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

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Great War and the Coming of Prohibition in America

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcohol was adopted by both houses of Congress in December 1917 and ratified by the necessary two-thirds of the states on 16 January 1919. The amendment was implemented by the National Prohibition Act (known as the Volstead Act after Andrew Volstead, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a leading prohibitionist) in October 1919. Under the terms of the act, Prohibition began on 17 January 1920. The act defined "intoxicating liquor" as anything that contained one half of one percent alcohol by volume but allowed the sale of alcohol for medicinal, sacramental, or industrial purposes. The final push for  imposing an unpopular,  and ultimately socially disastrous, program on the American public came during the First World War, when 4.7 million Americans, almost all men, were under arms with over half of them deployed overseas or on the high seas.

The Ohio State University "Temperance & Prohibition" website takes the position the war did not  help push Prohibition "over the top:"

It is a myth that the First World War somehow "caused" the United States to enact prohibition. The prohibition movement was already very powerful before the nation declared war in 1917--the dry forces had already elected two-thirds majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States Congress. When the elections of 1916 concluded, both wets and drys knew that the battle was nearly over. . . The war, however, provided powerful new emotional messages on behalf of prohibition.

America's Heroes Succumbing to Temptation

I find one flaw, though, in the thinking of the Ohio State group, however.  Although the United States did not enter the war until 1917, it was fully engaged in the Great War from its outbreak in August 1914. The make-up and behavior of the combatants resonated through the nation first in what we now refer to as the national security sphere and then into domestic politics, where the drys were trying to finalize their long crusade and the wets were fighting a last-ditch defense. Looking back, it's clear the drys won this final battle, and their creative use of the war was a critical, if not the key, to their winning strategy.

The temperance folks were masters both at manipulating anxieties Americans had about getting involved in a foreign war and associating German brewery owners with Germany's heavy-handed military and that "Beast of Berlin," Kaiser Wilhelm II. Also, the war presented calls for managing resources, especially food. [See our article by Keith Muchowski on the crisis with grains HERE.] Wartime restrictions implemented in the Food and Fuel Control Act (August 1917)  would condition the American public for a permanent cut-off of the supply of Demon Rum. 

Through some incredibly skillful framing of the discussion, by the time the 18th Amendment had been proposed in Congress (December 1917) prohibition was labeled "100% Americanism" by its promoters. And a critical mass of the great American public bought it. The Great War amazingly gave the drys the opportunity to offer Prohibition as a matter of patriotism, sacrifice for nation, and a way to stand united against militarism, decadence, and moral corruption.

Sources: Wikipedia, HistoryExtra, the National World War One Museum

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The AEF’s First POW

Later, the AEF Would Capture Many More Prisoners

By Paul Albright

American infantry made their first cautious ventures into no-man's-land in late October 1917. It was there that an AEF patrol captured their first German prisoner of war. He was a teenage mailman. The wounding and capture of this young mail courier was headline material in newspapers across the U.S. The most detailed account was in the New York Tribune by correspondent Heywood Broun, who later in his career became a nationally known journalist, author, sportswriter, columnist, and a founder of the Newspaper Guild.  Broun wrote in his despatch: 

“There had been great rivalry as to which company would get the first captive, but he came practically unsought,” Broun reported. “The American patrol were (sic) almost back in their own lines, after an excursion into No Man’s Land, when they heard the noise of somebody to their left. He was making no effort to walk quietly. As he came over a little hillock of ground, his outline could be seen for a second. The doughboys recognized the German helmet.

“The German saw the Americans at the same time and turned to run, but one American, after calling out for the enemy to halt, took a snapshot with his rifle and hit the man in the left arm. Another soldier’s bullet lodged in the German’s abdomen. 

“The patrol carried the prisoner to the trench. He seemed more dazed by surprise than by the pain of the wounds.

“'You’re not French,' he said several times as the curious Americans gathered about him in a close, dim circle, illuminated by pocket flashlights. The prisoner guessed next what they were English, and when the soldiers told him they were Americans, he said that his comrades had not been informed the Americans were in the line opposing them.

“Somebody gave him a cigarette, and he grew more chipper, in spite of his wounds. He began to talk, saying: ‘Ich bin ein Esel (donkey).’ There were several Americans who had had enough German for that, and they asked him why. The prisoner explained that he had been assigned to deliver letters to the soldiers. Some of the letters were for men in a distant trench which slanted toward the French line, and so to save time he had taken a short cut through No Man’s Land. It was a dark night, but he thought he knew the way. He kept bearing to the left. Now, he said, he knew he should have turned to the right. He said it would be a lesson to him.

“The little German was a pretty sick boy when I saw him for a moment in the field hospital yesterday (October 29, 1917). He gave his age as nineteen, but he looked younger and not very dangerous, for he was just coming out of the ether. The doctors were giving him the best of care. He had a room to himself and his own nurse. The doctor in charge was a young reserve officer and seemed professionally anxious about the case. 

“’I could pull him through sure,’ he said, ‘if it wasn’t for that second bullet,’ and then he added, almost reproachfully: ‘That was an awful bad place to shoot a man.’”

