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

Monday, December 18, 2017

George M. Cohan at War

George M. Cohan
Song Writer, Entertainer, Producer
George Michael Cohan (1878–1942) began his career as a child, performing with his parents and sister in a vaudeville act known as "The Four Cohans." Beginning with Little Johnny Jones in 1904, he wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than three dozen Broadway musicals. Cohan published more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including American standards "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and "You're a Grand Old Flag." He displayed remarkable theatrical longevity, appearing in films until the 1930s, and continuing to perform as a headline artist until 1940.

Known in the decade before World War I as "the man who owned Broadway," Cohan is considered the father of American musical comedy. His life and music were depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the 1968 musical George M! A statue of Cohan in Times Square in New York City commemorates his contributions to American musical theater. 

Shortly after America entered the Great War, while riding on a train, Cohan was inspired to write a patriotic song. He modeled it on a bugle call, inspiring Americans to cross the seas for service in a foreign land. "Over There" was an instant success, selling over two million copies by the end of the war. Perhaps the most popular version of "Over There" was sung by Nora Bayes, but Enrico Caruso and Billy Murray also sang beautiful renditions. 

The dynamic Cohan and his partners presented over a dozen shows and plays on Broadway during 1917 and '18, without a heavy patriotic emphasis in most. At the time of the Armistice he produced a show with the troops from nearby Camp Merritt titled Good Luck, Sam! that ran for about a month. Nevertheless, he is forever connected to the American experience in the Great War. On 29 June 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt presented him the Congressional Gold Medal for the boost "Over There" and Cohan's other musical efforts gave to the nation's morale. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Musical101

Sunday, December 17, 2017

From Entente Cordiale to Triple Entente

While diplomat/historian George Kennan dramatically labeled the French-Russian arrangements "The Fateful Alliance", it would be the British-Russian convention that set in place some subtle structural elements, the importance of which was not universally understood at the time. First, although relations among the three powers would always be prickly and sometimes icy, the Ententes provided a "talking circle" through which they discussed, evaluated, and responded to the prewar diplomatic confrontations with the Triple Alliance over crises from Bosnia to Morocco to the naval competition. Second, the three dual-understandings completed the dim outline of a new power arrangement, unthinkable in the 19th century when France and Russia were either enemies or competitors of the British Empire. Recall that Germany's Schlieffen Plan of 1905 was based on opposing a Russian-French coalition. Adding Great Britain and her empire's population, vast financial resources, and industrial potential to the list of enemy assets made that plan riskier to the point of in-feasibility. But this potentiality of a Triple Entente opposing the Central Powers did not become evident until very late in the July Crisis of 1914. The framework of the Triple Entente, however, was constructed in 1907 due primarily to a new Liberal British government.

British Foreign Minister
Sir Edward Grey
A detente with Russia was of the highest priority for the Liberal government of Henry Campbell-Bannerman that took office in [Great Britain in] December 1905. On 13 December Foreign Minister Edward Grey assured Benckendorff, the Russian ambassador, that he was in favor of an agreement with Russia. Sir Arthur Nicolson arrived in St. Petersburg as the new British ambassador on 28 May, having "talked entente in and out, up and down" with Grey, Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith, and Lord John Morley, secretary of state for India, before leaving London. Formal negotiations were launched on 7 June.

The speed with which Grey inaugurated negotiations with the Russians, at a time when Russia was still in a turmoil of revolution and the Russo-Japanese War a recent memory, bears witness to his own convictions in this direction as well as his desire to maintain continuity of foreign policy with his predecessors. The ground had been prepared by the Conservatives and tentative discussions had taken place in 1903, but although the Liberals were committed to uphold the Anglo-French entente, they were not committed to continue negotiations to extend it. However Grey had spoken in favor of an agreement with Russia as early as 1902, and in his City speech in October 1905 he declared that the "estrangement between us and Russia has. . . its roots not in the present but solely in the past."

The Foreign Minister saw an agreement with Russia partly as an extension of the French entente. "We could not pursue at one and the same time a policy of agreement with France and a policy of counter-alliances against agreement with Russia was the natural complement of the agreement with France." The entente with France, however, was recent and by no means cordial between the fall of Delcassé and the Algeciras Conference. Enough was known in London of the meeting between the tsar and the kaiser at Bjorko for English diplomatists to be apprehensive of a possible Russo-German alliance and worried about the loyalty of France.

Grey had pledged himself to improve relations with Germany as well as with Russia, but there seemed little possibility of this early in 1906 and Grey saw a need to check the growth of German power by both preserving and extending the French entente. When sanctioning the military conversations with France he argued that if Britain remained neutral in a future Franco-German war "the French will never forgive us...Russia would not think it worth while to make a friendly arrangement with us about Asia...we should be left without a friend and without the power of making a friend and Germany would take some exploiting the whole situation to her advantage." Hardinge added that "an agreement or alliance between France, Germany and Russia in the near future" would be a "certain" consequence. Thus re-establishing Russia as a factor in European politics on the side of France and England was crucial to Grey's aim of maintaining a balance of power in Europe. "An entente between Russia, France and ourselves would be absolutely secure. If it is necessary to check Germany it could then be done." Fear of Germany—German sea power, German encroachment in the Middle East; a possible Russo-German rapprochement—was evident throughout the negotiations.

