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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blood Garden. An Elegy for Raymond — Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Blood Garden. An Elegy for Raymond
by Pam Bernard
Published by Turning Point, 2010

The 58 poems published in Blood Garden comprise an elegy for one of the first Americans to enter World War One. Raymond, who is referred to by his Christian name only, was part of the American Expeditionary Forces that arrived in France in the early fall of 1917. As Pam Bernard observes in her introduction, Raymond, who was her father, was already a "veteran", having served in the military in Mexico in 1916. When he landed in France, he was, however, only 17 years old. Both Raymond and America start a journey in 1917 that takes them from innocence to violence. Pam Bernard declares that the aim of her volume is to address the consequences of the war, "and, . . . in the process, all war."

Bernard's volume is divided into four sections: "Stone Boat", "Blood Garden", "Grim Trade", and "Foxfire". Juxtaposed against the poems about the war itself are shorter poems that reflect on Raymond's earlier life in New England. "Stone Boat" opens with poems about Raymond's training, focusing on how the soldiers were "ankle-deep in mud", and the exhaustion and the fear: And here he is/just seventeen, a man-sized terror in his throat. No-man's-land is described as "pocked, diseased, ripe with rot" (the alliteration here is particularly effective). The descriptions of the gaps between battles are very evocative as they contrast nature with the horrors of man-made weapons:

     In the intermittent lull, [Raymond] can hear,
     amid black clouds of swarming flies,
     the high-pitched squealing of well-fed
     rats. And, sublime absurdity —
     the altogether beautiful song of a lark.

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Blood Garden also portrays the "mind-rotting boredom" of sitting in the trenches and how this was interspersed with gruesome sights such as the jerking of a headless corpse that is illuminated by a star shell.

The section called "Grim Trade" contains interesting insights into the German perspective on the war, including the German soldier's dream of marching on Paris. This is contrasted with the horrors of Gallipoli, where neither side had been prepared for the climbing through thick scrub and the horror of being separated from one's fellow soldiers. The section emphasizes that there are no explanations for the war irrespective of which side one is on or where one is fighting. The tone of this section is harsh and condemning:

     No one can fathom the experience
     at the front, where wastage means casualties,
     and Third Ypres is called a battle, when
     surely it was a crime.

The narrator continues:

     The philosophers are in hiding
     promulgating deicide. Psychoanalysts
     debate the next paradigm.
     Science is the new logos.

As the poem continues to describe the horrors of war, these are juxtaposed against Raymond's earlier life as he walked the hills along the big river/waiting for geese to trumpet their return.

American Troops Deployed in Trenches, Winter 1917/18

In the section called "Foxfire" the narrator describes the unknown soldier, the product of the participating nations' need "to invent a tribute: an unknown to stand in for their loss." The tone is ironic — no one soldier can bear "the weight of all that dying." The penultimate poem returns to the theme of exhaustion explored in the first section, "Stone Boat". Raymond dreams of his earlier life, his mother, the river, and beautiful sunsets. The dream is abruptly broken as bayonets are fixed and Raymond smells the stench of death. The final poem depicts Raymond back in New England. It is October 1918. He has changed so much that not even his mother recognizes him.

While the collection of poems leaves the fate of Raymond open, it is very precise in its descriptions of war, carnage, and suffering. The contrasts with Raymond's former life enhance the tragedy of his experiences at the front. The quality and purpose of Pam Bernard's poems are best expressed in the poet's own words: Much beauty resides in the truth, especially when it saves us from repeating the history we choose to forget (from a letter to Roads editor Mike Hanlon, 26 June 2014). The events themselves cannot speak, but poems that describe what war does to the individual can. Blood Garden is an excellent example of how literature can help us understand what war is and means at the level we understand best, that of the individual.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Saving Hallowed Ground

Saving Hallowed Ground is a worldwide organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of monuments and markers, commemorating America's veterans and patriots wherever they may be found. Below you can view a video describing the organization and learn about their preservation work for the World War I monument at Malvern, PA.

1. Click on Image to Access Page
2. Click on Arrow & Full Screen to View

Founder and Preservation Specialist Eugene Hough was asked to describe how Saving Hallowed Ground will be operating and making contact with the public, especially young people:

We will establish points of contact with community schools in both urban and rural communities and facilitate educational outreach to guide student teams in researching and reporting on veterans' names commemorated on the local monuments. Students will be invited to participate in guided hands-on conservation clinics on the monuments themselves, thus promoting stewardship of these important sites into the future. As you are aware, there are thousands of monuments, markers and plaques dedicated to our citizens and veterans who served and supported the Great War effort. Please visit our website at if you would like to participate in or contribute to our project.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The AEF Meets the Gas

The U.S. Army Is Gassed—26 February 1918

by Dr. Thomas I. Faith 

U.S. Marines Under Gas Attack Near Verdun

Before dawn on 26 February 1918, in a wooded area at Bois de Remieres, France [St. Mihiel Salient, north of Seicheprey], the U.S. Army suffered its first major chemical weapons attack. Over the previous several days, soldiers in the trenches there had noticed noisy hammering and other unusual activity on the other side of No Man’s Land. Their German opponents were building Livens projectors, rows of large metal tubes embedded in the ground at an angle. Shortly after 1 a.m. the projectors fired two separate bursts of hundreds of canisters of lethal phosgene and tear gas. The canisters quickly sailed through the air and exploded above U.S. soldiers in the 18th Infantry of the 1st Division, releasing a toxic cloud. The gas was accompanied by high-explosive mortar fire intended to cause additional confusion and panic. 

Most of the soldiers were able to place their gas masks over their faces and adjust the straps, nose clip, breathing hose, and filter box in time, as they had been trained. Some, however, breathed in the gas while putting their masks on and had to be treated for asphyxiation. Private Mowren, for one, was asleep in a dugout when the attack occurred and he inadvertently breathed the gas in the moments it took him to wake and don his mask.

