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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The History of the War — Through Cigarette Cards

This great compilation of regular contributor Cyril Mazansky's work is to be published in the spring by Schiffer Publishing of Pennsylvania.  His work approaches the history of the war from a unique perspective. Utilizing remarkably detailed  issues of cigarette and trade card sets related to the First World War, the author provides a richly illustrated and descriptive tapestry of this great conflict. Not only are the usual political and armed services aspects of the war covered in detail, but also other components of the military such as armaments, awards, uniforms, and militaria and the important role that propaganda played. The social and literary aspects of the war form an important part of the book as well. All these written details, a significant amount of which is drawn from the descriptions on the cards, complement the hundreds of card illustrations found throughout the work.

Cyril's book can be pre-ordered here:

Here are some examples from his collection we have not presented previously.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 36: Château-Thierry

Visiting Château-Thierry

By Narayan Sengupta

[Editor's Note:
We are varying our Virtual Western Front feature over the next two weeks because we have received an excellent article on the next two locales we are featuring from our friend Narayan Sengupta. It will be presented in two parts, with Château-Thierry featured this week and Belleau Wood next Friday. MH]

In September 2013, we visited the American WWI sites of Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood. Both are about 60 miles east by northeast of Paris and seven miles apart from one another.

Getting there by car is remarkably easy. Take the AutoRoute A4 east out of Paris to exit 20. Go south on departmental route D1, the Avenue de Soissons. It takes you three miles into Château -Thierry to the Marne river. Just before the river, turn right onto D1003, Avenue de Paris. From there it is two miles to the entrance of the American Monument at Château -Thierry, which sits on Hill 204, one of Château-Thierry's western flanking hills.

The monument is perhaps 150 feet long by 40 feet high, making it the largest U.S. World War I monument that I know of. It is a somber Art Deco mass of beige stone that commemorates the U.S. 2nd Division and 3rd Division’s spirited defense of Château-Thierry against the Germans during the Second Battle of the Marne, fought 15 July to 18 July 1918. The Germans, freshly reinforced by crack divisions pulled from the Eastern Front after the fall of Imperial Russia, were hoping to make a final push toward Paris to finally force an end to the endless bloody war. The Allies, reinforced by fresh but untried Americans, were anxious. The Germans had already advanced quite a bit during the spring. And now the French were practically backed against a wall. Again.

The American Monument on Hill 204, Château-Thierry
(Narayan Sengupta)

The Allies fought ferociously. First they learned that the Germans were going to attack on the 15th.  Second, the Allied Commander in Chief Marshal Ferdinand Foch ordered a 2:00 a.m. preemptive artillery attack catching many Germans out in the open awaiting their own attack and demoralizing them in the process. Even then, the Germans advanced for a while. But Allied resistance stiffened, and soon the Germans were stopped. Then came the Allied counterattack supported by over 300 little Renault FT-17 tanks, each armed with either a 37mm cannon or a machine gun giving the Allies real mobile firepower.  All this proved a winning combination.

The German offensive had been dented and then repealed.  Victory to the Allies.  And it was an important one.  It was the turning point of the war.  For the Germans, it had been their last offensive.  Now the Allies would go on the offensive and advance until November 11, 1918.  By August 5, they would advance 25 miles from Château-Thierry, one of the best advances since 1914.  Even then the French lost 95,000 men in the advance in this sector, the British over 16,000, the Italians about 9,000, and the Americans 12,000.  The Germans losses were similar: 139,000.  Thanks to their tough resistance in Château-Thierry, the US 3rd Division picked up the nickname “Rock of the Marne,” a name they use to this day.

The Grounds (Narayan Sengupta)

The American monument provides a wonderful view east of the city of Château-Thierry and a great vantage point to imagine the battle and its results. On the reverse side of Hill 204 is the town of Vaux. American and German artillery literally pulverized Vaux while they were fighting over it.

