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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

World War I Monuments in the Former Yugoslavia

Source: Ljubjana Symposium, 18-19 October 2018

Monument to the Fallen, 1921,
Žrnovo, Prvo selo on Korčula, Croatia

The Dying Lion, 1916, Lav Cemetery on
Koševo, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Monument to the 20th Rifle Regiment,
Panovec near Nova Gorica, Slovenia

Austro-Hungarian military cemetery in Gorjansko, Slovenia

 Monument to the Fallen in World War I, 1939, Kamnik, Slovenia

Victory Lighthouse, 1927, Trieste, Italy

Top: Monument of Gratitude to France, 1930;
Bottom: Monument to an Unknown Hero on Avala, 1934–1938;
 both  in Belgrade, Serbia

Ossuary on the mountain Cer, 1927–1928, Tekeriš, Serbia

Monday, December 17, 2018

Who Was Capt. W.H. Burrell?

Australian Soldier Writing Home
from the Western Front

While I was researching an article  on Pozières Ridge, I kept running into photographs by a W.H. Burrell, MM, of the 4th Australian Railway Company. I could not find out much about Burrell, however. He joined up as an enlisted man and earned the Military Medal, then apparently earned a commission. He survived until at least 1919 when he donated his album to one of the State Museums in Australia. One thing for sure, he had a great photographic eye. The combat images here are from the Western Front. 

The 4th R.R. Company & 17th Infantry Battalion Depart Australia

Searching for Casualties Under Flag of Truce

A Lucky Digger Grabs Some Sleep

Memorial Cross for 17th Battalion, Erected 1917

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Recommended—Louis Barthas: Eyewitness to the French Army Mutinies, May–June 1917

Found at the Yale Press Blog
By Edward M. Strauss

Execution at Verdun of a French Mutineer

“On May 26 [1917] the first American combat troops arrived in France…

“The arrival of the first American troops coincided with a dramatic change on the French sector of the Western Front, where the growing number of desertions turned, on May 27, to mutiny.  At the Front itself, along the Chemin des Dames [ridge], as many as 30,000 soldiers had left their trenches and reserve billets and fallen to the rear.  Then, in four towns behind the lines, the troops ignored their officers’ orders, seized buildings, and refused to go to the Front…For a week there was chaos through the French war zone, as the mutineers refused to go back into the line.  The military authorities took swift action: under [French General Philippe] Pétain’s guiding hand, mass arrests and Courts Martial followed…More than four hundred soldiers were sentenced to death, fifty of them being shot, the rest being sent to penal servitude in the French colonies. For several million infantrymen, some of whom had been fighting for nearly three years, Pétain brought in immediate improvements, organizing longer periods of rest, more home leave, and better food…Within six weeks the mutinies were over…”—Martin Gilbert, The First World War, (1994), pp. 333–334.

“The general mood of those involved – and they comprised soldiers in fifty-four divisions, almost half the army – was one of reluctance, if not refusal, to take part in fresh attacks but also of patriotic willingness to hold the line against attacks by the enemy.  There were also specific demands: more leave, better food, better treatment for soldiers’ families, an end to ‘injustice’ and ‘butchery,’ and ‘peace’…[Pétain] set in train a series of measures designed to contain [the unrest] and return the army to moral well-being…”—John Keegan, The First World War (1998), pp. 330-331.

After the war, French infantryman Louis Barthas, ardent socialist and pacifist, provided a firsthand, on-the-scene account of these events:

At this time [spring 1917] the Russian Revolution broke out. Those Slavic soldiers, only yesterday enslaved and bent double under the weight of iron discipline, unknowingly marching off to massacres like resigned slaves, had thrown off their yokes, proclaimed their liberty, and imposed peace on their masters, their hangmen.

The whole world was stupefied, petrified by this revolution, this collapse of the immense empire of the czars.

These events had repercussions on the Western Front and throughout the French ranks.  A wind of revolt blew across almost all the regiments.

There were, besides, plenty of reasons for discontent: the painful failure of the Chemin des Dames offensive, which had no result but a general slaughter; the prospect of more long months of war ahead, with a highly dubious outcome; and finally the long wait for home leaves – it’s that which bothered the soldiers most, I believe.

I cannot pretend to tell the whole story of what happened almost everywhere just then.  I will stick to writing what I know, regarding our regiment and the repression which followed.

There was, at the end of the village [Daucourt, 6 km. south of Sainte- Menehould], a shopkeeper for whom the war brought only profit. He sold beer, and he had a cute little waitress to serve it to customers – powerful attractions which, every evening after supper, brought a whole crowd of poilus, a well-behaved clientele which plunked down in groups in the big courtyard adjacent to his shop.  One evening, some of the soldiers were singing, others were entertaining their fellows with songs and skits, when a corporal began singing words of revolt against the sad life in the trenches, words of farewell to the dear souls whom we might not see again, of anger against this infamous war, the rich shirkers who left the fighting to those who had nothing to fight for.

At the refrain, hundreds of voices rose in chorus, and at the end fervent applause broke out, mixed with cries of “Peace or revolution! Down with war!” as well as “Home leave!  Home leave!”

On another evening – patriots, cover your ears! – the “Internationale” [socialist anthem] was heard, bursting like a storm.

That time, our chiefs got stirred up.  It gave our old friend [Captain] Cros-Maryrevielle such an unbearable itch that he quickly sent a patrol of four men and the inevitable corporal to remind those vile whiners that, 8 o’clock having rung, the men had to hand over the street, the taverns, and the ladies to the officers, and report to the sergeants-of-the-day who were waiting to carry out roll call at the doorways of our empty billets.

The patrol prudently judged that it should beat a hasty retreat, and our captain-cop came out himself, escorted by the local police squad.

He tried to speak with moderation, but as soon as the first words left his mouth he was halted by formidable shouting.