Private Beddell was on duty at a listening post when the gas canisters exploded practically on top of him. The force of the explosion knocked down a man beside him, and Beddell was gassed while trying to put a mask on the fallen man before he had put on his own. Private Liton, a telephone operator in the Signal Corps, managed to put his mask on in time after the concussion from the projector burst blew in the window and door of the dugout he was in, but another soldier in the dugout “went wild” with fright. Liton and a lieutenant attempted to restrain the man and mask him, but Liton’s gas mask was torn off in the struggle and he became sick from the gas as a result. 

U.S. Sentry Mans His Post During Gas Attack
Most of the U.S. casualties, however, were men like Corporal Saukey who removed their masks too soon, believing that the gas had dissipated. Saukey was on a patrol during the attack and got his mask on in time, but he took it off after only half an hour and found that the gas in the area was still strong enough to smell. Approximately 225 U.S. soldiers were in the vicinity during the attack and 85 of them, more than one-third, were injured or killed by the gas. 

As World War I continued and as more new soldiers from the United States continued to arrive at the Western Front, such episodes were unfortunately common in the American Expeditionary Force. Over the course of the First World War, U.S. Army units suffered a proportionately higher percentage of gas casualties in battle than their French, British, and even German counterparts. The American Expeditionary Force sustained over 70,000 chemical warfare casualties, representing nearly 30 percent of the total U.S. casualties in World War I. All the soldiers who were exposed to poison gas on the battlefield, whether injured or not, would long remember the anxiety of their first experience with chemical warfare.

Dr. Faith is a historian at the U.S. Department of State and the author of "Behind the Gas Mask: The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace". His article was made available through the World War I Centennial Commission. Sentry photo from Steve Miller.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Images of the Forgotten Balkan Wars

Turkish Forces on Left;  Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Montenegrin on Right 

The Balkan Wars are seen as a precursor to the First World War and often as the culmination of a national struggle by the respective Balkan Powers against the Ottoman Empire.  This perspective is somewhat puzzling due mainly to the fact that most American, and for that matter European, scholars rarely comment on the First World War in the Balkans after summer of 1914. The “spark” for the war became a sideshow to the “more important” fronts in western and central Europe. There have been a few recent works on the Balkans in the First World War, but it remains under studied; yet the Balkans as the precipitating cause of the First World War remains a very common theme in many general histories of the conflict.
James N. Tallon

Below from Top to Bottom:
Turkish Cavalry Entering Adrianople; Serbian Troops in Trenches; Unidentified Battlefield;
Two Turkish Civilians Face Bulgarian Execution

Friday, October 17, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 40: Reims Cathedral

The German Army held Reims for about a week in September 1914, before retreating north to the surrounding hills after the Battle of the Marne.  They had a fixation on the Cathedral and were determined to eliminate it as an observation post. They periodically shelled the city over the 4 years the war lasted and Reims became one of cities in northern France that was destroyed during the War. During this time the cathedral received over 300 direct artillery hits. On one occasion (photo above) scaffolding in place on the north tower caught fire. The fire spread to the whole structure. Lead from the roof melted and flowed through the the gargoyles, destroying the residence of the Archbishop. Reims Cathedral became an international symbol of German brutality.

Twenty years were necessary for the chief architect Henri Deneux to partially restore the cathedral to its former splendor Excluding Versailles, it was the largest restoration site in progress during the years between the two World Wars. Damage from the war can still be seen on the exterior of the Cathedral, and many of the medieval stained glass windows have never been replaced, although artists like Marc Chagall have contributed some notable replacements.  The restoration continues in the 21st century.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Paris at War's End

This evocative passage from Margaret Macmillan's Paris 1919 led me to ask our contributing editor Tony Langley for supporting images.

Signs of the Great War that had just ended were everywhere: the refugees from the devastated regions in the north; the captured German cannon in the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysées; the piles of rubble and boarded-up windows where German bombs had fallen. A gaping crater marked the Tuileries rose garden. Along the Grand Boulevards the ranks of chestnuts had gaps where trees had been cut for firewood. The great windows in the cathedral of Notre-Dame were missing their stained glass, stored for safety; in their place, pale yellow panes washed the interior with a tepid light. There were severe shortages of coal, milk, and bread. French society bore scars too. While the flags of victory fluttered from the lampposts and windows, limbless men and demobilized soldiers in worn army uniforms begged for change on street corners and almost every other woman wore mourning.

Actual Scene at Place de la Concorde

Wounded Soldiers at a Paris Parade

Damage from the Paris Gun

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Visionary Scientist of the World Wars: Harry Grindell Matthews

Here is a brief selection from a wonderfully informative website on a forgotten contributor to Britain's effort in both World Wars. Just click on the link below the article to transport yourself to the laboratory of a scientist you may never have heard of who helped make the world we live in.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

America's Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One — Reviewed by Dennis Linton

America's Greatest Blunder: 
The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One
by Burton Yale Pines
RSD Press, 2013

Entering Europe’s war truly was a gigantic and fateful American decision. As it turned out, it was America’s greatest blunder of the century

This provocative statement by Burton Yale Pines is clearly an attention-getter on bookshelves cluttered with World War I selections surrounding the 100th anniversary. However, is the distinguished journalist actually able to convince a reader this is unequivocally true? At the end of the book, each individual reader is provoked to render his or her own verdict. The title sparks interest to read the book, but what keeps your attention is a well researched and easy to read overview of the war and America's involvement. Whether one believes America's entry into the war was the biggest blunder of the century actually becomes unimportant somehow. The author convincingly illustrates the U.S. decision to enter the Great War as one of history's rare pivot points. The beginning of the book states this bold thesis and supposes that without America's entry into the war, the war would have stalemated and a "peace among equals" would have ended the conflict. However, with America's entry, the decisive victory of the Allies led directly to an unjust peace settlement, which in turn led to the rise of Nazism, the horrors of World War II and the tensions and conflicts of the Cold War.

