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WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > Walter H. Page > Chapter XXI

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THE United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3, 1917. The occasion was a memorable one in the American Embassy in London, not unrelieved by a touch of the ridiculous. All day long a nervous and rather weary company had waited in the Ambassador's room for the decisive word from Washington. Mr. and Mrs. Page, Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin, Mr. Shoecraft, the Ambassador's secretary, sat there hour after hour, hardly speaking to one another in their tense excitement, waiting for the news that would inform them that Bernstorff's course had been run and that their country had taken its decision on the side of the Allies. Finally, at nine o'clock in the evening, the front door bell rang. Mr. Shoecraft excitedly left the room; half way downstairs he met Admiral William Reginald Hall, the head of the British Naval Intelligence, who was hurrying up to the Ambassador. Admiral Hall, as he spied Mr. Shoecraft, stopped abruptly and uttered just two words:

"Thank God!"

He then went into the Ambassador's room and read a secret code message which he had just received from Captain Gaunt, the British naval attaché at Washington. It was as follows:

"Bernstorff has just been given his passports. I shall probably get drunk to-night!"

It was in this way that Page first learned that the long tension had passed.

Page well understood that the dismissal of Bernstorff at that time meant war with the Central Empires. Had this dismissal taken place in 1915, after the sinking of the Lusitania, or in 1916, after the sinking of the Sussex, Page believed that a simple break in relations would in itself have brought the war to an early end. But by February, 1917, things had gone too far. For Germany had now decided to stake everything upon the chance of winning a quick victory with the submarine. Our policy had persuaded the Kaiser's advisers that America would not intervene; and the likelihood of rapidly starving Great Britain was so great---indeed the Germans had reduced the situation to a mathematical calculation of success---that an American declaration of war seemed to Berlin to be a matter of no particular importance. The American Ambassador in London regarded Bernstorff's dismissal much more seriously. It justified the interpretations of events which he had been sending to Mr. Wilson, Colonel House, and others for nearly three years. If Page had been inclined to take satisfaction in the fulfilment of his own prophecies, Germany's disregard of her promises and the American declaration of war would have seemed an ample justification of his course as ambassador.

But Page had little time for such vain communings. "All that water," as he now wrote, "has flowed over the dam." Occasionally his mind would revert to the dreadful period of "neutrality," but in the main his activities, mental and physical, were devoted to the future. A letter addressed to his son Arthur shows how quickly and how sympathetically he was adjusting himself to the new prospect. His mind was now occupied with ships, food, armies, warfare on submarines, and the approaching resettlement of the world. How completely he foresaw the part that the United States must play in the actual waging of hostilities, and to what an extent he himself was responsible for the policies that ultimately prevailed, appears in this letter:


To Arthur W. Page

25 March, 1917, London.


It's very hard, not to say impossible, to write in these swiftly moving days. Anything written to-day is out of date to-morrow---even if it be not wrong to start with. The impression becomes stronger here every day that we shall go into the war "with both feet"---that the people have pushed the President over in spite of his vision of the Great Peacemaker, and that, being pushed over, his idea now will be to show how he led them into a glorious war in defense of democracy. That's my reading of the situation, and I hope I am not wrong. At any rate, ever since the call of Congress for April 2nd, I have been telegraphing tons of information and plans that can be of use only if we go to war. Habitually they never acknowledge the receipt of anything at Washington. I don't know, therefore, whether they like these pieces of information or not. I have my staff of twenty-five good men getting all sorts of warlike information; and I have just organized twenty-five or thirty more---the best business Americans in London---who are also at work. I am trying to get the Government at Washington to send over a committee of conference---a General, an Admiral, a Reserve Board man, etc., etc. If they do half the things that I recommend we'll be in at the final lickin' big, and will save our souls yet.

There's lots of human nature in this world. A note is now sometimes heard here in undertone (Northcliffe strikes it)---that they don't want the Americans in the war. This means that if we come in just as the Allies finish the job we'll get credit, in part, for the victory, which we did little to win! But that's a minor note. The great mass of people do want us in, quick, hard, and strong---our money and our guns and our ships.

A gift of a billion dollars[1] to France will fix Franco-American history all right for several centuries. Push it through. Such a gift could come to this Kingdom also but for the British stupidity about the Irish for three hundred years. A big loan to Great Britain at a low rate of interest will do the work here.

My mind keeps constantly on the effect of the war and especially of our action on our own country. Of course that is the most important end of the thing for us. I hope that

1. It will break up and tear away our isolation;

2. It will unhorse our cranks and soft-brains.

3. It will make us less promiscuously hospitable to every kind of immigrant;

4. It will reestablish in our minds and conscience and policy our true historic genesis, background, kindred, and destiny---i. e., kill the Irish and the German influence.

