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 20, 2017

Let's Not Forget: General Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre (1852-1931)

As the Centennial commemorations start paralleling the final two years of the Great War, let us remember the one man who—for better or worse—made certain that the war did not end in 1914.


The French Army enthusiastically marched to war in 1914 with the wrong plan, the wrong tactics, even the wrong trousers, the dashing "Rouge Pantaloons" which simply made their infantrymen easy targets for enemy machine gunners. Within a month, desperation had replaced optimism. Four of France's five field armies and their British ally's expeditionary force were in full retreat. The Republic suffered over 300,000 casualties, abandoned its original war plan, and its government had fled Paris. A repeat of the Debacle of 1870 seemed to be unfolding. But then for a few days the character of one portly, inarticulate, unimaginative career soldier rose up to dominate history.

Joffre Monument,
École Militaire, Paris
Throughout the dismaying month of August 1914, the unlikely savior of France, Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre, remained imperturbable and confident, ignoring his defeats, patiently waiting for the Germans to overextend themselves and provide a favorable opening. In early September, when he saw the First German Army veer to the east of Paris, exposing its flank to him, he pounced. What resulted from this one man's patience and timely resolve was the Battle of the Marne, one of the decisive battles of world history and the turning point of World War I.

Joffre had joined the army as an 18-year-old during the Franco-Prussian War. An expert in fortifications, artillery, and—most important for 1914—railroads, he prospered in the colonial army, where his lack of pedigree and formal schooling seemed unimportant. His tours of duty included Indo-China, Sudan, Timbuktu and Madagascar, where he would gain an important mentor and career advocate in Joseph Galliéni. His absence from France fortuitously kept him from any involvement in the politically charged Dreyfus Affair. Success abroad led to his appointment as director of engineering for the French Army in 1905, later—with Galliéni's support—election to the Supreme War Council and, in 1911, promotion to chief of staff.

As chief of staff, General Joffre had responsibility for war planning and was the designated commander-in-chief in case of war. His views communicated through a few trusted subordinates—guided France's war preparations. Officers in tune with the spirit of the offensive (offensive à outrance), the principal governing French prewar doctrine, were encouraged and defensive-minded officers purged from influential positions under his regime. In 1913 the fruit of Joffre's planning effort, Plan XVII, was approved. In Joffre's words, after deployment of five French armies:

"Whatever the circumstances, it is the Commander-in-Chief's intention to advance with all forces united to the attack of the German armies. The action of the French armies will be developed in two major operations: one, on the right, in the country between the wooded district of the Vosges and the Moselle below Toul, the other, on the left, north of the line Verdun-Metz."

In August 1914, being a man of his word, Joffre attacked as promised in both of these sectors with disastrous results. Meanwhile, the German Army was implementing the great wheeling movement around Paris conceived by Alfred von Schlieffen. It seemed as Joffre's planning had played directly into the German scheme. By advancing in eastern France, the French Army had opened itself to being rolled up from the west. More failures heightened the danger. Belgian fortresses were crushed. The British Expeditionary Force barely escaped entrapment at Mons. The French anchor on the left flank, General Lanrezac's 5th Army, was sent reeling from the River Sambre. 

With the situation crumbling, General Joffre's personality came to the forefront. He calmly called for a retreat to regroup, build some new armies, and await a chance to counterattack. On 25 August he issued General Instruction Number 2, which outlined the strategy which would guide his forces at the Marne. He was ready to strike when the enemy gave him an opening, which eventually came in early September. His stand on the Marne, brought the shortcomings of Germany's Schlieffen Plan clear to Moltke and his staff. The great enemy advance was halted and sent into retreat.