Broun's  Article

The German mail courier died on 30 October 30 1917, with the press reporting that he would be buried with military honors. 

The Associated Press reported that there had been two Germans near the American trenches. They bolted when called on to halt, with the slightly built blond teenage soldier being fatally wounded. Some of the letters he was carrying were reported to have some value to the AEF. 

“He declared that the German soldiers did not know that Americans were on the front or in France, the officers telling them nothing,” reported the AP. At the time, only American and German artillery were exchanging shell fire. 

Speaking from his hospital cot, the mortally wounded mail courier was quoted in the New York Times: “The soldiers do not know you Americans are here, but the officers probably do. They tell us nothing. The German soldiers in the ranks are tired of the war and want it to end, but the officers want it to continue, as they are well paid. Our food is good, but we know nothing of conditions in the interior of Germany. Sometimes no mail is permitted to reach us for eight weeks at a time.” 

  • The AEF in Print: An Anthology of American Journalism in World War I, by Chris Dobbs and John-Daniel Kelley, eds., University of North Texas Press, 2018.
  • Our Army at the Front, by Heywood Broun, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922.
  • New York Tribune, 30-31 October 1917.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The First World War: Literature, Culture, Modernity

Ideologues by Max Beckmann, 1919

Edited by Santanu Das and Kate McLoughlin. Proceedings of the British Academy
Oxford University Press.2018
David F. Beer, Reviewer

This collection of eleven essays by British and American scholars presents a modernist analysis of an international range of writers including Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, David Jones, and Robert Service. Also included are Mary Borden and Enid Bagnold and a variety of civilian authors such as H. G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and others. The visual arts are also engaged through some film and the work of Käthe Kollwitz.

Since these writers and artists are considered in the light of modernism, the editors are heedful of explaining what they mean by the term. They admit that "a single, exhaustive definition of modernity [is] impossible," and so "have chosen to focus on three fundamental areas where it intersects most powerfully with the war" and its literature (p 6). They identify these areas as uncertainty, intensification, and cosmopolitanism. The three sections of the book fall under these subheadings and each section contains three or four scholarly essays analyzing WWI writers and artists in light of these terms.

The viewpoints of the essayists are varied and complex, as the editors admit in their lengthy introduction:

Modernity, as understood in this volume, is no fixed or homogenous category: it occurs at different levels, at different points in time, affects different groups in different ways. For some, it is a collapsing line of Enlightenment thinking; for others it is new terrors in the skies and in the mind. For still others it is unprecedently heightened battle experience arising from the sheer scale and industrialized nature of the conflict; for yet others it is a first encounter with technological modernity as well as with foreign lands and different races (p. 11).

The first section of essays deals with uncertainty but is titled "Unfathomable." The connection soon becomes clear: the writers discussed all reveal one thing—that the war was "incomprehensible, unassimilable and (hence) unshareable" (p 40). Wordsworth's 1798 poem "The Discharged Soldier" is the starting point here but then follow analyses of work by Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, and David Jones. How can we possibly fathom, let alone share, the experiences and losses of what was at the time an unthinkable cataclysm? Or as Vincent Sherry, in the final essay in this section states:

I am recovering one formal sense of the original horrors of the war, where an older notion of the value of human life, as reckoned in the cultural understanding of sacrifice, is undergoing a massive and shattering change. The record of its undoing offers one of the most telling narratives of the difference the war made in the history of modernity (p 83).

Part 2 ("Scoping the War") deals with the different kinds of intensity captured in film and literature of the time. How did the arts capture and attempt to transmit the various kinds of intensity experienced in the war? A big drawback was that those who were in the war were often unwilling to talk about it—or found the effort futile. Civilians were unable to truly understand. Thus the first essay, "Civilians Writing the War: Metaphor, Proximity, Action," studies passages from H. G. Wells's Mr. Britling Sees it Through, Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room, and Mary Borden's The Forbidden Zone. Following is an essay on a group of films, including The Battle of the Somme (1916) and J'Accuse (1919), in which the author points out that:

The complex relations between distance and proximity in film-at once a detached world in which the spectator cannot intervene and at the same time one which produces the most powerful identification between seer and seen-are an important source of this characteristic intensification of experience (p 127).

Also in this section is an essay on what the zeppelin raids on Britain meant in terms of the intensification of the war in civilian experience, followed by an interesting comparison of the dissent found in significant writings by Wyndham Lewis and Henry Williamson.

Part 3, "Cosmopolitan Sympathies?" is, as the editors point out, "political in character, with essays examining cultural encounters and exchanges across the boundaries of nationality and race" (p 6). Here we find the war scrutinized through a quite different lens than we're used to. We tend to forget that during the war several million people of various ethnic groups traveled to all theaters to fight or labor for the British and French armies. They were "soldiers and labourers, officers and privates, Indian sepoys, Senegalese tirailleurs, Maori pioneers, doctors, nurses, writers..." (p 25).

