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

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Canadian Conscription Crisis of 1917

Canadian Recruiting Poster

Canada's federal government decided in 1917 to conscript young men for overseas military service. Voluntary recruitment was failing to maintain troop numbers, and Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden believed in the military value, and potential postwar influence, of a strong Canadian contribution to the war.

The 1917 conscription debate was one of the fiercest and most divisive in Canadian political history. French-Canadians, as well as many farmers, unionized workers, non-British immigrants, and other Canadians, generally opposed the measure. English-speaking Canadians, led by Prime Minister Borden and senior members of his Cabinet, as well as British immigrants, the families of soldiers, and older Canadians, generally supported it.

The conscription debate echoed public divisions on many other contemporary issues, including language education, agriculture, religion, and the political rights of women and immigrants. It also grew into a test of one’s support for, or opposition to, the war as a whole. Charges of disloyalty, cowardice, and immorality from avid pro-conscription advocates were matched by cries of imperialism, stupidity, and blood-lust by the anti-conscription camp.

The campaign’s viciousness sometimes obscured the debate’s complexity. Many anti-conscription advocates fully supported the war, for example, while not all pro-conscription voices argued their case by using linguistic or racial smears to diminish their opponents.

A Vote Against

The conscription debate raged through most of 1917 and into 1918. The required legislation, the Military Service Act, worked its way through Parliament during the summer to be passed in late August. It made all male citizens between the ages of 20 and 45 subject to military service, if called, for the duration of the war.

Conscription was the main issue in the federal election that followed in December, a bitter contest between Conservative/Unionist Sir Robert Borden and Liberal Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Borden, running on a "Unionist" pro-conscription ticket that attracted many English-speaking Liberals, won decisively but lost heavily in Francophone areas of Quebec.

The government had helped pave the way for electoral victory with legislation in the fall that enfranchised likely allies and disenfranchised likely opponents.

The Wartime Elections Act gave the vote to the wives, mothers, and sisters of soldiers, the first women permitted to vote in Canadian federal elections. These groups tended to favor conscription because it supported their men in the field.

A Soldier Votes in the 1917 Election

The act then denied the vote to many recent immigrants from enemy countries (“enemy aliens”), unless they had a family member in military service. At the same time, the Military Voters Act extended the vote to all military personnel and nurses, including women, regardless of their period of residence in Canada.

Borden’s margin of victory in December was greater than the votes delivered by either of these controversial measures, but each had been highly successful. More than 90 percent of military votes, for example, were Unionist.

A broadly popular but divisive measure, conscription polarized provinces, ethnic and linguistic groups, communities, and families, and had lasting political effects on the country as a whole. For many Canadians, it was an important and necessary contribution to a faltering war effort; for others, it was an oppressive act passed dishonestly by a government more British than Canadian.

Farmers sought agricultural exemptions from compulsory service until the end of the war. Borden’s government, anxious for farmers’ votes, agreed to limited exemptions, largely for farmers’ laboring sons, but broke the promise after the election. The bitterness among farmers, many of them in the West, led to the development of new federal and provincial parties.

French-speaking Canadians continued their protests as well, and young men by the tens of thousands joined others from across Canada in refusing to register for the selection process. Of those that did register, 93 percent applied for an exemption. An effort to arrest suspected draft dodgers was highly unpopular across the province and, at its worst, resulted in several days of rioting and street battles in Quebec City at Easter, 1918. The violence left four civilians dead and dozens injured, and shocked supporters on both sides.

Conscription Enforced

Conscription would have minimal impact on Canada’s war effort. By the Armistice in November 1918, only 48,000 conscripts had been sent overseas, half of which ultimately served at the front. More than 50,000 more conscripts remained in Canada. These would have been required had the war continued into 1919.

Source: Website of the Canadian War Museum

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Map Series #2: A Handy U.S.-Oriented 1918 Map

Click on Map to Enlarge

This map is from a U.S. Marine Corps publication "Reducing the St. Mihiel Salient" that can be downloaded HERE.
It was created by Marine cartographer Lt. Col. R. L. Cody, USMC (Ret)

Its focus is on the 4th Marine Brigade of the AEF's 2nd "Indianhead" Division, which was one of the most active of General Pershing's formations. They fought in all the major operations, except in Flanders and the Somme, so the map gives a lot of details in that regard. However, it is especially "handy" for a lot of the additional information Col Cody included in the map. Not including the information specific to the 4th Brigade or 2nd Division, it shows:
  • The major ports of the AEF
  • General and Services of Supply Headquarters
  • Coblenz, Center  and Headquarters of U.S Occupation Forces
  • Main rail supply lines
  • Allied Advance and Armistice Lines for 1918

Friday, February 15, 2019

Recommended: For Connoisseurs of Tank Warfare: The British Mark I Vs. a 21st Century Tank

A couple of caveats for readers—

1.  This seven-page article which is a PDF format discussed the nitty-gritty details of tank design and operation, including the propulsion system, armor, weaponry, and operational issues, then and now.

