January 14, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

Irvin S. Cobb, writing for the New York Times on behalf of the American Red Cross provided a description of his impressions traveling in the belligerent countries. His description of Belgium, we have already read. Here is what he writes about France and Germany:

In France I saw a pastoral land overrun by soldiers and racked by war until it seemed the very earth would cry out for mercy. I saw a country literally stripped of its men in order that the regiments might be filled. I saw women hourly striving to do the ordained work of their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons, hourly piecing together the jarred and broken fragments of their lives. I saw countless villages turned into smoking, filthy, ill-smelling heaps of ruins. I saw schools that were converted into hospitals and factories changed into barracks.

I saw the industries that were abandoned and the shops that were bare of customers, the shopkeepers standing before empty shelves looking bankruptcy in the face. I saw the unburied dead lying between battle lines, where for weeks they had lain, and where for weeks, and perhaps months to come, they would continue to lie, and I saw the graves of countless numbers of other dead who were so hurriedly and carelessly buried that their limbs in places protruded through the soil, poisoning the air with hideous smells and giving abundant promise of the pestilence which must surely follow. I saw districts noted for their fecundity on the raw edge of famine, and a people proverbial for their light-heartedness who had forgotten how to smile.

In Germany I saw innumerable men maimed and mutilated in every conceivable fashion. I saw these streams of wounded pouring back from the front endlessly. In two days I saw trains bearing 14,000 wounded men passing through one town. I saw people of all classes undergoing privations and enduring hardships in order that the forces at the front might have food and supplies. I saw thousands of women wearing widow’s weeds, and thousands of children who had been orphaned.

I saw great hosts of prisoners of war on their way to prison camps, where in the very nature of things they must forego all hope of having for months, and perhaps years, those small creature comforts which make life endurable to a civilized human being. I saw them, crusted with dirt, worn with incredible exertions, alive with crawling vermin, their uniforms already in tatters, and their broken shoes falling off their feet.

On the day before I quit German soil—the war being then less than three months old—I counted, in the course of a short ride through the City of Aix-la-Chapelle two convalescent soldiers who were totally blind, three who had lost an arm, and one, a boy of 18 or thereabout, who had lost both arms. How many men less badly injured I saw in that afternoon I do not know; I hesitate even to try to estimate the total figure for fear I might be accused of exaggeration.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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