The essays here look at what this global upheaval meant to many people. How did it influence the work of artists like Käthe Kollwitz, especially her seven woodcuts titled Krieg (War), and the 50 etchings, aquatints, and drypoints of Otto Dix? What can we unearth of cosmopolitanism in poets such as Isaac Rosenberg, Thomas Hardy, Robert Service, Wilfred Owen, and Mary Borden? A final essay by Santanu Das explores the extent to which this cosmopolitanism caused eruptions and frictions of racism and anti-colonialism, sometimes in a "climate of anxiety and fear" (p 240). Less known but also important figures come to light in this essay, such as Kris Manjapra, Mulk Raj Anand, Rabindranath Tagore, and the memoirist Sisir Prasad Sarbadhikari.

This is a scholarly book which includes several intriguing black-and-white photos and artwork. All bibliographic references are included in the copious footnotes on each page, and an index concludes the text. A fascinating study for those interested in uncovering some overlooked aspects of the Great War through the eyes of modernism.

David F. Beer

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Halberstadt CL IV

On Display at the National Museum of the USAF

Introduced into combat during the last great German offensive of World War I, the CL IV supported German troops by attacking Allied ground positions. Equipped with both fixed and flexible machine guns, hand-dropped grenades, and small bombs, the CL IV proved very effective in this role, but it lacked the armor necessary for protection against ground fire. Nevertheless, it proved to be one of the most effective ground attack aircraft of World War I, relying on its good maneuverability to avoid ground fire. 

The Specimen at the National Air and Space Museum Nicely Shows
the Late-War Camouflage of the German Air Service 

The CL IV became a hunted target of Allied pursuit squadrons, but it gave a very good account of itself in dogfights. A versatile machine, the CL IV also performed as an interceptor against Allied night bombing raids and served as a night bomber against troop concentrations and airfields near the front lines.

The Halberstadt CL.IV was one of the most effective ground attack aircraft of World War I, relying on its good maneuverability to avoid ground fire. It appeared on the Western Front toward the end of the German offensives in 1918. Flights of four to six aircraft flew close-support missions, at an altitude of less than 100 feet, suppressing enemy infantry and artillery fire just ahead of the advancing German troops. After these late German offensives stalled, Halberstadt CL.IVs were used to disrupt advancing Allied offensives by striking at enemy troop assembly points and flying night sorties Allied airfields.

Toward the end of the war, on bright, moonlit nights, CL.IV squadrons attempted to intercept and destroy Allied bombers as they returned from their missions.

The USAF museum acquired the Halberstadt CL IV on display in 1984. Badly deteriorated at the time, its restoration was a joint international cooperative venture by the Museum für Verkehr und Technik in Berlin, Germany, the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It is marked as the CL IV of the squadron leader of the Schlachtstaffel 21, which is known to have engaged elements of the U.S. Army's 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons in mid-July 1918 during the Chateau-Thierry battle.

Close-up of Gunner's Position

Armament: One or two fixed 7.92mm Spandau machine guns and one flexible Parabellum 7.92mm machine gun; anti-personnel grenades; and four or five 22-lb. bombs
Engine: Mercedes D III 6-cylinder in-line, water-cooled engine of 160 hp
Maximum speed: 112 mph
Range: 300 miles
Ceiling: 21,000 ft.
Span: 35 ft. 2 7/8 in.
Length: 21 ft. 5 1/2 in.
Height: 8 ft. 9 1/8 in.
Weight: 2,350 lbs. loaded

Data and photos from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, except as indicated.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

My Take on the Movie 1917

By Editor/Publisher Mike Hanlon

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman as
Lance Corporals Schofield & Blake

I want to strongly recommend 1917 to anyone interested in the First World War as an immersive experience into what the frontline soldiers saw and heard. The fictional story the film tells is quite contrived (more on that below), but the techniques used by director Sam Mendes create a you-are-there feeling of immediacy and a sense of identification with two soldiers sent on a dangerous mission. The fabricated, yet authentic, battlefield he has conjured up takes  decisive precedence over the dubious premise of the story, various holes in the plot, and occasional gaffes missed by the script editors and quality-control people. Further, while 1917 is not a history lesson about the specifics of the Great War, it is, though—to my thinking—a remarkable appreciation of the dutiful attitudes and sensibilities of the men who served in the war.

I saw the film on 14 January with my lady and will share here some of my thoughts on it with my readers. There are a few minor spoilers below, but I don’t think that they are going to ruin things for anyone who hasn’t seen 1917 yet.

1. An Effective Start

Wake Up!

The opening scene of the movie is a kick in the butt. No, really. A very old-school sergeant applies his boot to a dozing lance corporal (one of the film’s two principal characters) and rudely tells him, “Blake, pick a man. Bring your kit.” With that one action not only are Blake and his sidekick Schofield set in motion but the audience is primed for the ensuing and accelerating action, of which there is a lot to keep up with.

2. My Favorite Special Effect
The movie incorporates CGI and every technological trick of the 21st-century movie industry. An authentic looking disabled Mark II tank dropped into a crater in the middle of no-man’s-land was my favorite. It appears early in the film and the men pass it in a flash, but it will please those of you who—like me—crave authenticity in his war movies. Runner-up is the trench network from which the two messengers start out. Those trenches are the dirtiest and most lived-in I’ve ever seen in a movie. They made me itch.

