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

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: George Wright Puryear, 95th Aero Squadron

Lt. Puryear

World War I U.S. Army Air Service pilot was the first U.S. officer prisoner of war to escape from his German captors. He was the youngest of seven sons born to William Pressley and Fannie Mildred Wright Puryear in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a law degree in 1916 and moved to Memphis to work in his brother David's law practice.

During World War I, George joined the Aviation Section, U.S. Army Signal Corps (which would become the Army Air Service in 1918) and served in the 95th Aero Squadron. In July 1918, he was captured by German forces and sent to several different prisoner of war camps in Germany over the course of several months, before managing to escape from the camp at Villingen on 6 October 1918, swimming across the Rhine River to reach Switzerland. His heroic escape was chronicled in newspapers across the United States, and George traveled to various Air Service units to relay his experiences in the German prison camps.

Upon his return home, George was reassigned to the 9th Aero Squadron based at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California. From April to May 1919, he was a pilot with the No. 3 (Far West) Flight of the Victory Loan war bond campaign. When this campaign ended, George returned to the 9th Aero Squadron.

While on border patrol on 20 October 1919, the engine of his DH-4 cut out, causing it to crash. George died from his injuries within minutes of the crash. The airfield at El Centro/Calexico was named Puryear Field in his honor.

Source: Find a Grave

Friday, May 24, 2019

Who Was the Doughboys' Favorite Pin-Up?

Here's a question for you, dear readers. If Betty Grable was the favorite pinup of WWII's GIs, who held that honor for WWI's Doughboys? The answer could be one of the earliest sex symbols of the silent cinema, Theda "The Vamp" Bara.

Theda in The Stain, Her Film Debut 

She grew up in Cincinnati as Theodosia Burr Goodman and became an actress on the New York stage. Fox Studios discovered her and she went on to become their biggest star by the time of America's entry into the war, which was the same year her most famous film, Cleopatra, was released. Theda's brother volunteered for army service, and she responded graciously first to his buddies and then to other units that requested her sponsorship. As with other stars like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, Theda was also a wholehearted supporter of the war bonds programs and went on to set records for sales. 

Theda Honored on a Nieuport Fighter

But her most notable connection to WWI might be that she is believed to be the first female personality adopted for aircraft nose art. The image above, courtesy of, shows a U.S. training aircraft with Theda's name. Theda got married in 1921 and made her last film in 1926. There are no talkies featuring Theda, and, sadly, most of her silent films have been lost.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Grandeur of the Elks National Memorial

Built after the Great War to honor the 70,000 members of the association who had served in the struggle, the utterly magnificent Elks Memorial in Chicago is today little visited. It is reported that it receives about ten visitors a day. I once spent a day at nearby Lincoln Park and probably walked right past the building, oblivious to its importance and quality. I hope to make amends someday and get back to Chicago and visit the building. You'll see from the details and images below that the finest architects and artists in American contributed to its construction.  

1.  Elks National War Memorial,  Chicago, Illinois

Some details from the Elks website:

A monument in the truest sense, the Elks National Memorial was built in 1926 to honor Americans whose profound sacrifices for the nation can never be recognized by mere words. With its massive dome, heroic sculptures, and intricately detailed friezes, the memorial is a distinctively American interpretation of classical greatness.

Following World War I, there was a strong desire throughout the Elks organization to erect a fitting memorial to those brothers who had laid down their lives in the name of loyal patriotism and devotion to country which they had assumed at their fraternal altars. At the Grand Lodge session convened in Chicago in 1920, a special committee was created and assigned with the task of planning the design and construction of this new memorial. The commission invited seven of the country's most distinguished architects to participate in a competition that would determine the design of the new building.

After careful consideration, the commission unanimously decided on a design created by New York architect Egerton Swarthout. Swarthout's design was selected over the competition because it was the most beautifully distinctive, while still fulfilling its practical purpose as both a memorial to fallen Elks and a national headquarters for the organization. After an exhaustive search for the most qualified builder, the commission entrusted New York's Hegeman-Harris Company with the task of building a monument that would inspire Elks and captivate the public.

Some images from the memorial: (Click on them to enlarge.)

2.  View Inside the Entrance

3.  Partial View of the Balcony Murals

4. "The Armistice" by Eugene Francis Savage

5.  "Fidelity" (A Cardinal Virtue of the Elks), by James Earle Fraser

6. View from Ground Level of the Dome and Colonnade

7.  "Theirs Is the Kingdom of Heaven" (L) and 
"They Shall Be Called Children of God"(R )
 by Eugene Francis Savage

8.  Grand Reception Hall

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Work Horse of the U.S. Air Service: The DH-4

The DH-4 was an ever-present element of the U.S. Army Air Service during and after World War I. When the United States entered WWI in April 1917, the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps had only  132 aircraft, all obsolete. Modeled from a combat-tested British De Havilland design, the DH-4 was the only U.S. built aircraft to see combat during World War I. With inadequate funding to buy new aircraft, the newly created U.S. Army Air Service continued to use the DH-4 in a number of roles during the lean years following the war. By the time it was finally retired from service in 1932, the DH-4 had been developed into over 60 variants.

The 1,000th DH-4 Sent to France

During World War I, the Air Service used the DH-4 primarily for daytime bombing, observation and artillery spotting. The first American-built DH-4 arrived in France in May 1918, and the 135th Aero Squadron flew the first DH-4 combat mission in early August. By war's end, 1,213 DH-4s had been delivered to France. 

Unfortunately, the early DH-4s had drawbacks, including the fuel system. The pressurized gas tank had a tendency to explode, and a rubber fuel line under the exhaust manifold caused some fires. These problems led to the title of "The Flaming Coffin," even though only eight of the 33 DH-4s lost in combat by the U.S burned as they fell. In addition, the location of the gas tank between the pilot and observer limited communication and could crush the pilot in an accident.

Perhaps the most notable mission flown in the DH-4 was the brave attempt by 1st Lt. Harold Goettler and 2nd Lt. Erwin Bleckley of the 50th Aero Squadron to find and assist the famed "Lost Battalion" on 6 October 1918. During a resupply mission to this surrounded unit, their DH-4 was shot down. Both men posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

Of the three U.S. companies that built the DH-4 during World War I, the largest producer was the Dayton-Wright Company of Dayton, Ohio. The Air Service ordered over 12,000 DH-4s, but a number of problems kept initial production figures low and construction quality poor. The many changes involved in converting the design to American production standards, along with the use of the American Liberty 12-cylinder engine rather than the Rolls Royce engine of the British model, contributed to early production delays.