Sputtering with rage but powerless, he turned on the unfortunate sergeants, who had unwisely reported that “no one was absent,” and forced them to call roll a second time.

A crowd of several hundred soldiers, scorning the roll calls, had massed in front of the police station, where Captain Cros had sought refuge.  To give him even more of a scare, one hothead fired a couple of pistol shots in the air.

At noon on May 30, there was even an assembly outside the village, to constitute, following the Russian example, a “soviet” composed of three men from each company, which would take control of the regiment.

To my great astonishment, they came to offer me the presidency of this soviet, that’s to say, to replace the colonel – nothing less than that!

That would be quite a sight – me, an obscure peasant who put down my pitchfork in August 1914, commanding the 269th Regiment. That went way beyond the bounds of probability.

Of course I refused. I had no desire to shake hands with a firing squad, just for the child’s play of pretending we were the Russians.

But I did decide to give an appearance of legality to these revolutionary demonstrations.  I wrote up a manifesto to give to our company commanders, protesting against the delay in furloughs.  It began like this: “On the eve of the [Chemin des Dames] offensive [in April], General [Robert] Nivelle had read to our troops an order of the day saying that the hour of sacrifice had rung….We offered our lives and made this sacrifice for the fatherland but, in exchange, we said that the hour of home leaves had also sounded, a while ago…,” etcetera.

The revolt was therefore placed squarely on the side of right and justice.  The manifesto was read out, in a sonorous voice, by a poilu who was perched astride the limb of a tree. Fervent applause underscored his last lines.

My vanity was hardly flattered.  If they learned that it was I who had drawn up this protest, moderate as it was, my fate was clear: a court-martial, for sure, and possibly twelve [French] bullets dispatched to send me off to another world, long before my appointed hour.

Meanwhile the officers had taken note of the call for an enormous assembly of soldiers, out by the Daucourt washhouses.  They tried to interrogate some poilus about the purpose of this meeting, but no one was willing to respond, or they answered evasively.

Our commandant tried to block the road by the police station, but the poilus got through by using other routes.

In the afternoon the order was given for immediate departure.  It included the formal promise that home leaves would begin again, starting the next day, at a rate of sixteen per one hundred men.  They needed nothing more to reestablish order. In spite of that, there were lively disturbances, especially in the encampment of the 4th Machine-Gun Company, a few moments before departure, and the men headed out only after singing the “Internationale” right in the faces of the stupefied but powerless officers.

At three o’clock, under a brilliant sun, we left Daucourt.   At five o’clock, the regiment marched through Sainte-Menehould, where tragic events had just played out.

Two regiments had just mutinied and seized their barracks, crying “Peace or Revolution!”

General “X,” who went to try to harangue the mutineers, was grabbed, slammed against a wall, and was just about to be shot, when a much-beloved commandant succeeded in saving the general and winning the promise that the insurgents be allowed to make their way to the camp at Châlons for a long rest.

Rifle shots were fired on a group of officers who were trying to approach the barracks. The bullets went wild and hit some innocent victims in the town, killing two, it is said. . . 

Read the full article at:

Saturday, December 15, 2018

15 December: 102 Years Ago — The Last Action of the Battle of Verdun

With both sides utterly exhausted, the Battle of Verdun, the longest struggle of the Great War, ended after 302 days on 18 December 1916. The last attack of the battle's most memorable aspect was the hard-fought recapture of the tiny, but symbolic, village of Bezonvaux. 

Final Attack: Launched 15 December 1916

Bezonvaux, with a population of 149 in February 1916, was located a mile northeast of Fort Douaumont. A redoubt bearing the same name as the village was located a quarter mile to its south. Caught between the main German attack from the north aiming at Douaumont and the French strategic withdrawal from the Woövre Plain to the east, the village and redoubt could not be held. They were finally abandoned by retreating French forces on 25 February 1916. Afterward, shelling gradually wiped out the village completely. 

The success of General Mangin's re-capture of Forts Douaumont and Vaux in October and early November left German forces still holding territory they had captured early in the battle. This led Mangin and his superior, General Nivelle, to contemplate repeating the attack on a front approximately ten kilometers long from Vacherauville near the Meuse River, east to Eix with the limited objective of capturing this area. The date chosen was 15 December 1916. On 10 December the French began a preliminary artillery barrage to soften up the German positions. At 10 a.m. on 15 December, French troops stormed the German lines. Four of the French Army's best divisions took part in the assault. Three regiments of the 37 Division d'infanterie (DI) left Fort Douaumont pushing east, advancing all day long through snow, mud, and barbed wire networks toward the Bezonvaux. Many of the soldiers ended up with frostbite. The attack on the village commenced at 2 a.m. on the 16th. Despite a French artillery error and heavy German shelling, the French completely rid Bezonvaux of its previous occupiers. However, they could not advance any farther. The Battle of Verdun was over. The front in this sector remained stable for the next two years, when American units would liberate the Meuse Heights just to the north at the very end of the war. 

Clockwise: Prewar Bezonvaux, Memorial Marker,
Stained-Glass Window, Chapel

Today, Bezonvaux is one of nine Villages Détruits (Destroyed) on the Verdun battlefield and one of the six that has never been rebuilt. These are ghost villages, communities that laid down their lives for France, moving memorials thanks to the chapels and commemorative monuments erected after the end of the war. Bezonvaux and her sisters are managed by a municipal council of three members appointed by the prefect of the Meuse department. Annual commemorative services are held at each of the villages. 

The site today still shows signs of the wartime damage. Commemorating the events of 1916 are the marker and the chapel shown above. The Bezonvaux memorial chapel's stained-glass window immortalizes 16 December 1916, showing troops wearing both the horizon blue uniforms of metropolitan France and the khaki worn by colonial forces. 