Moving Past a Destroyed Mark II Tank

3. Buy the Premise and Move On
Blake and Schofield are ordered to hike overland nine miles through terrain recently abandoned by the Germans bearing orders for a gung-ho colonel to cancel an attack he is intending to mount the next morning. The colonel is not aware that he is facing the newly installed Hindenburg Line and that the 1,600 men of his two battalions will be utterly slaughtered if they attack it as he intends. We are to believe there is no other way to get a cancelling message through. Telephone lines have been cut. Wireless, flags, flares, etc, don’t seem to be available or feasible. No aircraft can be spared to drop a message on the position. And, although he has lost all communications with his rear and artillery support, as well as for any possible resupply of ammunition and other essentials, the colonel on the spot is apparently making no effort at correcting these deficiencies so he can check in with his headquarters, open up his supply lines, and get some artillery support for his attack. I just don’t buy the setup or the utterly oblivious colonel out of touch with the entire British Army.

To be honest, though, I knew about the implausibility of all this before I saw the film. As a result, I didn’t bother to even reflect on the logic of the mission as the general (well played by Colin Firth) explains it to the two soldiers. I just got on board, and I would advise future viewers to move on and not let it disturb the enjoyment  of a movie which has so much to offer. Just as you have to accept faster-than-the-speed-of-light travel to appreciate a good science fiction movie, accept General Erinmore’s description of the situation as real and watch on.

From Top Left: Andrew Scott as Lt. Leslie;
Mark Strong as Captain Smith; Unnamed & 
Uncredited Rat

4. Best Supporting Players
The cast is uniformly excellent, but three supporting actors hypnotically take over the screen in their brief segments. Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is a delight as the bitter, sarcastic lieutenant charged with inserting the two messengers out into no-man’s-land in broad daylight. Mark Strong, who frequently plays heavies, is outstanding as the highly capable officer in charge of a passing truck convoy that plays a critical role in supporting the floundering mission. Last, I found myself enchanted by an unnamed and ultimately suicidal rat, who is to my thinking is the most agile and athletic rodent in movie history. I couldn’t tell if he was animatronic, computer enhanced, or simply incredibly well trained, but I’m now a member of his fan club. 

There's a Lot of Action in This Town

5. What Town Was That Burning?
I had to do a little research on this when I got home. Écoust, is a little town southeast of Arras. Its location fits the historical narrative quite well, although the real  Écoust is much more rural-looking than the town in the film. Also,  I've never noticed a river with raging rapids running through it when I've passed through the town on my visits to nearby Bullecourt. Nevertheless, the fictional Écoust plays a spectacular and haunting role in the film.

6. A Few Quibbles
I’m trying to avoid giving away too much here, but these are details that jarred me, as I found them totally implausible.
A single Sikh soldier from the Indian Army who is somehow serving in an otherwise all-British regiment
The most ungrateful  wounded enemy combatant  ever
A hokey blind jump  action sequence borrowed  (I think) from Indiana Jones
The presumably improvised, yet elegant-looking, assault trenches for the final over-the-top scene that appear to have been dug by excavating and contouring machinery
An aristocratic British officer who tells an exhausted enlisted man to “F*** off”

The Devonshires Just Before Battle

7. Brought Tears to My Eyes

The death of one of the messenger soldiers
The surviving soldier, who is lost,  but still hoping to find the Devonshire Regiment, stumbles upon them in a wood, where a single soldier is movingly singing the ballad “Wayfaring Stranger”
Soldier 2 encounters now deceased Soldier 1's brother in the last scene of the movie

8.  A Most Fitting Conclusion

In the end credits the film is dedicated to Lance Corporal Alfred H. Mendes—the director's grandfather, who served in the war.  Mr. Mendes, you did your grandfather, and all his mates, proud. Well done.

Friday, January 17, 2020

An Illustrated "Anthem for Doomed Youth"

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

      The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Photos from Tony Langley's Collection

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Albert Kahn Photographic Archive at War

There have been available color photos from the Great War in abundance. One source is from the collection of French financier Albert Kahn, who began a "geographic, topographic, and photographic mission" before the war to, basically, document the world. When war broke out, Kahn's staff requested permission from the military authorities to enter and photograph the zone affected by the conflict. Readers have probably seen a number of the photos from the Albert-Kahn Museum in Hauts-de-Seine, here and elsewhere. However as part of France's national centennial effort, many more images have been released and presented on the 14-18 Mission Centenaire website (CONNECT).  

This is a set of ten showing that I've never seen before from the huge collection.

1.  A Street Corner in Senlis

2.  Rue de Vitry, Sermaize (Marne)

3.  Reims, Near Cathedral

4.  75mm Artillery Casement, Conchy-les-Pots

5.  Two Soldiers View the Doller Valley (Alsace)

6.  French Cemetery, Holbach (Alsace)

7.  Lafayette and Washington, Place des Etats-Unis, Paris

8.  Two Yanks and Three Local Lasses, Hupack (Alsace)

9.  Single Shell Hole, Léomont (Meurthe-et-Moselle)

10.  Gun Boat on the Yser Canal, Flanders

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

1916 and the Great War's Awful Reputation

36th Ulster Division Advancing at the Somme, 1 July 1916

By Editor/Publisher Mike Hanlon

Note:  The is a slightly edited version of a commentary I wrote for the Trip-Wire when we were commemorating the Centennial of the events of 1916.

