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

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fateful Alliance: France and Russia, 1894

  
When I first started studying the Great War, George Kennan's book on the French-Russian alliance was considered "cutting edge" amongst students of the war's origins. It didn't get a lot of attention in 2014, when so much was written about the causes of the war, but it is still essential reading.  Here is a summary of his argument and the document negotiated in 1892 and finalized two years later. The alliance was renewed and strengthened in 1899 and 1912.

The Lead Negotiators:
French General Raoul de Boisdeffre and Russian General Nikolai Obruchev

The first chancellor of Imperial Germany, Otto von Bismarck, forged the “Triple Alliance” with Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882, and he also maintained cordial relations and a nonaggression pact with tsarist Russia. Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, and his successors refused to renew the nonaggression pact with Russia on the grounds that it was logically inconsistent with Germany’s commitments to Austria-Hungary. The Russian foreign ministry sought to preserve friendly relations with Germany, but the Russian military insisted that a new alliance with France was essential for Russian national security. The tsar’s top military aide, General Nikolai Obruchev, took it upon himself to open direct talks between the French and Russian general staffs after a chance encounter with his French colleague, General Raoul de Boisdeffre, while vacationing on the Riviera. Despite reservations among the professional diplomats of both Russia and France, the generals persuaded Tsar Nicholas II and the French cabinet to endorse their secret military convention, which was signed by the chiefs of the army general staffs in August 1892 and ratified in January 1894 through an exchange of notes between the Russian and French foreign ministers. That agreement is reproduced below.

THE MILITARY CONVENTION OF AUGUST 1892

(signed by Generals Obruchev and Boisdeffre and ratified in January 1894)



If France is attacked by Germany or by Italy supported by Germany, Russia will employ all its available forces to attack Germany. If Russia is attacked by Germany or by Austria supported by Germany, France will employ all its available forces to combat Germany.

In case the forces of the Triple Alliance or of one of its members begin to mobilize, France and Russia will immediately and simultaneously mobilize all of their forces and deploy them as close to their borders as possible, as soon as the enemy mobilization is announced, without any need for prior discussions.

The forces available for deployment against Germany will amount to 1,300,000 men on the part of France, and 700–800,000 men on the part of Russia. These forces are dedicated to combating Germany simultaneously from the East and West in the most effective manner possible.

The military general staffs of the two countries will deliberate together to prepare and execute the measures outlined above. They will communicate to each other in times of peace all the intelligence regarding the armaments of the Triple Alliance that may come to their attention. The ways and means for coordinating their actions in times of war will be studied and planned in advance.

France and Russia will not conclude a separate peace.

This convention will have the same duration as the Triple Alliance.

Every clause enumerated above will be kept strictly secret.

SOURCES: George Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War and Slideshow.com

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why Is the Last Post at the Menin Gate So Memorable?

Answer:  It is both moving and bloody exciting. This photo from the Flanders tourism board captures the second part of that perfectly. Click on the image to enlarge and save it.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Man Who Gave Italy a War: Antonio Salandra



Antonio Salandra
Roiling Italian politics brought conservative, traditionalist Antonio Salandra to the top of the heap in March 1914. He was a nationalist who favored a foreign policy that suited Italian interests, and was in no way an enthusiast for the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. His appointment, which was considered a stopgap measure at the time, would prove to be highly influential on the course of the war. 

When the rest of Europe rushed toward the battlefields, Prime Minister Salandra announced that Italy would not be entering the war, claiming that the terms of the 1882 Triple Alliance Treaty did not apply because neither Austria-Hungary or Germany were attacked. As a practical matter, there was substantial opposition to the war in Italy and any territory that Italy hoped to gain was in Austrian hands rather than those of the Entente powers. The Germans and Austrians were furious, of course, feeling betrayed. But worse was to come for the Central Powers. 

Salandra and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino (initially a supporter of honoring the Triple Alliance), continued discussion with their purported allies, while also initiating secret negotiations with London and Paris to see how Italy could profit from the war by joining their side. The Allies won the bidding war, and Salandra patched together a broad, but somewhat thin, coalition from across the Socialist-Nationalist spectrum to support entering the war on the side of the Entente. Italy joined the war against its former Allies in the spring of 1915. 