Sources: The French Ministry of Defense 

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Greatest Balloon Buster of the War

Willy Omer François Jean Coppens
Readers are probably familiar with the exploits of Lt. Frank Luke of the 27th U.S. Aero Squadron, who made a specialty of attacking highly defended enemy observation balloons, earning him the nickname of "Balloon Buster." The Arizonan shot down an amazing 14 balloons, plus four fighters, during just ten sorties in September 1918. However, his spectacular career was brief. Luke was shot down and killed on 29 September. 

The leading balloon buster of the war was actually a Belgian pilot, Willy Coppens, who, in little over a year, destroyed 37 observation balloons and possibly six more that were unconfirmed officially. His intense and dangerous war service ended in October 1918, when he was hit by flak while trying to down his second balloon of the day. His left leg was smashed and had to be amputated, but he lived until 1986. Some of our readers have told me about meeting Willy; he became one of the grand old men of World War I aviation. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War, Part V: The Kaiser's Culpability

Wilhelm II (1859–1941) was King of Prussia and Kaiser (Emperor) of Germany for 30 years until he was forced to abdicate in the last days of the Great War. A man of prodigious energy, able to out-work all his subordinates, and enthralled with an archaic view of the divine right of kings, he spent the first two years of his reign elbowing off the political stage his powerful chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.  A grandson of both Queen Victoria and the first Kaiser, upon ascending to power, he had apparently intuited a notion attributed to Count Waldersee, "If Frederick the Great had had such a chancellor [as Bismarck] he would not have been Frederick the Great."

In post-Bismarckian administration, Germany's chancellor was reduced to the status of chief of staff for his sovereign. Under Wilhelm's erratic direction, Russia and France were allowed to form an alliance, so the army had to plan a war against both of them. A navy was built to back Wilhelm's dream of a colonial empire, which was perceived as a challenge to Britain's Royal Navy, thereby both creating an economically burdensome ship-building race and forcing his admiralty to prepare for a war with a third nation. His foreign office, meanwhile, maneuvered for influence in Africa and the decaying Ottoman Empire, further alarming all the established colonial powers. Wilhelm's prewar neglect of domestic affairs also led to a victory by the Socialists in the Reichstag election of 1912, an event he would long rue.

Annika Mombauer of the Open University, presented her views on Wilhelm's character and his responsibility for bringing Europe and the world to war in 1914 in our January 2008 issue of OVER THE TOP:

Wilhelm II, who became Kaiser of Germany in 1888, had a profound impact on German and European history. He dismissed Bismarck in 1890, dismantled the alliance system which had helped to maintain peace and, most fatally of all, encouraged  an aggressive foreign policy which was to make the outbreak of a major European war more likely. He was mentally unstable, a probable consequence of his traumatic birth and his mother's reactions to the disability which resulted from it. He was unfit to rule, shown by his obsession with military matters and over-reliance on military advisers...In his lifetime, Wilhelm's contemporaries regarded him as an enigma. Commentators attributed to him immense powers and possibilities of decision-making and of ruling the country. However, they also commented on the Kaiser's insistence on being personally involved in decisions on every level, his embarrassing diplomatic faux pas, his irate marginal notes and ill-considered orders to his subordinates. In many ways, Wilhelm II was a terrible liability to the political rulers of the time.

What, then, was the Kaiser's role in all this? It was he, ultimately, who had to sanction a decision to go to war, he who finally signed the relevant mobilization orders, as he did in early August 1914. His tactless blunders on the international diplomatic stage did much to prepare the ground for hostilities among the major European powers of the day, as did his expressed desire to achieve a position of world power for Germany. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the most powerful position in Germany was to be filled by a megalomaniac monarch who was ultimately so ill-suited to occupying such an influential office. In the events leading to the outbreak of war, the role of the Kaiser must therefore be seen as a crucial factor. 

Supreme War Lord was a role Wilhelm certainly looked forward to playing, and he was never so popular during his reign as he was in the early days of the World War. But soon survival—not only of his own throne but also of the German Empire—was perceived to be at stake. Specialists were needed to manage "Total War", and as they displayed competence, they would siphon off Wilhelm's power.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Origins of "Great War"—A Roads Classic

The Oxford English Dictionary  lists two definitions for "Great War": 

(a) the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793–1815; 

(b) the war which began on 28 July 1914 with hostilities between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, and ultimately involved the majority of the nations of the world; it was suspended by armistice 11 Nov. 1918.

The first published usage of "Great War" for (b) seems to have been in 1914, by Maclean's magazine, October issue, Volume XVII: Number 12, page 54: 

"Some wars name themselves—the Crimean War, the Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Thirty Years' War, the Revolutionary War, and many others. This is the Great War. It names itself."  

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The AEF in Print
Reviewed by David F. Beer

The AEF in Print: An Anthology of American Journalism in World War I

Chris Dubbs and John-Daniel Kelley, Editors
University of North Texas Press, 2018

Arriving Over There

This is a fascinating collection of articles published in newspapers and magazines while America was involved in the Great War. Everyone wanted to know what it was like to be a Doughboy in the war, and the media was eager to tell them. Newspapers and magazines either sent their own correspondents to France or relied on larger papers or the news services such as the United Press and the Associated Press to supply material. Some magazines were able to send noted journalists or authors to the war zone and the experiences of some of these writers were often as interesting as the stories they sent home. Most reports had to be written with an eye to the censors, of course, but some writers seemed to skirt around them.