Something I am sure I share with our regular readers is the experience of periodically encountering someone who finds our interest in the First World War baffling. Sometimes this means members of the family. At our (happily infrequent) gatherings I have one female relative who never passes on the opportunity to ask in front of the assembled group, "How can you spend so much time on something so STUPID?" Another, an in-law, now dearly departed, used to regularly kick in, "You know, you picked the only war, you can't make any money at!" [Sadly, he had "gone west" by the time I actually got a check from the U.S. Postal Service for consulting work on a commemorative stamp issue, but he probably would have laughed at its amount anyway.]

Moving on, I've tried many responses to such skeptics over the years, from invoking George Kennan's "Seminal event of the 20th century" to my own view, "It's just bloody fascinating," followed by lots of specific examples. Alas, nothing seems to make a dent on their attitudes. Recently I've tried to turn the tables and have probed for the source of their disdain for the events of 1914–1918. First, of course, one usually has to deal with the modern [or post-modern] abysmal lack of appreciation for the past, the flushing of all of human experience down some enormous 1984-ish memory hole. However, I've learned to force myself to tiptoe around that sore point, fighting off my own tendency to rant about the cult of political correctness, the enduring sins of the 1960s' New Left, and the dumbing-down of American education. My recent attempts go something like this composite conversation:

MH: What do you find particularly off-putting about WWI?
XX: Trench warfare. It was bad, bad, bad. . . And the generals were idiots and didn't care how many men they lost.

MH: Do you know of an episode that demonstrates that?
XX: Yes, there was the time when a whole British army went over the top and got machine gunned down in no-man's-land. It was the worst day in England's history.

MH: Well, what you are describing there is the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and it was, indeed, a terrible day. Are there any similar cases you might have heard about? The war lasted over four years, after all.
XX: The French had some battle [Verdun] that was so bad, the next time the generals ordered them to attack [Nivelle offensive] they baaed like sheep and refused to go. And then there was Flanders [Passchendaele].

MH: What about Flanders?
XX: They had to fight in the MUD! Mud is bad, bad, bad. . . You can drown in mud. Did you know that?

MH: Well, yes. I think I do.
XX: And what about the GAS?

MH: (At this point, since gas is bad, bad, bad, I usually throw in the towel.)

Note that, despite my best efforts, I still inevitably find myself on the defensive in such exchanges. I've really got to work on my technique. Maybe I should watch more of the presidential debates. There is one odd aspect of these probes, though, that I've tried to reflect here. The events of 1916, most specifically the Somme, but also including Verdun—reinforced in vague fashion by the Nivelle and Passchendaele offensives of 1917—define the Great War for many folks. 

None of the events of the other years or fronts of the war seem to have made any impression. This appears to me to be especially true for people who are averse to studying history or consider the past irrelevant to their lives. Nonetheless, certain facts about the war are selected and they are magnified and distorted beyond recognition. Curiouser and curiouser.  MH

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Aero-Neurosis: Pilots of the First World War and the Psychological Legacies of Combat

by Mark C. Wilkin
Pen and Sword, 2019
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

German Ace Ernst Udet

For many, World War I aviation conjures up images of daring pilots dogfighting in biplanes, their white scarves flapping in the slipstream. But the devil-may-care attitudes adopted by some pilots masked the stresses and horror of air combat. Beneath the veneer of derring-do many men wrestled with demons brought forth by their experiences. In Aero-Neurosis: Pilots of the First World War author Mark C. Wilkins examines the flying history of six men against the backdrop of the stresses of World War I combat aviation. In doing so, Wilkins seeks to "match expert testimony and medical opinions of the time as closely as possible with the case studies included where applicable" (p. x).

Wilkins presents the stories of six men: Elliott Springs (American), William Lambert (American flying with the British Royal Air Force), Roy Brown (Canadian), Ernst Udet (German), Edward [Mick] Mannock (Irish), and Georges Guynemer (French). The author, a historian and museum professional who has worked for the Smithsonian Institution, Mystic Seaport, and the Cape Cod Maritime Museum, quotes heavily from the memoirs and biographies of these pilots. This is too small a sample size to make any positive assertions beyond the obvious fact that air combat during World War I was very stressful. How individuals handled that stress differed, as Wilkins acknowledges: "Each man responded to the crucible of war differently according to his latent and manifest qualities" (p. 138).

The initial chapters cover the rise of nationalism and the growth of mechanization in warfare that ushered in the 20th century. The development and improvement of machine guns, submarines, poison gas, and aircraft all presaged the horrors of the Great War. Just as aviation was in its infant stage at the start of the war, so too was aviation medicine. Combat tactics, airplane design, and the different roles of military aircraft developed alongside the understanding of how all of this affected aircrew. As Wilkins states, "Really what happened to these fliers was a synthesis of shell shock and flying—or a mechanized warfare in the air—both were new to the human experience" (p. 29).