Russian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Izvolskii

Grey's attitude marked a change in emphasis from the Conservative policy of seeing Russia basically as a potential or actual menace to the Empire and especially India, to one of regarding her as a potential ally in Europe. "If Russia accepts, cordially and wholeheartedly, our intention to preserve the peaceable possession of our existing Asiatic possessions," declared Grey before taking office, "then I am quite sure that in this country no government will make it its business to thwart or obstruct Russia's policy in Europe. On the contrary it is urgently desirable that Russia's influence should be reestablished in the Councils of Europe."

The urgency came not only from the international situation but also from the realities which were revealed to the Liberals of Britain's military and naval position. These affected both her potential role of holder of the balance of power in Europe against Germany and more immediately her ability to defend her Empire against possible Russian aggression. It was brought home to the government that Britain was no longer able to meet all her commitments. By January 1907 the General Staff and the Admiralty had agreed that it was no longer possible to hold the Straits alone against Russia. Grey urged the necessity of keeping this information strictly secret. The Anglo-Japanese alliance had been welcomed by the navy as a means of reducing the Far Eastern fleet, and the Russo-Japanese War had reduced the Russian fleet, but the growth of the German Navy was putting such strain on naval resources as to increase reluctance to risk a military conflict with Russia in Asia. This was bound to have political repercussions.

The Anglo-Russian Convention was signed on 31 August 1907 in St. Petersburg. The convention solidified the boundaries that identified respective control in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet. It delineated spheres of influence in Persia, stipulated that neither country would interfere in Tibet's internal affairs, and recognized Britain's influence over Afghanistan. The framework of the future Triple Entente had been erected.

Source:  Beryl Williams in the November 2007 issue of OVER THE TOP.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tony Fokker's Three Masterpieces

Anton Herman Gerard Fokker (1890–1939) is the most renowned aircraft designer of the Great War.  Had designed his first airplane at age 20, and by 1912 he opened a small aircraft factory near Berlin. At the outbreak of war, he offered his designs to both sides, but the Allies all declined him.  Germany didn't. Fokker took German citizenship and became their leading designer and manufacturer.

His company was controlled by the German military in the war, but he remained in charge. His engineers designed the first interrupter gear, allowing machine guns to fire straight ahead through the propeller. His works turned out three of the most remarkable airplanes of the war: the E.1 "Eindecker," the Dr.1 Triplane, and the D.VII, recognized as the outstanding fighter plane of the Great War.

E.1 "Eindecker"

Dr.1 Triplane


Sources:  Who's Who of WWI, Photos from USAF National Museum, Phil Makanna, and Tony Langley

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: North Dakota and the Great War

From Isolationism to Patriotism on the Great Plains

By Paul Albright

The uncertainty felt by Americans as they entered the Great War 100 years ago was nowhere more evident than in the upper Great Plains state of North Dakota. After favoring neutrality from the European conflict, North Dakota met the U.S. declaration of war in 1917 with mixed feelings, political uproar, and social discord along with the same patriotism that was sweeping across the country. 

The ambivalence in this predominantly agricultural state placed it slightly out of step with the rest of the country in 1917. But as the troops were assembled, North Dakota rallied strongly to support the American cause. 

All of this is brought home vividly in an exhibition, “North Dakota and the Great War” (, now installed at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum on the grounds of the state capitol in Bismarck. 

The exhibition motif shows a Doughboy silhouetted against an artillery explosion.

Through this exhibit, which will continue through fall 2018 we learn that:

Neutrality was advocated strongly by prominent elected officials, some of North Dakota’s major newspapers, and its political organizations. The state’s congressional delegation led the isolationist movement in Congress, arguing that the struggle for power in Europe was not America’s fight and that corporate interests in the U.S. were pushing profits above peace. Both of the state’s U.S. senators were disparaged as “Senatorial Germans” for advocating neutrality. Senator Porter McCumber called vainly for a delay in the U.S. declaration of war, and Senator Asle Gronna was one of six senators who voted against the declaration, arguing that the war did not confront American citizens. 

A factor in the state’s desire for neutrality was based on an increasing population and rising prices for crops that were being shipped overseas. Twelve million acres of farm land was added between 1900 and 1920, and land values tripled. Both wheat acreage and wheat prices more than doubled by the end of the war. North Dakota’s citizenry was strongly in favor of “family farming” and consequently disparaging of corporate influences. Although it had its detractors, the politically potent Nonpartisan League (NPL) criticized war profits going to large corporations and argued for higher taxes on the wealthy. 

 On the home front, women and men in towns and rural communities worked for the Red Cross. This group at Valley City, ND, wear hats that identify them as volunteers for
the Red Cross. North Dakota chapters of the Red Cross rolled bandages that
were used to treat soldiers’ wounds. 

Questions of loyalty were raised concerning German-speaking residents who made up 20 percent of the state’s population. Some North Dakotans with German (or German-Russian) backgrounds were suspected of disloyalty, lack of patriotism, or trying to undermine the U.S. through political rhetoric. The State Board of Education was reported to have asked local school boards to abolish German language courses because it gave students the “wrong impression regarding the facts about the German government.” Many German language newspapers ceased publication, immigrant clubs dissolved, and German-sounding names were changed. 

