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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lt. Col. Edgeworth David, AIF: Geologist, Explorer, Mining Wizard

David (Center) at the Magnetic South Pole

Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David was a Welsh-born and Oxford educated scientist, who  worked as a professor of geology in Sydney and in his early work discovered important coal seams and studied coral reefs in and around Australia. In 1907 he went with Ernest Shackleton on the first expedition to the South Pole during which he was among the first to scale 13,000 foot Mt. Erebus and was with the party that first discovered the magnetic South Pole. David enlisted in the AIF at the age of 58, having convinced the government to start the Australian Mining Corps, a band of geologists and miners to engineer trenches and tunnels. He was a lieutenant colonel on the Western Front during World War I and was knighted on his return in 1919. 

David During the War
David, despite his age, managed to enlist in the Australia Imperial Force and was commissioned major in the Mining Battalion on 25 October 1915. He left for France and the Western Front in February 1916 and provided valuable advice on groundwater and the siting and design of trenches and tunnels — valuable pioneering work on military geology. On 6 October he was seriously injured when he fell 24m when inspecting a well near Vimy Ridge; six weeks later he was back in action but never fully recovered. From June 1917, as chief geologist, he was attached to the inspector of mines at General Headquarters, British Expeditionary Force. By demonstrating the suitability of the clay of the Messines Ridge for tunneling,  he contributed significantly to the successful mining operation and the British Army's victory there in June 1917.  

Three times mentioned in dispatches, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. His son served with the British Army as regimental medical officer with the 6th Cameron Highlanders, winning the Military Cross, and his daughter Mary served as a motor driver with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and Women's Legion.

His crowning scientific achievement was publishing  the first comprehensive record of the geology of Australia in 1932. Named in his honor, the Sir Edgeworth David Medal is awarded annually to a scientist under the age of 35 for distinguished contributions to Australian science.

Source: University of Newcastle, Australia

Saturday, January 30, 2016

American Monuments on the Western Front: 5 I've Missed

I have been traveling to the Western Front since 1990,  but when I was visiting the archives of American War Memorials Overseas, Inc., I discovered a number I must have driven past several times or have been close to.  Here are five interesting ones.

1. Pennsylvania Fountain at Belleau

A fountain, formerly the town's water supply, is now used as a planter. Above it there is a marble plaque above with French and English text, commemorating Pennsylvania's soldiers who fell in the area.

2. Fifth Division Monument at Cléry-le-Petit

Captured by Fifth Division, November 1918.

3. Lafayette and Pershing Columns outside Versailles

On both sides of the road on the D985 (Rue de Versailles) located between Ville d'Avray and Versailles. Partly completed in 1937, they were to bear equestrian statues of the two historic figures but were never finished due to the Second World War.

4.  Graffiti Rock of American Soldiers, Vosges Mountains

Deep in the woods halfway between Senones and Celles sur Plaine east of Baccarat, where several U.S divisions served in the line.  (This one I would have never found on my own.)

5. First Division Route Marker, Yoncq, Argonne

A tombstone shaped stele with the inscription "First Division, November 5th 1918"  The division was been moving through the area of Yoncq when they encountered German forces in early November 1918. After capturing the village and the surrounding woods the division was ordered north to help capture Sedan.

Visit the excellent website of American War Memorials Overseas, Inc. at: 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

After Gallipoli: Whither New Zealand?

New Zealanders Retrieving Bodies at Gallipoli During the May 1915 Truce

In the Middle East

In all, 2,779 New Zealanders had died at Gallipoli. Following the evacuation the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, which had fought at Gallipoli as infantry, joined Australian mounted units to form the ANZAC Mounted Division. This unit continued the fight against the Ottoman Empire, taking a prominent part in the Sinai–Palestine campaign of 1916–18. Some New Zealanders served in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq, then a Turkish province). New Zealand’s cruiser, HMS Philomel, was also deployed in the region, patrolling in the Red Sea. In 1916 the emphasis shifted to Europe. The Sinai–Palestine campaign cost 543 New Zealand lives.

But these operations against the Ottoman Empire became a sideshow in New Zealand’s war effort. 

To the Western Front

In preparation for joining the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), the New Zealand Division was formed, with citizen-soldier Andrew Russell as commander. Two additional infantry brigades were provided by the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and the 2nd Infantry Brigade, formed from accumulated reinforcements in Egypt. The Māori contingent was incorporated in the division’s Pioneer Battalion (which in 1917 became an all-Māori unit – the (Maori) Pioneer Battalion). These changes raised the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) strength to about 25,000.

The Māori Pioneer Battalion Performing the Ceremonial Haka for Visitors

Non-divisional units

Some NZEF units, such as a mounted rifles regiment and the cyclist company, were not part of the New Zealand Division. They included the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, which was the first New Zealand unit to arrive on the Western Front (in France and Belgium) in early 1916. Many New Zealanders also served in British and Australian units, including the Royal Flying Corps (the precursor of the Royal Air Force). About 700 New Zealanders served as airmen during the war.


The deployment of a division demanded an increased flow of reinforcements. With volunteering slowing, and some sectors of the public demanding equality of sacrifice, the government introduced conscription during 1916, with the first ballots in October. As a result 32,000 conscripts served overseas with the NZEF (alongside 72,000 volunteers) — together representing 42% of New Zealand men of military age (21–49). Of the dominions in the British Empire, New Zealand made the largest per capita contribution of its manpower.