It is worth a nice leisurely stroll around the monument’s large manicured grounds. The grass is eternally green, an evolutionary fluke that permits it to survive during the harsh French winter months. Meanwhile, I’m envious that my own grass stateside goes dormant.

The monument is a double-colonnade design. At the center on one side are two massive feminine stone figures symbolizing America and France and their very long friendship.  On the other is a giant American eagle sitting behind a stylized shield. Inscriptions around the top of the monument list sites of battles: Vaux, Fismes, Belleau Wood, Juvigny, Mezy, Fismette, Berzy-le-Sec, Trugny, La Croix Rouge Farm, etc. 

Studying the Sector Map (Narayan Sengupta)

Now they are footnotes, but back then they were in the news, and the Americans shed a lot of blood in these little places. Inscriptions around the base list the units that fought in the Aisne-Marne salient from late May to early August, meaning the U.S. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divisions, I and III Corps, and the 28th, 32nd, 42nd, 77th, and 83rd Divisions. There are longer inscriptions in English and in French.  One interior wall inscription reads in all caps:

In late May 1918 the German army made a surprise attack along the Aisne River and advanced rapidly toward the Marne.  Allied reinforcements were hurriedly brought up, including the 2nd and 3rd American divisions which went into position directly across the German line of advance toward Paris.
After severe fighting these divisions definitely stopped the progress of the attack on their front and the lines stabilized, the German forces having driven a deep salient roughly defined by Reims, Château-Thierry and Soissons, into Allied territory.

The last German offensive on the war, on July 15, included an attack in the eastern part of this salient and there the 3d American division and elements of the 28th were important factors in the successful defense of the allied positions.

On July 18 the Allied troops began a general counteroffensive against the whole salient in which the 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 26th, 28th, 32d and 42d American divisions, most of which served under the I and III corps, took a brilliant part.

This offensive was a complete success, and by August 6 the enemy had been driven beyond the Vesle River. Later the 4th, 28th, 32d and 77th American divisions and elements of the 3d and 93d played a prominent role in the desperate fighting on the north of the Vesle.

Of the 310,000 American soldiers who fought in these 0perations, 67,000 were casualties.

Château-Thierry by the Marne: Quentin Roosevelt Monument and US 3rd Division Monument (Narayan Sengupta)

Later we descend by car into Château-Thierry via the Avenue de Paris. The Avenue de Paris becomes the Avenue Jules Lefebvre, Château-Thierry's main road. It runs by the Marne. On it in the center of town is a monument to the U.S. 3rd Division — Rock of the Marne — which has a 1:2 scale wicker biplane in front of it. I was really curious about why it was there. The tail evoked a Nieuport 28. And sure enough, I was later told this was in homage to killed American flier (and son of the ex-president) Quentin Roosevelt. The 3rd Infantry fought twice in Château-Thierry: once in World War I and again in World War II. The original monument was destroyed in WWII, so what you see is the new one. Other units, like the U.S. 4th Division also fought in France twice. The 4th, for instance, led the D-Day invasion at Utah Beach on 6 June 1944.

Today Château-Thierry is a bucolic, sleepy, and pretty town of 15,000 people tucked into a gentle bend of the Marne river. It was devastated in 1918. Practically not a single home was left intact.  Roofs and walls and windows were all wrecked. But now, on the town's main square are a beautiful little American church, a cinema, and the repaired Hotel de Ville (City Hall). The church was built in 1922 as the American Memorial Church of Château-Thierry. Americans who lost family members in the war made donations to have it built in their memory. Even in the overcast light, a splendid stained glass window facing the square catches my eye. I see American and French flags and historical figures — Washington, Lafayette, Pershing, and various American and French soldiers symbolizing the arc of friendship spanning the American Revolution to World War I.

Château-Thierry and the Marne River; the Ramparts Are in the Woods at Left Above the City (Narayan Sengupta)

If you have questions about trip planning to explore the World War I battlefields of France, then email me at Bon voyage, Narayan Sengupta.

Narayan Sengupta is the author of books such as American Eagles, Lafayette Escadrille, POW Stories, and Disaster at Dieppe. To order them or to read more of his writing, see .