Present-Day Marker at Joffre's Paris Residence

Joffre's service after the Marne was anticlimactic for him and devastating for France. 1915 was to prove the bloodiest year of the war due to his ill-conceived offensives in Artois and the Champagne. In 1916 he would earn further criticism for failing to prepare defenses in the Verdun sector despite warnings of an impending German attack. He was relieved as commander-in chief in December 1916 and named a Marshal of France. Although he subsequently did notable service as head of the military mission to the United States, his singular achievement in the Great War is considered to be his shaping of what came to be known as the Miracle of the Marne.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

DADA: World War One's Lasting Contribution to Art



World War I began in 1914 and lasted four long years. A war fought to "make the world safe for democracy" resulted in ceaseless death and destruction. Everything the radicals claimed was hidden by the old lineup of art, life, and morals burst forth in the trenches. Men were beasts. The individual counted for nothing. The mangled bodies of victims and veterans made the most distorted prewar paintings seem tame. Even more haunting were the trenches themselves—they turned the landscape of Europe into a cubist canvas. If few saw the link at the time, many sensed that the defenders of the old morals were horribly wrong, and the radical artists—whose work had seemed to deny normal reality—so very right. In its greatest moment of glory, the avant-garde predicted the future, only to be consumed in the very flames it foresaw.

On 1 Feb 1916, a German playwright named Hugo Ball opened a combined café, theater, and art exhibition space in Zürich, Switzerland—the cabaret of a movement of art and anti-art that is still strong to this day. Or it was a birthplace. DADA could have no single origin. A good case could be made for the Futurists in Italy just before the war or for Duchamp and his friends in New York in the earlier teens. Paris has to be part of any avant-garde mix, and soon Germany would add its claims. Some even think of Mark Twain as DADA's spiritual father. Let's start at Zürich's Cabaret Voltaire. 

A Collage of DADA—Collage Is One of the Lasting Techniques of DADA

Of an evening, Emily Hennings, Hugo Ball's lover and an avant-garde performer in her own right, sang. A Romanian poet named Tristan Tzara recited. On display were the latest and most provocative paintings by people such as the metaphysical Italian Giorgio de Chirico or the ever-challenging Picasso. Soon artists began to gather and hold evenings devoted first to Russian and later French literature. These were no sedate poetry readings. Huelsenbeck was passionate about what he thought of as "Negro music," especially the tom-tom drum. According to Ball, he wanted to "drum literature into the ground." And, as Ball wrote in his diary on 15 May 15, the group was starting a magazine with an unusual name.  "'DADA' ('Dada'). Dada Dada Dada Dada."
Marc Aronson, Over the Top, July 2007

New York City 2007, Graffiti Incorporating Multiple Elements of DADA

DADA promised, in the words of its mercurial chatterbox poet, Tristan Tzara, "to destroy the drawers of the brain, and those of social organization; to sow demoralization everywhere." DADA was the child of trauma; the first World War, that cultural chasm, had revealed — in the sheer incapacity of words to convey its degree of lethal absurdity — the extent to which language itself was owned by the officer classes of Europe. One did not have to be a combatant (and few of the Dadaists were) to see that. The task, then, was to free language from its weight of inherited content, in the hope of freeing life itself. Chance, ambiguity, insult, nonsense, anything would serve, if it promised to break the crust. Above all, there was irony: the indifference of Duchamp, the attacks on the social jugular perpetrated by German Dadaists like George Grosz and John Heartfield, and Picabia's drawings, which make mock of the cult of the machine.
Robert Hughes, Time, 6 February 1978

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Charles Lindbergh's Gesture


Charles Lindbergh
My parents, like many in their generation, considered Charles Lindbergh a great American hero. This is one of the things we never agreed on. After I had read some of the things that Lindbergh had said as spokesman for the American First movement, I concluded the famous aviator was somewhat blind to evil, and an outspoken fool. Since becoming a student of the Great War, however, one episode has been brought to my attention by several readers, and I think it should be shared with others. Also, although I cannot say I've changed my opinion about him much, I think this does shed a little light on one reason why Lindbergh so ardently opposed America's entry into the Second World War.

After landing the Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Airport outside Paris on 31 May 1927 and receiving a tumultuous welcome, Lindbergh, while being driven to the American Embassy, asked to pay a visit to the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. This gives both a clue to his strong feelings about the fallen of the Great War and a preview to a great gesture that followed. 