As the months of 1918 passed, however, quantity and quality improved considerably. By the end of the war, Dayton-Wright delivered 3,106 DH-4s, while the Fisher Body Division of General Motors built 1,600 and the Standard Aircraft Corporation added another 140, bringing the total to 4,846. The remaining 7,500 DH-4s still on order were cancelled.

The DH-4 at the USAF Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

With few funds to buy new aircraft in the years following WWI, the Air Service used the DH-4 in a variety of roles, such as transport, air ambulance, photographic plane, trainer, target tug, forest fire patrol, and even as an air racer. In addition, the U.S. Post Office operated the DH-4 as a mail carrier.

The DH-4 also served as a flying test bed at McCook Field in the 1920s, testing turbo-superchargers, propellers, landing lights, engines, radiators, and armament. There were a number of notable DH-4 flights such as the astounding New York to Nome, Alaska, flight in 1920, the record-breaking transcontinental flight in 1922 by Jimmy Doolittle, and the first successful air-to-air refueling in 1923.

From 1919 to 1923 over 1,500 DH-4s were modified  to DH-4Bs by moving the pilot's seat back and the now unpressurized gas tank forward, correcting the most serious problems in the DH-4 design. A further improved version was the DH-4M whereby over 300 DH-4s received new steel tube fuselages.

Continued raids by Mexican bandits on American homesteads led to the creation of the United States Army Border Air Patrol in June 1919. Comprised of eight squadrons and a photographic unit at its peak, the Border Air Patrol operated out of a string of rough airfields along the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite the loss of aircraft and aircrews to the harsh conditions in the Southwest, the Border Air Patrol's operations helped put an end to bandit attacks by the summer of 1921.

This reproduction DH-4B is marked as a photographic aircraft used by the 12th Aero Squadron in the early 1920s to take pictures of the U.S.-Mexico border and potential emergency landing fields.

Crew: Two (pilot and observer/gunner)
Armament: Two .30-cal. Marlin machine guns in the nose and two .30-cal. Lewis machine guns in the rear; 322 lbs. of bombs
Engine: 400-hp Liberty 12
Maximum speed: 128 mph
Range: 400 miles
Ceiling: 19,600 ft.
Weight: 3,557 lbs. loaded

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Berlin Noir: The Bernie Gunther Novels

By Phillip Kerr
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2004-2019
Mike Hanlon, Reviewer

Alexanderplatz, Berlin, in the 1930s

If you like your private eyes smart, tough talking, witty, and supremely cynical, Bernie Gunther is the man for you. If you like reading historical fiction-mystery fusion novels, then you'll be right at home with the late Phillip Kerr's 14 Bernie Gunther novels. If you like your protagonist to be a World War One veteran, who has seen it all, met everyone, chased every skirt, been as wicked as he's been honorable, but finds the Great War and its aftermath still haunts his every step, you've found your man in Bernie. I discovered the Berlin sleuth about  a decade ago and I've read all his cases, just completing his last,  #14, last month.

In the early part of the series when we meet him, Bernie's been a homicide detective in the Kripo (Kriminalpolizei—Berlin's criminal police) at the Alexanderplatz for 11 years. The Nazis, however, don't like his politics when they come into power in '33, and Bernie's soon out the door. Naturally, he quickly  finds work on the private side of law enforcement. It turns out, unluckily for him, that Himmler and Goering soon need his well-known skills and drag him into their web of conspiracies. Thus is launched a career that sees Bernie (as the novels roll along) dragged into the S.S. by uber-manipulative Reinhard Heydrich, assigned to investigate war crimes like the Katyn Forest massacre, captured and imprisoned by the Red Army, fleeing to South America as a suspected war criminal, gaining the Perons and, later, Batista as clients, and eventually returning incognito as a hotel manager to the French Riviera in the 1950s where East German intelligence spots him and applies new pressure. Incidentally, unlike the great Maisie Dobbs, few of Bernie's cases are directly linked to World War One. It's memories are always present for him, however, in all the novels.

If I've whetted your interest—to start—I recommend reading the first three Bernie Gunther mysteries, collectively known as the Berlin Noir series (available in one volume). These pick up his career in the 1930s, but, like the Flashman series (another personal favorite), the subsequent books are not chronologically sequenced and these leave some big gaps in his resume. Unfortunately, his creator, Philip Kerr, died last year, so we will never learn details like how Bernie escaped the clutches of U.S authorities, who were hot on his trail at one point, or where the old Kripo commissar made his last stand. Author Kerr, however, gives enough fill-in data to keep his readers from getting disoriented. 

I've left out a lot here about Bernie's 14 volumes of adventures, but in any case, I think you will find all of Bernie's adventures historically informative, exciting, and highly entertaining.

Mike Hanlon

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rebuilding St. Quentin

Postwar Damage to Basilica and Surrounding Neighborhood

Saint Quentin represents a city which suffered considerable damage in World War One but survived, recognizably, as the shell of an important industrial center; occupied throughout the war, and located on the front line after the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in 1917, it suffered severely. By the end of the war, over 70 percent of Saint-Quentin, occupied from August 1914 to September 1918 by the German Army, had been destroyed. The town was rebuilt during the 1920s. 

Devastation After German Forces Abandoned the City

The civilian population returned to a skeleton of their home town, lacking all its factory equipment, stocks, a considerable number of buildings and virtually all private property, with many of the buildings roofless or grossly damaged—as a living community it had ceased to exist and needed to reconstruct its activity, community existence, and productivity from zero. Some of the ruined buildings could be restored, while others must be pulled down to start again. This was a case of restoration, fitting new buildings into old streets or squares and inserting individual features, with the original street patterns and buildings clearly visible even if needing complete restoration. 

Residential Street with Some New Art Deco Structures and
Surviving Pre-WWI Buildings

After the First World War, architect Louis Guindez convinced the city fathers to adopt the Art Deco style of design wherever possible. Consequently, St. Quentin considers itself the world's first Art Deco city and the style is still widely visible in the city, once you start looking—horizontal lines, large windows, decorative mosaic work, reinforced concrete. The train station is a leading example of this approach.

