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 22, 2014

A World-Wide Christmas Eve Commemoration of the 1914 Truce

Highly Sentimentalized Depiction of the Christmas Truce

Carillons throughout the world will ring out “Silent Night” at 19:14 p.m. on Christmas Eve 2014 to commemorate the Christmas Truce between the German, British, Belgian, and French soldiers on the Western Front in World War I.  Seventy-eight participants in eleven countries will celebrate and remember the one hundredth anniversary of this action of peace. Sixteen of the participants are in the United States. The Carillon of Messines, Belgium located just north of the most famous truce site, will launch the event at 1914 hrs, local (7:14 p.m.). Performances in other time zones will follow at 1914  local time.

On Christmas Eve 1914, as darkness descended upon a brutal landscape of trenches and barbed wire, the sound of carols rising from the German lines prompted curious British, Belgian and French soldiers to raise their heads above the parapet. In the distance, they could see the glow of candles on small Christmas trees. Germans were also seen peering back. No shots were fired. Some soldiers raised their heads higher, and the men exchanged salutations. Enemies inched closer and eventually met. They shook hands, agreeing a truce for the following day.

We have been unable to find a comprehensive list of participating groups but in the U.S. we have identified the following:

Baylor University, Waco, TX
Bells of Peace in Kansas City, MO
Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI
McGaffin Carillon, Cleveland, OH
The Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA

Also, we have not found much media coverage of the Truce Centennial on American media.  Cable Network H2's documentary on the Truce is the only Christmas Eve presentation we have discovered.

Fortnum & Mason Provisions the Front

Fortnum & Mason Provisions the Front

by Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester

Asked what food typified the Western Front, most students would come up with bully beef or Maconochie's stew. Here is the antithesis of that — the luxury of a Fortnum & Mason hamper, of varying items and quantities, available to be sent to "officers". Presumably the price alone precluded other ranks from ordering these, let alone the social exclusion. Bear in mind that many officers were but of the temporary sort, not necessarily monied as in the traditional prewar days. We show below excerpts of the Fortnum's 1914 catalog, primarily for Christmas —

The 1915 catalog (note the black/white, much sparer look) expanded to include other necessities for frontline existence, including a "Mediterranean" version, presumably for those in the vortex of Gallipoli. Perishables and breakables were kept out of these hampers as much as possible. And by hamper we really mean boxes and crates, since the lovely classic wicker hamper from Fortnum's could hardly stand the ravages of wartime transport and storage. Those boxes were useful empty as well.

1915 Fortnum & Mason Catalog

Included here are parcels of the month, all labeled "January", February", etc. through December. And in another sad new tangent of the war, there is a section of parcels to send to POWs. How many of these actually made it through to their recipients can only be surmised —

After 1915 it is hard to image these abundant catalogs being made use of, or even available, given the escalating lack of food in Britain with the increased U-boat war sinking much-needed imported food. And with official rationing instituted in 1918, this prewar approach to sending treats to the front must have fallen away altogether.

To read through more of these catalog pages and find other Great War historical gems please go to The site owner Ian Houghton graciously gave permission for these to be excerpted. I had not seen his site before, but I recommend it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Edward I. Tinkham – AFS Volunteer, Camion Driver, Naval Aviator, Part V

Part V: At Naval Air Station Porto Corsini

by James Patton

Ensign Edward Tinkham,
Naval Aviator
On 23 July 1918, 377 U.S. Navy personnel were assembled at Porto Corsini, under the command of Lt. Willis Haviland. The following day the Italian 263rd Squadron turned over the station and it was commissioned as a U.S. Naval Air Station, under the command of USN Aviation Forces, Italy, located at the American Embassy in Rome. The new commanding officer was the familiar and again-promoted Lt. Cdr. J.L Callan USN (RF), who had set up shop on 25 April. He would be succeeded on 16 October by Capt. Charles R. Train (USN), who remained in command until all personnel were returned to the United States.

The Italians left 30 aircraft at the site (15 Ma.5s, five Ma.8s, and 10 FBAs), but only a total of five were operational. So Haviland’s first challenge was to repair as many of these as possible. There was a shortage of spare parts, and some of Macchis even had to be returned to the factory to be rebuilt. By the Armistice the Italians had provided only six additional units. The USN had some Curtiss HS-2Ls (with two 400-hp Liberty engines) available in France, but their 74-ft wingspan was deemed too wide for the Canal Candiano.

The NAS was built on a manmade island in the midst of a marsh, which the sailors whimsically dubbed "The Isle of Capri". When told that Capri in Italian means wild goat, they dubbed their barracks area "Goat Island City". As a result, the NAS adopted a winged goat caricature as its insignia and this was painted on each plane. Otherwise, the Italian livery was retained to preclude confusion.

The enemy were apparently aware of the arrival of Americans at Porto Corsini and decided to give them a warm reception; on the night of 25 July  they attacked and dropped about a ton and a half of bombs. Luckily, however, they made a mistake as to the location of the station, and although two large bombs landed within 500 yards of the camp, the majority of bombs hit the marshes and canals farther up the coast.

In addition to anti-submarine patrols in the Adriatic Sea, the NAS Porto Corsini was tasked with conducting offensive bombing against the enemy base at Pola. All operations were directed by the Italian Navy district commander at Venice.

NAS Porto Corsini, Note Plane Taking Off in Canal

In the weeks after their arrival, the operational strength slowly grew to five FBAs, four Ma.5s and four Ma.8s. The first attack mission, a daylight raid against Pola, was launched on 21 August. The strike package was five Ma.5s and two Ma.8s. They were met by anti-aircraft fire and five land-based fighters. One Albatros was shot down by Ensign George Ludlow, the first aerial combat victory in U.S. Navy history, but Ludlow’s plane was damaged and he had to ditch. Ensign Charles Hammann would later receive the Medal of Honor (also a first for U.S. Navy aviation) for rescuing Ludlow, but his Ma.5 was damaged beyond repair upon landing. All told, two Ma.5s were destroyed plus a Ma.5 and a Ma.8 had to turn back due to engine trouble. Perhaps not an auspicious start, but the aviators were commended by the Italian district commander and also by Lt. Cdr. Callan in Rome.