Poster Created by the Committee for Public Information Led by George Creel

The true beauty of the narrative is in the chapters describing America's entry and role in the war's outcome. Through eight chapters the author seeks to answer the questions he raises at the end of the introduction of his thesis. "How did America end up fighting a war it never thought it would fight and in which no national interests were at stake?" and "What difference was made by America's fighting?" The author's significant research combined with a journalistic style makes this section of the book one of the most readable overviews of America's entry on the shelves today. The section on effectiveness of British and America propaganda is intriguing. The book explains how George Creel, in charge of the American propaganda machine, was able to turn a neutral population with strong Germanic roots to not only support the war, but vilify the Kaiser.

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As the author finishes with the American Expeditionary Forces' entry into combat and its role in the final campaign successes, bringing the war to conclusion, one is left to ponder: "What blunder?" Certainly, Germany blundered with reintroducing unrestricted submarine warfare. Certainly, President Wilson blundered with his optimistic belief he could influence the peace talks and subsequent treaty to be fair. However, does this rise to America's greatest blunder? How could this be? The war pulled the U.S. out of a recession, and tied the Allies forevermore to our economy. America now had a victorious military with global projection. America had arrived. Thus it's not surprising that the reader wonders, Where did America blunder at all, given victory and our rise as a global power?

I will not summarize how the author synthesizes and defends his thesis in the final chapters. Why? Because this is a book that should be read this year, if for nothing more than as one of the finest overviews of the war and America's entry into it and the effects of our entry on its outcome. Additionally, I think the author purposely finished the book in a manner to leave readers pondering their own thoughts on whether it was a blunder. Did it really lead to the horrors of the 20th century, and by staying neutral would we be living differently now?

Dennis Linton

Author Burton Pines at a French Cemetery During a Recent Trip to the Western Front

Our reviewer, Col. Dennis Linton, U.S. Army, retired, is an assistant professor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS, and a Museum Docent at the National World War One Museum at Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, MO. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

James Reese Europe: War Poet

Lt. James Reese Europe, bandleader for the Harlem Hellfighters, 369th Infantry, wrote this song while recovering from gassing after an attack.  Below is a link to a YouTube video with a recording of the musical performance of 1919, but try reading the lyrics first as a war poem.  To me it has the authenticity that comes from someone who has been there and done that.

Lt. Europe (left) with the 369th Infantry Band

On Patrol in No Man's Land

What the time? Nine?
Fall in line
Alright, boys, now take it slow
Are you ready? Steady!
Very good, Eddie.

Over the top, let's go
Quiet, lie it, else you'll start a riot
Keep your proper distance, follow 'long
Cover, brother, and when you see me hover
Obey my orders and you won't go wrong

There's a Minenwerfer coming —
        look out (bang!)
Hear that roar (bang!), there's one more (bang!)
Stand fast, there's a Very light 
Don't gasp or they'll find you all right
Don't start to bombing with those hand grenades 

There's a machine gun, holy spades!
Alert, gas! Put on your mask
Adjust it correctly and hurry up fast
Drop! There's a rocket from the Boche barrage
Down, hug the ground, close as you can, don't stand
Creep and crawl, follow me, that's all

What do you hear? Nothing near
Don't fear, all is clear
That's the life of a stroll
When you take a patrol
Out in No Man's Land

Ain't it grand?
Out in No Man's Land

Color Guard, 369th Infantry

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What Was an "Old Contemptible"?

Memorial at Westminster Abbey, London

To qualify as an "Old Contemptible" a British Army soldier would have to have seen active service actually in France and Flanders between 5 August and 22 November 1914. For this he would qualify for the medal known as the 1914 Star. This medal was introduced in 1917. In 1919 a clasp bearing the qualifying dates was authorized and given to soldiers who had actually been under fire between those dates. It was also known as the "Mons Star"

The Mons Star

It is widely believed that the "Old Contemptibles" derived their honorable title from the famous "Order of the Day" given by the Kaiser at his headquarters, Aix-la-Chappelle, on 19 August 1914:

"It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers, to exterminate first, the treacherous English, walk over General French's contemptible little Army."

There can be no question that the most successful slogan for recruiting purposes issued during the whole course of the war was the phrase "The contemptible little army", said to have been used by the Kaiser in reference to the British Expeditionary Force. It very naturally created a passionate feeling of resentment throughout the country. Detailed information on the make-up of the original BEF can be found at the website of the Western Front Association:

Memorial photo from Steve Miller; details from the Old Contemptibles Association

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The French Mutinies of 1917

Ed. note:  Our late friend and contributor Tony Noyes wrote this article for the Trip-Wire before he passed away.

Dispirited-Looking French Soldiers Near Aisne Sector, 1917

They were coined as "acts of collective indiscipline".

Various units with very good fighting records had come back from the blazing [Chemin des Dames] front in a state of moral disintegration toward the end of April [after the failed Nivelle Offensive]. On 29 April the first mutiny was reported by the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment. They had been reduced from a nominal 600 men to only 200 by the morning after the assault and were marched back to their miserable billets in Soissons where their comfort was generally ignored. So they drifted, unwanted, and with the rumors floating that they would be transferred to a "quiet" front in Alsace. On 29 April they were ordered back to the front. They refused but after midnight were somehow led back to the front by the colonel appealing to them "On behalf of your mates already at the Front". The military police picked out a number of men reputed to be ringleaders, and in short order the majority were sentenced to imprisonment in French Guyana — a death sentence in that disease-ridden place. Five men were sentenced to be shot, and sentence was carried out on 12 June.

Notwithstanding the speed at which this mutiny was suppressed, others immediately followed it, these actions accelerating into May with no end in sight. At this time there were about 1000 battalions in the French Army, and it was eventually thought that at least half of them could not be trusted to go into action, although it was thought they would hold the trenches — but no more. In my personal opinion these "acts of collective indiscipline" were brought about by the many broken promises to the troops, bad battle management leading to frightening losses amongst the infantry ever since 1914, and senior staff incomprehension of the living conditions of the French private soldier (the Poilu) or of their need for comfort when in rest and out of the line. Nivelle was acrimoniously fired after accusing his senior army commanders of mismanagement despite their advising him previously of their fears for the campaign.

