Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, August 23, 2014

23 August 1914: Where Everyone Was This Critical Day on the Western Front

A fantastic new website out of France has come to our attention. Cartographie 1914-1918 (trans: Mapping 1914-1918) shows the position of every major unit of all combatants on every day of the war.  A large, high-resolution map similar to the one below (which is the smaller, low-resolution version you see when you first click on a date) is now available for each day through the end of July 1916.

The map we are sharing with you is today's Centennial Map when the Battle of the Frontiers was reaching a crescendo. 

To view the full map for 23 August 1914, Click Here

To visit the home page of Cartographie 1914-1918, Click Here

Tips of the hat to Don Jay and Steve Miller for bringing this site to our attention.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 32: Belloy-en-Santerre

We first presented this article on 4 July 2013, the 97th anniversary of the day the Foreign Legion attacked at Belloy-en-Santerre during the Battle of the Somme. The attack was mounted from left to right over the field shown below. The village is just to the right of the image. An American Legionnaire was among those who fell that day.

Click on Image to Expand

At Belloy-en-Santerre

Above (top image), friend and traveling mate Mark Fowler of San Antonio, Texas, reads "Rendezvous" at the field where Alan Seeger fell during the Battle of the Somme. Below Mark is the plaque in the village of Belloy-en-Santerre honoring Seeger and identifying his burial site.

Click on Image to Expand

Alan Seeger was born in New York in 1888. Encouraged by his family, he was attracted to literature at an early age, especially poetry, and was an enthusiastic contributor to the in-house magazine his family enjoyed producing. His wealthy family sent him to private school and then to Harvard College, where he was particularly interested in Celtic literature and edited and wrote poetry for the Harvard Monthly.

His parents were dismayed when, after graduating from Harvard, he moved to Greenwich Village, where he lived a bohemian life. They sent him to Paris in 1912 to study at the Sorbonne, but this further encouraged his eccentric lifestyle and intensified his love of poetry. He also became interested in politics and wrote several sonnets and other poems on the events of the day that were leading up to the Great War. Although he was visiting London when war was declared, he at once rushed back to Paris and enlisted with some 40 other Americans in the French Foreign Legion. The training was demanding, but he appears to have been happy and proud to be fighting for a country he had come to love. His poems and letters home were now taking on a more fatalistic theme and also expressed the classical sentiment that death for a good soldier could be a beautiful and noble thing.

Seeger was soon to see action with the 2nd Foreign Regiment, action which gave him experience and also material for his poetry. "The Aisne (1914-1915)" describes his first experience of battle along the Chemin des Dames. By September 1915 he was in the thick of the Battle of Champagne, which he vividly described in his letters home. There, after seeing grape pickers busy not far from the fighting, he wrote a long poem in which he appealed to wine drinkers to "Drink sometimes…to those whose blood, in pious duty shed/Hallows the soil where that same wine had birth" (Champagne 1914-1915).

Romantic poet, dedicated diarist, and warrior, all of Seeger's writings in one volume.

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After a spell of sick leave and recuperation for bronchitis he returned to the front. He was scarcely inactive; according to one biographer, "He delighted in sneaking off on solitary scouting excursions, bringing back scraps of German newspapers and leaving his visiting card on the German wire…he longed for the Croix de Guerre."

When the blood baths of Verdun and then the Somme developed, Seeger longed to be in the thick of things, and at this time he wrote what is considered by many to be the best American poem of WWI — "I Have a Rendezvous with Death."

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Few poems have been so fatalistic and at the same time cruelly prophetic. On 4 July 1916 Seeger's section was ordered to take the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. As he charged forward, German machine guns opened up from a nearby hollow, and Legionnaire Seeger made his rendezvous.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Monte Grappa and Bassano del Grappa

The Mountaintop Bastion and War Memorial at Monte Grappa

During the last year of the Great War, Mte Grappa, just 35 miles northwest of Venice became the last mountain bastion against a potential severing of the Italian frontline and encirclement of their forces deployed along the Piave River. Immediately south of the mountain on the Brenta River is located the picturesque old Venetian town of Bassano del Grappa. In late 1917 this became the major logistical and transportation center supporting the defenders atop Mte Grappa. Today Bassano, with its heritage of heroism during both World Wars, beautiful architecture, museums and ceramics industry, is a tourist's favorite. 

The Alpini Bridge at Bassano with Monte Grappa in the Background

The most famous war monument in Bassano is the covered Ponte Vecchio, or the Alpini Bridge, over the Brenta. Built before 1209 and destroyed at various times by floods and war actions, it was remodelled several times to Andrea Palladio's design of 1568. During the Great War it became famous as the Alpini Bridge after the elite mountain troops who marched over it on their way to Mte Grappa. While crossing the bridge they sang the sentimental song "Sul Ponte di Bassano" — "On the Bridge of Bassano" — about kissing a pretty girl and squeezing her hand as they parted. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Great War Teaching Aids from the First Division Museum at Cantigny

The First Division Museum at Cantigny provides a wide range of aids for teachers who are trying to give their students some appreciation of the American experience of World War I. The resources are constantly being added to, but what is available — mostly online — is impressive including the story of Veterans/Armistice Day, a history trunk of a typical WWI Doughboy, and resource packs that include a great collection of letters and photos from 1st Division veteran Max Ottenfeld, who served in France.