That night the enemy made another reprisal air raid, but although one of the buildings of the nearby Italian naval station was destroyed there were no casualties.

Bombing missions on Pola were mounted almost every night. Ensign Tinkham flew his first combat mission in an FBA, one of four that set out on the night of 28 August. One of these FBAs (not Tinkham’s) was forced down due to engine failure, but was the crew was rescued the next morning by an Italian MAS boat.

NAS Porto Corsini
From the left: an Ma.5, an FBA, another Ma.5, and (possibly) an Ma.8

On 1 September, acting on an urgent directive from the Italian Navy, Haviland sent out his three FBAs on a maximum-range search for a missing Italian submarine (probably the X-1, which was formerly the German UC-12). The sub was found drifting dead in the water and Italian surface ships were guided to the rescue. Another Italian Navy commendation was forthcoming for Haviland, Ensign Tinkham, and the other pilots, and later these men would receive the Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra.

On 7 October daylight missions against Pola were resumed, by six Ma.5s headed by Lt. Haviland. Five enemy planes engaged them, but the combat was inconclusive. After the 21 August debacle, knowing that his men were green in aerial combat tactics, Haviland led his Ma.5s in closing with the enemy (who weren’t very experienced dogfighters either). Lt. Cdr. Callan, sitting in his office in Rome, did not believe that commanding officers should lead attacks, let alone engage in combat, and he threatened to relieve Haviland, who paid no attention, and continued to lead daylight raids. Callan then threatened a court martial for disobeying orders. Haviland’s response was: “I wasn’t leading my men – I was too far ahead of them for that". This escalating confrontation was forestalled on 16 October when Callan moved on. Both stayed in the navy; Callan eventually became a rear admiral and Haviland a captain.

On the afternoon of 22 October the first coordinated "big plane" raid was staged, in conjunction with 30 Italian planes from Venice. NAS Porto Corsini sent three Ma.8s, two FBAs (one piloted by Ensign Tinkham), and eight Ma.5s, out of a total of 16 operational aircraft. Enemy defenses were ineffective and the damage to the targets was considerable.

The last mission flown was an armed reconnaissance by four Ma.5s over Pola on 2 November to ascertain the damage inflicted by an Italian limpet mines attack the previous day. These pilots were the first to report the sinking of the dreadnought SMS Viribus Unitis.

Although NAS Porto Corsini suffered no casualties directly due to enemy action, there were unfortunately four deaths from accidents. On 11 August, James L. Goggins, landsman for quartermaster, USN(RF), crashed a Ma.5 and was instantly killed. On 15 September, while testing a new radio, Ensign Louis J. Bergen, USN(RF), and Gunner (R) Thomas L. Murphy, USN(RF), crash-landed in an Ma.8 and died in the hospital at Ravenna shortly afterward from their injuries. George B. Killeen, coppersmith, USN(RF), died on 18 September as a result of burns received in a gas torch explosion.

Maachi Ma.8 with Ground and Air Crews 

Considering that the NAS was always seriously handicapped by a lack of planes and the spare parts and tools necessary to repair them, the results accomplished were altogether commendable and praiseworthy. The planes which had been promised by the Italian authorities were delivered only in small and insufficient quantities, owing to delays in production and the more urgent need of their own stations elsewhere. Twenty-one was the greatest number of flyable aircraft ever available at NAS Porto Corsini at the same time and with the machines available a total of 745 flights were made during active war operations. Five aircraft were lost: three Ma.5s, one Ma.8 and one FBA.

Admiral H.T. Mayo, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, stated on 10 November 1918 that NAS Porto Corsini had "the distinction of being the most heavily engaged unit of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe."

The Chronicle of Edward Tinkham's war service will be continued in Roads to the Great War.  Jim Patton's earlier installments of  Edward's adventure can be read here:

Part I: With the American Field Service

Part II: With TMU 526, of the AFS and the Rèservé Mallet

Part III: Difficult times in the Camion Service

Part IV: Training to be a Navy Pilot

Sources: Cornell University, American Field Service, U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, Willis Haviland Lamm

Saturday, December 20, 2014

20 December 1914: The First Battle of the Champagne Opens

After the Western Front was established General Joffre did not believe he had any choice but to keep attacking the enemy now occupying a major part of France. Also, he could not afford to let the Russians, who feared that the Germans might move massive reinforcements from west to east, believe for even a second that the French were less than determined to hold up their end of the alliance. His attention soon focused on the Champagne Region between Reims and Verdun, where the nearly level rolling terrain broken only by smaller rivers and streams made offensive operations seem feasible.

Un-Defaced: A German Medical Column Passing Through the Champagne, September 1914

This was, however, at a point in the war when the defensive advantages of the new weaponry and the trench networks still evolving were not fully evident. Attacks were ordered by Joffre all along the massive German salient into France, which had its apex near St. Quentin. The strongest of these attacks was planned to be on the salient's southside, in the Champagne, mounted by the Fourth Army and (to their east) the Second Army. It was launched on 20 December 1914 with some initial advances, but enemy counterattacks, poor quality munitions, and bad weather hindered anything more substantial. French commanders reevaluated matters and decided to narrow the focus of their attacks. Meanwhile, the German Army strengthened their second and third line defenses. The renewed French attacks began on 12 February 1915, followed a cycle similar to the December assault: initial success, difficulty advancing beyond the first line of trenches, and relentless counterattacks by the Germans. After another pause for rethinking matters, the offensive resumed on 12-16 March but no major breach could be made by attacking on the narrower fronts since any Poilus who successfully broke through were devastated by flanking fire from German artillery.