Art Deco Train Station

An example of church with an interesting historical background—St. Quentin was once a center of Huguenot activity—and whose restoration followed the design guidelines is the Eglise protestante unie de France. Originally a monastery stood on the site, founded by Marie de Medici, with its buildings used as an emergency medical post in the 1870–71 war, then completely destroyed in the fighting in 1917–18, it was rebuilt as a Protestant church after 1918 with funds from American Protestant churches.

The Rebuilt Protestant Church

Source: Helen McPhail, "Picking up the Pieces: Rebuilding Northern France after the First World War," Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies, vol. 1(2004)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

April 1914: The Assassination Plot Is Hatched

The Conspirators in Court, Princip Circled

In April 1914 Gavrilo Princip was in Belgrade, where he associated with a number of Serbian students in town cafes and conceived a plan for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He shared the plan with his acquaintance Nedeljko Čabrinović, also in Belgrade, who held similar views and agreed at once to participate in the attempt.

Attempts on the archduke's life were a frequent topic of conversation in the circles in which Princip and Čabrinović moved, as the archduke seen as a dangerous enemy of the Serbian people.

Princip and Čabrinović desired at first to procure the necessary bombs and weapons from Serbian Major Milan Pribićević or from the Narodna Odbrana, [the Black Hand] as they lacked the money to purchase the weapons. Since both Pribićević and Živojin Dačić, a leading member Of the Black Hand, were absent from Belgrade, they then tried to get the weapons from their acquaintance Milan Ciganović, a former Komitadji currently working for the state railways. 

Princip contacted Ciganović though a friend and discussed the assassination plan with him. Ciganović endorsed the plan and indicated he would consider providing weapons. Čabrinović also talked with Ciganović about the weapons.

At Easter, Princip took Trifko Grabež , also in Belgrade, into his confidence. In his later confession, Grabež admitted his willingness to take part in the attempt. In the following weeks Princip repeatedly discussed the plans with Ciganović, who meanwhile had reached an understanding with his close friend Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosić to provide the Browning pistols Princip used on 28 June to kill the archduke and his wife Sophie. 

Sources: Austrian Court District of Sarajevo Record

Friday, May 17, 2019

The View from Leipzig Salient, Thiepval Ridge, 1 July 1916

German Defenses at the Somme

Offizierstellvertreter Heinrich Conrad
9th Company, 8th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, 10th Bavarian Division

At the opening of the battle of the Somme the 9th Company was led by Leutnant der Reserve [Hubert] Meister. The company was occupied digging at night behind the front at different places. The thunder of cannon fire growled ahead continuously, and by day a countless number of enemy captive balloons hovered above the front, observing every movement in our lines.

1 July 

A state of highest alert exists, but everything is quiet. It is Saturday. Up at Thiepval the sound of steady, heavy shellfire can be heard. What's going on there? We don't know. Afternoon arrives lazily. We talk, smoke, sleep. Who knows what night will bring.

"Where is the company commander?" shouts an excited voice from down the trench.

"Who wants to know?" I ask.

"A messenger."

Leutnant Meister appears in the dugout entrance and is handed a dirt-smeared paper with the report: "Enemy has penetrated the Schwaben Redoubt." The regiment's 1st and 2nd battalions, along with the 11th and 12th companies, must counterattack; the 10th Company will occupy the 11th and 12th's vacated position, and we are to take over the 10th's sector. Hurrying to our new destination we find it in a sorry condition. The trenches are barely knee-deep, and there is no trace of dugouts. Some shell holes in the position's forward area are fortified and we seek cover in these from the enemy's increasingly heavy artillery fire. We find here the bodies of the regiment's, and the battalion's, first casualties of the battle. How many of our own company will join them?

We lay in the open barely 200 meters behind Mouquet Farm. Shortly before 6 p.m. another messenger arrives, bringing new instructions: "The 9th Company will advance immediately to the Wundtwerk."

"Everyone ready! Let's go!"

With Leutnant Meister and I in the lead, we pass the ruins of Mouquet and move through Josenhans Trench, badly battered from shell fire. We encounter a large
Württemberger going in the opposite direction, his hand bound with a bloody rag.

"What's going on up there?" we ask. 

"Those dogs, those damned accursed dogs!" comes the reply. He thrusts his injured fist in the air toward the rear, and continues on.

Just then a shell whizzes by a short distance over the trench, followed by a second. It explodes in the vicinity of the 1st Platoon. Screams! Albin Bauer, our drummer, is badly wounded. A piece of shrapnel has torn into his chest. Stretcher bearers quickly attend to him while the rest of us move forward again. The ground slopes upward. Seen from the shell-plowed summit the entire area is a gigantic, gray-brown field of craters. But there, beyond the devastation, a river gleams in the shadow of a green wood. Is this where peace lives?

German Soldiers at the Somme

We lay in the Wundtwerk, bathed in sweat. Water! Water! The last drops are gone. My batman, Karl Guth, takes both of our water bottles and his boiler, then disappears. After a while he reappears completely breathless, but with a cunning smile on his face. All the containers are filled with excellent coffee. The water boiler is passed from mouth to mouth until it is empty.  Guth explains that, along the way to our position, he noticed a field kitchen from which he "liberated" the welcome antidote for our thirst.

After dusk an officer visits and orders yet another move. ''At 4 o' clock tomorrow morning we counterattack." I nod to him. The men silently proceed in the blackness through the Konigstrasse to our newest destination, the Hindenburg. Such is the appellation for the corner junction of the Konigstrasse and the Hindenburg Stellung, named for the famous army commander to designate the first-line trench here. The front line originally ran from Thiepval south-southeast to the Ovillers-Authuille road, then curved sharply eastward  for some 800 meters until dropping south again toward Orvillers and La Boisselle. The point of this curved salient has been captured by the English. The 9th Company is meant to bolster the threatened Hindenburg position, whose barricaded corner section we reach at 11 p.m. We find all that remains of the 99th Reserve Infantry Regiment's 3rd Company under the command of two officers. The 180th Regiment should be on the left, but where? No one is sure.

The entire company front measures about 250 meters in length. A delicate situation exists for no one seems to know how far the enemy has penetrated on our left. In the piece of line lost to the English there is a stone quarry, which the enemy may now be filling with men and material. "This quarry must be taken!" So reads our order. After a consultation with the two officers from the 99th's 3rd Company, Leutnant Meister issues his own orders. The 2nd and 3rd Platoons will attack: on the right, Unteroffizier Weindel with three sections of the 3rd Platoon; on the left, the rest of the 3rd Platoon under Vizefeldwebel Walcher; I am to lead in the center with half of the 2nd Platoon. The 1st Platoon is our reserve and is to remain in dugouts of the Konigstrasse and Lemburg-Stellung. Hand-grenadiers are selected and all other preparations made. This finished, we then sit leaning or dozing against the trench wall to wait for zero hour. Wallcher, who earlier in the war at Soyecourt shared a dugout with me for nine months, is seated at my side and soon drops into a deep sleep, completely unconcerned with what the next hours might bring.