The AEF in Print's 11 chapters provide journalism in chronological order: Mobilization, Arrival in Europe, Learning to Fight, American Firsts, Battles, and the Armistice. Interspersed with these are chapters titled At Sea, In the Air, In the Trenches, Wounded Warriors, and Heroes. Some reports appeared either in newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Herald or in widely read magazines like Collier's Weekly or the Saturday Evening Post, but many appeared in magazines and journals now unfamiliar to us as they have long been out of print. All articles tried to answer the readers' questions on how their boys were trained and turned into soldiers, how the troopships avoided U-boats, how our soldiers got along with the British and French, how bad life in the trenches was, how well did the AEF fight, and how the wounded and dead were taken care of. (xi-xii)

Many topics familiar to WWI students crop up in this material, but what makes the entries so interesting is their journalistic tone of the day. Some magazine articles such as those on Alvin York, the Lost Battalion, and Eddie Rickenbacker almost read like thrilling short stories. Others, such as the reports on the sinking of the Tuscania, fighting in no-man's-land, and the evacuation of wounded, are more somber. An article from the Salem, Oregon Daily Capital Journal on attempts to heal wounded faces has the byline "Hundred and thousands of fine men have been torn and mutilated until they scarce resemble human beings." (p. 262)

One striking article written by a famous war correspondent, Floyd Gibbons, for American Magazine, describes how he accompanied the Marines at Belleau Wood and was himself wounded. He actually received three wounds, including one that cost him his left eye. A full-page photo of the wounded Gibbons accompanies the article. An article by William Shepherd from Everybody's Magazine is equally riveting with his description of life on a navy destroyer trying to protect an Atlantic convoy from U-boats. Compare these stories for realism to one by William Stidger, presumably a chaplain, who writes of "Gas, Shell-Shock and Souls" for the October 1918 edition of The Outlook. He has visited a gas ward where he found patients such as a boy ". . . who could not speak above a whisper. He was gassed horribly, and, in addition to his lungs and his throat being burned out, his face and neck were scarred" (p. 249). Surprisingly the lad gives a lengthy and upbeat description of his earlier life as a choir boy. Stidger paints a rosy picture for his audience back home. The wounded always seem to be grinning and in good spirits, and he claims that ". . . no boy goes through the hell of fire and suffering and wounds that he does not come out new born. The old man is gone from him, and a new man is born" (p. 253). He prepares us for such sentiment earlier in his report: "And so it is with the whole American Army in France, it always has singing in its soul, and courage, and manliness, and daring, and hope. That kind of army can never be defeated." (p. 250)

Such rather jingoistic writing is not hard to find in these reports which, after all, are meant to buoy up the folks back home. It was so from the outset. Henri Bazin in the 6 July 1917 Philadelphia Evening Ledger writes on the French response to the arrival of our first troops:

No single event in the annals of the war was ever awaited with more intensity and ardor, with more earnest well-wishing, with so much desire, with so much pent-up enthusiasm that is straining at the leash, eager to make dents of joy in the atmosphere of Paris." (p. 50)

Nurses and Corpsmen at an American Base Hospital

In the same vein an American nurse, writing for the 19 October 1918 edition of The Bellman records a conversation with a French officer after Chateau-Thierry:

Mademoiselle…Ah! I must tell you. I must shake your hand. These are your soldiers who were at Chateau-Thierry. They were fighting beside my own regiment. How they get on together-the French and the Americans! And I tell you, mademoiselle, I do not say this because you are American-but they are magnificent. Nothing can stand against them. There is not one who is not the equal of our bravest French soldier! (p.262)

Yet we can forgive occasional impulses to stylistic exaggeration when we consider all the evocative and easily read material in this anthology. We find entertaining accounts of experiences and attitudes aimed at an audience we no longer have access to. These journalistic efforts take us back in a personal way to a time and society none of us were living in but that we can somehow link into. For a fascinating view of wartime America from a different perspective, I strongly recommend The AEF in Print.

David F. Beer

Monday, December 10, 2018

France at Gallipoli

A French Artillery Crew with Some Australian Visitors
on the Cape Helles Front

It is often forgotten that the French made a major contribution at Gallipoli. On the first day of the landings their forces sent to capture Kumkale on the Asian side were the only troops to accomplish their objective. When moved across the straits they held down a good part of the Allied right flank at Helles through the fall of 1915. Things were basically stagnant all along the Cape Helles sector. As French soldier  Arnaud Pomiro wrote home, "So it’s siege warfare, or if one prefers, trench warfare, exactly as on the French front. I see no end to it."

General Gouraud After a Successful Operation

The French troops, however, were considered something of a weak link until placed under the command of General Henri Gouraud, a future "Western Front star," who arrived in May. It was Gouraud who organized the limited, but impressive, advance by French units on 21 June 1915.  His men, though, soon lost their gifted commander. On 30 June 1915, Gouraud became one of the highest-ranking officers of the war to be wounded. He lost an arm and broke both legs as a result of being hit with numerous fragments from the explosion of an artillery shell. The effectiveness of the French forces around Cape Helles diminished noticeably after his evacuation when he was replaced by a general of lesser caliber.

French Cemetery at Cape Helles

The sacrifices of the 42,000 metropolitan and colonial French soldiers that served at Gallipoli is honored at a cemetery and memorial above S Beach where there are over 2,000 graves and four ossuaries with 3,000 skeletons each. Fully one third of the troops France deployed to Gallipoli found their final resting place there. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Fabergé's Russian Soldier

Russian Reserve Soldier, 1915

This 6.7-inch tall Russian soldier was created for the House of Carl  Fabergé of St. Petersburg, by the artists P.M. Kremlev and G. Savitsky. It's made of gold, silver, jasper, ophicalcite, and pegmatite. The statue is currently held at the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in Moscow.  I recently spotted it, when it made the briefest of appearances on an Amazon television documentary on the Fabergé empire. Naturally the video also features a lot of information on the famous Easter eggs.  The most gripping parts of the program covered the First World War and subsequent revolutionary/civil war period and the disposition of the various treasures of the Romanovs.  Highly recommended.