Flanders Field American Cemetery

Several days later he was invited by King Albert to visit Brussels. At the conclusion of the successful visit, Charles Lindbergh directed his now world-famous aircraft to Waregem, Belgium, site of the newly opened American Flanders Fields Cemetery. Bringing the Spirit of St. Louis in low over the graves and monuments, Lindbergh opened a window, dropped a wreath of flowers on the graves of his fellow Americans, and then continued his journey. 

Spirit of St. Louis over Flanders Field Cemetery

Charles Lindbergh had been too young to serve in the First World War, but it appears that he held his countrymen who had fallen in the war in great esteem. Maybe the regret and sadness he felt over their deaths led him to make some of the poor judgments of his later life with which some of us still associate him.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What Was the Last Major Fight at Gallipoli?


It Was for Hill 60, Vital Link Between 

the Anzac and Suvla Sectors


At the beginning of August 1915, Hill 60, which commanded the shoreline communications links between the forces at Anzac and Suvla, was in Turkish hands. Hill 60 was included as an objective for the renewed Suvla offensive of 21 August. Its capture would secure the link from Suvla Bay to the Anzac beachhead. On 22 August, the hill was attacked from Anzac by the Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles from New Zealand. They succeeded in seizing part of the Turkish trench system but could not dislodge the Turks from the hill. Six days later the remnants of the whole New Zealand brigade (about 300 men, down from the 1865 who landed in May) made another daylight attack that extended the line but again failed to capture the target.

Skeletal Remains on Hill 60 Afterward

The initial attacks were followed later by the 18th Australian Infantry Battalion and supported on the flanks by other troops. Hill 60 was partly captured and on 27–29 August the captured ground was extended by the 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 18th Australian Infantry Battalions, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, the 5th Connaught Rangers, and the 9th and 10th Australian Light Horse. The summit of Hill 60 was never wrested from the Turks, but, by holding the seaward slopes, the ANZAC flank was secured and the link with Suvla opened. In 1920 Major Fred Waite, New Zealand's historian of the Gallipoli campaign, wrote, "The struggle near Kaiajik Aghala was the last pitched battle on the Peninsula."

Hill 60 Cemetery and New Zealand Memorial Today


The British historian Robert Rhodes James later wrote that "For connoisseurs of military futility, valour, incompetence and determination, the attacks on Hill 60 are in a class of their own." 

The position, however, was held until the evacuation in December.

Sources: New Zealand and Australian governmental and veterans websites

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Rare Aviation-Themed War Poem

Night Flying

By F.V. Branford
Illustration by Francois Flameng

Aloft on footless levels of the night 
A pilot thunders through the desolate stars, 
Sees in the misty deep a fainting light 
Of far-off cities cast in coal-dark bars 
Of shore and soundless sea; and he is lone, 
Snatched from the universe like one forbid, 
Or like a ghost caught from the slay and thrown 
Out on the void, nor God cared what he did. 

Till from these unlinked whisperers that pain 
The buried earth he swings his boat away, 
Even as a lonely thinker who hath run 
The gamut of greatlore, and found the Inane, 
Then stumbles at midnight upon a sun 
And all the honor of a mighty day. 

About Frederick V. Branford

Born Frederick Victor Rubens Branford Powell in 1892, the Scottish poet was educated at Edinburgh University and Leiden University.

Serving as a captain in the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I, Branford was very badly wounded at the Battle of the Somme, when he was shot down over the Belgian coast and swam ashore to Holland, where he was interned. Most of his poems were written in a long period of recovery from his injuries, which left him totally disabled. He lived on a disability pension for the rest of his life.

Branford stopped writing poetry in 1923, disillusioned with the prospects for future peace. He remarried in 1937; his second wife was his cousin Margaret Branford, the playwright daughter of John Branford. He died in 1941.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: "The Great War: Kentucky & Beyond"


Roads to the Great War contributor Margaret Spratt is the curator for a new World War I  exhibit at the Hopewell Museum in Paris, Kentucky, that opened this past Sunday. The displays and accompanying presentations are designed to help remember Kentucky's experience in the war. The program runs until October, and more information can be found HERE about the museum and special events associated with "The Great War: Kentucky & Beyond."