Italian Prisoner of War Column, Asiago Plateau

Salandra, however, did not get the war he intended. The Army high command seized control of the war effort and suffered enormous casualties by mounting huge offensives across the Isonzo River with very little to show for it. Little more than a year after Italy had entered the war, Salandra's government lost support and fell, the first such dismissal for any World War I belligerent. The war that Salandra had engineered would be a disaster for Italy, but the fighting on the Italian Front would be a steady drain on the resources of the Central Powers, especially Austria-Hungary, and would contribute immeasurably to the eventual Allied victory.

Sources: Giolitti, Giovanni. in Great Britain, Collected Diplomatic Correspondence

Friday, January 13, 2017

Belgian Armored Cars in Russia

By Tony Langley


Belgian Armored Car Team in Russia

Belgians were the first among Great War combatants to make extensive use of armored cars as a military weapon. During the siege of Antwerp, from mid-August to the first week of October 1914, numerous motor vehicles were stripped and rebuilt with armor plating. Machine guns were mounted and even rotating cupolas were fitted. Most vehicles were (re)built by the Minerva Motor Car Company in Antwerp, though other large industrial metal works and manufacturing firms contributed to the war effort.

Belgian Volunteers en Route for Russia Aboard the British Vessel
SS Wray Castle, September 1915

These armored vehicles were used for reconnaissance, long-distance messaging, and carrying out raids and small-scale engagements. Circumstances dictated that the small, outnumbered Belgian Army use these highly mobile armored cars in guerrilla-style hit-and-run engagements against the besieging German Army. Not only were they quite effective in conducting raids, blowing bridges, and delivering messages to exposed positions, they were extremely photogenic as well, a news editor's dream. The British press, playing up the "Brave Little Belgium" angle in newspapers and magazines, published many photos of Belgian armored cars in and around Antwerp. 

Photos of the Force Published in Le Miroir During 1916




René Rosselt, Killed in Action
After the fall of Antwerp in October 1914 and the retreat to the Yser, the front line stabilized and since a breakthrough was not forthcoming, there was little use for a highly mobile armored car force. The Russian military attaché to the Belgian armed forces suggested that the armored car force could be of use on the Eastern Front. Following protocol, Czar Nicholas made an official request to King Albert of the Belgians. It was decided to send a force of several hundred Belgians to Russia. Since Belgium and Russia were co-belligerents and not official allies, for legal reasons the Belgian soldiers were to be considered as volunteers in the Russian army.


The Belgian force sailed from Brest on September 22nd 1915 and reached Archangel on October 13, 1915. By way of Petrograd, they were sent to Galicia where they mainly saw action against Austrian forces. The Belgian armored cars came to be known as effective machine gun destroyers. They continued fighting after the Russian Revolution until the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. The Belgian armored car force was recalled but had a difficult time returning home. The trip back to Archangel being unfeasible, the Belgians, much like the Czech Legion, followed the Trans-Siberian railway, crossed northern China and ultimately arrived in Vladivostok. On April 18th, 1918 they boarded an American vessel, the SS Sheridan and sailed to San Francisco. From there they traveled on a much acclaimed and widely publicized trip through the US and sailed from New York on June 15th 1918, finally reaching Paris two weeks later. They were disbanded shortly afterwards. The last member of the Belgian Expeditionary Corps in Russia died in 1992.

Heading Home via Siberia

When it first set sail, the Belgian armored car force numbered 333 Belgians, all volunteers. In Russia 33 Russians joined its ranks. Counting reinforcements and replacements, 444 Belgians passed through the ranks. There were 58 vehicles of which 12 were armored cars plus 23 motor-bicycles and 120 bicycles. 16 Belgians were killed in action in Russia. Only one armored car was lost. It was captured by German forces and is said to have been used in Berlin during the insurrections of 1919.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Ralph Vaughan Williams



By James Patton

Soldier of the King
Ralph Vaughan Williams, OM (1872–1958) was one of the most prolific composers in the history of English music, certainly the most important of the 20th century even though he only lived for about half of it. He composed symphonies, operas, ballets, concerti, chamber music, film scores, radio scores, rhapsodies, and sonatas, as well as works for organ, band, chorus, piano, organ, and individual vocalists—over 180 distinct works plus dozens of adaptations. He is particularly known for his hymns written in the C of E choral style, mostly in his early period. The current hymnal of the Episcopal Church in the USA contains 24 of his works, more than any other composer, and his 1906 composition “For All the Saints” is found in most Christian hymnals regardless of denomination. Listen to this performance by the world famous Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (skip the ad):

His family was wealthy due to his mother’s inheritance from the Wedgewood potteries fortune. His father was a well-born vicar with the double surname Vaughan Williams, in that unusual English tradition, and Ralph enjoyed a living from his family for his entire life, which then paid over to The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust which still assists young musicians in their training. He married Virginia Woolf’s cousin, the cellist Adeline Fisher, in 1897. There were no children.