2.  The 21st-century tank is the recently developed Turkish Altay Main Battle Tank produced by the Turkish controlled BMC company with technical input by Hyundai of South Korea.

Nevertheless, if you love tanks, this article will give you a great ride in explaining how tanks and tank warfare have evolved over the past century and how many things are still the same.

Download the article HERE:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Unique Centennial Armistice Commemoration in the U.K.

Portraits of soldiers who died in World War One were etched into the sands of  32 UK beaches last 11 November  and the result was  stunning. The portraits were titled “Pages of the Sea,” an idea that was conceived by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. 

The beaches from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles commemorated specific individuals that fought in the war. Some are of well-know figures like the war poet, Wilfred Owen, others are of lesser-known local individuals who perished in the war. People gathered together early on Sunday morning to create the images, using a stencil and a rake to create the images.  

“In the first World War, everybody left from the beaches and the harbors because there was no plane transport of any significance then,” Boyle told the BBC. “So this will have been their last sight of home—and for many of them, of course, it was their last sight of home.”

He continued, “I thought, ‘What a wonderful way to reconnect with them.'”

Boyle said the images  were made by volunteers who were given stencils and rakes to shape the larger-than-life portraits.

“We make a temporary portrait which is a reminder of your own and their mortality,” he said. “But it’s also a way that a community can gather in a public space…and we can come here and celebrate, in a way.”

Boyle said standing in the midst of the portraits also gave room for quiet reflection.  At each of the beaches to mood turned somber as the afternoon tides arrived.

“There was a wonderful silence with just the noise of the tide beginning to pour in and cover the portraits,” he said. “It was very, very moving.”

People who experienced the exhibit in person posted photos to Instagram and shared their thoughts, many of them paying tribute to certain soldiers by sharing their names and bits of their stories. 

List of all individuals commemorated can be found HERE.

Compiled from UK News Reports

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Unusual Goodbye Letter of Lt. Hart Leech, CEF

The following letter was written on 13 Sept. 1916 by Canadian soldier Hart Leech from Winnipeg shortly before he died in battle. It was lost in his belongings when he died and wasn’t read by his mother until 12 years later in 1928. Leech served as a lieutenant in the  61st Battalion. Along with being recognized for his military skills, he was known for his baritone singing voice.  He was lost in action two days after this letter was written in the Battle of the Somme and is commemorated on the Vimy Ridge Memorial

Dear Mother

Just a wee note. I am "going over the parapet", and the chances of a "sub" getting back alive are abut nix. If I do get back, why you can give me the horse laugh. If not this'll let you know that I kicked out with my boots on.

So, cheer up, old dear, and don't let the newspapers use you as material for a Saturday magazine feature. You know the kind: where the "sweet-faced, grey-haired, little mother, clutching the last letter from her boy to her breast, sobbed, “’He was such a fine lad,' as she furtively brushed the glistening tears from her eyes with a dish rag, etc. etc."

I’m going to tell you this in case my company commander forgets. Your son is a soldier, and a dog-gone good one, too, if he does say it himself as shouldn't. And if he gets pipped it'll be doing his blooming job. 

In a way it's darned funny. All the gang are writing post-mortem letters and kind of half ashamed of themselves for doing it. As one of our officers said: "If I mail it and come through the show, I'll be a joke. If I tear it up and get killed I'll be sorry I didn't send it." S'there y'are...

Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Website

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Shadowboxing the Apocalypse: The WWI Correspondence of Dr. Theo Hascall, 103rd F.A. 26th Yankee Division

By Dr. Theo Hascall Foreword by Shawn A. Pease
Publisher:, 2018
Terrence J. Finnegan, Reviewer

Dr Theo Hascall, a Rhode Island native who served in the Yankee Division in World War I, was a prolific letter writer to his wife. The testimony of their relationship was the deeply felt syntax covering their experiences during this tumultuous event in history. Dr Hascall was one of several medical doctors within the 103rd Field Artillery, 26th Yankee Division.