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Tale of Enver Pasha

Sometimes the eyes tell it all. Consider the photo below. It is 15 October 1917 and Kaiser Wilhelm II is making a state visit to Constantinople to buoy up his Ottoman allies, who are feeling pressure on multiple fronts despite the impending departure of Russia from the war. Sultan Mehmet V is exchanging salutes with the Kaiser, while to his right his successor, the elderly sword-bearing Ottoman Crown Prince looks on. Numerous senior court officials and military officers hover around them solicitously. The dominant figure for the Turks, however, is the chap at the far left, dressed in the simple army field uniform, the one intensely and critically studying the Sultan.  Only 35 years of age, he appears to be both the youngest and most junior individual present, but he is the one standing closest to the Sultan, monitoring every utterance of both monarchs. He is the man in charge.

This is Enver Pasha, the most important of the three colleagues — the "Three Pashas" (honorific chiefs or lords) — who emerged to lead the reform movement known as the Young Turks and, by 1913, to command the Ottoman Empire, just on the eve of the Great War.

Originally the Young Turks were quite diverse, including intellectuals, civil servants, military officers, and members from religious and non-Turkish minority groups, mostly interested in restoring the empire to past glories through modernization, secularization, and parliamentary government. However, their 1908 revolt was perceived by many, both abroad and internally, as another sign of imperial disintegration, an opportunity for territorial acquisition by the big powers or for independence by separatists. The reformers found themselves besieged immediately in 1908, enmeshed with the series of diplomatic crises, the rise of nationalism, and the regional wars that directly led to the Great War. After the most militant, nationalistic wing of the Young Turks seized power in 1913, its leaders, the Three Pashas (primarily Enver), managed to bring the empire into the war — on the losing side.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Happened to HMS Audacious?

HMS Audacious, commissioned in October 1913, was a Royal Navy battleship of the type known as a super(second generation)-dreadnought.  

Crew of HMS Audacious Being Evacuated

Returning to a temporary base in Northern Ireland from a training cruise, Audacious hit a mine at 08:45 off of the northwestern coast of Ireland, near Tory Island on 27 October 1914. It was a serious loss to the fleet at the time and kept largely secret since its sinking diminished the advantage marginally held over the High Seas Fleet. All the crew was evacuated successfully. Audacious was the only super-dreadnought to be lost during the war.

Some interesting aspects of the sinking include:

1.  The mine was laid by the German liner Berlin.

2.  The German naval command did not know about the base in Northern Ireland.

3.  The White Star liner Olympic helped evacuate the crew.

4.  For most of the day, the ship's listing was managed, but it steadily sank by the stern due to flooding. Eventually, though, Audacious began listing at a dramatic rate, capsizing and sinking at about 2100 hrs.

5.  After capsizing, one large and two secondary explosions were heard before the ship finally disappeared beneath the waves.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division — Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

Send the Alabamians: 
World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division
by Nimrod T. Frazer, introduction by Edwin C. Bridges
The University of Alabama Press, 2014

From an early age, author Nimrod T. Frazer knew about the 167th Infantry Regiment. His father, William Johnson Frazer, served as an enlisted man in the regiment on the Mexican border and in France, where he was wounded. An interest in the history of the regiment served as a lifelong bond between father and son; this book is a result of Rod Frazer's abiding interest in his father's regiment.

The 167th, originally the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment of the Alabama National Guard, was part of the storied 42nd (Rainbow) Division. The 42nd, an effective and popular U.S. division, has a particularly rich historiography; there are many unit histories and memoirs awaiting the interested reader. Frazer, a retired banker who earned a Silver Star in Korea, tapped into an impressive array of sources to bring us a well-written and thorough unit history.

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Typical of many National Guard units, the 4th Alabama was federalized and sent to the Mexican border in Arizona in 1916. Frazer describes the recruitment and training of the Alabamians and then the training and daily life on the border. A grueling road march from Nogales to Tucson in November helped the regiment develop its reputation for toughness. The 4th returned to Alabama in March 1917, just in time for the U.S. declaration of war against Germany.

