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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Collision of Empires, The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 — Reviewed by Michael Kihntopf


Collision of Empires, The War on the Eastern Front in 1914
by Prit Buttar
Osprey Publishing, 2014

Not too long ago I said that the statement that "historians have largely ignored the Great War's Eastern Front" was becoming a cliché. Prit Buttar's book puts another nail into the coffin of that trite statement.


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Prit Buttar is a well-known physician practicing medicine in the Oxfordshire area. As a general practitioner (GP) he has served on the GPs Committee of the British Association and appears on local and national television to discuss medical issues. But putting that illustrious career aside, Buttar is also a war historian author specializing in actions on the Eastern Front. Until this book Buttar has concentrated on World War II, giving us Battleground Prussia, The Assault on Germany's Eastern Front 1944-45 and Between Giants: the Battle for the Baltics in World War 2. After those successes he has decided to channel his efforts into a multi-volume endeavor about the Great War's Eastern Front. This book, covering prewar preparations and the first four months of the war, is the first volume.

In 424 pages the author details German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Serbian preparation for war and the execution of their individual plans to bring their enemies to defeat. He very accurately describes each nation's war capabilities, citing manpower concerns such as a lack of trained reserves on the part of every country except Germany, inadequate weapons reserves to arm mobilized forces, and the state of their capabilities to bring those things to bear. He makes special note of the state of railroads, citing Germany's extensive network and Russia's, Austria-Hungary's, and Serbia's lack thereof.

Interwoven into that list of capabilities and deficiencies is an assessment of the respective country's military leadership which he found greatly lacking in practical application despite the experiences the Russian generals had received at the hands of the Japanese only nine years before and the prolific musings of offensive war espoused by Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austro-Hungarian chief of staff.

Russian Troops on the March, 1914

The most engrossing part of the book is the description of the first battles between the Eastern Front kingdoms and empires. Buttar, using archival information, shows the attacks, counterattacks, and minor skirmishes in great detail. He  covers not only Tannenberg in detail but also Gumbinnen and Stallüponen in an equal light and seamlessly switches to the debacles of the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Poland and Serbia. The author clearly shows the truth of Napoleon's maxim, which I paraphrase, that even the most comprehensive war plans are all for naught when the first shots are fired. As evidence, Buttar unrolls commanders' indecisions, timidity, and ruthlessness in sacrificing lives for objectives that would be meaningless even if attained.

Collision of Empires is a must read for every Eastern Front historian. I look forward to the next volumes with great anticipation.

Michael Kihntopf

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tommy's Kit




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Above is a sample of what I consider to be one of the finest illustrated reference works on the war. I found this on a website for homeschooling families. It is marketed as a work for young people in the 8–12-year range, but it is an excellent work for hard-core enthusiasts of any age. It was produced drawing on the Imperial War Museum resources so it is heavily British and Western Front-centric, but its main problem is that at 72 pages, it's too damn short. Back to the young audience for a moment. I think this would be a fine gift for a student whose interest has been recently stirred by the recent Centennial events in the news.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Anniversary of the French 1870 Defeat at Sedan

Tomorrow, 1 September, is the 144th anniversary of the French defeat at Sedan during the Franco-Prussian war. The next day, Emperor Napoleon III was taken into custody. Since this was a major event in the run-up to the Great War, I thought a bit of a primer on that 19th-century war was in order.


The Franco-Prussian War


Famous Depiction of the Captured Emperor with Bismarck

When: 19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871

Where: Northeast France, inclusive of Paris

Immediate Cause: Diplomatic maneuvering surrounding the candidacy of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen for the Spanish throne, which raised the possibility of an alliance of Prussia and Spain vs. France. Bismarck thus provoked France into declaring war; most other German states joined Prussia.

Hostilities: Superior tactics, organization, and weaponry resulted in an early series of victories culminating in the surrender of French Emperor Napoleon III at the Battle of Sedan. The struggle, however, continued due to considerable French resistance. Paris underwent a siege and an insurrection that established the short-lived Paris Commune while numerous battles and irregular actions were fought in the countryside.

Results: French dominance of continental Europe ended, a unified German empire under Wilhelm I was created, and under the peace treaty France was forced to pay a large indemnity and cede Alsace and much of Lorraine to Germany.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

100 Years Ago: Quotes from August 1914


Are we going to have Tennyson's "Battle in the Air," and the nations deluging the nations with blood from the air? Now is the time to go on an exploring expedition to the North Pole, to come back and find settled order again.
Isaac Rosenberg, Letter,  3 August 1914
KIA at the Somme,  1 April 1918

German Troops Mobilizing

We're marching off in company with death...In thirteen days I'll probably be dead.
Alfred Lichtenstein, Letter,  7 August 1914, 
Seven weeks later Lichtenstein was killed in action.

Against the vast majority of my countrymen, even at this moment, in the name of humanity and civilization, I protest against our share in the destruction of Germany. A month ago Europe was a peaceful comity of nations; if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot, who has deserved well of his country. 
Bertrand Russell, 15 August 1914

It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that is, that you address all your skill and all the valor of my soldiers to exterminate the treacherous English and walk over General French's contemptible little army.
Kaiser Wilhelm II to General von Kluck,  19 August 1914

French Troops Assembling at the Gare de Lyon, Paris

The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men's souls.
Woodrow Wilson, Message to the Senate,  19 August 1914

The enemy started to advance in mass down the railway cutting, about 800 yards off, and Maurice Dease fired his two machine-guns into them and absolutely mowed them down. I should judge without exaggeration that he killed at least 500 in two minutes. The whole cutting was full of bodies and this cheered us all up.
Lieutenant K. Tower, Royal Fusiliers,  Describing Mons on 23 August 1914

Victory will belong to the one who will have been the first to achieve an armor-plated machine capable of advancing on all ground and armed with a cannon.
Lt. Col. Jean-Baptiste Estienne, French 6th Division, 25 August 1914

