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 6, 2015

14–18: Understanding the Great War
reviewed by Jim Gallen

14-18: Understanding the Great War
by Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker. Trans. Catherine Temerson
Hill and Wang, 2002

Soldiers of the Great War

The Centennial is bringing a flood of new and re-issued books on World War I. 14–18: Understanding the Great War is a re-issue of a 15-year-old work written by two French historians who specialize in this war that brought so much suffering to their homeland. The translation from the French by Catherine Temerson provides English readers with a French viewpoint on the cataclysm. Interpretations of historical events vary over time, and this book offers current readers the war as interpreted a decade and a half ago focusing on the French experience, yet not to the exclusion of other belligerents. It is less history than interpretation. It helps the reader understand the war through the understandings of those who fought it, lived through it, and commemorated it. Chapter by chapter the authors examine how civilized societies turned into brutal warriors, collectively and individually, and how they dealt with this transformation.

From these pages I did pick up new facts of interest. Australia was the only significant belligerent not to adopt conscription. (For Ireland, a conscription law was passed but was never put in effect; no one in Ireland was drafted into the British Army.) Most armies were dominated by peasants, and countless war memorials listing the dead and tombs of the unknown arose in the wake of the Great War. Even in defeat German soldiers were hailed as the heroes who kept the enemies from their land. Hence was born the myth of the undefeated Reich.

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The Great War expanded our vocabulary and provided precedents against which later atrocities would be measured. In my view, a fairly balanced study of the Armenian Massacre, but one with which both the Armenians and the Turks may take exception, is presented, as the Turks sought to remove civilians potentially sympathetic to the Ottoman Empire's Russian enemies. The Armenians were deported to areas where they were viewed as posing less of a threat. Their route was accompanied by starvation and massacres before the survivors were "concentrated" in camps, popularizing a term that had first arisen during the uprising in Cuba in the 1890s. The attack on a whole Armenian people gave us the word "genocide." Allied propaganda would identify the Turks as worthy partners of the Germans who perpetrated atrocities in Belgium. Hitler would later minimize the significance of his own crimes by asking: "After all, who still talks about the annihilation of the Armenians today?" The magnitude of the struggle was unprecedented with Germany's loss of 15 percnet of its soldiers and France's 16 percent being dwarfed by Serbia's 37 percent.

The war seeped into every fabric of society, even reversing the progress in table manners as men stepped back to more primitive lives. The neat wars of the past between professional armies were replaced by total war as masses were inducted into the military and entire nations were channeled into support of the war effort. Civilians turned soldiers who had never fought before found themselves hating enemies they did not know, picking off perfect strangers and cleaning trenches of the frightened and wounded. What would they report about their service? Although uniformed personnel suffered most of the casualties, civilians found themselves bombarded, expelled from their homes and forced to work for their country's invaders. How do they reconcile their loyalty to homeland with their acts of self-preservation? How did the war affect the people's faith and how did men of the cloth and their flocks pray to the same God for help in killing their fellow men? How did individuals and nations assuage their grief and with what rituals did they conduct their mourning?

Authors Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker raise and try to answer these questions and more and thereby help readers appreciate why the Great War evolved the way it did and the impact it had, and continues to have, on the world to this day. At times they run counter to modern trends that characterize soldiers as innocents who recognized their shared humanity more than their national hatreds. The writing flows so well that I would not have known that it was a translation had I not been told. This is a book that makes the reader ponder the swirling passions and events of the Great War.

Suffering Serbian Soldiers During Their Retreat

What we see will depend on our own knowledge and experience. At times I concluded that the American Civil War anticipated the course of World War I and its aftermath. Didn't both involve the whole populace, leaving every family with an empty chair and survivors bitter at their enemies? Were the Turkish fears of Armenian treachery any more or less justified than later American suspicions of Japanese-Americans? Did the respective deportations vary more in degree than in initial motivation? At the end of this work I felt that I was aware of some currents flowing below the surface of battle and politics that so often dominate other tomes. Understanding will require more study and reflection. 14–18: Understanding The Great War is a good read early in the Centennial as it will help readers appreciate some of the thoughts they will encounter in future histories.

Jim Gallen

Monday, October 5, 2015

HMS Dreadnought at War

When the great struggle finally came, Dreadnought was a bit "long in the tooth." Serving in the Third Battle Squadron of the home fleet for most of the war, the ship did accomplish a singular feat of arms. On 18 March 1915 she rammed and sank U-29. in the North Sea. HMS Dreadnought thus holds the distinction of being the only battleship to sink a submarine in combat.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recommended: Comparing the American Civil War and the Great War

I just discovered this excellent article at the New Yorker.  It's a topic I wrote on years ago, but, of course, this is much better written.

Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century

Trenches, Petersburg, VA, 1864 (National Archives)

. . . A case can be made that the American Civil War anticipated, in important ways, the transformations that have so often been attributed to the years between 1914 and 1918. The Civil War might well be viewed as the beginning of a “long twentieth century”: in its introduction of a scale of death that came to be associated with a later era, in what Williamson Murray and MacGregor Knox, historians of the First World War, have called warfare’s new combination of “industrial firepower and logistics with the fighting power and staying power that nationalism could generate”; in its mobilization of mass armies through the novel introduction of conscription; in its associated reliance on citizens both in battle and on the home front to sustain the conflict; and in a resulting emergence of new conceptions of citizenship and its privileges, which affected both the living and the dead. The violence of the American Civil War interrupted an age that saw itself as one of growing benevolence and humanitarianism, introducing a startling awareness of man’s capacities for destruction that found its terrible fulfillment between 1914 and 1918. . .

Read the full article here:

Saturday, October 3, 2015

What Was Monty Doing in the Great War?

Contributed by Matt Church

Despite being best known for his heroics in World War II, Bernard Montgomery also saw action in the First World War. Montgomery began the war as a full lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in August 1914. At the time Montgomery was only 26 years old. He joined the Warwickshire Regiment in 1908 at Peshawar after passing out of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment crossed over to France in August 1914 and narrowly missed the Battle of Mons. On 26 August 1914 Montgomery's regiment counterattacked a German regiment and was left behind in the confusion that would become the Retreat from Mons. The regiment marched three days between the German cavalry screen and German main column, eventually making it back to the British lines. 

Montgomery later led his platoon in an attack on the village of Meteren on 13 October 1914. During the successful attack, Montgomery was shot in the chest and knee and evacuated to an Advanced Dressing Station. The doctors thought he had little chance of survival and a grave was dug. He eventually recovered and was evacuated to a hospital in England. After recovering from his wound, Montgomery returned to the front in 1916 as a brigade major and a member of the staff. He was present at the Battle of the Somme and began to develop his views concerning the distance between staff and troops. He believed the staff should serve the commander and troops, not the troops serve the staff. He was later attached to the 47th London Division and devised a system of information relay from the front to HQ using wireless sets, which he would improve upon during the North African Campaign in WWII. Montgomery started the war as a lieutenant and ended as a chief of staff.


Montgomery, Bernard. The Memoirs of Field-Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

Friday, October 2, 2015

Finalist for the National World War One Memorial Design: An American Family Portrait Wall in the Park

We continue our presentation of the finalists for the design of America's World War One memorial with:

An American Family Portrait Wall in the Park

0263 An American Family Portrait Wall in the Park by STL Architects, Chicago, IL


Concept Statement

Major Design Features:

  • A  Family Photo Album of over 100 large-format images grouped according to four themes:  family, brotherhood, diversity, and national pride

  • Six large bronze statues including the existing Pershing statue

  • Dramatic nighttime lighting scheme

Distribution Pattern of the Four Themes

Jury Comments: The design concept is founded on paying tribute to the American men and women who participated in World War I through a memorial collage of photographs integrated into the park design. By seamlessly blending framed memories into the landscape, it provides an experience that is both park and memorial, open and inviting exploration. The park is organized by a northwest-southeast axis axis visually connecting the park to the Capitol. While this concept has the potential of a truly unique park, the thematic, technical, and curatorial issues of the story boxes will require resolution. The statuary design, scale and execution will need to be an integral part of the interpretive and memorial experience.

Designer's Concept in Partial Schematic Cross-Section

We also invite commentators to share your observations with your fellow readers below.  MH

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Never Seen Images from the Austrian National Library

Well, I've never seen these before and I've viewed thousands of photos, posters and works of art from the Great War.  I discovered this on the hard-to-use, but high-quality Europeana Website.

Bank War Loan Poster

Future Emperor Karl Inspecting an Armored Train

Larger-Than-Life Emperor Franz Josef Inspiring His Soldiers

Lottery Ticket for the War Welfare Fund Sponsored on Empress Zita's Children's Day;
Four-Year-Old Crown Prince Otto Shown

Austrian Soldier Peers Out from Hut Overlooking Valsugana, Italian Front

Injured Soldier Writing with Help of Dr. Spitzy's Radialis Splint

A Child's Wildly Inaccurate Depiction of the Execution of Traitor/Patriot Cesare Battisti

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lieutenant Colonel William Barker, VC: Air Ace on Two Fronts

Whatever changed a Manitoba farm boy into one of the most decorated Canadian soldiers in two world wars? 

During his early years in Dauphin and Russell, Barker showed an aptitude for machinery and marksmanship but little ambition for education. Once war was declared he enlisted. The army trained Barker as a machine gunner, and sent his Canadian regiment to fight in the Flanders trenches. Within a year, Barker had obtained a transfer into the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as a gunner-observer. Before he turned 22, Will Barker had exchanged the life of a lowly Canadian trooper for that of British officer. Flying had become his vocation. 