The Soldier's Favorite Day:  Pay Day

Here are a few samples from Max's correspondence:

Well I hope this letter will find you all well and in the best of health. For myself I can say that I am feeling pretty fine considering where I am at. I bet you will be surprised when you find out that I am in a hospital, but don’t worry because by the time you get this letter I will be well and back to my outfit a long time. I was gassed Oct. 9 but didn’t go to the hospital until the 12th. I expect to be out in a week or so because I didn’t get it bad. You can see that I am feeling pretty good by the way I write this letter. I am up and walking around and you ought to see me at “chow” time, I can’t get enough to eat s a [?] continually kick. All I wish is that I was back to my outfit and then I would be all right. I left them 12th and the next day was to be pay day so I am out of luck for some money, but I don’t need it here and besides the month is almost over and I’ll have two months coming instead of one. Since I wrote last, I have been through h-- a good many times but still am alive and kicking. I’ve been over the “tops” a good many times since then and have seen all of the worst horrors of the war. Seeing dead and wounded now is nothing new to me.

Pvt. Max Ottenfeld, 18th Inf., 1st Division AEF
15 October 1918

Digging Trenches in France

Visit the museum's website page for educators at:

Or contact:

Melissa Tyer
First Division Museum Educator

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

To End All Wars. A Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War — Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

To End All Wars. A Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War
by Adam Hochschild
London, Basingstoke and Oxford: Pan Macmillan, 2011

To End All Wars is an unusual history of World War One because it combines the stories of those who fought with those who chose not to. The war cast doubt on the "reasonableness of humanity". Only one group, argues Hochschild, remained "reasonable throughout — the conscientious objectors. Their story is not victorious, he concludes, because war is still with us. Hothschild describes the war as a conflict not only of loyalties but also of dreams.

The first three parts of To End All Wars introduce the characters whom Hochschild follows throughout the war years. They include generals, trade unionists, feminists, agents provocateurs, a writer, lion tamer, a cabinet minister, a working-class journalist, three soldiers brought before a firing squad, and a young idealist. In the first few months, the voices against war were few. Indeed, military recruiters were warmly welcomed everywhere, notes Hochschild, because the war was associated with glory, purification, and liberation. The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst was one of the few women to speak out against the war. Her views are discussed in Chapter 8 against the background of the losses in battle that began to be reported in newspapers like the Times.

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In Chapter 11, "In the Thick of It", Hochschild discusses the reactions to the German bombing of London in 1915. He discusses how Bertrand Russell, a prominent antiwar activist, heard "a shout of bestial triumph in the street". On leaping out of bed to investigate, Russell realized with disgust that people were shouting with joy because the German occupants of a zeppelin were burning to death. Chapter 11 also describes how Sylvia Pankhurst watched in horror as a German baker was badly beaten and a German woman was beaten unconscious.

The losses at Loos and the introduction of conscription brought the issue of conscientious objection to the fore. Chapter 13, "We Regret Nothing", is devoted to the principles of pacifism and the bravery of its practitioners. Describing Britain's antiwar movement, it emphasizes the courage of the conscientious objector: "When the guns were firing and the pressure from friends and family to support the war effort was overwhelming, it required rare courage to resist" — a conclusion drawn also by Felicity Goodall in We Will Not Go to War (see my review).

Chapter 14, "God, God, Where's the Rest of the Boys?" is particularly evocative. Devoted to the horrendous conditions under which conscientious objectors were imprisoned, it contains a number of firsthand accounts. One such addresses "Field Punishment Number One", whereby the prisoner was trussed to a prison fence, arms held open in crucifix position:

We were placed with our faces to the barbed wire of the inner fence . . . . I found myself drawn so closely to the fence that when I wished to turn my head I had to do so cautiously to avoid my face being torn by the barbs. To make matters less comfortable, it came on to rain and the cold wind blew straight across the top of the hill.

"White Feather" Scene from Downton Abbey

Conscientious objectors went on hunger strikes and were force-fed like the suffragettes. It was the rule of silence, however, that was generally considered the most trying feature of imprisonment.

The war unleashed witch hunts for traitors. The general public fury directed at conscientious objectors, particularly after the introduction of conscription, was enormous. British conscientious objectors were able to take some courage from the 500 American war resisters who, with the introduction of conscription (the draft) by the Selective Service Act in 1917, also refused any sort of alternative service and went to prison. One well-known resister was the labor leader Eugene V. Debs, who had been imprisoned for giving a series of antiwar speeches. Refusing to repent on the grounds that he was "standing like a man", he was still in his cell in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1920.

At the end of the war, conscientious objectors noted that the general public had learned little from the war; their jubilation on the signing of the Armistice was frighteningly similar to the cheering at the outbreak of war just four years earlier. Hochschild also emphasizes that some soldiers returning from the front praised the conscientious objectors for their wisdom and steadfastness. The story of Albert Rochester is moviningly told. He shared a cell with three soldiers subsequently executed for abandoning their posts and later dug graves for them (presumably temporary) and later gave speeches across Britain about what he had witnessed. [Text here revised from original.]

Sylvia Pankhurst Under Arrest

The final chapter of To End All Wars, "An Imaginary Cemetery", is not in honor of those who were confident that they would win their struggle through fighting but of the pacifists who knew in advance that they would lose — conscientious objectors like Bertrand Russell, who later declared, "I felt that for the honor of human nature those who were not swept off their feet should show that they stood firm." As Hochschild concludes in the final paragraph, "their battle could not be won in 1914–1918, but it remained, and still remains, to be fought again — and again."

To End All Wars is a remarkable account of a group who stood firm, resisted public opinion, and paid a high price for their principles. Hochschild's study is particularly effective because it integrates the story of the conscientious objector into the wider context of the war. It also tells the story of the individual. The product of many years of research, To End All Wars is copiously annotated and contains an extensive bibliography. At the same time, it is highly readable. Above all, it is both compassionate and sympathetic.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Monday, August 18, 2014

Revolutions for the Infantry

There's a lot of theoretical stuff written about "Revolutions in Military Affairs".  Here's some down to earth changes that came about in the Great War.

It remains to mention two allies of [the WWI] infantrymen that virtually revolutionized their combat methods. The first was the motor truck, which gave foot soldiers greater mobility than they ever before had.  