155mm Artillery Piece and Crew from the 103rd FA

Shawn Pease has launched a labor of love by transcribing Dr Hascall's story in a voluminous text of 156 letters containing as much detail as a self-censored letter could allow. The book provides limited background to Dr Hascall's location with brief discussion of the battles being fought from February 1918 at the Chemin des Dames to the Armistice. Shawn Pease and his friends at the Rhode Island Philatelic Society should be congratulated for getting a primary source published through vanity press. It provides a glimpse into deployed lifestyle at the battlegrounds in contrast to the domestic world that his wife experienced.

The value of this work falls into the category of curiosity about an individual's experience. Hascall mentions influenza on 9 June 1918 with "Everybody around here has been having a '3 day feaver'–quite an epidemic." Detailed correspondence briefly mentions some figures such as Chaplain (Lieutenant) William J. Farrell, who earned the Distinguish Service Cross at Seicheprey on 20 April 1918. The two were friends and shared a room—to include a rat that slept one night in the bed—"he gave a slap and this huge thing jumped out." 

He describes an interesting German tactic employing captured French aeroplanes. On 25 July eight planes flew over the front lines and shot down two U.S. captive balloons. "How the anti-aircraft guns and machine guns got after them!"

On 23 June Lieutenant Hascall wrote "No word about promotions for the Medical Lieutenants of this Division yet. Guess we're out of luck." On 10 November 1918, Lieutenant Hascall received word that he had been promoted to captain. Apparently 30 lieutenants from the Medical Corps serving in the 26th Division were promoted on 30 September but didn't receive word until the day before the Armistice.

My own intent was to find any mention of the Sanitary Detachment members or memorable experiences related to the Medical Corps. In my case, the story had particular interest because in the latter months of the war my grandfather, Private 1st Class Cyril Finnegan, was a medic serving the 103rd Field Artillery and working for Lieutenant Doherty. For what it's worth, on 26 July he writes, "Talk about your traveling circuses. This is a regular 'off again on again Finnegan' sort of life." I wonder if he shared that with my grandfather.

The most disappointing feature of Shadowboxing the Apocalypse is the lack of relevant sources to further relate each event. The primary reference employed is The War Story of C Battery, One Hundred and Third U.S. Field Artillery, France 1917–1919 by Henry T. Samson and George C. Hull. To my amazement no mention is made of the primary source on the unit in World War I—History of the 103rd Field Artillery (Twenty-Sixth Division, A.E.F.) by W.F. Kernan and Henry T. Samson. Not only is there more detail associated with the 103rd Field Artillery contained in the latter source, some exceptional maps are included which would have provided the reader greater appreciation of the unit's service throughout 1918 along with the places where Dr Hascall served.

The Centennial released the floodgates of a lot of personal accounts such as Shadowboxing the Apocalypse (although the title is worth noting as being attributed to a Grateful Dead song). The casual reader will applaud the work for relating to the human experience of the time.

Terrence J. Finnegan

[Editor's Note: We previously published a letter from this collection on Roads to the Great War that described the aftermath of the St. Mihiel Offensive.  It can be visited HERE.]  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Not Fit for War: Austria-Hungary's Economy

Skoda Armaments Factory in Pilsen

By Max-Stephan Schulze

I think we will all die of hunger before a bullet gets us… Ah dear mother, our dog is better fed than I am here. In the cabbage there are worms… we have to live and fight like this.
Polish Soldier, 10th Austro-Hungarian Army, on the Italian Front

Austria-Hungary’s war economy can be summarized as follows. First, the war effort was sustained into 1918 on the basis of a rapidly decreasing resource base. Constrained by scarcity of input materials and cumulative labor shortages, aggregate output fell continuously over the course of the war. Moreover, the share of war expenditure in real GDP fell from an initial peak of 30 percent (1914/15) to about 17 percent in 1917/18. Hence the scale of mobilization, both in absolute terms and relative to the size of the economy, was small to that achieved in major belligerent economies such as the United Kingdom and Germany. 

Second, the Allied blockade worked and its impact was augmented by a serious lack of foreign exchange: Austria-Hungary’s foreign trade was far too limited to reduce significantly the shortage of essential war materials and foodstuffs. 

Flour for Sale, Vienna, 1915

Third, the Empire’s complex macro-political structure, a legacy of the 1867 constitutional compromise between Austria and Hungary, undermined the efficiency and effectiveness of intra-empire resource allocation and utilization. 

Fourth, a small domestic capital market proved incapable of sustaining wartime borrowing at high levels. After a short-lived rise in the initial stages of the war, the debt/GDP ratio remained just above peacetime levels. To the extent that Austria-Hungary did fight the war on the cheap, that was not an outcome of choice, but of necessity in light of inadequate resources.