Violated: French Machine Gun Position in the Champagne, Early 1915
(Note the Chalky Soil)

These were the early lessons of trench warfare. It cost the French and German Armies 90,000 casualties each to learn them. This First Battle in the Champagne was but the beginning here — the region would become one of the greatest killing grounds of the war for the French Army. It was the site of major action in every year of the war, except 1916 when Verdun and the Somme occupied everyone's attention. The Champagne would later be remembered as  the grimmest looking battlefield of the Western Front.

Moonscape:  the Champagne after Four Years of War

Friday, December 19, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 48: Butte de Vauquois

Comments Contributed by Elspeth Johnstone

The lost village of Vauquois in the Argonne (Le village disparu) is a testament to the enormity and ferocity of a unique underground struggle of the 1914–1918 war. There are other lost villages in France: Hurlus, Ripont, and Tahure on the Champagne battlefields, and the villages of Verdun that were destroyed and left little evidence of where they once stood. Other areas were mined — the Somme, Vimy, and the Argonne Forest — but it is only at Vauquois that you find surviving evidence of extreme mine warfare that continued below ground well after the village was obliterated, and when there was little hope of a breakthrough on the surface from the infantry of either side.

The Butte de Vauquois, where this tiny village once stood, is now just a mass of craters and tunnel entrances. But in 1914 this small hill 290 meters above sea level, with the Argonne massif to the west and Mort Homme to the east, was hotly contested by the Germans and French. It provided a superb observation point for road and rail traffic from the Islettes pass, and therefore, eventually, all movement to and from Verdun.

Over the next four years the sappers of both sides exploded an unbelievable 519 mines under Vauquois. What had been a small hill-top village with a population of 168 was a series of mine craters 10–20 meters deep separating the French and German front lines. The ground had become the grave to 8,000 missing French and German dead. There was no sign of the church or school that had crowned the crest of the hill — all had been swallowed up by the ground beneath. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Centennial Event: Symposium at the MacArthur Memorial

Contributed by James Zobel

The MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA,  held its World War I Centennial Symposium on 14–15 November 2014. Hosting eight authors from the United States, Canada, and Europe, the Memorial partnered with C-SPAN to broadcast the event live on national television. Over 400 people from across the United States attended the two-day event. The symposium covered a wide array of topics focusing on the beginnings of the war with Catrine Clay and Dr. Sean McMeekin, the worldwide scale of the war with Dr. Helger Holwig and Dr. Frederick Dickinson, archaeology of the battle sites with Andrew Robertshaw and Joseph Hoyt, and American neutrality with Dr. Lee Craig and Nimrod Frazer.  

The Arriving Crowd Is Welcomed at the Memorial Venue

You can see the symposium online at

Catrine Clay, Author of King, Kaiser, Tsar, Makes Her Presentation

C-Span will also broadcast the entire symposium on the American History Network / C-Span on December 22-23, 2014.  You can also see the MacArthur Memorial’s recent WWI films The Road to War and The Best Laid Plans on Youtube.

Please learn more about the MacArthur Memorial at

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saki's Christmas Carol

H.H. Munro, aka Saki, gained popularity before the Great War for his witty and offbeat stories. He could have avoided serving, but Munro enlisted and died at the Somme in November 1916 at age 45. 

According to several sources, his last words were "Put that bloody cigarette out!" before he was shot by a sniper. Munro has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Sometime before his death, he made this contribution to war poetry titled "Carol" —

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
  All seated on the ground,
    A high explosive shell came down
      And mutton rained around.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I — The People's War
Reviewed by Michael Kihntopf

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War 1 —
The People's War
By Alexander Watson
Published by Basic Books, 2014

Perhaps the greatest mistake any reader of Great War literature can do is pass up this book. The title can bring to mind another dull overview of the war and its nearly three inch thickness can put off many an aficionado. However, the title and the thickness hide the real purpose of this book. The words 'The People's War' should have had top billing.

Alexander Watson, a lecturer in History at Goldsmiths, University of London, has brought about something that many of us look for in a history work about the war but can never find: what made a people continue supporting the war even when casualties reached astronomical proportions? The author effectively delves into the very psyche of the Central Powers' citizens to explain their motivation. Yet he draws other aspects into it also, such as why, considering how many obstacles the ruling governments put into place which thoroughly alienated its subjects, did the people continue to support the war effort? Added to these explanations, just for good measure, is a very detailed description of the people's experience, such as atrocities, dislocation, and genocide, during brief or extensive periods of occupation by a conqueror (not necessarily by the Central Powers).

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The first chapter of the book is the obligatory depiction of who actually started the war that we have run across so many times. Watson lays out the usual political intrigues and I expected the usual outcome: the Central Powers started it. I was pleasantly surprised to find his assessment somewhat more challenging to follow and more reflective in nature. Rather than blame the start on any one person or government, the author brings the reader to believe that war would have been avoidable if only the very people who should have prevented it, the political statesmen, were not so intent on bringing the July crisis to such a fever pitch that it was irretrievable from going to war. They had fully expected to preclude war through their negotiating abilities, which turned out to be woefully lacking and prone to outside influences. They were not the Bismarcks or Aerhenthals that they had aspired to be. Once war was declared and began mutating from a local conflict to the threshold of a global conflict, those statesmen could no longer contain the military and the nationalistic, conservative temperaments of those who followed and took control.