The second was a miscellany of signal equipment. This helped the infantry to operate with some degree of coordination on huge battlefields where arm signals could no longer be seen and noise drowned out the human voice. It aided in making foot troops an effective instrument of the will of the commander and served to rectify, at least a little, the disorganization that resulted from the necessity for soldiers to disperse widely in order to survive.

Signal Corps SCR-54A radio set, a crystal radio receiver
used by the US Signal Corps during World War I

Sources:   Infantry, Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army; photos from Steve Miller and Wikipedia

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shouldn't Those "Last 100 Days" Be the "Last 120 Days"?

I have been thinking of writing this posting since we published a positive review of Nick Lloyd's Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended the War a few weeks ago.  That book is well written and highly informative, but the focus on the "Last 100 Days" has rubbed me the wrong way since the late, and great, historian John Terraine first laid it on me in 1989.

First, it is factually wrong!  It presumes, argues, or suggests that the tide of battle in the Great War was turned due to the victory east of Amiens on 8 August 1918.  The turning point of the war — the beginning of the end game — indisputably, came on 15 July 1918. That was 120 days from the end of the war, not 100 (or 96 if you are counting accurately).

Second, examinations of  the "Last 100 Days" tend to be heavily Anglo-centric and downplay the contributions of the other Allies,  the AEF for sure, but most glaringly, the French Army. None of these comments are meant to disparage the tremendous achievement of the BEF in this period, but the French after their 1917 debacle were recovering.  By the second half of 1918 they were once again mounting significant and large offensive operations, without which the broad Allied "push back" of the war's concluding days would not have been possible.

Third, the role played by most important general of 1918, Ferdinand Foch, is almost always downplayed when the "Last 100 Days" are the topic.  (Nick Lloyd's work is a BIG exception to this.) It appears to me, in some cases (not all), the successes of the British Army and its commander-in-chief in this period are emphasized to bolster the arguments of "pro-Haig" elements (not without some justification) in that never ending debate over the field marshal's merits.

In his memoirs, General Ludendorff wrote that the Second Battle of the Marne had been the critical turning point in the war: "This was the first great setback for Germany. There now developed the very situation which I had endeavored to prevent. The initiative passed to the enemy. Germany's position was extremely serious. It was no longer possible to win the war in a military sense."

Fighting Along the Marne, 15 July 1918

The battle opened with the fifth German offensive of 1918 and was followed three days later by an Allied counteroffensive, which lasted until early September. That initial defeat, in what amounted to a single day, of a German attack on a 55-mile front from Château-Thierry to east of Reims, would be the Allies' first clear victory in 1918 on the Western Front. Germany would never mount another offensive nor celebrate another victory after 15 July 1918.

Furthermore, by the date of this fifth German offensive, General Ferdinand Foch had learned to read Ludendorff's strategy.  He had anticipated it and prepared his own strike against the bulge southward in the 1918 front between Soissons and Reims.  As Michael Neiberg describes in his history The Second Battle of the Marne (Indiana University Press, 2007):

Mangin's Tenth Army began the second phase of the battle at 4:35 a.m. on July 18. More than 21,000 artillery pieces opened fire simultaneously on German positions.  Unlike the German barrage just three days earlier, the Allied cannonade of July 18 caught their enemies completely by surprise. The first day of the Allied counteroffensive was a massive success. In total, the Allies captured 20,000 prisoners of war. One American regiment had captured 3,000 prisoners from five different German divisions, an indication of the confusion in German lines. The number of German prisoners on this first day exceeds the number of Germans taken on the first day (17,000) of the Battle of Amiens, which began on 8 August 1918, in Ludendorff's words the "black day" of the German army. A black day it surely was, but in terms of both raw number of Germans who had surrendered and the tremendous shift in momentum, July 18 was significantly more important.

"Les Fantomes" French Memorial for the Second Battle of the Marne

One additional point is worth noting.  The reserves that Ludendorff called upon to prevent an utter disaster in the Marne salient in July were those intended for another German offensive against the British Army in Flanders, Operation Hagen, scheduled for 1 August. Thus, had the Allies not administered the double defensive/offensive defeats of the German forces in July, the British forces would have had the Germans at their throats soon again in Flanders and very likely would not have had the freedom of action to launch their 8 August attack in the Somme sector.

In any case, I look forward to publishing someday a review of  a work titled The Last 120 Days of the Great War.

This is an opinion piece by the editor, Mike Hanlon, who takes full responsibility for what is written herein.

Photos from Tony Langley and Steve Miller

Saturday, August 16, 2014

War Artist C.R.W. Nevinson

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 1889–1946

1913 Example of Nevinson's Prewar Thrust

Nevinson's formative years as a student were spent at the Slade School of Art (1909–12) in London. The Futurist Exhibition of March 1912, held at the Sackville Gallery, London, proved decisive for his development. Nevinson became the leading figure in English Futurism. In June 1914 he published with the Italian Futurist leader F.T. Marinetti, the inflammatory manifesto Vital English Art, which set him apart from the Vorticists around Wyndham Lewis. The Vorticists included Edward Wadsworth, David Bomberg, and William Roberts, all of whom were former classmates of Nevinson at the Slade before the war.

La Mitrailleuse, 1915

Widely Considered Nevinson's Masterpiece

At the outbreak of the First World War (1914–18), C.R.W. Nevinson volunteered as a Friends ambulance driver in Flanders and then as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps until January 1916, when he was invalided out. This print comes from a group of drypoints and related paintings based on his war experiences which were shown at Nevinson's first solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1916. The success of the exhibition led to his appointment as an official war artist and to a set of lithographs entitled "Making Aircraft" for the series recording Britain's Efforts and Ideals commissioned by the Ministry of Information during the First World War.