Source: Carnival of Hell by Richard Baumgartner 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The World War I Mural at the MacArthur Memorial

Click on Image to Enlarge

In 1963 the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA, began a project to complete six 7’ x 13’ murals depicting the life and accomplishments of General Douglas MacArthur. Noted artist Alton S. Tobey was commissioned to paint these after grants were received to complete the massive paintings. One of these, titled "MacArthur in the Trenches," depicts the general's service with the 42nd "Rainbow" Division in the Great War. While a few details don't quite ring true (the British Mark-series tank looks a bit out of place and the troops were probably wearing puttees, rather than leather leggings), the painting does fine justice to the Doughboys, who are trudging with fatigue but looking very determined nonetheless. Also, MacArthur is well captured, dictating a dispatch to an aide, while looking, well, very MacArthur-like. Learn more about the murals at the memorial's outstanding website at: 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Recommended: Canada's Controversial Sir Sam Hughes (1853–1921)

By Carol Whitfield at the Parks of Canada Website

Col. Sam Hughes, MP
July 1905 (Public Archives of Canada)
Sam Hughes was a man who often seemed to be trying to serve his country in the wrong century. With his undeniable energy and Central Ontario beliefs, he might have made an excellent minister of militia and defence in Macdonald's first government. Macdonald might have been capable of controlling Hughes's volatile personality and putting a bridle on his tongue; Borden never could force Hughes to behave like a minister of the crown.

Samuel Hughes, known through out his life as "Sam," was born 8 January 1853 in Darlington County, Ontario. From his father, John Hughes of Tyrone, Ireland, Sam acquired his strong Orange and imperialist beliefs. These views were probably reinforced by his mother, Caroline Laughlin, who was of Scottish, Irish, and Huguenot descent.

Possibly his mother's stories of her grandfather, General Saint Pierre, Brigadier of Cuirassiers, and her two uncles, who served under Napoleon at Waterloo,  encouraged the boy's fascination with war. Hughes joined the active militia when he was 13 and several years later was mustered to guard the border during the abortive Fenian Raid of 1870.  He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel commanding the 45th Battalion on 9 June 1897.  By that date he had achieved such prominence in Canadian militia and political circles that he had been offered the positions of deputy minister of militia (1891) and adjutant general (1895). Hughes declined both desk jobs, but he did take part in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebration on 20 June 1897, for which he received a medal. 

The Hughes were not wealthy, but they did send their son to Toronto Model and Normal School. After graduation, Hughes taught for a short time in Belleville and Bowmanville before returning to Toronto to join the staff of Toronto Collegiate Institute, where he taught English and history besides attending the University of Toronto part-time. Hughes graduated with a BA in 1880.  Five years later he purchased the Lindsay Warder, a strongly Conservative paper that he edited until 1897.

Through the pages of his newspaper, Hughes made himself and his views known to the citizens of Victoria County. His ideas were not always popular, but a burned newspaper office and shots at the editor did not deter him. In 1891 he stood for election as the Conservative Party candidate in North Victoria but was defeated. A year later he won the same riding in a by-election. From February 1892 until his death in 1921, Hughes represented the constituency of North Victoria, or Victoria and Haliburton as it became after the redistribution at the turn of the century. In the House of Commons Hughes was one of the leading Conservative critics on military and militia affairs.

Regardless of how exciting the parliamentary battle was, Hughes was constantly restless. He offered to personally raise a corps to assist Britain in the Egyptian-Sudanese campaign and in the Afghan Frontier War. Both offers were declined. Because he felt so strongly that the colonies must militarily assist England in her conflicts, Hughes went on an extended visit to New Zealand and Australia during the winter of 1897–98, promoting colonial military assistance. 

His chance came with the Boer War. As soon as he learned that war was certain, he offered to personally raise a corps for service in South Africa. Unfortunately, he made the offer in an unorthodox fashion. Instead of just offering his services to the district officer commanding, who would transmit the offer to General Hutton, commander of the Canadian Militia, Hughes impatiently wrote also to F. W. Borden, the minister of militia and defence, and to Chamberlain, the secretary of state for the colonies. Before Hutton had an opportunity to decide on the merits of Hughes's offer, he was being pressured to accept it by Borden and Chamberlain. Hutton furiously accused Hughes of "irregularity and breach of military procedure."  Unwisely deciding not to let the issue calm down, Hughes again wrote Hutton proffering his services. Hutton, having decided this letter was threatening and insubordinate, denied Hughes employment in South Africa and suggested that any more action on the latter's part might lose him the command of the 45th Battalion. Hughes ignored the warning. Hearing rumors that a fellow officer was to command the Canadian contingent, Hughes wrote Hutton attacking the possible commander, praising himself, hinting about irregularities in the British high command and threatening Hutton.  Not only was this letter insubordinate, it was appallingly undiplomatic.

Hutton, who had been called before the Cabinet three times to explain why Hughes could not go to South Africa,  was livid. Probably pressure from the Cabinet was the only thing that prevented Hutton from cashiering Hughes. Instead he demanded a public apology for the two letters and denied Hughes permission to join the Canadian contingent. Hughes was, however, allowed to sail with the contingent in the SS Sardinian, but, "It is to be clearly understood that this officer does not proceed in any military capacity whatever, and will accordingly, not wear uniform on board ship." 

As soon as he disembarked at Cape Town, Hughes hurried to register at the Grand Hotel. Here he re-established contacts with high-ranking British officers he had met at the Diamond Jubilee. They found him a job as a railway transport officer. His next position was assistant to Inspector General Settle on the lines of communication; then he became Settle's chief of intelligence staff, and finally was transferred to General Warren's staff where he served in the same capacity as well as leading a mounted brigade in the Griqual and West and Bechuanaland campaigns.  It was a phenomenal rise during a period of just eight months, but, unfortunately, Hughes could not keep his pen from committing his exploits to paper. Writing to the newspapers at home, he detailed not only his own brilliant activities but also the failures of his superiors. Soon he was politely dismissed from the battle front; he was given command of a unit returning home on a troop ship to England. 