Chapter two, once again, begins blandly by explaining the many prewar plans that the Army General Staffs of Germany and Austria-Hungary had for dealing with Serbian and Russian threats to their lands. And, once again, Watson throws in a new aspect. How did the people see their part in the mobilization? Many authors over the years have gleefully pointed to the diversity in ethnic make-up of the Central Powers as the key to their overall failure in the conflict and that such ethnic conflicts surfaced early. The author's research paints an entirely different picture. There was an enthusiasm toward war across all nationalities in both empires, Watson argues, based on the primal instinct of cultural survival. In Germany, the invasion of East Prussia and the ensuing treatment, mass executions and deportations, of native populations awoke a feeling that the war was being fought for survival. Austro-Hungarian peoples also saw their support of the war motivated by the actions of the Russians as they drove into the eastern provinces. It is singularly important that the governments did not channel this enthusiasm. Instead, they held all non-Germanic populations as suspect to aiding the enemy. Suspected threats, including parliamentary representatives and spiritual leaders, were rounded up and jailed. Community leaders were displaced leaving the greater population adrift in a sea of uncertainty as occupiers looted, pillaged and murdered their way across newly acquired territory.

Budapest When War Was Declared, 1914

And so the book continues. Each chapter has a similar beginning, a paradigm of the Great War that we are used to seeing. The author follows this not by disproving it, but rather explaining how the people saw the governments' actions as the best possible solution, and following with what the decision ultimately meant for the people who were fighting the war. Many of the government policies that surfaced during the war regarding conquered Eastern European areas would resurface in World War II. Lithuanians, Poles, Jews, and Russians were to be deported and replaced by Ukrainian Germans. In Galicia and Poland the Russians sent 3.3 million inhabitants to wander in the Russian interior where refugee facilities were not available. Farther east, the Ottoman Empire attempted to annihilate the Armenian population to secure its borders

Budapest World War I Memorial

This work is enthralling. As I started each chapter I was initially put off by being fed some commonly noted facts, but my attention was instantly brought back as the author introduced firsthand accounts of what a particular government policy meant to the people. This work takes more of a social history view than the usual diplomatic and military perspectives that we are used to when reading about the Great War. We cannot deny that it does not take heroism to order people into fighting the war, but it does take heroism to carry out the orders.

Michael Kihntopf
Photos: Tony Langley and Steve Miller

Monday, December 15, 2014

Does Your Loved One Pine for Maconochie with Tickler's Plum and Apple Jam for Dessert?

Or has he decorated his den with sand bag walls and duck board flooring? Then, just possibly — like the editors of Roads to the Great War — he is afflicted with Western Front-itis. We know at Roads to the Great War that this is a particularly troublesome malady for their families to deal with at this time of the year. Just what to get them for Christmas? In their personal collections they probably  already have an authentic Princess Mary gift box, or Horatio Kitchener or Uncle Sam in a poster calling them to duty, or a  Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred medal set. And period clothing, such as that advertised below, is just impossible to find in the 21st century. So, just what "over the top" present can you get for the World War I enthusiast in your life?

Original Ad from The Wipers Times
Fortunately, Kimball our assistant editor has been researching this matter for our readers and has discovered the latest "must have" for our fellow aficionados: the story of the Wipers Times.

Two Scenes from the Movie

Top: A Functioning Printing Press Is Discovered in Ypres;
Bottom: In the Trenches on the Somme

The story of the most famous trench newspaper of the war, The Wipers Times, is now available on DVD and the production is simply superb. The 90-minute dramatization starts with the discovery by Captain Fred Roberts's (Ben Chaplin in a +++ performance) unit of pioneers of a forgotten printing press in the town of Ypres, where they are quartered. After they learn their top sergeant is a skilled printer, and Roberts and his assistant Lt.  Jack Pearson rationalize their appropriating it for their own use, they decide to go into the newspaper business. Now as proprietors and editor/assistant editor of a new publication some decisions need to be made. What title? Well only the "Times" sounds sufficiently trustworthy, but it needs its own cachet, so they decide to add the printing location (as pronounced by the Tommies); hence, the Wipers Times was born. What material to present? Well, the new editors, being junior officers stuck in the frontline trenches,  instinctively target those above them (the brass), behind them (staff officers), and hovering over them (the Fates, responsible for imposing the calamity of trench warfare). Naturally, the the Times is soon a big hit with the troops and an annoyance to members of the high command and general staff.

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The video follows the adventures of the group through the rest of the war, performing  their normal duties, which involve a lot of trench maintenance, while producing a hit publication, the greatest challenge of which is the never ending struggle for new, fresh material. Two features of the film add considerably to this base narrative.  To give the viewer a feel for the content and wicked humor of the newspaper, the setting regularly shifts to a slightly surrealistic cabaret, where the soldiers we have been watching are now the performers for the comedy sketches, songs, and poems published in the Wipers Times. In contrast, there are some surprising hard-core combat episodes covering the period when the men and officers of the unit are sent to the Somme as infantry. These include one of the most authentic feeling over the top sequences I've seen in a Great War film (and I've seen a lot of them.)

So if you are  looking for the perfect WWI present for someone whose interest in it is boundless,  a DVD of The Wipers Times is perfect.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Georgia, U.S.A. in the Great War: Part II

The Otranto Disaster

On the morning of 25 September 1918, about 690 Doughboys (infantrymen), mostly Georgians from Fort Screven, boarded the old British troopship HMS Otranto, which set sail with a large Allied convoy bound for England. The Otranto was a medium-sized, prewar passenger liner that, like so many others, had been pressed into military service by the British Royal Navy. 

The tragic 1918 sinking of the British Otranto upset many Georgia communities. Nearly every county in the state lost at least one man when the ship went down off the coast of Scotland.