Our Friend, Professor Margaret Spratt, Helped Organize the Exhibit

Uniforms and Kit of a Kentucky Soldier and Nurse


Lt. Pfanstiel Was Originally Assigned to the 335th Inf. of the 84th Division But Was Reassigned to the 79th Division, Probably as a Replacement

Dr. Edith Smith of Cynthiana, KY, Was a Surgeon Who Saw Frontline Service
During the War



Aviation Corner
Solomon Lee Van Meter, Jr. of Lexington, Kentucky, in July 1916 Received a Patent for the Backpack Style Parachute 



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Star Shell Reflections 1914 – 1916
Reviewed by David F. Beer

Star Shell Reflections 1914 – 1916: The Illustrated Great War Diaries of Jim Maultsaid


Barbara McClune, Editor
Pen & Sword Military, 2015


I have tried to place before you a true and faithful picture of the life we boys lived during those years. Many writers of war books (and some of the best sellers) have made their name in describing the filth and misery, the horrible sights, the pain and suffering of war and all that starkness. Let me give you a glimpse of the bright side and an insight into the lives of those wonderful chums of mine. Kind true hearts beat beneath war-worn khaki tunics-read between the lines and find that indomitable spirit, the spirit that went on to win the war, that swept through the boys from Ulster in the 36th Division...(vii)


This book is an entertaining diary and also an intriguing collection of sketches and photographs. Even though the dust cover states he was often "described as the unofficial war artist," James Alexander Bovaird Maultsaid never claimed to be an artist; however, his sketches are captivating and take us, often in a cartoon-like style, into the heart of the everyday soldier's life on the Western Front. His prose entries are almost always brief and record his experiences in a factual manner, sometimes with humor and even nostalgia. He's surprisingly upbeat in his response to the grim life in the trenches and always seems to find something positive to say about what he goes through or sees. In this he is notably different from most writers who have recorded their life in the trenches.

The author had an interesting early life. He was raised in Donegal, Ireland, but was born in the U.S. to Irish parents who decided to return home. Thus he was an American citizen who later joined the British Army in Belfast. When he left school at age 13 he was already somewhat talented in writing and drawing and worked in the Belfast shipyards before volunteering for the Royal Irish Rifles on 14 September 1914. He was badly wounded on the first day of the Somme, and, although then unfit for active service, he was commissioned in 1917 to work with the Chinese Labour Corps. His experiences with them are recorded in a second volume, War! Hellish War! (also published by Pen & Sword).

Little seems to be left out of the WWI soldier's experience in this diary. From jam and bully beef, hard tack, mail from home and rum rations (Maultsaid himself was a strict teetotaler), to bayonet drill, endless marching, sleeping in the rain, and a rat that became his pet for a week, the author gives us an intimate chronicle through words and pictures. Interestingly, while he describes the fighting he says little about his pals who died, feeling that their memories are sacred and to be kept to himself.

Some entries are more detailed than others. The author describes a group of "colored" troops practicing a kind of wild dance and knife-throwing: "These were Indian troops, Gurkhas, I think, but I'm not quite sure." One dramatic episode involves a plump hen that sadly "Westward went" and which "never, never in this world would grace that old farmyard" again. Some two pages provide sketches of regimental colors. He expresses his admiration for "The Air Boys" at length and includes a unique aerial photo taken by a captured German pilot.

In spite of the fighting, there was often time for a sports day and the competition between teams was fierce, the officers often joining in. Infantry attacks coordinated with "the Skins" (The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers) were frequent, and "a finer lot of fellows than our friends the Skins you could never meet" (125). Maultsaid lists his impressions of all the nationalities he meets during the fighting and has this to say about "the Yanks"—

Some great lads here! Most of them came from English, Irish and Scottish stock, mostly Irish. Put in some real good work, but did not win the war. I think more of them could have been used, some in fact after months 'out there' never got firing a shot even, much to their disgust (p. 79).