Vaughn Williams Conducting After the War

Ralph was educated at the Royal College of Music in London and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a doctorate in 1899. Throughout his life he the only honorific that he wanted was to be called "Dr.”, and he turned down all honors offered to him that carried a title, accepting only the Order of Merit in 1935, which is perhaps the most prestigious honor because there can be only 24 living holders at any time. The only wage-paying jobs that he ever held were as the organist at St. Barnabas Church in Lambeth, South London, from 1895 to 1899 and as a soldier of the King from 1915 until 1919.

Williams (Highlighted) in Formation

His First World War service has been described as one of the two watershed experiences in his career, which changed the flavor and volume of his musical ouevre. In the years after the war he produced a large number of his operas and symphonies. The other watershed was his tempestuous love affair with Ursula Wood, an aspiring poet he met in 1938. Both were married to others, he was 39 years older than she, and this went on until they married in 1953, after both of their spouses had finally died. If you’re curious, you can read more about this here: 

Shortly after completing what would be his most famous romantic piece, titled "A Lark Ascending," Vaughan Williams enlisted on 31 December 1914 for a four-year term of service as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force), in the 2/4th London Field Ambulance, part of the 179th Brigade within the 60th (2/2nd London) Division. The most likely reason he chose the Field Ambulance was his age—he was 42 years old. His first service was at the Duke of York’s HQ in Chelsea, a barracks that was very close to his residence, where he underwent training in squad drill, stretcher drill, first aid, and lectures on military practice. The drill was rigorous for Vaughan Williams, who had flat feet. There was, however, still enough time to form a band, with Vaughan Williams as the conductor, as there were many musicians who were serving in the unit. The "2" in 2/4th meant second line, which would normally not be sent on active service, but would repopulate the first line as needed. Thus it was reasonable for him to assume that he might never leave England.

Vaughn Williams (Right) with His Ambulance Section

But needs must, and second line notwithstanding, mobilization orders were received on 15 June 1916 and the battalion left for France on 22 June. Vaughan Williams went to Ecoivres, a few miles north-west of Arras, on the slopes of Vimy Ridge. The British had taken over this sector of the front line in March. Conditions were terrible. Their task was evacuating the wounded from the Neuville St. Vaast area. The terrain was largely flattened—nothing was more than five feet tall. The soldiers were surrounded by dead bodies and rats by the million. The men worked in two-hour shifts. It was dangerous work, the roads almost impassable from shelling. A biographer, Alain Frogley, writes of this period that, since Vaughan Williams was considerably older than most of his comrades, "the back-breaking labor of dangerous night-time journeys through mud and rain must have been more than usually punishing". The war left its emotional mark on Vaughan Williams, who lost many comrades and friends, including the young composer and protégé George Butterworth. “Never such innocence again,” another biographer, Philip Larkin, would later write.

Vaughn Williams (Right Rear) Military Bandmaster

In mid-November the 60th Division received orders to go to Salonika. For Vaughan Williams, the nightmare of the trenches was over, although circumstances in Macedonia weren’t all that great. He left that front in 1917 to take a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery, serving as a band conductor. Once again, however, needs must, and the German March 1918 offensive required that he take command of a battery and he served on the Western Front for several months before becoming the conductor of General Henry Horne’s First Army HQ Band. As a result of his artillery service, his hearing was impaired. 

Sources include The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society and The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

America and the War in 1917

Here is a slide show I gave a few years ago to the Cloverdale, CA, History Society.  Please feel free to borrow these images for any educational programs you might participate in.  MH

























Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Remembering a WWI Historian: George B. Clark, USMC



A friend of ours, Marine and historian George B. Clark, 90, died in his sleep on 23 December 2016 in Lebanon, NH.

George Clark (rt.) with Roads Reader Mark Mortenson
George is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jeanne; four children; four great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild. George was the son of James B. and Alice L. Clark of Providence, RI. He joined the U.S. Marines during WWII just out of high school and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. For many years he administered grants, contracts, and patents for Brown University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. After retiring, he wrote history prolifically,  mainly on U.S. Marine history. 