Upon its return to Alabama, the regiment performed guard duties in the South. Then in August it was redesignated as the 167th Infantry Regiment and sent to Camp Mills, New York, for deployment to France as part of the 42nd Division, made up of National Guard units from 26 states.

Frazer discusses the 42nd's two months at Camp Mills; the various units, of differing experience and ability, trained hard to prepare for active service. Upon arrival in France in late November 1917, the 167th continued its training, and Frazer describes living and training conditions the men encountered. Perhaps the most difficult challenge was a three-day march from Saint-Blin to Rolampont, begun the day after Christmas. The men endured "heavy snowfall and sub freezing temperatures...a test of endurance and tenacity" (p. 54). The Alabamians, not used to the cold, snowy French weather, suffered terribly. The men persevered, and the result was a bonding among units in the division that proved fruitful in combat. Frazer's account of the march evokes the cold and misery quite well. Finally, in February 1918, the regiment entered the trenches in the Baccarat Sector.

Frazer's account of the 167th in combat is thorough, including descriptions of their first patrols (March 1918) and fighting in Champagne where they helped to blunt Germany's final offensive. The fighting in Champagne furthered the regiment's reputation for toughness. As a soldier from another 42nd regiment said, "I do not know if they would make good parlor pets or proper chaperons for young ladies at the movies, but they sure are wonderful fighters" (p. 104).

Frazer next goes into detail about the battle at Croix Rouge Farm during the Aisne-Marne action; it was here that his father was wounded. Will Frazer, hit twice in the leg by machine gun bullets, crawled into a shell hole where a French soldier "pointed to Will's leg wound and said, 'Bonne blessure'" (p. 122). It was indeed a "good wound" for Frazer as he was evacuated to a hospital near Paris.

Col Douglas MacArthur with Lt. Col. Walter Bare, 167th Inf., During the St. Mihiel Offensive

Of course the 167th was nowhere near done fighting. Ahead loomed the fighting on the Ourcq, the St. Mihiel Offensive, and the bloody action during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; the division also served in the Army of Occupation. To all of this, and the regiment's "triumphant" return to Alabama, Frazer devotes great attention. Frazer's brief, poignant epilogue recounts his father's struggle with alcoholism. His father's best friend and fellow 167th vet, Chester Kirk Scott, himself battling alcoholism and reeling from a failed business, committed suicide after telephoning Frazer's father, who arrived too late to stop Scott. This is a stark reminder of the ghosts and memories that haunted Doughboy veterans.

Frazer secured the services of a professional cartographer to produce the kind of maps that many readers, including this reviewer, enjoy — highly detailed, with some maps showing small units such as battalions and companies. The author has also included a roster of Alabama men who were present with the regiment at Camp Mills. A number of fine photographs further enhance the book, and a World War I chronology with the 167th's history incorporated within is a useful addition. The book is well-annotated and contains a helpful bibliography.

Frazer's dedication to preserving the memory of the Alabamians is so strong that he purchased the site of the regiment's battle at Croix Rouge Farm and there built a memorial to the Rainbow Division. the book's dust jacket bears a photograph of the memorial — a statue of a Doughboy carrying a dead comrade. All told, Frazer has written a solid history. It is a welcome addition to the historiography of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, September 15, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Col. Robert Tyndall of Indiana and the Rainbow Divsion

Contributed by MG Thomas Jones, U.S. Army, Ret.

Robert H. Tyndall (1877–1947) was commander of the 1st Indiana Field Artillery in 1917 when it was called to active duty, re-designated the 150th Field Artillery Regiment, and assigned to the 42nd Rainbow Division. Colonel Tyndall had seen his first military service in the Spanish-American War in Puerto Rico. In France his unit fought in all the actions of the Rainbow Division, including the Vosges, Baccarat, Luneville, Dombasle, Champagne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and the Argonne. Colonel Tyndall received the Distinguished Service Medal for "his high technical attainments, his untiring energy and devotion to duty." Afterward he was the first national treasurer of the American Legion.