Gen. Sir Sam Hughes watching British attack at Battle of the Somme, October 1917. 
(Public Archives of Canada.)

The Boer War did not end Hughes's involvement in the British empire. He had always been an uncompromising supporter of imperial federation: the masthead of the Warder was,

A union of hearts, A union of hands, A union no man can sever, A union of tongues, A Union of lands, And the flag — British Union forever.

Hughes envisioned a confederation of the British empire with the various autonomous bodies maintaining the form of government best suited to their individual requirements. The imperial Parliament would handle international, financial, military, and naval matters. Hughes felt that each country within the confederation would set its tariffs but that the imperial Parliament would be able to impose sanctions upon any country by adding a high imperial tariff to the individual member's tariff. Similarly, each country would be responsible for its own defense but would be duty bound to contribute to imperial defense.  For this reason Hughes did not support the Canadian naval policy of the Liberals or Conservatives. He argued that a professional navy did not fit into his scheme of imperial militia authorized by the imperial Parliament. This argument follows if a navy is used only for offensive purposes. Such a navy, under Hughes's allotment of responsibilities, would then be a creation of the imperial Parliament. By denying that Canada needed a navy, Hughes denied the possible defensive functions of a navy.

The speeches he made on imperialism and his letters to General Hutton had amply illustrated that Hughes was opinionated, outspoken, and rash. Nevertheless, Borden chose him to be minister of militia and defence when the Conservatives won the election in 1911. According to his memoirs, Borden hesitated about the appointment, but, having extracted a promise that he would be discreet, he gave Hughes the desired appointment. Hughes had strong advocates recommending him: Clifford Sifton, Sir Frederick Borden, and Hughes himself called on Sir Robert Borden to plead the cause. However, the major factor in Hughes's favor was probably the strong support he could muster from his fellow Ontario Orangemen, Macquarrie. An article on the formation of Borden's cabinet lists one other reason for Hughes's appointment. When Borden was personally defeated in the 1904 election, Hughes was the first man to offer the party leader his seat.  If the incident did occur,  it no doubt influenced Borden's decision.

With quiet and generally competent activity between 1911 and the summer of 1914, Hughes behaved like a minister of the crown whose sole interest is his department. Convinced that war was inevitable, he decided to augment the Defence Department's budget. Despite opposition by his cabinet colleagues, the budget was increased by $3.5 million from the fiscal year 1911–12 to 1913–14. Some of this money was spent building 44 new armories that could double as public halls. The fourth-largest of these new structures was built at Lindsay,  the site Hughes later authorized for the second dominion arsenal; it was, incidentally, the center of his own constituency.

Part of the increased budget paid for the new Connaught Rifle Range on the outskirts of Ottawa. Hughes handled all the plans for this project  to encourage one of his special interests. Having served as president of the Dominion Rifle Association and chairman of the Standing Small Arms Committee for Canada,  Hughes was interested in rifle accuracy, which he further encouraged by free grants of ammunition to both civilian and militia rifle associations. 

Hughes devoted part of his time to improving the caliber of Canadian militia officers. He held the first military conferences,  conducted a tour of American Civil War battlefields, and took selected officers to attend the annual British, French, German, and Swiss maneuvers in 1913. This final project was undertaken because Hughes felt that the majority of Canadian officers and men had no experience with either battle or large numbers of troops. He encouraged large summer militia camps so the men could become accustomed to operating in units larger than their local battalion. 

Unfortunately, not everything Sam Hughes did as minister of militia before the war was wise. The only blunder that aroused public attention, however, was his refusal of permission to the 65th Regiment to carry arms in the Fête-Dieu procession in Montreal in 1914. Technically he was right, but previous ministers had avoided irritating French Canadian nationalist feelings by granting such permission. 

The governor general prevented a second blunder on Hughes's part from becoming very serious. In the spring of 1914, a Count von Loudow presented himself at militia headquarters as a German officer touring Canada. Hughes decided the man's credentials were in order and answered some of his questions until the governor general ordered a security check which revealed that the count was a spy, sent to acquire specific information about Canadian defenses along the St. Lawrence River. 

Hughes's biggest error was one that no one could prevent: he assumed too much personal responsibility. A militia council of six senior officers had been established to advise the minister, but Hughes ignored it.  Prior to the war this tendency not to delegate responsibility was not too serious, but once fighting started, the department's problems multiplied so enormously that one man could no longer handle all of them adequately.

Probably the most significant instance of Hughes assuming too much personal responsibility was the mobilization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Detailed plans for mobilizing 20,000 men had been made in 1911 and revised in 1912, but Hughes discarded them. To the House of Commons he later likened his method to "the fiery cross passing through the Highlands of Scotland or the mountains of Ireland in former days." Ignoring the militia districts, he sent letters to unit commanders and individuals asking them to prepare descriptive rolls of men suitable for service overseas. These rolls were to be sent to Ottawa where the men were to be individually selected. After four days even Hughes recognized that this procedure was impossible. The new plans he issued gave each district a quota of men to raise.

"In a short time," proudly declared the minister of militia, "we had the boys on the way for the first contingent, whereas it would have taken several weeks to have got the word around through the ordinary channels... The contingent was practically on the way to Europe before it could have been mobilized under the ordinary plan." This disparagement of the "ordinary plan" was scarcely justified; normal military channels of communication properly used could have carried the warning in a matter of hours, not weeks. Indeed, once the confusion caused by the first dramatic but irregular "call to arms" subsided, most of the volunteers joined through existing militia units in virtually the manner prescribed by the prewar scheme. 

Although many men did join through their local militia units, when they reached Valcartier they found themselves completely realigned into units which had no geographical base or tradition.  Mobilization was further hindered by the fact that final selection of the contingent was to take place at Valcartier; good men hesitated to quit their jobs only to be turned down just before the contingent sailed for Europe. 

Gen. Sir Sam Hughes, Canadian
Minister of Militia and Defence
(Public Archives of Canada.)
As soon as he had dispatched the mobilization orders, Hughes began creating a camp to collect and train the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The physical creation of Valcartier, the huge camp outside Quebec City, was due to Hughes's fantastic energy. In a very few weeks, he erected out of virgin bush a camp to house and train 25,000 men.

Confusion prevailed at Valcartier, but the situation would have gradually improved if Hughes had not interfered.