Sources: "Exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna Presents the World of Fabergé," and the Fersman Mineralogical Museum

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Marie Curie, French Army Medical Service

Nobel Laureate Marie Curie Driving a Mobile X-Ray Unit
From Smithsonian magazine

During World War I, the scientist invented a mobile x-ray unit, called a “Little Curie,” and trained 150 women to operate it.  For Curie, the war started in early 1914, as German troops headed toward her hometown of Paris. She knew her scientific research needed to be put on hold. So she gathered her entire stock of radium, put it in a lead-lined container, transported it by train to Bordeaux—375 miles away from Paris—and left it in a safe deposit box at a local bank. She then returned to Paris, confident that she would reclaim her radium after France had won the war.

With the subject of her life’s work hidden far away, she now needed something else to do. Rather than flee the turmoil, she decided to join in the fight. But just how could a middle-aged woman do that? She decided to redirect her scientific skills toward the war effort—not to make weapons but to save lives.

At the start of the war, X-ray machines were still found only in city hospitals, far from the battlefields where wounded troops were being treated. Curie’s solution was to invent the first “radiological car”—a vehicle containing an X-ray machine and photographic darkroom equipment—which could be driven right up to the battlefield where army surgeons could use X-rays to guide their surgeries.

One major obstacle was the need for electrical power to produce the X-rays. Curie solved that problem by incorporating a dynamo—a type of electrical generator—into the car’s design. The petroleum-powered car engine could thus provide the required electricity.

Frustrated by delays in getting funding from the French military, Curie approached the Union of Women of France. This philanthropic organization gave her the money needed to produce the first car, which ended up playing an important role in treating the wounded at the Battle of Marne in 1914—a major Allied victory that kept the Germans from entering Paris.

More radiological cars were needed. So Curie exploited her scientific clout to ask wealthy Parisian women to donate vehicles. Soon she had 20, which she outfitted with X-ray equipment. But the cars were useless without trained X-ray operators, so Curie started to train women volunteers. She recruited 20 women for the first training course, which she taught along with her daughter Irene, a future Nobel Prize winner herself.

Read more on Marie Curie's war service at Smithsonian Magazine.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Multiple Commemorations in Los Angeles

Program Narrator Jonathan Flora at 
Hollywood Post 43 of the American Legion

California's WWI Centennial Task Force did a dynamic job commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armistice,  conducting or supporting five events over three days in November.  Key member Courtland Jindra played a role in all the activities.  The center piece was the Task Force's program on "Southern California in the War" at Hollywood Post 43 of the  American Legion on the 12th of November.  The program delivered by multiple individuals drew on first-hand accounts of the region's participation in the war from April 1917 past the Armistice signing, also remembering the Doughboys still serving in Russia.

A Re-enactor with Courtland Jindra of the Task Force 

There were four other events supported by the Task Force over the three days.

  • A WWI presentation at the Oneonta Club of South Pasedena
  • A  WWI display at the LA High School Memorial Park (a WWI memorial park with a memorial library on the site)
  • A presentation on Southern California at the Glendora Public Library
  • A tree planting at the Victory Memorial Grove in Los Angeles
    (See our earlier artilce on the grove HERE )
Courtland as Master of Ceremonies and the Tree Planters in Action
The Hollywood event concluded with this remembrance:

Our state paid a high price with more than 3400 giving their lives, of that nearly 450 being from Los Angeles.  In the County of Los Angeles over thirty memorials were dedicated to the war, including this very building that we sit in today. Sadly the USA's sacrifice has forgotten in the century since.  It is our hope, that our program will have illuminated this blind spot in our history and honored the generation that gave so much.

Thank you, California, for honoring our heritage.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War: Part 4, Forces for Change Roll On


Post 1848: Anarchist Mikhail Bakunin rises to prominence, advocates violence to overthrow existing governments.  Inspires murder of state officials in an effort to incite state retribution and mobilize the population against the government.

National Leaders Assassinated, 1881–1914

  • James Garfield, (1881), President of the United States
  • Alexander II of Russia, (1881), Emperor of All the Russias
  • Marie François Sadi Carnot, (1894), President of France.
  • Elisabeth ("Sisi"), (1898), Empress of Austria
  • Umberto I of Italy, (1900), King
  • William McKinley, (1901), President of the United States
  • Dmitry Sipyagin, (1902), Russian Interior Minister
  • Vyacheslav Plehve, (1904), Russian Interior Minister
  • Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, (1905), former Governor of Moscow
  • Peter Stolypin, (1911), Russian Prime Minister
  • Charles of Portugal, (1908), King 

Many other attempts fail and innumerable lower-ranking officials are killed.

1858: Charles Darwin re-conceptualizes biology with his theories of evolution; his views are interpreted as a challenge to traditional religious thought.

1867: First violent attacks in England by supporters of Irish home rule.

Hatred of Bourgeois is the beginning of all virtue.
Gustave Flaubert, 1867

1870–71 Prussia Humiliates France

German Empire Declared at Versailles, 1871

In a career lasting over a quarter century, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck guided Prussia to three quick military victories, stage-managed the unification of Germany, and created a delicate balance of power that shielded Europe from general war. The last step in bringing the fragmented German principalities into a single nation was a war with France instigated by Bismarck. Victory was quickly gained, Paris placed under siege and a German Empire declared in just a few months. The taking of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine by the victors, however, left France Germany's committed enemy.

German Empire Declared at Versailles, 1871

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? 
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War:
Part 3, Forces for Order Respond

The Post-1848 Response
Although the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 were for the most part "managed,” the European dynasties realized they needed to reinforce their own legitimacy. Instead of fighting nationalism, they moved to co-opt it, identifying king and country as one, and in the spirit of ancient Rome's “bread and circuses,” sought prestige for the nation and its citizens through state projects, building impressive militaries, and colonial expansion. This in the long run meant more aggressive foreign policies. This New Europe of the Old Order, however, was to prove itself progressively less governable.