Jim Maultsaid After He Was Wounded
As he put his diary and sketches in order—later to be published by his granddaughter Barbara Anne McClune—Jim Maultsaid often found himself looking back at the war with mixed feelings. He remembers the happy times as well as the heartbreaking ones. Sometimes he begins a sentence by appealing to our memories, as though the reader had been there too—"Do you remember how we looked for the postman?" or "Yet…with it all, can't you remember the share-and-share alike spirit?" "Can't you still hear…"

Thus, with reader-friendly prose and sketches that sometimes reflect the "Old Bill" cartoons, we get a surprisingly full picture of an Irish soldier's thoughts, impressions and actions in the trenches and in battle from 1914 to 1916. This is an easy read that nevertheless leaves us feeling we know more about personal experience in the war than we did before. I'm eager now to get the second volume of this diary and to learn how Jim Maultsaid fared with the Chinese Labour Corps!

David F. Beer

Monday, February 13, 2017

About Those Passchendaele Casualty Figures


In preparing for my spring battlefield tour to Flanders, I'm starting to review some of my notes on the 1917 Third Battle of Ypres, aka Passchendaele. I'll occasionally share some of my re-discoveries with our readers here.

The number of casualties (that is, those killed, wounded, missing, and taken prisoner) incurred by the British Expeditionary Force in the Third Battle of Ypres is popularly supposed to have been the most grievous of the whole war, either by total number or per-day losses. This belief is mistaken as this table demonstrates:


Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Dozen More Quotes from the Great War


The earlier version of "A Dozen Quotes" got a lot of response from our readers, so I thought I'd share 12 more. These all appeared in our other Worldwar1.com publications in the past.

1.  War had been declared, and the following Sunday I went with a friend of mine to Shepherd's Bush Empire to see the film show. At the end they showed the Fleet sailing the high seas and played "Britons Never Shall Be Slaves" and "Hearts of Oak". And you know one feels that little shiver run up the back and you know you have got to do something. I had just turned seventeen at that time and on the Monday I went up to Whitehall—Old Scotland Yard—and enlisted in the 16th Lancers.
Pvt. William Dove, 16th Lancers

2.  I don't know what is to be done. This isn't war.
Horatio Kitchener
Quoted in J.F.C. Fuller's, The Conduct of War

3. I am obliged to report that, at the present moment, the Russian Empire is run by lunatics.
Ambassador Paleologue, 14 January 14 1917


4.  Like the planet Neptune, the discovery of the dreadnought was inevitable, but luckily we saw her in the heavens before the other chaps and got our unparalleled lead! Thank God!
Admiral Jacky Fisher, 1910

5.  The Christmas truce was the last twitch of the 19th century. By that, I mean it was the last public moment in which it was assumed that people were nice, and that the Dickens view of the world was a credible view...A wonderful ironic moment. And, they were exchanging cigarettes and addresses and exchanging insignias, treating each other like friends. It was a high emotional moment I would say. It's the last gesture of the 19th-century idea that human beings are getting better the longer the human race goes on. Nobody could believe that after the First World War, and certainly not after the Second.
Paul Fussell

6.  I don't know whether war is an interlude during peace, or peace an interlude during war.
Georges Clemenceau


7. The vast field of shell-holes had been turned into a sea of mud by the heavy rain…Its depths were particularly dangerous in the low-lying ground of the Paddebeek. On my zigzag course I passed many a lonely and forgotten corpse. Often only a head or a hand projected from the shell-hole whose circle of dirty water reflected them. Thousands sleep like that, without one token of
love to mark the unknown grave.
Lt. Ernst Jünger, 73rd Hanoverian Fusiliers
Describing Passchendaele

8. Tread softly here—Go reverently and slow,—Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,—And with bowed head and heart abased—Strive hard to grasp the future gain in this sore loss.  For not one foot of this dank sod—But drank its surfeit of the blood of gallant men—Who for their Faith, their Hope, for Life and Liberty—Here made the sacrifice. Here gave their lives, and right willingly for you and me.
Inscription
Newfoundland Park, Somme Battlefield