The first few days in camp was chaos. Bodies of men arrived before arrangements were made to receive them. There were no units in the true sense of the word, but certain bodies of men submitted themselves to the command of individuals many of whom were subsequently displaced by the minister. The Valcartier Camp Staff, hindered to a great extent by the continual presence and the interference of the late Sir Sam Hughes, gradually formed this mob into units and brigades. 

In his memoirs, Borden cites reports of incidents of Hughes speaking harshly and insultingly to the officers at Valcartier in front of the men.  The trouble really was Hughes's desire to assume total personal responsibility. In a speech on 15 August 1914, he hinted that the "dearest ambition" of his life was to "lead the boys" and that he still might "go to the front." 

Hughes's total involvement with "the boys" caused him to hurry to New York as soon as the first contingent had sailed and race them to England. He was on hand to welcome the troops and see them settled at the future mud hole, Salisbury Plain. Among other details, Hughes assured himself that there was no liquor sold at the Canadian canteens. Eventually he was forced to rescind this order when numerous incidents showed that a totally dry camp resulted in leaves being passed at the local pubs. However, he did not reverse the order before the men parodied an old song to commemorate his temperance attitude.

D'ye ken Sam Hughes, he's the foe of booze;
He's the real champion of the dry canteen;
For the camp is dead, and we're sent to bed,
So we won't have a head in the morning.

Actually Hughes's presence in England was fortunate for the cause of Canadian autonomy. When he paid a courtesy call on Lord Kitchener, he learned that the Canadian forces were going to be dispersed among the British units. He refused to sanction such a decision and eventually forced Kitchener to concede that the Canadians would serve as a separate unit. 

Hughes returned to Canada and began preparations for mobilizing a second contingent. Again he ignored the prepared mobilization plans and ordered recruiting by electoral district. This scheme worked in cities which had the facilities to handle recruiting and training but broke down entirely in rural areas. The plan lasted only one season; there were sufficient recruits, but they were poorly and unevenly trained.  Borden's announcement on New Year's Day, 1916, that Canada was committed to a force of 50,000 men required a new recruiting scheme. Eventually the government realized that their commitment could be met only by conscription.

Hughes augmented his recruiting difficulties by the manner in which he treated French Canadians. Beginning wisely by approaching Cardinal Bégin over the problem of chaplains,  Hughes's methods soon changed.

He placed an English Protestant in charge of recruiting propaganda. [in Quebec] and from time to time emphasized the foolishness of this action by more mischievous activities. 

Hughes increased French Canadian resentment by statements such as Quebec "has not done its duty." 

As minister of militia and defence, Hughes's problems were not limited to just recruiting sufficient men; the men had to be properly equipped. To handle the complex details of purchasing uniforms as well as rifles and shells, a shell committee was established in September 1914. Prior to this, Hughes made some purchases without the Privy Council's approval. The shell committee, which became the Imperial Munitions Board, worked reasonably well. Unfortunately Hughes was personally committed to Colonel J. Wesley Allison who, independently of the committee, was also placing orders. Allison's activities aroused the suspicion of the Opposition, and Borden submitted to their demands for a royal commission. He therefore called Hughes home from one of his periodic visits to the front to answer the commission's queries. Borden also forced Hughes to temporarily relinquish the administration of his department during the investigation. Eventually Hughes and the shell committee were exonerated, but Allison was censored for deceiving Hughes and the committee about his activities.  Hughes' reputation was damaged however, and the Cabinet was furious; they felt that he had subjected the government to unnecessary scrutiny. At this point Borden wrote in his diary, "It is quite evident that Hughes cannot remain in the Government." 

Hughes was also deeply involved in the controversy over the Ross rifle. Although the rifle had been adopted before he became the responsible minister, it had been selected by a Commons committee of which he was a member. Unfortunately, he was unable to consider the rifle in a detached manner. He knew that it was an excellent target rifle and assumed that it was therefore an excellent battle rifle, a conclusion which did not necessarily follow. Confusing reports as to the rifle's behavior with different makes of ammunition tended to support Hughes's contention that people were attacking the rifle unjustly, and he strongly defended it against the documented arguments of Gwatkin and Alderson. Probably part of the reason Alderson was transferred from the command of the Canadian contingent at the front to inspector general in England in May 1916 was because of his opposition to the Ross. It is unfortunate that while Hughes and the officers argued over the attributes of the Ross, men died because the rifle jammed, Borden and Hughes clashed finally over the organization of the Militia Department in England.

Throughout the summer of 1916 it became increasingly evident that the existing condition of affairs must be remedied: it was found that unfit men were being sent from Canada; that reinforcements were being neither sufficiently nor uniformly trained in England; that the methods of caring for convalescent wounded, and of returning casualties to the front when fit, were unsatisfactory; that recommendations for promotion in the field were being unduly delayed; and that there was a growing number of senior officers in England, stranded there when the juniors and other ranks of their units were sent as reinforcements to France. These failings could only be rectified by establishing an organization through which direct and efficient control, both military and governmental, would be exercised. The need for such an arrangement had long been foreseen by some, but the insistence of the minister of militia on devoting his personal interest to adjustment of arms and equipment and the destinies of individuals, rather than to the co-ordination of general policies, imposed an unreckoned indeterminate stress upon the machinery of the War Office, and precluded the effective employment of a responsible intermediary. Early in August, 1914, it had been agreed that the minister should deal with details of a military character in direct communication with the Army Council, but the sphere of his influence was not in fact limited by the English Channel; he maintained continual touch unofficially with the frontline troops, and his enthusiasm impelled him to comment frequently and freely on the tactics and strategy employed. 

The problem was that the Militia Department in Ottawa was corresponding with the War Office and three separate individuals in England. MacDougall and Steele had separate commands of the two Canadian contingents in England. Completely divorced from these two officers was an honorary colonel, J. W. Carson, whom Hughes appointed as his special representative in England. 

Carson's terms of reference applied only to supplies, but he soon came to supersede the other two officers in authority. Eventually Carson was deciding policy and dispensing promotions under Hughes's direction. Confusion reigned; no one was sure who was responsible for what.

In the summer of 1916, Hughes returned to England to begin reorganizing the command structure. Despite repeated telegrams from Borden asking for his recommendations so an order-in-council could be issued, Hughes did not inform the Canadian Cabinet of his decision. It was through the newspapers that Borden learned that Hughes had established an acting sub-militia council for overseas Canadians chaired by Carson.  The council's decisions had to be endorsed by Hughes in Ottawa before they took effect. Despite this delay, the council was an improvement.