He returned to civilian life but remained active with the National Guard. In 1941, after returning to active duty, Tyndall mobilized troops of the 38th Division at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He retired from military service in 1941 as a Major General shortly afterward, and was later elected mayor of Indianapolis in 1942. Sadly, he died in office in 1947.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Closest to Paris?

The marker shown below indicating the location and the date of 3 September is outside the village of Luzarches, almost directly north of Paris. From maps it appears that Luzarches is just about 22 km from, say, where the A-1 expressway crosses the Seine, or Le Bourget Airport. Which German unit made the probe? I can't find it specified in any of my sources, but I would hazard the guess that it was a cavalry detachment from the IV Reserve Corps of Alexander von Kluck's First Army. IV Corps was guarding his flank as he veered to the east of Paris. Corrective information is welcome.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Before Rosie the Riveter: The Women's Land Army

Text from a Smithsonian magazine article by Elaine F. Weiss

During WWI, the Woman’s Land Army of America mobilized women into sustaining American farms and building national pride.  From 1917 to 1919, the Woman's Land Army of America brought more than 20,000 city and town women to rural America to take over  farm work after men were called to war. Most of these women had never before worked on a farm, but they were soon plowing fields, driving tractors, planting, and harvesting. The Land Army's "farmerettes" were paid wages equal to male farm laborers and were protected by an eight-hour workday. For many, the farmerettes were shocking at first — wearing trousers! —  but farmers began to rely upon the women workers.

Ruth Anderson of Evanston IL, in Her WLA Uniform
Inspired by the women of Great Britain, organized as the Land Lassies, the Woman’s Land Army of America was established by a consortium of women’s organizations — including gardening clubs, suffrage societies, women’s colleges, civic groups, and the YWCA.  The WLA provided a fascinating example of women mobilizing themselves and challenged conventional thinking about gender roles. Like Rosie the Riveter a generation later, the Land Army farmerette became a wartime icon.

Read the full article at:

Images from the Library of Congres

Friday, September 12, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 35: Mondemont Marne Memorial

At Mondement, south of the St. Gond Marshes, in the southerly Champagne, stands the French national monument commemorating the victory in the 1914 Battle of the Marne. The location was the site of what the French consider the decisive moment of the week-long battle, the recapture of the Mondemont Chateau (left above) by the forces of General Ferdinand Foch, commander of the 9th Army. The action prevented a last-minute breakthrough in what had become — for German commander Helmuth von Moltke — the main strategic zone. Elsewhere on the 130-mile long battlefield Allied forces were either holding firm or advancing through the gap just west of Paris. A German strategic defeat was ordered the next day.

The  gigantic monument stands as a high point of 35.5 meters and is made ​​of cast concrete around a steel frame, reddish color (and allusion to the soil in Alsace-Lorraine) and supported by foundations down to 22 meters below ground level. The structure is topped with a depiction of "Winged Victory" with a combination of modern inscriptions and ancient runes underneath in the mid-section. At the base (inset above), facing the St. Gond Marshes are embossed figures of Marshal Joffre and a French solider, larger than life size, and the various Allied army commanders in a more human scale.  

From the Assoication Mondement 1914 Website

Thursday, September 11, 2014

South Africa on the Somme: The Battle for Delville Wood

Our 500th Posting

Editor's Note:  I have invited friend, honorary "Old Contemptible", and regular contributor Jim Patton to provide our 500th article on ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR.

