Here, for your delectation, two gripping escape yarns. It’s the Summer of 1914. You’re in Germany with your motor cycle. War is about to be declared and you’re determined to get back to Blighty, no matter what. The first tale concerns two young ladies from the Isle of Wight…
“WE STARTED OFF ON OUR TRIP by motor cycle to Bayreuth so peacefully on the 15th July, never dreaming of the possibilities of war, and here we are back again on the 4th August, all that is left to us of the two bicycles being a spare belt, an inner tube, and a sparking plug.
Our outward journey seems tame now, but at the time it was quite interesting. We left the Isle of Wight by the 7.15am boat to Southampton, rode up to London, had the motor cycles put on board the Batavier V, and arrived the next morning at Rotterdam. In due course we passed through the formalities of the Dutch Customs, had our passes signed, and duly arrived at our destination, Lensden, near Amersfoort, where we stayed two nights. We were much disappointed at the state of the roads in Holland. The main roads are paved all over, and are in such bad repair that it was impossible for us to go faster than about 15mph.
Alongside some of the roads there are special paths for cyclists, which are often very good and smooth, and we were thankful whenever we could get on these. During the next few days we went through the usual vicissitudes of a motor cyclist—punctures, a little carburetter trouble, belt and clutch slip, etc—but nothing really to hinder us, and we slept the nights at Rheinberg, Niederbreisig, Wiesbaden, and Würzburg. The scenery round Wiesbaden is very lovely and the roads excellent.
We stayed in Wiesbaden itself for two days. After leaving Würzburg our luck with fine weather changed, and we were caught in a terrific thunderstorm, and forced to stay the night in a most primitive wayside inn at Rupertsburg, near Eichstätt, where our supper and breakfast consisted of black bread and coffee. The next day we rode through most beautiful scenery and along a fairly good road to Regensburg. From there to Bayreuth was only an easy day’s run, but the clutch on my friend’s machine kept slipping on every slight gradient, and the clay roads, owing to the heavy thunder showers, were like butter, so we eventually stopped at the little village of Haag, and reached Bayreuth on the morning of July 25th. There we spent seven days of peaceful sight-seeing and opera-going, often going for little tours on our motor cycles. On these, as everywhere else on our trip out, we found everybody very kind and always civil. It was only natural that we were a great source of interest, as ladies are practically never seen on motor cycles in Germany.
War and Rumours of War.
There were no English newspapers to be had, and except that we heard that Austria had declared war against Servia, there was not even a rumour of our finding any difficulties on our homeward way until the evening of the 1st of August, when the news began to be disquieting, and we were warned that passports would require to be looked at and so forth also when we went as usual for our Poste Restante letters they were refused us, and we heard that the post was in the hands of the military. That evening we heard that 4,000 soldiers were to be quartered in the town on the following day.
All the English and Americans then began to make hasty preparations for an early start, we among the number; but even then there seemed nothing to make us think of encountering any real difficulties. On August
2nd, a Sunday, we started off at 7.30, the first real intimation of warlike preparations being that the man at the garage only allowed us to fill up with petrol behind a building where we could not be seen, as all petrol was requisitioned by the Government. Well, we started off, and for the first 15 miles or so we were not interfered with, nor did we see any soldiers or any military preparations, and so we came to Kulmbach, the first town on our route. Here we turned off for Lichtenfels, on the way to Eisenach and Cassel. Just beyond Kulmbach my companion had a puncture which delayed us some little while, and as we started onwards we met all the village people just coming out of church. They stopped us, the men demanding to see our papers. These, fortunately for us, were all in order, passports, bicycle passes, German tax papers, etc, and we were allowed to proceed. Hardly were we through the village than we came to a level crossing, where three or four men were busily shutting the gates, and others were as hastily loading their rifles with ball cartridges.
We were hauled off our bicycles and told to consider ourselves under arrest. Three or four men with fixed bayonets walked in front, and as many behind, and about 100 peasants accompanied us. It was an awfully hot day, and my cycling clothes were thick and heavy, so I began to find pushing my bicycle a rather fatiguing game, and began to lag behind, and told my friend to do the same, but in a moment the guards shouted at us to go on faster or else the bayonets would be used. After some ten minutes or more we got to the station, where the waiting room was made into a temporary guard room, and we could sit down. We were told that the gendarmerie from the nearest town had been sent for, and that they would decide what was to be done with us. In due course four men arrived, thoroughly examined all our papers, and then searched our suit cases for incriminating papers of any description. Needless to say they found nothing. They told us that news of us had been telephoned all along the line from Kulmbach and that we should be stopped at every level-crossing, at every bridge, at every cross-road, and at every village, and that in case we changed our route, our description had been telephoned on to every cross-road in the neighbourhood. We asked these people, who were quite nice to us, to be kind enough to give us some kind of a permit, which would enable us to get on unmolested. This they did and we got on for a mile or two, were stopped at the first bridge, showed our paper, and were allowed to pass on.