5. It will revive our real manhood---put the mollycoddles in disgrace, as idiots and dandies are;

6. It will make our politics frank and manly by restoring our true nationality;

7. It will make us again a great sea-faring people. It is this that has given Great Britain its long lead in the world;

8. Break up our feminized education---make a boy a vigorous animal and make our education rest on a wholesome physical basis;

9. Bring men of a higher type into our political life.

We need waking up and shaking up and invigorating as much as the Germans need taking down.

There is no danger of "militarism" in any harmful sense among any English race or in any democracy.

By George! all these things open an interesting outlook and series of tasks---don't they?

My staff and I are asking everybody what the Americans can best do to help the cause along. The views are not startling, but they are interesting.

Jellicoe: More ships, merchant ships, any kind of ships, and take over the patrol of the American side of the Atlantic and release the British cruisers there.

Balfour: American credits in the United States, big enough to keep up the rate of exchange.

Bonar Law: Same thing.

The military men: An expeditionary force, no matter how small, for the effect of the American Flag in Europe., If one regiment marched through London and Paris and took the Flag to the front, that would be worth the winning of a battle.

Think of the vast increase of territory and power Great Britain will have---her colonies drawn closer than ever, the German colonies, or most of them, taken over by her, Bagdad hers---what a way Germany chose to lessen the British Empire! And these gains of territory will be made, as most of her gains have been, not by any prearranged, set plan, but as by-products of action for some other purpose. The only people who have made a deliberate plan to conquer the earth---now living---are the Germans. And from first to last the additions to the British Empire have been made because she has been a first-class maritime power.

And that's the way she has made her trade and her money, too.

On top of this the President speculates about the danger of the white man losing his supremacy because a few million men get killed! The truth is every country that is playing a big part in the war was overpopulated. There will be a considerable productive loss because the killed men were, as a rule, the best men; but the white man's control of the world hasn't depended on any few million of males. This speculation is far up in the clouds. If Russia and Germany really be liberated from social and political and industrial autocracy, this liberation will bring into play far more power than all the men killed in the war could have had under the pre-war régime. I observe this with every year of my observation---there's no substitute for common-sense.

The big results of the war will, after all, be the freedom and the stimulation of men in these weary Old-World lands---in Russia, Germany itself, and in England. In five or ten years (or sooner, alas!) the dead will be forgotten.

If you wish to make a picture of the world as it will be when the war ends, you must conjure up such scenes as these---human bones along the Russian highways where the great retreat took place and all that such a sight denotes; Poland literally starved; Serbia, blasted and burned and starved; Armenia butchered; the horrible tragedy of Gallipoli, where the best soldiers in the world were sacrificed to politicians' policies; Austria and Germany starved and whipped but liberalized---perhaps no king in either country; Belgium---belgiumized; northern France the same and worse; more productive Frenchmen killed in proportion to the population perhaps than any other country will have lost; Great Britain---most of her best men gone or maimed; colossal debts; several Teutonic countries bankrupt; every atrocity conceivable committed somewhere---a hell-swept great continent having endured more suffering in three years than in the preceding three hundred. Then, ten years later, most of this suffering a mere memory; governments reorganized and liberalized; men made more efficient by this strenuous three years' work; the fields got back their bloom, and life going on much as it did before---with this chief difference---some kings have gone and many privileges have been abolished. The lessons are two---(1) that no government can successfully set out and conquer the world; and (2) that the hold that privilege holders acquire costs more to dislodge than any one could ever have guessed. That's the sum of it. Kings and privilege mongers, of course, have held the parts of the world separate from one another. They fatten on provincialism, which is mistaken for patriotism.. As they lose their grip, human sympathy has its natural play between nations, and civilization has a chance. With any Emperor of Germany left the war will have been half in vain.

If we (the U. S. A.) cultivate the manly qualities and throw off our cranks and read our own history and be true to our traditions and blood and get some political vigour; then if we emancipate ourselves from the isolation theory and from the landlubber theory---get into the world and build ships, ships, ships, ships, and run them to the ends of the seas, we can dominate the world in trade and in political thought.

You know I have moments when it occurs to me that perhaps I'd better give whatever working years I may have to telling this story---the story of the larger meaning of the war. There's

no bigger theme---never was one so big.


W. H. P.


On April 1st, the day before President Wilson made his great address before Congress requesting that body to declare the existence of a state of war with Germany, Page committed to paper a few paragraphs which summed up his final judgment of President Wilson's foreign policy for the preceding two and a half years.