South Africa on the Somme: The Battle for Delville Wood
by Jim Patton

Depiction of South African Troops after the Battle Displayed at the Delville Wood Memorial 

In July 1916 the Battle for Delville Wood, part of the larger Battle of the Somme, lasted for six days and five nights.  It was particularly famous for the gallant service of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, although other British units also served there with distinction. It was a furious and largely pointless action, with attacks and counterattacks alike falling short. The wood, along with the ruined village of Longveul, was a German strongpoint, with many machine guns that had stopped a cavalry charge, so Haig decided that it must be cleared by the bayonet. With great determination the South Africans pushed in and gained most of the wood, except only the northwestern part. This left them holding a salient, and the Germans counterattacked. An estimated 24,000 German artillery shells struck the 154-acre wood during the fight; at one time the rate was over 400 per minute. The salient was defended at great cost; of 3,155 men in the brigade 2,536 were casualties, and of those actually serving in the wood, only 143 came out.  In this offensive the wood was not fully captured until 3 September. This was one of the bloodiest examples of hand-to-hand close quarter infantry fighting on the Western Front.

The 1st SA Brigade was formed in September 1915. Due to South African law, the existing army couldn't serve outside of South Africa, except in defense of its borders, as was the case in German Southwest Africa, where Germans even crossed into South African territory.

South African Cap Badge

To get around this prohibition a voluntary scheme was devised, following the example of the British ‘Imperial Service’ of the 2nd South African war (1899-1902). Members of military units were encouraged to join a new ‘South African Overseas Expeditionary Force’, which was technically a British formation. This force had several brigades, but only the 1st served on the Western Front, as a part of the 9th (Scottish) Division. . 

The 1st Brigade had four battalion-sized "regiments", each with four companies. Among these were:  ‘C’ Co. of the 1st Reg’t. , drawn from the 7th Infantry (Kimberley Regiment). Formed in 1876, this was one of the oldest units of the South African forces, having earned five battle honors prior to the war of 1899-1902. Not officially a Scottish regiment, the unit has a marked Scottish heritage (it even has a pipe band) and bears the St. Andrew’s Cross on the badge. The diamond on the badge honors an antecedent (the Diamond Fields Horse), and the laurels are for the Defense of Kimberley in 1899-1900. In total the regiment has 22 honors, not counting the 15 honors won by the 1st SA Infantry in WW1. Pvt. WF “Manne” Faulds of the 7th won the only South African VC for Delville Wood, which was also the first South African VC of the war. His medal was stolen from a museum in 1994 and remains missing. The 7th was the most heavily engaged SA unit in WW2 and was also the first SA army unit to voluntarily integrate. Today it is a reserve unit but has participated in two UN Peacekeeping forces.

Kimberly Regiment Badge

"A" Co. of the 4th Regt. was drawn from the 6th Infantry (Duke of Connaught and Strathearn's Own Cape Town Highlanders), which was formed in 1885. In its history this unit has earned 22 battle honors, not including the 15 honors won by A Co. 4th SA Infantry in WW1.  In WW2 the unit was at El Alamein and Monte Cassino, and continues today as a reserve component of the SA National Defence Forces.

"B" and "C" Co.s of the 4th were made up of men from the 8th Infantry (Transvaal Scottish), which was formed in 1902 by a future Duke of Atholl.  The unit has 17 honors plus the aforementioned 15 won in WWI. The badge bears the St. Andrew’s Cross, the Order of the Thistle (the Scottish Knights) and the inscription Alba nam Buadh or "Well done, Scottish”. Informally called "the Black Watch of South Africa", it is active as a reserve unit.

8th Infantry (Transvaal Scottish) Badge

Additional honors awarded to both regiments for actions in the border conflicts (1966-89) were repudiated in 1994.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great War Remembered: Today's Language

If you've ever described your emotional state using any of these terms, you're drawing on the language of the Great War.  To see our ever-growing list of such examples, check out our website Words, Expressions & Terms Popularized, 1914 - 1918.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Son at the Front — Reviewed by Dr. Margaret Spratt

A Son at the Front
by Edith Wharton
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923; Northern Illinois University Press, 1995

To the American reading public, A Son at the Front was a resounding failure. Published after the war had ended and popular figures were urging a return to normalcy, Wharton's tale set in war-torn France drew little praise from critics and sold far fewer copies than her publishers had anticipated. It was deemed a great disappointment, even more so because it followed the success of her novel The Marne, published at the height of American interest in December of 1918.