Western Front 1916

Although the troops were [initially] deployed in a relatively quiet sector, at Armentières in northern France, they quickly became aware of the true impact of industrialized warfare. They were shocked by the scale of the artillery, which far surpassed that employed by Turkey at Gallipoli.

The Battle of the Somme

Service on the Western Front involved a steady flow of day-to-day casualties, from artillery bombardments, trench raids, or accidents. But the real bloodletting occurred when either side sent troops over the top to assault the opposing trench line. This was dreadfully apparent when the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme opened on 1 July 1916 — on that day alone the BEF suffered 60,000 casualties.

Longueval and Flers

New Zealanders in a Trench Near Flers, Somme Battlefield, September 1916

The New Zealand Division took part in the second major phase of the battle, attacking as part of a new "big push" near Longueval on 15 September 1916, an effort notable for the advent of tanks. The New Zealanders captured their objectives, though at heavy cost, and assisted in the capture of the village of Flers, but the offensive petered out. By the time the New Zealand Division was withdrawn from the line 23 days later, it had lost 2,000 men — a death rate far exceeding that experienced at Gallipoli.

Source: Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winning Design Announced for America's National World War One Memorial!

"The Weight of Sacrifice" conceived of by lead designers architect Joseph Weishaar of Chicago and New York sculptor Sabin Howard has won the international competition for the World War I National Memorial. We will have much more on their design and its progress through the review process, and we will also be sharing information with our readers on how you can contribute to the funding of this great venture. For now, here are some images of the memorial with some of the designer's views on their concept.

The idea that public space and public freedom are hard won through the great sacrifices of countless individuals in the pursuit of liberty provides the original design concept for this project. – Designers' Statement

Above all, the memorial sculptures and park design stress the glorification of humanity and enduring spirit over the glorification of war. These themes are expressed through three sources: relief sculpture, quotations of soldiers, and a freestanding sculpture. This is a moment frozen in time, captured in the darkened bronze form which has emerged from the soil to serve as a reminder of our actions. Along the north and south faces we see the emblazoned words of a generation gone by. One hundred thirty-sevenfeet long, these walls gradually slip into the earth drawing their wisdom with them. Around the sculpted faces of the monument the remembrance unfolds. The quotation walls guide visitors around the memorial through the changes in elevation, weaving a poetic narrative of the war as described by generals, politicians, and soldiers.  

The integration of a park around and atop the memorial alludes to the idea that public space and personal freedom are only available through the sacrifice of our soldiers. A memorial and a park built to represent this truth should pay homage to the loss incurred in securing these freedoms. The raised figurative walls visually express a narrative of the sacrificial cost of war, while also supporting a literal manifestation of freedoms enjoyed in this country: the open park space above. The urban design intent is to create a new formal link along Pennsylvania Avenue which ties together the memorial to Tecumseh Sherman on the West and Freedom Plaza on the East. This is achieved by lowering the visual barriers surrounding the existing Pershing Park and reinforcing dominant axes that come from the adjacent context.

The fall sun settles on a soldier's etched features (General Pershing himself), and above him 28 trees rise up from the earth, flamed out in brazen red to mark the end of the Great War. He stands on the precipice of the battlefield, surveying the rising tide which has come to call his brothers from their havens of innocence. The figures before him emerge slowly, at first in low relief, and then pull farther out of the morass as they cross the center of the wall. They all trudge onward, occasionally looking back at the life that was until they sink back in and down into the trenches. The raised form in the center of the site honors the veterans of the First World War by combining figurative sculpture and personal narratives of servicemen and women in a single formal expression. 

Upon this unified mass spreads a verdant lawn. This is a space for freedom built upon the great weight of sacrifice. The sculpture on the upper plaza, “Wheels of Humanity,” recreates the engine of war. These are soldiers tested and bonded by the fires of war to each other and to the machinery they command. For all of the courage and heroic stature they convey, each looks to the other for guidance and a signal to action. The bronze medium used throughout stands for the timeless endeavor we face in the universal pursuit and right of freedom.

The figurative relief sculpture, entitled “The Wall of Remembrance,” is a solemn tribute to the resilience of human bonds against the inexorable tide of war. The 23 figures of the 81-ft. relief transform from civilians into battered soldiers, leading one another into the fray. The central piece, “Brothers-in-Arms,” is the focus of the wall, representing the redemption that comes from war: the close and healing ties soldiers form as they face the horrors of battle together. The wounded soldier is lifted by his brother soldiers toward the future and the promise of healing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

African American Doctors of World War I: The Lives of 104 Volunteers
reviewed by Stephen L. Harris

African American Doctors of World War I: 
The Lives of 104 Volunteers
by W. Douglas Fisher and Joann H. Buckley
McFarland, 2015

After listening to a presentation by authors W. Douglas Fisher and Joann H. Buckley, Lieutenant General Earl Brown, a retired black officer with over 100 combat missions as a fighter pilot during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, lamented "This is my history and I knew nothing about it!" Because of the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, Brown had been inspired to join the U.S. Air Force, yet his bittersweet statement was not about black fighter pilots, but black physicians who had served their country during the First World War — African Americans hailing from almost every state whose heroic service has long since been forgotten.

The Doctors Mobilizing  for War

Fisher and Buckley's presentation was the story behind their remarkable book African American Doctors of World War I: The Lives of 104 Volunteers. As the preface points out, wherever they spoke more and more African Americans came up to them and made the same comment that General Brown had made. It was their history and they had not known about it.

Now they do. To me, that's what makes this book remarkable.

And what's equally remarkable is how Fisher and Buckley discovered these doctors and the years it took them to piece together their lives, collect rare photographs, and then write the biographies.

