The Man who Dined with the Kaiser

From Whitefriars Journal,vol. III, no. 12, February 1910, pp. 195-96.

The dinner arranged for the month of March took place on Friday, March 31st, 1914. Club Guest – ‘The Man who Dined with the Kaiser’; Prior: Friar F. A. McKenzie.

[For list of guests, see end of entry.] The Prior, in welcoming the guest of the evening, described him as representing the spirit of romantic adventure – something of the spirit which Stevenson caught and depicted in his immortal New Arabian Nights.

‘The Man Who Dined with the Kaiser’, in the course of his reply, narrated the following adventure he experienced in Frankfurt a year ago: ‘I remember being in a cinema one night; the place was crowded with women, there being but few men to be seen. In the middle of the performance, I noticed on the screen an announcement that every woman whose husband was fighting for the Fatherland would have her money returned if she went to the door. I was curious to go to the door to see what happened, I saw an escort of twenty constables march the women to the police station, instead of returning them their money. Here their names were taken, and they were warned that if they were caught again in a place of amusement whilst their husbands were fighting for the country and their children were at home, their allowances would be stopped by the Government. That was the German way of dealing with the people.

‘I enjoy this banquet considerably more than the one I attended at Nish. I felt far from being all right over there. Had I been recognised by one of the scoundrelly German agents there would have been a little comedy and tragedy at the Town Hall wall, at which I should have played the principal part. I was coming from Constantinople by train en route for Belgrade. I was asleep in the train when it arrived at Nish, and I was aroused by hearing an officer call out: ‘The Kaiser is here’. I got excited myself. On opening the carriage window, I saw that the whole place was decorated. When our train steamed into the station, I saw the Imperial train standing in a siding. The Kaiser was talking to King Ferdinand on the platform, with some German officers and soldiers forming a circle around him. I got out and abandoned my journey to Belgrade. Two Bulgarian officials asked me what was my business. I told them that I represented one of the chief neutral papers, and that I had had an interview with a leading Pasha. I showed him my special passport which had been issued at Vienna. They showed me the Bulgarian Press Bureau, where I saw the Director and told him a lot of lies.

‘When the Director had been through my credentials, he said something to this effect: “Our King gives a banquet tonight in honour of the German Emperor. There will be only three journalists present – two Germans and one Austrian. Would you like to be there on behalf of the Neutral Press?” I nearly fell through the floor when I heard this. I must have turned pale, for the official asked me what was the matter. I
told him that I had not brought my dress clothes with me. The Director replied; “That does not matter – the whole thing will be simple. The other journalists will be in their travelling suits. The officers will be in ordinary field dress.” He told me that the banquet would be held at six o’clock at the Town Hall at Nish.

‘When I came to the Town Hall, I heard the bugles blowing outside the building. On getting inside, I saw the Kaiser talking to King Ferdinand and the Chief of the German Staff – by far the best-looking German I have seen in my life.

‘The banquet itself was very simple indeed. Three tables were arranged; I sat at the lower end of the table between two journalists. I was asked by the bureau to make no notes, and to submit my story immediately the banquet was over to the Bulgarian censor. I was not going to send it to the paper I ostensibly represented – I wanted to bring it to this country. I said to the representative of the Press Bureau that I intended to join the express to proceed to Vienna, where I would submit it to the censor. He believed the story, and that is the reason my article appeared four days before anything came out in the German papers.

‘I had seen the Kaiser some years before at Amsterdam. His hair has turned grey – I don’t know whether it is due to his conscience troubling him. When I saw him some years ago, he had black hair. His moustache is now of a suspicious darkness; the points have disappeared, probably on account of the shortage of horse-hair in Germany. The Kaiser eats before attending a State banquet, as he is unable to use both hands at the table, his left arm being paralysed. He had very little to eat, and spent most of the time in talking. I have heard the report that the Kaiser is suffering from cancer, like his father.
‘After the banquet concluded, the Kaiser spoke to King Ferdinand, kissed him, and disappeared at the back door, which was immediately guarded by two soldiers. We had to remain from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour in the room before we were allowed to leave it. The Kaiser disappeared in the fashion which has been his custom during the war.’

Turks like people to wear the fez. This our guest did whilst in Constantinople. One day, whilst going over the famous bridge which connects Stamboul with the European part of the city, he saw the U18 submarine coming from the Bosphorus. It had a large iron cross painted on the conning-tower, indicating that it had committed some kind of outrage. He obtained a boat, rowed behind the submarine, and saw it disappear behind two huge German liners. Between these liners was a wooden erection, a kind of wall. When it was closed nobody was able to see what had happened. It was opened to allow the submarine to enter, and when it got past the wall was closed again. It gave him the chance of seeing three more of the German submarines of the same size as the U18/ He notices the U4, but could not see the other numbers. When he passed, from the deck of the German liner someone shouted: ‘Get out of it.’ He pointed to his fez, and nobody interfered with him. On returning to Constantinople, he obtained a map, and marked on it the position of the submarines and their numbers. Throughout his journey he had this map tied to his bare body. All the military information he could pick up on his journey he placed voluntarily at the
disposal of the British Government.

