What One American Did

If a person had been standing one night beside the railroad tracks in

Germany in the fall of 1917, he would have seen a train speeding along

through the darkness at about thirty-five miles an hour. He would have

noticed through an open window a tall soldier in the uniform of an

English flyer, a lieutenant in the R.F.C. (Royal Flying Corps), stand

up on the seat as if to get something out of the rack; and then he

ave been astounded to see the same tall English flyer come

flying out feet first through the window, to land on the side of his

head on the stone ballast of the opposite track.

Few persons could do this and come through alive. This English flyer a

few weeks before had fallen eight thousand feet, with a bullet in his

neck, when his airplane had been shot down in a fight with four German

machines. When picked up within the German lines, he was enough alive

to be taken to a hospital. The bullet was removed, and he recovered. He

was a British flyer, simply because America did not enter the war soon

enough for him, and like many other young Americans, he was eager to

fight the German beast and "save the world for democracy."

He was being taken with six other officers from a prison in Belgium to

a prison camp in Germany. He knew that, once there, his chances for

escape would be very small; and he felt he preferred death to life in a

German prison camp. He knew that, if he were not killed in his leap

from the train, the Germans would doubtless shoot him as a spy, should

they succeed in recapturing him. Some Germans wanted all Americans who

enlisted in the Allied armies to be shot, as they had shot Captain

Fryatt, on the ground that they were non-combatants attacking war

forces; for this was before America entered the war against Germany.

Besides, prisoners were not allowed to know what was going on in

Germany. An escaped prisoner who could find out was, therefore, likely

to be treated as a spy.

Pat O'Brien's cheek was cut open, and his left eye badly injured and

swollen so that he could not open it. He had scratched his hands and

wrists, and sprained his ankle. But he was hard to kill. In the

excitement caused by his jump through the car window, the Germans did

not stop the train immediately, and so did not reach the spot where he

had fallen, until he had recovered consciousness and had got away from

the track. He was careful in walking away to hold the tail of his coat

so that the blood dropping from his cheek would not fall upon the

ground and show which way he went. Before daylight he had been able to

put more than five miles between him and the tracks. He then hid in a

deep woods, knowing that he must travel by night and keep out of sight

by day, for he was wearing the uniform of a British flyer.

The story of his adventures is one of the most interesting of all the

strange and interesting stories of the World War. When he reached

England, King George sent for him to come to Buckingham Palace and

spent nearly an hour listening to it. Lieutenant O'Brien has published

it in a book which he calls "Outwitting the Hun." Boys and girls who

like an exciting story of adventure, a true story, will want to read

this book.

He knew the North Star, and by this he set his course west, in order to

reach Belgium, and then go north from Belgium to Holland. It rained a

great share of the time, but this did not make much difference, for he

had to swim so many canals and rivers that his clothes were always wet.

At first he had taken off his clothes when he had to swim and had tied

them in a bundle to his head to keep them from getting wet; but after

he lost one of his shoes in the water in this way and had to spend

nearly two hours diving before he recovered it, he swam with his

clothes and shoes on. He never could have gone on without shoes. Had

he not been a good diver, he could not have found the shoe in the mud

under eight feet of water; had he not been a good swimmer, he could not

have crossed the Meuse River, nearly half a mile wide, after many days

and nights of traveling almost without food (as it was, he dropped in a

dead faint when he reached the farther side); and had he not known the

North Star, he would have had no idea at night whether he was going in

the right direction or going in, a circle. Rainy and cloudy nights

delayed him greatly.

He did not dare ask for food at the houses in Germany, for he would

have been immediately turned over to the authorities. So he lived on

raw carrots, turnips, cabbages, sugar beets, and potatoes, which he

found in the fields. He knew he must not make a fire even if he could

do so in the Indian's way, by rubbing sticks together. He had no

matches. He found some celery one night and ate so much of it that it

made him sick. He had only the water in the canals and rivers to drink,

and most of this was really unfit for human beings. He lay for an hour

one night in a cabbage field lapping the dew from the cabbage leaves,

he was so thirsty for pure, fresh water.

One day before he reached Belgium, he was awakened from his sleep in

the woods by voices near him. He kept very quiet, and soon heard the

sound of axes and saw a great tree, not far from him, tremble. He was

lying in a clump of thick bushes and could not move without making a

noise. He knew that if the great tree with its huge branches fell in

his direction, he would surely be killed or at least pinned to the

earth and badly injured--and his capture meant that he would be shot as

a spy. But there was nothing for him to do but wait, and hope. At last

the tree began to sway, and then fell away from him instead of towards

him. He had again escaped death.