Budapest Tram, 1918, Used To Transport Food — By War's End the Transportation System of the Empire Was Approaching Collapse

Finally, the persistent and widespread food scarcity and resultant physical exhaustion of both civilian population and the armed forces was a key factor in bringing about the collapse of the Habsburg Empire.

Source: Max-Stephan Schulze, "Austria-Hungary’s Economy in World War I" in Stephen Broadberry and Mark Harrison (eds.), The Economics of World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2009

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Wound or Physiologic Shock and the Great War

[By 1838 British surgeon Astley Cooper reported] that many wounded soldiers died without significant loss of blood, severe pain, or serious injury. Surgeons “were in the habit of saying men died of shock.” Shock was completely separated from hemorrhage. It was recognized that soldiers could bleed to death, but if there was little obvious hemorrhage, then death was attributed to “shock,” a mysterious and indefinable death.

Early Blood Transfusion Procedure in Canada, 1918(?)

In 1952 the U.S. Army reviewed how the the problem of shock had been dealt with during the two World Wars. 

Although warriors have died of their wounds from the beginning of time, the first scientific approach to an analysis of how and why they die was made during World War I. In that war the wound surgeon lifted his eyes from the shattered limb to inquire with some degree of precision about the nature of the processes that a wound may initiate in the body as a whole. Because, even if the limb were amputated and every organ of the body was sound, death was likely to occur as the terminal event of a profound disturbance known as wound shock.

World War I revealed wound shock as a complex problem. Its nature was not solved nor were sufficient observational data accumulated to permit clear identification and subsequent analysis. Certain pre-existing hypotheses (vasomotor exhaustion, acapnia, adrenal exhaustion) were discredited, but other concepts inadequately supported by facts (traumatic toxemia, the distinction between shock and hemorrhage) were substituted. These concepts centered on wound shock as an entity not accounted for by hemorrhage, infection, brain injury, blast, asphyxia of cardio-respiratory origin, fat embolism, or any other clearly demonstrable lethal effect of trauma. World War I thus recognized a problem of shock but left it wrapped in mystery.

Dr. Walter Cannon of Harvard University served in a Casualty Clearing Station and Research Laboratory during the war.  He would be called on to help lead U.S. research on wound shock in the Second World War.

...At the end of World War I the so-called shock problem was transferred to the experimental laboratories of medical science. Attempts were made to resolve it by physiologic and chemical techniques under a wide variety of experimentally induced circumstances. As the methods of initiating experimental shock were multiplied, the term itself became broadened, so that it  included a number of processes that appeared to have one feature in common—a reduced effective volume flow of blood with inadequacy of the peripheral circulation and resulting tissue asphyxia. In the clinic as well as the laboratory, shock became separated from wounds, and "medical shock," "obstetrical shock," "burn shock," "shock due to infection," and other types were described as entities.

In 2004, army Brigadier General Robert Hardaway wrote of the state of understanding of  physiologic shock in the 21st century and the importance of the WWI experience:

Battlefield Transfusion in Italy During WWII

World War I showed the need for blood in the treatment of “wound shock,” a lesson that had to be relearned in World War II through bitter experience. Studies in the Korean War described the concept of disseminated intravascular coagulation [abnormal clumps of thickened blood (clots) forming inside blood vessels]. These abnormal clots use up the blood's clotting factors, which can lead to massive bleeding in other places and multiple organ failure, and the existence of disseminated intravascular coagulation was confirmed by studies in Vietnam. The treatment of hemorrhagic shock is now very effective, but the treatment of traumatic and septic shock remains unsatisfactory.

Also see our Roads article by James Patton, "Blood Banks Began in WWI."
"Blood Transfusion in the First World War" from the Kansas University Medical Center

Sources: "The Physiologic Effects of Wounds," U.S. Army Office of Medical History; "Wound Shock: A History of Its Study and Treatment by Military Surgeons," BG Robert Hardaway, MC,US Army, Military Medicine, 2004

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Roads Classic—Doomed Fleet: The Dreadnoughts of the Austro-Hungarian Navy

While Great Britain and Germany were engaged in their own battleship building race before the war broke out, Triple Alliance partners Austria-Hungary and Italy were engaged in a similar, although smaller-scale, competition in the Adriatic. Austria-Hungary invested enormous sums in four dreadnoughts, all of which would meet ignominious fates.