By 1918, Barker had been transformed into one of the best known soldiers in the allied forces. He received pilot's training after masterly service as a gunner-observer on reconnaissance flights over the German trenches (France, 1916). His airmanship was obvious when he began flying sorties, even in reconnaissance activity which relied upon teamwork. 

Quickly promoted to Captain (May 1917), Barker began to exhibit the same careful leadership that would win him the respect of pilots he led for the rest of the war. Not one pilot died while flying under Barker's command. No aircraft in his escort was ever shot down. Barker ensured his flights (and later his squadrons) were ready for danger. In later years, the same qualities made him insist that the newly created Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) equip its airmen with parachutes. 

Barker with His Sopwith Camel
Despite recognition, Barker wanted to be a "scout" and fly solo. When he was sent to England as an instructor in August 1917, he buzzed Piccadilly Circus and RFC headquarters until he was assigned to a scout squadron. Scouts were the romantic "knights of the skies" whose duels were avidly recorded in the press. Their reputations were won by the number of enemy aircraft they shot down, and Barker was among the best. His tally of 50 was earned in the same Sopwith Camel plane in the remaining wartime. Immediately given command, he is the only RFC scout never to have flown under another's instructions. 

Assignment to the Italian Front in October 1917 provided Baker the opportunity to establish his reputation as a scout. He was soon promoted to major, flying missions constantly both with his men and solo. When forced to rest, he angled an observation trip to the Western Front, determined to increase his combat tally. There, he barely survived attack by a large force of German fighters. Barker shot down three planes, but he lay in a hospital bed until war was over. 

William Barker died when a combat injury caused him to lose control of his test plane in 1930. His wartime record still stands in a blaze of glory. He was decorated both for exceptional devotion to duty and for extraordinary valor. He holds eight high honors, including the most distinguished military medals accorded by three countries: France, Italy, and Great Britain.

Source: Parks Canada News Release, updated 1 May 2015

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

America and World War I: A Traveler's Guide
reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

America and World War I: A Traveler's Guide
by Mark D. Van Ells
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, 2015

In his introduction to this book, author Mark D. Van Ells, Professor of History at Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York, rightly ponders the question of why Americans seem less interested in the history and memorials concerning World War I than in those of other wars. Van Ells's book goes a long way to encouraging such interest. Against the backdrop of America's war experience, this book surveys hundreds of relevant locations, memorials, and monuments ranging in size from small plaques to major battlefields and cemeteries, located in the United States, Canada, and Europe. To add a human element, the narrative is peppered with accounts from soldiers' letters and diaries and regimental histories.

Camp Dix Back Then (Now Fort Dix)

Much of the book covers the American military effort in Europe, but for those of us unable to travel overseas to view battlefields, Van Ells includes stateside locales that we might have a chance of visiting. Ports of Embarkation and training bases are covered in detail. The discussion of the fate of stateside training camps is particularly poignant. Many are still active military or National Guard bases (Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Fort Lewis, Washington, for example; there are lone monuments in busy business or residential areas to mark the locations of others. For some, all that remains to indicate that a military post once occupied the grounds are street names (Artillery Road and Warehouse Court at Camp Sevier, South Carolina, for example). Others, like Camp Cody, New Mexico, are gone forever, overtaken by desert and grassland, with not even a monument to commemorate its former existence.

The entire scope of America's military experience during the war is represented in the book. The sections on the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) touch on all the big battles and many minor ones. In addition, prominent U.S. military members like General Pershing, George Patton, and Alvin York receive special mention. Indeed, the breadth of coverage is so wide that mention will be made here of only some items that may be of special interest to the reader.

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One such topic is the coverage of the Army Air Service's Spruce Production Division, soldiers working in the Pacific Northwest to cut down, process, and ship the tons of spruce required for production of military airplanes. The author also devotes a chapter to the AEF's Services of Supply (SOS). These soldiers labored behind the lines in supply depots, rail yards, and lumber mills; victory was due just as much to them and their unglamorous work as to the brave Doughboys on the front lines. Of special note is the fact that Van Ells mentions the first U.S. military men killed in action during the war. Most histories, including this one, recount the episode on 3 November 1917, where three men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, were killed in a trench raid. The author, however, also records an earlier, lesser-known incident where, on 4 September 1917, a German air raid on Base Hospital No. 5 in the Pas de Calais region killed Lieutenant William T. Fitzsimons and Privates Rudolph Rubino, Oscar Tugo, and Leslie Woods. Lieutenant Fitzsimons was the first American military man killed in action, and there is a memorial fountain in his honor in Kansas City, Missouri.

These are just a few of the items covered in the book; as stated above, all the major battles and campaigns receive their full share of coverage. The author also includes special chapters devoted to the Navy, the Army Air Service, and African American soldiers. Of course not every spot visited by a Doughboy is memorialized, and often the author notes, as he did at the end of a description of a French rest camp, that "No plaques, statues, or historic markers indicate the area's former use."