As the convoy entered the Irish Sea on 6 October still a day from port, the weather became worse, with gale-force winds. A tremendous wave struck the Kashmir, a converted troopship within the convoy, causing it to break ranks and veer hard. It rammed at full steam into the unsuspecting Otranto and caused severe damage to the liner. With a gaping hole in her side and a loss of power, the Otranto was helpless against the strong, storm-driven current, and she began to drift toward the nearby Scottish island of Islay and its rocky coast. The Otranto began to sink slowly before a huge wave pushed the ship onto Islay's rocks. The ship broke apart and quickly sank. Approximately 370 men were killed, an estimated 130 of whom were Georgians.


In late September 1918, new draftee replacements for the Fort Screven Coast Artillery units began reporting to the infirmary seriously ill. Within a few days, it became clear that the men had contracted the dreaded Spanish flu. On 1 October the number of ill at Augusta's Camp Hancock jumped from two to 716 in just a few hours. The next day, Camp Gordon near Atlanta reported that 138 soldiers had contracted the virus. On 5 October Camp Hancock was quarantined with 3,000 cases of flu, but the quarantine came too late, as 47 cases had already reached the nearby city; by evening, more than 50 soldiers were dead, while many more had contracted pneumonia. Though seriously affected by the Spanish flu epidemic, Georgia escaped the massive numbers of sick and dying counted in other states along the East Coast.

Remembering the War

World War I officially ended on 11 November 1918, known as Armistice Day. Most Americans wanted to remember the war and the sacrifice of the men who had fought in it. This spirit of remembrance led to Armistice Day being recognized as a new national holiday. The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto had stunned many Georgia communities, perhaps none more than the small town of Nashville. The seat of a sparsely populated and agricultural Berrien County, Nashville lost 20 residents in the Otranto sinking and another 27 young men to combat or disease. At the war's end, the citizens of Nashville decided to erect a monument honoring the community's fallen heroes.

Spirit of the American Doughboy

Sculptor Ernest M. Viquesney, an Indiana native living in nearby Americus, Georgia, designed a statue of a Doughboy in combat. The seven-foot-tall bronze soldier stands in bronze mud amid broken stumps and tangles of barbed wire. The town of Nashville paid $5,000 for the public sculpture, which was first unveiled  in November 1921.

A 1920s postcard depicts Ernest M. Viquesney's sculpture, Spirit of the American Doughboy,
 which stands in downtown Waycross, GA. Viquesney produced more than 
150 of these statues for towns across Georgia between 1921 and 1943.

As word of Viquesney's statue spread, representatives from other towns visited Americus to see the monument. New orders poured in, and Viquesney went into business, making the statues he now called the Spirit of the American Doughboy. The sculptor would go on to produce more than 150 statues between 1921 and 1943 and deliver them to towns all across the nation.

In 1922 two of America's war dead received special recognition and a large memorial site in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. These fallen young men represented America's Unknown and Known Soldiers, comprising the nation's unknown or missing dead and all of the known troops killed during World War I. Congress chose Charles Graves of Rome, Georgia, who had been killed in combat at the age of 18 and buried with full military honors in France, to be America's Known Soldier, and plans were made to create a monument and coordinate his reburial in Arlington. Graves's mother, however, wanted him buried at the family cemetery near Rome. Congress honored the mother's wishes and sent the body to Georgia. The following year, Graves was buried once again, this time in a more prominent memorial at Rome's Myrtle Hill Cemetery. Later, three World War I machine guns were placed around the site to "guard" Charles Graves for eternity. The city planted 34 magnolia trees around the cemetery to honor each of Floyd County's lost lives.

Source:  The New Georgia Encyclopedia, (Link)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Georgia, U.S.A. in the Great War: Part I

The 106th Field Signal Battalion marches near Camp Wheeler in Macon, circa 1918

Georgia played a significant role during America's participation in World War I (1917–18). The state was home to more training camps than any other state and by the war's end had contributed more than 100,000 men and women to the war effort. Georgia also suffered from the effects of the influenza pandemic, a tragic maritime disaster, local political fights, and wartime homefront restrictions.

War Sentiment in Georgia

As newspaper headlines around the world reported the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on 28 June 1914, Georgia papers paid very little attention to the news. The assassination provoked an immediate response from several European countries, however, all of whom were concerned about the growing political instability and the possible shift in power on the continent. In early August, hardly a month later, war broke out in Europe after Germany attacked Belgium. U.S. president Woodrow Wilson was determined to keep the United States out of the conflict. On 19 August he delivered a speech defining America's stance on the war. "Every man who really loves America," he said, "will act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned...The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name."

Nearly a year later, the torpedoing of the transatlantic liner Lusitania on 7 May 1915 caused little outcry in Georgia, although voices from the North were quick to call for America's entry into the war. Hoke Smith, a U.S. senator from Georgia, said that war was not needed to avenge the deaths of a few "rich Americans" who had gone down with the ship. Local newspapers in Savannah and Athens also warned the public against hastily supporting the case for war, which had already hurt the state's economy. A curtain of Royal Navy ships, forming the British blockade of Europe, prevented Georgia cotton, tobacco, timber, and naval stores from reaching potentially lucrative German and Austrian markets.

The events of the war also contributed in large part to what is known as the Great Migration, during which black Americans moved from the South to urban areas in the North. New war-related jobs suddenly available in northern cities, coupled with the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and mass lynchings across the South, spurred this flight. The Great Migration reached its peak between 1915 and 1930, by which time Georgia had lost more than 10 percent of its black population.

The Declaration of War and the Selective Service Act

On 6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, thereby entering World War I. For about two years, Georgia's newspapers had been writing against the war because of its negative impact on the state's economy. Yet almost overnight the media changed their tune, becoming anti-German and strongly patriotic.