The Four Dreadnoughts in Harbor at Pola

The Tegetthoff-class (sometimes erroneously named the Viribus Unitis-class) was their sole class of dreadnought battleship. Four ships were built, Viribus Unitis, Tegetthoff, Prinz Eugen, and Szent István. Three of the four were laid down in Trieste, with Szent Istvan being built at Rijeka, to incorporate both parts of the Dual Monarchy into the construction of the ships. The smaller size of the shipyards in Rijeka meant that Szent István was built three years after her sisters, with slightly different characteristics.  The four dreadnoughts generally had a top speed of 20 knots and carried 12 12-inch guns in triple turrets as their main armament. The first three ships, Viribus Unitis, Tegetthoff, and Prinz Eugen, were joined by their sister in 1915, when they bombarded the Italian installations at Ancona. Thereafter, they were kept in port at Pola as a fleet in-being until an ill-fated raid in 1918 on the Otranto Barrage at the entry to the Adriatic near the boot heel of Italy.

SMS Tegetthoff (named after a victorious 19th-century Austrian admiral) survived the Otranto Barrage raid and  the war. After the Armistice, Tegetthoff was surrendered to Italy and later scrapped in 1924.

SMS Prinz Eugen had supported the escape of SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau early in the war as well as joining the bombardment of Ancona. Following the end of the war in late 1918, Prinz Eugen was surrendered to France, disarmed,  and later sunk as a target ship in 1922.

SMS Szent Istvan (King Stephen I of Hungary),  left port to participate in the raid on Otranto in June 1918. Two Italian anti-submarine motor boats—Mas.15 and Mas.21—happened to be out in the northern Adriatic, and both quickly singled out a battleship and attacked. Mas.15  hit the Szent Istvan amidships with two torpedoes at 0330 hrs on 10 June.  The ship  rolled over and sank at 0600 hrs with 89 men lost. Mas.21 missed the Tegetthoff, but both Italian boats escaped and the Austrian operation against the Otranto Barrage was called off. The sinking of Szent Istvan was filmed and shows up frequently in World War I documentaries.

SMS Viribus Unitis ('"United Forces")—With the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the state of Yugoslavia was formed by the southern Slavs and declared on the side of the Allies. Viribus Unitis was taken over on 31 October by the Yugoslav National Council as flagship of the new navy. Apparently ignoring the new political situation, the Italians went ahead with a planned attack on Pola. Early in the morning of 1 November and with few defensive precautions now being taken, two Italian frogmen, Major of Naval Engineers Raffaele Rossetti and Doctor Lt. Raffaele Paolucci, slipped into the naval base and attached mines to the dreadnought and liner Wien. Both ships sank, Viribus Unitis capsizing and going down around dawn. Several hundred men died including the new captain.

Sources: and Wikipedia

Friday, February 8, 2019

Le Courrier de l'Air

By Edward Heron-Allenby
Republished at

Le Courrier de l'Air was an airdropped leaflet newspaper for occupied France and Belgium. Printed in London, it was dropped over the First World War Western Front by free-floating paper balloons. Courrier was the production of a branch of Military Intelligence known as MI7b and from May 1918 edited by Edward Heron-Allen. Here follows a report written by Heron-Allen in November 1918 giving the production history of Courrier He had joined the staff of the War Office on Tuesday 13 May 1918, as assistant editor of Le Courrier de l'Air. The same title would be resurrected for a new airdropped newspaper in the Second World War.

Le Courrier de l'Air was, as its title denotes, a propaganda paper, planned by Captain (Dr.) Chalmers Mitchell, D.Sc., F.R.S., O.B.E., to be distributed over the parts of France occupied by the Germans, and over Belgium, with a view to giving the inhabitants of these areas accurate news of the progress of the war, from the point of view of the Allies of the Entente. In addition to this it contained extracts from German Papers which were suppressed by the government when they contained matters reflecting upon adverse conditions in Germany and accounts of German defeats and losses. The average number of copies distributed weekly was 5000.

Balloons used to drop propaganda leaflets over the First World War front lines.
The papers were distributed by hydrogen balloons, which were sent up from our side of the fighting lines whenever the direction of the wind was favourable. It was threaded in bundles of a hundred upon a silk paper-fastener, which was passed through a 20-inch length of tinder yarn, such as is used for lighting cigars and cigarettes, at intervals of about three inches. The tinder was strengthened and supported by a strong wire running through it, by which the whole mass of bundles—called a "release"—was firmly twisted on to the neck of the paper hydrogen balloon. Prior to letting it go the tinder was lit at the top and as the "smoulder" reached each paper-fastener, it burnt it away and a bundle of the papers flew away, falling all over the country. Each balloon carried about 15 lbs. of papers, in all about 2000 copies, and it took from 20 minutes to half an hour to distribute its load. A complete set of photographs showing the process has been taken by the Official Photographers to the English Army and may be bought at their sales Dept in London.