Grieving Parents, by Kollwitz, Who Lost a Son in the War

Where do all the women who have watched so carefully over the lives of their beloved ones get the heroism to send them to face the cannon? 
Käthe Kollwitz, German artist, Letter, 27 August 1914

Longtime readers will recognize that a close version of this quotes article covering August 1914 appeared on Roads in August 2013.  Since this month is so momentous [the "Guns of August" and all that], I decided to repeat this posting.  However, I will be taking a hiatus from the quotes series until January 2015.  At that time I'll resume this series following the war's centennial, month-by-month.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 33: Butte de Warlencourt


The Butte de Warlencourt, a prehistoric burial mound on the side of the Albert to Bapaume Road, was, during the 1916 Battle of the Somme, a position of great strength for the Germans. It was fortified with barbed wire, riddled with tunnels, defended by machine guns and mortars, and stood as a sentinel in front of the major German trenches called Gird Trench and Gird Support.

As the British Army clawed its way forward over the Somme battlefield during the summer of 1916, the Butte, standing several hundred feet higher than the surrounding countryside, was of immense value to the Germans. By late September 1916 the front line had been pushed toward the village of Le Sars. A large-scale assault by seven British and Commonwealth divisions was planned for 1 October; one of the objectives was to be Eaucourt l'Abbeye, which was directly overlooked by the Butte. The units involved in the attack here were from the 47th (London) Division and 50th (Northumbrian) Division. The commanding officer of the 1/6th Durham Light Infantry (DLI) was wounded, so the 1/9th DLI, who were in support, came up. The commanding officer of the 1/9th DLI was Lt Colonel Roland Boys Bradford, who was awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation reads as follows:

For most conspicuous bravery and good leadership in attack, whereby he saved the situation on the right flank of his Brigade and of the Division. Lieutenant-Colonel Bradford's Battalion was in support. A leading Battalion having suffered very severe casualties, and the Commander wounded, its flank became dangerously exposed at close quarters to the enemy. Raked by machine-gun fire, the situation of the Battalion was critical. At the request of the wounded Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Bradford asked permission to command the exposed Battalion in addition to his own. Permission granted, he at once proceeded to the foremost lines. By his fearless energy under fire of all description, and his skilful leadership of the two Battalions, regardless of all danger, he succeeded in rallying the attack, captured and defended the objective, and so secured the flank.

For much of the rest of October 1916 various British divisions were rotated through the trenches overlooked by the Butte. An attack toward the Butte was made on 7 October when the village of Le Sars was taken.

It was not until 5 November that an all-out effort was made to take the Butte. This was undertaken by the 7th, 8th, and 9th (DLI) of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division.

The attack by the Durhams was undertaken in appalling conditions. Despite heavy casualties, the 9th Durhams managed to take the Butte, only to be driven off by German counterattacks. Casualties in the three battalions amounted to 273 men killed plus many other wounded (over 80 of the fatalities are now buried in the nearby Warlencourt British Cemetery.)

Other than its brief capture by the DLI, the Butte remained under German control throughout 1916. It was not until the German retirement to the Hindenburg Line in February 1917 that the Butte passed into British hands.

Source: Western Front Association, Who Now Own the Butte
Visit:  www.westernfrontassociation.com

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Meet the U-boat

Imagine a time before the information revolution, when the First World War involved all the great powers and the mighty conflict touched almost every family. How was the curiosity of the public about the war satisfied without television, documentary films, the Internet, or even radio in that age? This was accomplished by the printed press— newspapers and magazines. To supplement the reports of correspondents, detailed schematic drawings on every conceivable topic were used to help educate the public (and, naturally, to sell papers).

Submarines, of course, were operated by all the larger combatants, but — due to their lethality — Germany's U-boats were a particular fascination. Displayed here are the inner workings of a German attack U-boat from an English-language source. In WWI a total of 375 U-boats sank 6,596 merchant ships for a total of 12,800,000 tons, including ships sunk by mines. The German Navy lost 178 U-boats in action.


Even the 20th century's most notable futurist, however, had not anticipated the threat the submarine presented.

I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.
H. G. Wells, 1901

Source:  Tony Langley Collection

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Great War Heritage: Memorable Images from the Collection of Steve Miller

Regular readers know we draw heavily on the collection of traveler and film documentarian Steve Miller.
Here are a few of my favorites that Steve has sent over the years.

Hungarian War Memorial Budapest








Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trench Knives and Mustard Gas: With the Rainbow Division in France — Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte


Trench Knives and Mustard Gas: 
With the Rainbow Division in France
by Hugh S. Thompson, edited by Robert H. Ferrell
C. A. Brannen Series, Texas A&M University Press, 2004


The Rainbow Division in Action During the Second Battle of the Marne

Originally published serially in the Chattanooga Times in 1934, Hugh S. Thompson's memoir of his time as an officer in Company L, 168th Infantry Regiment, 42nd Division, is a graphic, personal view of one man's war. Thompson wrote this as a result of an exchange of letters with the parents of a young man in his platoon who had died right after Thompson had written a letter to his parents assuring them that their son, although wounded, was recovering nicely. The young man's mother wrote a scathing letter back to Thompson. This upset him greatly, but he developed a relationship of sorts with the mother, and she eventually asked that Thompson write a description of the final days of her son's life. The memoir is in part a result of her request.

From a prominent Chattanooga family, Thompson joined the army early and was sent to France as part of the first group of casual officers to report to the American Expeditionary Forces; he was eventually assigned to the 42nd "Rainbow" Division as a platoon leader. In early 1918 Thompson and his regiment went into the line in Lorraine. Shortly afterward he was gassed and evacuated, the first of three wounds he would suffer. After each of his first two hospital stays, Thompson pushed to get back to his regiment even though he had a chance to stay behind a little longer or even to be assigned to a depot division. But Thompson, in common with most Doughboys, had found a home and family, of sorts, with the men of his platoon and company.


