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

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.

Order Now
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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Robert Hoffman, 28th Division AEF, Fitness Guru and War Memoirist

Lt. Hoffman
As it came to seem that America was being inexorably drawn into another world war, a veteran of the First World War published his stark recollections of the earlier struggle. His name was Robert "Bob" Hoffman (1897–1985). He had served with the 111th Infantry of the 28th Pennsylvania National Guard Division during the war and had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After his war service he had settled in York, Pennsylvania, and became a weightlifting enthusiast and then a fitness entrepreneur, a rival to Charles Atlas. By 1940 he was successful and famous, and isolationist in outlook.  He decided to sound a warning about what was ahead to his fellow countrymen and wrote a "pull-no-punches" recollection of his war experiences.  The British newspaper The Independent published this slightly disjointed but powerful excerpt last year from I Remember the Last War (Strength & Health Publishing, 1940). One of Hoffman's duties was to command his unit's post-battle burial detail.

Our organisation lost men heavily from gas near here for they had two rather unpleasant assignments to perform. One was the burying of the dead soldiers who had lain for two or three weeks under the July sun, and the other was the digging up of dead Germans to remove their identification tags. In a wood nearby the soldiers were still lying who had helped stop the German advance toward Paris. They had sold their lives dearly in many cases, for a great many Germans had died too. Three weeks these men had lain in the sun and our troops set out to bury them. Americans and Germans alike were put under the sod.

There were horses too, and they were a problem. Horses are huge when they become bloated, swell to twice their normal size. Their legs are thrust out like steel posts and it requires a hole about 10ft square and 6ft deep to put a horse under. If the legs were off, a hole hardly more than half that size is required. At times we succeeded in using an axe and saw to cut off the horses’ legs. It was a hard task and an unpleasant one, but it had to be done.

Finally, the fields were cleared but there was still another gruesome task to perform. It is a law of war that the names of enemy dead be sent back through a neutral country to their homeland. The identification tags had been taken from the dead Americans but the Germans had been buried just as they were. There was the task to dig them up again – enough to remove half of their oval-shaped identification tags. That was a much more disagreeable job than the first.

Gas came over, and owing to the terrific odour even the powerful-smelling mustard gas could not be detected. Our men were working hard in the mid-July heat, perspiring, just in the right condition for mustard gas. Nearly half the remainder of our company, 67 in all, were gassed badly enough to be sent to the hospital. Many of them died; most of them were out for the duration of the war…

Did you ever smell a dead mouse? This will give you about as much idea of what a group of long-dead soldiers smell like as will one grain of sand give you an idea of Atlantic City’s beaches.

A group of men were sent to Hill 204 to make a reconnaissance, to report on conditions there as well as to bury the dead. The story was a pathetic one. The men were still lying there nearly two weeks later just as they had fallen. I knew all of these men intimately and it was indeed painful to learn of their condition. Some had apparently lived for some time, had tried to dress their own wounds, or their comrades had dressed them; but later they had died there…

Many of the men had been pumped full of machine-gun bullets – shot almost beyond recognition. A hundred or so bullets, even in a dead man’s body, is not a pretty sight. One of our men was lying with a German bayonet through him – not unlike a pin through a large beetle … The little Italian boy was still lying on the barbed wire, his eyes open and his helmet hanging back on his head. There had been much shrapnel and some of the bodies were torn almost beyond recognition. This was the first experience at handling and burying the dead for many of our men. It was a trying experience … The identification tags removed from the dead were corroded white, and had become embedded in the putrid flesh. Even after the burial, when these tags were brought back to the company, they smelled so horribly that some of the officers became extremely sick …

There are two chief reasons why a soldier feels fear: first, that he will not get home to see his loved ones again; but, most of all, picturing himself in the same position as some of the dead men we saw.

Pennsylvania Historic Marker
York, PA
They lay there face up, usually in the rain, their eyes open, their faces pale and chalk-like, their gold teeth showing. That is in the beginning. After that they are usually too horrible to think about. We buried them as fast as we could – Germans, French and Americans alike. Get them out of sight, but not out of memory. I can remember hundreds and hundreds of dead men. I would know them now if I were to meet them in a hereafter. I could tell them where they were lying and how they were killed – whether with shell fire, gas, machine gun or bayonet …

The first dead man I touched was Philip Beketich, an Austrian baker who was with our company. He was wounded in the Battle of Fismes. I had tried to save his life by carrying him through the heavy enemy fire and putting him in one of the cellars of the French houses. He was shot in my arms as I carried him. A few hours later I found time to go round and find how he was. He was dead – stiff and cold … I had to remove his identification tags, and they had slipped down between his collar bones and the flesh of his chest. They were held there, and it took an effort to get them out. I thrilled and chilled with horror as I touched him.