To them it was a quest!

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It began when Fisher was reading the diary, letters and reports written by his grandfather, a captain in the African American 92nd Infantry Division commanding the 317th Motor Supply Train. His grandfather wrote about the physician who took care of 500 soldiers in his Supply Train, Dr. Jonathan N. Rucker.

"What the man was able to accomplish in the Jim Crow South," Fisher stated, "was extraordinary."

Fisher then wondered about other black doctors and what they had accomplished during not only the war, but throughout their lives. He and Buckley teamed up, and one by one they hunted down other doctors. They caught a break while searching through documents at the National Archives. Here they came across an "ancient folder" buried among the U.S. Army Surgeon General records. "It was so old," they wrote, "that its identification tab had disintegrated." Inside the folder were dozens of sheets of fragile paper containing the names of 104 doctors, their backgrounds, hometowns, medical schools, when they graduated and how old they were when they entered military service.

With the names and hometowns and colleges they had attended more than 100 years ago, Fisher and Buckley were off on their years-long odyssey to gather enough material on these long-ago heroes of World War I. For the next five years, the quest took them not just to the National Archives, but to state, city, and small town historical societies around the United States, had them delving into local libraries, poring over old newspapers, and, finally, locating and interviewing family members —children and grandchildren, great nieces and nephews. Quite a journey.

Lt. Jonathan N. Rucker
317th Supply Train, 92nd Division
Reading the biographies, arranged alphabetically, I naturally skipped ahead to start off with Dr. Rucker, the book's catalyst.

Born in 1892, the grandson of a white plantation owner who when he died had left his property to his biracial children, Rucker went on to earn a medical degree as well as a degree in theology. He became not only a doctor of medicine but also a Baptist minister. Thus he actually served a double role for the motor supply train, ministering to the sick and wounded and providing spiritual needs to his fellow troops. After the war, he continued his medical profession in Tennessee and Mississippi, where he was born, served as Baptist minister in several local churches and, amazingly, was a high school principal.

Rucker's story is just one of an amazing collection of black war heroes brought back to life by Fisher and Buckley. Their book is an important piece of black history and well worth owning, not just for African Americans, but for all Americans.

In all fairness, Doug Fisher is a personal friend, but our friendship in no way influenced my review. I found African American Doctors of World War I a book of remarkable people, and the importance of their lives needed to be told.

Stephen L. Harris

Stephen Harris's work on the American Expeditionary Force in the Great War includes, Harlem's Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I, Potomac Books, 2003. His latest book is Rock of the Marne, Berkley Caliber, 2015.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Posting #1000: Douglas MacArthur's Tribute to the Doughboys

Today – on eve of the day that the design for the long-waited national World War One Memorial is to be announced – I thought this posting would be a suitable one, in the spirit of the moment and to mark the occasion of our 1000th posting on Roads to the Great War since May 15, 2013.  (Don't forget to use our search function at the top of the page or the archives listing in the right column to search for articles on your favorite topics.)

General Douglas MacArthur's Sylvanus Thayer Award Acceptance Address – his "Duty, Honor, Country" speech – included a wonderful tribute to America's Doughboys of the Great War.

12 May 1962
General MacArthur Reviewing the Corp of Cadets After the "Duty, Honor, Country" Speech

As I listened to those songs [of the glee club], in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep through the mire of shell-shocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of  God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.

Listen to the entire speech at:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Imperial Fabergé Red Cross Egg

Editor's Note: We presented brief article on this famous object in 2014, but I recently came across a much more thorough discussion of it from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. MH

Greater love hath no man than this, 
that a man lay down his life for his friends.

So reads the gilt inscription from the Bible that fills the central band of this opalescent-white enamel egg embellished with two red crosses. A closer look at this treasure also reveals an intricate pattern underneath several layers of enamel, created by a decorative engraving technique known as guilloché.

This is the 24th Imperial Easter Egg that Faberge designed for the Romanov royal family. He created his first for Alexander III in 1885 after being appointed “Supplier to the Court of his Imperial Majesty.”

On top of the egg, is the Cyrillic monogram and crown insignia for the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna — Emperor Nicholas II’s mother; while the two red crosses are bordered at each corner by the dates 1914 and 1915.

It was in August of 1914 that Russia entered World War I by declaring war on Germany and Austria. In less than six months, over a million men were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. In the spring of 1915, Nicholas II presented this Imperial Easter Egg to his mother, who was president of the Red Cross. That same year he would travel to the front line to take personal command of the army.

The simplicity of design and austerity of materials — there are no gemstones used here — reflect the mood of the country. The Fabergé workshops were beginning to produce war supplies, and their London branch was closed down, but that didn’t prevent the House of Fabergé from creating a memorable and beautifully crafted surprise inside this egg.

A gold-trimmed folding screen contains five one-inch oval portraits topped by tiny red crosses. Each miniature painting is surrounded by panels of white guilloché enamel and backed by mother-of-pearl inscribed with the initials of five women who were near and dear to both Nicholas II and his mother. Dressed as Sisters of Mercy, they are from left to right, his sister Olga, his oldest daughter, also named Olga, his wife Alexandra, his second daughter, Tatiana, and his cousin Maria Pavlovna.

True to their cause, the Empress Alexandra and her two eldest daughters did tend the wounded and dying soldiers in a hospital she organized at the Imperial Winter Palace.

This Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg, which was confiscated by order of the Provisional Government in 1917 for safekeeping, was eventually acquired by Lillian Thomas Pratt in 1933.

