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
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.
 BY COURTESY OF HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.