Clarissa Alice Beesley (1878-1974) and Mary Elizabeth Connelly (1876-1937) served together on the General Board of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association. Mary was on a tour of Europe when hostilities broke out in 1914, and wrote this letter to Clarissa after she had safely reached England.
London, Eng. Aug. 14, 1914.
My Dear Sister Beesley:
We have just arrived weary and worn after our strenuous efforts to reach English soil, and my brain refuses to work very well. We are so thankful to be here at “Deseret” [a pet name for the London mission home]. There are many elders residing in this hospitable home. Sister [Louie B.] Felt [1850-1928, general president of the Primary] is here; you can imagine how glad I was to see her. We expect to leave for Scotland next week.
I shall be very glad to get home. It seems so long since we left. We have seen many lands and peoples and have had a very profitable trip, but home always draws us, especially in time of war. We long to get where there is peace.
For years tremendous efforts have been put forth to bring about universal peace. Peace literature has been scattered broadcast. Societies have been formed all over the world to further its spread, to urge the nations to do away with their armies and navies and to settle their differences by arbitration. Millions have been spent in the erection and adornment of one of the most beautiful palaces in the world (the peace Palace at The Hague) in order to have a place for men of different nations to meet and settle by arbitration the questions which had formerly been decided by war.
When apparently so much progress had been made, the world has been thrown into consternation by a war which involves many nations and which threatens to draw in many more ere it has run its dreadful course.
In traveling through the countries that are preparing for battle and seeing the terrible conditions that already have been brought about one wonders what the days of its continuation will bring. What will become of the mothers and their children who have been able to secure only the bare necessities in times of peace?
When Germany declared war against Russia, Holland, although a neutral country, immediately rushed thousands of soldiers to protect her frontier. It was a pitiful sight to see the soldiers wending their way to stations, sadness written on every face and to see their loved ones trying to bear up and be brave as they bade them farewell. Almost instantly the money market became strained, the banks would only give paper money and many refused to take that in payment for groceries, etc. The prices of necessities doubled, trebled and quadrupled, but the government soon issued instructions that paper money was legal tender, and that stores found charging exorbitant prices would be taken n charge by government officials.
Belgium, too, made hurried preparation to defend herself from invasion, and it seems strange that this little neutral country should be the scene of the first big battle of the war.
In France, business almost instantly became paralyzed. With an abandonment characteristic of the Latin race, the French could do nothing, could think of nothing but war while mobilization was going on. Their patriotism is unbounded, men and women would do anything for their country. When the President called on the women to go to the fields and gather the crops there was an instant and willing assent.
Gay Paris became sad Paris. The gravity of the situation was written on every face. Most of the hotels and stores and all of the places of interest to tourists were closed. For some time the wild element that infests every large city almost created a reign of terror. Stores run by Germans were demolished. Strict police regulations were soon enforced, however. Street lights were ordered out at an early hour. People were instructed to keep off the streets at night and an earnest effort was made to enforce order.
Getting permission from the Commissaire de Police to either remain in Paris or to depart from it was strenuous work. One had to have passport from his own country (or a statement from his country’s representative), paper from the hotel where he resided, and thus armed he was forced to stand in line for hours to get the necessary papers from the police. Those desiring to depart had to endure another long wait before getting permission to go on a train. Travel was very slow, and one had to change trains very frequently. Many travelers had to walk miles, ride in peasants’ carts and often go long hours without food or drink. But the travelers’ troubles were as nothing compared to the sorrows of the people who were sending their sons, husbands and fathers forth to endure the hardships of war and to perhaps offer their lives in defense of their country.
In England business does not seem to be seriously interfered with. They have not so large a percentage of their men in the army (army service not being compulsory as in other European countries) and then the people are not so excitable as their French brothers. But millions are being spent for provisions and equipment for the army.
The sun has only just risen on this terrible war. What scenes will it witness ere it sets? Will there be a sudden and unlooked for close of hostilities, or will war rage until battlefields are drenched in blood, until unnumbered thousands of wives have been made widows, and children left fatherless, and the civilization of many of the great countries of the world thrown back hundreds of years? Only time can tell. The trouble came with a suddenness that was paralyzing and no one seems able to see what the end will be.
Give my love to our fellow-workers and accept much yourself.
Mary E. Connelly.