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Thompson gives us an honest account of the feelings of a young junior officer leading men in combat. He describes his affection for some of his fellow officers and men, and, refreshingly, he is not afraid to admit his fear as he enters combat. More than once he feels as if his decision to return to the front, rather than remain in a depot division, was a mistake. After his second wound, he had a chance to remain in the depot division. His thoughts must have been the same as other young men in his situation: "Why rush to get back into the war? Why not let nature take its course until the memories of the Champagne had thoroughly washed out?"

Thompson's account is replete with well-written descriptions of the things he witnessed. Although not an author, Thompson succeeds in helping us to feel what he felt at the time. For example, while providing security for a wiring party in no-man's-land, near German lines, in the eerie pitch black night, Thompson relates what surely caused some wracked nerves:

Sawyer [the officer in charge of the work party] and his gang got busy with their stakes and mallets. There was a rattling of wire and smothered curses. The hammering of mallets on stakes split the inky darkness. Somebody whispered nervously, 'My God, them -------s 'll wake up th' Kaiser'.

In another case, Thompson describes watching one of his platoon members, a young enlisted man, die at a hospital. "How much more would a man have to see?" asks Thompson. He also tells us what it was really like for a platoon leader waiting for H-hour prior to leading his men "over the top". Thompson makes us feel the suspense and fear that gripped him during the time just before jump-off as he counts down the minutes while making the rounds of his men, seeing to final dispositions and exchanging good luck wishes with them. All this serves to drive home the fact that Thompson was above all a rational person with feelings and desires that are common to us all.

American Gas Victims Receiving Care Near the Front

Thompson's description of his gassing and subsequent evacuation is vivid; it left me feeling suffocated and claustrophobic. The story of his wounding by shellfire gave me an inkling of the confusion, terror, and noise associated with such an event. Thompson's writing reflects the platoon leader's view; there are no lengthy descriptions of strategy or even of division-level action. His war, like the majority of enlisted men and junior officers, centered around his platoon and, at the most, his company. His concern for other companies is only evident in his desire to know how some of his friends, platoon leaders in those other companies, are getting along.

Historian and author Robert H. Ferrell edited this new release, and he wisely kept his explanatory notes to a minimum; Thompson's narrative is sufficient in itself and needs only slight elucidation. In my opinion Ferrell has made a few minor errors in interpretation, but these fall into the "nit-picking" category. His introduction is helpful and puts Thompson and his family in context.

Professor Ferrell and Texas A&M University Press are to be commended for publishing this and making it available to another generation of readers. Although the book has been in print since 2004, I think a review in this blog is warranted. Thompson wrote a memoir well worth reading. For anyone who would like an unvarnished view of an American junior officer's war, Trench Knives and Mustard Gas will provide entertaining reading.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, August 25, 2014

100 Years Ago: First Air Victories, 25 August 1914

On 25 August 1914 a Russian pilot by the name of Pyotr Nesterov rammed his unarmed Morane Saulnier Type G aircraft into an Austrian Albatross B. Most likely Nesterov was trying to damage the enemy plane with his own landing gear. The two machines collided, became entangled and fell from the sky. Although both fliers were killed in the crash, the Russian aviator had in fact scored history’s first air combat kill. 

Russian Depiction of the Attack

Britain’s first-ever air-to-air victory came later that same day, when two Avro 504 pilots used their aircraft to force a German Etrich Taube monoplane down into a field near Mons. The German pilot leapt from the cockpit and fled on foot into a nearby forest evading capture. On 5 October a French pilot named Louis Quenault would become the first in history to actually shoot down another aircraft in midair with a blast of gunfire.

Thanks to Norwich University, who sent this item along. The image is from Wikipedia

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bolo Pasha: World War One's Charmer, Con Man, and Traitor

Paul Bolo — also known as Bolo Pasha — was executed as a French traitor in April 1918.


Bolo's story is a bizarre one.  A French citizen, he was born in Reunion and spent much of his youth in France. His adult life prior to the opening of hostilities in 1914 appears to have been spent as a full-fledged member of the underworld, operating in France as a confidence trickster.

With the First World War under way, Bolo decided upon a confidence operation of surprising audacity, although he conceivably believed in the cause he espoused.  In February 1915 he persuaded the Khedive of Egypt that the French public could be convinced of the merits of peace were he, Bolo, successful in raising substantial funds from Germany in order to aid the press campaign he had in mind.

Thus Bolo spent a good deal of 1915–16 in traveling between the U.S. and Europe while employed by the Khedive. Subsequent inquiries revealed that Bolo had amassed a small fortune amounting to some £300,000 from a variety of German sources.

Ultimately found out by the French authorities, Bolo was arrested while in Paris in September 1917.  He was promptly charged with obtaining funds from a national enemy for the purpose of establishing a pacifist movement in France — a crime punishable by death.

Found guilty of the charge and proclaimed a traitor Bolo was duly shot by firing quad at Vincennes fort on 17 April 1918.

After the execution, Georges Clemenceau, the prime minister of France, addressed the American people, whom he apparently thought a little naive regarding characters such as Bolo:

This Bolo Pasha, who had had his way with everybody and in almost every situation, had met a strong man at last! Bolo Pasha was one of those gentlemen who began life by betraying women; he ended it by betraying nations. There is a great difference between betraying women and betraying nations! Women forgive and forget, but nations never, never! And so at the conclusion of their little interview Mr. Clemenceau escorted Bolo Pasha to the Forest of Vincennes, and placing him with his back to a wall, compelled him to face the business end of twelve French rifles. Bolo Pasha will never betray another nation. I want to tell you Americans that that is the only way to treat a traitor!

Sources: Firstworldwar.com and Wikipedia

Saturday, August 23, 2014

23 August 1914: Where Everyone Was This Critical Day on the Western Front


A fantastic new website out of France has come to our attention. Cartographie 1914-1918 (trans: Mapping 1914-1918) shows the position of every major unit of all combatants on every day of the war.  A large, high-resolution map similar to the one below (which is the smaller, low-resolution version you see when you first click on a date) is now available for each day through the end of July 1916.