Just a bit later I had to touch my very good friend Lester Michaels, a fine young fellow who had been a star football player on our company team, and a good piano player who entertained us when such an instrument was available. He went walking past me in Fismes, bent well over. “Keep down, Mike,” I said. “There’s a sniper shooting through here.”

Just then Mike fell, with a look of astonishment on his face. “What’s the matter, Mike?” I asked.

He replied: “They’ve got me,” shook a few times and lay dead upon his face with his legs spread apart – shot through the heart.

He lay there for more than a day. There was a terrific battle on and we had no chance to help the wounded – certainly not the dead. I was running short of ammunition and I needed the cartridges in Mike’s belt. I tried to unfasten his belt, but I could not reach it.

Finally I had to turn him completely over. It was quite an effort owing to the spread-eagle manner in which he lay. His body was hard and cold, and I saw his dead face – difficult to describe the feeling I had. But necessity demanded that I unloosen his belt and take his ammunition and still later his identification tag. After the war I heard from his relatives who wanted to know exactly how he had died.

There are many people who sought this information. They liked to know whether the soldier was killed by shell fire, whether while fighting hand to hand, while running to the attack, or in some phase of defensive work. It was hard to touch these dead men at first.

My people at home, hearing of what I was passing through, expected me to come back hard, brutal, callous, careless. But I didn’t even want to take a dead mouse out of a trap when I was home. Yet over there I buried 78 men one morning.

I didn’t dig the holes for them, of course, but I did take their personal belongings from them to return to their people – their rings, trinkets, letters and identification tags. They were shot up in a great variety of ways, and it was not pleasant, but I managed to eat my quota of bread and meat when it came up, with no opportunity to wash my hands.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sperry, Kettering, Wright, and Arnold: Early Innovators and Advocates of Cruise Missiles and Drones

The Kettering Bug, 1918
Inspiration for Cruise Missiles and Drones

Today cruise missiles are an important part of the Free World's arsenal and the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (commonly called drones) ranging from military tactical operations to domestic law enforcement, and even for commercial or recreational purposes continues to explode. All of this grew from research and innovation that began before the First World War and exploded as America saw that the nation might be drawn into the conflict.

American inventor Elmer Sperry, known as the father of modern navigation technology, was among the first to tackle the problem of automatic stabilization. In 1908 he patented a gyroscope that replaced a ship’s magnetic compass. After the Navy installed his invention on the battleship Delaware in 1911, Sperry spotted another opportunity in the nascent aviation industry. He developed a gyrostabilizer that would enable aircraft to fly straight and level without pilot intervention. His equally brilliant son Lawrence dramatically demonstrated his father’s invention in 1914, flying a gyrostabilized Curtiss C-2 flying boat above the Seine River while holding his hands raised above his head. On his second pass, Lawrence repeated the trick—only this time his mechanic was standing on the plane’s lower wing. The demo helped father and son win the Collier Trophy that year for the most noteworthy achievement in aviation.

Lawrence and Elmer Sperry

In 1915 the Navy hired Sperry, who had the help of Lawrence, to build a “flying bomb.” The idea was to pack a Curtiss N-9 floatplane with dynamite and have it fly in a straight line until a mechanical device that counted propeller revolutions cut fuel to the engine. Sperry conducted a series of largely unsuccessful test flights in 1917. Only one unmanned N-9 managed to escape from its catapult launch, and it was last seen cruising over the naval militia station at Bay Shore, N.Y., at 4,000 feet heading east.

Charles Kettering
Not to be outdone by the Navy, the Army sponsored a competing design, nicknamed the “Kettering Bug” after its designer, Charles Kettering, a prominent inventor from Dayton, Ohio. Kettering collaborated with Orville Wright to produce what is generally regarded as the first practical example of an unmanned aircraft, although some argue it’s better described as the first cruise missile, since it couldn’t be controlled in flight. With a wingspan of six feet and a small two-stroke engine built by the Ford Motor Company, the Bug could carry a 250-pound warhead. The aircraft was powered by a 40-horsepower engine, which allowed it to fly a top speed of 50 mph; it utilized a track and dolly system similar to the Wright Brothers’ aircraft in 1903. The bug would carry an aerial torpedo with a warhead packed with 180 lbs of explosives. The guidance system was provided by a small on board gyroscope, and before takeoff technicians would determine the distance to the target. After taking wind speed and direction into account the technicians determined how many revolutions the engine needed to make before it reached the target. When the counter reached the preset value a device shut down the engine and detached the cardboard wings.

