Soon we came to the top of the ridge and the road stretched down before us, with great curves and sweeping angles into Fumay on the Meuse itself. We descended rapidly and ran thro’ Fumay without pause. Here were many burnt houses—but the town was peopled again and shops open and people moving about their affairs. We were soon through this pretty little town and running along a fine smooth road that followed the left bank of the Meuse. The river about 100 yards broad, and deep brown. Every bridge was down. Some totally wrecked—others only partially injured. In some cases the piles alone had been blown up—& the iron superstructure had collapsed in the middle into the river, the two ends standing intact. In nearly all cases where a bridge had been thus destroyed by the retreating French, the invaders, (now the occupying tenants) had run up alongside, or in the near vicinity a wooden structure on piles that served all the immediate needs of road transport, but not of railway.
In several cases the wrecked bridges themselves had been already repaired—in one notable case, just before reaching Givet, the entire iron superstructure which had not been injured by the explosion that caused its collapse into the stream had been lifted again, well nigh intact, and as we passed it was being used in the ordinary way. Several of the (older) stone bridges of massive masonry had had only one or two arches blown up and in these cases the German engineers had already bridged the cavities with temporary ironwork and the bridges were again in use.
From Fumay we ran alongside the Meuse almost the whole way when the river made wide curves and the road took the short cut. Villages and little towns on both banks, nearly all showed traces of the havoc wrought no doubt so often by the retreating defenders as by the invading foe. What greatly struck me was that in several cases there were villages in close proximity, or little townships, one of which would be almost entirely destroyed, the burnt and shattered frameworks of roofless and wall-less houses alone marking the site, while less than 400 yards away a similar village would present an entirely undamaged front and its inhabitants were going about their business seemingly unconcerned.
At Givet we came across the first evidence of a shattered fortress. Here on the cliff top more than 150 feet above the river I should say—perhaps 200 feet, the ridge was crowned with the stone wall and turreted bastions of a type of fortification no longer erected I imagine. Fine to look upon but of little use against modern guns. This battlement showed pregnant gaps where the German guns, from the hills across the river had battered it. At its foot, and between the roadway and the river, a long stone building of three stories—fully 250 yards long—which had been the caserne of a considerable French fort, was riddled with shell fire. Not a window remained—the walls had holes in them a coach and four could have gone through—the floors had often collapsed, and a great part of the roof was piled up in the mounds of debris that choked the basement. Givet itself had not suffered so greatly—although we could not see much of it as our car sped through. It was necessary to hasten, as by this much longer route it would take us all our time to reach Cologne in time for the night train to Berlin.
Soon after leaving Givet we crossed the frontier into Belgium—the former customs notice at the barrier ‘À la Douane’ still held out its arm across the road—but we had no customs search to pass, for today there is no Belgium!
St. Patrick’s Day, Berlin, March 17, 1916
I write this beginning of what I feel is a last chapter on Patrick’s Day in Berlin this year of war 1916. Last year on Patrick’s Day I was also in Berlin, ill in bed, in the house of the Baroness von Nordenflycht.
Even then, hope had gone from me—for I realized then, already, that those I trusted here were little to be trusted and that their only interest in me lay in exploiting me, and the Irish cause in their own supposed interests.
Since then a hundred proofs have accumulated—and yesterday the climax came, and as now but little is left I begin, today, a hurried record of things that must be stated in order that some day the truth may be known.
In three weeks I shall probably be at sea in the maddest and most ill planned enterprise that the history of Irish revolutionary efforts offers. But it is not of my choosing, of my planning, or undertaken with my approval. I go because honour calls me to go—and because to stop it now (even if I could stop it) would involve others and perhaps bring greater grief. Moreover by going with the tiny band (12 men probably) that is to sail on 8 April I may save them—and perhaps Ireland too from a dreadful fate. To stay here, in safety, while those others go would do no good to Ireland—and would leave me a prey to eternal regret.
Thus while I strongly disapprove what is being attempted, and so wretchedly attempted with a foregone assurance of failure, I must lend it my countenance and accompany the forlorn hope.
And now to make a little daylight for the hereafter.
I will confine myself today to dealing with events only since the beginning of this year, trusting to the few days of quiet I hope still to get at Riederau am Ammersee to put down earlier happenings, since I stopped keeping a regular diary at the beginning of February last year.
I stopped that Diary when it became clear that I was being played with, fooled and used by a most selfish and unscrupulous government for its own petty interests. I did not wish to record the misery I felt or to say the things my heart prompted. But today it is my head compels me to this unwelcome task.
At the beginning of this year I was staying out at Zossen, the most wretched of men.
The small band of Irish soldiers who had volunteered in May last were there (see the list attached) in uniform, but still kept practically as prisoners of war, and Lt. Monteith in command of them. I had gone out to Zossen on 4th December 1915, to be near him and the men, to encourage and cheer them in their bitter disappointment—and always in the hope that our long-urged journey to the East, to get into action, might be sanctioned. The General Staff here had promised me repeatedly, in December 1915, that the ‘Brigade’ should be sent East.