Troops to the Front

Three Treatments on a Theme

Returning to the Trenches, 1914

A Dawn, 1914
Road to Ypres, 1916

Bleak, outspoken, and often angry, his paintings of 1915–16 are among the masterpieces of his career, bravely opposing the prevailing jingoistic tendency. Always seeking a public platform for his art, Nevinson told the Daily Express in 1915: "Our Futurist technique is the only possible medium to express the crudeness, violence, and brutality of the emotions seen and felt on the present battlefields of Europe."  However, by 1919 he had given up Futurism. Retreating instead to a more traditional vision, he painted lively interpretations of New York, which fuse a lingering love of Futurist angularity with a new respect for naturalistic observation. Nevinson was at his best when dealing with the dynamism and vertiginous scale of big city life. In later years he concentrated more on pastoral scenes and flower pieces, where a gentler mood prevailed.

Sources:  Websites of the British Museum and Tate Gallery

Friday, August 15, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 31: Thiepval Memorial

Built on the site of the former Thiepval Chateau. The huge brick structure, which dominates the rural scene, has 16 piers faced with Portland stone and is 150 feet (46m) high. It has foundations 19 feet (6m) thick, required due to extensive tunneling beneath the structure. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial was built between 1928 and 1932 and is the biggest British battle memorial in the world. Over 72,000 names are listed on the memorial — all men who were lost in the Battle of the Somme, but whose remains were never discovered. 

The French Tricolor also flies over the memorial. In addition to being a Memorial to the missing, Thiepval is also a battle memorial commemorating the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme in 1916 and is sited on top of the hill that was one of the major objectives . In recognition of the joint nature of the Allied endeavors in 1916, an Anglo-French cemetery is laid out in front of the Memorial with equal numbers of French and British burials (300 each). The Memorial is the largest ever built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A major remembrance ceremony is held there each year on 1 July (the first day of the Battle of the Somme). There is a visitor center at the site which aims to tell the story of the battle, rather than any of the men who fought in this battle.

On 1 July 1916 in the opening of the Battle of the Somme, the 32nd British Division was utterly devastated and repulsed in their effort to take this position. It was not until the following 26 September that the chateau and village were finally cleared by the 18th Division.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

35,000 Yanks Served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Canadian Recruiting Poster Targeting Americans

The United States didn’t enter the war until 6 April 1917. But many American soldiers joined the fight long before that. Nearly 800 of the soldiers who sailed with Canada’s First Contingent in October 1914 were born in the U.S. By war’s end, more than 35,000 Americans had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Those numbers include both U.S. citizens living in Canada and Americans who crossed the border to join the fight — many of them motivated by the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915. 

American law prohibited any recruiting for foreign armies on its soil, but it was understood that Americans who pledged loyalty to the king in order to enlist would not be stripped of their U.S. citizenship after they finished their service.

Bellenden Hutcheson, MD, of Mount Carmel, Illinois,
Was One of Four American Recipients of the Victoria Cross for Service with the CEF

In late 1915, Canadian Militia Minister Sam Hughes announced that a battalion of American soldiers would be raised in Toronto. The 97th Battalion, often called the American Legion, had as its emblem a maple leaf with the Washington family crest in the center. The soldiers drew great interest from the local media as they started arriving at Exhibition Camp.

“If you speak to the khaki sentry on the Process building door, while he stands at the very smartest British attention, he speaks with the slow, deliberate Yankee drawl,” a Toronto Star reporter wrote in January 1916. “Yankee? That’s it. There is no offence in the word.”

Among its recruits were said to be “broncho busters from Dakoty, gold panners from the Klondike,” and veterans from both sides of the U.S.-Mexican wars.

One soldier, 25-year-old Tracy Richardson, listed previous service with the Mexican, Nicaraguan, Honduran, and Brazilian artilleries on his attestation form and was said to have 24 scars. He came to Canada when war broke out “to become a private in the Princess Pats, had his legs smashed by bullets at St. Eloi just when he was starting to enjoy himself, and now he is going to it again with the Yankees.”

Volunteers of Canada's American Legion in Training

The 97th Battalion reached its full strength of 1,400 men by March 1916 but didn’t ship out until August — and in the months in between, the restless soldiers became known for getting into trouble in Toronto. When the battalion arrived in Europe, it was broken up, its men sent to other units as reinforcements.

Canada announced in February 1916 that it would be adding four more battalions to the American Legion, but that proved too much for the U.S. government, which was trying to maintain its neutrality in the war. It filed a protest and three of the four battalions disappeared by November, with the fourth disbanding in March 1917. 

— Stephanie MacLellan

Source:  The Toronto Star World War I Encyclopedia

Assistant Editor's Note: My favorite American who got to the Western Front by way of the CEF is Capt. Frederick Libby, an ace of the RFC decorated by the King. His memoir, Horses Don't Fly (Arcade Publishing, 2000), is an engaging and informative narrative by a rugged westerner who became a "temporary gentleman" and loved it. ~ Kimball Worcester

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Exhibition: For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland Opens in St. Petersburg

On 25 July, the Museum of the History of Religion in St. Petersburg opens a major exhibition, "For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland", timed to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War — one of the largest armed conflicts in history. More than 120 unique items of the museum's collection will reveal a hitherto unknown page of military history — the activity of "spiritual front" in force in all European armies in the early 20th century.

The exhibit contains authentic items that belonged to soldiers and officers of the Entente — the military-political bloc of Russia, Britain, and France — and the Triple Alliance (German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires) as well as unique icons, paintings, sculptures, and graphics (posters, postcards, flyers), military medals, military uniforms, and photographs from the museum collection.

The unconventional solution of the exhibition space illustrates not the military but the ideological and spiritual confrontation between the two military-political blocs held both at the front and in the rear, as well as the role of the clergy of the Russian military in maintaining the spirit of the army.