This cheered us up considerably, and we entered the next village quite unconcernedly, and had almost got through it when we encountered another hostile crowd who stopped us, examined the paper again, and were just on the point of letting us go when they discovered that the paper had no official seal on it. This was quite enough, and we were instantly arrested for the second time. Having learnt by experience that no breathing time was allowed, I quickly divested myself of my heavy coat and knapsack, got them on to the bicycle, and we started the march back all through the village, being reinforced at every moment by soldiers and crowds of villagers. These were not quite so hostile, and we got help from some of the boys in pushing the bicycles, which was a great relief to us. At the station, where we were again examined, was a young German officer, who told us we had much better give up all idea of proceeding on our bicycles, that no pass would really help us, that the further we went the more military we should encounter, and that he strongly advised us to go on by train, and told us he would give us a permit to take us as far as Lichtenfels, where we could get a train for the frontier. This he did, and, loth to leave our machines behind, we started once more for Lichtenfels by road.
Rough Reception from Hostile Crowd.
On the way we were held up several times, but allowed on again after our paper had been shown. About half a mile from the town we overtook a noisy band of Reservists, and these, when they discovered we were only two ladies, shouted to us to stop, and as this was done not quite quickly enough for them, they absolutely dragged us off our bicycles. I believe that these men had no right whatsoever to stop us, but they were uproarious and I suppose thought it a bit of fun. We were very roughly handled by them, but eventually one older-looking man amongst them came forward, looked at our passports, etc, and allowed us to proceed. We were then within sight of the town, and rather heaved a sigh of relief to think that we should at last get a little peace. But this was not the case, for at the entrance of the town we were met by one of the ugliest and most hostile crowds I have ever seen. We rode quietly side by side so as not to get separated, and then came the order ‘Halt or we shoot!’ Some of the men ran off for the police, leaving us in the middle of the road closely guarded by soldiers and civilians. One would have thought we were the most dangerous spies caught red-handed; they could not have treated us worse. They shouted to us that if we attempted to move or speak to each other we should be instantly shot.
An old man standing in front of me then began talking to me; he was quite friendly, really, of better class apparently than the rabble around us. He said he could not understand why two respectable ladies should be riding motor cycles instead of staying quietly at home. Did we not know that war was declared, etc, etc. I answered him that, of course, I could quite understand his point of view, as he was at home, but that we were not, and, although we were trying our very utmost to get there as quickly as possible, he and his nation were doing their utmost to prevent it. This seemed to appeal to his sense of humour, and he then began to call the ruder boys and girls to order. They were just beginning to get out of hand, pulling at our hair, snapping their fingers in our faces, and so forth, and then he suggested to the calmer of the guards that they should escort us at any rate into the shade, and not keep us in the broiling sun.
Kindness from the Police.
Much to our joy we were soon met by uniformed police, who escorted us and kept off the crowd, who then contented themselves with shouting, ‘To prison, to prison!’. The chief of police was excessively kind to us, and helped us in every way. He brought us into a room, had the bicycles guarded by police, cleared the streets, and then proceeded to write a further permit for us as far as the Dutch frontier. He added to his kindness by accompanying us to the station, and, while he assisted my friend with the machines, I went to get the tickets. I was asked for my passport, which I showed, also I told the man I should require tickets for the motor bicycles, and that the chief of police was on the platform with us. Whether or not he believed me I do not know, for at that moment someone outside the station recognised me, and in a moment the whole building was swarming with men and boys, and the man at the ticket office, telling me to wait a moment, went out by a side door and fetched in a whole band of soldiers. Seeing I was going to be instantly surrounded and separated both from my friend and the chief of police, I made a dash, ducked under the bayonets, and flew through the crowd on to the platform just in time to find the chief saying good-bye to my friend, believing all was well. He was perfectly furious, white with anger at the brutal behaviour of his countrymen, and just hurled abuse at them all, told them what curs they were to bully two perfectly harmless and helpless women, insisted on the tickets being then and there handed over to us, and a telegram despatched to Würzburg to say we were not to be interfered with, but were to be helped to the frontier.