Fighting in Crimea

The Crimean War (1853–1856) pitting Russia against a coalition of Great Britain, France, Piedmont, and the Ottoman Empire was the first major breakdown of the Concert of Europe. Begun under the pretext of a dispute over the Holy Lands of Palestine, the conflict was rooted in the Eastern Question, the disposition of lands controlled by the decaying Ottoman Empire. It would initiate a series of small wars over the next generation

1856 Congress of Paris Settles the Crimean War
The war's settlement halted Russian expansion temporarily, left the Black Sea neutral, and guaranteed Turkey its territorial integrity in return for a promise to improve the status of Christian subjects.

1856: Sardinian Prime Minister Camillo Benso di Cavour capitalizes on European rivalries to piece together the first modern Italian state.

A Resplendent and Victorious Napoleon III

1859: The Battle of Solferino results in the victory of the allied French Army under Napoleon III and Sardinian Army under Victor Emmanuel II (together known as the Franco-Sardinian Alliance) against the Austrian Army under Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs.

1861: Tsar Alexander II frees 20 million serfs; his son Alexander III later tightens control after his father's assassination but helps to modernize Russia.

A Russia Official Announces the Emancipation of the Serfs

1861–65: U.S. Civil War, Europeans observe impact of telegraph, railroads, observation balloons, rifled artillery, and armored ships on warfare. 

A Conservative View on Managing Change
In a progressive country change is constant, and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines.
Benjamin Disraeli, 1867

1869: Suez Canal Opens

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Lab of One's Own
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

A Lab of One's Own

by Patricia Fara
Oxford University Press, 2018

The story of the Great War is not just the story of generals and Doughboys, kings and politicians, heroism and cowardice, life and death. It is also the story of the social change that flowed from and followed in the war's wake. A Lab Of One's Own is the story of women's suffrage and admission to scientific laboratories in Britain during the Great War.

The Great War caused great changes in Britain. Wartime demands and the numbers of men drawn to the front created both the demand and need for women to enter the work place. The recognition of the contributions of women provided support for women's votes.

In 1914 Britain was a cauldron of strife between business and labor, among classes and ideologies. The rise of a common enemy summoned men, and women, to rally for king and country. The demand for female workers in industry flowed from two forces As men entered the armed forces their places were taken by women. As the blockade halted German imports Britain found itself running out of scientific supplies, including electric generators, tungsten, explosives medical drugs, and high-quality glass for range-finders. As prominent citizens accused the government of causing the deaths of their sons by not providing adequate equipment, the demand for increased and improved production lead to the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions, which started establishing factories all over the country.

In the absence of trained and available men they were largely operated by women. By the end of the war three million women were working in industry. Their contributions to the war effort were recognized by Prime Minister Lloyd: "Who works, fights" and referring to women "(W)e have found that we could not carry on the war without them." Faced with such evidence women were added to the voters' rolls.

New munitions manufacturers expanded their capacity to produce cordite, a low explosive that had already replaced gunpowder as a propellant, and TNT, a high explosive previously made in Germany that was needed to fill shells. They relied on women to fill their workforces. They justified this necessity with the comment that "Girls are more diligent in work within their capacity than boys—they are keen to do as much as possible and are more easily trained." So valuable were women's' concentrations that Lloyd George told the House of Commons that "it is not too much to say that our Armies have been saved and victory assured by the women in the munition factories where they helped produce aeroplanes, howitzer bombs, shrapnel bullets, shells, machine tools, mines, and have taken part in shipbuilding."

Opportunities for women created by the war often evaporated with the return of peace. Female doctors who were deemed adequate to perform surgery on battle casualties were relegated to treat only women or to emigrate. In many other occupations returning men squeezed women back to their old occupations. Nevertheless, like toothpaste that cannot be put back into the tube, the world of Britain's women could not totally return to the previous status quo. Exclusion of women from occupations could no longer be justified on the basis of competency. Because of wartime training and expanded education, a higher proportion of women had professional qualifications in science, engineering and medicine, and more single women were demanding to earn their own living. Perceptions of the abilities of women were irreversibly altered. Women previously limited to food production were now permitted to move into the laboratory.

A Lab Of One's Own is not totally a Great War book. Its focus is a collection of story lines of scientists and suffragettes told through narratives of themes and biographical snippets of women who entered scientific fields and led the suffrage movement. I found author Patricia Fara's writing style to be uncoordinated and hard to follow. Perhaps that is because, as an American, I am not familiar with many of the personalities referenced. I think this work may be best appreciated by students of early 20th-century gender issues in Great Britain.

James M. Gallen

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War, Part 2: Forces for Change

What the Poets Foresaw
The river of time in its onrush
Bears along the affairs of men,
And drowns in the abyss of oblivion
All peoples and realms and kings…
Gavril Derzhavin, 1816

The Masque of Anarchy
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819

1824: Romantic poet Lord Byron dies in Greece attempting to aid insurgents fighting against the Ottoman Empire.

The First Railroad Opens for Business

1825 Urban Industrial Europe Emerges
The opening of the world's first railroad, Britain's Stockton and Darlington, helped launch industrial based economic growth unprecedented in human history; more industry, machines, and personal wealth followed. Workers needed for the new factories accelerated an epochal migration to cities from farms in ever increasing numbers. Seething, dynamic mega-cities proved much harder to control politically than the smaller, more dispersed populations of feudal days.