But Sir Sam's efforts to bring about a more business-like state of affairs were doomed to failure when he chose to ignore the prime minister's repeated instructions. 

Hughes returned to Canada to discover that an angry prime minister and Cabinet had made their own plans for the organization of the Militia Department in England. A new ministry of overseas military forces of Canada with Sir George Perley as minister would replace the sub-militia council. Hughes objected strongly, claiming that the new ministry would rob him of all his powers. Because Borden was adamant, Hughes finally agreed to the new ministry if his friend, the future Lord Beaverbrook, was made minister;  however, when Borden announced the new ministry, Perley was named minister.

In a rage, Hughes wrote Borden a letter accusing him of planning the new ministry behind his back.  The letter was so impertinent that Borden was compelled to demand Hughes's resignation. After noting Hughes's lack of Cabinet responsibility, Borden stated,

I take strong exception not only to statements which it contains but [also] to its general character and tone. You must surely realize that I cannot retain in the Government a colleague who has addressed to me such a communication. I regret that you have thus imposed upon me the disagreeable duty of requesting your resignation as Minister of Militia and Defence. 

Hughes resigned 11 November 1916, ending a career which had brought him all the glory and pomp he could desire. Although he had not been able to assume personal command of the troops, he had visited the front several times and taken the salute at numerous parades. He had commanded the troops, police, and firemen at the Parliament buildings fire on 3 February 1916. He had also been created a Knight of the Bath on 24 August 1915  and an honorary lieutenant general in the British army on 18 October 1916. 

Hughes retired from public service to enjoy the relative peace of his family at his Ottawa residence, 21 Nepean Street. However, by 1920 he was seriously ill and in July 1921 he was moved to Lindsay, where he died on 24 August of that year. 

He was a man of great ability, immense energy, and strong enthusiasms but possessed of a singular aptitude for uttering the wrong phrase at the wrong time. A man of intense egotism, he was capable of unyielding loyalty, however mistaken, for his friends and equally bitter hatred for those he considered enemies. Headstrong and imperious, he was inclined to make and announce decisions without submitting them to the Cabinet, or even to the prime minister, and he was strongly disposed to ignore the line of demarcation between political authority and military command. There seems little doubt that, as the war continued, the colonel became increasingly erratic and difficult.  
Canadian Historical Review, 1950, No. 1.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Retreat: A Story of 1918

By Charles R. Benstead
The University of South Carolina Press, 2008
David F. Beer, Reviewer

Retreating British Soldiers in an Improvised Trench, Spring 1918

Imagine a devout, sensitive, and extremely orthodox vicar of a comfortable country parish in England during 1914 to 1917. He truly loves his calling and is content in his life among his parishioners. But he's tortured by guilt because war is raging in France and he feels he should somehow be involved, even though he's excused from conscription. After months of intense prayer and soul-searching he volunteers as an army chaplain and arrives at the front in time for Ludendorff's 1918 Spring Offensive and the initial British retreat. The Reverend Elliot Pethwick Warne, picturing himself "in the role of a spiritual savior welcomed by an ecstatic people crying out for salvation" finds himself chaplain to the 200th Brigade, Royal Garrison Artillery.

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The rest of this very readable and rather gripping novel of some 300 pages describes the realities of war and how the poor chaplain metaphorically suffers a death of a thousand cuts. At every turn his dreams and plans are thwarted by the exigencies of war and his own sensitivities and psychological reactions. He finds himself condescended to, ignored, a nuisance, and except for one poorly attended church parade, mostly irrelevant. The end is inevitable. After finishing the book, I spent some time wondering—to what extent might the Reverend Warne be considered a tragic hero?

Although this is a study of one man in the war, the war itself is also powerfully described, as are the brigade colonel and his staff. Toward the end of the novel some of these officers have a serious discussion on church and religion and make some telling points, but by then it's too late for Warne, a man "with a mind saturated with inflexible ideas." We meet one or two other chaplains in the course of the story, characters who fit in because they have neither the devotion nor convictions of Padre Warne. I couldn't help comparing them to the real war chaplains we know about, such as Woodbine Willy, Father Duffy, and Eugene McLaurin, whose diary was edited by Jerry Tompkins and reviewed on this blog on 17 November 2015.

British Casualty Station During the Retreat

Charles R. Benstead's novel was originally published in 1930 and is based on his own experiences in the Great War. Benstead was an artillery officer on the Western Front who later wrote 11 other books,  none quite as successful as this one. The novel's quality is no doubt the reason the University of South Carolina republished the book in its Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Series, a source for several WWI classics that might otherwise be neglected. It includes a glossary of terms and acronyms peculiar to the British Army of the time, and the new introduction by Hugh Cecil is excellent—although I wish I'd read it after reading the story.

If you're interested in a novel that looks closely at war and religion, psychology, and faith, and shows how they can all be sadly at odds despite the best of intentions, then you will enjoy Retreat: A Story of 1918.

David F. Beer

Monday, May 13, 2019

Map Series #6: The Isonzo Sector of the Italian Front

I found this map in a compilation of New York Times Mid-Week Pictorials that were published during the war.  After three visits to this area, I can say that—though it has many micro-errors and misplacements—it does that best job I've ever seen of capturing the size, terrain, and relative positioning among the key locations I've ever seen for what was the most important sector of the war on the Italian Front.  Begin your review by tracing the Isonzo (now Soca) River from the Gulf of Trieste past the towns of Gorizia, Tomin[o] Caporetto, and Plezzo to the Julian Alps. These towns all played important roles during the war.  Then examine the transitional area between the sea and the mountains which features two rugged plateau with their own mountain peaks, the Bainsezza and the Carso.  The latter was the great killing ground of the Italian Army during the war. The troops deployed here were trying to get to Trieste and in 11 battles only got about a quarter of the way.