Embassy of the United States of America,
April 1, 1917.

In these last days, before the United States is forced into war---by the people's insistence---the preceding course of events becomes even clearer than it was before; and it has been as clear all the time as the nose on a man's face.

The President began by refusing to understand the meaning of the war. To him it seemed a quarrel to settle economic rivalries between Germany and England. He said to me last September[2] that there were many causes why Germany went to war. He showed a great degree of toleration for Germany; and he was, during the whole morning that I talked with him, complaining of England. The controversies we had with England were, of course, mere by-products of the conflict. But to him they seemed as important as the controversy we had with Germany. In the beginning he had made---as far as it was possible---neutrality a positive quality of mind. He would not move from that position.

That was his first error of judgment. And by insisting on this he soothed the people---sat them down in comfortable chairs and said, "Now stay there." He really suppressed speech and thought.

The second error he made was in thinking that he could play a great part as peacemaker---come and give a blessing to these erring children. This was strong in his hopes and ambitions. There was a condescension in this attitude that was offensive.

He shut himself up with these two ideas and engaged in what he called "thought." The air currents of the world never ventilated his mind.

This inactive position he has kept as long as public sentiment permitted. He seems no longer to regard himself nor to speak as a leader---only as the mouthpiece of public opinion after opinion has run over him.

He has not breathed a spirit into the people: he has encouraged them to supineness. He is not a leader, but rather a stubborn phrasemaker.

And now events and the aroused people seem to have brought the President to the necessary point of action; and even now

he may act timidly.


"One thing pleases me," Page wrote to his son Arthur, I never lost faith in the American people. It is now clear that I was right in feeling that they would have gladly come in any time after the Lusitania crime, Middle West in the front, and that the German hasn't made any real impression on the American nation. He was made a bug-a-boo and worked for all he was worth by Bernstorff; and that's the whole story. We are as Anglo-Saxon as we ever were. If Hughes had had sense and courage enough to say: 'I'm for war, war to save our honour and to save democracy,' he would now be President. If Wilson had said that, Hughes would have carried no important states in the Union. The suppressed people would have risen to either of them. That's God's truth as I believe it. The real United States is made up of you and Frank and the Page boys at Aberdeen and of the 10,000,000 other young fellows who are ready to do the job and who instinctively see the whole truth of the situation. But of course what the people would not have done under certain conditions---that water also has flowed over the dam; and I mention it only because I have resolutely kept my faith in the people and there has been nothing in recent events that has shaken it."

Two letters which Page wrote on this same April 1st are interesting in that they outline almost completely the war policy that was finally carried out:


To Frank N. Doubleday

Embassy of the United States of America,

April 1, 1917.


Here's the programme:

(1) Our navy in immediate action in whatever way a conference with the British shows we can best help.

(2) A small expeditionary force to France immediately---as large as we can quickly make ready, if only 10,000 men---as proof that we are ready to do some fighting.

(3) A large expeditionary force as soon as the men can be organized and equipped. They can be trained into an effective army in France in about one fourth of the time that they could be trained anywhere else.

(4) A large loan to the Allies at a low rate of interest.

(5) Ships, ships, ships---troop ships, food ships, munition ships, auxiliary ships to the navy, wooden ships, steel ships, little ships, big ships, ships, ships, ships without number or end.

(6) A clear-cut expression of the moral issue involved in the war. Every social and political ideal that we stand for is at stake. If we value democracy in the world, this is the chance to further it or---to bring it into utter disrepute. After Russia must come Germany and Austria; and then the King-business will pretty nearly be put out of commission.

(7) We must go to war in dead earnest. We must sign the Allies' agreement not to make a separate peace, and we must stay in to the end. Then the end will be very greatly hastened.

It's been four years ago to-day since I was first asked to come here. God knows I've done my poor best to save our country and to help. It'll be four years in the middle of May since I sailed. I shall still do my best. I'll not be able to start back by May 15th, but I have a feeling, if we do our whole duty in the United States, that the end may not be very many months off. And how long off it may be may depend to a considerable degree on our action.

We are faring very well on army rations. None of us will live to see another time when so many big things are at stake nor another time when our country can play so large or important a part in saying the world. Hold up your end. I'm doing my best here.

I think of you engaged in the peaceful work of instructing the people, and I think of the garden and crocuses and the smell of early spring in the air and the earth and push on; I'll be with you before we grow much older or get much grayer; and a great and prosperous and peaceful time will lie before us. Pity me and hold up your end for real American participation. Get

together? Yes; but the way to get together is to get in!


