Chapter IV. The Fall Of Antwerp
By following the adventures of one individual I have endeavored to suggest what the bombardment of a modern city was like - what you might expect if an invading army came to-morrow to New York or Chicago or San Francisco. I have only coasted along the edges of Belgium's tragedy, and the rest of the story, of which we were a part for the next two days - the flight of those hundreds of thousands of homeless people - is something that can scarcely be told - you must follow it out in imagination into its countless uprooted, disorganized lives. You must imagine old people struggling along over miles and miles of country roads; young girls, under burdens a man might not care to bear, tramping until they had to carry their shoes in their hands and go barefoot to rest their unaccustomed feet. You must imagine the pathetic efforts of hundreds of people to keep clean by washing in wayside streams or ditches; imagine babies going without milk because there was no milk to be had; families shivering in damp hedgerows or against haystacks where darkness overtook them; and you must imagine this not on one road, but on every road, for mile after mile over a whole countryside. What was to become of these people when their little supply of food was exhausted? Where could they go? Even if back to their homes, it would be but to lift their hats to their conquerors, never knowing but that the next week or month would sweep the tide of war back over them again.
Never in modern times, not in our generation at least, had Europe seen anything like that flight - nothing so strange, so overwhelming, so pitiful. And when I say pitiful, you must not think of hysterical women, desperate, trampling men, tears and screams. In all those miles one saw neither complaining nor protestation - at times one might almost have thought it some vast, eccentric picnic. No, it was their orderliness, their thrift and kindness, their unmistakable usefulness, which made the waste and irony of it all so colossal and hideous. Each family had its big, round loaves of bread and its pile of hay for the horses, the bags of pears and potatoes; the children had their little dolls, and you would see some tired mother with her big bundle under one arm and some fluffy little puppy in the other. You could not associate them with forty-centimetre shells or burned churches and libraries or anything but quiet homes and peaceable, helpful lives. You could not be swept along by that endless stream of exiles and retain at the end of the day any particular enthusiasm for the red glory of war. And when we crossed the Dutch border that afternoon and came on a village street full of Belgian soldiers cut off and forced to cross the line, to be interned here, presumably until the war was over, one could not mourn very deeply their lost chances of martial glory as they unslung their rifles and turned them over to the good-natured Dutch guard. They had held back that avalanche long enough, these Belgians, and one felt as one would to see lost children get home again or some one dragged from under the wheels.