Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George. Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1908
1915, Minister of Munitions, 1915-1916, Prime Minister of Great
Britain since 1916.</TD>
Rt. Hon. Arthur James Balfour (now the Earl of Balfour) Secretary
of State for Foreign Affairs, 1916-1919</TD>
The Ambassador's mail likewise underwent
a complete transformation. His correspondence of the preceding
two years, enormous in its extent, had contained much that would
have disturbed a man who could easily get excited over trifles,
but this aspect of his work never caused Page the slightest unhappiness.
Almost every crank in England who disliked the American policy
had seemed to feel it his duty to express his opinions to the
American Ambassador. These letters, at times sorrowful, at others
abusive, even occasionally threatening, varying in their style
from cultivated English to the grossest illiteracy, now written
in red ink to emphasize their bitterness, now printed in large
block letters to preserve their anonymity, aroused in Page only
a temporary amusement. But the letters that began to pour in upon
him after our Declaration, many of them from the highest placed
men and women in the Kingdom, brought out more vividly than anything
else the changed position of his country. Sonnets and verses rained
upon the Embassy, most of them pretty bad as poetry, but all of
them commendable for their admiring and friendly spirit. Of all
these letters those that came from the steadfast friends of America
perhaps gave Page the greatest satisfaction. "You will have
been pleased at the universal tribute paid to the spirit as well
as to the lofty and impressive terms of the President's speech,"
wrote Lord Bryce. "Nothing finer in our time, few things
so fine." But probably the letter which gave Page the greatest
pleasure was that which came from the statesman whose courtesy
and broad outlook had eased the Ambassador's task in the old neutrality
days. In 1916, Sir Edward Grey-now become Viscount Grey of Fallodon---had
resigned office, forced out, Page says in one of his letters,
mainly because he had refused to push the blockade to a point
where it might produce a break with the United States. He had
spent the larger part of the time since that event at his country
place in Northumberland, along the streams and the forests which
had always given him his greatest pleasure, attempting to recover
something of the health that he had lost in the ten years which
he had spent as head of the British Foreign Office and bearing
with characteristic cheerfulness and fortitude the tragedy of
a gradually failing eyesight. The American Declaration of War
now came to Lord Grey as the complete justification of his policy.
The mainspring of that policy, as already explained, had been
a determination to keep the friendship of the United States, and
so shape events that the support of this country would ultimately
be cast on the side of the Allies. And now the great occasion
for which he had prepared had come, and in Grey's mind this signified
more than a help to England in soldiers and ships; it meant bringing
together the two branches of a common race for the promotion of
<P ALIGN=CENTER>From Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Rosehall Post Office,
April 8, 1917.
DEAR MR. PAGE:
This is a line that needs no answer to express my congratulations
on President Wilson's address. I can't express adequately all
that I feel. Great gratitude and great hope are in my heart.
I hope now that some great and abiding good to the world will
yet be wrought out of all this welter of evil. Recent events
in Russia, too, stimulate this hope: they are a good in themselves,
but not the power for good in this war that a great and firmly
established free country like the United States can be. The President's
address and the way it has been followed up in your country is
a splendid instance of great action finely inspired. I glow with
GREY OF FALLODON
One Englishman who was especially touched by the action of
the United States was His Majesty the King. Few men had watched
the course of America during the war with more intelligent interest
than the head of the British royal house. Page had had many interviews
with King George at Buckingham Palace and at Windsor, and his
notes contain many appreciative remarks on the King's high character
and conscientious devotion to his duties. That Page in general
did not believe in kings and emperors as institutions his letters
reveal; yet even so profound a Republican as he recognized sterling
character, whether in a crowned head or in a humble citizen, and
he had seen enough of King George to respect him.. Moreover, the
peculiar limitations of the British monarchy certainly gave it
an unusual position and even saved it from much of the criticism
that was fairly lavished upon such nations as Germany and Austria.
