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

Monday, March 4, 2024

Remembering Dennis Skupinski—A Leader of the WWI Centennial Commemoration

Dennis Sharing Some of His Deep Knowledge About
the War and Michigan's Role in It

By David Hamon
Originally Presented at  the Doughboy Foundation Website

“Fueled by Boundless Enthusiasm” 

Many of us who have worked with the World War One Centennial Commission and the Doughboy Foundation were saddened with the news that Dennis Skupinski (1956–2023), the Michigan State Commission Chair WWI amateur historian, passed away suddenly in his home last December.

Dennis Skupinski frequently appeared in podcasts and YouTube videos about Michigan in World War I. Click the HERE to watch one of his podcasts.

Among State Commission Chairs, Dennis was among the most active and engaged executives, ceaselessly promoting the Michigan and Michiganders contributions to the Great War. His service to Michigan and the National Commemoration effort began with a lobbying effort to the State Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder to create a Michigan State Commission.  As a reward for his advocacy, he was appointed Michigan State Chair.

Fueled by boundless enthusiasm, Dennis crisscrossed the state, promoting the commemoration and speaking to veterans, communities, and civic groups to energize efforts to observe the 100-year anniversary.

The Michigan Military Heritage Museum's "Over Here! Michigan World War I Centennial" Event

Dennis was instrumental in organizing and promoting a centenary exhibition at the Michigan Military Heritage Museum in Grass Lake to showcase the many contributions of Michiganders, both in uniform and at the home front. Dennis, an avid collector of WWI uniforms, donated the collection to the museum for the special exhibition. Dennis also donated hundreds of hours to the museum.

As chair, he took to the internet producing over a hundred YouTube videos about Michigan and WWI.  He arranged for the National WWI Memorial “maquette” to come to Grass Lake so the citizens of the Great Lakes State could see a replica of the 58-foot bronze wall (“A Soldier’s Journey”) to be commemorated in Washington DC later in 2024. He planted dozens of “Liberty Gardens” with his own funds and donated the harvest to local food banks.

The staff of Roads to the Great War join the Centennial Commission and the Doughboy Foundation to salute and honor Dennis’s selfless service to his beloved Michigan and the cause he loved so much. May he rest in peace.

Dennis was able to make time in his busy schedule to contribute  to Roads to the Great War. Here are two of his contributions.

The Story of the Michigan in World War I  HERE

The Story of Doughnut Day HERE


Sunday, March 3, 2024

Iowa, USA, and the Great War

Click on Image to Enlarge

Grant Wood Memorial Window, Veterans Memorial Building, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1927

In the early 20th century, Iowa was an even more distinctly rural state that it is today. In the 1910 census out of a population of 2.2 million over 70 percent of Iowans lived on farms.  Tellingly, the entire state only had about 300 miles of paved roads. When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, most Iowans supported the war effort enthusiastically. Patriotism for the United States and its allies was very strong. Its special geographic and demographic character, however, would affect its response to the coming hostilities.

An Iowa Farm Growing Multiple Crops Around the
Time of the War

Needed: Soldiers

In time of war the nation needed soldiers. Some Iowa men volunteered for patriotic reasons, but the army still needed more men. The government required all men between the ages of 18 and 45 to register at the county courthouse. Each county was required to furnish a certain number of soldiers, called a "quota". If the quota was not met by volunteers, young men who were physically able and capable of being soldiers were drafted. Anyone placed in the “Class 1” category was eligible for immediate induction. Others were “deferred” for a variety of reasons. They might work in “strategic occupations” such as farming and telegraph operations. They might have dependent relatives. Or they might have physical handicaps. There was a great amount of hostility, especially among farmers, who believed that money and political power could influence draft boards to offer deferments and exemptions. Of the 500,000 Iowa men registered for the draft,   54,147 served overseas, and 3,576 gave their lives.  

The conscription possibility was especially hard on families of immigrant heritage whose ancestors had left Europe to avoid conscription there. There were many documented suicides, especially in rural areas, caused by the draft law. Conscientious objectors were subject to harassment and persecution, even if they came legally under the deferment or exemption categories. Quakers, Amish, Mennonites, Hussites, Seventh Day Adventists, and Russellites (which later became known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) all had religious doctrine against bearing arms.