Your Editor with the
Cantigny Doughboy
The book is not footnoted, so it isn't a scholarly historical work, per se — and there is also a strong "then and now" cast to it. It's certainly useful as a travel guide, and for those who are interested in a nice summary of US participation in the Great War, it will prove to be pleasantly diverting. The photographs of monuments are reproduced in a small format but are sufficient to give an impression of what's there. Appendices list American Battle Monuments Commission sites in Europe, worldwide memorials, museums, historical sites and historical societies, all with website addresses and other contact information. As an aid to exploring, the book also includes GPS coordinates for some areas. Van Ells performed diligent work in researching and ferreting out all these monuments and points of interest, both great and small. He deserves commendation.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks it became de rigueur among some Americans to make fun of France, sometimes good-naturedly but usually with mean spirits, for her perceived lack of willingness to assist the United States in fighting terrorism. Those who still persist in this notion should do well to consider this: there are monuments to Doughboys in many small French villages and the only people who are taking care of them with reverence and respect are the French villagers who, unlike some Americans, still remember what the Doughboys did for France nearly 100 years ago.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, September 28, 2015

The October St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

The Latest Issue of Our Monthly Newsletter Is Now Available

Read It at:

Who was Brand Whitlock?

Brand Whitlock (1869–1934) was born in Urbana, Ohio. He became a journalist and worked for the Chicago Herald. He was later employed by John P. Altgeld, the reforming governor of Illinois. Whitlock also worked closely with Samuel Jones, the radical mayor of Toledo.

Whitlock became increasingly involved in politics and eventually served four terms as mayor of Toledo (1906–14). Like Samuel Jones, Whitlock developed a reputation as an honest and efficient mayor. In 1914 Whitlock accepted an appointment by President Woodrow Wilson as American Minister to Belgium, during which time he earned a nickname as Le Ministre Protecteur on account of his frequent appeals to German military authorities in occupied Belgium on behalf of condemned prisoners. 

He kept a detailed diary of the war years.  Here he describes Brussels after one year of occupation.

August 20, 1915. — One year ago today the grey horde entered Brussels; and now for a whole year we have had the experience, unique and terrible for an American who from infancy had been trained in liberty, of living under an irresponsible military despotism. We have seen that army swoop across this poor, dear little country, committing every crime, every abhorrence, every outrage. The effect upon the life of the Belgians has been death. A year ago there was a happy, contented population, laborious, peaceful. The Government of the free communes had made it, during the centuries, a liberty-loving, self-governing, democratic people. And for no reason, that grey horde came with fire and sword, laying waste the land, pillaging, looting, murdering, raping — it is even yet wholly inconceivable that in our day such a thing could be. History knows no such crime The rape of Poland was not so bad, because the internal dissensions of Poland were really responsible for that.

President Wilson with Whitlock—
Nieuport, Belgium, June 1919
And Brussels is so sadly changed. We have not heard the ring of a hammer or of a trowel in a year; what music it would be! The shops are depleted; there is no such thing for instance as a new hat; a new style; many things can scarcely be procured at all — soap, tooth-brushes, many medicines, cigarettes and so on. Prices have quadrupled. It costs us to live four times what it cost before the war. Butter, they say, will soon be impossible to obtain, and the chickens are disappearing, for there is no food for them. The streets are dead; no life in them — people dragging about, staring aimlessly, and every block a squad or a company of the grey — that dirty, hideous grey! — uniformed last reserves tramping stolidly, stupidly, brutally along, in their heavy hobnailed boots. The Germans have changed the aspect of the city. Once the most beautiful city in Europe or surely one of the most beautiful, they have destroyed its artistic appearance by the evidences of their taste. They have built kiosks for the vendors of German newspapers, books and publications everywhere, hideous things of clashing colors; and they have stuck up everywhere their garish red, white, and black sentry-boxes like monstrous barber-shop signs.

Today the country is bare, stripped to the bone. The atrocities the drunken, brutal soldiers committed in the early weeks of the war are not worse than those other Machiavellian or Borgian crimes they commit now, the attempts at slow poisoning and corruption of the minds of those they would enslave. We have no press, no post, no communications, no telephone (though that is not such a deprivation but a blessing rather!), no liberty whatever. All of those rights we claim in our bill of rights are all denied — only a reign of terror. It is a year I don't like to look back upon. I don't know how I have lived through it or how much longer this must be endured. And I am the most privileged man in Belgium, and my soul sickens every day and my heart grows hot with impotent rage at what these Germans do.

And yet how different today from that day a year ago! The city has been very still.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

New Zealand's Last Victory of the War: Le Quesnoy

On 4 November 1918, the New Zealand Division liberated Le Quesnoy, a town of some 3000 people in northeast France. It had endured four hard years of occupation since the German advance in August 1914.

