How the Great War Ended.
I remember how Nap sparked up as he
described the happenings of the past fortnight.
“We got the tip to prepare for
the ‘Grand Advance,’” he said.
“Our stunt was to thoroughly screen from German
aerial reconnaissance all our movements between Rheims
and Metz; and so for a week the air actually swarmed
with our ’planes. Gee! but the smash-up
of aircraft was awful. We lost quite a collection,
but the Germans must have very few left. And
the way we went about it was a caution! We had
a real aerial fandango smashing bridges,
trains, railway stations and any old thing. You
see our commandants untied us let us loose.
Why one of my ‘goes’ was the bust up of
the big balloon and ’plane ‘deepo’
at Laon; but in chasing a Taube three days ago I came
to grief right here engine trouble, sure.”
“But what was the game, Nap?”
I asked excitedly. “What was the reason
of your aerial razzle?”
“Simple enough, Jefson,”
he replied, “we were screening a big transfer
of our forces towards Metz. You see, the Germans,
during June and July, had been pushed back to a line
along the Lys, where they dug in on the right
bank and waited.
“The great new armies Kitchener
had in training during the winter were to be flung
at that German line between Courtrai and Antwerp, to
try and force their way through Belgium to Liege.
“We on the south were to put
up a big bluff between Rheims and Metz in order to
divert German attention from that big smashing attack
on the Lys. Gee! How I’m itching
to be back before the game starts!”
Then it all came back to me; the incident
of the impatient German soldiers at the ferry on the
Rhine; the tramp-tramp, rattle-clink of the German
troops and carts on the Coblenz road; the anger of
the little German woman at the farm and
one line of reasoning linked all the incidents.
I said. “The Germans are retreating!
That Coblenz road is a crowded procession of despair!”
He stopped and looked at me in surprise.
“How?” he queried.
“Why we’re 100 miles from Metz. Bless
me, they must have started just after I lit out.
Gee! but we must hustle.”
So we stepped out briskly and reached
the white strip on the tree. It was the piece
of fabric from Nap’s ’plane. That
night we repaired the machine, and after many hours
coaxed the engine back to sanity. Before the
dawn the leafy screen was cleared, the ’plane
wheeled into the open, the engine coughed, spluttered
and “got busy”; and up to greet the morning
sun we rose and turned southward with the sky clear
of cloud, fog or ’plane.
As we climbed, we could discern the
Coblenz road and the River Moselle below us, the former
still a long length of moving figures. In half
an hour, up came the sounds of big guns. Far
to the south the opposing armies were evidently in
touch. It was round Metz that the fighting was
taking place, and we could see the “grey coats”
retreating along at least five roads.
As we passed over Metz, I remembered
my last crossing it in a fog and my dash to the Argonne
Forest seven months before. Things had changed
We crossed the fighting lines and
were lucky to descend without being hit, as several
shots were fired as we volplaned down.
I remember, in those excitement-laden
days, how for a while I was surprised that we were
only welcomed back with a nod. There were evidently
more important happenings to consider than the return
of two lucky aviators, so we were soon again in operation
with our squadron reconnoitring on our right to watch
for any German reinforcements coming against our right
It was evident that the Germans understood
that our attack from the south was only a feint, as
our advance was poorly retarded; in fact the German
rearguard defence was so weak that our mounted forces
began to push ahead rather quickly. The enemy
was evidently concentrating on the Lys to oppose
the Allies’ main attack in West Belgium.
I remember that our forces to the
left of Metz, the left wing of the southern armies,
found an opening in the enemy’s line at the Argonne
Forest, and poured through: and being mostly French,
Italian and Australian mounted troops, with artillery;
speedily moved ahead, dashed into the Ardennes; and,
being reinforced with our Metz forces joining them
at Longwy, pushed on with a six road front through
the Ardennes Forest. They concentrated in force
at the edge of the forest on the left bank of the
Lesse River to wait for the engineers.
Oh, what a mad dash that was!
There seemed to be no thought of taking prisoners.
It was a wild rush north, with, of course, every precaution
taken for providing defence on both sides of our advance.
I remember that I wondered, at the
time, why the Germans were almost without horses.
Their dash across Belgium in the previous year explained
the mobs of broken-backed, split-heeled and fleshless
wrecks we met in the paddocks along the Meuse.
Within four days we occupied the whole
of the country south of the Lesse River; with two
railways, one a double line, feeding us with reinforcements
Then our second dash began, and within
a week our front was entrenched at the junction of
the Meuse and Ourthe, with our artillery banging into
the swarms of German infantry pouring into Liege!
What a sacrilege it seems to tell
of this wonderful week in plain matter-of-fact language!
A week of feverish excitement, when
one hardly remembered meals, sleep or rest, when our
spirits raced in front of us pulling our responsive
I remember that when the French mounted
troops, who led the way, lined the ridge beyond Nandrin
and looked down upon the City of Liege between the
hills they fairly screamed in their frenzied delight.
The main attack of the Allies had
changed from the west to the south!
In the meantime our forces on our
right extended along the Ourthe, with those on our
left along the Meuse, two natural defensive positions,
as the troops kept pouring in from the south to strengthen
We were as a spear-head at the heart
of Germany, and great armies of French reinforcements
were coming up behind us to drive that spear-head
Against that “spear-head”
German reinforcements drawn from the eastern army
flung themselves, but their attacks seemed spiritless.
Russia had already broken their power.
Beneath a fearful fire from the Liege
forts the Allies’ armies poured across the Ourthe,
climbed like cats on to the 200 foot ridge to the
east of Liege; and within ten days all supplies for
the German armies in Belgium were cut off!
On the second day of September, the
main German armies in Belgium, that had held the line
at the Lys, retired to their second line of defence
at the Dendre, but almost before they could deploy
the British were upon them and they unconditionally
Thousands had fled to the Meuse, where
the relentless French shells plowed passages through
their ranks. Thousands had rushed, demoralised,
northward, to be rounded up like wild cattle by the
Dutch troops at the border line.
Then the British armies marched through
Brussels and across the battle-blackened country easterly
through Louvain; and at Liege joined hands with the
armies from the south, as news came of the surrender
of the German armies of the east.
The armies of Russia and Italy had
been closing in on Vienna from the north and south.
Germany having no desire to get upon
its own soil the awful devastation it had bestowed
upon Belgium and France, through President Wilson,
of the United States of America, asked the Allies
for the terms of peace.
Then ensued a rather interesting situation.
The United States had not acted through
the war with any admiration from the Allies.
Even when the German submarines had
sunk the “Lusitania” and drowned over
1000 Americans, President Wilson did not take any action
beyond practically asking Germany to frame any “old
excuse.” He was a man of peace. He
seemed to have forgotten that the foundations of the
U.S.A. were carved with a sword, and that Jefferson’s
first draft of the Declaration of Independence was
militant and resistant. “For the support
of this declaration,” he wrote, “we mutually
pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
President Wilson had previously informed
the Allies that he was “too proud to fight,”
so when the message requesting the terms of peace came
through Wilson, the Allies received it in a cold and
There are some phrases in the world’s
history that will live for ever. There is Kitchener’s
reply to General Cronje in the Boer War: “Not
a minute” there is Nelson’s
immortal message on the “Victory” of “England
expects “; so the reply of
the Allies to America will long endure:
“They who conquer can dictate the terms of peace.”
Next day Germany and Austria pleaded for cessation
Within fifteen months a world’s
war had begun and ended, and the events at its close
had moved as swiftly as those at its beginning.