We said good-bye to the Chief of Police with real regret, for had it not been for him I scarcely think we should have left Lichtenfels that day.
Over the Frontier at Last.
Two Dutch youths gave up their places to us, otherwise we could not have had a seat at all, but the bicycles had to be left behind. At Würzburg we booked to Utrecht, the only Dutch town to which tickets were issued. All through the night we were continually leaving one train for another, but reached Cologne about 6am and Utrecht at 2pm. Thence, with many difficulties, we proceeded through Hilversum and Amsterdam to the Hook of Holland, where, after spending the night on the wooden Customs benches, we embarked for England. Outside Harwich we were ordered to stop, and escorted in by a sub-marine. It seemed almost too good to be true to find ourselves back once more on English soil after the experiences of the past days. One thing which greatly surprised us was to find that even then—on Tuesday afternoon, August 4th—we were not yet at war with Germany, though we had been subjected to such gross treatment at the hands of the Germans.”
☞ “What makes the retention of the two machines more vexing still is the fact that Miss Dickinson is attached to the Hants Red Cross and is needed as a despatch rider. If any reader is willing to loan another mount to Miss Dickinson until the close of the war, or to provide her with means to obtain one, such an offer would be gratefully accepted.—Ed.”
Plucky gels indeed; but no pluckier than this resourceful chap. The original headline and sub-heading are suitably Buchanesque.
A dash for liberty.
Thrilling Adventures of a Scott Rider in Germany and Belgium.
“I WAS LIVING AT KARLSRUHE, in the Grand Duchy of Baden, when the official mobilisation order was issued. War with France was inevitable, and as there seemed a great probability that England would join in before long, Germany could not be called a pleasant country to stay in. Trains were still running, but no one would guarantee that I would be taken to my destination, which was to be Brussels in the first instance, then London. A dash for liberty on my Scott motor cycle struck me as being much better sport than to be stranded in some German town, and I quickly decided to have a try. By means of a host of letters of recommendation, and after various difficulties, a military passport was procured. This allowed me to cross the German frontier ‘with my machine’. The latter phrase was included after the paper had been filled in, and when I made the request I had no idea that on it would depend the safety of my mount. The next thing was to find some fuel. All the petrol had been requisitioned by the German Government. Through a friendly chauffeur I ‘found’ four gallons. Two went into the tank and two one-gallon tins were strapped each side of the carrier in place of the tool bags. The latter, with a spare suit, some linen, and a few things I did not wish to leave behind, were stored in a portmanteau, and this was fastened across the carrier. A tin of oil in place of the end number plate brought up the rear.
All night from the 2nd to the 3rd of August the bicycle was overhauled and packed, with the assistance of the landlady’s daughter, whose job it was to flash an electric pocket lamp wherever light was needed.
Adventures Soon Commence.
At 5.30am on Monday, the 3rd, I set out for Brussels. The road circumstances would choose, but it was certain that it lay towards Cologne and not through Luxemburg, as sharp fighting had taken place in Alsace, and the wounded had already been brought to Colmar. Friends who knew of my intentions prophesied many things—they were mostly not exactly cheerful. Everyone was certain that I would never reach Brussels, and most people agreed that I would be shot before crossing the Rhine. The common advice from everybody was ‘Don’t go’. After riding for ten miles I was stopped for the first time, my papers were verified, and my luggage searched. The stopping is done in a most effective way. The street is barricaded and two members of the civic guard or soldiers point a loaded rifle with fixed bayonet at you. One man covers you while you pass your little exam. If the guards decide that you are OK you are told that you may ride on but will be shot unless you dismount at first call. These stoppages occurred about every ten miles. Most of them went off as described. The men were business-like and strict, but not impolite. A few instances, however, deserve special mention.
