Monday, January 21, 2008

Doughboys and Refugees--continued

Refugees Meet Advancing American Columns
Meanwhile, the two American divisions, split up into as many detachments as there are thoroughfares available in order to facilitate their march to the front, are gradually approaching the battle lines, and presently encounter the rearward columns of the refugees on all roads and by-paths. When the khaki-clad, happy-go-lucky soldiers of America, with joking and singing in their ranks, troop suddenly into their midst, the weary wayfarers are for a moment spell-bound. It is at first difficult for the homeless wanderers to realize what it all means,—that America, with the first of her manpower, backed by her great resources, is going forward into battle! Going forward to throw her sword onto the Scales of War! Finally the truth dawns upon dulled minds and carries hope to fear-stricken hearts. Yes, yes, it is true! These stalwart young men are the Americans, going forward to help the poor Poilus, to stiffen wavering lines, to stop the Huns! Ah, youth, with its hope and confidence, was right!

'Les Américains! Les Américains!'

Hope and Courage Revived
Sudden silence falls upon the hysterical and garrulous lips of middle and old age. Rumor and fiction take flight before truth and fact. Old age plucks up hope and courage. Perhaps even they, the old, will still see victory! Little children cease their weeping and gaze with infantile wonder at the passing troops. With the bubbling impulsiveness of youth, young women and girls assail the soldiers and shower flowers upon them. With gladness and laughter, and in utter disregard of impeding accoutrements of war, some of them shamelessly embrace serious young warriors and plant warm kisses upon startled doughboy faces. Old age grasps swinging soldier hands to carry them to trembling lips in benediction; while middle age, gaining voice once more, takes up the cry—"Vive l'Amérique! Nos sauveurs sont arrivés!" [Long live America! Our saviors have arrived!"]

Marking the sudden transition from settled hopelessness to quick hopefulness of which the human soul is capable, this cry gives tongue to long pent-up emotions and soon swells to a chorused salutation that greets and follows the soldiers as hey march on all the roads and by-paths toward the front.

And thus heartened and reassured, with a new and growing faith, before which all their fears have now fled, the refugees look at the khaki-clad columns until distance shuts them out from view; then the wayfarers take up their burdens once more and trudge on to the rear, while the young soldiers of America approach closer to the battle lines—and the enemy-to play their real parts in the forthcoming drama. For what we have thus far witnessed, though an essential part of the drama, is in point of fact a prelude to the more important and stirring action that is to follow."

In George B. Ford's book entitled, Out of the Ruins, we read:
"The refugees were destitute. In 1918 I saw seventy-five thousand of them pour through Paris in the last days of May and the first days of June, driven back by the German advance at Château-Thierry. They arrived a thousand or fifteen hundred to a train at all hours of the day and night, with the stations pitch black while the air raids were going on: bent old men and women, children in arms, with goats and chickens and baby-carriages and endless bundles—whatever they could manage to save and carry away with them. Most of them had only the clothes they wore. Many of them had ridden a day, or even two days, without food. They wandered about in a daze, quite helpless; most of them peasant farmers who had never in their lives been more than a few miles away from their homes."

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