New Barracks at Camp Dodge

Camp Dodge, a few miles northwest of Des Moines, became a major training center for new troops. Sleeping and eating facilities were quickly constructed and the new recruits learned how to be soldiers before trains took them to boats on the east coast. An army facility on the south side of Des Moines was the scene of a unique experiment. Fort Des Moines became the first camp in the nation to train black officers. At the time, the army was segregated. 

The official records show that 114,242 Iowans served in all the armed services and their branches during WWI. Iowans were mostly scattered throughout all of them. One unit, however, was exclusively linked to the state—the 4,000-man 168th Infantry Regiment from the Iowa National Guard. First called to national service and sent to the Mexican Border during the Punitive Expedition, the men were discharged after that crisis, only to be recalled for wartime service when America entered the Great War. After mobilization at Camp Dodge the regiment was sent to Camp Mills where it was  incorporated into the 42nd "Rainbow" Division. In France, the Rainbow Division fought in heavy action in every major campaign of the AEF. During the fighting the 168th lost 700 killed and 3,100 wounded, nearly 100 percent casualties.

Soldiers of the 168th Infantry in France

One of the first U.S. soldiers killed in combat in World War I was an Iowan, Merle Hay serving with the 1st Division, from Glidden. News of his death shocked the state, and he suddenly became a hero. After the war a monument was erected in the Glidden cemetery, and a street in Des Moines was named in his honor. The first U.S. woman to die of injuries in a combat zone also was an Iowan. She was Marion Crandell, formerly a French teacher at St. Katharine's School in Davenport. She died while serving in a canteen, when an artillery shell exploded nearby.

Iowans Merle Hay and Marion Campbell

Anti-German Backlash

Patriotism for the United States and support for its allies was very strong in Iowa. There were, though, large numbers of German-speaking immigrants in Iowa. Some of these Iowans had recently  migrated from Germany and many still had family members there. They did not want American soldiers to fight against their homeland. Sometimes, if they had spoken out for Germany before the United States entered the war, their neighbors questioned their loyalty. Many Iowans of German descent were targeted and their civil rights violated. When Governor William Harding issued a statement that made it against the law to use any language but English in public, many Iowans were angry. The “law” was nicknamed the “Babel Proclamation.” Governor Harding even made the point in a public speech that God did not hear prayers that were spoken in any language but English. Things with German names got new names. “German measles” became “liberty measles” and “sauerkraut” became “liberty cabbage.” Nevertheless, recently arrived German and Austrian immigrants seen to volunteer for the services and respond to their draft notices at comparable rates to other Iowans.

The Effects of War on the Iowa Home Front

As World War I unfolded throughout 1917 and 1918, there was increased stress on citizens and communities. Many inconveniences weighed on Iowans. There was a short supply of labor. Prices were high for many products. Supplies of everyday items were reduced. Few luxuries were available. And citizens were expected to support the war effort with their time and money.

One way citizens contributed time and money to the war effort was through the sale and purchase of “Liberty Loans.” The federal government issued bonds “Liberty Loans” to raise money for the war. People bought the bonds. They could turn them in later and get their money back plus interest. All Americans were encouraged to buy the bonds. Even children were enlisted by the government to sell them. In some Iowa towns the names of people who bought the Liberty Loans were published in the newspaper. People who did not buy the bonds were considered unpatriotic.

Red Cross Canteen Staff, Des Moines Train Depot 

Iowans donated money to the Red Cross to care for injured soldiers and civilians, and many Iowa women knit clothing and rolled bandages for army hospitals. Iowa women volunteered for the various organizations that provided nurses and medical specialists for the vast complex of hospitals American needed to build to support its expeditionary forces. At home, they manned canteens for the troops training nearby and at train stations for those en route to the East Coast. Food and gasoline rationing was enforced. Citizens were encouraged to grow food in "Victory Gardens." 

Somehow, the war touched every civilian in Iowa, especially in agriculture. Agriculture  production flourished during World War I. The U.S. government asked farmers to produce more food to feed the armies fighting in Europe. Iowa was able to provide large quantities of food products including corn, cattle, and hogs. With food production in high demand, farmers were able to get high prices for their crops.