Page especially admired King George's frankness in recognizing
these limitations and his readiness to accommodate himself to
the British Constitution. On most occasions, when these two men
met, their intercourse was certainly friendly or at least not
formidable. After all formalities had been exchanged, the King
would frequently draw the Ambassador aside; the two would retire
to the smoking room, and there, over their cigars, discuss a variety
of matters---submarines, international politics, the Irish question
and the like. His Majesty was not averse even to bringing up the
advantages of the democratic and the monarchical system. The King
and Ambassador would chat, as Page himself would say, like "two
human beings"; King George is an emphatic and vivacious talker,
fond of emphasizing his remarks by pounding the table; he has
the liveliest sense of humour, and enjoys nothing quite so much
as a good story. Page found that, on the subject of the Germans,
the King entertained especially robust views. "They are my
kinsmen," he would say, "but I am ashamed of them."
Probably most Englishmen, in the early days of the war, preferred
that the United States should not engage in hostilities; even
after the Lusitania, the majority in all likelihood held
this view. There are indications, however, that King George favoured
American participation. A few days after the Lusitania sinking,
Page had an audience for the purpose of presenting a medal sent
by certain societies in New Orleans. Neither man was thinking
much about medals that morning. The thoughts uppermost in their
minds, as in the minds of most Americans and Englishmen, were
the Lusitania and the action that the United States was
likely to take concerning it. After the formalities of presentation,
the King asked Page to sit down and talked with him for more than
half an hour. "He said that Germany was evidently trying
to force the United States into the war; that he had no doubt
we would soon be in it and that, for his part, he would welcome
us heartily. The King also said he had reliable information from
Germany, that the Emperor had wished to return a conciliatory
answer to our Lusitania note, but that Admiral von Tirpitz
had prevented it, even going so far as to 'threaten' the Kaiser.
It appears that the Admiral insisted that the submarine was the
only weapon the Germans could use with effect against England
and that they could not afford to give it up. He was violent and
the Kaiser finally yielded."(<A NAME="n168"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#168">168</A>)
The statement from the King at that crisis, that he would "heartily
welcome the United States into the war," was interpreted
by the Ambassador as amounting practically to an invitation---and
certainly as expressing a wish that such an intervention should
That the American participation would rejoice King George could
therefore be taken for granted. Soon after this event, the Ambassador
and Mrs. Page were invited to spend the night at Windsor.
"I arrived during the middle of the afternoon," writes
Page, "and he sent for me to talk with him in his office.
"'I've a good story on you,' said he. 'You Americans have
a queer use of the word "some," to express mere bigness
or emphasis. We are taking that use of the word from you over
here. Well, an American and an Englishman were riding in the same
railway compartment. The American read his paper diligently---all
the details of a big battle. When he got done, he put the paper
down and said:
"'Some fight!' 'And some don't!' said the Englishman.
"And the King roared. 'A good one on you!'
"'The trouble with that joke, sir,' I ventured to reply,
'is that it's out of date.'
"He was in a very gay mood, surely because of our entry
into the war. After the dinner---there were no guests except Mrs.
Page and me, the members of his household, of course, being present---he
became even familiar in the smoking room. He talked about himself
and his position as king. 'Knowing the difficulties of a limited
monarch, I thank heaven I am spared being an absolute one.'
"He went on to enumerate the large number of things he
was obliged to do, for example, to sign the death warrant of every
condemned man---and the little real power that he had---not at
all in a tone of complaint, but as a merely impersonal explanation.
"Just how much power---perhaps 'influence' is a better,
word---the King has, depends on his personality. The influence
of the throne---and of him on the throne, being a wholly thoughtful,
industrious, and conscientious man---is very great---greatest
of all in keeping the vested interests of the aristocratic social
"Earlier than this visit to Windsor he sent for me to
go to Buckingham Palace very soon after we declared war. He went
over the whole course of events---and asked me many questions.
After I had risen and said 'good-bye' and was about to bow myself
out the door, he ran toward me and waving his hand cried out,
'Ah!---Ah!---we knew where you stood all the time.'
"When General Pershing came along on his way to France,
the King summoned us to luncheon. The luncheon was eaten (here,
as everywhere, strict war rations are observed) to a flow of general
talk, with the Queen, Princess Mary, and one of the young Princes.
When they had gone from the luncheon room, the King, General Pershing,
and I stood smoking by the window; and the King at once launched
into talk about guns, rifles, ammunition, and the American place
in the battle line. Would our place be with the British or with
the French or between the two?