In August 1918 Allied armies broke through the heavily defended German Hindenburg Line and began advancing east and northward. By early November the New Zealand Division was outside Le Quesnoy. The next phase would involve the town although it was not the primary objective. The assault intended to take the Allied lines to the north and west beyond Le Quesnoy toward the Mormal Forest. Three divisions were involved, the British 37th and 62nd, along with the New Zealanders. The aim of the operation was to invest the town and prevent its influencing the advance toward the River Sambre, along with the capture or destruction of the German divisional artillery which was located beyond Le Quesnoy. 

Le Quesnoy was one of Vauban's best examples, with a maze of ramparts, high walls, causeways,  and tunnels surrounded by moats. While considered outmoded by the 19th century, they would prove to be an effective defence with the weapons available to the Germans in 1918. The town was taken by German forces in August 1914.

Depiction of the Scaling of the Wall

Troops were in place soon after dark on the night of 3 November. At 5:30 a.m., the guns opened fire and the New Zealand Division raced forward. The creeping barrage machine guns maintained intense fire throughout the first phase, in spite of the heavy shelling that came.

The 3rd (New Zealand) Rifle Brigade had to clear positions forward of the town, and this indicated that the Germans were prepared to fight and hold. The New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion supported with covering fire coordinated in consultation with the infantry brigadiers. The Auckland and Otago Companies, with two sections of the Canterbury Company, provided the covering fire for the first phase. The Otago and Auckland Companies put down barrages along the southern and northern outskirts of the town.

By mid-morning the town was completely enveloped. Several attempts to induce the German garrison to surrender had failed and the Rifle Brigade began attempts to penetrate the defences. Covered by mortar and machine gun fire, and shrouded by mist and smoke projected forward by the Royal Engineers, the New Zealanders moved forward under fire from machine guns and snipers, toward  the outer ramparts. Lieutenant Francis Evans of the 4th Battalion, leading a patrol, reached the outer ramparts before being killed.

The Location of the Scaling Today

At around 4 p.m., Lieutenant H W Kerr led a patrol to a location on the walls where a narrow bridge was located. It was about the only place where scaling ladders could reach the crest of the defences. He took with him the battalion’s intelligence officer, 2nd Lieutenant L C L Averill MC, who had already spent much of the morning reconnoitering the defences.

Supported by mortars and covering fire from Lewis machine guns, they reached the bridge and erected the ladder. It was steadied by two riflemen and Averill was first up. The division’s Official History recorded the moment:

“ … Averill quickly reached the top of the brick work and stepped over the coping  onto the grassy bank. Crouching behind it, he peered over. It was one of the most  dramatic moments in the Division’s history. There was an instant crashing through  some brushwood on the far side and Averill saw two Germans of the bombing post  rushing away.

“… He sent a revolver bullet after them. Kerr was now on the topmost rung. The two  officers could see a pair of machine guns on the salient on their right, pointing into the  moat but abandoned.  They stood up and walked over the top of the grass slope and  down the other side towards the boulevard. They were greeted by a great jabbering of  German. Kerr fired a shot at the man who appeared to be leader, but missed. The  whole  enemy party bolted into an underground cavern under the rampart.

“…By this time the remainder of the battalion were swarming up the ladder. They were led by Barraclough himself who took with him a signaller and apparatus in order to open communications with brigade headquarters and establish the 4th Battalion’s claim to the  honour of the town’s capture. “

The Editor with a Tour Group at the Le Quesnoy Memorial

Several hundred prisoners were taken, along with quantities of guns of all calibres. Only the break into the town triggered a mass surrender by the defenders, and shortly afterward the 2nd Battalion marched in through the Valenciennes Gate. They were greeted by cheering townspeople who appeared from behind closed doorways as soon as they saw the New Zealanders.  

For the New Zealand Division, the action was the climax of a bitter campaign that began when it arrived in France in May 1916.  Although hard fighting took place in the following days until the Armistice on 11 November, nothing would supplant the action that day. Next day the French President, Raymond Poincaré paid an official visit with the New Zealanders providing a guard of honour at the Place d’Armes and on 14 November, there was an exchange of flags between the town and the division.

The French sculptor Félix Desruelles prepared the New Zealand Memorial, which was unveiled at a ceremony on 15 July 1923 attended by Marshal Joseph Joffre, Lord Alfred Milner (who had served in the wartime British Cabinet), the New Zealand High Commissioner in London, Sir James Allen, and Lieutenant Averill.

At the Unveiling of the New Zealand Memorial on 15 July 1923 
Lieutenant L C L Averill Points to the Place Where He Scaled the Ramparts
 (Alexander Turnbull Library)

Source: Website of the New Zealand Embassy

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Meet the Cootie

By Dr. Steven E. Anders, U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Historian

Back in the bad old days, life in the army could get, well, downright lousy. An estimated 90 percent of the frontline troops in Word War I suffered from lice infestation—more commonly known as "cooties." 