Mr Spencer Leigh Hughes MP opened the discussion. The chief guest of the evening had shown several interesting traits, and among them a very strong personal modesty. In a Daily Mail correspondent they did not always obtain that. He confessed to having strayed sometimes from the paths of strict truthfulness – that was perhaps more customary. Their chief guest had told a tale of the treatment of some women at a
cinema at Frankfort, where they were put under arrest. He remembered something similar happening at Jaffa, when the Kaiser visited it. Jaffa was noted forhaving more beggars to the square yard than any other place in the world. The Governor of Jaffa issued a proclamation announcing that if the beggars would come together at Government House, he would give them sufficient backsheesh to keep them for three days. In order that the visitors should not be annoyed, when the beggars called at Government House they were imprisoned for three days.

‘I don’t know what was our chief guest’s views of the Kaiser’s mental condition,’ Mr Hughes proceeded. ‘He presented a curious study seventeen years ago when in Palestine. It was then stated – I have helped to spreak the rumour, but I don’t say that it is true – he tried to walk on the water. Somebody told him somebody else had done it in that part of the world a long time ago. When the Kaiser failed, he did not believe this. I saw him enter Jerusalem. Again wicked rumours were spread, chiefly by the Parisian journalists, who sent pictures home, that the Kaiser rode in on a donkey. I saw him coming in dressed very much like one o the men who used to ride in the Lord Mayor’s show, or still more like a Drury Lane crusader, with gleaming helmet and white robes suspended from his shoulders. He had a haughty expression on his face, as though saying: ‘I am not only the limit, but I am absolutely it.’ I heard him preach a sermon at the church. He walked the goose step up the church, armed to the teeth. The choir sang: ‘Rejoice, daughter of Zion, behold thy King cometh unto thee.’ The Kaiser saluted at these words.

‘I never dined with the Kaiser, but I took part in a dinner as memorable as if I had dined with him. Many gentlemen here know the name of Charles Hands, of the Daily Mail, also distinguished for truthfulness and modesty. He and I lived in a tent outside the walls of Jerusalem. We were the only representatives of the halfpenny papers there. We put up a card: ‘The Halfpenny Press – Hughes and Hands; “God Bless our Little Home”.’ It happened that amongst the party were Charlie Williams, the war correspondent, and Melton Prior, the war artist. These men were not on speaking terms; they had had a row twenty years before. I had asked each the cause, but they had both forgotten the origin of the quarrel. Both said each of them behaved like a scoundrel. Both spoke at each other through me.

‘One night, whilst we were dining outside the walls of Jerusalem, a cock began to crow. With the cocks and hens all night and the Kaiser all day, we got very little rest. I made the thoughtless remark that the cock’s voice sounded wheezy enough to make it identical with the fowl which disturbed Peter in that part of the world. Melton Prior made a dry remark about St Peter, and the difficulty of getting past him at the gate. Charlie Williams, although given to strong language, was a very devout man, and he opened fire on us. “I will not,” he said, “have my faith caricatured by the miserable specimen of humanity sitting by you.” I said it was my fault in having introduced the name of Peter. Prior said: “Don’t apologise to that old ruffian at the end of the table.” I sat as a buffer state between the great contending powers.

Those are some of the trials you have to put up with when you don’t dine with the Kaiser.’

Major Hart Davies offered some criticisms of the Government’s policy. He considered that we have frittered away our chances owing to having a Parliament of lawyers.

Friar G. B. Burgin had been over a good deal of the ground traversed by their chief guest. He went out to Constantinople as secretary to a General in the Turkish Army, and, in his innocence and inexperience, found himself in many tight places indeed. The first thing his chief said on joining him was that a rascally Armenian dragoman had been swindling him for months, and he added: ‘You will have to go through his accounts.’ Unfortunately, the Armenian was listening behind the door. Before he retired to rest, the Armenian came to him and said; ‘It is a very cold night, Effendi, and I am going to put a beautiful charcoal brazier in your room.’ It was an open brazier filled with-charcoal. This ingenious and ingenuous Armenian omitted to have the charcoal burnt up properly, so that it emitted poisonous fumes all the time, and he put it behind a screen. During the night the speaker awoke half-suffocated, with a violent headache, just managed to burst open the door, and fell outside. Next day, the Armenian, very much concerned, came up to him, and was promptly kicked downstairs.