The Espionage and Sedition Acts suspended freedom of speech and opened the door to governmental prosecution of those who spoke against the government’s war effort. With 103 prosecutions, North Dakota had the largest per-capita number of cases filed under the Espionage Act of any state. For instance, a minister for an evangelical church was found guilty of singing songs and praying for a German victory. A woman was convicted for vocal and active opposition of the war. Some officers of the left-leaning Nonpartisan League were disparaged, threatened, detained, or even jailed for comments concerning military enlistments or the conduct of the war. Federal judge Charles F. Amidon, who presided over the espionage cases, sometimes found juries too eager to show their loyalty by convicting the accused. Judge Amidon sometimes had to direct a jury to return a “not guilty” verdict.

This cartoon image was publicized by the North Dakota Nonpartisan League in support of enlistments while deploring profiteering and opposition to wartime taxation by the wealthy.

The negativity and controversy that divided North Dakota before 1917 ended in a surge of patriotism once war was declared. Two former state governors volunteered, one of them as a colonel with the 41st Division in France and the other on the state Liberty Loan committee and as a captain with the American Red Cross, for which he was honored by France. More than 200 doctors and 148 nurses from North Dakota served in the Army Medical Corps with others volunteering with the Red Cross. Dr. Eric P. Quain, a Swedish-born doctor practicing in Bismarck, organized a hospital in France staffed by doctors and nurses from North Dakota. Dr. Quain later was chief of surgical services for Army hospitals in France. Eventually, more than 30,000 North Dakotans served in the Great War. 

Some of the earliest patriotic response in North Dakota came from people who were not even considered citizens―the Native American population. Even before the U.S. entered the war, several Native American young men crossed the border to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. None of the men at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation asked for deferment or exemption from the draft. Some Lakota soldiers became “code talkers” who specialized in converting secret military codes into Native languages that the Germans could not break. When Lakota soldiers returned home in late 1919, a victory dance was held honoring returning soldiers and those killed. It reportedly was the first Lakota victory dance since the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. A speaker was reported to have stated: “For the sake of humanity we will give (the Germans) food to keep them from starving till they can produce food for themselves, according to the old Indian custom.” When French marshal Ferdinand Foch, supreme commander of Allied Forces, visited Bismarck in 1921 he met with Native American representatives and honored one Native American soldier as “the bravest soldier in France.” Native Americans who served in the Great War were granted U.S. citizenship in 1919, and citizenship was extended to all Native Americans born in the U.S. in 1924.

State Historical Society of North Dakota.
North Dakota Studies, Vol. 9, Issues 1, 2, 3. (

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Poet Describes Shell Shock: Wilfred Owens's "Mental Cases"

I ran into this poem for the first time when I was researching the encounter of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon at the Craiglockhart Military Hospital, near Edinburgh.  Get ready for some disturbing imagery.

Mental Cases

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls' tongues wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, — but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hand palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

— These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men's extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
— Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
— Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Foodies! Our Doughboy Cookbook Has Been Honored!

A food aficionado very close to me has passed on the information that the Doughboy Cookbook at our Doughboy Center website has been honored by inclusion at the prestigious online Food Timeline alongside illustrious Fanny Farmer in their 1918 slot. Please take this opportunity to check some of the dozen period  recipes plus the secrets to that unforgettable serviceman's treat, Mess Sergeant's Java, we make available in our cookbook.

Click Here to Access the Recipes

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Blackadder Goes Forth Video
Reviewed by James Patton

Blackadder Goes Forth (Blackadder, Part IV)

Created by Richard Curtis & Ben Elton
Original Broadcast, BBC One, 1989

Rowan Atkinson, Right, Portrays Blackadder in All Four Parts of the Blackadder Series

Rowan Atkinson (b. 1955) is a British comedian, actor, and screenwriter known for somewhat broad, bawdy, humor, often with sight gags, and cold satire. He holds degrees in electrical engineering from Newcastle and Oxford. While at the latter university he became interested in theatrical performance. He even wrote several short scripts, and in 1979 he got a stint as the sole performer and writer of a BBC-3 radio program called The Atkinson People, and a few months later he also had a BBC TV series called Not the Nine O'Clock News, which he also wrote. In all he has appeared in 20 movies and 34 different television productions, some of them series.

He is best known for the silent character Mr. Bean, whom he has played for most of his career, in stand-up comedy, three long-running TV series and two movies. Apart from that, his most familiar movie role would be his appearance as the vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and his most well-known TV roles are that of Edmund Blackadder in the series if the same name and Inspector Fowler in The Thin Blue Line.

In the Blackadder series, which Atkinson also helped to write, the dramatic premise is that, since the Wars of the Roses there has always been a pseudo-noble Edmund Blackadder (and his cloddish but wily servant named Baldrick) on the scene at important events in British history. The Blackadder persona is always snide, conniving, scheming, craven, and a counterpoint to all of the other real historic figures and caricatures, who are depicted as boobs and twits.