Found at the Website of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Remembering a Veteran: Kermit Roosevelt, British and U.S. Armies

Kermit Roosevelt (1889–1943), MC, was one of fours sons of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt who served in combat in the First World War.

British Officer in Mesopotamia
In 1909 Kermit, who shared TR’s passion for adventure, requested permission to join his father on his planned African safari. His father eventually consented to Kermit’s request, but only after challenging his son to demonstrate his appreciation of the opportunity by working all the harder in college after his return. Kermit honored this promise by completing Harvard’s course of study in less than three years. The pair set out again in 1913, this time in search of the source of the Amazon’s Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt), later renamed Rio Roosevelt.   

American Officer in London

Impatient for American participation in the First World War, Roosevelt joined the British Army to fight in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). He was attached to the 14th Light Armoured Motor Battery of the Machine Gun Corps, and saw action at Tikrit and Baghdad. He was later awarded a Military Cross for his British service and wrote an admired memoir of this period, War in the Garden of Eden, in the interwar period. When the United States finally joined the war, Roosevelt was transferred to the AEF in Europe, relinquishing his British commission to serve as a U.S. field artillery officer. 

After the war he was a successful businessman and  writer despite fighting a lifelong battle with depression and alcoholism. His son, also named Kermit, was a notable operative in the early days of the CIA.

In the Second World War, he similarly served in both nation's armies before his suicide while posted in the Aleutians.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Response Poems

Sometimes the works of the war poets, especially from the early Sacrifice and Remembrance School did not sit well. Sometimes readers were stirred to make a response.  Here are two examples:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Wartime Legend: Mte. Cengio and the Grenadier's Leap

Site of the Grenadier's Leap
In 1916, scenic 4,400-ft.-tall Mte. Cengio, which has breathtaking views of Venice and the Adriatic, was a "back door" to the Asiago Plateau or "Altipiani" and the Italian position that had been stabilized after the spring 1916 "Strafexpedition" of the Austro-Hungarian Army. It would be the scene of ferocious fighting in mid-1916 with attempts to penetrate the Italian defenses from the rear by their opponents. Had the Austrian forces been able to clear the Altipiani and move down on to the Veneto, they would have been in the rear of both Italian Armies on the Isonzo, the major battle sector at the time. Consequently, Mte. Cengio was for a period of the greatest strategic importance. 

The summit (wartime photo on left) was defended by the 2nd Regiment of the Sardinian Grenadiers. In June 1916 the Grenadiers found themselves with their ammunition exhausted and engaged in furious hand-to-hand fighting at the edge of a precipice. Exhausted, yet still determined not to surrender, an unknown number of the Grenadiers wrapped their arms around their opponents and jumped, dragging their enemies off the cliff, to their mutual deaths.

Grenadier Memorial at the Site of the Leap, Mte. Cengio
Your Editor (right) with My Friend and Guide Rebeschin Fausto 

Today, the haunting metallic statue above honors the 2,000 Sardinian Grenadiers who perished on the mountain in 1916, some of whom died taking an opponent with them in the "Grenadier's Leap." Afterward, sensing it was a weak point in their defensive line, the Italian Command turned it into a major defensive position. A series of galleries were built for artillery and observation posts and mule paths (mulaterria) were constructed to supply them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

World War I from Local Perspectives: History, Literature and Visual Arts. . .
reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

World War I from Local Perspectives: History, Literature and Visual Arts. Austria, Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland and the United States
by Miroslawa Buchholtz and Grzegorz Koneczniak (eds.)
Peter Lang, 2015

World War I from Local Perspectives offers a new perspective on the process of recollecting World War One, advocating that we take into consideration subsequent experiences of humanity on its way to what the editors call "dehumanization" (9) as we assess the effects of the war on individual lives and careers. Such experiences include World War Two, the Cold War and the so-called Cyber War. The local sources referred to in World War I from Local Perspectives are not part of the canon of war or postwar literature or art. They have been selected to demonstrate the relative insignificance of class, gender, or ethnicity when evaluating human suffering during the war; such differences are indeed arbitrary, argue the contributors. Texts written by a wide variety of writers are discussed: servants and aristocrats; women on the home front who wrote poetry as well as made masks for facially disfigured soldiers; Jews, Poles, and Russians in Central and Eastern Europe; Germans, Italians, English, and Irish in Western Europe; and Jews and Americans across the Atlantic.

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The texts range from letters to spoken accounts, travel writing to literary texts, and theatre performances to visual arts. The titles of the 12 chapters reveal the diversity of material discussed: 1. Henry James and Burgess Noakes: the evolution of an employer/servant relationship during World War I; 2. Lord Dunsany's war tales: realism and fantasy; 3. Poems from the home front: Marian Allen and Vera Brittain; 4. History Today: Ireland and the Great War; 5. The Abbey Theatre in the context of the Great War and its centenary: The past and the present; 6. Echoes of the Great War in Italian literature and theatre of the First World War and the interwar period; 7. Eccentric contemporaneity: Gustav Meyrink's views on the Great War; 8. Jews and Poles in the German-occupied East: Two scenes form the First World War; 9.American Zionism in the World War I years: Between academic discourse and pragmatic approach; 10. Recollections of the First Word World War by the Old Believers living in Poland; 11. Fates of the suppressed: Social criticism against the background of the First World War in Miroslav Krleža's The Croatian God Mars; and 12. Disfigurement and defacement in (post) World-War-One art: Francis Derwent Wood, Anna Coleman Ladd, Hannah Höchm and Kader Attia.

