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The Sailing of a Refugee Ship - 1914 - Fragments from a Personal Journal

The author provides some background information about the outbreak of European hostilities at the beginning of World War One in August of 1914.



Today is the Swiss mid-summer patriotic day, but for the first time in many hundreds of years -- somebody said 633 -- it was not celebrated. All the fetes planned for the day were abruptly abandoned, because word had gone out that the army must mobilize. Crowds of men surrounded government placards everywhere learning where and when they were to report. I went into a confectionery shop to buy some candy. The old Swiss woman who waited on me said as she sold me some little red ices each of which was decorated with a white cross, 'This is the only celebration we can have today."


The bulletin boards are still the centers of excited groups. Soldiers hurried through the Place St. Francois all day, and nearly every man not in uniform wore a little Swiss flag. The pigeons fluttered as usual above the vivid flowers clustered about the church entrance, but no one noticed them. The old gray edifice was crowded to the vestibule and the tremendous volume which issued from all of these throats when they sang that cry of a troubled and defenseless human soul "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never yielding" sounded far across the Square. The good pastor, an eloquent man, besought the people to "be strong and of good courage."


Our waiters are all leaving. Some of them do not want to go at all. One said this noon with terrible emphasis, "This is a war of Emperors and the Emperors will hear from us after it is over."

The proprietor has changed our menus; we have been put on reduced rations. They say that the food supply of Switzerland is not sufficient to provide for the people if the country passes through a long period of isolation.

My tailor said today that he was going to close, since both his customers and his workmen have all left. I did not think that the war would affect even the tailors in less than a week.


Professor Newbold, of the University of Pennyslvania, was one of the many Americans caught in Austria's Spas. His narrative tells of the way in which Americans learned of the hostilities and of the manner in which they left the belligerent country. He said:

"I was at Bad Gastein on July 25th, the day Servia's refusal to accept Austria's demands reached the public. I happened to be in the hotel lobby when a man came in with the news. At first, I thought that the air would be filled with jingoistic talk, but to my surprise, the Austrians evinced only gravity and concern. The crowd in the lobby broke up into little groups who talked in serious undertones about the unexpected complications.

"We guests felt the disturbance of war at once. The very next morning at nine o'clock, the proprietor informed us that the last trains to Vienna and Budapest would leave Gastein at midnight. On hearing this news, all the people going north packed and rushed to the station. During the following week, patients from all parts of the world flocked from the Spa. Probably 1000 went in five days.

"When Austria called for a general mobilization, the abject misery of the men who would have to defend Kaiser and Krone filled me with sorrow. When my waiter learned that he had to go, he burst into tears. 'We don't want to fight,' he said; 'but what can we do? We have had no Reichstag. A few old men in Vienna put their heads together, and say we should go to kill some other people who feel just the way we do, and then we must do it.'

"On Saturday, we went to Salzburg where we found pitiable desertion. Men, horses, automobiles, -- all had been drafted into the army. From Salzburg, we went to Freilass, at the German border. Here we had to stop while the officials inspected our papers and baggage. Confusion reigned everywhere; all the porters had gone to the war, so that the travelers had to carry their own luggage. The men did not mind this work greatly, but the women experienced serious difficulties in lifting their heavy bags.


Austrian Train During the Mobiliizations

The train to Munich filled up in a second, and even after one would have said that not a single person more could get on, a hundred more climbed aboard. People sat in the corridors and in the narrow aisles between the seats, and even in the windows. If Satan is modern enough to employ trains to carry his victims from Purgatory to Gehenna, he might well take that train from Freilass to Munich as a criterion of torture.

"We reconciled ourselves to our discomfiture by thinking that all our privations would be over when we arrived at Munich, but when we reached this famous old city, we found that we were stepping from the frying pan into the fire. The scene at the station baffles description. We became jammed between piles of baggage fifteen feet high, and for a while, I thought that I should never get any further into Munich. After some time of suffocation, however, we finally reached the streets. These we found full of singing soldiers. Die W acht am Rhein and Deutschland Uber Alles rang out from thousands of patriotic throats. It was thrilling, but it also sent shivers down my spine to hear that fervor to kill fellow beings.

"As soon as we had arrived at our hotel in Munich, we learned that it would be best for us to depart from Germany immediately. I met one of my former colleagues in the Department of Philosophy at Pennsylvania, Professor Fullerton of Columbia University and the University of Vienna, who lives in Munich, and he advised me to go to Switzerland, saying that the German government was already quartering troops on the citizens. Even as he spoke, an officer walked up to the hotel desk and asked for a Quartierung.

"We took the last train out of Munich to Lindau, from where we proceeded to Genoa.

"One of the incidents in connection with the war which struck me with great force was the manner in which the Austrian and German governments censored the news. Three days after Italy had declared her neutrality, we still read in the Kaiser's publications announcements of King Emmanuel's readiness to fight with his allies in the Triple Alliance. When the newspapers finally came forth with the information that Italy was going to remain neutral, they put it in such a light that the Austrians and Germans could not perceive her unfriendly attitude. One Vienna journal announced that for the present Italy would remain neutral because she had 70,000 soldiers in Africa, and needed the rest of her troops to defend her many miles of coastline. Not until we had reached Genoa, did I learn of the true attitude Italy had adopted towards the Alliance.

"I distinctly remember a conversation I had with an Italian soldier who rode in our compartment to Genoa. In reply to my question as to whether or not his country would fight with Germany, he said, 'Surely we will fight. We are bound in honor to do so. Yet it means our ruin; our open coasts lie at the mercy of the English and French fleets, but fight we must. However, I cannot help saying that Germany did wrong in crossing Belgium after agreeing to recognize her neutrality; such conduct is unpardonable -- it is a terrible dishonor to the Kaiser.' "


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Lloyd Sabaudo WWI Passenger List 1914-08-12 | GG Archives

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