First of Pegler’s “Reporter in London” Series

Westbrook Pegler

The Weekly Guard (Council Grove, KS)/October 20, 1916

by J.W. Pegler

London, Oct. 17. (By Mail) Becoming an inmate of London an American has to take the police deep into his confidence. The searchlight of suspicion goes into his soul, probing its utmost recesses for possible pro-German sentiments.

He tells them whence he came and why and how long he has stay; he gives his ideas on religion, beer and the Freudian theory. If he is wearing a four-in-hand tie and the officer leans to bows he stands a good chance of being investigated further.

On the other mitt, if the inspector’s dyspepsia happens to be off watch, maybe the arrival is passed.

The first session of the third degree is staged in Liverpool when the ship warps up to the dock. Stewards go up and down the decks shooting the low-lived passengers into the roped-off part of the dining saloon. Uniformed gentlemen appear at the exits barring the way and the officers take their places at tables near each door, with long registration forms on which to enter the arrival.

Each passenger is given a number but the inspector gets it back before the official razooing is over.

A free-born, star-spangled reporter from Dallas was a typical victim before being suffered to land in the gloomy old burg.

A man called his number, the erstwhile passenger stepped forward with a deep genuflection and weighty misgivings. He showed his hand, a passport, and some kindred documents. The inspector showed nothing but suspicion.

“Ever been in Europe before?” asked the official.

“Never.”

“Never?”

“No, not ever.”

“Then, why are you coming here now?”

“To work.”

“Work?”

“Yes, work.”

“When were in Europe last?”

“I was never in Europe last.”

“Not last?”

“Yes, not last.”

This is very adroit cross-examination, sure to trap anyone trying to slip anything over.

The inspector looks the inspectee square in the eye while he’s talking, seeming to say “come out from behind that bush, I see you.”

Then he passes the candidate or sends him back to New York on the same ship.

Except for a few distinctive wrinkles of inquiry the London police duplicate the process. They want to know where you are going to live and how long and why you chose that place. And you’d better tell them. It all goes down in the book in the closest system of surveillance in the world.

With his documents the immigrant is free, not as the birds of the air but with the allowed freedom of a Iifer in an honor camp. He may roam the streets in comparative safety, showing his papers whenever he’s tackled by recruiting agents.

That word “comparative”—that’s the right word, in a place where the traffic rules were designed by a southpaw.

In London taxis and buses, big, grunting “caterpillars” locomotives and push-carts go prowling along the left-hand curbs. The party from Denver has fifty hair-raising jumps a day to avoid being bumped in the radiator, until he gets used to the game.

By that time he is doubly protected. He has crawled into an English suit, with cylindrical pants and cloth-covered buttons, which feels like a load of coal; he doesn’t brush his hat anymore and wears a half inch collar nine sizes too large for his 14 and 3-4 neck; he smokes a hay burner and locks like a native.

It is contrary to public policy to run over natives.

This is the process of busting in.

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