While riding along in Mannheim in search of the Belgian Consul, and thinking of nothing except my machine, which was ticking over most beautifully, I suddenly heard violent shouts. It turned out to be a man who was pursuing me on a push bicycle. He rode up with great dash and informed me, ‘Sie sind ein Franzose’ (‘You, are a Frenchman’), and that I was under arrest. All argument was useless, so I asked him to show the way to the Belgian Consul. By this time we had a crowd around us, and it had been decided that I was a French spy. Still there was no danger in taking even a spy to the Belgian Consul, and the gallant captor proudly led the way. So great was his zeal that he at once rode into a lamp post, and on turning my machine I found the poor man picking himself up. Anxious not to provoke the slightest suspicion of wishing to escape or to go wrong I asked if that was my road. He looked furious, mumbling something about every German doing his duty for the Fatherland.
A Search for the Consul.
We had quite a long ride together, as he first took me to the wrong end of the town and then almost back to the starting point. In the course of our travels, I apologised to my companion for the trouble I was giving him, and hoped that I was not monopolising too much of his valuable time. The answer was a very neat little speech in which I learnt that every son of the Fatherland cannot spend his time better than in sacrificing it to stop the disgraceful practice of spying which is resorted to by other nations and which alone endangers the position that great empire holds in the sun. Furious glances also came my way. Not being vain enough to think that they might be meant for me, I asked my escort how he liked my machine. As there was no answer, I proceeded to explain the advantages of a water-cooled, two-stroke, valveless, chain-driven, double-geared English motor cycle, and it only occurred to me much later that the man was watching me as perhaps he feared I might run away. Such thoughts I am prepared to forgive him. He was surely no motor cyclist, and, therefore, could not understand the far greater merits of a machine creeping silently along the streets through the traffic, at almost a walking pace, compared to the possibility of my bolting on the throttle suddenly being ripped open; besides, he was doing me a great favour by showing me the way.
Finally, we did reach the Belgian Consul, whom I knew very well. He sent off the man and informed me that the Belgian frontier was still open; whether it would be when I reached it he could not say. My patriotic escort looked calmed and a little sheepish. This did not prevent us parting on quite good terms. After obtaining some advice about the roads, I thanked him for his services and expressed a hope that the same courtesy would be shown to all foreigners.
The disagreeable thing about these stoppages was the loss of time. To reach the Belgian frontier that night 350 miles had to be covered. This had made me decide that the speed limit should be governed by the state of the roads and nothing else. As there were 80lb of luggage on the carrier, besides fuel and oil, I could not do much more than 45mph whenever the road was at all uneven, for fear of something coming unstrung.
Arrested as a Russian Spy.
The next unpleasant experience was at Seeheira, on the famous Bergstrasse, which runs along the hills from Heidelberg to Frankfurt. There two worthy old men were guarding the barricade. The first one wanted to shoot me because on stopping I stayed astride my machine. How was I to steady it otherwise and have my hands free for showing my papers? Number 2 did not think his companion-in-arms had a right to pot me there and then, or perhaps he feared being robbed of his share of honour and glory. A heated discussion started. I awaited my turn sitting on the bicycle eating chocolate, as there was nothing else to do.
To Shoot or not to Shoot.
Gradually things went worse. No 1 was determined to have his way on the ‘I saw him first’ principle, and let daylight through me at once. Luckily, No 3 turned up and, joining No 2, overruled his bloodthirsty countryman. A crowd of so-called patriots always linger at these ‘hold-up depots’. They had all more or less joined in the argument, but Nos 1, 2, and 3 shouted loudest. When anyone comes along on car or bicycle, people spring up by the dozen to see the fun. This time I was a Russian spy. My papers were false, the petrol and oil tins contained explosives, and the club mascot was a bomb to be exploded by the wire holding it.
These facts had one good effect, they forced the crowd back. I was first ordered to remove the bombs. This was not done without fear, as the brave guards were trembling for all they were worth, and I was not at all sure that one of the shakes would not pull a trigger of the rifles, which were, of course, pointed at me. The electric connections with the bicycle, which were to let loose these “infernal machines” having been cut, the liquid running from tins and the sawdust from the mascot soon proved what I had not dared to argue. But this was no proof of my innocence. I was next made to half undress on the road, then marched back and guarded until a gendarme could be fetched. This took two hours. Fortunately it was warm, or my half-naked condition might have been less pleasant than it was. On the arrival of the gendarme, the usual examination was gone through and I was set free. The humour of the crowd at once swung round, and, when the kick- starter set the engine going, it was amid the cheers of the people who only a quarter of an hour ago had sworn to lynch me. It may be unpleasant awaiting your turn in a room with a howling village mob outside, but I was to learn that things may be a lot worse without being fatal.
Obstructions Worse than Freak Hills.