American readers may find Katie Sommer's chapter on Henry James and Burgess Noakes particularly interesting. The chapter discusses the letters written by Noakes to his employer, James (Noakes was James's valet and served at the front in the early months of the war, until he was wounded). James's answers are also discussed. Both sets of letters are housed at the Center for Henry James Studies at Creighton University, U.S.A. James demonstrates a parental concern for his valet. His letters are encouraging, designed to keep up Noakes's spirits and to assure him that his old job awaits him at the end of the war. Indeed, James is instrumental in ensuring that his valet will gain a leave of absence (from which he will never return). As Sommer notes, Noakes never forgot the kindness of his employer. The story is a moving one and especially poignant as it involves a well-known writer as well as an obscure servant.

Boženna Chylinska's chapter on American Zionism is also particularly fascinating as it elucidates the decisive role played by American Jewry during the war. Thanks to the war, important changes took place in the Zionist movement as it addressed the problems and hardships of Diaspora Jews. As Chylinska demonstrates, "the mass following which Zionism gained during the war years resulted from the strong hope that the war would bring a solution to the Jewish questions" (157). It became both necessary and possible to unite all American Zionists into one organization, culminating in the creation of the Zionist Organization of America in 1918.

The Remarkable Work of Francis Derwent Wood

World War I from Local Perspectives lives up to its editors' promise that it will present a new view of the war that enables the reader to better understand the effects on the individual heading toward dehumanization. Resisting the temptation to focus on trauma, as many recent studies have done, World War I from Local Perspectives seeks to "disentangle the many threads of the frayed tapestry brought to global attention thanks to the human fascination with numbers" (10). War is not about how many people died; it is an individual tragedy in which differences of class, ethnic allegiance, and gender are arbitrary. This, above all, is what the varied accounts discussed in World War I from Local Perspectives demonstrate so amply and convincingly. The editors have made a fine job of bringing together texts that have never been discussed before but whose value for our understanding of the impact of war on the individual is very clear. World War I from Local Perspectives bears witness to the value of painstaking studies in archives and arduous field studies. It is to be hoped that it will stimulate further studies of local collections that have not yet seen the light of day.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Monday, January 18, 2016

Our World War I Documentarian Steve Miller

On my Western Front tour in 2008 the most tireless shutterbug in the group was my fellow Air Force veteran Steve Miller. It was only afterward, though, that I came to understand Steve's passion for recording the important sites of the war, both famous and forgotten. Not only did Steve present me with an excellent set of  images from our trip together, but since then he has also provided me an endless stream of  images from around the world — places I've never had a chance to visit myself —that I've been able to use in all my publications, especially here on Roads to the Great War.  Here is a selection of images for you from my "Steve Miller" folder.  You'll be seeing more of Steve's work in the future, of course.

Spectacular Dinant, France,  with its high citadel and cathedral was the site of important
fighting during the Battle of the Frontiers in 1914, as well as the  brutal murder of
hundreds of civilians.  Lt. Charles de Gaulle was wounded on the bridge over the Meuse.

Burial site of Manfred von Richthofen, Südfriedhof, at Wiesbaden, Hessen, Germany

At the Verdun Citadel, depiction of the final selection at the original location

Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem, Israel: General Edmund Allenby, accompanied by
Lawrence of Arabia, entered the city here on 11 December 1917.

Ornamental detail from the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial,
located just outside Paris in Marnes-la-Coquette

Ordnance collected from a single site on the Somme battlefield

Both Quentin and Ted, Jr., were veterans of the Great War.

Mural at the Town Hall in Doullens, France,
depicting the meeting held there on 26 March 1915, after which Ferdinand Foch
was designated generalissimo of the Allied Forces

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Admiral Sims Had a Different Approach Than General Pershing Did

Admiral William S. Sims (1858–1936) was commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters during World War I. Before the war he had been an enthusiastic reformer and modernizer for the navy.  In some ways America's navy had come into the war better prepared than its army. However, the growing fleet of capital ships, due to be enlarged with the 1916 naval expansion program, was not what was needed in 1917 when the United States entered the war. Sims arrived in London on 10 April, four days after Congress declared war.

Two battleship divisions would eventually be deployed to European waters, but the immediate challenges the nation faced forced the planning for big-ship operations aside and sent the navy scurrying in new directions. Dreadnought and cruiser construction was delayed in favor of urgently needed destroyers and other light craft to combat the mounting German U-boat menace that threatened to cut the indispensable supply line to North America. Within a month of the congressional declaration of war, Destroyer Flotilla Eight crossed the Atlantic to join the Royal Navy anti-submarine patrol force in Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. 

USN DD-222 at Queenstown

In May, the Cruiser and Transport Force was formed to convoy American troops to France — a task it performed without loss of life for two million Doughboys. Obsolescent battleships and cruisers were usefully employed in protecting trans-Atlantic supply and troop convoys. In June the first naval aviation units reached France. By November 1918, the Navy had expanded from 80,000 men and 12 thousand reservists to 560 thousand men and officers. Eventually, some 16,000 sailors and 500 naval aircraft operated from bases in England, Ireland, France, Gibraltar, Corfu, and Italy. In December 1917, five American dreadnoughts joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. A second battleship division followed and was based at Bantry Bay in Ireland. By May 1918, the first of 121 American wooden 110-foot subchasers were operating in European waters. Two months later, the U.S. Navy began laying the first of 56,610 mines in the North Sea anti-submarine barrage.