Wharton was perplexed at the rejection of her novel, opining that the "public whose own sons and brothers have been in the war….ceased to take an interest in it." She wasn't quite right. Male writers began to publish their own accounts, and writings by Hemingway, Dos Passos, Ford, and cummings, to name a few, set the standard in the Twenties. Wharton's novel was judged to be outdated, sentimental, and falsely patriotic. Her main characters existed in a world physically distant to the battlefront, tied to it only by fear, anxiety, and imagination. That was not enough for those who had experienced, or at least read of, life at the front with its hellish futility. To them Wharton represented an elitist view that echoed of a simpler time. As feminist scholars have noted, women's war writing has been belittled because it spoke of the broader social experience, not of "seeing action." And it was "life at the rear" that Wharton intended to explore in A Son at the Front.

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The son at the front, George Campton, was the son of American divorced parents, born in Paris and thus subject to French mobilization. The action of the novel centers not on George's activities but rather on those of his father, John, an artist. Both Camptons were taken aback when war was declared. The father, as an American, believed he and his son had no stake in the conflict and that his son's national identity was a silly technicality. The father, along with his estranged wife, began to work behind the scenes to obtain a safe desk job for George. But as the weeks progressed, George increasingly identified with those around him and felt he had a duty to defend France. Wharton and hundreds of other Americans caught in Paris as tourists or expats were also surprised when they heard the "Marseillaise" played and read the notices of conscription on the Metro walls. As Wharton's protagonist in her 1918 novel The Marne declared, "this unfathomable thing called War…seemed suddenly to have escaped out of the history books like a dangerous lunatic escaping from the asylum in which he was supposed to be securely confined."

Once the reality of war sank in, the residents of Paris said goodbye to their sons and husbands and settled into the everyday deprivation and sacrifice that war brought to their lives. The buses stopped, the sidewalk cafes fell silent, and croissants were outlawed. At least for a time, while a peacetime economy was shifting into a wartime one, the City of Light lost its brilliance and allure. Wharton fell into relief work with great dedication, raising money from her New York connections and enlisting her literary friends. Her solution to enduring the war was to lose herself into a collective effort of war work that resulted in a number of honors, including the French Chevalier de l'Ordre National de la Legion d'honneur, and then in feverish haste to write of her "losses" in two wartime novels.

Edith Wharton, War Correspondent

Her protagonist in A Son at the Front questioned his very reason for being, feeling that he had failed as a father and an artist. He acknowledged the gulf between him and his son created first by a ruined marriage and further widened by the effort to keep George safe. It was only when the artist's son parted for the front that a bond appeared. John Campton saw the hint of a youthful smile flash across George's face while leaning out the train window, and it is this impression that will motivate his desire to capture the memory of his son on canvas. Art is what saved Campton. Writing is what consoled Wharton.

The author dedicated this work to Ronald Simmons, a young American who died in the influenza epidemic while employed by the U.S. War Department in Bordeaux. Wharton met Simmons in Paris at the end of 1916 when she was 54 and he was 31. A graduate of Princeton, Simmons had rejected the business world of his father and gone to Paris to train as an architect and painter. Although a number of biographers have hinted at a love affair, Wharton described his place in her life as that of a younger brother. Only two letters of their correspondence survive, both from Simmons to Wharton. In them he showed concern for her health and spoke of his dedication to his work and his hope for a better tomorrow. Wharton was devastated by his death and memorialized him in both of her war novels.

When read as an historical document, A Son at the Front reveals a portrait of wartime society that is both nuanced and significant. It is in the familiarity of her subject, the closeness the critics abhorred, that allowed Wharton to examine loss, both on the personal and public levels. It was her belief that art and culture sustain civilization and that the cross-fertilization of culture, specifically that between the United States and France, were of utmost importance. For this effort to succeed, every resource at her disposal, including the creation of fiction, would be applied to the cause.