W. H. P.


To David F. Houston[3]

Embassy of the United States of America,

April 1, 1917.


The Administration can save itself from becoming a black blot on American history only by vigorous action---acts such as these:

Putting our navy to work---vigorous work---wherever and however is wisest. I have received the Government's promise to send an Admiral here at once for a conference. We must work out with the British Navy a programme whereby we can best help; and we must carry it without hesitancy or delay.

Sending over an expeditionary military force immediately---a small one, but as large as we can, as an earnest of a larger one to come. This immediate small one will have a good moral effect; and we need all the moral reinstatement that we can get in the estimation of the world; our moral stock is lower than, I fear, any of you at home can possibly realize. As for a larger expeditionary force later---even that ought to be sent quite early. It can and must spend some time in training in France, whatever its training beforehand may have been. All the military men agree that soldiers in France back of the line can be trained in at least half the time that they can be trained anywhere else. The officers at once take their turn in the trenches, and the progress that they and their men make in close proximity to the fighting is one of the remarkable discoveries of the war. The British Army was so trained and all the colonial forces. Two or three or four hundred thousand Americans could be sent over as soon almost as they are organized and equipped---provided transports and a continuous supply of food and munition ships can be got. They can be trained into fighting men---into an effective army---in about one third of the time that would be required at home.

I suppose, of course, we shall make at once a large loan to the Allies at a low rate of interest. That is most important, but that alone will not save us. We must also fight.

All the ships we can get---build, requisition, or confiscate---are needed immediately

Navy, army, money, ships---these are the first things, but by no means all. We must make some expression of a conviction that there is a moral question of right and wrong involved in this war---a question of humanity, a question of democracy. So far we have (officially) spoken only of the wrongs done to our ships and citizens. Deep wrongs have been done to all our moral ideas, to our ideals. We have sunk very low in European opinion because we do not seem to know even yet that a German victory would be less desirable than (say) a Zulu victory of the world.

We must go in with the Allies, not begin a mere single fight against submarines. We must sign the pact of London---not make a separate peace.

We mustn't longer spin dreams about peace, nor leagues to enforce peace, nor the Freedom of the Seas. These things are mere intellectual diversions of minds out of contact with realities. Every political and social ideal we have is at stake. If we make them secure, we'll save Europe from destruction and save ourselves, too.

I pray for vigour and decision and clear-cut resolute action.

(1) The Navy-full strength, no "grapejuice" action.

(2) An immediate expeditionary force.

(3) A larger expeditionary force very soon.

(4) A large loan at a low interest.

(5) Ships, ships, ships.

(6) A clear-cut expression of the moral issue. Thus (and only

thus) can we swing into a new era, with a world born again.

Yours in strictest confidence,

W. H. P.


A memorandum, written on April 3rd, the day after President Wilson advised Congress to declare a state of war with Germany:


The Day

When I went to see Mr. Balfour to-day he shook my hand warmly

and said: "It's a great day for the world." And so has everybody said, in one way or another, that I have met to-day.

The President's speech did not appear in the morning papers---only a very brief summary in one or two of them; but the meaning of it was clear. The fact that the House of Representatives organized itself in one day and that the President addressed Congress on the evening of that day told the story. The noon papers had the President's speech in full; and everybody applauds.

My "Cabinet" meeting this morning was unusually interesting; and the whole group has never before been so delighted. I spoke of the suggestive, constructive work we have already done in making reports on various war preparations and activities of this kingdom. "Now we have greater need than ever, every man to do constructive work---to think of plans to serve. We are in this excellent strategical position in the capital of the greatest belligerent---a position which I thank my stars, the President, and all the powers that be for giving us. We can each strive to justify our existence."

Few visitors called; but enthusiastic letters have begun to come in.

Nearly the whole afternoon was spent with Mr. Balfour and Lord Robert Cecil. Mr. Balfour had a long list of subjects. Could we help in (1)---(2)---(3)?--- Every once m a while he stopped his enumeration of subjects long enough to tell me how the action of the United States had moved him.

To Lord Robert I said: "I pray you, give the Black List a decent burial: It's dead now, but through no act of yours. It insulted every American because you did not see that it was insulting: that's the discouraging fact to me." He thanked

me earnestly. He'll think about that.