The map we are sharing with you is today's Centennial Map when the Battle of the Frontiers was reaching a crescendo. 


To view the full map for 23 August 1914, Click Here

To visit the home page of Cartographie 1914-1918, Click Here

Tips of the hat to Don Jay and Steve Miller for bringing this site to our attention.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 32: Belloy-en-Santerre

We first presented this article on 4 July 2013, the 97th anniversary of the day the Foreign Legion attacked at Belloy-en-Santerre during the Battle of the Somme. The attack was mounted from left to right over the field shown below. The village is just to the right of the image. An American Legionnaire was among those who fell that day.

Click on Image to Expand

At Belloy-en-Santerre

Above (top image), friend and traveling mate Mark Fowler of San Antonio, Texas, reads "Rendezvous" at the field where Alan Seeger fell during the Battle of the Somme. Below Mark is the plaque in the village of Belloy-en-Santerre honoring Seeger and identifying his burial site.


Click on Image to Expand

Alan Seeger was born in New York in 1888. Encouraged by his family, he was attracted to literature at an early age, especially poetry, and was an enthusiastic contributor to the in-house magazine his family enjoyed producing. His wealthy family sent him to private school and then to Harvard College, where he was particularly interested in Celtic literature and edited and wrote poetry for the Harvard Monthly.

His parents were dismayed when, after graduating from Harvard, he moved to Greenwich Village, where he lived a bohemian life. They sent him to Paris in 1912 to study at the Sorbonne, but this further encouraged his eccentric lifestyle and intensified his love of poetry. He also became interested in politics and wrote several sonnets and other poems on the events of the day that were leading up to the Great War. Although he was visiting London when war was declared, he at once rushed back to Paris and enlisted with some 40 other Americans in the French Foreign Legion. The training was demanding, but he appears to have been happy and proud to be fighting for a country he had come to love. His poems and letters home were now taking on a more fatalistic theme and also expressed the classical sentiment that death for a good soldier could be a beautiful and noble thing.

Seeger was soon to see action with the 2nd Foreign Regiment, action which gave him experience and also material for his poetry. "The Aisne (1914-1915)" describes his first experience of battle along the Chemin des Dames. By September 1915 he was in the thick of the Battle of Champagne, which he vividly described in his letters home. There, after seeing grape pickers busy not far from the fighting, he wrote a long poem in which he appealed to wine drinkers to "Drink sometimes…to those whose blood, in pious duty shed/Hallows the soil where that same wine had birth" (Champagne 1914-1915).


Romantic poet, dedicated diarist, and warrior, all of Seeger's writings in one volume.

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After a spell of sick leave and recuperation for bronchitis he returned to the front. He was scarcely inactive; according to one biographer, "He delighted in sneaking off on solitary scouting excursions, bringing back scraps of German newspapers and leaving his visiting card on the German wire…he longed for the Croix de Guerre."

When the blood baths of Verdun and then the Somme developed, Seeger longed to be in the thick of things, and at this time he wrote what is considered by many to be the best American poem of WWI — "I Have a Rendezvous with Death."

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Few poems have been so fatalistic and at the same time cruelly prophetic. On 4 July 1916 Seeger's section was ordered to take the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. As he charged forward, German machine guns opened up from a nearby hollow, and Legionnaire Seeger made his rendezvous.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Monte Grappa and Bassano del Grappa


The Mountaintop Bastion and War Memorial at Monte Grappa

During the last year of the Great War, Mte Grappa, just 35 miles northwest of Venice became the last mountain bastion against a potential severing of the Italian frontline and encirclement of their forces deployed along the Piave River. Immediately south of the mountain on the Brenta River is located the picturesque old Venetian town of Bassano del Grappa. In late 1917 this became the major logistical and transportation center supporting the defenders atop Mte Grappa. Today Bassano, with its heritage of heroism during both World Wars, beautiful architecture, museums and ceramics industry, is a tourist's favorite. 

The Alpini Bridge at Bassano with Monte Grappa in the Background

The most famous war monument in Bassano is the covered Ponte Vecchio, or the Alpini Bridge, over the Brenta. Built before 1209 and destroyed at various times by floods and war actions, it was remodelled several times to Andrea Palladio's design of 1568. During the Great War it became famous as the Alpini Bridge after the elite mountain troops who marched over it on their way to Mte Grappa. While crossing the bridge they sang the sentimental song "Sul Ponte di Bassano" — "On the Bridge of Bassano" — about kissing a pretty girl and squeezing her hand as they parted. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Great War Teaching Aids from the First Division Museum at Cantigny



The First Division Museum at Cantigny provides a wide range of aids for teachers who are trying to give their students some appreciation of the American experience of World War I. The resources are constantly being added to, but what is available — mostly online — is impressive including the story of Veterans/Armistice Day, a history trunk of a typical WWI Doughboy, and resource packs that include a great collection of letters and photos from 1st Division veteran Max Ottenfeld, who served in France.

The Soldier's Favorite Day:  Pay Day

Here are a few samples from Max's correspondence:

Well I hope this letter will find you all well and in the best of health. For myself I can say that I am feeling pretty fine considering where I am at. I bet you will be surprised when you find out that I am in a hospital, but don’t worry because by the time you get this letter I will be well and back to my outfit a long time. I was gassed Oct. 9 but didn’t go to the hospital until the 12th. I expect to be out in a week or so because I didn’t get it bad. You can see that I am feeling pretty good by the way I write this letter. I am up and walking around and you ought to see me at “chow” time, I can’t get enough to eat s a [?] continually kick. All I wish is that I was back to my outfit and then I would be all right. I left them 12th and the next day was to be pay day so I am out of luck for some money, but I don’t need it here and besides the month is almost over and I’ll have two months coming instead of one. Since I wrote last, I have been through h-- a good many times but still am alive and kicking. I’ve been over the “tops” a good many times since then and have seen all of the worst horrors of the war. Seeing dead and wounded now is nothing new to me.