After the war, however, Iowa farmers soon saw wartime farm subsidies eliminated. Beginning in 1920, many farmers had difficulty making the payment for debts they had incurred during the war. The 1920s were a time of hardship for Iowa's farm families, and for many families, these hardships carried over into the 1930s.

Another disaster struck Iowa in the fall of 1918. An epidemic of Spanish influenza, a serious form of “the flu,” made its way from the first reported case at Fort Riley, Kansas, all across the nation. It was so deadly that at its peak it killed 195,000 Americans in the month of October alone. In Iowa people tried to avoid crowds where the disease might be spread. Schools and theaters were closed, and people wore masks to try to protect themselves from flu germs. By Christmas the worst was over and the epidemic diminished. 

Iowa Remembers the War

In May 1919, the 168th Infantry came home and were treated to a victory parade in Des Moines, the state capital.  In the subsequent days, when the boys, were sent back to their hometowns and local National Guard armories, they received a second welcome from the their families, friends, and neighbors, but the state was not quite done with commemorating the war effort.

In August 1919, Iowans streamed through the State Fair gates at Des Moines  in record-breaking numbers to attend the “Victory Fair,” which celebrated World War I’s end. Still reeling from the war’s carnage, they were hopeful that an era of peace and prosperity was dawning. Crop prices were high, farmers were buying automobiles, and improved roads enabled people to drive to the fair instead of taking a train. Happy to glimpse the return of peace, Iowans were eager to put the war behind them, turn to the future, and go to the fair.

But the war was seemingly everywhere on the fairgrounds. The main exhibit of the Victory Fair’s daytime program was the War Department’s display of weapons and trophies from the Western front. In the evening, the fair’s grandstand show, “The Grand, Scenic Military Spectacle, The Battle of Chateau Thierry,” re-enacted the battle in France that turned the tide of the war against Germany in 1918. . . Register reporter Sue McNamara observed that a billboard for “Chateau Thierry” elicited nothing but “grins and groans” from a trainload of veterans returning home from the war in 1919. . . A few veterans of the 168th, along with the regiment’s chaplain, Des Moines pastor Winfred Robb, attended the 1919 fair. . . The 168th pitched a tent on the grounds, in which Chaplain Robb met with grieving families and shared reminiscences of the young Iowans buried so far from home. As the Register’s Sue McNamara observed, the tent was a hushed, somber shrine, jarringly at odds with the fair’s festivity.

Today the most substantial memorial to Iowa's contributions and sacrifices in the Great War, is the Veterans Memorial Building of Cedar Rapids, the state's second largest city.  Completed in 1927, it serves the veterans community of all of America's wars and many civic functions and activities.  Its centerpiece and main tourist attraction is the stained glass window shown at the top of this page, designed by noted American artist and World War I veteran Grant Wood. The larger top portion of the 20-by-24-foot assemblage is a sister of Lady Liberty representing our Republic. Along the bottom are soldiers from all of the nation's wars through the 1920s.  Don't miss the Doughboy on the right.

Well done, Iowa.

Sources: Iowa PBS; Iowa Heritage; Des Moines Register, Army Center for Military History, many other Iowa sites

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Under Bombardment — A Roads Classic

View of a Bombardment

[Editor's Note:  This is one of the best descriptions I've ever read of what it was like to be the target of a pre-attack bombardment from the enemy.  It's from the novel Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison  (1898–1954), who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He was wounded in August 1918 in the Battle of Amiens and survived the war.]

We never become accustomed to the shellfire. Its terror for us increases with each passing day. The days out on rest ease our harried nerves, but as soon as we are back in the line again we are as fearful and jumpy as the newest recruit. With the first hiss and roar of a shell we become terror-stricken as of old.

We look at each other with anxious, frightened faces.

Our lips tighten.

Our eyes open wide.

We do not talk.

What is there to say?

Talk of the coming offensive continues.

The sector becomes more tumultuous.

The guns rage all night.

We "stand to" long before dawn and wait at the parapets expecting an attack until long after sunrise.

The fatigues are innumerable.

Every night there are wiring parties, sapping parties, carrying parties. We come back exhausted from these trips. We throw ourselves down in the dugouts for an hour's sleep.

But we do not rest.

There is no time for rest. We stagger around like drunken, forsaken men. Life has become an insane dream.