These jottings give only a faint impression of the change which the American action wrought in Page. The strain which he had undergone for twenty-nine months had been intense; it had had the most unfortunate effect upon his health; and the sudden lifting might have produced that reaction for the worse which is not unusual after critical experiences of this kind. But the gratification which Page felt in the fact that the American spirit had justified his confidence gave him almost a certain exuberance of contentment. Londoners who saw him at that time describe him as acting like a man from whose shoulders a tremendous weight had suddenly been removed. For more than two years Page had been compelled, officially at least, to assume a "neutrality" with which he had never had the slightest sympathy, but the necessity for this mask now no longer existed. A well-known Englishman happened to meet Page leaving his house in Grosvenor Square the day after the Declaration of War. He stopped and shook the Ambassador's hand.

"Thank God," the Englishman said, "that there is one hypocrite less in London to-day."

"What do you mean?" asked Page.

"I mean you. Pretending all this time that you were neutral! That isn't necessary any longer."

"You are right!" the Ambassador answered as he walked on with a laugh and a wave of the hand.

A few days after the Washington Declaration, the American Luncheon Club held a feast in honour of the event. This organization had a membership of representative American business men in London, but its behaviour during the war had not been based upon Mr. Wilson's idea of neutrality. Indeed its tables had so constantly rung with denunciations of the Lusitania notes that all members of the American Embassy, from Page down, had found it necessary to refrain from attending its proceedings. When Page arose to address his compatriots on this occasion, therefore, he began with the significant words, "I am glad to be back with you again," and the mingled laughter and cheers with which this remark was received indicated that his hearers had caught the point.

The change took place not only in Page, but in London and the whole of Great Britain. An England that had been saying harsh things of the United States for nearly two years now suddenly changed its attitude. Both houses of Parliament held commemorative sessions in honour of America's participation; in the Commons Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Asquith, and other leaders welcomed their new allies, and in the Upper Chamber Lord Curzon, Lord Bryce, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and others similarly voiced their admiration. The Stars and Stripes almost instantaneously broke out on private dwellings, shops, hotels, and theatres; street hucksters did a thriving business selling rosettes of the American colours, which even the most stodgy Englishmen did not disdain to wear in their buttonholes; wherever there was a band or an orchestra, the Star Spangled Banner acquired a sudden popularity; and the day even came when the American and the British flags flew side by side over the Houses of Parliament---the first occasion in history that any other than the British standard had received this honour. The editorial outgivings of the British press on America's entrance form a literature all their own. The theatres and the music halls, which had found in "notes" and "nootrality" an endless theme of entertainment for their patrons, now sounded Americanism as their most popular refrain. Churches and cathedrals gave special services in honour of American intervention, and the King and the President began to figure side by the side in the prayer book. The estimation in which President Wilson was held changed overnight. All the phrases that had so grieved Englishmen were instantaneously forgotten. The President's address before Congress was praised as one of the most eloquent and statesmanlike utterances in history. Special editions of this heartening document had a rapid sale; it was read in school houses, churches, and at public gatherings, and it became a most influential force in uplifting the hopes of the Allies and inspiring them to renewed activities. Americans everywhere, in the streets, at dinner tables, and in general social intercourse, could feel the new atmosphere of respect and admiration which had suddenly become their country's portion. The first American troops that passed through London---a company of engineers, an especially fine body of men---aroused a popular enthusiasm which was almost unprecedented in a capital not celebrated for its emotional displays. Page himself records one particularly touching indication of the feeling for Americans which was now universal. "The increasing number of Americans who come through England," he wrote, "most of them on their way to France, but some of them also to serve in England, give much pleasure to the British public---nurses, doctors, railway engineers, sawmill units, etc. The sight of every American uniform pleases London. The other morning a group of American nurses gathered with the usual crowd in front of Buckingham Palace while the Guards band played inside the gates. Man after man as they passed them and saw their uniforms lifted their hats."

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 common ideals.


From Viscount Grey of Fallodon

Rosehall Post Office,

April 8, 1917.


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


Yours sincerely,



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."[4]

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 take place.

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 structure secure.

"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."


To Arthur W. Page

Brighton, England,

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 of work.

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.[5] 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 to come.

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.


To Frank N. Doubleday

American Embassy,

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 of.

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!

Sincerely yours,



"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,[6] 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 same way."

  1. At this time the proposal of such a gift found much popular favour. However, the plan was not carried through.
  2. At the meeting of Page and the President at Shadow Lawn, September 22, 1916, See Chapter XIX.
  3. Secretary of Agriculture in President Wilson's Cabinet.
  4. The quotation is from a memorandum of the conversation made by one of the secretaries of the American Embassy.
  5. The British and French Commissions, headed by Mr. Balfour and M. Viviani.
  6. American military attaché in London.

WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > Walter H. Page > Chapter XXI