He was replaced in May by General Pétain, who then had the terrible job of restoring hope and morale to the ailing French Army. He did this brilliantly and managed to restore an element of trust in the average Poilu, due to his long association with the fighting men. He introduced proper leave rosters, proper rest camps, proper food facilities, allowed junior officers to report up the chain of command so that their (junior) voices could be heard, and allowed the colonels of the regiments to carry out such sentences against known mutineers as they deemed necessary.

Pétain on a Morale Visit to the Troops

Later that year he actually managed to launch various "set piece" attacks, notably to extend the French lines away from Verdun in the summer and to clear Fort Malmaison at the west end of the Chemin des Dames in October. He accepted that the French Army was in no mood to launch any more large-scale assaults but knew that the men would "hold the line" to the best of their ability.

Haig was not told of the actual problem but, trusting Petain, continued with the Battle of Arras into May to try to keep some German pressure off the French. He was successful, but at the cost of a heavier daily casualty rate than the army had suffered on the Somme, and the battle finally petered out in stalemate in May. The casualties in April and May amounted to some 148,000, a daily rate higher than those of the Somme the previous year.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 39: Fromelles

Battle of Fromelles: 19 – 20 July 1916

Fromelles was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. Directed against a strong German position known as the Sugar Loaf Salient, the attack was intended primarily as a feint to draw German troops away from the Somme offensive then being pursued farther to the south. A seven-hour preparatory bombardment deprived the attack of any hope of surprise and ultimately proved ineffective in subduing the well-entrenched defenders. 

When the troops of the 5th Australian and 61st British Divisions attacked at 6 p.m. on 19 July 1916, they suffered heavily at the hands of German machine gunners. Small parts of the German trenches were captured by the 8th and 14th Australian Brigades, but, devoid of flanking support and subjected to fierce counterattacks, they were forced to withdraw. By 8 a.m. on 20 July 1916, the battle was over. The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, rendering it incapable of offensive action for many months; the 61st British Division suffered 1,547. The German casualties were little more than 1,000. 

The attack was a complete failure as the Germans realized within a few hours it was merely a feint. It therefore had no impact whatsoever upon the progress of the Somme offensive.

Source:  Australian War Memorial

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Anzac Biscuits

Troops at Anzac Longing for Treats from Home

Australian troops served in the Middle East and Western Front during the Great War — a much, much, longer way from home than, say, Tipperary.  The folks at home, however, wanted to develop something that would survive the journey to their boys at the front.  Anzac Biscuits were created to fill this need.

Drawing on Scottish oatmeal based delicacies, Anzac biscuit recipes omitted eggs because of the scarcity of eggs during the war (after most poultry farmers joining the war effort) and so that the biscuits would not spoil when shipped long distances. The product the women of Australia created turned out to be delicious although the biscuits — like the equally yummy Italian biscotti — are distinctly on the hard side.  This, though, makes them absolutely perfect for dunking in coffee.

Anzac Biscuits — Worth Enlisting for!


This is the variation using coconut of the Country Women's Association of New South Wales that has been personally tested and approved by the Editor/Publisher of Roads to the Great War.


    1 cup each of rolled oats, sugar and coconut
    1 tablespoon Lyle's Golden Syrup
    3/4 cup flour
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)


    Melt butter.
    Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter.
    Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid.
    Place small balls on a buttered tray and bake in moderate oven.
    Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft till cold.

Source: Australian War Memorial Website

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Paris Gun

The Paris Gun of World War I (called by the Germans the Kaiser Wilhelm Gun and — as shown above — often incorrectly termed Lange Max or Big Bertha, two completely different guns) was  34 meters long and weighed 125 tons. Its 180kg powder charge could hurl a 120kg shell with 7kg of explosive to a range of 131km (81 miles). During the 170-second trajectory the shell reached a maximum altitude at the edge of space — 40 km. This was the highest altitude attained by a man-made object until the first successful V-2 flight test on 3 October 1942.  

Remains of Paris Gun Mount (Location Shown Below)

Seven 21cm guns were made, using bored-out 38cm naval guns fitted with special 40m-long inserted barrels. After 65 shots the barrels were removed and re-bored to 24cm caliber. At the end of the war one spare mounting was captured by American troops near Chateau-Thierry, but no gun was ever found.

Distribution of "Hits" on Paris

From March through August of 1918, three of the guns shot 351 shells at Paris from the woods of Crepy, killing 256 and wounding 620. As a military weapon the gun was a failure — the payload was miniscule, the barrel needed replacement after 65 shots, and the accuracy was only good enough for city-sized targets. But as a psychological tool it was remembered when the V-weapons were being developed two decades later.

Photos from Steve Miller
Text from Encyclopedia Astronautica

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Them Soldier Boys: A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I — Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

Them Soldier Boys: A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I
by Gregory W. Ball
University of North Texas Press, 2013

In his new book, They Called Them Soldier Boys: A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I, Gregory W. Ball, a U.S. Air Force Reserve officer working as a historian with the Air Force, combines social and military history to give an interesting perspective on the soldiers of the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment of the Texas National Guard. Ball is interested in determining if there was such a thing as "the Texas military experience" in World War I. By using such sources as census records, draft registration records, and local newspapers, Ball presents a picture of the demographics of the regiment that later became the 142nd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division. Although the regiment started out as a combination of Texas and Oklahoma National Guardsmen, it ended the war with men from other parts of the country. Ball, however, concentrates on the original cadre that formed the 7th Texas Infantry. It is important to note that, although the book may be considered a regimental history, it really focuses on the achievements and activities of the Texas men.

In the first two chapters, Ball puts the regiment, recruited largely from north, west, and northwest Texas, in the context of its physical and cultural milieu. By looking at the men's civilian professions, income, dependency status, and age, among other things, Ball gives us a good picture of the typical soldier of this regiment. Officers made concerted efforts to recruit in their assigned locales, and this served to strengthen the local flavor of the regiment, typical of National Guard regiments throughout the country. Ball reports on the reaction of various communities to the recruitment and departure of their local boys. The details of these first two chapters will be of interest primarily to students of Texas history and to those interested in the social aspects of military history.