"General Pershing made a diplomatic reply. So far as he
knew the President hadn't yet made a final decision, but there
was a feeling that, since we were helping the British at sea,
perhaps we ought to help the French on land.
"Then the King expressed the earnest hope that our guns
and ammunition would match either the British or the French. Else
if we happened to run out of ammunition we could not borrow from
anybody. He thought it most unfortunate that the British and French
guns and rifles were of different calibres."
<P ALIGN=CENTER>To Arthur W. Page
April 28, 1917.
. . . Well, the British have given us a very good welcome
into the war. They are not very skillful at such a task: they
do not know how to say "Welcome" very vociferously.
But they have said it to the very best of their ability. My speeches
(which I send you, with some comment) were very well received
indeed. Simple and obvious as they were, they meant a good deal
I cannot conceal nor can I express my gratification that we
are in the war. I shall always wonder but never find out what
influence I had in driving the President over. All I know is
that my letters and telegrams for nearly two years---especially
for the last twelve months---have put before him every reason
that anybody has expressed why we should come in---in season
and out of season. And there is no new reason---only more reason
of the same old sort---why we should have come in now than there
was why we should have come in a year ago. I suspect that the
pressure of the press and of public opinion really became too
strong for him. And, of course, the Peace-Dream blew up---was
torpedoed, mined, shot, captured, and killed. I trust, too, much
enlightenment will be furnished by the two Commissions now in
Washington.(<A NAME="n169"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#169">169</A>)
Yet it's comical to think of the attitude of the poor old Department
last September and its attitude now. But thank God for it! Every
day now brings a confession of the blank idiocy of its former
course and its long argument! Never mind that, so long as we
are now right.
I have such a sense of relief that I almost feel that my job
is now done. Yet, I dare say, my most important work is still
The more I try to reach some sort of rational judgment about
the war, the more I find myself at sea. It does look as if the
very crisis is near. And there can be no doubt now---not even,
I hope, in the United States---about the necessity of a clear
and decisive victory, nor about punishment. All the devastation
of Northern France, which outbarbarizes barbarism, all the ships
sunk, including hospital ships, must be paid for; that's all.
There'll be famine in Europe whenever it end. Not only must these
destructions be paid for, but the Hohenzollerns and all they
stand for must go. Trust your Frenchman for that, if nobody else!
If Europe had the food wasted in the United States, it would
make the difference between sustenance and famine. By the way,
the submarine has made every nation a danger zone except those
few that have self-feeding continents, such as ours. It can bring
famine to any other kind of a country.
You are now out in the country again---good. Give Mollie my
love and help her with the garden. I envy you the fresh green
things to eat. Little Mollie, kiss her for granddaddy. The Ambassador,
I suppose, waxes even sturdier, and I'm glad to hear that A.
W. P., Jr., is picking up. Get him fed right at all costs. If
Frank stays at home and Ralph and his family come up, you'll
all have a fine summer. We've the very first hint of summer we've
had, and it's cheerful to see the sky and to feel the sunshine.
W. H. P.
<P ALIGN=CENTER>To Frank N. Doubleday
London, May 3, 1917.
I aim this at you. It may hit a German submarine. But we've
got to take our chances in these days of risk. Your letter from
the tropics---a letter from you from any place is as scarce as
peace !---gave me a pleasant thrill and reminder of a previous
state of existence, a long way back in the past. I wonder if,
on your side the ocean you are living at the rate of a century
a year, as we are here? Here in bountiful England we are living
on rations. I spent a night with the King a fortnight ago, and
he gave us only so much bread, one egg apiece, and---lemonade.
We are to begin bread tickets next week. All this is perfectly
healthful and wholesome and as much as I ever eat. But the hard
part of it is that it's necessary. We haven't more than six weeks'
food supply and the submarines sunk eighty-eight ships---237,000
tons-last week. These English do not publish these harrowing
facts, and nobody knows them but a few official people. And they
are destroying the submarines at a most beggarly slow rate. They
work far out at sea---100 to 200 miles---and it's as hard to
find them as it would be to find whales. The simple truth is
we are in a dangerous plight. If they could stop this submarine
warfare, the war would pretty quickly be won, for the Germans
are in a far worse plight for food and materials and they are
getting much the worst of it on land. The war would be won this
summer or autumn if the submarine could be put out of business.