1800–1900: Dramatic European Population Growth, Especially Cities
Europe (not Russia)        150,000,000 to 291,000,000
Russia (Europe + Asia)   37,000,000  to 111,000,000
Paris, France                   548,000  to 2,714,000
London, England             865,000  to 6,581,000
Berlin, Germany              201,000 [1819]  to 1,889,000
Vienna, Austria                232,000  to 1,675,000

Vienna, Late 19th Century

The Fervor of Revolution Re-emerges

1825: Decembrist Revolt in Russia, initiated by idealistic officers is crushed, resulting in increased revolutionary activity by educated elites and increased secret policing of the population.

By 1830 a range of dissenters throughout Europe—from the elite intellectuals to street ruffians—inspired by fond memories of the French Revolution, were ready to return to the barricades. Fittingly a next revolutionary movement broke out in France, triggered by several severe freedom-limiting ordinances of King Charles X. Strikes and protests were followed by armed confrontations, which the army was unable to contain.  Charles abdicated. Several liberalizing reforms followed and, notably, the Tricolor replaced the white flag of the Bourbons. The turmoil and modest successes of the events in France inspired elites throughout Europe to call for their own peoples to rebel. Two future Great War combatants gained their independence. Greece, which had been fighting for a decade, was recognized by the European powers as an independent state, and Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands, winning the guarantee of that independence, which would be honored in 1914. Poles who challenged the tsar, however, were crushed, and the fireworks fizzled in Italy and Prussia. The advocates of change, overall, however, were disappointed, but they would bide their time for another opportunity for revolution. It came a generation later.

Liberty Leading the People, Delacroix, 1830

Every time France sneezes Europe has a cold.
Count Metternich, 1848

Another series of revolutions challenging the Old Order broke out in Europe in 1848. This proved much more alarming to the established leadership, especially the old monarchies. Begun in Sicily, it spread to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire. In France, King Louis Philippe was overthrown and replaced by the Third Republic. Elsewhere the rebellions all ended in failure, put down forcibly in some cases, in others ended by moderates who won some modest reforms, such as the short-lived Frankfurt Parliament. The liberalizers and revolutionaries were once again discouraged at failing to overturn the Old Order. Marx and Engels were inspired to write The Communist Manifesto.

We have been beaten and humiliated . . . scattered, imprisoned, disarmed and gagged. The fate of European democracy has slipped from our hands.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1849

Engels and Marx

One fact is common to all past ages, namely, the exploitation of one part of society by another.
Communist Manifesto

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War:
Part 1, Forces for Order

Prelude to Order: 

1. Revolution in France:
They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy called the Rights of Man.
Edmund Burke

2. Then Came Napoleon

After the French Revolution degenerated into the bloodletting known as the Reign of Terror and the revolutionaries had levied a huge army first to defend and then to export the revolution, Napoleon was the man who stepped forward to restore internal order and redirect its campaigns. He overthrew the governing Directorate in a November 1799 coup and progressively assumed the offices of First Consul, Dictator for Life, and Emperor.

His ensuing 15-year campaign to become master of Europe under the guise of spreading the values of the Revolution traumatized the established powers by inspiring nationalists and haters of monarchy everywhere, rolling over the smaller city-states and principalities, and—to his credit—willfully imposing more modern and efficient legal and administrative forms throughout continental Europe. That one man could excel on the battlefield, as a lawgiver and empire-builder is astonishing. Even socialists today grudgingly credit him with destroying feudalism in Europe. Needless to say, the established powers of
his time concluded that they needed to defeat him, and finally did so in 1815.

1792–1815: Death toll in the Napoleonic Wars—2,100,000 

Post-Napoleonic Europe began with an effort by the Old Order, the political leadership that had led Europe since the birth of the nation-state—monarchs, aristocrats, officers of state, and the beneficiaries of crown policies and largesse—to maintain peace and their own station. This Concert of Europe soon faced economic, scientific, and social changes unprecedented in history, including irrational impulses for violence and revolution. The fear and animosity created as the Old Order attempted to restrain these impulses for both evolutionary and revolutionary change fueled the explosion that would come in 1914. 

The Congress of Vienna

Even before Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, a peace conference was convened to arrange a post-Bonaparte peace. At the Congress of Vienna, the Old Order established a Concert of Europe, an alliance system to de-fang revolutionary France, keep each Great Power secure but unable to dominate the others, and to set rules of diplomacy that are still in force today. Its tenor was unsympathetic to both democracy and nationalism. The five dominant participants sought to strengthen the legitimacy of the established monarchies, to treat France fairly and return the Bourbon monarchy, and to institutionalize a "balance of power" grand strategy, with no single country becoming too powerful. War was to be avoided by "congresses," diplomatic conferences of the leading states. 

France, armée, Joséphine. . .
Last Words of Napoleon, 1821 

Europe Ascendant 

1820s: The Concert of Europe suppresses rebellions in Spain and Italy but supports Greek efforts to gain independence from the Ottomans.

1823: Great Britain backs the U.S. issuing of the Monroe Doctrine, which opposed the reestablishment of Spanish or other European rule in the revolting Latin American colonies.

1827: Russian, British, and French fleets defeat the Turkish and Egyptian fleets at the Battle of Navarino, effectively winning independence for Greece.

1832-3: Britain enfranchises middle–class men (Reform Bill) and abolishes slavery in its possessions. 

1837: The Victorian Age Begins

The reign of Queen Victoria symbolizes an age of confidence, restraint, and British world leadership. The United Kingdom becomes the leading economic power in the world, possessing the largest colonial empire.  European powers conquer and colonize most of Africa and parts of Asia during this period. While Victorianism is stereotyped as prudish, it was also the time when religion lost its decisive hold. Men begin looking increasingly to the growing institutions of industry and government for support and fulfillment.

No power on earth will succeed in moving Me to transform that natural relationship between ruler and people. . . into a legalistic or constitutional one and I will never allow a written piece of paper to come between Our Lord God in heaven and this country.
King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, 1847

Yet revolution came in 1848.