German Defenders Atop Blanc Mont

The next five chapters cover the regiment's stateside training and service in France. Arriving overseas at the end of July 1918, the regiment, along with the rest of the 36th Division, underwent still more training before heading to the front lines. At the end of September the 36th Division was assigned to the French Group of Armies of the Center (GAC) in the Champagne Sector. They, along with the veteran 2nd Division, were part of the effort to help the French take Blanc Mont Ridge. The French GAC was to advance and keep pace with the U.S. First Army's ongoing Meuse-Argonne Offensive to the east and with the British and Belgians to the northwest.

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On 8 October the regiment entered combat at St. Etienne, north of Blanc Mont from where the Germans mounted their series of counterattacks. Ball goes into significant detail in describing the regiment's three-day participation in this action. To begin with, the regiment received only belated notice of the particulars of the attack. Indeed, one battalion had only four minutes' notice of the attack time. The battalion commander did not even have maps to issue to his officers; rather, he pointed in the general direction of advance and advised them to keep St. Etienne on their left (p.106). The regiment suffered 32 percent casualties for only a mixed result.

Following this, the regiment moved north to the Aisne River in pursuit of the retreating Germans. On 27 October the 142nd and 141st Infantry Regiments successfully attacked and took Forest Farm. The assault battalion had ample time to observe and study the terrain and, with this adequate preparation, the attack went off "almost without a hitch" (p.134). This was the last major action of the war for the regiment.

Following his description of the regiment's time in France, Ball devotes the closing chapter to the 142nd's homecoming, including many descriptions of local picnics, parades, and parties held in the Doughboys' honor.

St. Etienne, Fortified by the German Defenders

The 142nd fought in two major battles during the action at Blanc Mont Ridge. In the first, Saint Etienne, they followed "the general doctrine of the AEF, and soldiers who advanced without support quickly bogged down" (p.186). The regiment achieved success in their next battle, Forest Farm, largely because, according to Ball, "they learned their lessons and adapted to conditions, using both rolling barrages and machine-gun barrages, tactics that had yet to receive full endorsement from AEF Headquarters" (p.186). In addition, regimental officers were able to use the time between the battles to more effectively train the men in the "new" tactics. Overall, the entire regiment was better prepared for the second attack.

In the end, Ball concludes, quite rightly, "Based on their experiences, it appears that those soldiers did not experience the war from a unique perspective because they were from Texas" (p. 187). What the author found, however, is the perception of a "Texas military experience" impacted the home front; the folks back home liked to think of their local boys as representing their communities and the state in the great world struggle for democracy.

Rear Area During Operation at Forest Farm

The book is an interesting contribution to the history of the AEF. Ball's use of sources designed to paint a picture of the civilian background of the soldiers, as well as their cultural and social groundings, reminds us that, after all, the war was fought by real, flesh-and-blood men who came from typical communities across the country.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, October 6, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Edward I. Tinkham – AFS Volunteer, Camion Driver, Naval Aviator, Part II

by James Patton

Part II: With TMU 526, of the AFS and the Rèservé Mallet

Edward Tinkham in 1917

[Edward Tinkham's contribution as an ambulance driver with the American Field Service was covered in Part I, which we presented on 27 September 2014. (Link)]

Edward Tinkham returned to Cornell University in December 1916 after completing nine months as an AFS ambulance driver in France, mostly at Verdun. His plan was to complete his BS degree in forestry, for which he lacked only one semester. However, he soon felt compelled to return to the war. He had gained prominence on the campus as a result of his service, and although described in the AFS Memorial Volume "Friends of France" as "gave the impression of being younger than he was", he was clearly a leader, singlehandedly undertaking the recruiting  of an all-Cornell section for the AFS. He convinced influential faculty to organize the Cornell Committee for the Field Service to raise funds. 

Although the AFS was mostly using the half-ton Ford Model T ambulances, the old veteran Tinkham wanted to get more robust vehicles. He set his sights on Pierce Arrow 2-ton trucks, which cost nearly four times as much as the Fords. Tinkham recruited over 100 Cornellians, mostly students (including Tinkham’s brother Clifford, a Princeton student), and the committee collected donations in excess of $100,000. Once the ball was rolling, Pierce Arrow, a Buffalo company, stepped up and made available its brand-new R-5 five-ton trucks.  

Cornell Volunteers

The men of the unit voted Tinkham to be their "captain", which was unofficial. On 14 April 1917 the first 32 men of the section, including Tinkham, left for France on the French liner Rochambeau, with most of their trucks in the hold. While at sea they had their first taste of war when a U-boat fired a torpedo at the ship, narrowly missing, and then surfaced to briefly exchange gunfire with the ship. When they arrived in France, there was a turn of events: the French High Command asked the AFS to consider diverting some of their units to ordnance hauling. James L. Rothwell, Cornell ’18, was one of the 32, and he wrote to Jervis Langdon, a member of the Cornell Committee who coincidentally was Mark Twain’s nephew:   

In the last big battle the French experienced very great difficulty in transporting munitions. There was a deficit of men to drive the trucks, so serious that the army staff has requested that the AFS convert men from ambulance to heavy transport drivers. They say that they need the latter much more at the present time, being 7,000 men short. 

The officials have asked that a unit of 60 men be organized at once. (A. Piatt) Andrew, head of our field ambulance service in France, has put the subject before the Cornell men now in Paris asking that they form the nucleus of the first American unit of this sort. 

Tinkham, who raised the first Cornell ambulance unit, is going to convert the unit for which he worked so hard into this new transport service. Nearly every Cornell man is going into it. You can see that I’m confronted with questions. In spite of the fact that our standing as Americans and American AFS men remains the exactly the same, there is a change in the nature of the service. France asks us to enter the new service…It would be a great relief for me if I could personally explain the proposed change to the men who gave me money to come over here. 