Darmstadt was reached at about three, and my hopes of reaching Aachen before dark rose. As I was nearing the fortified regions on the Rhine, things did not go as smoothly as they might have done. In spite of more or less serious checks, it was not too late at Mainz to get, at any rate, to Cologne before night fell. I crossed the Rhine bridge with less difficulty than I had expected and found myself on the road to Lingen in high spirits, regretting only that I had no leisure to admire the lovely Rhine Valley I was travelling through. But before many miles had been covered a most unpleasant thing happened.
A Case of Dutch Courage.
In a small village I was stopped by a Landsturm man (member of the civic guard), who had evidently not been satisfied until he had seen the bottom of several bottles, and who was smelling more of drink than of powder. His condition made it absolutely impossible for him even to recognise my military passport, and before a few minutes were over a furious crowd had gathered, whose leading members were much in the same state as the man I had to thank for my none too envious situation. The fact that this man had a loaded rifle made things look decidedly black. A gendarme happily turned up, saw the danger, rushed me into a building, and took the matter into his hands. He thought my papers, or me, rather lukewarm, and decided to get someone who knew French and English to examine the contents of my pocket book and letter case. My luggage was searched as it had never been searched before, but, as all things were known to him, except, perhaps, the toothbrush, there was nothing to be said.
The bicycle was far more serious. A couple of spare sparking plugs excited suspicion, and the defenders of the Kaiser involuntarily stepped a pace back when by negligence I dropped one on the ground. The tank was believed to have a double bottom. Every possible thing was dismantled. The generator of the lamp went to bits and the carbide had to be put very near several noses to convince everybody that it was not explosive. These were details, but when the old sergeant insisted upon my taking off the cylinders I went on strike. After a long talk he was satisfied at seeing the pistons move up and down. Once having to remove the sparking plugs it seemed a kind action to show him what the part he had previously doubted was there for. A turn of the kick-starter produced the spark, but instead of clearing matters it complicated them, and another lecture was needed to clear myself.
Unpleasant Advice from the Mob.
All this took place in the yard of the village school. During the examination the crowd had climbed the surrounding wall and were hurling advice at the gendarme and compliments at me. Russian spies had poisoned the waters in Mainz the day before, and seventeen were to be shot that evening. This did not improve the temper of the population of the districts, and when my identity had been fully established I resolved to get back to Mainz and take a train to the frontier rather than risk another such a stop which might not end so well.
At Mainz I found a train as far as Cologne; with luck I should find one there to take me further, but the railway company refused to forward my machine. This was most distressing, and little by little it dawned upon me that I had only undertaken the journey because I objected to my English bicycle being the means of rendering service to an enemy of my country, as would have been the case had I remained or left it behind.
Petty Officials to be Avoided.
During the whole of the journey I had found that the higher placed the official, the more agreeable it was to deal with him, and therefore determined to go straight to the commanding officer of Mainz and claim the safe passage which my military passport guaranteed but could not enforce. The old ‘Platz-Commandant’ (commander of the town) was awfully nice and gave orders that my mount was to be taken far as the Belgian frontier. All went well until Cologne, and here difficulties recommenced, the stationmaster flatly refusing the assistance of porters to transport the bicycle from one train to the other, but seeing the weight and thinking no doubt of the stairs to be gone up and down, he informed me with an ironical smile that I might do the job myself. Two passengers were soon bribed to assist me, and together we managed to get it into a luggage van just as the last train was leaving for Herbstal. So close had been the shave that we were forced to stay in the luggage van until the next station was reached. The train journey was uneventful. Passengers were informed that any open window near a bridge or tunnel would be shot at without warning and that certain compartments were not to be used.
Over the Belgian Frontier.
At the frontier station the officer in command made a last gallant stand to detain the machine, and it needed many words to convince him that it was no use trying for a thing which had failed so far. With a sarcastic remark about not finding any fuel I was allowed to pass. Luckily I speak English, French, and German equally well, and once on Belgian soil my English nationality, as well as the command I had of the French language, procured me a good reception. A Belgian gentleman was only too glad to give me the little petrol he could spare. This would save me from the Germans, he said, and further from the frontier there would be no difficulty.
Ultimate success now seemed sure, and I felt more at ease than I had done for a long while. Before riding off I could not conquer the desire to bid farewell to the German officer who so generously had let me pass because he was convinced that lack of petrol would prevent my getting away. He was soon found again, and with the engine running very smoothly I thanked him for letting me through. He did not wish me ‘Bon voyage’.