After a six-chapter "introduction," Wilkins covers each of the pilots in turn. The men all had similar combat experiences, but of course they all fared differently. Wilkins uses memoirs, letters, and diaries, among other primary sources, to describe the men's wartime experiences. Both Springs and Lambert suffered "nervous breakdowns" and had to be temporarily hospitalized. Brown suffered from various physical and emotional ailments, and he too was hospitalized. Udet was a sensitive man who deeply felt his own inadequacies despite his success. Mannock was physically and emotionally affected and, prior to his death in action, took increasingly dangerous chances. Guynemer was a French national hero who did not like the attention; he also was killed in action. Using the sources mentioned above, Wilkins recounts some of the air battles the men fought as well as some of their emotional struggles on the ground.

Mick Mannock, VC, on Leave
Just Before His Death
A modern-day description of flying a Fokker E. III replica, written by a pilot of vintage aircraft, leaves one wondering how these men could fly effectively in combat a century ago. The physical and mental stresses of the endeavor must have been debilitating after a while. In connection with the outward appearance of sangfroid, Wilkins quotes Taffy Jones, a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC): "In the mess [where officers met to eat and socialize] it was an unwritten law for pilots to forget their sorrow and assume a cheerfulness which gave the impression of 'living for the day.'" (p. 110).

In the end, Wilkins concludes that, as stated above, each man handled the horrors he was exposed to differently, even though there were some similarities (such as an aversion to strafing missions). Perhaps the best one can say about it is that "aviation psychiatry evolved with the war and was frustrated by inadequate diagnosis, treatment, and infrastructure but these improved by the war's conclusion" (p. 137).

Thirty photographs illustrate the men and machines covered in Aero-Neurosis: Pilots of the First World War. The end notes and two-page bibliography will be helpful to readers who want to learn more about the subject. This is not a history of wartime aviation psychiatry, aviation physiology, or flight medicine. Rather it is a case study of six men and how the stresses of combat flying affected them. There is probably not much in this book that will be new to dedicated students of the air war, so it will probably appeal mostly to those who are new to the study of World War I air combat and to those who want to read about how abnormal stresses affected these airmen.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Tate in 2018: Aftermath—Art in the Wake of World War One

Still from Film by Jacob Read
It seems like every serious art gallery in world [Note to self: check the Hermitage] did an exhibit on the Great War during the recent Centennial. London's Tate Gallery emphasized (in their words) how artists responded to the physical and psychological scars left on Europe. The selections shown here are some of the most affecting I've been able to find on the Internet. Don't look for cheeriness. 

Click on Images to Expand

1.  Otto Dix
Prostitute and Disabled War Veteran, Two Victims of Capitalism, 1923

2.  Sir William Orpen
A Grave in a Trench, 1917

3. André Mare
Survivors, 1929

4. George Grosz
Grey Day, 1921

5. Winifred Knights
The Deluge, 1920

6.  Paul Citroen
Metropolis, 1923

7.  William Roberts
The Jazz Club (The Dance Party), 1923

8.  Otto Griebel
The International, 1928–30

9.  Paul Jouve
Grave of a Serbian Soldier at Kenali 1917, 1917

Sunday, January 12, 2020

James Norman Hall Under Fire at Loos

Hall in British Uniform
On 25 September 1915 the British launched their largest offensive to date at Loos. Altogether, the British Army suffered over 50,000 casualties at Loos, almost double the number of German losses. Among those who survived the failed attack was James Norman Hall, a 1910 graduate of Grinnell College from Colfax, Iowa. He had worked in Boston as an agent for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children before vacationing in Britain in the summer of 1914. Swept away by the “spirit of adventure,” Hall claimed to be Canadian so that he could enlist in the British army that August. Trained as a machine gunner, he served with the 9th Royal Fusiliers at Loos before being discharged in December 1915, when his true nationality was revealed. He returned to the United States, published his memoir, Kitchener’s Mob: The Adventures of an American in the British Army, and then went back to France, where he would fly in the Lafayette Escadrille. 

Death comes swiftly in war. One’s life hangs by a thread. The most trivial circumstance saves or destroys. Mac came into the half-ruined dugout where the off-duty machine gunners were making tea over a fire of splintered logs. 

“Jamie,” he said, “take my place at sentry for a few minutes, will you? I’ve lost my water-bottle. It’s ’ere in the dugout somew’ere. I’ll be only a minute.” 

I went out to the gun position a few yards away, and immediately afterward the Germans began a bombardment of our line. One’s ear becomes exact in distinguishing the size of shells by the sound which they make in traveling through the air; and it is possible to judge the direction and the probable place of their fall. Two of us stood by the machine gun. We heard at the same time the sound which we knew meant danger, possibly death. It was the awful whistling roar of a high explosive. We dropped to the floor of the trench at once. The explosion blackened our faces with lyddite and half-blinded us. 

Opening Attack at Loos  
It Was the First Use of Gas by the British in the War

The dugout which I had left less than a moment ago was a mass of wreckage. Seven of our comrades were inside. One of them crawled out, pulling himself along with one arm. The other arm was terribly crushed and one leg was hanging by a tendon and a few shreds of flesh. 

“My God, boys! Look wot they did to me!” 