Pvt. Max Ottenfeld, 18th Inf., 1st Division AEF
15 October 1918

Digging Trenches in France

Visit the museum's website page for educators at:
http://www.firstdivisionmuseum.org/education/default.aspx

Or contact:

Melissa Tyer
First Division Museum Educator
630.260.8274
mtyer@firstdivisionmuseum.org

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

To End All Wars. A Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War — Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam


To End All Wars. A Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War
by Adam Hochschild
London, Basingstoke and Oxford: Pan Macmillan, 2011

To End All Wars is an unusual history of World War One because it combines the stories of those who fought with those who chose not to. The war cast doubt on the "reasonableness of humanity". Only one group, argues Hochschild, remained "reasonable throughout — the conscientious objectors. Their story is not victorious, he concludes, because war is still with us. Hothschild describes the war as a conflict not only of loyalties but also of dreams.

The first three parts of To End All Wars introduce the characters whom Hochschild follows throughout the war years. They include generals, trade unionists, feminists, agents provocateurs, a writer, lion tamer, a cabinet minister, a working-class journalist, three soldiers brought before a firing squad, and a young idealist. In the first few months, the voices against war were few. Indeed, military recruiters were warmly welcomed everywhere, notes Hochschild, because the war was associated with glory, purification, and liberation. The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst was one of the few women to speak out against the war. Her views are discussed in Chapter 8 against the background of the losses in battle that began to be reported in newspapers like the Times.


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In Chapter 11, "In the Thick of It", Hochschild discusses the reactions to the German bombing of London in 1915. He discusses how Bertrand Russell, a prominent antiwar activist, heard "a shout of bestial triumph in the street". On leaping out of bed to investigate, Russell realized with disgust that people were shouting with joy because the German occupants of a zeppelin were burning to death. Chapter 11 also describes how Sylvia Pankhurst watched in horror as a German baker was badly beaten and a German woman was beaten unconscious.

The losses at Loos and the introduction of conscription brought the issue of conscientious objection to the fore. Chapter 13, "We Regret Nothing", is devoted to the principles of pacifism and the bravery of its practitioners. Describing Britain's antiwar movement, it emphasizes the courage of the conscientious objector: "When the guns were firing and the pressure from friends and family to support the war effort was overwhelming, it required rare courage to resist" — a conclusion drawn also by Felicity Goodall in We Will Not Go to War (see my review).

Chapter 14, "God, God, Where's the Rest of the Boys?" is particularly evocative. Devoted to the horrendous conditions under which conscientious objectors were imprisoned, it contains a number of firsthand accounts. One such addresses "Field Punishment Number One", whereby the prisoner was trussed to a prison fence, arms held open in crucifix position:

We were placed with our faces to the barbed wire of the inner fence . . . . I found myself drawn so closely to the fence that when I wished to turn my head I had to do so cautiously to avoid my face being torn by the barbs. To make matters less comfortable, it came on to rain and the cold wind blew straight across the top of the hill.

"White Feather" Scene from Downton Abbey

Conscientious objectors went on hunger strikes and were force-fed like the suffragettes. It was the rule of silence, however, that was generally considered the most trying feature of imprisonment.

The war unleashed witch hunts for traitors. The general public fury directed at conscientious objectors, particularly after the introduction of conscription, was enormous. British conscientious objectors were able to take some courage from the 500 American war resisters who, with the introduction of conscription (the draft) by the Selective Service Act in 1917, also refused any sort of alternative service and went to prison. One well-known resister was the labor leader Eugene V. Debs, who had been imprisoned for giving a series of antiwar speeches. Refusing to repent on the grounds that he was "standing like a man", he was still in his cell in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1920.

At the end of the war, conscientious objectors noted that the general public had learned little from the war; their jubilation on the signing of the Armistice was frighteningly similar to the cheering at the outbreak of war just four years earlier. Hochschild also emphasizes that some soldiers returning from the front praised the conscientious objectors for their wisdom and steadfastness. The story of Albert Rochester is moviningly told. He shared a cell with three soldiers subsequently executed for abandoning their posts and later dug graves for them (presumably temporary) and later gave speeches across Britain about what he had witnessed. [Text here revised from original.]

Sylvia Pankhurst Under Arrest

The final chapter of To End All Wars, "An Imaginary Cemetery", is not in honor of those who were confident that they would win their struggle through fighting but of the pacifists who knew in advance that they would lose — conscientious objectors like Bertrand Russell, who later declared, "I felt that for the honor of human nature those who were not swept off their feet should show that they stood firm." As Hochschild concludes in the final paragraph, "their battle could not be won in 1914–1918, but it remained, and still remains, to be fought again — and again."

To End All Wars is a remarkable account of a group who stood firm, resisted public opinion, and paid a high price for their principles. Hochschild's study is particularly effective because it integrates the story of the conscientious objector into the wider context of the war. It also tells the story of the individual. The product of many years of research, To End All Wars is copiously annotated and contains an extensive bibliography. At the same time, it is highly readable. Above all, it is both compassionate and sympathetic.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Monday, August 18, 2014

Revolutions for the Infantry

There's a lot of theoretical stuff written about "Revolutions in Military Affairs".  Here's some down to earth changes that came about in the Great War.


It remains to mention two allies of [the WWI] infantrymen that virtually revolutionized their combat methods. The first was the motor truck, which gave foot soldiers greater mobility than they ever before had.  


The second was a miscellany of signal equipment. This helped the infantry to operate with some degree of coordination on huge battlefields where arm signals could no longer be seen and noise drowned out the human voice. It aided in making foot troops an effective instrument of the will of the commander and served to rectify, at least a little, the disorganization that resulted from the necessity for soldiers to disperse widely in order to survive.