Tomorrow:  The Deep Roots of the Great War: Part 2, Forces for Change

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Frogmen Sink a Battleship, Part II (A Roads Classic)

Part II:  Sinking SMS Viribus Unitis

by Brian Warhola

Rossetti and Paolucci struggled against the ebbing tide to work their way past the nets and reach the anchored Austrian battleships. “At length,” Paolucci wrote, “our endevours were successful.” It was now 3:00 in the morning.

The largest ship, the dreadnought SMS Viribus Unitis, lay closest to shore, and was chosen as the primary target. Swimming through sleet and hail, Rossetti and Paolucci saw the sky begin to brighten with dawn. As they reached the side of the Viribus Unitis, the torpedo unexpectedly began to sink.

Viribus Unitis

While Paolucci frantically struggled to keep the torpedo afloat, Rossetti located an intake valve that had accidentally opened, allowing air to escape from the cylinder. After shutting the valve, the two men rested in the shadow of the Austrian flagship for a few minutes. “Of all our trying moments,” Paolucci wrote, “this was undoubtedly the worst.”

Working their way down the long line of Austrian battleships, the two men reached the Viribus Unitis at 4:45 a.m. Rossetti removed one of the canisters of TNT from the front of the torpedo and attached it to the hull of the Viribus Unitis. Rossetti set a timer to detonate the 400-pound charge of TNT at 6:30.

As Rossetti and Paolucci pushed off from the side of the Viribus Unitis, they were spotted by a sentry on the flagship.The Italians tried to steer for shore, where they hoped to escape. Quickly, however, a boat was dispatched from the Viribus Unitis to capture them. Paolucci hastily armed the second canister of explosives and set it free in the ebbing tide. Rossetti flooded the torpedo’s air cylinder, letting it sink to the bottom.

The Italian officers were captured by sailors from the Viribus Unitis and taken back to the ship. There they were shocked to learn that during the night the Austrian fleet had mutinied and that the Austrian admiral had turned command of the Viribus Unitis over to a Yugoslavian captain named Ianko Vukovic. All German and Austrian crew members had been sent ashore, leaving the fleet in the hands of neutral Yugoslavian sailors.

It was 6:00 a.m. Knowing that in half an hour the TNT would detonate, Rossetti told Captain Vukovic, “Your ship is in serious, imminent danger. Save your men.” Captain Vukovic calmly demanded an explanation. Rossetti said “I cannot tell you; but in a very short time the ship will be blown up.”

Vukovic, wasting no time, shouted in German, “Men of the Viribus Unitis, save yourselves all who can! The Italians have placed bombs in the ship!” The Yugoslavian crewmen, on hearing this news, panicked and began to abandon ship. “We heard doors open and shut in a hurry, we saw half-naked men rushing about madly and clambering up the steps of the batteries, we heard the noise of bodies splashing into the sea,” Paolucci wrote.

Taking advantage of the sudden panic, Rossetti asked Captain Vukovic if they might save themselves. Vukovic agreed. Rossetti and Paolucci ran to the side of the ship and dove overboard. They were soon overtaken by a group of angry Yugoslavian sailors in a small boat, who took them back to the Viribus Unitis. “We thought,” Paolucci wrote, “that they intended to make us die on the doomed ship.” It was 6:20.

Back on the deck of the ship for the second time, Rossetti and Paolucci found themselves surrounded by a threatening mob of sailors. “Some of them were shouting that we had deceived them, while others wanted to know where the bombs were hidden.” Rossetti spoke up, demanding that he and Paolucci be granted fair treatment as prisoners of war. Vukovic ordered his men not to harm the Italians.

When 6:30 came, there was no explosion. Rossetti and Paolucci stared blankly at one another, wondering if something had gone wrong. Captain Vukovic was still attempting to restore order on the ship’s deck. Around the ship, crewmen who had abandoned the Viribus Unitis rowed in lifeboats, unsure whether to flee to safety or return to the ship.

At 6:44 the charge of TNT detonated. Rossetti and Paolucci were surprised that the delayed explosion made only “a dull noise, a deep roaring, not loud or terrible, but rather light.” Immediately, however, a huge column of water rose into the air at the ship’s bow and splashed down on its foredeck. In the moment of shock following the explosion, Rossetti and Paolucci once again asked permission to abandon the ship. Captain Vukovic shook their hands and pointed to a rope by which they could escape into the water, motioning to one of the lifeboats to pick them up.

Viribus Unitis Going Down

Dragged aboard the small boat, Rossetti and Paolucci turned to watch the Viribus Unitis slowly sink. “The Viribus Unitis heeled over more and more,” Paolucci wrote, “When the water reached the level of the deck, the ship capsized completely. I saw the big turret guns tumbled about like toys. . .On the keel I saw a man crawling until he reached the top. It was Captain Vukovic. He died a little later, after being struck on the head by a wooden beam when, after having extricated himself from the whirl of water, he was trying to save his life by swimming to shore.” Rossetti and Paolucci were taken as prisoners of war to an Austrian hospital ship to recover. There, they learned that the second canister of explosives, set free by Paolucci just before they were captured, had exploded against the hull of an Austrian ship called Wien, sinking it.

Three days later, on 4 November 1918, Italy and Austria signed a peace treaty. The next day the Italian fleet took control of Pola, and Rossetti and Paolucci were freed. The two men were presented with gold medals for courage. Rossetti was awarded 650,000 lire from the Italian government as a reward for his services. He presented this reward to the widow of Captain Vukovic, describing the deceased captain as “a war adversary who, dying, left me with an ineradicable example of generous humanity.” The money was used to establish a trust fund for widows and mothers of other war victims.

From our site Trenches on the Web; originally contributed by Paul Chrastina of Old News