In the course of the series it was inevitable that they would get to the Great War experience. These six episodes comprise the season called Blackadder Goes Forth, where Blackadder, always with his batman Private Baldrick, tries a variety of schemes for getting out of the "Big Push": volunteering to be a war artist, organizing a theatrical revue, joining the Royal Flying Corps as an observer, going undercover to catch German spies, killing carrier pigeons to stop getting orders.

Blackadder's foils are the top brass, the fictional General Melchett and the real Sir Douglas Haig, who plays with toy soldiers and discards them when he's tired of them. In the final episode, with the "Big Push" imminent, which according to Blackadder is, on the part of Haig, "another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin", Blackadder feigns insanity while Baldrick embraces Bolshevism, but at the end of the episode (and the series) everyone falls in for duty and goes over the top (except Melchett and Haig, of course). Blackadder's last line, spoken to Baldrick who has just told him that he has one last "cunning" scheme, is not a wisecrack:

"Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman around here? Good luck, everyone."

The cinematic effect of this scene is startling and powerful. It is in monochrome and slow motion, even the theme music is slowed down and the cast just disappears into the smoke and battle noise, then the last image is of a present-day field of poppies, with birds chirping in the audio.

Blackadder and His Cohorts Preparing to Go Over the Top in the Series' Concluding Scene

This unexpected and abrupt conclusion had a powerful and lasting effect on the audience. In 2005 I sat in the parlor at Talbot House in Poperinghe and listened to five Brits talk about the impact this episode of Blackadder Goes Forth had on them like it had just happened last night rather than in 1989, an experience not unlike that of Americans of a certain age discussing the impact on them of the JFK assassination in 1963.

In the Golden Age of what PBS calls the "Britcom", Blackadder Goes Forth was ranked as the Best Comedy Series of 1989 by the British Academy, in 2000 was slotted at No. 16 on the 100 Greatest British TV Programmes of the 20th century by the British Film Institute, and in 2004, the entire Blackadder series came in second in the BBC's poll to determine Britain's Best Sitcom.

James Patton

Monday, December 11, 2017

100 Years Ago: General Edmund Allenby Enters Jerusalem

100 Years ago tomorrow, Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby entered Jerusalem as its conqueror.  General Allenby was 56 years old when he took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in June 1917. Little of his work on the Western Front would suggest he would prove a master of desert warfare. Within days of arriving in Palestine, the new commander of the EEF would dispel any misgivings regarding his capacity for independent command. As Australian Sir Henry George Chauvel, commander of the Desert Mounted Corps (DMC), described the EEF's change in command climate: "Allenby went through the hot, dusty camps of his army like a strong, fresh, reviving wind." He saw his mission as one of clearing Palestine of any Ottoman forces. After organizing his forces, he was ready to mount offensive operations in the fall. 

The Third Battle of Gaza (31 Oct–7 Nov) exhibited Allenby's talent for orchestrating a combined arms operation while concurrently managing the problems of transport, supply, and deception. The battle had not been without lessons. Chauvel's Desert Mounted Corps suffered a number of casualties from German aircraft, revealing the vulnerability of exposed troops in a desert environment. The rough terrain east of Gaza proved difficult for both the mounted units and their supporting logistical assets. Allenby gave little pause and pursued the Turks northward as they retreated toward Junction Station (See map below.) Commanding the skies and bombing and strafing retreating columns almost at will, aircraft from the RFC made the pursuit a harrowing experience for the enemy. By 14 November, Allenby occupied Junction Station and effectively split the Turkish forces in half. 

Map of the Sector

The first step in clearing Palestine was dislodging the Ottoman forces from their Gaza defenses. The stronghold had thus far proved impregnable to British assault and had cost his predecessor, General Archibald Murray, his job. Allenby's plan called for an infantry demonstration in front of Gaza, to include heavy artillery bombardments and naval gun support. Meanwhile, elements from two corps would secretly concentrate opposite the Turkish left at Beersheba, assault the garrison, and capture the water supplies. Once complete, the striking force of some 40,000 troops would roll up the Turkish left flank and intercept any retreating forces from Gaza. 

The Third Battle of Gaza exhibited Allenby's talent for orchestrating a combined arms operation while concurrently managing the problems of transport, supply, and deception. By 5 November, the evacuation of Gaza began in earnest. Allenby gave little pause and pursued the Turks northward as they retreated toward Junction Station. Commanding the skies and bombing and strafing retreating columns almost at will, aircraft from the RFC made the pursuit a harrowing experience for the enemy. By 14 November, Allenby occupied Junction Station and effectively split the Turkish forces in half.

Jerusalem Welcoming Its Conqueror at the Jaffa Gate
(This Depiction Is Grander Than the Actual Event)

With the Turkish Seventh and Eighth Armies isolated from one another, Allenby next set his sights on Jerusalem, which Lloyd George had ordered taken by Christmas. Moving as rapidly as supply lines would allow, the EEF made good progress against a stiffening Turkish defense. Counterattacks increased in number and intensity. As one commentator noted, "The Turkish troops fought with a remarkable gallantry and succeeded at some points in gaining a footing in the outer line of the British defenses." By 8 December the Ottoman lines began to crack and, on the next day, they withdrew northward. On 11 December 1917, Allenby made his formal entry into the city—the first Christian leader to do so since 1187. He was ordered not to make a spectacle of his arrival as the Kaiser had in 1898, but it was a dramatic moment, nevertheless.