One of the sections of the exhibition is devoted to military clergy — a part of the Russian clergy involved in the pastoral care of servicemen of different arms of the Russian empire. Martial and spiritual feats of Russian priests are depicted in a number of paintings and graphic works of 1910s ("A Christmas Prayer for the Position", "Prayer at the Battery Box", "Feat Russian Priest", etc.). The exhibition is also complemented with documents and photos showing the awarding of orders  to chaplains.

A special section of the exhibition features memorial icons with inscriptions on the back.

A semantic center and the completion of the exhibition will be the jewel of the museum's collection — a makeshift church of His Imperial Majesty of Consolidated Infantry Regiment (late 19th–early 20th centuries) with a set of special items, including details of military priest vestments and church furnishings, and an original candlestick made of bayonets from rifle No. 2.

The exhibition "For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland" runs until 18 September 2014 at the Museum of Religion in St. Petersburg. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Secrets of Rue St Roch: Intelligence Operations Behind Enemy Lines in the First World War — Reviewed by Ron Drees

The Secrets of Rue St Roch: Intelligence Operations Behind Enemy Lines in the First World War
by Janet Morgan
Allen Lane, 2004

41 Rue St Roch, Paris, Today

The title of this book, which refers to the address of the Paris headquarters of British spies in the First World War, 41 Rue StRoch, implies much broader coverage than is actually provided. Morgan's text focuses on just a very few of the 6,000 agents who worked for the British in WWI Europe. Their function was to watch and report on trains of German and Austrian infantry, cavalry, and artillery moving toward the Western Front though Luxembourg. This information helped Foch outguess von Hindenburg in the summer of 1918 and contributed to the "black day of the German Army" on 8 August.

Yet this result did not come about easily. There were bitter "turf" wars between the British spymasters; the training of the women who coded the intelligence required considerable effort and then much hand-holding; and there were budget disputes and wrangling in general. The coded messages were sent buried within an agricultural newspaper whose newsprint had to be purchased by the British at considerable up-front expense. There was the constant fear of German capture, and the author gives interesting statistics on those who did not return after the war.

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The reader is not spared either, as some topics receive detailed discussions which border on the enervating. Late in the war, it became necessary to send an agent from France to Luxembourg — by balloon. First the agent, a Belgian Army officer, had to be pried loose from his commanders. Then one learns in excruciating detail about planning, launching, and piloting the balloon from France to Luxembourg.

The French government was quite appreciative of the spies' efforts and awarded the participants with appropriate medals. Ominously, the Germans noted them also, and upon returning in 1940 held unpleasant discussions with some of these heroes of the Great War. Apparently, fame was not fleeting enough.

You may find some of the information in The Secrets of Rue St Roch overly detailed for your taste; nevertheless, this book is an interesting and informative discussion about the underbelly of war that rarely surfaces. It is worth reading, even if you decide to exercise the option of skipping the more detailed sections.

Ron Drees

Monday, August 11, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Frank O'Brien, 128th Infantry, 32nd Division, AEF

Missing in Action

Pvt. Frank O'Brien

The grandson of Irish immigrants and seventh of 12 children, Frank O’Brien grew up on his family’s farm near Avoca, Wisconsin. He was drafted in November 1917 and, at the age of 28, joined the 128th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd division. He trained at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas, before going overseas in February 1918.

O’Brien saw action at the Second Battle of the Marne and the Battle of Soissons in the summer of 1918. At the end of August, the 32nd Division participated in the beginnings of the Oise-Aisne Campaign by seeking to push the Germans out of the City of Juvigny. Fierce fighting with heavy casualties took place before the 128th infantry was relieved from the front lines on 1 September. Following this action, O’Brien failed to report to his company. Less than a week later, his parents were informed that Frank O’Brien was missing in action.

More than half a year later, his parents received a letter in the mail from Walfred Lindstrom, an Army chaplain. As the 32nd Division withdrew from the front lines on 1 September 1918, Lindstrom spotted an unidentified American body. Intending to bury it the next day, he removed a ring and pocketbook from the body to protect them from looters. However, when he returned to the site the following day, Lindstrom found the body already buried. 
Chaplain Lindstrom
In the ensuing months, he searched for some clue that might help him identify the fallen American so that he could return the items to the family. Finally, in April 1919, after returning to the U.S., Lindstrom noticed “O’Brien” scribbled in very small letters on one of the francs from the pocketbook. He looked through the casualties from the battle near Juvigny, which led him to contact the parents of Frank O’Brien, describing the ring and asking them to identify it. They recognized their son’s ring from Lindstrom’s description.

Private Frank O’Brien was missing in action for over seven months before his remains were identified. He is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in France.

See more Doughboys honored at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum: 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Highlights from "Perspectives on the Great War," World War One International Conference 1– 4 August 2014

From Correspondent Jane Mattison Ekstam

Download the full program here:  

Two hundred participants, including 140 speakers, gathered at Queen Mary’s College, University of London, to reflect on issues as diverse as the causes of the war, the situation in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, different ways of representing the war, the consequences for Europe and the world at large of the events of 1914–18, and how the war is understood today. Some of the most important names in World War One scholarship were present: Professor Christopher Clark (Cambridge University), Professor Michael Epkenhans (Institut für Militärgeschichte), David Stevenson (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Professor Jay Winter (Yale University). 

An ongoing theme was the importance of a transnational approach to World War One. Jay Winter argued that today we belong to the Fourth Generation of World War One scholars who wish to widen the scope of scholarship from battles, social effects, and the story of the individual to the story of war that incorporates North America, Africa, and India more closely. Winter exemplifies this view in his latest study, The Cambridge History of the First World War (Listen to an interview with Jay Winter about his book on The transnational perspective was also advocated by Christopher Clark, who claimed that by adopting such an approach we are better able to understand the similarities between our world today and that of 1914–18. Clark referred to his most recent publication, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

One of the New First World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museum
In addition to excellent keynote speeches a number of lesser known scholars presented their research on more obscure aspects of the war. One of the most outstanding presentations was that given by a South African scholar, Gerhard Genis, who has uncovered and analyzed a number of poems written by South African soldiers. Another fascinating presentation was James Wallis’s introduction to the Imperial War Museum’s new exhibition, which is lavishly cataloged in Paul Cornish’s "The First World War Galleries".The exhibition contains interesting exhibits on pacifism, much to this correspondent’s joy!