War fervor in Georgia sometimes raged to the immediate detriment of common sense. Soon state newspapers were warning readers to be on the "lookout for German spies." The loyalty of some Georgians suddenly became suspect: state labor leaders, teachers, farmers, and foreign immigrants were scrutinized for their "patriotism." Dirt farmers, especially the ones who still professed Populist leanings, were pressured into buying war bonds, signing "Declarations of Loyalty," and draping American flags over their plows while they worked. The state school superintendent encouraged all students and teachers to take a loyalty oath and to plant and tend what would become known as "liberty gardens." Teachers stopped covering German history, art, and literature for fear of being thought disloyal.

Loyalty pledges and flag-waving aside, President Wilson soon realized that volunteerism alone could not sustain an army capable of defeating Germany, so on 18 May 1917, he approved the Selective Draft Act (popularly known as the Selective Service Act) to remedy the problem. On 5 June all of Georgia's and the nation's eligible men, ages twenty-one to thirty, were required to register for the draft.

Many white men in Georgia sought to prevent black men from being drafted. As in the Civil War, when some planters refused to lend their slaves to the Confederate government for various kinds of war work, some land-owning whites in 1917 refused to allow their black sharecroppers to register for the draft or to report for duty once they had been called. Many black men were arrested and placed in camp stockades for not heeding draft notices that they had never received from landowners. Selective Service officials blamed Georgia's white planters for many such delinquency issues; for most of the war, local draft boards "resisted sending healthy and hard-working black males" because they were needed in the cotton fields and by the naval stores industry.

The very idea of conscription was abhorrent to many Georgians, including U.S. senator Thomas Hardwick, Rebecca Latimer Felton, and Thomas E. Watson. Watson even challenged the Selective Draft Act in federal court, when he announced his intentions of defending two black men who were jailed in Augusta for failing to register for the draft. Donations poured in to help support the case. On 20 August 1917, the trial took place outdoors in order to accommodate the large crowd that came to hear the old Populist's oratory. In the end the judge upheld the constitutionality of the act and more than 500,000 men were registered in Georgia.

Federal Installations and War Camps

The state had five major federal military installations when the United States entered the war in 1917. The oldest garrison was Fort McPherson, located south of Atlanta, which opened in 1889; the newest was Fort Oglethorpe, constructed near the Tennessee border just a few years after the Spanish-American War in 1898. Fort Screven, a large coastal artillery station on Tybee Island, guarded the entrance to the Savannah River. Augusta housed both the South's oldest federal arsenal, the Arsenal at Augusta, and the army's second military airfield, Camp Hancock.

Two soldiers from the Pennsylvania's Twenty-eighth National Guard Division stand guard in 1917
at Camp Hancock, just outside Augusta.

Georgia had many war-training camps as well. The large national army cantonment at Camp Gordon, which opened in July 1917, was located in Chamblee, northeast of Atlanta, and was the training site of the famous 82nd All-American Division. The division included men from several different states, including the AEF's most famous Doughboy, Alvin York of Tennessee, but Georgians made up almost half its number. National Guard training camps were based in Augusta and Macon; Augusta's Camp Hancock was home to the 28th Keystone Division, while Camp Wheeler in Macon hosted the 31st Dixie Division, which was entered by almost all of Georgia's National Guard. Eventually more than 12,000 Georgians were active in the 31st. Specialist camps, such as Camp Greenleaf for military medical staff, Camp Forrest for engineers, and Camp Jesup for Transport Corps troops, were scattered around the state. At Souther Field, located northeast of Americus, a flight school trained almost 2,000 military pilots for combat in the skies over France.

Part II tomorrow.  The men trained in Georgia head "Over There" for the "Big Show".

Source:  The New Georgia Encyclopedia, (Link)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 47: The Lost Battalion Site

From the personal experience monograph of Captain Nelson M. Holderman, who at the time commanded Company K of the 307th Infantry. Holderman later received the Medal of Honor for his service during the incident.

On October 2, 1918, elements of the U. S. 77th Division attacked northward in the Argonne Forest. A force under the command of Major Charles W. Whittlesey, consisting of headquarters scouts and runners of the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 308th Infantry, Companies A, B, C, E, G and H of the 308th Infantry, two platoons of Companies C and D of the 306th Machine-Gun Battalion, and Company K of the 307th Infantry, reached its objective east of the Moulin de Charlevaux. Company K of the 307th Infantry joined the command after the objective had been reached.

Neighboring units and supporting troops had been stopped far short of the line reached by Major Whittlesey. The Germans quickly seized this opportunity to work their way behind this isolated unit and cut its communications with American troops to the rear. This force-known to history as the Lost Battalion was cut off and surrounded. It had only one day's ration for four companies.

Upon reaching his objective, Major Whittlesey had organized for defense. Enemy artillery shelled the position. This ceased after a time and trench-mortar fire followed. An attempt to establish contact with the rear failing, the situation was reported by pigeon message and the force disposed for all-around defense.

The following message was then sent to all company and detachment commanders:

Our mission is to hold this position at all cost. Have this understood by every man in the command.

Fire from enemy machine guns and trench mortars continued. About 3:00 p.m. the next day (October 3) the Germans launched a frontal attack supported by fire from the flanks and rear. The leading assailants got close enough to throw grenades, but the attack failed. About 5:00 p.m. another attack came from both flanks. This too was repulsed but with heavy American losses.  By way of medical assistance the Americans had three Medical Corps enlisted men; no medical officer had accompanied the outfit. All dressings and first-aid bandages were exhausted on the night of the 3rd.

Daylight of October 4 found the men tired and hungry. All, especially the wounded, had suffered bitterly from the cold during the night. More enemy trench mortars went into position and opened a steady fire, causing heavy casualties. Scouts reported that the Germans were all around the position in large numbers. No word from the rear had been received. Again the situation was reported by pigeon message.

During the afternoon of the 4th an American barrage, starting in the south, swept forward and settled down on the position, causing more losses. German trench mortars added their shells. At this time the last pigeon was released with a message giving the location of the force and stating that American artillery was placing a barrage on it.