The aircraft achieved success on seven of 24 test flights, starting in September 1918, although it had an unfortunate tendency to circle the airfield after launch, and once even buzzed a crowd of dignitaries and top Army brass observers. 

Hap Arnold with General Pershing
Nevertheless, the Army contracted to build 75 Bugs and dispatched then-Major Hap Arnold to Europe to convince General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, to employ them against Germany. The war ended before the Bug made its combat debut. 

A total of 45 Bugs were produced at an estimated cost of $275,000. Despite the short lifespan of the Kettering Bug, it became the precursor to modern-day cruise missiles, and the U.S. Army Air Service continued to experiment with UAVs into the 1920s. Today a full-size reproduction of the Kettering Bug can be found at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

General Hap Arnold would go on to be recognized as one of the architects of the aviation component of the Allied victory in the Second World War. He never, however, forgot the promise of the Kettering Bug for which he had been the Army's principal champion in the early conflict, and, at the end of World War II, General Henry H. “Hap” Ar­nold made a startling prediction: “We have just won a war with a lot of heroes flying around in planes. The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all...Take everything you’ve learned about aviation in war, throw it out of the window, and let’s go to work on tomorrow’s aviation. It will be different from anything the world has ever seen.”

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of the USAF

From the WWI Centennial Commission and the History Nets Websites

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

reviewed by David Beer

by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Pierre Verney
Fantagraphics Books, 2013

WHAT'S THIS? A book on World War One that starts out with "There we were, under the scorching sun: France's little soldiers, trampling through fields of wheat, fields of glory on our minds, with a knot of fear in our guts and a load of shit in our pants." Well, I never! But then I'd never read a graphic novel or any graphic book before –  if you don't count the Boys' Own and Hotspur comics read as a lad in Devon. And that's why I found GODDAMN THIS WAR! so fascinating, refreshing, and yes, enlightening.

Graphic books, I discovered, are simply books presented in comic-strip format. They can be on any subject—fiction, fantasy, history, instructions, etc. They can be for adults or children. The graphic book has been popular for well over 50 years but goes back much further: you could say the cavemen were the first to use graphics. Just like today's graphic artists, they drew sequential images to tell a story or convey information. Thus, Jacques Tardi (b.1946), the French author/artist of this book, not only follows tradition but does so with such talent that he's considered one of the most important graphic artists of his time. His earlier1993 French book, It Was the War of the Trenches, (trans. 2010) established him as a powerful illustrator whose personal expressionist style is well suited to depicting the horrors of the Great War.

Although GODDAMN THIS WAR! is a sequel to Tardi's earlier book—in fact both books can be bought as a boxed pair—it stands independently as a graphic history of the Great War. And what a hard-hitting, grim ongoing picture it is. Six chapters, from 1914 to 1919, show us the war chronologically through the eyes of a French infantryman who somehow survives the war but takes part in all the worst battles. Each page contains three graphics which leave us in no doubt that this is an extremely antiwar book as our narrator depicts the darkest elements of the war and comments on them in rectangular "speech balloons."

Order Now
Right away the delusions of glory held by French troops as they march off to war are derided, and soon also the first casualties. "So much human meat was needed to satisfy the insatiable appetites of Europe's masters" is the caption for a drawing of dead men and horses (one with its guts spilling out). In the 1915 chapter a graphic in bright red shows a poilu's head being blown off while others around him are dismembered, and it's not long before we come to another graphic decapitation. A body hanging on barbed wired is commented on thus: "Poor guy, dead for nothing, rotting in a tangle of wire."

As we look/read through this book we come across numerous familiar details of the war. The British exploitation of "colonials," Italy's belated entry into the war, hunger, cold, wounds, food, zeppelins, ambulances, road jams, officers—all fleetingly and cynically touched on—plus of course the sudden, irrational deaths in the trenches: "The poor guy didn't even have time to sort out his thoughts. . . In that split second, he was turned into a slab of bloody meat." Rarely heard accusations crop up, such as stretcher bearers who "would ask the dying for money to bring their bodies back from no man's land." By the end of the 1918 chapter we're not surprisingly treated to two pages of very graphic drawings of 18 terribly disfigured faces—les mutilés.

And so it goes, without any mention of mitigating events that for some made the war more bearable. Comradeship, home leave, recreation, wine, occasional humor, courage, bravery, all might find some place in even the bleaker novels of the war, but not in Tardi's work. His anti-war stance is unflinching, which made him for me a fascinating author. To add to the irony, each chapter is headed by a couple of quotes from noted politicians and generals of the time that sound ridiculous in the context of the war depicted in the book.