Without proper field sanitation, lice spread quickly from one soldier to another. Hence, it took very little time for the uninitiated to begin slapping, scratching, and nitpicking along with the rest. Alas, it seemed the only alternative was to simply learn to coexist with, as one wag put it, "our little brothers in the trenches." 

Lice (called "Greybacks" in the Civil War) were also referred to as "Arithmetic Bugs" on the Western Front. Why? Because as anyone who ever experienced them could attest, they added to your misery, subtracted from your pleasure, divided your attention, and—worst of all—multiplied like the dickens! Edgar B. Jackson, a veteran of the Great War, vividly recalled doing battle with the little bugs. "For several days," he noted in his wartime journal, "I had been tortured by a desire to scratch—and to keep on scratching. Reluctantly I came to the conclusion that a legion of uncommonly active anthropoids, members of the order of Pediculus corpus or of Cimex lectuladus, were gallivanting over my anatomy with an attitude of proprietorship and carefree abandon." 

Doughboys "Reading Their Shirts" for Cooties

Fortunately for the trench-bound Allies, the Quartermaster Laundry Branch came to the rescue. By war's end, mobile laundry units (horse drawn and steam driven) moved closer and closer to the front. Such apparatus operating near the front had to be carefully camouflaged, as either smoke or steam led the enemy to believe they had discovered artillery batteries. 

The delousing plants set up at Le Mans and other base ports were so elaborate that Doughboys termed them "mills." Entering "The Mill" dirty, weary, and disheveled, the soldier on his exit came out completely renovated both in clothing and body. So successful were these operations that within six weeks the incidence of lice infestation dropped to an amazing 3 percent! The U.S. Army discovered that with the right equipment, good planning, plus plenty of soap and water, it could lick an age old foe—"cooties."

Friday, September 25, 2015

Finalist for the National World War One Memorial Design: The Weight of Sacrifice

We continue our presentation of the finalists for the design of America's World War One memorial with:

The Weight of Sacrifice

0077 "The Weight of Sacrifice" submitted by Joseph Weishaar of Chicago, IL

Major Design Features:

  • Center Plaza on raised platform with the existing Pershing statue and informational wall relocated (both shown above)

  • Sculptured relief walls to tell the narrative of the nation's war experience

  • Removal of current visual barriers around the site to the new plaza

Jury Comments: A simple intervention of a platform into the existing landscape of Pershing Park provides a quietly elegant place within the park. Relocation of the walls and statue of the Pershing complex give new meaning to the individual elements. The result is an integral expression of park and memorial. The subtleness and art of the sculpted relief walls will enhance the narrative of the place—utilizing art as architecture. To execute a memorial and park that maintains the inherent elegance of the concept, a strong collaboration between designer and artist will be the key.

Designer's Concept Statement and Wall Detail

We also invite commentators to share your observations with your fellow readers below.  MH

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Allies' Fall 1915 Western Front Offensive: Keeping the Names Straight

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the Allies' biggest push on the Western Front of 1915. There are many good sources on this multi-dimensional effort, but different sources apply different names to the battles, something like the American Civil War where the Northerners and  Southerners used different terminology like Manassas vs. Bull Rull or Shiloh vs. Pittsburg Landing. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that all the operations were initiated the same day — 25 September —and from the further complication that one component involved a joint French-British offensive and the other was solely a French attack.

Here is a map to help keep this sorted out with some details to follow:

A.  Some sources group everything shown here under a heading something like: "the Allied Dual Offensive of 1915." That doesn't at all, help clarify where the fighting occurred, of course. Since Paris isn't shown on this map, let's use Compiègne as a starting point and consider some better options for naming this series of actions.

B.  North of Compiègne – Side-by-side British and French attack in Artois
     Sometimes called Battle of Loos (many British sources) or Third Battle of Artois
    What actually happened should provide us the best guidance. The British attacked around and to the north of the village of Loos (#1). The French, south of this area, in an assault that was imperfectly coordinated with the British effort ,captured the town of Souchez, east of the Notre Dame de Lorette  Ridge they had captured in the spring, and failed (again) to capture Vimy Ridge farther east (#2).
    The two concurrent assaults did little to influence each other.s outcomes, but since there needs to be an inclusive term covering both, ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR  recommends: "The Battle of Artois-Loos". Only a few historians seem to like this alternative, but it keeps things clear and is technically accurate.

C. East of Compiègne — The French also attacked here on 25 September 1915 (#3) with two full armies. Most sources get it right in calling this operation the "Second Battle of Champagne."   A few, however, forget that there was another battle in the area over the winter of '14/15 (The First Battle of Champagne) and simply call the fall effort "The Battle of Champagne."

Hope this helps.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A German War Poem Translated: Argonnerwald, um Mitternacht

Argonnerwald, um Mitternacht
Pionierlied aus dem Weltkrieg, 1915

German Troops on Light Rail Line, Argonne Forest

Argonne Forest, at Midnight
A Sapper's Song from the World War, 1915

Argonne Forest, at midnight,
A sapper stands on guard.
A star shines high up in the sky,
bringing greetings from a distant homeland.