Sleep, sleep–if only we could sleep.

Our faces become grey. Each face is a different shade of grey. Some are chalk-coloured, some with a greenish tint, some yellow. But all of us are pallid with fear and fatigue.

It is three in the morning.

Our section is just back from a wiring party.

The guns are quiet.

Dawn is a short while off . . .

We sit on the damp floor of the dugout.

We have one candle between us and around this we sit chewing at the remains of the day's rations.

German Troops Undergoing an Artillery Barrage in an Underground  Bunker

Suddenly the bombardment begins.

The shells begin to hammer the trench above.

The candlelight flickers.

We look at each other apprehensively. We try to talk as though the thing we dread most is not happening.

The sergeant stumbles down the steps and warns us to keep our battle equipment on.

The dugout is an old German one; it is braced by stout wooden beams. We look anxiously at the hole of the ceiling in which we sit.

The walls of the dugout tremble with each crashing explosion.

The air outside whistles with the rush of the oncoming shells.

The German gunners are "feeling" for our front line.

The crashing of the shells comes closer and closer. Our ears are attuned to the nuances of a bombardment. We have learned to identify each sound.

They are landing on the parapet and in the trench itself now.

We do not think of the poor sentry, a new arrival, whom we have left on lookout duty.

We crowd closer to the flickering candle.

Upstairs the trench rings with a gigantic crack as each shell lands. An insane god is pounding it with Cyclopean fists, madly, incessantly.

We sit like prehistoric men within the ring of flickering light which the candle casts. We look at each other silently.

A shell shatters itself to fragments near the entrance of the dugout.

The candle is snuffed out by the concussion.

We are in complete darkness.

Another shell noses its shrieking way into the trench near the entrance and explodes. The dugout is lit by a blinding red flash. Part of the earthen stairway caves in.


In the blackness the rigging and thudding over our heads sounds more malignant, more terrible.

We do not speak.

Each of us feels an icy fear gripping at the heart.

With a shaking hand Cleary strikes a match to light the candle. The small flame begins to spread its yellow light. Grotesque, fluttering shadows creep up the trembling walls.

Another crash directly over our heads!

It is dark again.

Fry speaks querulously:

"Gee, you can't even keep the damned thing lit."

At last the flame sputters and flares up.

Broadbent's face is green.

The bombardment swells, howls, roars.

The force of the detonations causes the light of the candle to become a steady, rapid flicker. We look like men seen in an ancient, unsteady motion picture.

The fury of the bombardment makes me ill at the stomach.

Broadbent gets up and staggers into a corner of our underground room.

He retches.

Fry starts a conversation.

We each say a few words trying to keep the game alive. But we speak in broken sentences. We leave thoughts unfinished. We can think of only one thing–will the beams in the dug-out hold?

We lapse into fearful silences.

We clench our teeth.

It seems as though the fire cannot become more intense. But it becomes a little more rapid–then more rapid. The pounding increases in tempo like a noise in the head of one who is going under an anesthetic. Faster.

The explosions seem as though they are taking place in the dugout itself. The smoke of the explosives fills the room.

Fry breaks the tension.

"The lousy swine," he says. "Why don't they come on over, if they're coming?"

We all speak at once. We punctuate our talk with vile epithets belittling the sexual habits of the enemy. We seem to get relief in this fashion.

In that instant a shell hurtles near the opening over our heads and explodes with a snarling roar. Clods of earth and pieces of the wooden supports come slithering down the stairway.

It is dark again. In the darkness we hear Anderson speak in his singsong voice:

"How do you expect to live through this with all your swearing and taking the Lord's name in vain?"

For once we do not heap abuse and ribaldry on his head. We do not answer.

We sit in the darkness, afraid even to light the candle. It seems as though the enemy artillerymen have taken a dislike to our candle and are intent on blowing it out.

I look up the shattered stairway and see a few stars shining in the sky.

At least we are not buried alive!

The metallic roar continues.

Fry speaks: "If I ever live through this, I'll never swear again, so help me God."

We do not speak, but we feel that we will promise anything to be spared the horror of being buried alive under tons of earth and beams which shiver over our heads with each explosion. Bits of earth from the ceiling begin to fall . . .