But I must use my own judgment. I believe that you and the other Cornell men at home would endorse my action in getting into the transport service. I place great reliance on Tinkham’s judgment.

Before we go on, it should be mentioned that the AFS had established its Camion Service more than a year earlier, but these sections had not hauled lethal cargo. 

Rothwell says that Tinkham was apparently resolute about becoming a combatant, and since he had insisted on getting the heavy trucks, we can only wonder if Tinkham anticipated this development. And the immature Tinkham sure sounds forceful in this account. The next day Rothwell wrote again to Langdon:

After the best of my judgment and that of those who I feel are best fitted to give advice, I have decided to enter the new transport section. We will be the first armed Americans to enter the “Great War” with the exception of some aviators. 

I sincerely hope that in case you do not favor my action, you will refrain from too severe a criticism until I can get home and explain comprehensively the turn which may mean so much to me. Had I followed my personal desires I would have refused to leave the ambulance service. But after…seeing the tremendous sacrifice going on about me…I feel that any sacrifice of personal desires that I may make is infinitely trivial.

At this point the Cornell Section, now designated by the AFS as TMU 526, had 45 men in France (with subsequent arrivals the unit strength rose to 78 by May 26). All but two men agreed to haul ordnance, which being inconsistent with the mission of the AFS, made it necessary for the embassy to swear them into the service of the United States, before they left to join the Rèservé Mallet (a French formation) at Dommiers. “Captain” Tinkham was named commandant adjutant. For the next four months they served under French command, hauling ordnance, supplies, and soldiers from the railheads on the Soissons-Fismes road to the Chemin des Dames front.

The re-characterization of TMU 526 became big news in the U.S. partly through the work of the French, who issued a Grand Army Headquarters communique on 24 May, which won’t be reproduced here due to length, but the U.S. press took notice. On 26 May, the New York Herald ran the banner headline CORNELL BOYS FIRST AT FRONT WITH STARS AND STRIPES, while the New York World headline included CORNELL UNIT CARRIES OLD GLORY TO AISNE BATTLE LINE, but the quote below is from the New York Times of 25:  

The United States, as distinguished from individual American citizens, commenced today their active participation in the war. On the French front the Starry Banner has long been seen flying from ambulances, admirably equipped and gallantly served within the zone of fire by ever-growing bands of young volunteers and at the rear by some of the most skilled doctors of the New World. Now a larger national effort commences. It was a small but good and characteristic beginning – the first convoy of the American motor transport service, consisting of five-ton wagons of the best type driven by khaki-clad (note: AFS sources say that they wore French uniforms) youths, most of whom were undergraduates of Cornell University. They left their base camp yesterday under Captain Tinkham, who won the French war cross for his work with the Verdun ambulances, and today they are in full operation on the front.

One can suspect that the AFS and maybe the Red Cross had some input into this report. 

In a few months, the story of Edward Tinkham would take yet another turn, as the irregular way in which TMU 526 became an American unit would become an issue later on. 

Renault Tanks Transported by Rèservé Mallet Camions

There are no statistics for TMU 526, but the Rèservé Mallet hauled nearly 25,000 metric tons of ammunition, about 6 million shells, and over 180,000 soldiers. On one occasion 66,000 French soldiers were hauled in a 72-hour period, and in 1918 FT-17 tanks were hauled, which at 7.2 tons were way over the recommended capacity of the trucks.

Edward Tinkham's story will continue on Roads to the Great War.

Sources: Cornell University Archives and the American Field Service Archives

Sunday, October 5, 2014

When did the Ottoman Empire Become the "Sick Man of Europe"?

In January 1853, Tsar Nicholas I, "sweating violently" from a high fever and the gout, had risen from his sickbed to meet Sir Hamilton Seymour, the British minister in St. Petersburg. Their conversation turned inevitably to the Tsar's main preoccupation. Nicholas was convinced that the Ottoman Empire was on the point of imminent collapse. He told Seymour, "We have a sick man on our hands, a man who is seriously ill; it will. . .be a great misfortune if he escapes us one of these days, especially before all the arrangements are made."

From Andrew Wheatcroft's The Ottomans

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Paris: July 4, 1917 – The Yanks Arrive

Witnessed by Major Harvey Cushing, MD

Vive l'Amérique! An historic day to have arrived in Paris—though a bad one for my particular quest on this very account. After a real bath at the Crillon, I met the Strongs hustling aboutmust go immediately to Les Invalidesthey have ticketsspecial seatsPershingAmerican troopsFourth of Julypunctually at ninegreat doings, and so forth. So, breakfast-less, I joined them and we rushed off in a decrepit taxi, but soon became so mixed up in the crowd we never got to our seatsmerely saw between people's heads the bayonets of our boys squared up in the inner court. The corridors were jammed with poilus and others, frantically cheering while General Pershing received two banners from the descendants of men who had fought with Lafayette.  I escaped back to breakfast and was just opening an egg when they came marching across the Place de la Concordeabout a battalion, I should think, of not especially well-set-up or well-drilled troopsnewly enlisted men of the 16th Infantry, I believe marching in squads.

I left the egg and joined the excited populace, which was fairly mobbing the men, covering them with flowersquite thrilling. In the midst of it all a daring aviator swooped into the squaredown, it seemed, almost to the people's heads, certainly below the level of the obelisk-turned corners standing on one wing, then on the otherrose again, dived down and up once morelooped the loop once or twicethen climbed up and was away to the south. A most daredevil, Gallic performance. Guynemer, they said it wasan acemany German planes to his creditin a new Hispano-Suiza machine [SPAD] capable of 200 km. an hour.  I walked back to the Crillon wondering about my egg, when some American Ambulance people insisted that I go with them to the ceremony at the Picpus. The cemetery where Lafayette is buried is in a remote part of Paris, and we reached there some half hour before the battalion arrived. Though allowed in the churchyard, we were held up at the entrance to the small enclosure where is Lafayette's tomb, surrounded by an old crumbling wall about ten feet or so in height.