George's books on the Marines in the Great War are the most thoroughly researched and readable that are available. A selection of three of his works that focus on the Marine Corps experience in the war are displayed below. (Click on the links to learn about the books in detail.) His works are at times very critical of the 2nd Division's high command as well as AEF GHQ, for repeatedly assigning the Marine Brigade's parent 2nd Division to predictably high-casualty-producing operations like Belleau Wood, Soissons, and Blanc Mont. George loved the Corps and all Marines, though.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Stretcher Bearers

As a graduate of a USAF one-day stretcher carrying course at Sheppard AFB, TX, I have a place in my heart for the stretcher bearers of the Great War.


Bearer Private C. Young described his typical night's work on the Western Front in 1916:


Slowly we worked our way along the trenches, our only guide our feet, forcing ourselves through the black wall of night and helped occasionally by the flash of the torch in front. Soon our arms begin to grow tired, the whole weight is thrown onto the slings, which begin to bite into our shoulders; our shoulders sag forward, the sling finds its way into the back of our necks; we feel half suffocated, and with a gasp at one another the stretcher is slowly lowered to the duckboards. A twelve-stone man rolled up in several blankets on a stretcher is no mean load to carry when every step has to be carefully chosen and is merely a shuffle forward of a few inches only.



One fondly remembered poet, Robert Service, had close contact with stretcher bearers and chose to honor them:



The Stretcher Bearer

My stretcher is one scarlet stain,
And as I tries to scrape it clean,
I tell you wot — I'm sick with pain
For all I've 'eard, for all I've seen;
Around me is the 'ellish night,
And as the war's red rim I trace,
I wonder if in 'Eaven's height,
Our God don't turn away 'Is Face.

I don't care 'oose the Crime may be;
I 'olds no brief for kin or clan;
I 'ymns no 'ate: I only see
As man destroys his brother man;
I waves no flag: I only know,
As 'ere beside the dead I wait,
A million 'earts is weighed with woe,
A million 'omes is desolate.

In drippin' darkness, far and near,
All night I've sought them woeful ones.
Dawn shudders up and still I 'ear
The crimson chorus of the guns.
Look! like a ball of blood the sun
'Angs o'er the scene of wrath and wrong. . . .
"Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!"
O Prince of Peace! 'ow long, 'ow long?


Flanders: Where Service's Brother Fell

Long after he had gained fame as the poet of the Yukon ("The Shooting of Dan McGrew"), Robert Service (1874–1958) made his way to the Western Front as a Red Cross ambulance driver. During his service he continued to write poems, which were collected in the volume from which "The Stretcher-Bearer" was selected, titled "Rhymes of a Red Cross Man". He dedicated the work to his brother, Lt. Albert Service, who was killed in Flanders in August 1916.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and the Great War


Society Matron

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875–1942) was a sculptor, art patron, philanthropist, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art. During and after the Great War she made memorable contributions to the war effort and its remembrance.

Whitney was born in 1875 to Cornelius Vanderbilt, II. In 1896 she married Harry Payne Whitney, son of William C. Whitney, secretary of the navy, 1885–1889. She studied sculpture under Henry Anderson, James Fraser, and Andrew O'Connor. In 1907 she opened a studio in Greenwich Village's MacDougal Alley. 

The Juilly Hospital

During the First World War, Whitney was involved with numerous war relief activities, most notably establishing and supporting a second American Ambulance Hospital (the first was just outside Paris) in Juilly, France, 30 miles east of Paris in 1916.  She personally financed the conversion of a wing of the Jesuit College of Juilly to a 200-bed hospital in time to care for French soldiers wounded at Verdun and the Somme. The hospital was staffed by American volunteers and eventually was absorbed into the Red Cross system as Hospital 6.


Typical Ward at Juilly

Gertrude made several trips to France during the war, keeping a journal and eventually publishing a piece on the hospital in several newspapers. Her sculpture during this period was largely focused on war themes. In 1919 she exhibited some of these works at the Whitney Studio in a show called "Impressions of War."

The Artist Working on a War Piece
(Quite a Change from the Society Lady, No?)

In the years after the war, she was also commissioned to do several war memorials, including the Washington Heights War Memorial (1922) and the St. Nazaire Memorial (1926) commemorating the landing of the American Expeditionary Force in France in 1917.

St. Nazaire Monument Remembering the First Doughboys to Arrive in France

A Soldier Struggles to Aid His Comrades: Washington Heights, NYC


While continuing her work as a sculptor in New York and France, she also supported young artists and formed the group Friends of the Young Artists, and in 1930 organized the Whitney Museum of American Art, which officially opened in November1931 in New York City.