German military advisor General Kress von Kressenstein later wrote: "From a purely military point of view, the loss of Jerusalem was of no importance, but the moral effect of its capture, after having been in Turkish hands for 700 years...was a severe blow to the prestige of the Caliphate and of Turkey." Events on the Western Front, however, would slow down Allenby's advance in the spring of 1918. The German offensives on the Western Front would draw off a number of his best units. It would not be until later in the year that he could restart his drive to defeat the Turks, which he would do so brilliantly. 

Sources: Over the Top, July & August 2010

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Are the Lasting Contributions of the Doughboy Generation to America?

Maybe, in the broadest sense, the great contribution of the Doughboys is what all of America's warriors have given their nation over the centuries—their sacrifices made our America of today possible and successful and the generation of today a standard to live up to.

Some specifics of their experiences are also worth noting, though:

The AEF had a large component of recent immigrants who were assimilated into the mainstream of the nation almost instantly due to their service.

They gave us Armistice Day, which expanded to Veterans Day as the nation fought more wars.

The Doughboys were the principal champions of the WWII Veterans Bill of Rights legislation  that helped future service members (including your editor) gain a better education and first home.

The military experience in World War I prepared the nation to fight and win the Second World War and the Cold War that followed.

The Doughboys, even before the Armistice, decided they wanted to play an active role in postwar America. This played out later in the founding of the American Legion and the sad Veterans March on Washington in the 1930s. Professor Jennifer Keene, discussed this in her 2001 work, Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America:

Why is World War I important in American history? Quite simply, the Great War generation played a critical role in constructing the modern U.S. Army, turning World War II soldiers into the most privileged veteran generation in American history and determining what mass military service would mean for millions of American men throughout the twentieth century.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Nurse & Volunteer in Two World Wars, Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby

by Keith Muchowski

Ethel and Her Mother Edith at the Turn of the Century

Ethel Derby died 40 years ago tomorrow. If one is unfamiliar with the name, one is not alone; Mrs. Derby shunned the limelight just as tenaciously as her older half-sister Alice Roosevelt Longworth courted it. Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby had four brothers and was the only girl born to Theodore Roosevelt and his second wife Edith. Ethel was born at Sagamore Hill, her parents’ Oyster Bay Long Island home, on 13 August 1891. Her father at the time was a Civil Service commissioner in the Benjamin Harrison administration. She turned ten one month prior to her father’s becoming president in the wake of the assassination of William McKinley in September 1901. Throughout his presidency there was great public interest in the Roosevelt clan and Ethel came of age as a quartet of prominent young Roosevelt women that included half-sister Alice and cousins Corinne Douglas Robinson and Eleanor Roosevelt. In Washington, Ethel attended the National Cathedral School for Girls, from which she graduated in 1906. She had her coming out in a large but understated White House function, which included a midnight formal dinner in late December 1908, a few months before the end of her father’s term.

Ethel had grown up hearty and something of a tomboy with striking, handsome features. She lived the strenuous life very much like her father and enjoyed climbing trees, playing with the family pets, and horseback riding at Sagamore Hill with her four brothers. Ethel spent the years immediately after her father’s presidency living at Sagamore Hill and visited New York City frequently. Young Ethel met Dr. Richard Derby in late 1912. The two announced their engagement on Valentine's Day 1913 and married at Oyster Bay’s Christ Episcopal Church on 4 April 1913 in a simple but well-attended ceremony of 500 guests, at least 200 of these brought in by train from Manhattan that morning. The couple honeymooned in Europe and 11 months after the wedding a son, Richard Derby, Jr., was born. Baby Richard was Theodore Roosevelt's first grandson.

Wedding Announcement

When war broke out in Europe that summer all of the Roosevelts watched with great concern. Ethel was the first from the clan to serve overseas in the Great War. Dr. and Mrs. Derby left for France in September 1914 and worked through the end of the year at the American Ambulance Hospital, he as a surgeon and she as a nurse. The days were long, the work physically demanding and emotionally taxing, and the living conditions spartan. They were so earnest in their desire to help the wounded that they left their infant son in the care of his grandparents at Sagamore Hill. Most of their patients were injured British troops, and Ethel sometimes took the cases she saw to heart. She once solicited $200 (over $4200 in today's dollars) to secure a prosthetic leg for a young Tommy who had lost a limb fighting the Germans.

Ethel before the Great War
When the two returned in December they kept up in their war efforts. In April 1915 Mrs. Derby became chair of the Committee of American Hostels for Refugees in Paris, an organization whose mission was to assist French and Belgians displaced by the fighting. Dr. Derby was active in the civilian Plattsburg Preparedness Movement with his Roosevelt brothers-in-law. When the United State entered the war in April 1917 Derby joined what became the American Expeditionary Forces. He trained with the Medical Corps at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. Shortly after giving birth to the couple’s second child, Ethel joined Major Derby down south. The two rented a house in Chattanooga about ten miles from the base across the state line in Georgia. Ethel was popular and active in the community, working hard, making herself useful, and goodnaturedly putting to use such skills as milking cows, much to the amusement of the locals. The citizenry had good reason to take kindly to Ethel Derby; her grandmother Martha Bulloch Roosevelt had been a Southern belle from Georgia before marrying and moving to New York City in the 1850s. Major Richard Derby soon left for France. This time, however, Ethel did not accompany him. The stress must have been excruciating. Ethel’s husband and four brothers were all fighting in the Great War. Older brother Ted was gassed at Cantigny and later seriously wounded in the knee; baby brother Quentin was an aviator, shot down and killed on Bastille Day 1918. Six months later, heartbroken with the loss of his youngest child, Theodore Roosevelt died in early January 1919. Derby was a surgeon in the Second Infantry Division for over a year, gaining promotion to lieutenant colonel, and earning the Croix de Guerre, French Legion of Honor, and Distinguished Service Medal. He returned to Long Island in 1919 a few weeks after his father-in-law’s death.

