these instructions are necessary, for I notice that the sides of the bath have been scratched by many a bullet, and I also perceive that the doors of the little dressing-rooms have been peppered and splintered, and " Fine sight, ain't it ? " exclaims the bath attendant, gleefully rubbing his hands. " Some-times we 'ave as many as seventy and eighty people waiting their turn. Once they begins they don't want to stop. One old gentleman yesterday was blazing away for two hours and never got near a bull's-eye all the time. But was 'e down'earted ? No, bless 'is 'eart. Quite 'appy and cheerful, 'e said : ` When I does get a bull's-eye, there'll be a shilling for yerself.' "
However, I rejoice to record that many a Paddington marksman does " get " a bull's-eye —and sometimes two and even three—on this particular afternoon of my visit. On the other hand, I behold with my own eyes the sides of the bath scratched once again, and. the door of yet another dressing-room peppered.
" Very often they 'its the wrong target," the attendant informs me in a whisper. " I knows a gentleman wot, when 'e's firing at card No. 1, goes and 'its card No. 5—ten yards away—and then feels proud and 'appy with 'imself, too. Any'ow, it's better to 'it the wrong target than no blooming target at all."
A military band puts the martial spirit into the soul even of a Quaker. But such weather as London has given the recruiting sergeant doesn't call out listeners to the band. At last, after days and days of wind and rain, London is being favoured with quite a tolerable afternoon. True, it is damp underfoot, and sombre clouds frown and scowl in the skies, but now and again a gleam of sunshine falls upon the two or three hundred mixed people who have assembled in Trafalgar Square to enjoy the patriotic and " popular " music, more eloquent than speech.
The patriotic note everywhere. Nelson and General Gordon, the Call to Arms, King George's Message to the Nation, " I rely with confidence upon the loyal and united efforts of all my subjects," and in front of his Majesty's declaration, with a massive and majestic lion on either side, the circle of khaki-coloured bandsmen who have been established here to put heart into timid, wavering recruits. In order that they may be captured swiftly and decisively, behold the smart recruiting sergeant on the watch—the quickest and keenest pair of eyes in London. Like a human searchlight they sweep the Square. But on this particular afternoon there's very little in the way of height, bone and muscle to satisfy the sergeant. You can't make a soldier out of an office-boy ; and I notice lots of small office-boys eagerly and wickedly listening to the band, when they ought to be delivering messages, or performing dull, inky duties, for their employers. Nor would the confirmed, incorrigible old tramp be an acquisition at the front ; and here present in Trafalgar Square are quite a number of " Weary Willies " and " Tired Tims," leaning against the parapets, smoking disreputable clay pipes, and clasping ungainly and mysterious-looking parcels and bundles under their tattered, greasy coat-sleeves. As for myself, a mere glance from the recruiting sergeant„ Then, thinking nothing of me, he passes on.
An admirable band ; and the programme especially composed to suit the tastes and the temper of the general public. Of course not a note of Wagner ; never a Viennese waltz ; no gipsy dance from Hungary ; but British marches, American rag-time and a potpourri of the latest music hall songs. Yes, at the base of the Nelson Column, under the very shadow of General Gordon, the band breaks out into the lively strains of, Hullo, hullo, who's your Lady Friend ? and Hold your Hand out, Naughty Boy, and, after that, into the 'Gaby Glide and Get Out and Get Under ; and all the while the small, delighted office-boys whistle softly, and shuffle their feet, whilst the incorrigible " Weary Willies " and " Tired Tims," still leaning against the parapets, keep time to this " popular music by tapping their battered old boots on the damp, chilly ground. Other sounds also : the chink of the Belgian money-boxes. Other sights too : the devastated Belgian peasant women in their rusty black dresses ; convalescent Belgian soldiers with sunken cheeks and haunted eyes ; a small English boy ordered by his mother to offer his hand and raise his cap to one of these soldiers (which he does, shyly but charmingly) ; and then, over there, at the back of Gordon's statue, thé recruiting sergeant in close conversation with three very eligible recruits, three young fellows of the artisan class, all muscle, and shoulder, and sinew, and bone.
From a distance—it would be indiscreet to approach—I watch the sergeant at work.
Now he appears to speak earnestly ; then gaily ; then dramatically ; then he laughs—then he becomes serious again—then he points his stick to Nelson's Column—then another gesture towards General Gordon—then another laugh—then his hand laid persuasively on the shoulder of the most stalwart of the three artisans. Hesitation, however, of the latter. Resumption of the sergeant's earnestness, persuasiveness and jocularity. Obvious weakening of the Muscles and Sinews and Bones. Increased eloquence of the sergeant. Irresolute gesticulations of the three artisans, as who should say : " Yes, that's all very well, and I'm with you there, but what about--"
Well, the Band settles it. At four o'clock, as Trafalgar Square is being gradually enveloped in shadow, moisture and mist, the khaki-floured bandsmen at the base of Nelson's Column strike up the irresistible marching song of this war of all wars. Behold, as the Band breaks out into Tipperary, behold the last hesitation of the three artisans, and their departure, with the recruiting sergeant, for Great Scotland Yard.