The 2014 conference is to be followed up in 2016 by a smaller event focussing on Belgium and World War One. This will also be hosted by Queen Mary’s College, London University.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Amiens at War

With August being the anniversary of 1918's  dramatic battle of Amiens, I thought it would be interesting to remember the beautiful city that gave that struggle its name.  The Somme Centenary committee sent me  a beautiful brochure that included this article.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 30: Ulster Tower

A memorial to the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who on 1 July 1916 advanced farther than any other  division in this sector but then found themselves isolated on Thiepval Ridge. The memorial was officially opened on 19 November 1921 and is a very close copy of Helen's Tower, which stands in the grounds of the Clandeboye estate, near Bangor, County Down, in Northern Ireland. Many of the men of the Ulster Division trained on the estate before moving to England and then France early in 1916. Near the Ulster Tower are the remnants of a German strongpoint,  the Schwaben Redoubt, that held the ridge for nearly the entire Battle of the Somme. There is an ongoing effort to restore the trenches from where the initial attack was launched. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Edward Steichen, Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service

Edward Steichen (1879–1973) was a photographic innovator renowned for his painterly photography before the Great War. He is credited with being one the individuals most responsible for turning photography into an art form. He also became one of the greatest innovators of military, specifically aerial, photography. Below are some works from the war credited to Steichen personally during his service as chief of the photographic section of the U.S. Air Service.

During the Second World War Steichen returned to the colors, but with the U.S. Navy, when he directed the Navy's combat photographers.  

Bombs Falling on Montmedy Citadel and Nearby Rail Yard

Burned-out French Breuget-14 Bomber

Village of Vaux, Captured by U.S. 2nd Division

Allied Aircraft #732 Over France

Village of Cantigny, Captured by U.S. 1st Division

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Forgotten Diplomat of the July Crisis: Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky

By Richard Hephner

When Prince Lichnowsky (1860–1928) left a comfortable retirement to become ambassador to the Court of St. James in the fall of 1912 he was given a difficult task but was not expected to accomplish it. It was his responsibility to repair damaged relations between Great Britain and Germany. He excelled at this job. Between the time of his appointment on 1912 and his departure in 1914 the prince negotiated an Anglo-German colonial treaty, updating the 1898 division of Portuguese colonies into spheres of economic influence between the two powers, played a constructive role in the 1912 Conference of Ambassadors that ended the First Balkan War and, in the main, brought about better feelings between Great Britain and Germany. 

Had Lichnowsky continued to be the trusted representative of his government, had they dealt frankly with him, and through him with us, after the murder of the Archduke, war might have been avoided.
British Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey

His successes left his Foreign Office superiors in Berlin distrustful of him with his close relationship with the British Foreign Office. In July 1914, Lichnowsky pleaded with Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Gottlieb von Jagow to use discretion in their support of Austria. In his view, Britain would definitely support Russia and France in a war defending Serbia against Austrian aggression. Sadly the chancellor and the secretary did not trust Prince Lichnowsky's judgment because they believed him to be easily duped by the British.

Thus, his warnings that the Asquith government would honor its entente with France and use the German invasion of Belgium as a rationale for entering the conflict were ignored. After the war started, Lichnowsky returned to Germany and spent the rest of his life trying to justify his actions during the July Crisis.

In a privately circulated pamphlet (1916) he asserted that his efforts to prevent the outbreak of World War I had not been supported by his government. The pamphlet, published in January 1918, without his permission and widely distributed by the Allies, was the cause of his expulsion from the Prussian upper house.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I — Reviewed by Clark Shilling

Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I
by Nick Lloyd
Basic Books, 2014

The centennial of the start of the Great War has been marked with a number of excellent new histories of the origins of the war. Professor Nick Lloyd, senior lecturer in Defense Studies at Kings College London, has avoided convention by instead providing an outstanding account of the end of the war.

The Hundred Days is a term used by historians of the Great War, primarily British, to bookmark the 95-day period beginning with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918 and ending with the signing of the Armistice on 11 November.

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The author contends that this very critical period of the war has been overlooked by historians and is overshadowed by interest in other events of the war such as its origins and its signature battles. Even studies devoted to battles taking place within the Hundred Days often focus on only one of the combatant nations, or only the battles that they fought. For example, there are many accounts of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive written by American authors, and likewise there are many British accounts of the breaking of the Hindenburg Line. There are few compelling studies that tell the complete story of those last campaigns that secured the Allied victory. In Hundred Days, The Campaign that Ended World War I, Professor Lloyd has provided just that study.

The book is brief, at less than 300 pages of text, but is packed with detail and is expertly balanced on several levels. It looks at the strategy and major figures on both the Allied and German side. It documents the contribution of each of the Allied armies, and it examines those final battles of the war not only through the eyes of the generals, but also through the eyes of the men fighting those battles through their diaries and memoirs. The author has a personal connection in this regard, as his great uncle, Private George Thomas Cotterill, a member of the B.E.F. was killed on 27 September 1918, during the Hundred Days. The book is dedicated to Private Cotterill.

In this account, on the Allied side, the central figure is Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who developed the strategy of continuous pressure using coordinated attacks by all of the Allied armies. Foch had the authority to coordinate and direct the Allied effort, but he had no operational control over any of the armies. Through the strength of his personality, he was able to push and prod his allies, but at times he had to compromise even with his fellow French generals.