Ethel in Her WWII Red Cross Uniform

In the 1920s Ethel and Richard Derby settled into life in Long Island with their growing family. Things could still be difficult. Richard Jr., just eight years old, died of septicemia in October 1922. His father suffered from depression thereafter and never fully recovered. Dr. Derby worked at a local hospital and Ethel grew increasingly active in community service. In 1923 she worked on behalf of Russian refugees exiled in Paris during the Russian Civil War. For well over half a century she volunteered with the American Red Cross, determined to streamline the organization and end the frustrating waste and red tape she had seen in Paris in 1914. She was also a board member of the American Museum of Natural History, which her grandfather had help found and her father had done so much to foster and promote. After her mother’s death in 1948 she helped turn her parents’ Sagamore Hill home into a national historic site. Richard Derby died in 1963. His widow lived another fourteen years. Ethel Roosevelt Derby lived a long and full life of activity and public service in the spirit of her father, Theodore Roosevelt. Born during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, Mrs. Derby lived to 86 and died on December 10, 1977 during the Jimmy Carter Administration. After her death a family friend told the New York Times for the obituary that Ethel Derby “was T.R.—but completely feminine.”

Keith Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn NY, writes occasionally for Roads to the Great War. He blogs at

Friday, December 8, 2017

Douglas MacArthur's Footlocker

Contributed by Steve Miller

Regular contributor Steve Miller is a documentarian of World War One locales, including museums.  Here we have a revealing composite of photos Steve took at the General Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. It shows a blowup of the general's identity card with photo and the contents of his footlocker. The locker contains some interesting items: a uniform with Sam Browne belt; sewing kit; personal file of 83rd Brigade of the 42nd Division that MacArthur served in and commanded briefly; a razor set; a cigarette case presented to the general by his troops; identity card; Catholic and Jewish prayer books; first issue of Stars and Stripes newspaper; the pamphlets "Use of Mines in Trench Warfare," "Bayonet Training," and "Infantry Drill Regulations;" books: Minor Tactics, Richard Harding Davis's novel Captain Macklin's Memoirs, The Cavalry, and two volumes of Napoleon's writings.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A German Magazine Documents the Ottoman Army

The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, often abbreviated BIZ, was a weekly illustrated magazine published in Berlin from 1892 to 1945. BIZ's WWI archives are one the best sources of photographs of the Ottoman Army during the war. It was the first mass-market German magazine and pioneered the format of the illustrated news magazine with the photo-essay, a specialized staff, a production unit for pictures, and a vast photo library. With other news magazines like the Münchner Illustrierte Presse and Vu in France, it also pioneered the use of candid photographs taken with the new smaller cameras. BIZ was published on Thursdays but bore the date of the following Sunday.  

Mortar Position, Dardanelles

General Liman von Sanders, Senior German Officer

Turkish Supply Column at Rest

Turkish Artillery Firing, Casualties to the Rear

Observation Position

Anti-Aircraft Position

Searchlight Position, Dardanelles

Stretcher Column, Turkish Officer, Arab Bearers

German General August von Mackensen on a Visit to Constantinople

A German Officer Camel-Mounted

Non-Turkish Ottoman Troops in a New Firing Trench

Turkish Officers Conducting a Class in Medina

These photos are from the collection of Contributing Editor Tony Langley of Antwerp, Belgium (formerly New Jersey, USA). Comments are from Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

100 Years Ago: The Great Halifax Tragedy (A Roads Classic)

One hundred years ago today, by most measures, the greatest non-nuclear explosion in history occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The approximate casualty estimate was 2,000 killed and 9,000 wounded and blinded. More Nova Scotians died in the Halifax explosion than were killed in World War One. Out of 60,000 inhabitants, 25,000 were left homeless. So many people suffered eye injuries that the science of treating damaged eyes was advanced significantly by the newly established Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Halifax would become known as a center for caring for the blind. That story within a story is one worth recounting.

The Damage at Halifax

“City in danger. Explosion. Conflagration.” The alarm was sent by telegram to areas surrounding Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. Relief expeditions organized from Nova Scotia, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal did not know the cause of the explosion, or the extent of the damage. Had the Germans invaded? Was the city destroyed? Reports of casualties varied from 50 to 50,000 people. 

In the fourth year of the First World War, Halifax was a seaport of 47,000 people, a base from which Canadian troops were sent overseas. Warships gathered in Halifax Harbor to be refitted and supplied before sailing in convoys to Europe. For this reason, Halifax was a prime target for the Germans, and many believed that they had attacked. However, the explosion was caused by an accidental collision between two vessels.