Signal Corps SCR-54A radio set, a crystal radio receiver
used by the US Signal Corps during World War I


Sources:   Infantry, Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army; photos from Steve Miller and Wikipedia

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shouldn't Those "Last 100 Days" Be the "Last 120 Days"?

I have been thinking of writing this posting since we published a positive review of Nick Lloyd's Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended the War a few weeks ago.  That book is well written and highly informative, but the focus on the "Last 100 Days" has rubbed me the wrong way since the late, and great, historian John Terraine first laid it on me in 1989.

First, it is factually wrong!  It presumes, argues, or suggests that the tide of battle in the Great War was turned due to the victory east of Amiens on 8 August 1918.  The turning point of the war — the beginning of the end game — indisputably, came on 15 July 1918. That was 120 days from the end of the war, not 100 (or 96 if you are counting accurately).

Second, examinations of  the "Last 100 Days" tend to be heavily Anglo-centric and downplay the contributions of the other Allies,  the AEF for sure, but most glaringly, the French Army. None of these comments are meant to disparage the tremendous achievement of the BEF in this period, but the French after their 1917 debacle were recovering.  By the second half of 1918 they were once again mounting significant and large offensive operations, without which the broad Allied "push back" of the war's concluding days would not have been possible.

Third, the role played by most important general of 1918, Ferdinand Foch, is almost always downplayed when the "Last 100 Days" are the topic.  (Nick Lloyd's work is a BIG exception to this.) It appears to me, in some cases (not all), the successes of the British Army and its commander-in-chief in this period are emphasized to bolster the arguments of "pro-Haig" elements (not without some justification) in that never ending debate over the field marshal's merits.

In his memoirs, General Ludendorff wrote that the Second Battle of the Marne had been the critical turning point in the war: "This was the first great setback for Germany. There now developed the very situation which I had endeavored to prevent. The initiative passed to the enemy. Germany's position was extremely serious. It was no longer possible to win the war in a military sense."

Fighting Along the Marne, 15 July 1918

The battle opened with the fifth German offensive of 1918 and was followed three days later by an Allied counteroffensive, which lasted until early September. That initial defeat, in what amounted to a single day, of a German attack on a 55-mile front from Château-Thierry to east of Reims, would be the Allies' first clear victory in 1918 on the Western Front. Germany would never mount another offensive nor celebrate another victory after 15 July 1918.

Furthermore, by the date of this fifth German offensive, General Ferdinand Foch had learned to read Ludendorff's strategy.  He had anticipated it and prepared his own strike against the bulge southward in the 1918 front between Soissons and Reims.  As Michael Neiberg describes in his history The Second Battle of the Marne (Indiana University Press, 2007):

Mangin's Tenth Army began the second phase of the battle at 4:35 a.m. on July 18. More than 21,000 artillery pieces opened fire simultaneously on German positions.  Unlike the German barrage just three days earlier, the Allied cannonade of July 18 caught their enemies completely by surprise. The first day of the Allied counteroffensive was a massive success. In total, the Allies captured 20,000 prisoners of war. One American regiment had captured 3,000 prisoners from five different German divisions, an indication of the confusion in German lines. The number of German prisoners on this first day exceeds the number of Germans taken on the first day (17,000) of the Battle of Amiens, which began on 8 August 1918, in Ludendorff's words the "black day" of the German army. A black day it surely was, but in terms of both raw number of Germans who had surrendered and the tremendous shift in momentum, July 18 was significantly more important.

"Les Fantomes" French Memorial for the Second Battle of the Marne

One additional point is worth noting.  The reserves that Ludendorff called upon to prevent an utter disaster in the Marne salient in July were those intended for another German offensive against the British Army in Flanders, Operation Hagen, scheduled for 1 August. Thus, had the Allies not administered the double defensive/offensive defeats of the German forces in July, the British forces would have had the Germans at their throats soon again in Flanders and very likely would not have had the freedom of action to launch their 8 August attack in the Somme sector.

In any case, I look forward to publishing someday a review of  a work titled The Last 120 Days of the Great War.

This is an opinion piece by the editor, Mike Hanlon, who takes full responsibility for what is written herein.

Photos from Tony Langley and Steve Miller

Saturday, August 16, 2014

War Artist C.R.W. Nevinson

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 1889–1946

1913 Example of Nevinson's Prewar Thrust

Nevinson's formative years as a student were spent at the Slade School of Art (1909–12) in London. The Futurist Exhibition of March 1912, held at the Sackville Gallery, London, proved decisive for his development. Nevinson became the leading figure in English Futurism. In June 1914 he published with the Italian Futurist leader F.T. Marinetti, the inflammatory manifesto Vital English Art, which set him apart from the Vorticists around Wyndham Lewis. The Vorticists included Edward Wadsworth, David Bomberg, and William Roberts, all of whom were former classmates of Nevinson at the Slade before the war.

La Mitrailleuse, 1915

Widely Considered Nevinson's Masterpiece

At the outbreak of the First World War (1914–18), C.R.W. Nevinson volunteered as a Friends ambulance driver in Flanders and then as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps until January 1916, when he was invalided out. This print comes from a group of drypoints and related paintings based on his war experiences which were shown at Nevinson's first solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1916. The success of the exhibition led to his appointment as an official war artist and to a set of lithographs entitled "Making Aircraft" for the series recording Britain's Efforts and Ideals commissioned by the Ministry of Information during the First World War.

Troops to the Front

Three Treatments on a Theme


Returning to the Trenches, 1914

A Dawn, 1914
Road to Ypres, 1916

Bleak, outspoken, and often angry, his paintings of 1915–16 are among the masterpieces of his career, bravely opposing the prevailing jingoistic tendency. Always seeking a public platform for his art, Nevinson told the Daily Express in 1915: "Our Futurist technique is the only possible medium to express the crudeness, violence, and brutality of the emotions seen and felt on the present battlefields of Europe."  However, by 1919 he had given up Futurism. Retreating instead to a more traditional vision, he painted lively interpretations of New York, which fuse a lingering love of Futurist angularity with a new respect for naturalistic observation. Nevinson was at his best when dealing with the dynamism and vertiginous scale of big city life. In later years he concentrated more on pastoral scenes and flower pieces, where a gentler mood prevailed.