Suddenly, as quickly as it began, the bombardment stops.

We start to clear up the debris from the bottom of the stairs.

To think we could propitiate a senseless god by abstaining from cursing!

What god is there as mighty as the fury of a bombardment? More terrible than lightning, more cruel, more calculating than an earthquake!

How will we ever be able to go back to peaceful ways again and hear pallid preachers whimper of their puny little gods who can only torment sinners with sulfur, we who have seen a hell that no god, however cruel, would fashion for his most deadly enemies?

Canadian Troops Awaiting an Enemy Assault

Yes, all of us have prayed during the maniac frenzy of a bombardment.

Who can live through the terror-laden minutes of drum-fire and not feel his reason slipping, his manhood dissolving?

Selfish, fear-stricken prayers–prayers for safety, prayers for life, prayers for air, for salvation from the death of being buried alive . . .

Back home they are praying, too–praying for victory–and that means that we must lie here and rot and tremble forever . . .

We clear away the debris and go to the top of the broken stairs.

It is quiet and cool.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Thank You World War One for the Sun lamp

Berlin Children Suffering from Rickets, Around 1918

In the winter of 1918, it's estimated that half of all children in Berlin were suffering from rickets—a condition whereby bones become soft and deformed. At the time, the exact cause was not known, although it was associated with poverty.

A pediatrician in the city, a former medic in German Army – Kurt Huldschinsky – noticed that his patients were very pale. He decided to conduct an experiment on four of them, including one known today only as Arthur, who was three years old. He put the four of them under mercury-quartz lamps which emitted ultraviolet light.

Huldschinsky may have been inspired by he earlier work of Danish-Faroese-Icelandic physician, Niels Ryberg Finsen (1860–1904), who received the 1903 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology, for his pioneering work on the therapeutic and physiological effects of light treatment from artificial light sources.

Dr. Huldschinsky

As the treatment continued, Huldschinsky noticed that the bones of his young patients were getting stronger. In May 1919, when the sun of summer arrived, he had them sit on the terrace in the sun. The results of his experiment, when published, were greeted with great enthusiasm. Children around Germany were brought before the lights. In Dresden, the child welfare services had the city's street lights dismantled to be used for treating children.

Researchers later found that Vitamin D is necessary to build up the bones with calcium and that this process is triggered by ultraviolet light. The undernourishment brought on by war produced the knowledge to cure the ailment.  

Dr. Huldschinsky was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work. By the 1920s and '30s, light therapy was all the rage and manufacturers in Europe and America were making shiny new sun lamps that cast ultraviolet rays—and that also came to be used for cosmetic tanning.

Of course, the use of ultraviolet light is now treated with much greater caution: overexposure to ultraviolet light over a long period of time can lead to melanoma and other skin cancers.

By the way, Dr. Huldschinsky was Jewish and eventually needed to flee Germany. He emigrated to Egypt, where he was allowed to practice, passing away in 1940.

Source: BBC; NIH: Circulating Now, 20 December 2016

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Three Great Readings of Siegfried Sassoon's World War One Poems

"Dreamers" read by Tom O'Bedlam

"Aftermath" read by Charles Dance

"Everyone Sang" read by Sir John Gielgud

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A Baker's Dozen Images of Britain's World War I Arms Industry

In 2015, Historic England conducted a retrospective survey of the nation's First World War National Factories. These factories were directly controlled by the Ministry of Munitions to produce vital war material, everything from wooden boxes, respirators, shells, and explosives to optical glass and vehicle radiators. Many were adapted from existing works, while others were located in specially designed factories. Some were finished to high architectural standards and followed the latest thinking in factory design and the provision of welfare facilities. 

Over 8,700 companies and factories in the UK produced munitions of various sorts during the Great War. However, of these only 218 were directly administered by the Ministry of Munitions as National Factories. Of these, 170 National Factories were established in England, at 174 locations, with the balance located in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

Roads to the Great War presents here a baker's dozen of the most interesting photos from Historic England's final research report.  They are all displayed at 580px width, but by clicking on them you can expand them to 1200px, which will make the captions more readable.

Source: "First World War National Factories: An archaeological, architectural and historical review by—A Historic England Assessment" by David Kenyon.

The entire survey report with all 62 images can be downloaded HERE.