If it isn't, the Germans may use this success to keep their spirits
up and go on till next year.
We (the United States) have about 40 destroyers. We are sending
over 6! I'm doing my best to persuade the Government at Washington
to send every one we have. But, since the British conceal the
facts from their own press and the people and from all the world,
the full pressure of the situation is hard to exert on Washington.
Our Admiral (Sims) and I are trying our best, and we are spending
enough on cables to build a destroyer. All this, you must, of
course, regard as a dark secret; but it's a devilish black secret.
I don't mean that there's any danger of losing the war. Even
if the British armies have to have their food cut down and people
here go hungry, they'll win; but the winning may be a long time
off. Nothing but their continued success can keep the Germans
going. Their people are war-weary and hungry. Austria is knocked
out and is starving. Turkey is done up but can go on living on
nothing, but not fighting much more. When peace comes, there'll
be a general famine, on the continent at least, and no ships
to haul food. This side of the world will have to start life
all over again---with insufficient men to carry things on and
innumerable maimed men who'll have (more or less) to be cared
for. The horror of the whole thing nobody realizes. We've all
got used to it here; and nobody clearly remembers just what the
world was like in peace times; those times were so far away.
All this I write not to fill you with horrors but to prove that
I speak the literal truth when I say that it seems a hundred
years since I had before heard from you.
Just how all this affects a man, no man can accurately tell.
Of how much use I'll be when I can get home, I don't know. Sometimes
I think that I shall be of vastly greater use than ever. Plans
and publishing ambitions pop up in my mind at times which look
good and promising. I see books and series of books. I see most
useful magazine stuff. Then, before I can think anything out
to a clear plan or conclusion, the ever-increasing official duties
and responsibilities here knock everything else out of my head,
perhaps for a whole month. It's a literal fact that many a month
I do not have an hour to do with as I please nor to think about
what I please, from the time I wake up till I go to bed. In spite
of twenty-four secretaries (the best fellows that ever were and
the best staff that my Embassy ever had in the world) more and
more work comes to me. I thank Heaven we no longer have the interests
of Germany, Austria, and Turkey to look after; but with our coming
into the war, work in general has increased enormously. I have
to spend very much more time with the different departments of
the British Government on war plans and such like things. They
have welcomed us in very handsomely; and one form of their welcome
is consulting with me about---navy plans, war plans, loans of
billions, ships, censorship, secret service---everything you
ever heard of. At first it seemed a little comical for the admirals
and generals and the Governor of the Bank of England to come
and ask for advice. But when I gave it and it worked out well,
I went on and, after all, the thing's easier than it looks. With
a little practice you can give these fellows several points in
the game and play a pretty good hand. They don't know half as
much as you might suppose they'd know. All these years of lecturing
the State Department and the President got my hand in! The whole
game is far easier than any small business. You always play with
blue chips better than you play with white ones.
This country and these people are not the country and the
people they were three years ago. They are very different. They
are much more democratic, far less cocksure, far less haughty,
far humbler. The man at the head of the army rose from the ranks.
The Prime Minister is a poor Welsh schoolteacher's son, without
early education. The man who controls all British shipping began
life as a shipping "clark," at ten shillings a week.
Yet the Lords and Ladies, too, have shown that they were made
of the real stuff. This experience is making England over again.
There never was a more interesting thing to watch and to be part
There are about twenty American organizations here---big,
little, rag-tag, and bobtail. When we declared war, every one
of 'em proceeded to prepare for some sort of celebration. There
would have been an epidemic of Fourth-of-July oratory all over
the town-before we'd done anything---Americans spouting over
the edges and killing Kruger with their mouths. I got representatives
of 'em all together and proposed that we hold our tongues till
we'd won the war---then we can take London. And to give one occasion
when we might all assemble and dedicate ourselves to this present
grim business, I arranged for an American Dedicatory Service
at St. Paul's Cathedral. The royal family came, the Government
came, the Allied diplomats came, my Lords and Ladies came, one
hundred wounded American (Canadian) soldiers came---the pick
of the Kingdom; my Navy and Army staff went in full uniform,
the Stars and Stripes hung before the altar, a double brass band
played the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle Hymn of the Republic,
and an American bishop (Brent) preached a red-hot American sermon,
the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered the benediction; and (for
the first time in English history) a foreign flag (the Stars
and Stripes) flew over the Houses of Parliament. It was the biggest
occasion, so they say, that St. Paul's ever had. And there's
been no spilling of American oratory since! If you had published
a shilling edition of the words and music of the Star Spangled
Banner and the Battle Hymn you could have sent a cargo of 'em
here and sold them. There isn't paper enough in this Kingdom
to get out an edition here.