9. A mixture of contradictories which never were—perhaps could never have been—harmonised.
John Buchan on T.E. Lawrence


10, When I took a decision or adopted an alternative, it was after studying every relevant—and many irrelevant—factor. Geography, tribal structure, religion, social customs, language, appetites, standards—all were at my finger-ends. The enemy I knew almost like my own side.
T.E. Lawrence
Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

11. Our nerves are ruined by mistreatment. If anyone should say that he was not haunted by visions of burning airships, then he would be a braggart. But nobody makes this assertion; everyone has the courage to confess his dreams and thoughts.
Pitt Klein, Crew Member German Navy Airship L31

12. Our story takes you down this shadowed path to a remote and guarded building in the English Midlands, Melbridge County Asylum. Grimly proud of its new military wing, which barely suffices in this autumn of 1918 to house the shattered minds of the war that was to end war.
Opening Line, Random Harvest

Thanks to our pal in France, Olivier Pierrard, for the images.





Saturday, February 11, 2017

Yanks at British Hospitals


There was an unexpected windfall for the Allies when America joined the war—help with the enormous load of casualties in the 1917 campaign. The first American military installation in France during World War I was Base Hospital No.4 (Cleveland), which arrived on 25 May 1917 to cheering French crowds on, 19 days ahead of General Pershing and the nucleus of his American Expeditionary Force staff. Also known as the Lakeside Unit, the Cleveland unit served at Rouen throughout the war. American physicians, nurses, and enlisted men such as these would be the earliest AEF participants to face the possibility of death and destruction—actually months before the first American soldiers would see combat. 


The British relied heavily on these American units. By 1917 their Medical Department was having trouble handling the massive numbers of casualties. The numbers of casualties treated by the American base hospitals with the British demonstrates the heavy load of patients. 

Base Hospital No.4 treated 82,179; No. 10 treated 47,811; and No. 21 treated about 60,000. These numbers do not include the numbers of patients the Americans treated at the Casualty Clearing Stations or while working with British units. Overall, a daily average of approximately 800 officers, 600 nurses, and 1,100 soldiers was serving with the British. 


One of the hazards they faced was German night bomber raids, which attacked hospitals despite the Red Cross markings. Tragedy struck on 4 September 1917, when the Germans bombed Base Hospital No. 5 at Camiers, killing Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimmons and Privates Oscar C. Tugo, Rudolph Rubino, Jr., and Leslie G. Woods, who became the first A. E. F. casualties by enemy action.

Sources: U.S. Army Surgeon General Reports and Official History

Friday, February 10, 2017

Visuals from the New American Experience Series: The Great War


Like many of you, I'm looking forward to the new PBS series on the U.S. in the First World War. The network and the producers are starting to released promotional pieces, so I thought I would share what I've seen so far with our readers.
























Thursday, February 9, 2017

Fake History from the Great War


All this recent discussion of "fake news" reminded me of a feature I ran in 2014 in the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire. This incorrectly labeled photograph has survived a hundred years and—since it appears in history books on the shelves of many libraries—is still alive.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

War Service of the Dreyfus Affair Principals

In a supreme irony of history only one of the French principals of "Affaire Dreyfus"  actually fought in the defense of his country during the Great War. 

Col. Sandherr
Major Henry
Colonel Sandherr, who with his subordinate Major Henry  manufactured the disinformation about Dreyfus,  died of natural causes (a stroke) in 1897. 

Major Henry, himself,  committed suicide with his razor in his prison cell, on 31 August 1898. 

Major Esterhazy, actual perpetrator of the deed for which Dreyfus was accused, died of natural causes near London in 1923. He did not participate in the war. 

