A zeppelin built by the Germans to bomb New York. Britain took possession of it after the armistice was signed. Bettmann/Corbis

I am so tired of telling this story of how my own house was destroyed.

In October 1915, the zeppelins’ visits began to be very serious. They had made other visits before, and we were much interested in them. We always ran out like children to watch them. A zeppelin may be 600 or 800 feet long. The last ones we know were 800, because we saw one come down near where we lived. Made of beautiful shining material, so exquisitely woven, it was a joy to look at. When you see a shape outlined against a dark-blue sky on a starless night, it is like a fairy picture; but when it starts to do its deadly work, you forget about its beauty; and when you hear the grinding of its engine, you have nothing but terror in your heart.

My daughter, who had been working for over three years in the French War Zone, was at home for her first leave that night. She was very anxious to see an airship. (Both the boys and the girls feel that this war is a great adventure. If they had the real fear and hatred of it that we older people have, whose souls have been seared by the suffering and anguish, they would never be able to do the things they do. We ought to rejoice, and we do, that they have the spirit that sends them when necessary “over the top.”) When I told her that I thought the zeppelins were out, we went into the garden. We don’t venture out anymore, for many were killed by falling shrapnel. I have even heard it pattering on my roof like hail. The boys back from the front don’t like it.

We all stood there in the garden, listening. Suddenly the engine stopped; following that there was another sound, quite familiar to us because we had heard it in the distance before. It was the explosion of a very large bomb; and that was followed by another and another, in such rapid succession that we were quite stunned. We had no time to be afraid. It was such a wonder to us. It was terrifying in a way. We never spoke a word during the four or five minutes in which this rapid and fierce bombardment took place. In our old town, which had kept its 1,000th birthday shortly before, strange-looking things kept dropping, which proved to be incendiary bombs, intended to set fire to the buildings of which the explosive bombs had begun the destruction. The air was filled with strange, sulphurous, smoking fumes. Above the noise of the bursting bombs could be heard the cries of the wounded. It was as if the mouth of hell had been opened.

We soon saw the evil thing above us. On the lawn was a wonderful old cedar tree, which had stood for 400 years. This was split by the concussion, and had afterward to be taken down. When it was over and comparative quiet restored, the man who stood by us said, “I think now we can go into the house.” And so we walked across the terrace, and tried to go in. There was a French window opening on the terrace, and it was unbroken; but when we tried to open it, we found there was no house. The entire front had been blown up, and the noise was so great, and the concussion being outward, not toward us, we did not know that it had happened. Books, pictures, furniture, walls, roof—everything was down in one inextricable heap …

I have talked to munition workers in factories, etc., etc. All women who work on munitions need encouragement. It is not women’s work. If you could see the heads bent over the work—women’s heads, such pretty heads!—you would rebel as I did. But they are dedicated to this service because there is one thing worse than war, and that is dishonorable peace …

I spoke to the women on the night shift, reminding them that they were soldiers quite as much as the boys at the front, and that they must stand behind the fighting men. As I stood speaking to these women and girls, suddenly the lights went out. We knew what that meant. We could hear the grinding of the zeppelin engine, and we knew that if one shell fell on the glass roof above us, but few would live to see the dawn of another day. It was an awful moment, and presently the nerve of some of the women began to break. You could hear a sob here and there and a little scream, and presently someone, inspired by the message from on high, began to sing softly that beautiful hymn, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” I wish that I could make you see and feel what it was like—that wonderful low melody stealing across the factory, taken up by every voice—and how it fell like a benediction upon the bowed heads and beating hearts until all fear was stilled and we knew that nothing would happen to us; and nothing did. Presently the lights went up, and work was resumed as usual …

We have taken the vow, on our hearts and our consciences, that we will never, never let go; that we will stand to fight to the last man, to the last woman, to the last ditch. That is one of the things that the war has done for us. It has made us feel, because we have suffered so much, that we can endure more; and the same thing is true of Italy, France, and wherever there is the war. You will find the squaring of the shoulders, the setting of the lips, the hardening of the eye, that tells of a people who have lost neither hope nor courage …

For it is not an ordinary war, an ordinary struggle between nations for a bit of supremacy or power or prestige: it is the beginning of the final struggle between good and evil, between might and right, between the powers of evil and the powers of good. And because we know and believe that this great English-speaking people are on the side of liberty and humanity, we have courage to go on and hold on, even through the days of sacrifice and darkness …

In every home in our country today there is found the vacant chair, the loss of some near kindred. In my own little country—Scotland—you will find many, many villages from which the Highland regiments have been recruited. There are no boys left to come back. They are all dead.

Not many weeks before I came to this country … I was speaking in a church on the spiritual side of the war. At the close, a woman came to me, a little simple country woman, dressed in deep mourning, and in her bag she had three portraits of boys dressed in the uniform of the Gordon Highlanders, and a little yellow missive, which I, alas, knew too well. “The War Office Department regrets to inform that was killed in action.” She laid this little missive beside one of the portraits, and said, “That came yesterday. That’s Jimmie. He’s the last of the three.” She had given her all. Then she added, “I hear you are going to America. Will you tell American mothers I have given all my lads? I had only three and I would give six, if I had them, for the same cause.” Another friend of mine has given all her five sons. She was a widow and she has none left; but she is working in one of the canteens with no shadow on her face.


Originally titled "An Englishwoman's Message"

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