The Mont Blanc Explodes
At 08:48 hrs a French freighter, the Mont Blanc, collided with the Imo, a Belgian relief ship, as a result of navigational error in Halifax Harbor. The Mont Blanc carried 3,121 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of trinitrotoluene, 35 tons of benzol, and 10 tons of gun cotton. The benzol drums ignited, with flames and smoke rising 2,000 feet into the sky. Women and men went to their windows, and children walking to school stopped on the street to watch the blazing fire. After 17 minutes the ship blew up with a force that launched the hull over 10,00 feet into the air, destroying everything within a 2.5 km radius and shattering every window in the city. The force of the explosion was estimated at three kilotons. A great number of the spectators—especially those watching what they thought was another ship fire from behind glass windows in their homes on the hill overlooking the harbor — received shards of glass in their eyes. Thus, an extra tragic dimension was added to the disaster—its huge number of ophthalmic injuries. 

Finding the injured was the initial challenge. George H Cox, an eye, ear, nose, and throat (EENT) specialist from New Glasgow, a town 100 km away, joined the relief expedition. Eleven Nova Scotian doctors with nurses and volunteers reached Halifax that evening to find the city in ruins. “We had to make our way along streets and tracks blocked and covered with debris of all sorts...every here and there dead men on piles of black stuff. The whole area was darkened by smoke or lit up by flames from the burning debris.”

In the ruins Dr. Cox and his colleagues discovered that an inordinate number of penetrating eye injuries occurred. The severity and the overwhelming number of eye injuries sustained that day made it impossible for lengthy eye‐saving procedures to be performed. Enucleation,  the removal of the eye that leaves the eye muscles and remaining orbital contents intact, was often the only option. Twelve ophthalmologists treated 592 people with eye injuries and performed 249 enucleations. Sixteen people had both eyes enucleated. Most of the eye injuries were caused by shards of shattered glass. 

The Halifax explosion sparked an outpouring of community support for survivors who were blind or partially sighted and served as a catalyst for the formation of one of Canada’s oldest charities, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Sources: Mostly excerpted from "The Halifax disaster (1917): eye injuries and their care," British Journal of Ophthamology, June 2007; "Halifax: December 6, 1917" by Andrew Melomet, St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, April 2010 .


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Curse of the Narrows The Halifax Disaster of 1917
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917

by Laura M. MacDonald
Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 2005

The trenches, barbed wire and no-man's-land were Over There, but on 6 December 1917 the Great War reached Canada. Laura M. Mac Donald tells how that came about in Curse of the Narrows The Halifax Disaster of 1917. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a major port on Canada's Atlantic Coast whose prosperity has ebbed and flowed with the tides of commerce and war. The withdrawal of the Royal Navy in 1906 brought an ebb, but the war and the return of the Royal Navy activity came surging back. Soldiers, sailors, and commercial freighters crowded the streets, businesses, and the harbor as men, foodstuffs, munitions, and manufactured goods passed through on their way to aid Britannia. By 1917 Halifax was at high tide. Business bustled on both the Halifax and Dartmouth sides of the harbor.

The French vessel Mont Blanc had been loaded with high explosives in Brooklyn. The ship's carpenters had been ordered to line every inch of the hold with wood and to use copper nails that would not spark when struck. Stevedores wearing canvas slippers loaded the cargo that, with a storm or shift, could have destroyed everything within reach. Mont Blanc with its volatile cargo was ordered to proceed to Halifax to join a North Atlantic convoy.

Mont Blanc spent the night of 5–6 December outside the submarine nets of Halifax Harbor. A late coal delivery had kept the Belgian relief ship Imo (which should have already left for New York) in harbor overnight. The morning of the 6th, the pilots arrived and Imo and Mont Blanc began moving toward their rendezvous with history. As Mont Blanc was approaching the harbor, Imo began to move toward its exit. They were about three-quarters of a mile apart when Pilot Francis Mackay aboard Mont Blanc noticed Imo proceeding at an unusually fast pace within the harbor. As they closed, a collision became inevitable. Although impact with the TNT hold was avoided, a gash in the no. 1 hold sent Mont Blanc drifting toward Pier 6 in Dartmouth, one of the most populated areas along the northern stretch of wharves.

Memorial to the Dead of the Halifax Explosion at St.  Paul's Church

As the pilot and crew endeavored to minimize damage, the citizens watched as black and white smoke rose from Mont Blanc. Recognizing that nothing could prevent the impending explosion, the captain gave the order to abandon ship. The crew's warnings went unheeded as they paddled to shore and assembled under spruce trees, except for one crewman who did not stop running. Flames gave way to a series of explosions until 9:04:34  a.m., when Mont Blanc erupted in the largest, man-made, non-nuclear explosion in history. The heat evaporated water in the harbor, the tsunami threw ships inland and it and the air blast flattened blocks of the city, observers were blinded by the fireball, the sound was heard hundreds of miles away and communications to the outside world were largely cut. The following day Halifax was hit with minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit and a blizzard with gale force winds.