Sources:  Websites of the British Museum and Tate Gallery

Friday, August 15, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 31: Thiepval Memorial



Built on the site of the former Thiepval Chateau. The huge brick structure, which dominates the rural scene, has 16 piers faced with Portland stone and is 150 feet (46m) high. It has foundations 19 feet (6m) thick, required due to extensive tunneling beneath the structure. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial was built between 1928 and 1932 and is the biggest British battle memorial in the world. Over 72,000 names are listed on the memorial — all men who were lost in the Battle of the Somme, but whose remains were never discovered. 

The French Tricolor also flies over the memorial. In addition to being a Memorial to the missing, Thiepval is also a battle memorial commemorating the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme in 1916 and is sited on top of the hill that was one of the major objectives . In recognition of the joint nature of the Allied endeavors in 1916, an Anglo-French cemetery is laid out in front of the Memorial with equal numbers of French and British burials (300 each). The Memorial is the largest ever built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A major remembrance ceremony is held there each year on 1 July (the first day of the Battle of the Somme). There is a visitor center at the site which aims to tell the story of the battle, rather than any of the men who fought in this battle.

On 1 July 1916 in the opening of the Battle of the Somme, the 32nd British Division was utterly devastated and repulsed in their effort to take this position. It was not until the following 26 September that the chateau and village were finally cleared by the 18th Division.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

35,000 Yanks Served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Canadian Recruiting Poster Targeting Americans

The United States didn’t enter the war until 6 April 1917. But many American soldiers joined the fight long before that. Nearly 800 of the soldiers who sailed with Canada’s First Contingent in October 1914 were born in the U.S. By war’s end, more than 35,000 Americans had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Those numbers include both U.S. citizens living in Canada and Americans who crossed the border to join the fight — many of them motivated by the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915. 

American law prohibited any recruiting for foreign armies on its soil, but it was understood that Americans who pledged loyalty to the king in order to enlist would not be stripped of their U.S. citizenship after they finished their service.

Bellenden Hutcheson, MD, of Mount Carmel, Illinois,
Was One of Four American Recipients of the Victoria Cross for Service with the CEF

In late 1915, Canadian Militia Minister Sam Hughes announced that a battalion of American soldiers would be raised in Toronto. The 97th Battalion, often called the American Legion, had as its emblem a maple leaf with the Washington family crest in the center. The soldiers drew great interest from the local media as they started arriving at Exhibition Camp.

“If you speak to the khaki sentry on the Process building door, while he stands at the very smartest British attention, he speaks with the slow, deliberate Yankee drawl,” a Toronto Star reporter wrote in January 1916. “Yankee? That’s it. There is no offence in the word.”

Among its recruits were said to be “broncho busters from Dakoty, gold panners from the Klondike,” and veterans from both sides of the U.S.-Mexican wars.

One soldier, 25-year-old Tracy Richardson, listed previous service with the Mexican, Nicaraguan, Honduran, and Brazilian artilleries on his attestation form and was said to have 24 scars. He came to Canada when war broke out “to become a private in the Princess Pats, had his legs smashed by bullets at St. Eloi just when he was starting to enjoy himself, and now he is going to it again with the Yankees.”

Volunteers of Canada's American Legion in Training

The 97th Battalion reached its full strength of 1,400 men by March 1916 but didn’t ship out until August — and in the months in between, the restless soldiers became known for getting into trouble in Toronto. When the battalion arrived in Europe, it was broken up, its men sent to other units as reinforcements.

Canada announced in February 1916 that it would be adding four more battalions to the American Legion, but that proved too much for the U.S. government, which was trying to maintain its neutrality in the war. It filed a protest and three of the four battalions disappeared by November, with the fourth disbanding in March 1917. 

— Stephanie MacLellan

Source:  The Toronto Star World War I Encyclopedia

Assistant Editor's Note: My favorite American who got to the Western Front by way of the CEF is Capt. Frederick Libby, an ace of the RFC decorated by the King. His memoir, Horses Don't Fly (Arcade Publishing, 2000), is an engaging and informative narrative by a rugged westerner who became a "temporary gentleman" and loved it. ~ Kimball Worcester

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Exhibition: For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland Opens in St. Petersburg


On 25 July, the Museum of the History of Religion in St. Petersburg opens a major exhibition, "For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland", timed to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War — one of the largest armed conflicts in history. More than 120 unique items of the museum's collection will reveal a hitherto unknown page of military history — the activity of "spiritual front" in force in all European armies in the early 20th century.

The exhibit contains authentic items that belonged to soldiers and officers of the Entente — the military-political bloc of Russia, Britain, and France — and the Triple Alliance (German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires) as well as unique icons, paintings, sculptures, and graphics (posters, postcards, flyers), military medals, military uniforms, and photographs from the museum collection.

The unconventional solution of the exhibition space illustrates not the military but the ideological and spiritual confrontation between the two military-political blocs held both at the front and in the rear, as well as the role of the clergy of the Russian military in maintaining the spirit of the army.

One of the sections of the exhibition is devoted to military clergy — a part of the Russian clergy involved in the pastoral care of servicemen of different arms of the Russian empire. Martial and spiritual feats of Russian priests are depicted in a number of paintings and graphic works of 1910s ("A Christmas Prayer for the Position", "Prayer at the Battery Box", "Feat Russian Priest", etc.). The exhibition is also complemented with documents and photos showing the awarding of orders  to chaplains.

A special section of the exhibition features memorial icons with inscriptions on the back.

A semantic center and the completion of the exhibition will be the jewel of the museum's collection — a makeshift church of His Imperial Majesty of Consolidated Infantry Regiment (late 19th–early 20th centuries) with a set of special items, including details of military priest vestments and church furnishings, and an original candlestick made of bayonets from rifle No. 2.