The railway line to Verviers had been taken up, and the road was full of people who were forced to proceed on foot. Just before Verviers a heavy barricade made me turn back. This was a different thing from that which, had barred the way in Germany. A couple of upturned carts placed across the road, a few felled trees, and yards of barbed wire were stretched from wall to wall. After a short search some sort of cart track was discovered which seemed to lead to the town. It was tried like other ones had been before, but it was frightful. About fifty yards down I met a peasant who informed me that the track led to Verviers, but that I would never get there. ‘Why?’ ‘Parceque vous allez vous cassez le cou!’ (‘Because you will break your neck!’). To be sure, there was a chance. The surface was abominable—ruts, holes, stones, and a gradient which must have been at least 1 in 4 in several places made me fancy myself riding in the ACU Six Days Trial.
Running the German Gauntlet.
In the town all the shops were closed, but a chauffeur consented to let me have some petrol. While praising my luck and filling up, I saw, to my dismay and disgust that German troops were in possession of the main road and were marching on in an endless stream. This not only made the main road unrideable, but, as the inhabitants told me, would make progress impossible. The marching column had to be crossed somehow, so I waited in a small bye-street with the engine running, and as soon us a somewhat larger space than usual between two guns seemed to justify the attempt, in went the clutch. There were shouts, and I had the impression that the horses towing the next gun made movements other than were necessary merely to pull their load. The clatter of hoofs proved beyond doubt that some horsemen were giving chase. I don’t think that I ever opened the throttle with such a jerk. The machine fairly leaped up the long hill in front of me, and by the time the next corner was reached the sound of hoofs had become fainter. There was nothing to fear except that it might occur again.
So Near and yet So Far!
How now to get to Brussels? The distance was nothing, about eighty miles. Leaving the main road did not worry me much. I had picked my way over many a mile the day before along byeways and lanes to avoid forts and too frequent stops. The proposition now, however, was different, as wherever I turned the road was barred by felled trees and such like. My military passport had run out when crossing the frontier, and the only permit I had was a paper given by the Customs officer, allowing me to go as far as the first Belgian military post (not much use in time of war).
I had a vague idea what direction to take and rode on, most of the time along the ditch lining the road. When this became unrideable whatever happened to be the other side of the ditch had to do. As often as not this was field; if so it was always protected by a barbed wire fence.
A Regular Cross-country Scramble.
Scruples about cutting the wire soon vanished, and a new pair of pliers did the work beautifully. How the bicycle did not drop to pieces sometimes I failed to understand; the strain, especially on the front forks and frame, must have been tremendous. Sometimes the poor machine was ridden through meadows, sometimes through woods, then again I would find it possible to make use of the road. Thus I kept on, but the job was getting tiresome. I had scarcely tasted any food since Sunday lunch, and had had no sleep since Sunday morning. It was now near Tuesday noon, and no wonder that the strain began to tell. The worst thing was that no end to all these obstacles could be seen. I had stopped counting the times which the luggage was unstrapped to lift first the machine, then portmanteau over a felled tree or something equally objectionable. Once a patrol of guides came up and one man dismounted to help. Once a Belgian artilleryman hurrying to his regiment gave me a lift when I was near giving up. But as long as a drop of petrol remained there was hope, and as long as there was hope the struggle would last. In the morning I had dreamt of lunching in Brussels, but now I dreamt of lunching anywhere.
Information about the Enemy.
About eleven o’clock saw me in Longwy, the outpost of Belgian lancers. A short examination convinced the commanding officer that my hatred for the Germans was as strong as his, and I was questioned about the German movements. The little information I could give seemed useful, and was at once wired to the rear. At the town hall a passport to Brussels was made out and things once more looked rosy. Roads were now free, at least compared with those which had been left behind.
Arrested by the Belgians.
Next stop was to be Liege. I managed to pick my ay through the line of forts in front of the city, and at one o’clock entered Liege itself. With visions of dinner at Brussels I rode on, but while trying to get past the second line of fortifications a lieutenant arrested me as a suspect. By persuasion of a revolver I soon gave up my machine, my eyes were bandaged, and I was marched to the fort of Hologne. The crowd at once sprang up, and the murmur getting louder showed that it was increasing. A stone on my head proved that its mood towards me was none too friendly. Arrived at the fort, the customary examination by the commander followed, and then, with my eyes still bandaged, I was led to a cell, handcuffed and guarded by a man with a loaded rifle.