Sources: American Field Service, New York City Archives, St. Nazaire, France website

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Stunning War Memorial of Ditchingham, UK



Ditchingham is a little village about 80 miles northeast of London, just off the English Channel. St. Mary's Church there has a most remarkable war memorial. Dedicated after the war to honor the community's fallen in the Great War, World War II was subsequently added to its listing.


It is a stunning object, made of black marble and bronze and is one of very few that include the figure of a fallen soldier. It was created by the artist Francis Derwent Wood, who also create the much better known Machine Gun Corp Memorial that features a statue of Biblical David located at Hyde Park Corner.


Too old to be sent to the trenches, Wood served as a sculptor of ceramic masks for facially disfigured soldiers during the war, before turning to working on the memorials. 

Source:  Western Front Association

Friday, January 6, 2017

H.G. Wells on America, American Tourists, & the War (1916)


H.G. Wells
I found the excerpts below in the 1916 work A Forecast of Things after the War by H.G. Wells. The big points Wells got exactly right in this mid-war extended essay were that the war was becoming test of national energy and will, and that, inevitably, the Central Powers would drop exhausted by the wayside one-by-one, with Germany, finally and decisively,  succumbing.  

It's kind of a ponderous read, with lots of socialist Utopianism mixed in with some astute observations. The first section reads like something from The Innocents Abroad and catches somewhat amusingly and accurately important things about the American character of 100 years ago (and maybe still today). In the second, nonetheless, Wells sees recent movement by the U.S. toward a greater involvement in the world, something of a veiled, but accurate, prediction that the Americans might just get involved in the war after all.

At the beginning of this war, the United States were still possessed by the glorious illusion that they were aloof from general international politics, that they needed no allies and need fear no enemies, that they constituted a sort of asylum from war and all the bitter stresses and hostilities of the old world. Themselves secure, they could intervene with grim resolution to protect their citizens all over the world. Had they not bombarded Algiers? [The reference here, is apparently to the Barbary pirates.]

I remember that soon after the outbreak of the war I lunched at the Savoy Hotel in London when it was crammed with Americans suddenly swept out of Europe by the storm. My host happened to be a man of some diplomatic standing, and several of them came and talked to him. They were full of these old-world ideas of American immunity. Their indignation was comical even at the time. Some of them had been hustled; some had lost their luggage in Germany. When, they asked, was it to be returned to them? Some seemed to be under the impression that, war or no war, an American tourist had a perfect right to travel about in the Vosges or up and down the Rhine just as he thought fit. They thought he had just to wave a little American flag, and the referee would blow a whistle and hold up the battle until he had got by safely. One family had actually been careering about in a cart—their automobile seized—between the closing lines of French and Germans, brightly unaware of the disrespect of bursting shells for American nationality. . . 

An American Tourist Meets Some Local Soldiery

Since those days the American nation has lived politically a hundred years...The people of the United States have shed their delusion that there is an Eastern and a Western hemisphere, and that nothing can ever pass between them but immigrants and tourists and trade, and realised that this world is one round globe that gets smaller and smaller every decade if you measure it by day's journeys. They are only going over the lesson the British have learnt in the last score or so of years. This is one world and bayonets are a crop that spreads. Let them gather and seed, it matters not how far from you, and a time will come when they will be sticking up under your nose. 

There is no real peace but the peace of the whole world, and that is only to be kept by the whole world resisting and suppressing aggression wherever it arises. To anyone who watches the American Press, this realisation has been more and more manifest. From dreams of aloofness and ineffable superiority, America comes round very rapidly to a conception of an active participation in the difficult business of statecraft. She is thinking of alliances, of throwing her weight and influence upon the side of law and security. No longer a political Thoreau in the woods, a sort of vegetarian recluse among nations, a being of negative virtues and unpremeditated superiorities, she girds herself for a manly part in the toilsome world of men.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Unique WWI Photos from the National Museum of Health & Medicine


A French Double Amputee Re-learns How to Write


U.S. Army Field Dental Station


Amputee Learning Gardening As Part of His Therapy


U.S. Troops at a German De-lousing Center (Probably During Occupation Duty)


Nurses Mess Hall at an American Base Hospital


A Volunteer Gives Water to a Wounded Doughboy


An Ambulance That Had an Accident on a Nighttime Run


Trolley for Moving Casualties Through a Trench


Concert for the Patients and Staff at U.S. Base Hospital #1


An Unfortunate Soldier Who Has Lost Both Feet