There is no doubt that the B.E.F. did most of the heavy lifting, providing the "Black Day of the German Army" with the tank attack at Amiens on 8 August, and with the subsequent attacks that broke through the Hindenburg Line. But as Professor Lloyd points out, many of the shock troops of the B.E.F by 1918 consisted of Canadian and Australian units, led by Canadian and Australian generals. The French Army, still feeling the effects of the 1917 mutiny, is also credited with pushing the German forces back, not in the spectacular way of the B.E.F., but with cautious, steady pressure and close follow-up. The American effort is shown to have been enthusiastic but inexperienced, lacking the skill of either the B.E.F. or French armies. The A.E.F. contributed by keeping strong pressure on the German lines in the Meuse-Argonne, tying down German units that could have otherwise been used in other areas. Only in the last few weeks of the war were the Americans able to break through German defenses and advance significantly.

Canadian Troops on the Move, 8 August 1918

On the German side, the leading figure was Eric Ludendorff, the hyper-active first quartermaster-general who by 1918 was directing the strategy and operations of the German Army. In Hundred Days, we see Ludendorff go from overweening confidence in July to near panic in August to near physical breakdown in September as he and the rest of the German high command slowly came to the realization that they could no longer win the war and that both in terms of material and morale, their military forces were disintegrating as their support at home was collapsing.

Professor Lloyd explores the technical improvements to the tank, artillery, and gas that allowed the Allies to regain surprise and movement on the battlefield. He examines many of the factors that affected the fighting on both sides, including such things as the Spanish Influenza epidemic, which struck the German Army just as its morale was fading.

I found this to be an excellent book, providing an outstanding perspective on the last months on the Western Front. I only had one issue with it. The maps are grouped in the front of the book rather than in the chapters that deal with the battles the maps illustrate. I read the Kindle edition, which made going back and forth between the text and the maps very difficult. This was compounded by the added complication of having to resize the maps to see any kind of detail. If you like to follow maps, buy the print version of the book.

Clark Shilling

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why Did the Original BEF Deploy Two Fewer Divisions Than Had Been Promised?

I've always wondered about why the BEF at Mons had only four infantry divisions rather than six promised. I recently stumbled across the answer in Sir John French's otherwise poorly regarded memoir, 1914.

On Wednesday, August 5th, a Council of War was held at 10, Downing Street, under the Presidency of the Prime Minister. Nearly all the members of the Cabinet were present, whilst Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, Sir Charles Douglas, Sir Douglas Haig, the late Sir James Grierson, General (now Sir Henry) Wilson and myself were directed to attend. To the best of my recollection the two main subjects discussed were:

1. The composition of the Expeditionary Force.
2. The point of concentration for the British Forces on their arrival in France.

As regards 1:
It was generally felt that we were under some obligation to France to send as strong an army as we could, and there was an idea that one Cavalry Division and six Divisions of all arms had been promised. As to the exact number, it did not appear that we were under any definite obligation, but it was unanimously agreed that we should do all we could. The question to be decided was how many troops it was necessary to keep in this country adequately to guard our shores against attempted invasion and, if need be, to maintain internal order.

Mr. Churchill briefly described the actual situation of the Navy. He pointed out that the threat of war had come upon us at a most opportune moment as regards his own Department, because, only two or three weeks before, the Fleet had been partially mobilised, and large reserves called up for the great Naval Review by His Majesty at Spithead and the extensive naval manoeuvres which followed it. So far as the Navy was concerned, he considered Home Defence reasonably secure; but this consideration did not suffice to absolve us from the necessity of keeping a certain number of troops at home. After this discussion it was decided that two Divisions must for the moment remain behind, and that one Cavalry Division and four Divisions of all arms should be sent out as speedily as possible. This meant a force of approximately 100,000 men.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

100 Years Ago: Germany Invades Belgium

The Diplomacy of Invasion

The language and tone of the diplomatic exchanges leading up to the invasion of neutral Belgium by Germany is fascinating. In the initial note the sheer thuggishness of the German threat shines through despite such diplomatic phraseology as "Germany has in view no act of hostility against Belgium." We have supplemented a selection of the diplomatic exchanges leading up to the invasion with some images of the actual subsequent events from the collection of Tony Langley.

The Initial Incursion Had an Almost Comical Look at the Border

  • Note presented by Herr von Below Saleske, German Minister at Brussels, to M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brussels, 2 August 1914

Reliable information has been received by the German Government to the effect that French forces intend to march on the line of the Meuse by Givet and Namur. This information leaves no doubt as to the intention of France to march through Belgian territory against Germany.

The German Government cannot but fear that Belgium, in spite of the utmost goodwill, will be unable, without assistance, to repel so considerable a French invasion with sufficient prospect of success to afford an adequate guarantee against danger to Germany. It is essential for the self-defence of Germany that she should anticipate any such hostile attack. The German Government would, however, feel the deepest regret if Belgium regarded as an act of hostility against herself the fact that the measures of Germany's opponents force Germany, for her own protection, to enter Belgian territory.

In order to exclude any possibility of misunderstanding, the German Government make the following declaration:

1. Germany has in view no act of hostility against Belgium. In the event of Belgium being prepared in the coming war to maintain an attitude of friendly neutrality towards Germany, the German Government bind themselves, at the conclusion of peace, to guarantee the possessions and independence of the Belgian Kingdom in full.

2. Germany undertakes, under the above-mentioned condition, to evacuate Belgian territory on the conclusion of peace.

3. If Belgium adopts a friendly attitude, Germany is prepared, in co-operation with the Belgian authorities, to purchase all necessaries for her troops against a cash payment, and to pay an indemnity for any damage that may have been caused by German troops.