Launching a Balloon
I joined the Staff of the War Office, in the M.I.7.b.4. Department of the Ministry of Intelligence in May 1918, as Assistant Editor of the Courrier my colleague in the editorship under Captain Chalmers Mitchell being Captain the Hon. R.W.D. Legh.* On the translation of Captain Mitchell to the Crewe House Branch of the Ministry of Intelligence I became sole Editor, attached to M.I.7.b.l., under Major C.J. Street and was responsible for the paper until the last number, No.78, the signing of the Armistice on the 11th November 1918, rendering the further publication and distribution of Propaganda Literature in the Occupied Territories unnecessary.

In one of the M.S. notes in this volume I have described the papers which I read daily to make extracts for the Courrier. These extracts were, when further selected and weeded out by me, submitted to Capt. Mitchell, Major Street or his second in command Capt. Allen, to advise as to which seemed to be the most suitable, and the final selections being made, those extracts which were from French papers were sent to the Avenue Press in Drury Lane to be set up in print, and those which were in English were sent to Miss Marcelle Ducros, the Official Translator to the Department, to be translated into French, and when she returned them they were likewise sent to the printers.

I made a point of always having about four "galleys" of matter standing in type to select from and I classified them under the following heads:

1. Current and Historical—matter relating to, or commenting upon recent events which had to be used before they became ancient history or out of date.

2. Permanent and Academic—matter relating to affairs and general conditions in Germany, criticisms from German papers, and general articles upon the war activities of the Allies, which were good for use at any time.

3. Humorous and Abusive—comic, scurrilous, or scandalous stories about the Germans, revealing their weaknesses or immoralities, and making fun of their Institutions and war regulations.

4. Leading articles on matters of current importance, taken from the leading papers, or written by myself.

Every Thursday I made up the Back Page of the next week's Courrier from the matter I had standing in type, pasting the paragraphs on the back of an old number. This went to the printers, with the duplicate corrected proofs attached, with instructions for its return revised in page form by the following Monday.

On Monday morning this came back, and at the same time I received from M.I.7.b.l. the "Weekly Resume" of Military Operations, which had been passed by the Censors of the Press. This I "edited" cutting out all mere "literary matter" and events on the Salonika, Bulgarian, or Palestine Fronts, which would be of no interest, excepting on very broad lines, to the Belgians and French. Thus "cut" it went to Miss Ducros to be translated.

On Tuesday afternoon Miss Ducros came to Adastral House, with the translation. I then wrote—if necessary—the "Derniere Heure" paragraph, relating any important events that had occurred since the previous Friday when the "Weekly Resume" is completed, and Miss Ducros translated it in the Office. At 5 p.m. the leading Article, the Resume "Sur le Front Occidental," the "Derniere Heure," and any current paragraphs to fill up the front page went to the printers.

On Wednesday morning this came back in proof-slips, and whilst the messenger waited I "made up" the Front Page, and returned it for "revise" by the messenger. Any time after two o'clock on Wednesday I went to the printers in Drury Lane and "passed" the Front and Back Pages finally for press, after which I did not see the paper again until my sheaf of "file" copies was delivered in my room at Adastral House on Thursday afternoon.

The copies for distribution were sent direct from the printers to Woolwich, where they were made up into bundles on "releases" as above described and sent over to the Censorship and Publicity Section at General Head Quarters, near Montreuil in France. From here they were sent by motor lorry to the sections operating on the French and Belgian Fronts, under the direction of Captain Hazledine, who was our head representative at G.H.Q., and sent over the lines as described.

Of the effect of this Aerial Propaganda, not only the Courrier but the mass of German leaflets sent over the lines on the southern fronts, there can be no question. The German papers for the last two months of the war have been full of fulminating complaints of our "poisoned arrows from the air" which have seriously damaged the "morale" of the German troops. I append a cutting from the Times of the 16th of September 1918 describing the "Courrier of the Air", and stating that at Ghent Major von Blucher had issued a proclamation threatening them with a fine of £150 or one year's imprisonment, or both, if they failed to hand over immediately any literature dropped by airmen in Belgium, and so lately as the 2nd of November last, an extract from the letter of a high German official, published in the Cologne Gazette, was published in all the London papers, which stated: "What caused the most damage was the 'paper' war waged by our enemies, who daily flooded us with some hundred thousand leaflets, extraordinarily arranged, and well edited." I need hardly say that this is a paragraph which afforded me the highest satisfaction.