Apart from these rather vigorous measures they treated me kindly. I was allowed to smoke and given some water to drink. The commander paid a visit and gave strict instructions that I was to be treated courteously. This consideration must have been the result of mentioning a few well-known families in Brussels, a photograph of a Brussels hockey team with the son of the Minister of the Congo sitting next
me proving especially convincing. There seemed to be doubts, however, and the commander of the gendarmerie was summoned. While waiting the alarm rang out. Doors were slammed, troops could be heard rushing along the passages and forming up in the yard. Orders were given, and all the while the bugle sounded. I felt distinctly uncomfortable. The Germans could not be far off, and to be detained as a suspected spy during the bombardment in a fort might be exciting, but it was not what I desired. My fears were soon put at rest. The chief of the gendarmerie arrived and took me off in an enclosed car to the headquarters. Another cell, another wait, another examination and search and, finally, the news that the bicycle was to be confiscated and I would be taken to Liege to be court-martialled.
Rough Reception at Liege.
Still handcuffed they drove me back to Liege. Here things became serious. It was getting dark, and along the lighted streets the Belgian troops were marching on to the fight. The car had to stop. During half an hour we waited, all the while the soldiers passing, cheering and being cheered by the crowd which packed the streets. With one breath it cried, ‘Vive l’Armee, vive la petite Belgique!’ (‘Long live the army, long live little Belgium!’); in the next, ‘Mort a l’espion!’ (‘Death to the spy!’). At the beginning of my ride I had found it ticklish work to look down the muzzle of a loaded rifle, but now I found that to face, handcuffed and utterly helpless, a howling mob which considers you a spy was a far more serious proposition. Had not my two guards drawn their pistols and offered to shoot the first man who came on the car there would have been nothing of me left to prove my identity. It seemed ages before we moved again, and when we landed at the Palais de Justice there was only the concierge to be found. He seriously advocated that I should be shot at once. ‘Il faudra le fusilier de suite’, and I was too tired out to answer anything else than ‘Vous etes trop amiable, Monsieur’.’
Then we had another drive through the mob, this time to the headquarters of the garde civic. Here the thing was done in style, and the scene seemed most realistic. A group of officers were seated around in a semicircle, in the centre of which was standing the prisoner, still handcuffed and looking very dirty and fagged out. A guard was on each side. The cross-examination that followed was extremely lively, but things went well, and after about ten minutes I was a free man again.
Free Once More.
A permit de voyage was made out by the commanding officer of the garde civic, and with another interesting document in my pocket I went in search of an hotel. Wednesday morning an early start was made for the Hologne fort to get the machine. While attempting this I was only arrested once. By mid-day all the formalities had been gone through, and soon the engine was humming merrily, but it was not to last long. Barricades caused trouble, and houses along the roads being blasted to give better views for the artillery were a sad sight.
At the second line of forts there was another check. A sentry led the way to the officer in command, who immediately decided that my papers were too good to be true and ordered a search. The usual questions were asked, and when it came to light that I held a German degree of engineering someone remarked, ‘He is a German engineer, that’s enough.’ I was not handcuffed or blindfolded this time, merely placed with my back against a wall and guarded by a man with a rifle. The crowd once more had the pleasure of viewing ‘a German spy’ for half an hour while the gendarmerie was summoned. At the headquarters a telephone call soon put matters right.
The Sound of the Big Guns.
By now I had got heartily sick of these hold-ups, and decided to finish the last 50 miles to Brussels by train. It was near the evening of the 5th then, the guns could be heard roaring, and, as I learnt later, the front line of forts was already stemming the German advance. The siege of Liege had commenced, and a few more of those checks could get me into a more serious position than I had any wish to be in. The remainder of the journey is of no interest. Steamers from Ostend to Folkestone were running, and soon I set foot in London town.
But all my troubles were not at an end. After reaching my home in South Wales the story of my escape from Germany soon got about, and the police promptly informed me that, having been born in Germany, I must be a German. I asked if being born in a stable constituted being a horse?
I have only one regret. My poor motor cycle, to which, besides my life, I owe three of the best days’ sport I have ever had, is still in Brussels, and though it is stored away in a cellar I tremble when I think of it, defenceless in a city held by the enemy.”