A Son at the Front was reissued in 1995 by Northern Illinois University Press and contains a useful introduction by Shari Benstock. A recent biography of Edith Wharton written by Hermione Lee, professor of English literature at Oxford, and published by Knopf, provides helpful background information. Read together, one can see both the inner and outward worlds that consumed Edith Wharton and other expatriates in France during the war

Dr. Margaret Spratt

Monday, September 8, 2014

Amazing Facts and Remarkable Trivia About the AEF, Part 2

There is considerable confusion over the first fatalities of the AEF:

    The first individuals killed by the enemy were Lt. W.T. Fitzsimmons, Pvt. Oscar Tugo, Pvt. Rudolph Rubino, and Pvt. Leslie Woods. They were killed in an air raid when bombs fell on Base Hospital No. 5 near Dannes-Camiers, 4 September 1917.

    The first men killed in action were Corporal James Gresham, Pvt. Thomas Enright, and Pvt. Merle Hay, all of the 1st Division. They were killed in a trench raid near Bathelemont, 2 November 1917.

   The first member of the U.S. Air Service to lose his life on a combat mission was Capt. Phelps Collins of the 103rd Aero Squadron on a combat patrol on 12 March 1918.

    Over the Italian Front a leaflet was dropped to encourage the Italian troops stating, "Every minute eight American soldiers disembark in Europe." In the peak month of shipping Doughboys over, July 1918, this was precisely true.

    Alvin York received his Medal of Honor for actions in an effort to relieve the famous Lost Battalion. That operation was planned in part by Major Jonathan Wainwright, who would command the Philippines after MacArthur departed.

    The American Air Service gave us the expression to "conk-out", "conk" being the last sound of a disengaging aircraft engine.

The AEF had a demographic pattern unique to any army in history.

    37% were unable to read and write.

    Only 21% of the drafted enlisted men had some education beyond grammar school.

    9% were black Americans.

    52% were country boys.

    39% were first- or second- generation immigrants to America.

The American Tank Corps used the tanks of the Allies in combat.

    In the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne operations the French Renault FT17 was used. It weighed 7.3 tons, traveled at a top speed of six miles per hour, and was armed with either a 37mm cannon or a Hotchkiss machine gun.

    Lt. Colonel George Patton personally took command of the first American tank attack during the St. Milhiel Offensive.

    In the British St. Quentin sector, Americans drove the much larger Mark V tank. It weighed 30 tons, moved at 3.5 miles per hour, and was armed with two 57mm cannons and six machine guns or a mixture of weapons.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Amazing Facts and Remarkable Trivia About the AEF, Part 1


    Two members of General Pershing's staff would one day win the Nobel Peace Prize: George Marshall and Charles Dawes.

    Dawes was also one of two future U.S. vice-presidents who served in the AEF; the other was Harry Truman, who also became president.
   The New Yorker magazine was created by alumni of the Doughboy newspaper the STARS AND STRIPES, including Harold Ross and Alexander Woolcott

    Readers Digest was founded by Sgt. Dewitt Wallace of the 35th Division, who perfected his ability to summarize magazine articles as he was recovering from severe wounds he received in the Argonne Forest.

    History's first battle that started on D-Day at H-Hour was the Battle of St. Mihiel which began on 12 September 1918 at 0500 Hours.

    In the post-Armistice lull, several members of the 114th Artillery Rgt. of the 30th Division decided that the Kaiser, who was in exile in Holland, needed to be arrested and brought to justice. Acting without any authorization and led by one of their members who was a former U.S. senator, they succeeded only in contributing a comic-opera episode to the Doughboy legend.

    The Services of Supply imported 1,500 railroad locomotives and 18,000 freight cars in sections, reassembled them in France and operated them in support of the AEF on 1,538 miles of standard and narrow-gauge track built by the Corps of Engineers.

    During service in Europe 829 trained pigeons flew 10,995 missions with American naval aviators; they accomplished 219 successful communications missions. Eleven were declared missing in action.