He kept saying it over and over while we cut the cords from our bandoliers, tied them about his leg and arm and twisted them up to stop the flow of blood. He was a fine, healthy lad. A moment before he had been telling us what he was going to do when we went home on furlough. Now his face was the color of ashes, his voice grew weaker and weaker, and he died while we were working over him. 

High explosive shells were bursting all along the line. Great masses of earth and chalk were blown in on top of men seeking protection where there was none. The ground rocked like so much pasteboard. I heard frantic cries for “Picks and shovels!” “Stretcher-bearers! Stretcher-bearers this way, for God’s sake!” The voices sounded as weak and futile as the squeaking of rats in a thunderstorm. 

When the bombardment began, all off-duty men were ordered into the deepest of the shell-proof dugouts, where they were really quite safe. But those English lads were not cowards. Orders or no orders, they came out to the rescue of their comrades. They worked without a thought of their own danger. I felt actually happy, for I was witnessing splendid heroic things. It was an experience which gave one a new and unshakable faith in his fellows. 

The sergeant and I rushed into the ruins of our machine-gun dugout. The roof still held in one place. There we found Mac, his head split in two as though it had been done with an axe. Gardner’s head was blown completely off, and his body was so terribly mangled that we did not know until later who he was. Preston was lying on his back with a great jagged, blood-stained hole through his tunic. Bert Powel was so badly hurt that we exhausted our supply of field dressings in bandaging him. We found little Charlie Harrison lying close to the side of the wall, gazing at his crushed foot with a look of incredulity and horror pitiful to see. One of the men gave him first aid with all the deftness and tenderness of a woman.

British Troops at Loos Advancing Through the Gas

The rest of us dug hurriedly into a great heap of earth at the other end of the shelter. We quickly uncovered Walter, a lad who had kept us laughing at his drollery on many a rainy night. The earth had been heaped loosely on him and he was still conscious. 

“Good old boys,” he said weakly; “I was about done for.”

In our haste we dislodged another heap of earth which completely buried him again, and it seemed a lifetime before we were able to remove it. I have never seen a finer display of pure grit than Walter’s. 

“Easy now!” he said. “Can’t feel anything below me waist. I think I’m ’urt down there.” 

We worked as swiftly and as carefully as we could. We knew that he was badly wounded, for the earth was soaked with blood; but when we saw, we turned away sick with horror. Fortunately, he lost consciousness while we were trying to disentangle him from the fallen timbers, and he died on the way to the field dressing-station. Of the seven lads in the dugout, three were killed outright, three died within half an hour, and one escaped with a crushed foot which had to be amputated at the field hospital. 

The worst of it was that we could not get away from the sight of the mangled bodies of our comrades. Arms and legs stuck out of the wreckage, and on every side we saw distorted human faces, the faces of men we had known, with whom we had lived and shared hardships and dangers for months past. Those who have never lived through experiences of this sort cannot possibly know the horror of them. It is not in the heat of battle that men lose their reason. Battle frenzy is, perhaps, a temporary madness. The real danger comes when the strain is relaxed. Men look about them and see the bodies of their comrades torn to pieces as though they had been hacked and butchered by fiends. One thinks of the human body as inviolate, a beautiful and sacred thing. The sight of it dismembered or disemboweled, trampled in the bottom of a trench, smeared with blood and filth, is so revolting as to be hardly endurable. 

And yet, we had to endure it. We could not escape it. Whichever way we looked, there were the dead. Worse even than the sight of dead men were the groans and entreaties of those lying wounded in the trenches waiting to be taken back to the dressing-stations. 

“I’m shot through the stomach, matey! Can’t you get me back to the ambulance? Ain’t they some way you can get me back out o’ this?” 

“Stick it, old lad! You won’t ’ave long to wite. They’ll be some of the Red Cross along ’ere in a jiffy now.” 

“Give me a lift, boys, can’t you? Look at my leg! Do you think it’ll ’ave to come off? Maybe they could save it if I could get to ’ospital in time! Won’t some of you give me a lift? I can ’obble along with a little ’elp.” 

“Don’t you fret, sonny! You’re a-go’n’ to ride back in a stretcher presently. Keep yer courage up a little w’ile longer.” 

Some of the men, in their suffering, forgot every one but themselves, and it was not strange that they should. Others, with more iron in their natures, endured fearful agony in silence. During memorable half-hours, filled with danger and death, many of my gross misjudgments of character were made clear to me. Men whom no one had credited with heroic qualities revealed them. Others failed rather pitiably to live up to one’s expectations. It seemed to me that there was strength or weakness in men, quite apart from their real selves, for which they were in no way responsible; but doubtless it had always been there, waiting to be called forth at just such crucial times. 

During the afternoon I heard for the first time the hysterical cry of a man whose nerve had given way. He picked up an arm and threw it far out in front of the trenches, shouting as he did so in a way that made one’s blood run cold. Then he sat down and started crying and moaning. He was taken back to the rear, one of the saddest of casualties in a war of inconceivable horrors. I heard of many instances of nervous breakdown, but I witnessed surprisingly few of them. Men were often badly shaken and trembled from head to foot. Usually they pulled themselves together under the taunts of their less susceptible comrades. 