Later That Day at Picpus Cemetery

As Later Dramatically Represented

At this juncture various kinds of peoplenewspaper photographers, some blessés (not very blessé), and some French people of neither military age nor military sexbegan to scale the wall with the aid of a ladder procured from somewhere. A Frenchwoman, well astride, beckoned to Mrs. Rhodes that there was room beside her, and up she went without a moment's hesitation. So I followed and straddled the wall. . . we had the best possible view of the ceremonies below us and hope we were not in range of the movie cameras going off like a barrage on all sides.

Many dignitaries were grouped about the tomb, "Papa" Joffre among them, and I may add that he had to be pushed forward into the front row, for, though he has been kicked upstairs by an unappreciative government, the people still adore him. Mr. Sharp spoke at length. Brand Whitlock read at still greater length many pages about civilization and humanityvery immaculate, in eye-glasses with a heavy black braid and in spatsboth the speech and B.W. Then Colonel [Captain at the time] Charles E. Stanton, U.S.A., brief and to the point. Finally, le Général Pershing s'avance à la tribune "without the intention of speaking"; but he did, brieflya fine-looking man with a square chin and proper shoulders. Then followed more in French by M. Painlevé, Minister of War, and finally the Mayor of Puy wound up with an hommage or something of the sort to Lafayette. Thereupon we climbed down, or rather fell off, into the cabbage garden on the side we had ascended, and took our way back to the Crillon, seeing the flower-bedecked battalion pass by with their escort of French cavalry.

Charles Stanton: He Actually Uttered the Words
"Lafayette — We Are Here!"

I regret I cannot speak to the good people of France in the beautiful language of their own fair country.

The fact cannot be forgotten that your nation was our friend when America was struggling for existence, when a handful of brave and patriotic people were determined to uphold the rights their Creator gave themthat France in the person of Lafayette came to our aid in words and deed.

It would be ingratitude not to remember this and America defaults no obligations...

Therefore it is with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great Republic, and here and now in the shadow of the illustrious dead we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to successful issue.


Captain Charles E. Stanton, GHQ, 4 July 1917, Paris

From the Letters of Dr. Harvey Cushing, who was a great neurosurgeon of the day.  Photos from the Lafayette University website.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 38: Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux

The new World War I museum at Meaux is superb. I would rate it ahead of the Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres and the Historial de la Grande Guerre à Péronne. Here are some images from recent visits I have made with my group tours.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The October Issue of the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

The latest edition of our monthly online newsletter is now available. What's displayed below is just the introduction to on of our main outlets for news about the World War I Centennial and insights into every aspect of the 1914-1918 experience.  Read the entire issue at:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October 1915 — The Central Powers Return in Force to Serbia

Invading Central Powers Cross Into Serbia 
October 1915

By Matt Church
University of Louisville

Serbian Soldiers 1915

In the autumn of 1915 the Serbian Army was still a participant in the First World War. The Serbian Army was underestimated in the early portion of the war and faced an invasion by Austro-Hungarian forces under Marshal Conrad. The Austro-Hungarian forces invaded Serbia from the west and were intent upon destroying the Serbs and exacting revenge for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This quick victory was not in the making, and the Serbian army under Radomir Putnik drove back an Austro-Hungarian force at the River Vardar in August of 1914 (Keegan, 1995). Even after the capture of Belgrade the Serbian forces were able to rally and drive the Austro-Hungarian forces from Serbian lands in December 1914. This initial victory allowed for the continued Serbian presence in the war and was aided by the participation of Serbia's Russian allies. Serbia would be free from invasion until 1915, but the results in 1915 were far different.

The initial Serbian victories were obscured by the realization that Serbia stood little chance against the full power of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies. As historian John Keegan noted, Serbia's survival was predicated on the preoccupation of the Central Powers by other combatants (Keegan, 1995). The Allied assaults at Gallipoli and Salonika in 1915 were partly designed to relieve Serbia and these operations, when coupled with the Italian entry into the war, provide a certain respite for Serbian fortunes. Serbia's fate darkened when Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in 1915.

Austrian Troops — Happier in 1915 Than 1914

The Central Powers planned to decisively defeat Serbia and open communications with Istanbul via Belgrade (Keegan, 1995). The Serbs ordered a general mobilization and still had forces arrayed in the northern and eastern parts of their country. The placement of the Serbian forces had changed little since the initial Austro-Hungarian attack in 1914.

The German plan called for German and Austro-Hungarian forces to attack from the north and Bulgarian forces to invade Serbia from the east. Serbia had 11 weak divisions in the field against ten German divisions, six Bulgarian divisions, and seven Austro-Hungarian divisions (Keegan, 1995). Also, German artillery outnumbered Serbian artillery by a 4:1 margin (Keegan, 1995). The German and Austro-Hungarian forces began bombarding the Serbian forces on 5 October 1915 and bridged the Sava and Danube rivers on 7 October (Keegan, 1995). Belgrade fell on 9 October, and Bulgaria invaded from the east on 11 October 1915.

The Serbian Army in Retreat

The goal of the assault was to surround or pin down the Serbian forces, but the ruggedness and determination of the Serbs allowed for their survival. The Serbian army and thousands of civilians marched through Montenegro and Albania, eventually being transported by Italian ships to Corfu. Of the 200,000 who made the march with the Serbian forces, only 140,000 survived the march to Albania (Keegan, 1995). Austro-Hungarian forces took possession of Montenegro, and Serbia was effectively removed from the war. The resilience and determination of the Serbian forces in World War I is to be admired. While the Serbians were marching across the harsh Montenegrin mountains, Allied forces at Salonika were stunted by Bulgarian forces. Every Allied attempt to relieve pressure on Serbia met with failure, and the result was Bulgaria's entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers and the removal of the Serbian army from the Balkan theater.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne — Reviewed by Clark Shilling

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne
by Douglas V. Mastriano
University of Kentucky Press, 2014


Alvin C. York was perhaps the best known American soldier from World War I. A backwoods farmer, York attempted to avoid serving in the army as a conscientious objector. Finally convinced to serve by his commanding officer, on 8 October 1918, he was part of a small squad tasked with outflanking German positions in the Argonne Forest that were holding up a major American attack. The squad successfully worked behind the German positions and surprised a number of German soldiers who were eating breakfast. The American squad took the Germans prisoner, and included in the catch was the officer in command of that sector of the line. Other German troops saw what was happening and opened fire, killing and wounding over two-thirds of the American soldiers. York, then a corporal, was the senior non-commissioned officer left, and he took charge of the squad.

