Mary Russell’s War, week two

On the centenary of the Great War, a journal has come to light, containing weekly entries from a very young Mary Russell. It begins, appropriately enough, on August 4, 1914, when Russell is living with her parents and brother in San Francisco. This is her second journal entry. (To read from the beginning, click here.)

11 August 1914

I have decided to write in this journal, not daily (as the name might be seen to require) but once a week. There is so much turmoil, so rapid a shift of events, that thoughtful reflection requires a week’s span.

It is appalling to think what is happening in Europe. Every morning’s paper shouts the headlines: BRITISH AND GERMAN FLEETS IN BATTLE. GERMANS OVERCOME BELGIANS’ DEFENSES AT CITY OF LIEGE. Even AEROPLANES PLAY BIG PART IN LIEGE ATTACK. “The fighting in midair was desultory, but deadly. A huge Zeppelin sailed over Liege during the early fighting, but was pursued by a Belgian aeroplanist who risked and lost his life in destroying it. GERMANS BAD SHOTS, SAY PILOTS.”

Noble little Belgium. Father put up a map of Europe in the library, and places pins at each new report. He tells me the Germans are following a war plan that depends on rapidly overrunning the countryside between them and Paris, and in the past week, Belgium’s grim defence has slowed the Kaiser. May God grant that this has given France time to prepare for the invasion.

And America remains neutral, offering negotiation between the parties: TENDER OF GOOD OFFICES BRINGS NO RESPONSE.

This despite atrocity: in one conquered town, the Germans took fourteen residents, shooting eight, hanging two—and letting the Mayor go, since the Germans had been his guests the previous day. I do not understand military thinking, and I suppose that when many of those fighting one’s soldiers are in fact civilians, there is no division between uniforms and not.

There are some portions of the world not in flames: “PEACE IS NEAR IN WAR-TORN MEXICO.” And the newspaper corner advertisements that in the early days were for maps of Europe and a rather tasteless advert for spectacles (Will War Advance Price of Glasses?) have returned to weather reports and units for lease on Nob Hill.

But the world appears to be in flames.

And not only in Europe.

My parents are arguing. At night, and behind closed doors, but they are arguing, long and hard. Even Levi has heard them, although he has been as unable to hear what they are saying as I.

My parents never argue.




  1. Merrily Taylor on August 11, 2014 at 7:55 am

    A very moving segment of Miss Russell’s diary that makes one feel what it was like to “be there.” I am sad to see the foreshadowing of the great tragedy that will change the course of Mary’s life…and reminded that the world is in flames again. Will we ever learn? Evidently, not.

  2. Laraine on August 11, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Always the curious observer, intelligent, probably would be insulted if I said ‘precocious.’ Such a time, in the world, and in the young journalist’s life. I trust we’ll be given another installment, if such comes to light.

  3. Carol on August 12, 2014 at 8:15 am

    I love this. I actually felt tingles in my spine reading about Mary’s parents arguing. Eagerly looking forward to more!

  4. Marcia Diane on August 12, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Re-reading O Jerusalem I am taken by the horrendous repetition of it all. Laurie, your perspective offers solace to the mind weary of attempts to make sense. It truly is all so complex. I welcome this new journal as having more sanity to it than any current news cast…and a more distant view…from which to find one’s way.

    in profound admiration as always,
    Marcia Diane

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