American planes flew over the position and were fired on by the Germans. About 5:00 p.m. a new German attack was repulsed. Water was being obtained from a muddy stream along the ravine below the position. Often a canteen of water cost a casualty, for the enemy had laid guns to cover the stream. Guards were therefore posted to keep men from going to the stream during daylight. A chilly rain the night of the 4th added to the discomfort.

About 9:00 p.m. a German surprise attack failed. The wounded were now in terrible condition and, like the rest of the force, were without food.  Indications of American attacks from the south had been noted, but no relief came. Actually, several battalions of the 77th Division had been almost wiped out in valiant but vain efforts to reach the Lost Battalion.

During the afternoon of October 5, French artillery located to the southwest opened a heavy fire on the position. The Germans waited until the French fire lifted and then launched another attack which the Americans again stopped.

Shortly after this, American airplanes attempted to drop packages in the position but their aim was bad and the packages fell in the German lines. The men realized that this was an effort to get food to them.  Bandages for the wounded were now being taken from the dead; even wrap-leggings were used. It became increasingly difficult to get water.

On the morning of October 6 the enemy's rifles and machine guns started early and his trench mortars again took up their pounding. Another American airplane came over and dropped packages, but again they fell in the German lines. Soon afterward there were signs that the Germans were forming for another attack, but this was broken up by American artillery fire.

During the afternoon of October 6 a murderous machine-gun barrage plastered the position and took a heavy toll. This was immediately followed by an attack which, though beaten off, added to the roll of dead and wounded.  By this time ammunition was running low. But despite everything, courage and morale remained high. The men were determined to fight to a finish.

About noon on the 7th another attack was repulsed. At 4:00 p.m. enemy firing ceased. From the left flank an American soldier appeared limping toward the position. He carried a long stick with a piece of white cloth tied to it. This soldier had been captured while attempting to obtain a package of food dropped by the airplanes. He brought a letter from the German commander, neatly typewritten in English.

The bearer of this present, private __________ has been taken prisoner by us. He refused to give the German intelligence officer any answer to his questions, and is quite an honorable fellow, doing honor to his Fatherland in the strictest sense of the word.

He has been charged against his will, believing he is doing wrong to  his country, to carry forward this present letter to the officer in charge of the battalion of the 77th Division, with the purpose to recommend this commander to surrender with his forces, as it  would be quite useless to resist any more, in view of the present conditions.

The suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in the German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments  to stop. A white flag shown by one of your men will tell us that you agree with these conditions. Please treat Private__________ as an  honorable man. He is quite a soldier. We envy you.

Major Whittlesey made no reply, oral or written. He ordered two white airplane panels which were being displayed to be taken in at once. Nothing white was to show on the hillside.  The fiercest attack of the siege followed. Wounded men dragged themselves to the firing line, and those who could not fire loaded rifles. The enemy used flame throwers in this attack, and nearly took the position. But finally he was driven off.

At dusk on the 7th it seemed impossible to hold out. Only two machine guns were left of the original nine. No gunners remained to man them. Ammunition was almost exhausted. The next attack would have to be met with the bayonet. There had been no food since the morning of October 3rd. The water obtained was slimy and bad. Still these men were willing to fight on.

That night the enemy withdrew and American troops arrived soon afterward. One hundred and ninety-four (194) men [photo above] out of the 700 that jumped off on the morning of October 2nd were able to walk out of the position. Many of these were wounded.  Despite the desperate situation and the hardships, the morale of the Lost Battalion had not been broken. Inspired by their leader, the men were determined to fight to a finish.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Weapons of War — The French 75mm Field Gun

This was the French Army’s main artillery gun during World War I. It was introduced in 1897 and was the first fully integrated quick-firing gun. It also had an innovative recoil system that made for a smoother operation. 

Its great moment of the war may have been during the retreat after the colossal French defeat in the 1914 Battle of the Frontiers in slowing the German advance into northern France. This allowed General Joffre to regroup and prepare his counterstroke.

As a German soldier wrote in his diary during the Battle of the Marne:

"September —. The attack is violent on the outside; we remain close together, man to man, inundated by the shell from the French artillery. It is a fire of hell." 

When the U.S. became involved in World War I, space on ships was limited and manpower had priority over heavy equipment, so American troops often used French heavy equipment, including this 75mm field gun. An early adaption of the weapon was for anti-aircraft purposes. Interestingly, the German Army, which had found their comparable field piece unsuitable for this purpose, used captured French 75s to defend against Allied aircraft.

After World War I, it was upgraded with pneumatic tires and improved ammunition and was still the French Army’s main artillery gun until the 1940s. France also exported this gun to many other counties in the 1930s, and it was used in 1941 in World War II against the Japanese in the Philippines and in North Africa against the Germans. Erwin Rommel who had come to respect French artillery during the 1914 march to the Marne faced the weapon in both World Wars.

German Civilians Examine a Captured French 75

Some Details:

Country: France
Year: 1897
Caliber: 75mm
Shell Weight: 5.55 kg
Muzzle Velocity: 625 m/sec
Maximum Range: 6860m
Produced: Over 17,000
Maximum Rate of Fire: 15 rounds/minute

Source:  First Division Museum at Cantigny

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Captain Bruce Bairnsfather

Bruce Bairnsfather was born in Murree in India in 1873 to an army family and was educated at Rudyard Kipling's old school where he proved a poor student — more interested in scribbling caricatures of his masters than in passing his exams. Eventually he scraped through the Army entrance exam and enlisted in the militia — which he hated. He then studied at commercial art school but re-enlisted with the Royal Warwickshires when war broke out in 1914. Serving in the mud and misery of the trenches of the infamous Plugstreet Wood he started drawing cartoons that realistically and yet humorously depicted the appalling conditions of the trenches. They were soon published as the series that came to be known as FRAGMENTS FROM FRANCE, and they became an immediate roaring success. Soon his principal character, a phlegmatic, moustachio-ed soldier known as "Old Bill", was immortalized in the famous situation of "The Better 'Ole" and reproduced on pottery, on postcards, playing cards, in books, plays, and films, in the UK, North America, and, indeed, worldwide. There followed an extraordinary career. Yet Bairnsfather died in obscurity and relative poverty, and, although Gen. Sir Ian Hamilton called him "The Man Who Won the War" and he was courted by the Secret Service, he received no official award from his country for his evident genius in raising the morale of the nation during the Great War. 