And with a spade in his hand,
He waits forward in the sap-trench.
He thinks with longing on his love,
Wondering if he will ever see her again.

The artillery roars like thunder,
While we wait in front of the infantry,
With shells crashing all around.
The Frenchies want to take our position.

Should the enemy threaten us even more,
We Germans fear him no more.
And should he be so strong,
He will not take our position.

The storm breaks!  The mortar crashes!
The sapper begins his advance.
Forward to the enemy trenches,
There he pulls the pin on a grenade.

The infantry stand in wait,
Until the hand grenade explodes.
Then forward with the assault against the enemy,
And with a shout, break into their position.

Argonne Forest, Argonne Forest,
Soon thou willt be a quiet cemetery.
In thy cool earth rests
much gallant soldiers' blood.

Translated by Jeff Curtis

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America's First Battle of World War I
reviewed by Courtland Jindra

First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America's First Battle of World War I
by Matthew J. Davenport
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, 2015

I am a relative latecomer to World War One. I probably knew more than the average American, but that's only because most Americans have no clue about the Great War other than it happened before WWII. I am a history fan, so as the centennial period began to be brought up in the news I began to do some research. I start with this to say: I have read just a couple of dozen books on the war and do not claim to have the breadth of knowledge of some of the readers of this blog who have been reading scores of books for years.

18th Infantry Opening the Attack

Getting those preliminaries out of the way, I still feel as though Matthew Davenport's monumental First Over There: The Attack on Cantigny, America's First Battle of World War I has to be one of the best accounts of what going through battle in the war's final year must have been like. It covers much the same ground as James Carl Nelson's widely acclaimed Remains of Company D. However, I feel that this book is superior. Focusing on the organization, training, and first combat episodes (climaxing with the three days at Cantigny) of the 1st Division till early June 1918, the book has an extraordinary level of detail. Obviously much of this will be familiar to people who have read numerous volumes on the AEF, but some of these actions and the Doughboys who performed them were new to me as they will likely be to many.

On a personal note, the "Three Musketeers" of the book (Privates Emory Charles Smith, 1900–1963, Levy R. Wilson, 1901–?, and  Orville Lee Klepper, 1899–1955, all with the 28th Infantry), from my home town of Denton, Texas, were fascinating to read about. I wondered why they were not remembered locally. I had never heard their story before despite spending my formative years in Denton. This is probably the most comprehensive account of a battle I have ever read. Obviously it helps that it's restricted to one division, as this level of detail could not be duplicated for larger units and engagements. It's told like it was on the ground, in a journalistic fashion, through many letters and accounts by the survivors. Davenport has no "points" he's trying to prove. Things go awry in war since the best battle plans never completely survive contact with the enemy

Order Now
The general officers are refreshingly not portrayed as idiots (one of my ongoing criticisms with some scholars), though once things get hairy it is largely out of their control and up to the Doughboys on the ground to dig in and hold on on their own. The chaos and confusion of the clash shines through. If I have one complaint, it's that Davenport might be too thorough. There are a lot of names to keep track of and I needed a bookmark in the index to help re-look up participants continually. However, this also leads to the book being a great memorial, as nearly every American KIA gets a mention. Davenport even gives background on where many were buried after the war.

It is hard to recommend this book enough. It is Davenport's first book, and I have seen in interviews that he's not sure he's up for another. I fervently hope he reconsiders. Should he completely focus on his day job of being a lawyer from now on, he still has given us one of the best tributes to the American fighting man that there is.

Courtland Jindra

Monday, September 21, 2015

Remember the Music of the Great War

Help us at cover our operating costs for all the free material we provide by purchasing one of our musical CDs.

Musical Hit Parade CD 
(20 Songs from the period) 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Wellingtons at Chunuk Bair

Contributed by Jim Patton

New Zealand Expeditionary Force Cap Badge

Some chaps had a glimpse of the sea and all the country in between and we knew perfectly well that this hill was the key to victory or defeat on the Peninsula.
Sergeant Daniel Curham, the Wellington Battalion

This action was perhaps the greatest "what if" of the Gallipoli campaign. In the early morning of 8 August 1915 the Wellington Battalion of the NZ Infantry Brigade captured this key hilltop and with scant reinforcements held off counterattacks all day long. When relieved, the Wellingtons counted only 49 effectives. The toehold was lost on 10 August.

Who were the Wellingtons? In 1914 the NZ Territorial Forces (NZTF) had 16 infantry and 12 mounted rifles regiments, most of which didn’t have a full-strength battalion, although the 5th (Wellington Rifles) and the 9th (Wellington East Coast Rifles) each had two under-strength battalions. The 1/5th was brought to strength and sent off  to capture and occupy German Samoa, and the 1/9th  was renamed the  9th (Hawkes Bay Rifles) and the 2/9th , plus "leftovers" from the 2/5th, became the 17th (Ruahine Rifles). 

