An Exciting Trip
In July 1914 Felix Mills, a ‘tour organiser and conductor’ from Oldham, was accompanying a party of seven on a tour of Switzerland. The party arrived at Lucerne on Friday 31 July with the intention of staying the night and then travelling onto Paris where they intended to stay for three or four days. At about 7pm word came that war was declared between Germany and Russia, and the party was told that all trains from Switzerland were going to stop. The railway station at Lucerne was besieged with people who had hurriedly packed their boxes.
With all German railway lines closed the party left Lucerne for Paris at 7.15am on Saturday 1st August on a crowded train together with a large number of Americans. They arrived at Basle at about 9.15am and to their surprise found the German part of the station closed. The party wanted to see the Rhine, and if at all possible set foot in Germany. Eventually they went across the Rhine and just got into Germany passing through lines of soldiers.
Resuming their journey the train arrived at Delle which they found guarded by soldiers. At Delle they were told there was no connecting train to Paris. Mr Mills went to the post office to ‘send a wire’ to Paris with regard to hotel rooms. The post office was guarded by soldiers, the government having taken over the control of the telegraphic departments. At three o’clock on Saturday afternoon some empty carriages backed up into the station and Mr Mills and his party were able to continue their journey to Paris.
On arrival at Belfort they found the place in a state of siege, with soldiers, gun carriages, and ambulance wagons, whilst the bridges and the railway lines were all guarded. There were no railway porters, all having joined the army, and the station and the railways were in the charge of the soldiers.
After Belfort there were long delays at Lune, Vesoul and Nancy, until the party finally arrived at Paris at 2.50pm on Sunday afternoon. The journey, which should have taken 11 hours, instead took 32 hours. Trainloads of soldiers were going in the opposite direction.
Upon arriving in Paris the party decided to return immediately to England. When they got to the hotel just opposite the station at Paris they found the corridors filled with luggage, and people were very anxious to get back. The Gare de l’Est in Paris was barricaded and soldiers were everywhere. Inside the station the trains were packed with people and luggage. Compartments which usually held eight persons had 12 or 14 people in and the corridors were crammed with people. Small money and change could not be got anywhere and at the bank people were queuing for ¾ mile to get change.
Arriving at Boulogne the boat was packed with people of all nationalities and all the way across the Channel the boat had searchlights constantly over it from both sides of the Channel, which had the appearance of lightning. Folkestone was reached at last and finally London where a memorable journey ended.
Mr Mills concluded by remarking that ‘it was the most remarkable experience’ he had ever had and ‘along the route the people were on one mind, that it was Germany who wanted to get the upperhand of France’. The French, said Mr Mills, are entering the war quite enthusiastically and all they are wondering is ‘What will the attitude of England be?’
Mr Mills had had information this (Tuesday) morning that he must not book any passengers for Paris via the Dieppe route.
Later that day, Tuesday 4 August, Britain declared war on Germany.