The exhibition "For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland" runs until 18 September 2014 at the Museum of Religion in St. Petersburg. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Secrets of Rue St Roch: Intelligence Operations Behind Enemy Lines in the First World War — Reviewed by Ron Drees


The Secrets of Rue St Roch: Intelligence Operations Behind Enemy Lines in the First World War
by Janet Morgan
Allen Lane, 2004

41 Rue St Roch, Paris, Today

The title of this book, which refers to the address of the Paris headquarters of British spies in the First World War, 41 Rue StRoch, implies much broader coverage than is actually provided. Morgan's text focuses on just a very few of the 6,000 agents who worked for the British in WWI Europe. Their function was to watch and report on trains of German and Austrian infantry, cavalry, and artillery moving toward the Western Front though Luxembourg. This information helped Foch outguess von Hindenburg in the summer of 1918 and contributed to the "black day of the German Army" on 8 August.

Yet this result did not come about easily. There were bitter "turf" wars between the British spymasters; the training of the women who coded the intelligence required considerable effort and then much hand-holding; and there were budget disputes and wrangling in general. The coded messages were sent buried within an agricultural newspaper whose newsprint had to be purchased by the British at considerable up-front expense. There was the constant fear of German capture, and the author gives interesting statistics on those who did not return after the war.


Order Now
The reader is not spared either, as some topics receive detailed discussions which border on the enervating. Late in the war, it became necessary to send an agent from France to Luxembourg — by balloon. First the agent, a Belgian Army officer, had to be pried loose from his commanders. Then one learns in excruciating detail about planning, launching, and piloting the balloon from France to Luxembourg.

The French government was quite appreciative of the spies' efforts and awarded the participants with appropriate medals. Ominously, the Germans noted them also, and upon returning in 1940 held unpleasant discussions with some of these heroes of the Great War. Apparently, fame was not fleeting enough.

You may find some of the information in The Secrets of Rue St Roch overly detailed for your taste; nevertheless, this book is an interesting and informative discussion about the underbelly of war that rarely surfaces. It is worth reading, even if you decide to exercise the option of skipping the more detailed sections.

Ron Drees

Monday, August 11, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Frank O'Brien, 128th Infantry, 32nd Division, AEF

Missing in Action


Pvt. Frank O'Brien

The grandson of Irish immigrants and seventh of 12 children, Frank O’Brien grew up on his family’s farm near Avoca, Wisconsin. He was drafted in November 1917 and, at the age of 28, joined the 128th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd division. He trained at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas, before going overseas in February 1918.

O’Brien saw action at the Second Battle of the Marne and the Battle of Soissons in the summer of 1918. At the end of August, the 32nd Division participated in the beginnings of the Oise-Aisne Campaign by seeking to push the Germans out of the City of Juvigny. Fierce fighting with heavy casualties took place before the 128th infantry was relieved from the front lines on 1 September. Following this action, O’Brien failed to report to his company. Less than a week later, his parents were informed that Frank O’Brien was missing in action.

More than half a year later, his parents received a letter in the mail from Walfred Lindstrom, an Army chaplain. As the 32nd Division withdrew from the front lines on 1 September 1918, Lindstrom spotted an unidentified American body. Intending to bury it the next day, he removed a ring and pocketbook from the body to protect them from looters. However, when he returned to the site the following day, Lindstrom found the body already buried. 
Chaplain Lindstrom
In the ensuing months, he searched for some clue that might help him identify the fallen American so that he could return the items to the family. Finally, in April 1919, after returning to the U.S., Lindstrom noticed “O’Brien” scribbled in very small letters on one of the francs from the pocketbook. He looked through the casualties from the battle near Juvigny, which led him to contact the parents of Frank O’Brien, describing the ring and asking them to identify it. They recognized their son’s ring from Lindstrom’s description.

Private Frank O’Brien was missing in action for over seven months before his remains were identified. He is buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in France.

See more Doughboys honored at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum: 







Sunday, August 10, 2014

Highlights from "Perspectives on the Great War," World War One International Conference 1– 4 August 2014


From Correspondent Jane Mattison Ekstam


Download the full program here:  

Two hundred participants, including 140 speakers, gathered at Queen Mary’s College, University of London, to reflect on issues as diverse as the causes of the war, the situation in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, different ways of representing the war, the consequences for Europe and the world at large of the events of 1914–18, and how the war is understood today. Some of the most important names in World War One scholarship were present: Professor Christopher Clark (Cambridge University), Professor Michael Epkenhans (Institut für Militärgeschichte), David Stevenson (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Professor Jay Winter (Yale University). 

An ongoing theme was the importance of a transnational approach to World War One. Jay Winter argued that today we belong to the Fourth Generation of World War One scholars who wish to widen the scope of scholarship from battles, social effects, and the story of the individual to the story of war that incorporates North America, Africa, and India more closely. Winter exemplifies this view in his latest study, The Cambridge History of the First World War (Listen to an interview with Jay Winter about his book on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFiGwzj8Uvw). The transnational perspective was also advocated by Christopher Clark, who claimed that by adopting such an approach we are better able to understand the similarities between our world today and that of 1914–18. Clark referred to his most recent publication, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

One of the New First World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museum
In addition to excellent keynote speeches a number of lesser known scholars presented their research on more obscure aspects of the war. One of the most outstanding presentations was that given by a South African scholar, Gerhard Genis, who has uncovered and analyzed a number of poems written by South African soldiers. Another fascinating presentation was James Wallis’s introduction to the Imperial War Museum’s new exhibition, which is lavishly cataloged in Paul Cornish’s "The First World War Galleries".The exhibition contains interesting exhibits on pacifism, much to this correspondent’s joy!

The 2014 conference is to be followed up in 2016 by a smaller event focussing on Belgium and World War One. This will also be hosted by Queen Mary’s College, London University.