New Zealand Troops Preparing for the Assault on Chunuk Bair

At first the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF, later 1NZEF) had two brigades, one each of infantry and mounted rifles. Each of the NZTF regiments (except for the 5th) contributed one full-strength company and these were assigned to regional battalions. Thus the Wellington Battalion had four companies, one each from the 7th (Wellington West Coast Rifles), the new 9th, the 11th (Taranaki Rifles), and the new 17th.

The Wellingtons were commanded by Lt. Col. W.G. Malone of the 11th, a landowner and lawyer who had previously formed a volunteer battalion for the South African War. He was 55 years old and a character — for example, in 1911 (at his expense) he equipped his men with the
"lemon-squeezer" hat, rather than the Aussie-style, because "it looked like Mt. Egmont."

Subsequently this hat was adopted by the NZEF, and is still the dress headgear of NZ soldiers. At Gallipoli he was thought fussy for complaining about poor supply and HQ’s unconcern for the soldiers. But, in spite of HQ, he built solid positions at Courtney’s Post and Quinn’s Post.

Lt. Col. Malone at Quinn's Post Before the Attack

On 6 August Col. FE Johnston, the British officer commanding the NZ Infantry Brigade, lost his best chance to capture Chunuk Bair by waiting all day for more troops that never came. Before dawn on 7 August the lead battalions, with the Wellingtons second in the van, moved to a spot called the Apex, where Johnston halted them. Later, prodded by HQ to attack, he ordered a sort of banzai charge. First in line, the Auckland Battalion went off and was cut to pieces, and the Wellingtons were next, but Malone refused to attack until dark, reportedly telling Johnston: "We are not taking orders from you people…My men are not going to commit suicide."

Johnston, who was not making good decisions (and may have been drinking), would surely have court-martialed Malone, but Malone was killed later that day by friendly artillery fire (probably naval). According to a Wellingtons survivor the telephones worked but Johnston’s HQ ignored most of what they were told and ordered Malone to do senseless things.

New Zealand Memorial, Chunuk Bair
Both Malone and, incredibly, Johnston received a Mention in Dispatches for the action, but a subsequent British report blamed Malone; it was said that he had dug trenches in the wrong place. Malone had four sons who served in the NZEF, two were at Gallipoli and one was killed in 1918. Johnston was promoted to Brigadier and made a CB in 1916. He was killed by sniper fire in 1917, one of 78 British general officers killed in action. 

The first of 13 VCs awarded to NZEF soldiers was won at Chunuk Bair by Signals Cpl Cyril Bassett for laying and repairing those telephone lines that might have made such a difference. New Zealand now has its own awards scheme, and in 2003 an unsuccessful effort was made to get a retroactive VC (NZ) for Lt. Col. Malone. Instead, a plaque bearing the proposed citation text was placed in the Parliament building.

The Wellington Battalion, NZEF, was disbanded after the war. Heritage of some of the units continues in the Wellington West Coast and Taranaki regiment, NZTF.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

War Is the National Industry of Prussia

This map is an example of French anti-German propaganda published in 1917 when the war was going badly after the failed Nivelle Offensive. It was meant to justify a lingering war that claimed many lives. It denounces the ambitions of the enemy, pointing out the historical power of Prussia over German land since the early 18th century. The reference in the top left-hand corner to Mirabeau, an 18th-century French revolutionary, writer and diplomat, introduces this historical aspect. Mentioning the declarations of a pan-Germanist association gives a contemporary twist to the Prussian threat. The purpose of this map was to give the impression on the French side that this war was a fight for freedom against Prussian ambitions, that it would liberate the French territories "seized" by the treaty of 1871, which gave Alsace-Moselle to the Germans. The image of the octopus, popular at the time in this kind of document, suggests a threatening power that spreads its tentacles all over Europe. 

Source: The British Library

Friday, September 18, 2015

Finalist for the National World War One Memorial Design: World War I Memorial

We continue our presentation of the finalists for the design of America's World War One memorial with:

0037 "World War One Memorial Concept" submitted by Devin Kimmel, Principal at 
Kimmel Studio, LLC,  in Annapolis, MD

Major Design Features:

  • Centerpiece Victory Tower with Grotto of Remembrance

  • Relocated Pershing Monument; New Cavalry Horse Monument

  • Parks, Gardens, and Picnic Areas

Jury Comments: The style of the monument is inspired by the time of the Great War. Neoclassical in form and concept, the space and elements combine to create a narrative about the current condition and the historic precedent of monuments. The plan develops a strong park concept and includes a number of elements that add interest and focus. The challenge in evolving the design will be creating a sense of openness balanced against the enclosure of the central space, a continued evaluation of the scale of the elements, and relationships of non-traditional elements (like the grotto) with memorable historic forms.

We also invite commentators to share your observations with your fellow readers below.  MH