Report from The Belfast Evening Telegraph, April 25th, 1914
IMPRESSIONS OF NIGHT
A PERFECT MACHINE
(By Our Larne Reporter.)
“What will they say of this in England?” That in effect is the principal thought of every loyal Larne man to-day. His town is famed a little in history for traditional loyalty to the Crown and Constitution; famed a little, too, for its exulting welcome to Salisbury and Randolph Churchill (and later for its rejection of the latter’s turncoat offspring), but last night a golden opportunity wrote its name in letters of gold on the blazoned roll of fame. Larne was the scene of an achievement unsurpassed for organisation, for bravery, for discipline, and shall it be added for sheer audacity. For the space of six hours the town was unresistingly taken possession of by an army, in effect martial law was proclaimed and gladly obeyed, and the perfection of discipline on the part of loyal and devoted men enabled their leaders to accomplish, in defiance of all the precautions and devices of the Government, a deed of derring-do almost impossible of belief. Without the appearance of haste, yet with the celerity born of the highest expert knowledge, equipment for an army was landed and distributed by trusty men in safe repositories. The highest genius of an incomparable organiser was given to a task unequalled in the annals of any army, and the secrecy with which it was accomplished, no less than the perfection of even the smallest detail, must fill with stupefying amazement every human being who reads the story. Of personal bravery there was no occasion for display, except in so far as every man of the investing army was prepared at all costs to obey the instructions of his superior officer, but the records of “the night” show that every man had thoroughly learnt his lesson—to obey, not counting the cost. Thus the months of drudgery, of drilling, of practising with the rifle, of apparently meaningless evolutions, were justified to the full; the faith of the men in their leaders has been strengthened beyond conception.
Of, the seemingly superhuman task performed—it is impossible so near at hand to grasp its magnitude—there does not at first sight seem much to write. Undertaken in a spirit of supreme confidence, it was carried out with an ease, a coolness, and a surety of knowledge impossible to portray. Surely gone for ever now is the whisper of “bluff.” What does such an act mean? Does it constitute the first scene in the drama of revolution? What steps will a discredited and defied Government now take—all these thoughts rise, but are lost in the appreciation of the one great fact. Time will bring the answer to all, but for the moment all minds are filled with mutual congratulation and thankfulness. To others is left the task of telling with emphasis the story of the “mystery ship,” mine be it to set down a few fragmentary impressions. In the deep gloom of the moonless night thousands of silent, determined men took up allotted positions in town and country, a living line of sturdy defenders of hearth and home spread out in every direction from Larne Harbour. “Theirs not to reason why.” To many knowledge only came at the end, but their vigil was kept in faith absolute and supreme. With the morning came the order to dismiss, and then, and then only, did they learn that they had taken part in the writing of history. To such men and company leaders must be given the laurels of heroes. They had not the bustle of physical movement, the inspiriting effect of personal contact with others, or the tonic of manual labour to relieve the tedium. In the dark they waited and obeyed.
Not less worthy were those who on the quay awaited the arrival of the “mystery ship.” Silently it arrived, and hardly were the mooring ropes ashore than the hatches were off and the steam cranes at work. At the word of command rank after rank of eager men came forward, filed into place, and old and young, gentle and simple, each took his allotted place, and disembarkment began. As to the manner born, the slings were adjusted, the engines whizzed and strained, and on the quay were dumped a dozen bulky packages, each containing its complement of rifles, bayonets, and cartridges. In silent haste, but without appearance of hurry, these were in turn lifted to the waiting motor cars, and the skilful driver, without a word, set off on his journey.
To describe the cars, the sturdier lorries, steam driven and petrol, would be a recitation of a dealers catalogue. Six hundred in number, of every make and size, from the puffing two-seater to the lordly landaulette, they fell into line with the precision of clockwork. Elaborate orders as to routes in hand their drivers confidently left the confines of the harbour. Again and again this was repeated like the filming of a picture on a screen, and before the eye had wearied of the operation back came some cars, having safely delivered their precious parcels, ready for second and even third trips.
Not a murmur was heard, not an explanation asked for, and drivers and accompanying guides all seemed animated with that same spirit so unique in “military operations.” Every man showed himself a glutton for work, yet not forgetting, ’midst all the excitement, the proper handling of his car. The proverbial phrase “without a hitch” was never better exemplified, and every actor in this strange drama fitted into his position as cog to cog in a perfect machine.
And the attitude of the onlookers—for the town was all astir—what of it? In its way it was as perfect as that of the active participants. Nine-tenths of the able-bodied men were engaged, but the women and children did their part. At various points devoted wives and daughters forsook their home duties for the nonce and sought to afford sustenance and nourishment to their mankind. Despite a steady drizzle of rain, they worked or watched without cessation, by their presence cheering and inspiring. At street corners along the route, until the urban boundaries were reached, groups gathered to admire and cheer, recking not of weather or weariness.
Six hours of incessant toil, eagerly undertaken and uncomplainingly carried through, and the end was in sight. Forty thousand rifles, with bayonets complete, and three-quarters of a million cartridges—such was the “relief” the “Mountjoy” bore. Three hundred and fifty tons of solid encouragement in the struggle against tyranny and oppression! Forty thousand arguments against compromise or submission—that is the moral effect! And when in the grey dawn the ghostly ship, greeted with thunderous cheers, left for seas unknown, she carried a knowledge of men ready to play their part to the bitter end in the defence of hearth and home. Cheers for beloved leaders, and the men disperse, to reflect with pardonable pride upon a task well done. Minute by minute the day grows clear, and before the first beams of the morning sun strike the grey earth the streets are deserted, and the curtain has fallen upon a picture painted but once in a generation’s history.