USN Wooden Subchaser SC-26

Unlike Pershing (who was instructed to build an independent U.S. fighting force), Admiral Sims as a matter of U.S. policy put his men, ships, and aircraft under command of the senior Entente officer in their operating areas. By drawing on British experience, the U.S. Navy was able to make an early and effective contribution, particularly in promoting and supporting effective convoy operations, which eventually broke the back of the German submarine offensive. Other American contributions to the air and sea wars are less clear cut and more controversial, particularly with regard to the massive 34,000 square-mile North Sea mine barrage. Nonetheless, U.S. Navy command relationships with European navies, the British in particular, were cordial and productive despite policy disagreements revolving around British resistance to American calls for aggressive attacks on German home bases.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti at War

From an article by Selena Daly

Prior to Italy's entry into the First World War in May 1915, poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), author of the Futurist Manifesto, and a number of other prominent Futurists had enrolled in the Lombard Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists and Motorists. Alongside Marinetti were the painters Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Russolo, Ugo Piatti, Mario Sironi, and the architect Antonio Sant'Elia. In the summer months of 1915, the Volunteer Cyclists received training in Gallarate, near Milan, before leaving for Peschiera on the southern shores of Lake Garda at the end of July. In mid-October the battalion was sent to the Italian-Austrian front line and stationed at Malcesine, on the eastern side of Lake Garda. The Volunteer Cyclists' principal experience of combat was in the capture of Dosso Casina in October when they fought alongside the elite Alpine soldiers. 

Futurists in the First World War, from Left to Right:
Volunteer Cyclists Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Achille Funi, and Antonio Sant'Elia

The Lombard Battalion was held in very high esteem by the people of Milan; when the cyclists travelled through the city on their way to Lake Garda in July 1915 the streets were crowded with supporters. As well as a military plane flying over them dropping leaflets in the Italian colours, the crowd "applauded them, covered them with flowers, good wishes, and kisses" (Codara 1915a). A member of the battalion, Angeluccio Giudici, recalled many years later that it was regarded as a "forge of patriotism, they were the crucible of irredentist passion" (Giudici in Sansone 2008, 16). While Italy was still neutral, many young irredentists from Trentino, Trieste, and Dalmatia succeeded in crossing the border and they joined the Battalions of Volunteer Cyclists in various northern Italian cities. In turn, many of the battalions participated in interventionist demonstrations in 1915. As Marinetti commented, the Lombard Battalion contained the same men:

…students, monarchists, revolutionary workers, law-abiding lawyers…persecuted anarchists, Freemasons and clericalists, poor and wealthy, traditional painters and poets, avant-gardists, Futurists and semi-Futurists, who had already met in the Piazza del Duomo and in the Galleria, almost every evening, during the winter and spring, to punch and chase away the neutralists. 

As a Volunteer Cyclist, Marinetti served as an ordinary soldier and so endured the same hardships as those experienced by the majority of Italian soldiers on the front lines. Both in his diary and in letters, he frequently complained of cold, hunger, lack of sleep, and lack of supplies. The only time when Marinetti appears to have contemplated his own mortality with the experience of combat, was immediately before and during the battle of Dosso Casina in October 1915. The night before the assault began, Marinetti wrote a letter to Paolo Buzzi and Francesco Balilla Pratella, in which his fear of death is evident:

The battle will be serious, I am happy to give my life to our great, strong and glorious Italy…I hope I am not killed tomorrow so that I can continue to slaughter Austrians and to see the undoing of passéist Austria, most hated enemy. I hope I am not killed tomorrow so that I can take up again with you the great futurist struggle. 

While fighting in Trentino served Marinetti's ideological purposes very well, there were aspects of the Alpine combat environment that were absolutely antithetical to Futurist ideals, and thus communicating his mountain combat experience to fellow Futurists was not unproblematic for him. Futurism was a resolutely urban movement, he described his experiences on the Monte Altissimo, in explicitly urban terms, writing that on the mountain top:

… above our heads, the big grenades of our 149s are leaving like heavy trains that scrape along the tracks of great, curved bridges. They all converge on the other side of the lake, perfectly punctual, as if at a station at that Austrian trench of Colle del Bal.

Marinetti deemed nature to be incomplete without war and stated that it was war which endowed a new purpose on the mountainous landscape. In Marinetti's view, the natural environment was only a valid space when it had been affected by human intervention. According to the associationist principle, "nature is not appreciable until it is 'humanised' or 'consecrated' by some human deed, either actual or imaginary…"

Today the aggressive shapes of the high mountains have a reason to exist, all covered by thick trajectories, by the curved hisses and roars of the cannons. The rivers — natural trenches — today have a logical life. They interrupt the strength of the enemy and empty the battlefields of the bodies which they drag to the sea. 

Après la Marne, Joffre Visita le Front en Auto”

This is Marinetti's most famous war poem as it was published. It's in what one writer called a "down with the old style" and I could not find a verbatim translation, but this is how the Getty Museum described it for a show:

This poem celebrates the Battle of the Marne, in which the Allies stopped the German conquest of Europe and established the Western Front. Fashioned like a military map, Marinetti's poem portrays General Joseph Joffre's victorious tour of the troops after battle.

The general follows winding roads in spirals that evoke his reversals in military strategy. The letter M simultaneously refers to the word "Marne," renders the outline of mountains, and is the first letter of the words the general speaks: "Mon ami" and "Ma petite." The troops respond, "Vive la France" and "Mort aux boches" (Death to the Germans), while the "ta ta ta ta" and "toumb toum" of gunfire continues, at least in memory.