When he reached Belgium, which he did in eighteen days after his escape

through the car window, he followed the North Star, for he knew Holland

was to the north, and once in Holland he would be free. His feet were

sore and bleeding, his knees badly swollen, and he was sick from

exposure and starvation. For a while, he had a severe fever and raved

and talked all night long in his half sleeping state. He feared some

one would hear him and that he would be taken. He was weary and tired

of struggling and fighting, and ready to give up; but his will, his

soul, would not let him. He tells us how he raved when the fever was on

him, and called on the North Star to save him from the coward, Pat

O'Brien, who wanted him to quit.

He says he cried aloud, "There you are, you old North Star! You want me

to get to Holland, don't you? But this Pat O'Brien--this Pat O'Brien

who calls himself a soldier--he's got a yellow streak--North Star--and

he says it can't be done! He wants me to quit--to lie down here for

the Huns to find me and take me back to Courtrai--after all you've

done, North Star, to lead me to liberty. Won't you make this coward

leave me, North Star? I don't want to follow him--I just want to follow

you--because you--you are taking me away from the Huns and this Pat

O'Brien--this fellow who keeps after me all the time and leans on my

neck and wants me to lie down--this yellow Pat O'Brien who wants me to

go back to the Huns!"

In Belgium, he had a somewhat easier time, as far as food went, for he

found he could go to the Belgian houses and ask for it. As he could not

speak the language, and did not want them to know he was an English

soldier, he pretended he was deaf and dumb. He had finally succeeded in

getting some overalls and discarding his uniform.

Belgium was full of German soldiers, many of them living in the houses

of the Belgians, so he was obliged to use extreme care in approaching a

house to ask for food or help. Every Belgian was supposed to carry a

card, called in German an Ausweiss. It identified the bearer when

stopped by a German sentinel or soldier. Lieutenant O'Brien knew that

without this card he would be arrested and that his looks made him a

suspicious character. His eye had hardly healed, his face was covered

with a three weeks' beard, and altogether he was a disreputable looking


After very many interesting and exciting experiences, he succeeded in

reaching the boundary line. To prevent Belgians taking refuge in

Holland and to prevent escaped prisoners, and even German soldiers,

from crossing the line into this neutral country, where, if they were

in uniform, they would be interned for the rest of the war, the Germans

had built all along the line three barbed wire fences, six feet apart.

The center fence was charged with electricity of such a voltage that

any human being coming in contact with it would be instantly

electrocuted. This triple barrier of wire was guarded by German

sentinels day and night.

Lieutenant O'Brien reached the barrier in the night, and hid himself

when he heard the tramp of the German sentinel. He waited until the

sentinel returned and noted carefully how long he was gone, in order to

learn how much time he had in which to work.

He thought he could build a ladder out of two fallen trees by tying

branches across them, and in this way get over the ten-foot center

fence. He succeeded in getting his ladder together, by working all

night, and with it he hid in the woods all the next day. When night

came, he shoved the ladder under the first barbed wire fence and

crawled in after it. He placed it carefully up against one of the posts

to which the charged electric wires were fastened and began to climb up

it, when all of a sudden it slipped and came in contact with the live

wires. The trees out of which he had constructed it were so soaked with

water that they made good conductors of electricity, and he received

such a charge that he was thrown to the ground unconscious, where he

lay while the sentinel passed within seven feet of him.

He gave up the ladder and decided to dig under the live wires. He had

only his hands to dig with, but the ground was fairly soft. After some

hours, he had a hole deep enough and wide enough to crawl through

without touching the live wire. He found a wire running along under the

ground. He knew this could not be alive, for the ground would discharge

any electricity there might be in it. So he took hold of it and, after

much struggling, was able to get it out of the way. Then he crawled

carefully under the live wires and was a free man in Holland, for he

wore no uniform and would not be interned.

At the first village he came to, some of the Dutch people loaned him

enough money to ride third-class to Rotterdam. He said he was glad he

was not riding first-class, for he would have looked as much out of

place in a first-class compartment as a Hun would in heaven.

The English consul at Rotterdam gave him money and a passport to

England, and from there he came to see his mother, in a little town in

Illinois, called Momence.