Two of the friends I've made in leading tours of the WWI battlefields are Tonie and Valmie Holt, founders of Holt's Battlefield Tours. After taking their company to the leadership of the military history travel industry, Tonie and Valmie have moved on to other ventures and are now publishing the best battlefield guides available for travelers. They have also taken the lead in honoring one of the most beloved figures of the war and have authored a delightful biography of Bairnsfather, In Search of the Better Hole.

Order In Search of the Better Hole at:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Remembering World War I: An Engineer’s Diary of the War reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

Remembering World War I: An Engineer’s Diary of the War
by Charles Edward Dilkes
Edited by Virginia A. Dilkes, Georgia Dilkes Harris, and Lola Dilkes Koniuszy
Published by Juliet Publishing, 2014

Charles Edward Dilkes (1887–1968) graduated from Georgetown University with a background in engineering in 1910. On 1 May 1917, Dilkes responded to the nation's call to the colors by enlisting in the army and being assigned to the 1st Engineer Regiment at Washington, DC. In explaining why he enlisted, Dilkes, ever patriotic, said that "[e]very man must shoulder a weapon in defense of his home". For the rest of his time in the army, including service overseas in combat, Dilkes served in the 1st Engineers, part of the 1st Division.

Departing from Hoboken on 7 August 1917, Dilkes didn't have to wait long to experience combat as his ship, the Finland, was attacked by U-boats on August 20 as they neared France. The ensuing battle, eagerly watched by Dilkes and probably thousands of other soldiers and sailors, involved transports with deck guns, destroyers, and airplanes.

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Upon safe arrival in France, Dilkes and his regiment underwent training that included construction of barracks and stables along with infantry training and tours of duty in the trenches. Dilkes, who applied several times for officer training without success, also attended a school on road building. During their tours of duty in the trenches, the men repaired trenches and barbed wire entanglements, fortified reserve trenches, and constructed and repaired dugouts. While in the trenches, engineers had to participate in wire-stringing details in No-Man's-Land. Dilkes statement gives one an inkling of the perils of such work: "I was always ready to leave when the next detail arrived; there was no delay either …"

Dilkes describes a harrowing nighttime trip to the rear along a communication trench that was being heavily shelled. Loneliness had a way of magnifying the terror involved in such a trip: "On reaching the slope a company of infantry was hurrying along, and in the rear of this outfit I followed. I felt relieved a bit, for, if wounded, there was aid; but when alone there is nothing but the stars to offer sympathy." (p. 61) Throughout the narrative Dilkes records vignettes of war that he experienced, including searching the dead for rations and watching a muleteer calmly unhitch his two lead mules that had just been killed by shell fire and then drive on with the remaining two mules. Indeed, the book is replete with accounts of air raids, gas attacks, and artillery barrages, as well as stories of suspected German spies in French or American uniforms.

1st Division Engineers in Action
Dilkes, promoted to sergeant in April, 1918, went through all the battles of the 1st Division. He did his first real work in combat while the division was near Cantigny. There the men constructed "roads, observation posts, barbed wire entanglements, trenches, dugouts, and first aid stations." (p. 46) Constructing a communication trench required men to be posted every three feet; at the signal, each man then commenced digging a portion of trench six feet deep, three feet long, and two feet wide. Dilkes's description of such work, performed at night while anticipating or experiencing enemy artillery fire, evokes a feeling of helplessness in the reader.

During the Aisne-Marne campaign, Dilkes's company followed the assault wave as a part of the reserve; their duties included clearing debris from the roads in order to make them passable for follow-on artillery and supply units. At St. Mihiel, Dilkes and his company accompanied the infantry assault wave as wire-cutters. After the fighting died down, Dilkes helped set demolition charges to German items that might have appealed to souvenir-hungry Doughboys, but which could have been booby traps. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Dilkes performed much the same types of duties, filling in craters and repairing and reconstructing roads.

After the Armistice, the 1st Division became part of the Army of Occupation in Germany, and Dilkes describes his march to the Rhine bridgehead. Although happy with his treatment by the German family with whom he was quartered, Dilkes, in common with most Doughboys, was dissatisfied with his post-war army life. "Drills, hikes, inspections, and reviews were the daily routine...I considered my work finished with the signing of the armistice; now home and discharge were my cry".

After his return home, Dilkes, using a diary he kept during the war, wrote his memoirs for his family. Editors Virginia A. Dilkes, Georgia Dilkes Harris, and Lola Dilkes Koniuszy, Charles Dilkes's daughters, used his diary and memoirs to prepare this book. The editors include what they call "Living History" sidebars, snippets of information gleaned from various sources that illuminate or summarize aspects of the regiment's history. They have also included many General Orders and other commendations that were issued to either the regiment or the division.

Memoirs of infantrymen abound; this book, however, helps us to remember that, amidst the patrols, trench raids, and artillery duels, the backbreaking work of the engineers in and just behind the front lines continued. It is interesting to read Dilkes's engineer-centric narrative. Firsthand accounts by enlisted engineers are comparatively rare, and the editors have done a good service by publishing their father's memoirs.

Peter L. Belmonte