From Kitchener’s Mob (1916), Selected in World War I and America

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Life of an MP of the AEF

Contributed by Bruce Jarvis,  Co-editor of Over There with [M.P.] Private Graham

As an ex-MP myself, I can confirm that there are two categories of MPs: garrison and field. Most people think of the garrison type with their night-sticks and shiny boots, but nearly half of the MP Corps (then and today) are made up of the field type who direct tactical traffic, perform patrols, physical security, and POW escort duties. Of course, after the Armistice most of the MPs transitioned to garrison duty breaking up bar fights, apprehending AWOLs, and harassing soldiers who did not show enough military bearing.  Here is an excerpt from the memoirs of Pvt. William Graham, an MP with 28th Pennsylvania Division, that captures the duties he performed in combat. It's followed by a poem he composed after the war in reflecting on his service in France.

Tuesday, August 13th, 1918
At 4:30 a.m., the artillery was firing. The roaring of the guns was enough to deafen a man. The sky was lit up with flames for miles and miles around. A large fire was burning in a town several kilometers from us. I suppose the Hun set fire to this place before he retreated which is one of his destruction methods...leaves
nothing standing...destroy everything in his path.

After breakfast, I was sent to Courville to patrol a road which passes through a valley leading to the town of Arcis-le-Ponsart. There were quite a number of troops traveling on this road heading for the lines. During my tour of duty, I came in contact with quite a number of boys from the west. All seemed happy and full of spirit although they were going to a place they knew men were being killed and wounded. 

I overheard several remarks from some of the boys in regard to the duties of a Military Policeman such as “Who won the war?...The MP’s...Who sent over the barrage? The Y.M.C.A. ?” There is no doubt some of the Military Police outfits have never heard a shot fired nor a bomb explode when dropped from an air-o-plane. I know these boys have a feeling toward a Military Policeman which no doubt dates back to their camp life, but I do know this...That the Military Police outfit of the 3rd, 26th 32nd and 28th Divisions have certainly done their part in this war so far.

Standing on the roads under shell fire and gas, directing the many thousands of troops to a safe place during the shelling, and never leaving his post of duty...he saw that the other men were placed in a safe and secure woods or dugouts out of harm’s way of the shells...and I have known them to ride the roads in total darkness.

Not as a company but alone…watching and waiting to lend a helping hand to any who may need assistance and how this lone M.P. would strain his eyes and his ears for any sound which was of German tongue concealed in the underbrush along the roadways...always on the alert to sound a word of warning to those he thought might be in danger from shell fire and gas.

No doubt these same boys used to think him (the M.P.) pretty important when he first showed up in the training camps at home or in some base port towns with his brand new M.P. band on his arm and his lordly way of locking up even the Top Sergeant if the top kicks got drunk. Yet he seemed even more important on the outskirts of Chateau Thierry when he appeared to suspect everyone in American uniform of being a German spy (and several good catches were made.) and when his brow was furrowed from his anxiety lest a car carrying a lot of perfectly good officers should take the wrong road and drive innocently into German territory.

But in the Valley of the Marne, in the course of such a mighty drive as the American boys launched therefrom July 15th to the 28th, when the whole success of this battle can be measured and modified by the speed with which the big guns, ammunition and rations were rushed along after the doughboys, when a road tie up could strangle a whole battalion, then does the M.P. rise to his full height and stature. His dominant figure emerging above the sluggish streams of traffic...the effect of his work, for better or worse, is felt from one end of the battlefield to the other.

Play the game boys...obey the M.P.’ as you’re told by these men. They know more about the hardships of this war than most of you do...who are just stepping into the fray fresh from the states. Play the game fair and square boys and the M.P.’s will play the game in a square and manly manner with you. We have created a well organized traffic outfit. Every man has stood the test while shells and bombs have been dropped. Not one has been known to leave his post. And, into our hands rest many priceless American lives on the fullness and accuracy of our memory, on the swiftness of our decisions, on the squareness of our jaw. In a battle, many depend on us, so play the game fair boys. Give the M.P.’s credit for what they have done in this...the greatest war the world ever knew.

"The M.P. in France" by William J. Graham

Standing on the road filled with mud,
A field of carnage...a field of blood.
Where the Maxim Guns whine and the big guns roar,
In man’s modern improvement on hell...called war.

He is no hero to look at, that I confess.
Cool and collected, but define less.
But where shots fly thickest, he doggedly stands,
Exposed to the shell fire from the enemy’s hands.

For he gleans the roads where the trucks go by,
Shrapnel and shell piled up high.
And his outstretched hand saves many from death,
The drivers stop and hold their breath.

From sunrise to sunset he’s on the alert,
Unprotected from dangers, but covered with dirt.
His duties performed with rhythmical pace,
Nothing is rushed, everything has its place.

No matter what danger it may be,
Air raids...gas...tis his duty to see,
That the boys are awakened, that everyone’s warned,
That done, he feels satisfied...his duties performed

Talk about heroes whose brave deeds shine,

On many a crimson battle line.
The soldier who wears...the M.P. on his arm,
Is daily a hero, saving others from harm.

Read our review of Pvt. Graham's Memoir, Over There with Private Graham HERE.