Although I am nothing of a heathen, I cannot but smile at the headquarters of the Young Men's Christian Association having been turned into a barracks. Gracious goodness, the transformation ! Lectures, sermons, mild games of draughts and dominoes, book-reading, conversations, tea and toast in corners—all the religious and social life of the Y.M.C.A. has been shaken, if not entirely suspended, through the invasion of its premises by the spirited and war-like 12th London Territorials. On the doorstep, just off the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Great Russell Street, stands a private with a rifle, challenging all civilians who attempt to enter. Most of the civilians are members of the Y.M.C.A., but they may not penetrate into their own domain without exhibiting a special card. It's not the Y.M.C.A. any longer : it's barracks. It's not sermons and lectures, and toast and tea : it's the tramp of troops and military slang. For short, the private on the doorstep calls the members " the Christians." As I stand beside him, he turns away any number of Christians because they have forgotten to bring their cards. Many of the "Christians " resent this, and begin to argue. Not the slightest use. The young Territorial on guard—he is certainly not yet of age—remains inflexible.
" Those are my orders. Only Christians with cards allowed to enter," the guard informs me. " We haven't been too hard on them. We've left them their restaurant and a room or two. The least they can do is to bring their cards."
However, if I may not enter London's latest barracks, I am thankful to be permitted to stand on the doorstep and watch the scene. Half-past twelve o'clock, the weather hot, and perspiring Territorials hastening and bustling about Great Russell Street, and sometimes coming into collision with the cooler Christians. Indeed, I cannot but feel sorry for the latter. Their magnificent building invaded, their cosy corners seized, but not a word of sympathy. No one casts so much as a glance at the Christians, whereas everybody's eye is fixed gaily and admiringly upon the Territorials. The invaders, heroes. The invaded and evicted, nonentities. Such is the irony of war.
Three more Christians without the necessary cards, and firmly turned away. A more sympathetic reception, however, for a charming, brown-eyed girl who asks the guard if she can see " Henry Jenkins, only for a minute." The guard relaxes. I'll try and get him. Wait on the other side of the street." More girls, plain or attractive " I'll do my best. Wait on the pavement opposite." Elderly women, obvious mothers, also told to wait. And truly enough the Territorial with the rifle, upright on the doorstep, beckons, whispers and causes it to be known inside the barracks that "Henry Jenkins is wanted "; and out, very quickly, comes Jenkins, and out come other gallant Territorials, to join their brown and blue eyed sweethearts, and press their hands, and look into their eyes and --
Gracious goodness, the transformation in Great Russell Street ! Fancy, a fortnight ago, messages being sent into the Y.M.C.A. from charming blue and brown eyed sweethearts !
Now does the guard stand smartly at salute, for up the steps pass half-a-dozen officers. Now, at one o'clock, are there murmurs, cheers and exclamations of delight, when, all of a sudden, cauldrons of hot potatoes and huge baking-tins containing smoking joints of beef are borne into the street, and up the steps, by sturdy Territorials. They arrive from Tottenham Court Road, two by two, swinging the cauldrons of potatoes, but taking no risks with the tins of meat—steady and strictly horizontal with the beef. Great Russell Street perfumed with hot, browned beef. Nostrils of grimy little street children eagerly sniffing in the scent. Unshaven old loafers removing blackened, foul clay pipes from their weak, shapeless lips, the better to enjoy these whiffs of beef. Whiff after whiff. Here's yet another cauldron, here's at least the twentieth huge baking-tin. More cheers and exclamations of delight from the spectators. Beef and potatoes going through the streets steamily, smokingly, openly—never such a British, beefy spectacle ! H0000ray for the 12th London Territorials !
But what about the " Christians ? No cheers for them—mere nonentities. Even if they be provided with the necessary cards, they must make way for the baking-tins and cauldrons. After the beef and potatoes, and not before, the Christians.
And what about the Press ? After a whole hour's waiting on this doorstep I am at last informed by a sergeant that I cannot possibly be admitted. Naturally, as a patriot, I accept the disappointment with perfect equanimity. Time of war. Strict military regime. The only way, the only thing.
A last cauldron, a final whiff of beef, and I leave Great Russell Street—but not alone. With me come three Christians, round the corner to the "Horse Shoe," where the four of us drink to the health of the 12th London Territorials.
