Conducted by EDMUND DANGERFIELD.
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Vol. XX. No. 511. Editor: EDWARD S. SHRAPNELL-SMITH. 24th December, 1914.
NOT THROUGH BELGIUM.
Germany probably now wishes that it had attacked France, not through Belgium. We are at the moment
concerned to enquire whether the advance of the Allies will not be better undertaken if it also be, not through Belgium. After the turn of the tide of battle had occurred during the early days of September, we urged, in the only leading article in our issue for the 17th of that month, the necessity for the wholesale acquirement of "more three-tonners to go after the "Germans," coupled with " the necessity for large-scale road-repair preparations," and in addition attention for the necessary steps to provide "pure drinking water by tank-wagon." There are good alternatives to an attack through Belgium.
We do not wish to quote, but many of our supporters may recall the emphasis which we laid upon the
urgency of advance preparations for the repair and reconstruction of roadways, which suggestions were made in concrete and specific fashion' and particularly to the end that the resources of the _Road Board's staff should be utilized. Since we dealt with those points, now almost ai months ago, successive occurrences have borne in upon us the vital call for an additional road staff, and one which is adequately supported by the presence of very large numbers of trained men wholly at their disposal.
We heard, more than two months ago—" That they've mined the mud." Correspondents of all classes have heard the same since. The extent of preparations by the Germans for the destruction of communications, in readiness for the inevitable concentration within their own territory, is known to be unprecedented. The Germans will in any event do the maximum amount of damage to rail-roads and high-roads, and to the weaker links therein above all, including thia bridges and culverts. Amongst the latest authoritative writings on this subject, we may quote from an article by Colonel F. N. Maud, e.B., late R.R, which appeared in the issue of "Land and Water "for the 12th inst., as follows : "I • am afraid there are Still some weary weeks—possibly months—of trench and siege warfare before us;
• though not necessarily in Belgium, and thesewill entail on all ranks an amount of spade work far beyond what they expected when they first joined. Much of it, too, will not be in the front line under fire, but on lines of communication and road repair, where the overwhelming need is not so clearly
apparent. . . Road-making or maintenance, though based on very simple ideas, is by no means so obvious a business as the uninitiated would think, and the amateur is far more likely to go wrong than go right by trying short cuts of his own. . . . The subject is of pressing interest just now, because the • demands made on the road, and the need of the new form of transport, petrol-driven lorries 'for example,
are quite different from those of former days. . I already see indications of a coming split between the controlling authorities. In the -old days of horse transport, roads were eSsentially under the control of the Royal Engineers, who knew just as much about what horses and wagons required as anybody else, whilst the people who drove and controlled the wagons knew all about roads. Nowadays, we have a new mechanical transport branch, who certainly know all about their own machines, but who have no practical knowledge of the limitations under which the toad-maintainer has to work."
We cannot accept the view that there will be any split, at the present time or in the future, between the Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps, and especially not one between the officers in high command. Everybody concerned is pulling too well together for so dire a catastrophe to overtake the British Army, but the facts remain that the roads of Belgium have already been rendered almost unfit for further use, and that what is left of them will be blown to pieces before many months pass. "Not through Belgium " is the view of the situation which we are prompted to adopt. The British Army, dependent as it is upon road transport for its feeding and supplies, and possessed of unrivalled resources of self-propulsion, may be found to advance, and we believe will to the best advantage do so, not. through Belgium. It is not for us to guess or to prophesy where the steadily-growing British forces will be used. That is not our business. The choice between methods and ways, as to getting round instead of through, is for the military leaders to decide. Our interest in the matter, apart from that of any patriotic Briton who desires the success of his country's Arms, is peculiarly directed to bringing any influences to bear which may result in the greater efficiency, the more-effective application, and the undiminished retention in service, of the Mechanical Transport. There will be those material advantages, so far as we can see, if the advance is made, not through Belgium. We believe, incidentally, that the Germans will be deprived, if the advance is not through Belgium, of an opportunity to lay the blame for the further destruction of property, in Brussels and other Belgian cities, upon the British. The rail-roads and the high-roads of Belgium will be in effect demolished, without relation to the cause
which leads to the German concentration east of the Rhine but we hope to see that precautions which are necessary to safeguard the maintenance and use of the A.S.C.. M.T., will bring about the decision on the part of Generals Joffre and French, to continue to hold the Germans at or about where the line is now drawn, leaving the point of new concentration and entry to he disclosed in another place. May it Prove to be—not through Belgium. There is more, very much more, that we, if unrestrained, might write in support. We wish to see the A.S.C. men used to the very best advantage. Hence our concern.