Sgt. York Returned to the Site of His Deed After the Armistice

An expert marksman, York then shot so many of the Germans firing at him that the captured German officer finally ordered his men to lay down their guns and surrender. York also repulsed a bayonet charge by a dozen Germans. He and the handful of American survivors led the prisoners back toward the American lines. On their way, York coerced the officer into ordering another German unit to surrender, so that when they finally reached the American lines, the small squad had in its possession 132 German prisoners.

Word of York's action spread when a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post publicized his exploit. York received the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Croix de Guerre from France. He was greeted as a hero upon his return to the United States. After many years of refusing to profit from his war service, in 1940 he was convinced to allow a motion picture about his life, which became the movie Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper. It was a hit, the top grossing movie of 1941, and earned nine Academy Award nominations. The movie brought the details of York's life to a new generation of Americans. Subsequent generations were then exposed to York's story when the movie was re-run on television over the years.

Order Now


About a decade ago, two competing teams entered the Argonne Forest hoping to locate the exact site of York's heroic exploits. One team, taking the name "The Sergeant York Project", was led by two American professors from universities in Tennessee and a British historian and tour guide. The other team, calling itself "The Sergeant York Discovery Expedition", was led by a U.S. Army officer stationed in Europe. Both teams combed through source information for details of the York action. Both employed metal detectors to excavate their chosen sites and to recover artifacts from the 1918 fighting. Both found items that they say support their choice for the site of York's fight. Unfortunately, the two sites are about a half mile apart on the southeast edge of the Argonne Forrest. Both teams are 100 percent sure they have found the right location, and both are equally adamant that the other team's choice is erroneous. At times the discussions between the two groups have become acrimonious, as one group maintains the other conducted its archeological search without authorization or without following proper standards.

Eventually, French authorities accepted the findings of the "Sergeant York Discovery Expedition" and authorized placement of historical markers at their site. Since then a Sergeant York Trail has been constructed. The U.S. Army Center for Military History has endorsed this team's work and is in the process of displaying some of the artifacts recovered from the site.


Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne was written by Col. Douglas V. Mastriano, the leader of the "Sergeant York Discovery Expedition". Col. Mastriano has given us a very coherent and readable account of the life of Alvin Cullum York from his hell-raising days of drinking and fighting in bars on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, to his life-changing conversion to Christianity in 1915, his experience in the army, his return home, his efforts to bring education to his isolated home in Tennessee, his agreement to allow a movie to be made of his life, and then, finally, his sad twilight years when the old hero was beset with health and financial problems that plagued him until his death in 1964. Much of this is told in York's own words, as Colonel Mastriano borrows heavily from York's autobiography and diary. What is new and most interesting is the comprehensive treatment given to York's part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and in particular, his exploit on 8 October 1918. Using the archeological evidence uncovered, Colonel Mastriano gives the most detailed and complete description of York's action I have ever encountered. In addition to the archeology, the author has done extensive research in German Army archives to help flesh out many new details. New information includes the fact that York had help from the remaining American soldiers in his squad, as fired American rounds were found among the gear dropped by the German prisoners. Indeed, it appears one of the other American survivors helped York repulse the bayonet attack with his Colt .45 pistol. Another new item is a picture, long mislabeled, which the author claims is a photo of York leading his line of prisoners past a group of Doughboys.

Colonel Mastriano deftly puts York's action in a larger historical perspective. The Germans York captured were part of a planned German counterattack aimed at driving American units back out of the Argonne Forest. York dislocated that plan. In addition, by clearing out a large portion of the German defenses, he paved the way for the successful capture the next day of the German supply road that had been the original objective of the American attack. With their supply route threatened, the German command gave the order to pull back from this sector of the Argonne Forrest.

Author Doug Mastriano at an Event at the Sgt. York Site

In the last part of the book, Colonel Mastriano recaps his team's efforts to find the York site, and he describes the methodologies used to validate their location as the correct site of York's battle. The Colonel includes a detailed description of the artifacts recovered by his team, which is particularly fascinating. For example, in York's account of his action, he said he fired all of the rifle ammunition carried in the front part of his ammo belt. This would have been 50 rounds. Col Mastriano found 46 fired rifle cartridges in an area five feet in diameter adjacent to the site of a German machine gun emplacement. A forensic expert identified these cartridges as having come from the type of weapon York used, and all were identified as having been fired from the same rifle. In addition, a grouping of 24 spent .45 caliber cartridges were recovered from an area near an ancient boundary trench. In York's account of the battle he said a group of about a dozen German soldiers emerged from a trench, made a bayonet charge toward him, and York dispatched about half of them with his .45 Colt pistol. Again, a forensic expert has identified that the 24 rounds were fired from two different Colt pistols. One of the surviving American soldiers was armed with a Colt pistol and claimed to have helped York repulse the Germans' attack. Gear from some of the Germans killed in the attack was also found in this area. And, finally, a German I.D. tag of a specific soldier was found, and research proved the soldier was on the rolls of one of the German units that York engaged on 8 October. This German soldier was not part of the prisoners taken by York but was killed in action later that day.

For further reading, both teams have websites: and Both have videos on YouTube (search for Sgt. York), and both have made their case in the pages of Battle Guide, Issue 10, November 2011, a publication of the Guild of Battlefield Guides. It can be accessed on line at The Sergeant York Project has also published Sergeant York of the Argonne Tour Guide, which includes their argument for their site and which can also be found in their guide to the Meuse-Argonne Battlefield.

Clark Shilling