Major Esterhazy
Col. Picquart
Colonel Picquart, who discovered Dreyfus's innocence, became minister of war in Clemenceau's cabinet, in 1908. It is during his tenure that the number of 75 batteries in the French Army was voted by the Chamber of Deputies to be doubled! The Army entered the war in 1914 with a thousand 75mm batteries of four guns each. Picquart died from a fall, while practicing horsemanship, on 19 January 1914. 

However, one principal of the "Affaire Dreyfus" did serve with distinction in the Great War. Although he was already beyond normal retirement age, Alfred Dreyfus returned to active duty as a lieutenant-colonel of artillery in 1914 and served for the entire war, including frontline duty in 1917. Alfred Dreyfus was later raised to the rank of officer of the Legion of Honor just before the Armistice, in November 1918. 


His long-suffering family shared in the sacrifice and call to duty. Alfred Dreyfus's son, Pierre Dreyfus, served as a lieutenant and later a captain in 75mm batteries on the Western Front. Pierre Dreyfus participated in the Marne, Verdun, the Somme and in the final drives during the summer and fall of 1918. He survived to receive the Croix de Guerre with palms and other decorations. Alfred Dreyfus's two nephews, Emile Dreyfus and  Ado Reinach also fought as artillery officers in 75mm regiments, but both lost their lives on the field of honor, thus striking the family with further devastation. Alfred Dreyfus, himself, died quietly in bed on 11 July 1935. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Reviewed by Jolie Velazquez


The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America


by Michael S. Neiberg
Oxford University Press, 2016


For those who read and appreciated Dr. Neiberg's earlier book, Dance of the Furies: Europe and The Outbreak of World War One, you will be extremely pleased to hear that he has turned his efforts to the United States' entry into the Great War. He has once again trained his analytical eye onto a complex subject and delivered a cogent and highly readable book.

Ordinary American Linked Germany to the Issues
with Mexico. Pancho Villa (Shown Here as a Snake)
Had Bragged About His Support from Germany, and
Mexico Was Believed a Base for Spies and Saboteurs

The Path to War takes a bottom-up approach toward understanding why America finally associated itself with the Entente (France, England, Russia, etc.) in the fight against Germany and its allies after three years of carnage. In the absence of today's kind of polling techniques, Dr. Neiberg scoured a mountain of primary materials to get at what the general public was thinking about the war.

His major thesis is that Americans were way ahead of the government, and especially President Woodrow Wilson, in understanding that we had to be part of the war "to save civilization" and suppress Germany's aggressive ambitions. Other approaches that concentrate only on the diplomatic and power-center players are important, but the author manages to upturn the narrative we are used to hearing—that the American public suddenly changed its peace-at-any-cost opinion as soon as war was declared.

Using memoirs, newspaper columns, magazine articles, private and public letters, and the speeches of Preparedness advocates, Dr. Neiberg shows us the organic change taking place from 1914 to 1917 in our so-called isolationist population, and how the pressure from ordinary people, and his own advisers, dragged Wilson to a place he did not want to go. The chapter titled "Awaiting the Overt Act" is especially suspenseful, and even if you know what's coming next, you let out your breath when the dénouement arrives.

Having done some research on this subject myself, I do have a contrary opinion on some points. For example, Dr. Neiberg insists that there was no economic imperative for the American decision to go to war, a belief that he has repeated on the book tour circuit. I appreciate all the other indicators he has brought to light to bolster his argument, but I think he discounts economics (i.e. war debt) too much. Knowing what we do about American bankers and newly-created millionaires, this could not have been an insignificant consideration. However, his refreshing viewpoint emphasizing the idealism, thoughtfulness, and good sense of the American public is certainly persuasive. Once again, his natural writing style makes this book an enjoyable as well as informative endeavor that I can recommend without hesitation to anyone interested in the subject.

Jolie Velazquez

Monday, February 6, 2017

American Forces at Peking, 1900


The U.S. 14th Infantry Relieves the Russian Contingent at Peking

The decade following the Spanish American War gave the generation of American officers destined to serve in command positions during the Great War a remarkable number and variety of missions to perform. Of course, none of these challenges were comparable in scope to the fighting that would come on the Western Front, but they did allow these men to develop their capacity to grasp large, complicated, and unusual military operations. Serving in deployments remote from the American heartland and with duties far beyond what individuals of their age and rank would normally face, they gained an awareness of the greater world and learned to bear the weight of great responsibility. The first such challenge would come, surprisingly, in China.