Later in the War as an
Artillery Officer
The Futurists' experience of fighting on the front line was destined to be short-lived, however. By the beginning of December, the Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists had been disbanded. So the Futurist volunteer cyclists returned, at least temporarily, to their pre-wartime pursuits in Milan, although they "anxiously await[ed] the pleasure of returning to battle."

Marinetti commented that the commanding sergeant of their battalion "rightly demanded, but did not receive, absolute discipline, which we wanted to be relative" and he acknowledged the very difficult task of commanding the "intellectuals’ platoon…because in it, all together, were the brightest and strangest brains that had never been subject to military discipline." In the light of these comments by Francioli and Marinetti, it is perhaps reasonable to conclude that the Army Command's reasons for disbanding the Volunteer Cyclists were not motivated solely by military tactics.

De-mobilized, Marinetti spent most of 1916 engaged in cultural and theatrical pursuits on the home front, Marinetti returned to the army as an officer in the autumn of that year, where his experiences would differ markedly from those first months on the front line in Trentino. As an officer, he was permitted to "move in and out of the war zone more or less as it pleased him" serving with an artillery battalion, he was wounded in 1917, but recovered in time to participate in the final battle of Vittorio Veneto.

Source: "The Futurist Mountains," Modern Italy, June 2013

Friday, January 15, 2016

Big Announcement Coming Soon: The National World War One Memorial Concept and Design Team

On Monday, 25 January 2016, an event that your editor has hoped for these past 30 years will take place. The design concept and team for America's long-overdue World War One Memorial will be announced. General Barry McCaffrey USA (Ret.) issued this statement in support of the project and the design teams:

There is a good argument that World War One, this immense tragedy that ended empires, changed the political and economic map of the world, was one of the most senseless wars that was ever fought, and arguably one of the most consequential.  At the end of the day this is about American soldiers, sailors, Marines, the beginning of the Army Air Corps, and how they ended the war.  We need you to support the Commission so these service men and women get the recognition they deserve.

We thank you all for your time in this effort! We can't hope to truly commemorate the centennial of WWI without your help in every state across the country!

Barry McCaffrey, General, USA (Ret.)

Here are the five competing final designs.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Great Retreat of 1915 and the Fall of the Russian Empire

Joshua Sanborn, professor of history at Lafayette College, believes that the decisive blow leading to the collapse of the Russian Empire came with the outbreak of World War I, well before the Bolshevik Revolution. Speaking at a Kennan Institute talk, Sanborn described the effects of war on the multicultural border region in which the fighting was taking place, an area that from the beginning of the war had come under martial law.

Russian Soldiers on the Retreat

Sanborn highlighted 1915 as the key year when Russian society began to come apart. The war displaced millions of people, and this explosion in the number of refugees led to a great deal of chaos, according to Sanborn. In addition, millions of soldiers entered this border region and had to be absorbed by local society. A large-scale program of ethnic cleansing took place in the region, most often targeting Jews, but also affecting ethnic Germans. A growing paranoia over espionage contributed to this ethnic cleansing and led to an increasingly hostile and threatening atmosphere that broke down social relations within society.

Economic disintegration was another key factor in the collapse. Prior to the war, the border regions of the Russian Empire had been economically vibrant, benefiting greatly from international trade. With the arrival of the military in 1914, trade gave way to requisitioning. A change also took place in sexual relations, with an increase in interaction between soldiers and the local population, in addition to a rise in prostitution and rape.

Scorched Earth by Russian Troops in Galicia 

Sanborn said that what really caused the full collapse of society was the Great Retreat in 1915, during which the army instituted a scorched earth policy and soldiers were asked to burn the towns and villages in which they had been living. This transformed what had been a war zone crisis into an empire-wide crisis. 

A low-level civil war developed, as decommissioned veterans and deserters returned home with their weapons and began organizing small bands of marauders. These veterans, according to Sanborn, became important supporters of the Bolsheviks as the anarchic fighting spread from the towns and villages to the major cities in 1917. 

Source: 2003 Talk at the Kennan Institute of the Wilson International Center

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Franz Marc, Kandinsky, and Camouflage

I discovered something interesting details recently about the man believed to be the greatest artist killed in the First World War, German Expressionist Franz Marc. Before he died at Verdun in 1916, Marc's talents were put to work painting camouflage canvases to hide artillery positions. In this letter he describes his assignment and succinctly explains how camouflage is supposed to work. It's also clear that he considered the Russian Wassily Kandinsky's style a perfect model for camouflage artists.

I found myself in a huge hayloft (a very nice workshop!) and I painted nine 'Kandinsky's' (...) on tent canvas. This process had a very useful purpose: to make artillery positions invisible to reconnaissance planes and aerial photography by covering them with canvases painted in a roughly pointillist style and in line with observation of the colors of natural camouflage (mimicry) (...) From now on, painting must make the picture that betrays our presence sufficiently blurred and distorted for the position to be unrecognizable. The division is going to provide us with a plane to experiment with some aerial photographs to see how it looks from the air. I'm very interested to see the effect of a Kandinsky from six thousand feet
Franz Marc,  Letters from the Front

Perhaps this 1913 work, gives a little inkling as to why Marc looked to Kandinsky.

Improvisation 30 (Cannons)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Letters from the Front: 1898–1945: Voices of the Wisconsin Past
reviewed by James M. Gallen

Letters from the Front: 1898–1945: 
Voices of the Wisconsin Past
by Michael E. Stevens
Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1992

Before the days of satellite-relayed newscasts and Skyping, the mailman delivered the tenuous lines that brought the sights and sounds of war to loved ones at home. Letters from the Front: 1898–1945 is a collection of letters Wisconsin's soldiers wrote from the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection and World Wars I and II. The volume includes a significant selection of letters from the First World War.