Front pages of Le Courrier de l'Air

During the course of an Official visit to the Western Front in October last, I happened to visit Bruges two days after the Germans had evacuated the city. Several members of the College des Echevins whom I interviewed told me that the Courrier was eagerly looked out for, and sought for during the whole of the last year of the occupation, in spite of the fact that in the later months, the fine for being in possession of a copy had been increased to 10,000 marks, in addition to the one year's imprisonment. I was told that the first copy of each issue that fell into the hands of the Germans was translated and circulated to all the Commands, and that if any one were caught relating a story or piece of news from it, the source of his information was traced back from one person to another until they discovered who had originally picked up the Courrier and read it—and the punishment then followed.

No.78 was the last number of the Courrier de l'Air actually published. The back page of No. 79 was however prepared by Captain Ozanne, and set in to page form during the end of the week 7–9 November 1918. Peace being declared - or rather the Armistice being signed on the 11th—the Courrier became functus officio and when the Back Page proof of No. 79 was brought to me on the morning of the 12th of November, I notified the printers that the Courrier would not be published again and that the standing type would be distributed,or rather melted down, as it is all set by linotype.

A complete file of the Courrier is extraordinarily scarce—the system of filing papers at the Ministry of Intelligence leaves much to be desired, and I doubt whether the Department itself possesses a complete set—it took me four months assiduous search in London and in France before I succeeded in completing my own file and one which I designed for the Library of the British Museum.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Don't Miss February's ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE

The February 2019 issue of the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire is now available at:

This month's issue contains material on such topics as:

  • Japan in the First World War
  • The Great War Video Channel
  • Admiral Tirpitz and Germany's Defeat
  • "The Stokes Gunners" by Ivor Gurney
  • Part II of Our Retrospective of the War
  • The USMC Commemorates Belleau Wood
  • Quentin Roosevelt
  • All Our Usual Features

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

10 Striking British Official First World War Photographs

Click on Images to Enlarge

Captured in the Last Push, 1917

"Strafing the Hun," 1917

Smoldering Ruins in Bapaume

The Former Thriving Village of Guillemont, Somme Battlefield

Howitzers Firing at the Somme, 1916

Interior, Arras Cathedral, 1917

Column of German Prisoners at the Somme, 1916

Two Wounded German Prisoners

Handling a Large Howitzer, 1917

Cover, First Issue of Illustrated War News, Wounded German Cavalrymen

Source:  British Official First  World War Photographs from the Collection of Prints at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Haig's Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany's War on the Western Front

By Jonathan Boff
Oxford University Press, 2018
James Patton, Reviewer

Crown Prince Rupprecht
I selected Haig's Enemy to review because I knew next to nothing about either Crown Prince Rupprecht (1869–1955) of Bavaria or his role in the Great War. In August of 1914 Rupprecht's counterpart, young Wilhelm of Prussia, had been the crown prince since he was six, while Rupprecht was just getting used to being one. His father Ludwig (1845–1921) was not born in line for the throne, but due to the instability and ill-health of his cousins, Ludwig II (1845–1886) (of Schloss Neuschwanstein fame) and Otto (1848–1916), he ultimately became King Ludwig III in 1913.

At the start of the war, the elderly Ludwig III was unfit for field service, fortuitous because he had no interest in the war, and he became more so inclined as the war progressed. By 1918, when Rupprecht tried to share his concerns about Germany's position with his father, Ludwig wanted to talk about new uniforms instead.

So in 1914 Rupprecht, an unusual royal in that he was a career soldier and a properly promoted general, was given the supreme command of all Bavarian forces. This wasn't as big a deal as it sounds because Bavaria constituted only around 10 percent of the German Empire's population and thus of its army.

Rupprecht's first command in imperial war service was the largely Bavarian Sixth Army, which began the war on the Vosges Front but was quickly shifted to Flanders during the Race to the Sea and thereafter opposed the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)—hence the title of this book. In July 1916, Rupprecht was promoted to field marshal and given the command of a new, four-army Group headquartered in Lille, still fighting the BEF. As a soldier first, Rupprecht took his responsibilities very seriously. He felt unable to leave his post when his eldest son died—in fact he didn't take any home leave until the end of 1916.

Boff has based his work in large part on the war diary kept by Rupprecht, which ran to 4,197 pages in manuscript, but only a little over 1,000 pages were published in 1929. Parts of the book are not found in the manuscript, so were not contemporaneous but were derived from notes, letters, and recollection. In Boff's opinion the published diary reflects Rupprecht's tweaking of the facts to make himself look better.

Boff states "Nonetheless it would be silly to claim that Rupprecht was one of the great captains of history. The First World War did not produce many of those. It did shatter the reputations and careers of many, though, and Rupprecht was good enough to avoid such a fate."