Peking 1900

The longstanding commitment to keep a strong American presence in the Pacific was reasserted in 1900 when nearly 15,000 soldiers and Marines under the command of future Army chief of staff Adna Chaffee were sent to China to support the mission to relieve Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. One byproduct of this effort was the exposure to the professional officers and soldiers of almost all major nations that would participate in the Great War. The mission and the American contribution to it were considered a great successes and a notable beginning for the 20th-century American military.

Perhaps most striking was the quick patching together of an expeditionary force and deploying it 5,000 miles to the far side of the Pacific. The joint-service force was assembled from the Philippines, ships at sea, and U.S. garrisons. Once in China, the troops impressed the foreign contingents with their ability to move quickly and adjust to a foreign environment. General Chaffee also displayed great tact and flexibility in dealing with a loose international command structure, providing a model for General Pershing's later leadership of the AEF.

Company H, 9th Infantry, Peking, 1900

On the downside, communications between the military and diplomats, and between both of those parties and the home country were inadequate and slow. In weaponry, the lesson that improvements in firepower, with machine guns and new artillery, gave great advantage to defenders was not absorbed by any of the relief mission participants, with the possible exception of the Japanese, who would display a tactical superiority in their war with the Russians a few years later.

Nevertheless, for the American military, Peking, was a major landmark in its preparations for the Great War and for waging war across another ocean.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Recommended: Everyday Lives in War



This is an excellent university consortium website (Hertfordshire University has the leading role) that produces excellent articles on "the impact of war on everyday life between 1914 and 1918 and on subsequent generations." The editors sponsor and assist with local remembrance projects around the UK and add their own excellently researched articles. Here is  a representative entry I found especially interesting.

Foxhunters in Khaki —

Foxhunting and the County Yeomanry During the First World War

Posted on January 3, 2017
Contributed by Nick Mansfield


The mobilization of the Welsh Horse Yeomanry at Lampeter in west Wales, in August 1914. The Yeomanry found it difficult to recruit further volunteers. One hundred years ago, the British government for the first time introduced conscription for compulsory service in the armed forces; a response to the high battlefield casualties and the need for mass mobilization to defeat Germany. Exemptions were granted both on conscientious grounds, or for reasons of urgent and vital work for the national interest. Such appeals were heard by local military service tribunals. One of the most unusual of these was heard in Shropshire when, in 1916, the South Shropshire Hunt applied for exemption from conscription for their kennelman, one of their full-time and professional hunt servants. At a time when the bloody battle of the Somme was at its height, what might have been thought of as a frivolous and unworthy appeal, was agreed in full by the tribunal. Its chairman declared that "the military had no objection at all to the application. It was recognised that hunting should be kept up." Such was the power of the vested rural interest of foxhunting and its military wing of the county Yeomanry.

The mobilisation of the Welsh Horse Yeomanry at Lampeter in west Wales, in Aug 1914
The Yeomanry found it difficult to recruit further volunteers.

The latter were originally formed from local foxhunting packs around 1800, as part-time mounted home defense force to oppose Napoleonic invasion. They were socially exclusive; mainly farmers’ sons, officered by the county gentry. After 1815 the Yeomanry continued as a paramilitary gendarmerie used to act against a wide range of early 19th-century protesters.  Their methods were often violent, with Manchester’s Peterloo Massacre only one example of their handiwork. The Yeomanry were also very political and overwhelmingly supported conservatism. Their policing role if the countryside was superseded by the new county constabularies, but the Yeomanry continued their existence as old-fashioned military auxiliary units, still built around fox hunting and the associated, and often raucous, social and political activities. Continued. . .

Finish reading the article HERE.


Homepage for EVERYDAY LIVES IN WAR.