Wartime Duties

With the outbreak of war in August 1914, the duties of Ambassador Walter Hines Page and the embassy shifted dramatically. The conflict caused thousands of U.S. citizens, tourists as well as permanent residents, to flee Continental Europe. These refugees required financial assistance and help booking passage back to the United States. Page worked with friend and businessman Herbert C. Hoover, who lived in London at the time, to establish the American Residents’ Committee (ARC), an organization charged with aiding fellow Americans.1 A reported 45,000 Americans sailed from England for the United States in the first few weeks of the war.2 By the first weeks of September, the embassy and the ARC had assisted a total of 60,000 people.3

Ambassador Walter Hines Page & Embassy London Staff

The U.S. Embassy took over operation of belligerent countries’ embassies that fall. The day after Britain declared war, Page formally took over the German Embassy. Eventually Page and his staff oversaw the Austrian, German, and Turkish embassies. Their responsibilities thus expanded beyond American citizens to include assistance to Germans and Austrians living in London. The embassy provided support to German women whose husbands had been interned in England, set up a soup kitchen at the Austrian embassy, and served as a point of communication with the German government.4 Embassy staff also helped families find the whereabouts of soldiers missing in action or taken as prisoners of war. Page was asked to perform a similar function for German POWs held in the United Kingdom.5

Page and the embassy staff quickly adapted to their new situation. Yet the weight of war was nonetheless heavy on the spirit. On September 22, 1914, Page wrote to his friend Colonel Edward M. House:

We are settling down to a routine of double work and to an oppression of gloom. Dead men, dead men, maimed men, the dull gray dread of what may happen next, the impossibility of changing the subject, the monotony of gloom, the consequent dimness of ideals, the overworking of the emotions and the heavy bondage of thought—the days go swiftly: that’s one blessing.6

Little of this routine, day-to-day work would change until the United States entered the war in 1917.

  1. See John Milton Cooper, Walter Hines Page: The Southerner as American, 1855-1918, The Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 282; and Burton Jesse Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1923), 304. 

  2. “ANOTHER BIG CROWD OF REFUGEES SAILS,” New York Times, August 30, 1914. 

  3. Cooper, Walter Hines Page, 282. 

  4. “UNCLE SAM, RESTAURATEUR,” New York Times, October 7, 1914. 

  5. See Correspondence between His Majesty’s Government and the United States Ambassador Respecting the Treatment of German Prisoners of War and Interned Civilians in the United Kingdom. (London: H.M. Stationery Off., Harrison and Sons, Printers, 1915). 

  6. Hendrick, The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, 1:328. 

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