In addition to the diaries, Boff also relies on many other documents that he found in the Bavarian archives, which were spared destruction during World War II unlike most of those kept at Potsdam. In fact, Boff says in some instances the only extant copies of orders, plans, and studies from WWI are in Bavaria. Military procedure, German efficiency and royal protocol ensured that the Bavarian high command was "kept in the loop" even when not directly involved.

At war's end, Rupprecht was listed by the Allies as a war criminal (number 33 on a list of 895 names), accused of ordering reprisals against French citizens in Lorraine in August 1914 and of ordering his soldiers to kill British prisoners the following month. With Spanish assistance, Rupprecht fled to Amsterdam, under the name "Landsberg." A year later he was able to sneak back into Bavaria, still incognito, and the charges against him were dropped in 1923.

Ludwig III of Bavaria and Crown Prince Rupprecht, on his father's right, inspect the troops during the German Spring Offensive of 1918

While Rupprecht's biography is interesting, the greater contribution of Boff's work is the blow-by-blow description of the conduct of the war in the West as seen from a high-level German perspective. For example, we learn that Rupprecht's Army Group was always short of men, bullets, shells, and even guns, and as the war progressed, on any given occasion the BEF could outgun them.

Of all the royal generals, only Rupprecht was very involved at the operational level. Rupprecht knew all of the major players on his side and was consistently well informed. While he could be slighted on occasion by Falkenhayn or Ludendorff, as a royal he could never be fired. Haig's Enemy is replete with Boff's insightful conclusions, which may be derived from Rupprecht's diary but aren't Rupprecht's words. Some examples:

The battlefield defeat of the German army in 1918 was at least as much the result of the Germans getting worse as it was of the British getting better.

The war which emerges from this book is one of radical and dynamic change where the ability to outthink your enemy was just as important as being able to out-muscle him. It took both sides time and immense effort to adapt to the new ways of war, not least because every time they came close to an answer the enemy changed the question. Eventually, however, the German army was dragged down by its inherent weaknesses and fell behind in the race to adapt. The results were disastrous. Sometimes Rupprecht and his colleagues were constrained in the choices they could make, but the decisions they took were nonetheless too often poor. The First World War was not just a war of bodies and a war of machines: it was a war of brains. The Germans lost all three.

The German army sought to address operational and sometimes strategic problems with tactical solutions.

The German army's confidence in its ability outran its capability and led it to allow a probably unwinnable war to be fought.

Altogether, Boff has written a work that is both an engaging study of Rupprecht and a thought-provoking analysis of the performance of a German army in the West. Included are 13 detailed and easy-to-read maps of the major battles fought between Rupprecht's armies and the BEF, plus an unusually detailed index. Haig's Enemy is a worthwhile read and, at 284 pages plus extensive notes, a good book for a long weekend.

James Patton

Monday, February 4, 2019

An Artist Reports from the Battlefield: VORTEX GAUDIER-BRZESKA

Published in Blast #2

(Written from the Trenches).

Note.—The sculptor writes from the French trenches having been in the firing line since early in the war.

In September he was one of a patrolling party of twelve, seven of his companions fell in the fight over a roadway.

In November he was nominated for sergeancy and has been since slightly wounded, but expects to return to the trenches.

He has been constantly employed in scouting and patrolling and in the construction of wire entanglements in close contact with the Boches.

The Artist at Work Before the War
I HAVE BEEN FIGHTING FOR TWO MONTHS and I can now gauge the intensity of Life. 

HUMAN MASSES teem and move, are destroyed and crop up again.

HORSES are worn out in three weeks, die by the roadside.

DOGS wander, are destroyed, and others come along.


THE BURSTING SHELLS, the volleys, wire entanglements, projectors,motors, the chaos of battle DO NOT ALTER IN THE LEAST, the outlines of the hill we are besieging. A company of PARTRIDGES scuttle along before our very trench.









Just as this hill where the Germans are solidly entrenched, gives me a nasty feeling, solely because its gentle slopes are broken up by earth-works, which throw long shadows at sunset. Just so shall I get feeling, of whatsoever definition, from a statue ACCORDING TO ITS SLOPES, varied to infinity.

I have made an experiment. Two days ago I pinched from ran enemy a mauser rifle. Its heavy unwieldy shape swamped me with a powerful IMAGE of brutality.

I was in doubt for a long time whether it pleased or displeased me.

I found that I did not like it.

I broke the butt off and with my knife I carved in it a design, through which I tried to express a gentler order of feeling, which I preferred.


Representative Work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska



Henri Gaudier-Brzeska : after
months of fighting and two promotions 
for gallantry Henri
Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in 
a charge at Neuville St. Vaast, on

June 5th, 1915.

Source: Blast #2, July 1915