Holland

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Holland

Holland

Perhaps the worst situation of all was in Rotterdam. Because Germany was at war with her neighbours on the east and west, virtually all the American tourists in Central Europe were funnelled into that small neutral city. There were no accommodations for such a horde of frightened people, nor enough places for them to eat, nor even enough cash money to take care of the business brought by the swollen population.

In place of the quiet diamond merchants, the American Express office was stormed by crowds of tourists in what Manager Van der Zeyde in an epic understatement described as "a highly nervous condition." Many of the company's Dutch employees were called for immediate military service. The remaining staff worked literally day and night to give the extraordinary service demanded. Their greatest difficulty was caused by the acute shortage of small currency. It seemed to have completely disappeared. Faced with financial chaos, Van der Zeyde had a brilliant idea and went to call on the American consul. After explaining the situation he said, "I would like to issue our own small denominational money, five-guilder, two-and-a-half-guilder, and one-guilder notes, but I suppose it would be illegal.

"It certainly would be illegal," the consul answered. "But go ahead anyhow. They can't hang you for it."

Van der Zeyde promptly had the notes printed and issued them, backed only by the American Express Company's promise to pay the bearer on demand. It is an extraordinary tribute to the credit of American Express that in a foreign city in the panic and stress of wartime these notes were accepted by everyone as being as good as gold. Van der Zeyde was not hanged, and the currency shortage in Rotterdam was over.

Though holders of American Express Cheques were able to get cash in Europe, thousands of other Americans were not. They literally lived from hand to mouth, boarding and eating on credit, and shouting for relief. It was evident that something had to be done.

The first thing was to restore credit, get cash in the hands of the stranded Americans. Early in August a meeting was held in New York, attended by representatives of nine of the great New York banks and the American Express Company, at which it was decided to ship £10,000,000 in gold to Europe to redress the situation.

Once the decision to send the money was reached, the next question was how. Great Britain's rule of the waves was being challenged by Kaiser Wilhelm's powerful Navy. German raiders were scouring the seas, and in the first days of panic, rumours of raiders were far more numerous than all the ships of the German Navy. The United States Government offered the battleship Tennessee to carry the gold. As to its handling from shore to ship and again in England, the bankers thankfully turned the matter over to the member of their committee who understood such things. The American Express Company accepted responsibility for the transhipment.

Of course the gold was never used. It worked its magic from the hold of the Tennessee. The moment the battleship poked her broad bow into the Atlantic swell and news flashed across the cables that the money was on its way, the emergency ended. The European bankers immediately honoured American drafts, and the tourists happily settled their bills.

A period of calm for American Expressmen abroad followed the departure of the last jittery traveller. Indeed, stagnation threatened to set in. But it did not take long for the alert officials to discover new ways to be of service in wartime.

The first job was to rescue the baggage abandoned by Travellers in their wild flight from the Continent. Bates Wyman of the London office was sent to Berlin with more than three hundred keys of trunks that had been left behind. He got nearly all of them.


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What next? The Balkans

The Balkans

The lightning struck in the Balkans when an unbalanced young man shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the double imperial throne of Austria-Hungary, on June 28, 1914. At first it did not seem serious. However, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany urged his somewhat senile cousin, Emperor Franz Josef, to make an issue of the case with Serbia. Imperial Russia rushed to the defence of her fellow Slays, and the situation tightened as Germany backed Austria and France held to her alliance with Russia.

It was all so ridiculously trivial that most Americans paid no heed until the last terrible week of July 1914, when European civilization fell apart before their horrified eyes.

Suddenly naked hate fired the hearts of normally kindly human beings, and crowds were marching on Unter den Linden and the Champs Elys�es and the Nevski Prospect. Then the troops were marching with bands playing and pretty girls throwing flowers and everybody cheering. Gaily they went, because... see: The Balkans


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