I've highlighted some of the names of important locales and circled two sub-sections in yellow that needed to be delineated.  The lower section is where the principal fighting (not all) occurred for the 11 battles of the Isonzo, which were all Italian offensives aimed strategically at capturing Trieste.  The upper area is where the Austro-German Caporetto breakthrough (also known as the 12th Battle of the Isonzo) took place in October 1917.  I don't believe Caporetto had been fought yet when this map was created. As you will see below,  you will need to open the map to be able to read it. The original is 1600 x 2400 pixels.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Wounded at Blanc Mont

by C.A. Brannen, 6th Marines USMC

Carl Brannen, USMC
The American attack in the Argonne would begin on 26 September, a scant ten days after the 2nd Division had been relieved in the St. Mihiel sector. In order to bolster the battered French Army, Pershing offered Pétain the use of the U.S. 2nd and 36th Divisions. As the Franco-American offensive commenced on 26 September, these two formations were in the general reserve of the French Army. There was little doubt that the American 2nd would move up to a tight spot soon, once again under French...General Gourand, the commander of the Fourth French Army....His own army [in the Champagne] had stalled a scant dozen miles to the west in front of a series of high areas known as "Les Monts." The key to the German defense hinged on Blanc Mont; if it fell into French hands, the Germans would have no choice but to fall back on the next natural defensive barrier 30 kilometers to the north. The capture of Blanc Mont Ridge would rejuvenate the French offensive and relieve pressure on the Americans in the Argonne.

...Two or three hours before daylight [on 3 October], the word was passed along to get ready for the attack. Everyone checked his bayonet to see that it was fastened on good with the latch. Ammunition was inspected, and the flaps of the belt unhooked so that a fresh clip could be gotten into the rifle quickly. Each man had two extra bandoleers of ammunition around his shoulders. I made sure the bandoleers of ammunition were in front of my chest. The issued razor was in the right-hand pocket of my blouse and the YMCA-issued Bible was in the left-hand pocket. I was using all of the protection that I could think of.

Just as it was breaking day (zero hour), we came out of our trench and began the ascent in combat formation. The rows of men moved forward unhesitatingly but fell like ten pins before the deadly machine-gun fire. I was a runner to carry messages from flank to flank of my company and the one adjoining, trying to keep the units in contact with each other as the now thin lines swept over the crest.

I was with a lieutenant of the 78th company when we entered the forest of small pines which were along the crest and down the slopes on the other side. We were firing on the retreating enemy as we advanced, sometimes dropping to a knee for better aim. A bullet hit my bayonet about an inch from the muzzle of the rifle while I was carrying it at Port Arms position, shattering the bayonet and leaving me only a stub.

Depiction of the Fighting on Blanc Mont by George Harding

A Marine near me rushed at three Germans who were also near. I speeded up and rushed at them, too, with my rifle lowered to use my bayonet. They surrendered, and then I noticed them looking at my bayonet. I tried to read their minds. They must have thought that I had broken off my bayonet in a man. Later a man in my company saw me with my stub of a bayonet and said, "Old Brannen stuck his bayonet in one and broke it off."

...A machine-gun nest was now holding up the advance. Instead of trying a direct assault, we decided to flank it. The lieutenant asked for some men to go around each flank. Three of us went tot he left. When we were in close proximity to the nest, we were a little too exposed, and the fellow on my right fell, killed. As I jumped for protection into a ditch nearby, a fusillade of bullets caught me below the heart on the left side, through one lens of the field glasses, and against my bandoleer of ammunition. The best I remember, ten bullets in my own belt exploded, but they had deflected the enemy bullets, saving my life. My own bullets ripped my coat to shreds as they exploded and went out over my left shoulder by the side of my face. My cloth bandoleer and the field glasses caught on fire. I got them off me and then replaced the field glasses around my neck again as they quit burning.

I collected myself together and, with the other companion in the ditch, looked for our machine gunner but saw the Americans were now in possession. I suppose we had helped by drawing fire while the others rushed, for on going up there I found three dead Germans stretched out by two guns. One must have gotten away, as it took two for each gun. Machine gunners were never taken prisoners by either side. A machine gunner's only chance was to be taken while he was away from the gun and his captors did not know he had any connection with it. The reason is obvious, for when a man sat behind a gun and mowed down a bunch of men, his life was automatically forfeited.

We stopped and began forming a line along a road. Just ahead, three Germans showed themselves in a trench. Sherwood and I dashed over, and they came out surrendering. They were shaking like a leaf and saying "Telephonique." They were telling us that they worked on keeping up the telephone lines to the front and had no connection with the machine-gun nest which gave me such a raking over and had just been captured.

I had bled over my coat from a bullet striking a brad in the rifle sling and ricocheting the brad into my upper lip. I also thought the scratches in my side should be iodined. The prisoners afforded an excuse for leaving the lines, so I started back with them. As I passed some of my company, they stretched their eyes at the number of bullet holes in my clothes while I grinned at them.

As I got away from any other American soldiers, the prisoners began to stretch out an make too much space between them, so I just prodded the back one with the stub of my bayonet and made him keep up. Back a little ways, I ran into a French officer who in broken English asked me to bring my prisoners to help him with some wounded. They seemed to resent this Frenchman more than they did me, but I made them go and went with them. Shells had almost wiped out a battery of artillery, and the bodies of the men were terribly mangled. We helped bring two of the wounded away. Continuing, I ran into some MPs and turned over my prisoners. Returning toward the line, I went by a first-aid station which had been hurriedly thrown up beside the road, expecting to get painted with iodine. The doctor who was a major looked over me, asked how long I had been with the outfit, and then to my surprise tagged me for the hospital. An ambulance carried a bunch of us back to a field hospital that night. A group of Americans back there when we unloaded for the ambulance ganged around and asked a thousand questions. They marveled at my miraculous escape.

I was placed on my back on a table in a little room with a doctor on each side. They placed some kind of machine over my wound and were looking through it apparently. They seemed to have discovered a bullet inside of me when one of them found that they were looking at a button on the back of my pants. I felt quite relieved when the examination showed that no bullets had penetrated, but had only ragged the flesh a little. A German prisoner was near me with his right arm almost shattered in two at the elbow.

Wounded Men Being Loaded on a Hospital Train

I was so inexperienced at sleeping off the ground and on springs that sleep did not come as readily as I expected. A day here and I was placed on a hospital train with many more to go to Base Hospital #27 at Angers, across France near Bordeaux. I unloaded at night, discarded the muddy, bloody clothes, took a good bath, put on clean pajamas, and crawled between two clean white sheets.

My ward was filled with men with all kinds of wounds. In the morning a nurse came along and took temperatures, which judged what a fellow would get to eat. Next came the doctor and "agony wagon" and so through the days until you were pronounced fit to leave.


When Carl Brannen was terminally ill with prostate cancer 59 years later, x-rays revealed a bullet in his side which had been missed at the field hospital in France.

Sources:  The Doughboy Center