Another ‘tight place’ was forced upon Friar Burgin by the thoughtlessness of a friend. Youngster-like, he used to go about Constantinople in order thoroughly to familiarise himself with everything. His friend said: ‘You have never been to a Turkish bath, have you?’ ‘No, I never have,’ he replied. ‘Tomorrow, Friday,’ his friend said, ‘is the only day in the week set apart for Englishmen. I will show you the bath; you can go boldly in, and I am sure you will enjoy what you see there very much.’ His friend came to the end of the street, and pointed out the bath. He went in, and suddenly found himself facing a big bath filled with about fifty women in a state of nudity – some brown, some black, some piebald, and others singularly striped.

Then a gigantic negress rushed forward, butted him violently in the stomach with a broom, and in a moment he found himself outside tumbling down the steps. A friend afterwards told him that these women might have shaken the life out of him, as Friday was the day set apart for women to go to the baths.
Mr Percy Hurd described his experiences at Potsdam with a party of journalists. ‘Sitting next to me at luncheon was His Serene Highness. I happened to have my napkin tucked in my waistcoat, in the regular way of the French man of commerce. His Serene Highness turned to me, and said: “I am glad the Kaiser is not lunching at this table with his guests, because if he were you might suffer the same indignity as that recently experienced by one of his guests. His Majesty saw that his napkin was placed in the same way in which you have tucked yours, and he sent an aide-de-camp, who, tapping the guest on the shoulder, said: ‘His Majesty wishes you to know that this is not a barber’s shop’.”’

The members of the party were subsequently presented to the Kaiser. He was struck with the Kaiser’s English. One of the guests, more bold than the others, said: ‘If I may say so, your Majesty speaks good English.’ ‘They say I do,’ he replied. ‘Your Majesty speaks better English than our own King’ (referring to the late King Edward). The Kaiser answered: ‘I ought to do that; we learn our accent in childhood. My governess was an Englishwoman; my uncle’s governess was a German.’

The guests included:–
Among the guests present were: Mr G. E. Beer, News Editor of The Times; Mr Clifton Robbins, Literary Editor of the Daily Mail; Mr W. E. Fish, News Editor of the Daily Mail; Mr Arthur Wontner; Mr Walter Hodson; Mr Wallace Myers; Mr W. J. M. Lefroy, Editor of Canada; Mr Sidney H. Webb; Mr Cranstoun Metcalfe; Mr Frederick H. Miles; Mr John Ferguson; Mr Dugald Smith; Mr Trench-Watson; Mr F. C. C. Neilsen; Mr A. Hood; Mr A. G. D. Burnett; Mr E. S. T. Haynes; Mr St. John Micklethwaite; Mr J. R. Fothergrill; Mr J. Aubrey Rees; Mr R. Mortimer Wheeler; Sir Ernest Birch, KCMG, Commander-in-Chief and Governor of North Borneo; Major-General Desmond O’Callaghan, KCVO; Major Sir Harry North; Major Hart Davis; Mr Paul Creton; Mr A. H. Wynne; Mr Eric Peall; The Archdeacon of Rochester; Signor Valentino Ferrari, of Milan; Mr B. T. Swinstead; Mr A. C. Stanley Stone; Mr F. H. Norman; Mr Francis Lindley Jones; Mr A. J. Mundella; Mr John Gennings; Mr W. P. Forbes, of the Central News; Mr B. H. Binder; Captain Lovat Eraser, Durham Light Infantry, from the Ypres salient; Mr D. Roy; Monsieur Henri Davray, of the Mercure de France, the eminent French Critic of English Life and Letters, who is at present in England doing official work for the French Government; Mr Percy Hurd, Editor of the Canadian Gazette, and London Correspondent of the Montreal Star, author (with his brother Archibald) of a new work on Empire Policy; Dr. Vincent, of Trinity College of Music; Mr Sydney F. Boam; C. E. Fagan; P. L. F. Perkins; Mr C. H. St. J. Hornby; Engineer Captain J. A. Richards, R.N., Ministry of Munitions; the Friar’s son, Captain and Adjutant A. G. Saunders; Mr H. White; Mr H. V. Longworthy; Mr Anderson Wells; Mr Leslie Narzetti; Mr Herbert Jenkins, publisher of How I Dined with the Kaiser; Mr Collingridge, of the City Press; Mr J. M. Bullough, Editor of the Weekly Graphic; Mr H. A. Holland; Lieutenant Grant, of the Divisional Staff (now Lieutenant, R.A.M.C.); Mr Spencer Leigh Hughes, M.P.; Mr W. Douglas Newton, the well-known War writer and story writer; Lieutenant Warwick Deeping (just back from Gallipoli); Sir George Frampton, R.A.; Mr A. Ransford Collett; Mr Geoffrey Jeffrey; the Rev. Bernard J. Snell; Dr. J. G. Glasgow; Mr G. H. Cook; Mr E. G. Drewry; and Mr L. C. V. Bathurst.