Give my love to all the Doubledays and to all the fellows
in the shop, and (I wonder if you will) try your hand at another
letter. You write very legibly these days!
WALTER H. PAGE.
"Curiously enough," Page wrote about this time, "these
most exciting days of the war are among the most barren of exciting
topics for private correspondence. The 'atmosphere' here is unchanging---to
us---and the British are turning their best side to us continuously.
They are increasingly appreciative, and they see more and more
clearly that our coming into the war is all that saved them from
a virtual defeat---I mean the public sees this more and more clearly,
for, of course, the Government has known it from the beginning.
I even find a sort of morbid fear lest they do not sufficiently
show their appreciation. The Archbishop last night asked me in
an apprehensive tone whether the American Government and public
felt that the British did not sufficiently show their gratitude.
I told him that we did not come into the war to win compliments
but to whip the enemy, and that we wanted all the help the British
can give: that's the main thing; and that thereafter of course
we liked appreciation, but that expressions of appreciation had
not been lacking. Mr. Balfour and Sir Edward Carson also spoke
to me yesterday much in the same tone as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
"Try to think out any line of action that one will, or
any future sequence or events or any plan touching the war, one
runs into the question whether the British are doing the best
that could be done or are merely plugging away. They are, as a
people, slow and unimaginative, given to over-much self-criticism;
but they eternally hold on to a task or to a policy. Yet the question
forever arises whether they show imagination, to say nothing of
genius, and whether the waste of a slow, plodding policy is the
necessary price of victory.
"Of course such a question is easy to ask and it is easy
to give dogmatic answers. But it isn't easy to give an answer
based on facts. Our General Lassiter,(<A NAME="n170"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#170">170</A>)
for instance---a man of sound judgment---has in general been less
hopeful of the military situation in France than most of the British
officers. But he is just now returned from the front, much cheered
and encouraged. 'Lassiter,' I asked, 'have the British in France
or has any man among them what we call genius, or even wide vision;
or are they merely plodding along at a mechanical task?' His answer
was, 'We don't see genius till it has done its job. It is a mechanical
task---yes, that's the nature of the struggle---and they surely
do it with intelligence and spirit. There is waste. There is waste
in all wars. But I come back much more encouraged.'
"The same sort of questions and answers are asked and
given continuously about naval action. Every discussion of the
possibility of attacking the German naval bases ends without a
plan. So also with preventing the submarines from coming out.
These subjects have been continuously under discussion by a long
series of men who have studied them; and the total effect so far
has been to leave them among the impossible tasks. So far as I
can ascertain all naval men among the Allies agree that these
things can't be done.
"Here again---Is this a merely routine professional opinion---a
merely traditional opinion---or is it a lack of imagination? The
question will not down. Yet it is impossible to get facts to combat
it. What are the limits of the practicable?
"Mr. Balfour told me yesterday his personal conviction
about the German colonies, which, he said, he had not discussed
with his associates in the Cabinet. His firm opinion is that they
ought not to be returned to the Germans, first for the sake of
humanity. 'The natives---the Africans especially---have been so
barbarously treated and so immorally that it would be inhuman
to permit the Germans to rule and degrade them further. But Heaven
forbid that we should still further enlarge the British Empire.
As a practical matter I do not care to do that. Besides, we should
incur the criticism of fighting in order to get more territory,
and that was not and is not our aim. If the United States will
help us, my wish is that these German Colonies that we have taken,
especially in Africa, should be "internationalized."
There are great difficulties in such a plan, but they are not
insuperable if the great Powers of the Allies will agree upon
it.' And much more to the same effect. The parts of Asiatic Turkey
that the British have taken, he thought, might be treated in the
WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > Walter H. Page > Chapter XXI