Doughboys in Action

Whatever war they are written in, soldiers' letters present a unique perspective on history. Historians can conduct interviews and study documents, photos, and artifacts, while memoirs give us what the participants remember and what they want us to know, but letters are real-time history, what the warriors saw, heard, and felt. They give us snapshots that help us better understand military life than anything else save personal experience.

Although the dreams and attitudes of warriors remain similar over time, readers of Roads to the Great War will be most interested in the letters from 1917–1918. The Doughboys needed training before facing the Hun and early letters are from familiar places such as Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Augusta, Georgia; Newport News, Virginia; and at sea before the flood of correspondence from France.

These letters show the army as a great social leveler: "We had two high school profs in this company, one sanitary engineer and a young new york [sic] millionaire – they are professional dishwashers now." Letters bring the Spanish flu to stark reality: "The regiment that is to go with us has fifty cases of Spanish influenza," and they let a soldier express his appreciation for his upbringing: "There's one thing I'm glad of every time I think of it. . . Mother and Dan allowed me to fool around with the old muskets…which we had so much fun playing war with...I got used to the ideas of military standing."

Departure made soldiers appreciate their blessings. One wrote home:

It gave me a queer pang when I saw the dear old Statue of Liberty fading away in the distance — You never realize how thoroughly patriotic you are, and how wonderfully proud yow are of your country, and how glad you are to be an American as when you see that marvelous New York sky line sinking into the horizon.

Reminiscent of John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" where:

The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. . .

Doughboy Lee Picket wrote home that:

Many song birds, chiefly sky larks, make the mornings beautiful with their songs. Even on the front line while the whistling shells and bursting high explosives make everything hideous, these little birds keep on with their cheerful little songs.

Order Now
The stereotypical Western Front experience is life in the trenches, and who can tell it better than one living it:

Your thoughts turn toward home and you wonder what your friends are doing as it is early evening there. You wonder if they can see the same stars that you can see overhead. Then all of a sudden a rocket goes up, bursting over "No Man's Land," casting a red or perhaps a green light…then "Hell breaks loose"…Guns begin to roar and pound all sides of you. . . the noise is deafening…you can hear the "whine" of the shells as they go through the air. In fact, you can tell when a shell is coming toward you as you can hear it "whining" as it comes toward you and all you can do is to crouch down and pray God it will not strike where you are…if a gas shell burst near you, you must stop breathing instantly, until you have put and adjusted your gas-mask! Then you have to work for hours with that on...I pray God that if I have to give up my life in this war it will be with a bullet and not gas.

Death was the men's constant companion and their letters reflect that. We read of Billy Mitchell's agony over his brother's death, while others speak of the untidy graveyards and the utter destruction they cover.

Fortunately it all had an end, and the Armistice meant different things in various places. Lyle Phillips wrote that:
Guns of all calibres (sic) were barking away & overhead the whirr of shells Germany-bound was almost continuous. The whole town shook with the explosions. Then precisely at 11 0'clock. . .every thing (sic) stopped. Not another shot was fired & since then all has been quiet.

Or as Harry Trippe put it:

The armistice went into effect yesterday at 11:00 a.m. but the only way we can notice it is that we do not have to dodge the shells and can see moonlight night, like tonight, without building up an 'Abri' to crawl into when the Boche planes appear. Finally, the men who waxed nostalgic at the receding New York skyline realized that "France sure is no place for an American boy."

The sights and sound that the Doughboys' fathers had seen and heard in Cuba and that their sons would experience in the next war were different, but the steady heartbeat of the WWI American soldier comes through in their letters as well. We are fortunate that the State Historical Society of Wisconsin collected these letters that, though addressed to loved ones at home, are written to us as well.

James M. Gallen

Monday, January 11, 2016

Was the Meuse-Argonne America's Deadliest Battle?

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was clearly the worst battle of the Great War in terms of killed in action for the American Expeditionary Force. How does it stand with respect to other comparable U.S. battles, specifically the Normandy Campaign of 1944? 

American Burial Service, 1918

Professor Robert Farrell titled his book on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, "America's Deadliest Battle." I questioned that assertion when the book came out and eventually got around to doing a little research. The biggest questions involved some assumptions about the most likely competitor for the distinction, the Normandy Campaign of 1944. Some think of Normandy in terms of D-Day and the battle to get off the beaches, while others take it up to the St. Lo breakout of 25 July. However, I concluded the actual end of the campaign is best marked by the official ending date used by the British and Canadians (they were there, too) of 1 September 1944. On that date Patton's Third Army had reached the Meuse River and Montgomery's forces farther north had arrived in front of Arras. Events of that date, to me, indicate clearly that the Battle for Normandy was over and a new phase of the war had started.  

The argument could be made that the figures below are not a fair comparison. For instance, the casualties in the later battle had a much higher proportion of air casualties. There just weren't that many airplanes flying in the Great War. Also, the battles lasted different lengths, the Argonne six weeks, Normandy was twice as long.

Nonetheless, with these qualifications and stipulations,  the conquest of Normandy resulted in more American deaths.  Here are the figures (U.S. dead only are listed)

1. Normandy Campaign, 6 June –1 September 1944

2. Meuse-Argonne Offensive, 26 September–11 November 1918

Among the First to Perish in the Normandy Campaign: American Dead on Omaha Beach