After an interlude about explosions, the focus of Curse of the Narrows shifts to the resulting damage to property, injuries, and the immense relief efforts that followed. Over 2,000 were dead or missing, over 6,000 injured, 9,000 rendered homeless with 41 fully and 249 partially blinded. Temporary hospitals were set up, naval vessels brought supplies and provided medical services, and physicians were dispatched from Montreal and Ottawa. A relief train from Boston fought the weather to bring supplies and medical personnel. Boston's generosity to Halifax was repaid when Halifax sent physicians to aid Boston during the Spanish flu epidemic and continues to this day as the official Boston Christmas Tree on the Boston Common is a gift from the people of Halifax.

Author Laura M. MacDonald had the advantage of many recorded interviews and testimonies taken during investigations from which to draw the facts of the case and the human-interest stories related to the explosion. She followed individuals and families who lived through or died in the tragedy. Perhaps the most touching story and photo is that of 18-month-old Annie Liggins who was found under a stove the day after. Originally misidentified as Olive Henneberry she was later nicknamed "Ashpan Annie."

The story of the Halifax explosion is a tragic disaster that should be known by anyone interested in North American involvement in the Great War. Curse of the Narrows is an excellent source from which to learn about the explosion and the human lives that it unalterably changed.

James M. Gallen

Photo of St. Paul's from Steve Miller

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Same Gun Fired the British Commonwealth's First Shots - In Both World Wars

Australia was the first Commonwealth nation to fire shots in both World War I and World War II. What's even more interesting is that both times they were fired by the same gun at the same fort for the same purpose, that is, artillery at Fort  Queenscliff, Point Nepean, attempting to prevent German merchant vessels from escaping through Port Phillip Heads, Melbourne Harbor. On 5 August this 6-inch gun at the fort fired on the German vessel SS Pfalz, which was later converted to an Australian troopship. On 4 September 1939 another battery fired on what they thought was another German ship. That turned out to be mistaken, but it was still the Commonwealth's first shot fired in anger in WWII.

Source: The Geelong Advertiser

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Did the Doughboys Contribute to the Allied War Effort?

Let me form this posting around several blanket statements.

1.  America Did Not Win the War Single-Handed, but Its Entry Probably Prevented a German Victory.

The second part of this statement might seem controversial, but consider the following facts. Even with America on board, by the end of 1917, the Central Powers (discounting the food shortages on their home front briefly) appeared to be winning the World War. Russia and Rumania had been defeated and Italy required major reinforcement by its Allies to stay in the war. Salonika was a manpower-draining sore. Lloyd George—after Passchendaele—had no wish to provide replacement forces for a new offensive for General Haig's Army. Pétain's French Army was incapable of large offensive operations.  

This would have been the state of affairs whether or not America was in the war.  But, absent the U.S. involvement, Germany would have had a good chance of winning the war with a highly advantageous negotiated settlement. Its optimal strategy would have been to go on the defensive in the west and use the men who were not needed to garrison the newly won territories in the east to restore its agricultural and food distribution systems. The Allies (absent the American reinforcements) simply would not have had the offensive power to push the German Army out of Belgium and France. Maybe fighting would have continued into 1918, even 1919, but at some point a settlement would have been reached. Germany would have held on to all its occupied territory in both the east and west and we would be living in a different world today (maybe better,  who knows?). But in any case, this strategy was not available, because they HAD gotten the Americans involved by fatally opting for unrestricted U-boat warfare a year earlier. This discussion continues in Point 3 below. 

2.  The AEF and U.S. Navy Did Provide Almost Immediate Critical Support for the Allies in Several Areas:  (This Was Before the AEF Was Substantial Enough to Fight)

     a. An expanded port-warehousing-railroad infrastructure benefiting all the     
         Allied Powers

     b.  Medical and nursing personnel for the French and British forces

     c.  Sufficient escort ships to make the convoy system viable

    d.  Boosted Allied morale, especially for the French, rejuvenating both the 
         citizenry and soldiery for the brutal 1918 campaign

3. The Threat of Millions of Americans Arriving on the Western Front Forced the Germans to Launch Their Spring Offensives, Which Gave the Allies an Opportunity for Victory

We made the point above that at the end of 1917, the Central Powers appeared to be winning the war. However, as with all the major combatants, they were simply running out of men. Toward the end of 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff saw that—despite the promises of the German admirals—there was no stopping the flow of U.S. troops  across the Atlantic. Millions would be arriving by mid-1918 and millions more in 1919. At some time in the future, their forces in the west would simply be swamped.  As 1918 opened, they had the choice to negotiate for a settlement, which by that time would have involved considerable concessions, given the Allies strengthening hand with the Yanks arriving, or throw the dice for a chance to win a much more advantageous position in post-combat negotiations.  They chose the latter and eventually lost the war.

4. When the AEF Was Ready to Fight, Pershing's Forces Fought in Ten Major Battles, Six of Which—Had the Allies Lost—Could Have Changed the Outcome of the War.

     a.  The Defense of the Marne River Line in May and June 1918

     b.  The Defense Against German Champagne-Marne Offensive of July 1918

     c.  The Offensive Phase of the Second Battle of the Marne, 
          July–September 1918

     d.  The St. Mihiel Offensive, September 1918

     e.  The Breaking of the Hindenburg Line, September 1918

     f.  The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September–November 1918