Heaping it on after the final graphics, "The Song of Craonne" is presented as a two-page spread in white text on solid black background. The somber chorus is perfectly in keeping with Tardi's art and sentiment:

Farewell to life, farewell to love
Farewell, all you women
It's all over now, forever
This dreadful war
We're supposed to leave our bones
Up in Craonne on that plateau
'Cause we're all doomed
We've all been sacrificed

If you have ever visited the ossuary at Douaumont you will probably be able to empathize with not only these lines but also with Tardi's graphic message.

The second part of the book is a short but effective photographic history of the war from 1914 to 1919. This section is the contribution of Tardi's fellow author, Jean-Pierre Verney. Since all the photos are from the French Musée de la Grande Guerre, some may be new to American readers. In general, Verney presents a more well rounded picture of the war. But there is no doubt that this is ultimately Tardi's book, with only one purpose—to graphically and relentlessly show the living and dying hell of World War One.

David Beer

Monday, September 14, 2015

September 1918: Flying Over the St. Mihiel Salient

Lt. George Churchill Kenney was one of America’s most distinguished military men. A career Air Force officer who enlisted as a private and rose through the ranks, at the end of World War II he was commanding general of the Allied Air Forces in the Pacific; later he headed the Strategic Air Command for two years before retiring in 1951 as a four-star general. Soon after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, he signed up for the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army. At 27 he was two years above the age limit for combat flying, but he concealed his true birth date, passed the physical, and was sworn in. After learning to fly at Hazelhurst Field in Mineola, New York, he arrived in France in December, underwent two months of advanced training at Issoudun, and received orders to report to the 91st Aero Squadron, where he served as an aerial reconnaissance pilot, winning two aerial victories and several decorations. He kept a diary throughout his service. These are the entries for the period during which the American First Army was conducting its first offensive to reduce the St. Mihiel Salient.

September 6 — … The Germans dropped a note saying that Foster was a prisoner unhurt but that Siebring was dead. A note in Pep’s handwriting was enclosed asking us to send him cigarettes, canned kidneys, and his tennis racket to his prison camp through the Red Cross in Switzerland. This system works well. All the letters from the prisoners agree that the stuff sent them comes through all right.

September 11 — …Major Reynolds gave us the advance dope on the new first all-American offensive, which jumps off tomorrow at daybreak to reduce the Saint-Mihiel salient...

91st Aero Squadron Insignia

September 12 —Americans over the top after a brute of a night of artillery preparation fire. The Saint-Mihiel salient is busted. Every town in the salient on the German side is in flames. The old lines are dead. Hellish flying weather all day but lots of it just the same...

September 13 —Got up for the early flight but the clouds were down to the ground. The guns up at the front were still going strong. Went over at 10:00 A.M. on visual reconnaissance from 100 meters to 300 meters altitude. … The Americans are into the Hindenburg Line in three places.

September 14 —Up on a six-plane photo mission but I was delayed on the take-off and missed the formation. As we had a camera, Bill and I went over anyhow. Got a few good pictures but the weather was too cloudy to finish the job. Six Boche, Pfalz or Fokkers, jumped me near Etain and chased me out to the west of the sector toward Verdun. As soon as they left, we went back in for a visual reconnaissance. Over Conflans, the carburetor backfired and blazed up. I sideslipped and dove and the fire finally went out. We got back home after about three hours’ flying. The plane was pretty badly shot up by Archie fire...Strahm and Wallis had another fight with six red-nosed Fokkers. Looks like the Germans have moved the Richthofen Circus into this sector. They paint the noses of their planes red...

Salmson 2a of the Type Flown by Kenney

September 15 —…Went over with Badham on a photo mission. Diekema and Hammond and Cole and Martin flew protection for us. Over Gorzé we were jumped by four Boche, Pfalz Scouts. Badham [Kenney's gunner] shot one down from about fifty meters. He went up in a zoom and fell off in a vrille, on fire, and disappeared in the woods below. My ship was badly shot up with one of the elevators almost off and wobbling. I turned back toward the field wondering how much longer we would be flying. As Diekema and Cole closed up behind me, one of the Boche dove on Cole’s plane and opened fire. At the first burst, a bullet pierced Cole’s neck forcing him to make for the lines and an emergency landing before he fainted from loss of blood...This evening, the doctors over at the Toul hospital said that Cole would be all right and back in…about six weeks.

Source:  American Heritage, December 1969