Once again have I been inspecting the 12th London Territorials, who swing two by two into the massive building in Great Russell Street, with huge cauldrons of hot potatoes and vast, open baking-tins of smoking joints. Prodigious, the appetites of the gallant 12th ! At two o'clock out comes the debris of the dinner—only great bare bones rest upon the tins, merely ruined fragments of potatoes cling to the sides and bottom of the cauldrons. All gone : even fat and gristle vanished. And the bones, so scarped and bare, provoke the joy of Cockney passers-by. "Ain't muvver going to 'ave none ? " shouts a voice. " And never left a little bit fer pore old father. Sh-aa-me ! " exclaims another wit. Constables and motor bus drivers smile down upon the debris. Mild old ladies, from the adjacent Blooms-bury squares, agree that great bare, reddish bones, openly carried through the streets, are an un-pleasant spectacle — " but," they add, " one must not be too sensitive in time of war." And the bone-carrying Territorials themselves ? Decidedly embarrassed, self-conscious, sheepish, although they whistle, swing their cauldrons and otherwise profess to be at ease.
All kinds of rumours as to where the Territorial joints are cooked. A man asserts that they come from the spits and ovens of the Horse Shoe—" and very proper and patriotic of the Horse Shoe, too." Another declares that they hail from the comfortable private kitchens of Bedford and Russell Squares—more loyalty, more self-sacrificing patriotism. A third announces that they have been roasted in empty houses, every room of which has been transformed into a kitchen. But nothing of the kind. Follow the tins and cauldrons up Tottenham Court Road, turn with them into Store Street and next into Alfred Place, and you will find that the dinner of the 12th Territorials is cooked on a plot of rough, dilapidated waste ground.
Once a house stood here, but it has been demolished, and the open, ragged space has been screened from the street by a barricade of weather-beaten boards. In the boards a small doorway has been fashioned ; and round the door is clustered a rather frowsy crowd, which makes way, with all kinds of jokes, as the Territorials, with their tins and cauldrons, pass in and out. Pressing against the boards and peering through the chinks and cracks, scrubby little children. Drawn up to the kerbstone, a piano organ, which jangles forth Hold your Hand out, Naughty Boy. A fierce smell of cooking. At last, after infinite waiting, I get close to the boards, discover a chink, put my eye to it, and behold—but only obscurely—vast cooking utensils stationed about the stony, uneven ground, steam escaping upwards, a heap of great bones in a corner, a mound of ashes in another, three or four Territorials sound asleep on camp beds in a third corner, a couple of perspiring cooks in their shirt-sleeves, and cauldrons being washed, and tins being scrubbed, and--
" Make way for us little children," exclaim a couple of stalwart Territorials, appearing at the small doorway with more bony debris.
"'Ope you enjoyed it, my dears," says a dishevelled woman in a shawl.
" Got anything for us ? " demands a thin, wizened child, clutching one of the Territorials by the arm.
Anything to take it away in ? " asks the Territorial.
The child produces a dingy, tattered pillow-case and holds it open. Into it the Territorial drops a gigantic bone, then (after groping about in the cauldron) a handful of smashed potatoes.
" Bless 'is 'cart," exclaims the frowsy woman in the shawl.
'E's the right sort," agrees her equally dishevelled lady friend.
How the piano organ jangles on ! It appears to be a permanency, in the pay of the 12th Territorials, for they " support " it liberally with coppers and call out for special tunes. Two airs, applicable to the German Emperor, are particularly popular : Get Out and Get Under, and, for the twelfth time at the very least, Hold your Hand out, Naughty Boy. This last line is accompanied by a general emphatic smacking of dingy hands. Then, of course, It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary. The chorus is chanted, not only by the crowd, but by the Territorials themselves. The scrubby children dance to it. Through my own special chink in the boards I can perceive the cooks beating time to Tipperary on the backs of the vast baking-tins.
On goes the organ, and on go the singing and the dancing, in spite of the fierce, demoralising heat. The frowsy ladies become more and more dishevelled. Down slip the stockings of the children. Low, vulgar dogs—attracted hours ago to Alfred Place by the odours of the cooking—still lurk and cringe about outside the boarding. Through my own chink I perceive perspiring Territorials plunging their heads into pails of water, and then combing their hair in the reflection of little pocket mirrors. Why comb their hair ? Because sweethearts—the eternal sweet-hearts of time of war—are waiting on the pavement for their Toms and Henrys. . . . On jangles the organ. . . . Again, Hold your Hand out, Naughty Boy. . . . Out, washed and combed, come the Territorials to meet their Gerties and their Ethels. Here, in Alfred Place, waste ground, a piano organ, frowsy ladies, tattered children, greedy dogs, amorous soldiers, tender sweethearts. But above them all, dominating the reckless, sentimental, human scene, there towers incongruously the notice-board : " These eminently desirable Business Premises to be Let."