4. Should Belgium oppose the German troops, and in particular should she throw difficulties in the way of their march by a resistance of the fortresses on the Meuse, or by destroying railways, roads, tunnels, or other similar works, Germany will, to her regret, be compelled to consider Belgium as an enemy.

In this event, Germany can undertake no obligations towards Belgium, but the eventual adjustment of the relations between the two States must be left to the decision of arms.

The German Government, however, entertain the distinct hope that this eventuality will not occur, and that the Belgian Government will know how to take the necessary measures to prevent the occurrence of incidents such as those mentioned. In this case the friendly ties which bind the two neighbouring States will grow stronger and more enduring.

  • M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Belgian Minister at St. Petersburg, Berlin, London, Paris, Vienna, The Hague, Brussels, 3 August 1914. (Telegram)

At 7 P.M. last night Germany presented a note proposing friendly neutrality. This entailed free passage through Belgian territory, while guaranteeing the maintenance of the independence of Belgium and of her possessions on the conclusion of peace, and threatened, in the event of refusal, to treat Belgium as an enemy. A time limit of twelve hours was allowed within which to reply.

Our answer has been that this infringement of our neutrality would be a flagrant violation of international law. To accept the German proposal would be to sacrifice the honour of the nation. Conscious of her duty, Belgium is firmly resolved to repel any attack by all the means in her power.

  • M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Belgian Ministers at Paris, Berlin, London, Vienna, St. Petersburg. Brussels, 3 August 1914 (12 noon)

As you are aware, Germany has delivered to Belgium an ultimatum which expires this morning, 3rd August, at 7 a.m. As no act of war has occurred up to the present, the Cabinet has decided that there is, for the moment, no need to appeal to the guaranteeing Powers.

The French Minister has made the following statement to me upon the subject—

"Although I have received no instructions to make a declaration from my Government, I feel justified, in view of their well-known intentions, in saying that if the Belgian Government were to appeal to the French Government as one of the Powers guaranteeing their neutrality, the French Government would at once respond to Belgium's appeal; if such an appeal were not made it is probable, that — unless of course exceptional measures were rendered necessary in self-defence —the French Government would not intervene until Belgium had taken some effective measure of resistance."

I thanked M. Klobukowski for the support which the French Government had been good enough to offer us in case of need, and I informed him that the Belgian Government were making no appeal at present to the guarantee of the Powers, and that they would decide later what ought to be done.

  • His Majesty the King of the Belgians to His Majesty King George. Brussels, 3 August 1914. (Telegram)
Remembering the numerous proofs of your Majesty's friendship and that of your predecessor, and the friendly attitude of England in 1870 and the proof of friendship you have just given us again, I make a supreme appeal to the diplomatic intervention of your Majesty's Government to safeguard the integrity of Belgium.

  • Count de Lalaing, Belgian Minister at London, to M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, London, 3 August 1914. (Telegram)

I showed your telegram to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has laid it before the Cabinet. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has informed me that if our neutrality is violated it means war with Germany.

No Longer Comical
  • Herr von Below Saleske, German Minister at Brussels, M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs. Brussels, 4 August 1914 (6 A.M.)

In accordance with my instructions, I have the honour to inform your Excellency that in consequence of the refusal of the Belgian Government to entertain the well-intentioned proposals made to them by the German Government, the latter, to their deep regret, find themselves compelled to take — if necessary by force of arms — those measures of defence already foreshadowed as indispensable, in view of the menace of France.

  • Note communicated by Sir Francis H. Villiers, British Minister at Brussels, to M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs. Brussels, 4 August 1914.

I am instructed to inform the Belgian Government that if Germany brings pressure to bear upon Belgium with the object of forcing her to abandon her attitude of neutrality, His Britannic Majesty's Government expect Belgium to resist with all the means at her disposal.

In that event, His Britannic Majesty's Government are prepared to join Russia and France, should Belgium so desire, in tendering at once joint assistance to the Belgian Government with a view to resisting any forcible measures adopted by Germany against Belgium, and also offering a guarantee for the maintenance of the future independence and integrity of Belgium.

End Game: Occupation of Most of Belgium

Source:  Selected documents from The Belgian Grey Book at the World War I Document Archive

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Who Was the Great War's Most Famous Prisoner of War?

Answer: Capt. Charles de Gaulle, French Army

Shortly after war was declared in August 1914, Lieutenant de Gaulle was in action with Charles Lanrezac's Fifth Army stationed in the northeast. De Gaulle was wounded on 15 August at Dinant, evacuated and hospitalized, and was not fit to return to the front until October. On 10 March 1915,he was wounded a second time in the fighting at Mesnil-les-Hurlus. 

Once recovered, he rejoined his regiment first as company commander then as aide to the colonel. He was wounded a third time during the battle of Verdun, at Douaumont, in 1916. Left for dead, he was given a "posthumous" mention in army dispatches. He was, in fact, captured and received hospital treatment in Mainz before being imprisoned in various locations, including the fortress of Ingolstadt in Bavaria.  

After five failed escape bids (between May and September he was interned successively in Osnabrück, Neisse, then Sczuczyn, before being transferred to Ingolstadt in October 1916, then to the Rosenberg camp in July 1917, to the military prison in Passau in October 1917, back to Ingolstadt in November 1917, to the Wülzburg camp in May 1918, and finally to the prisons of Tassau and Magdeburg in September 1918), he was not freed until the Armistice. 

His companions in captivity included Major Georges Catroux, who would become a general in the Free French Forces of World War II, journalist Rémy Roure and Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a future marshal of the Red Army and victim of the Stalinist purges. He made use of his time in captivity to extend his knowledge of Germany and to read German authors. He also gave lectures, mainly on strategic and geopolitical aspects of the course of the war.

He was released following the Armistice and returned to his family in December. From 1919 to 1921, de Gaulle was seconded to Poland where he took part in the formation of the new Polish army which fought surprisingly well and victoriously against the Red Army.