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

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Map Series #7: Closing the Gap at the St. Mihiel Salient

Map A

Click on Image to Enlarge

Source: New England in France, 1917–1919; A History of the Twenty-Sixth Division

The northern half of the pincer movement to collapse the St. Mihiel Salient was the responsibility of  General Pershing's V Corps, commanded by Major General George Cameron.  His main striking force for the effort was to be Major General Clarence Edwards 26th New England Division.  Map A shows the general plan and advance for the division.

The division's attack was launched at 0800 on 12 September just south of the village of Mouilly with the 51st Brigade to the right of Grand Tranchee de Calonne road and the 52nd Brigade to the left.

By 2100 hrs the division had reached its main initial objective and the two smaller French divisions on its flanks, which had started slowly earlier in the battle, had come up in support.

German resistance, especially artillery, was weakening. Pershing was concerned, however, that the remaining between the V Corps and his IV Corps attacking from the south that would allow most of the German forces in the sector to escape. He ordered the 26th division to renew the assault, aiming for Hattonchatel and Vignuelles 5 miles farther down the Trenchee de Calonne. The attack was renewed by the 102nd Infantry and 101st Machine Gun Battalion. Meanwhile, the 52nd Brigade pivoted and assaulted the remaining high ground to the east overlooking the Woevre Plain.

By 0220, 26th Division units were entering Vignuelles.

Map B

Click on Image to Enlarge

Source: St. Mihiel, 12–16 September 1918, US Army Campaigns of World War I Series

Shown here  on the left is the charge down Trenchee de Calonne and the broadening of the 26th Division frontage over the lower section of the Meuse Heights. On the right side of the map is shown the advance of IV Corps with the 1st Division to the left of the 42nd Division. The 1st Division began its advance toward Vigneulles and Hattonchâtel shortly after midnight, 

At 0930 on 13 September, the 1st Division and IV Corps headquarters received the message “Objective reached, held by 26th Division.” Both divisions established defenses and made contact with units of the French 39th Division advancing from the south. Mopping up continued for the rest of the day, but the First Army had closed the St. Mihiel salient.

For the story of the 26th Division scouts who proceeded the advance down Trenchee de Calonne go HERE.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Small Box Respirator Gas Mask

The small box respirator was a type of gas mask used by British Empire forces and issued to American forces. It protected soldiers’ lungs, eyes, and faces from chemical weapons. Soldiers carried their small box respirators at all times when in the forward trenches, where there was constant risk of gas attacks. 

Gas warfare as we know it began in April 1915, at the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. Looking to break the stalemate of trench warfare, the German Army released large volumes of deadly chlorine gas. The wind carried the chlorine clouds across the positions of French, British, and Canadian troops, none of whom were outfitted with anti-gas equipment. From 1915 onward, both sides used deadly gases as wartime weapons. While the early gas attacks relied on compressed-air tanks, chemical agents such as chlorine gas, phosgene, and mustard gas were later packed into artillery shells so that they could be used on more specific targets. 

By the end of the war, some 124,000 tons of chemical weapons were released by all sides. In 1918, approximately 30 percent of the artillery shells fired by Canadian artillery were packed with gas. Although gas was a common element in most operations during the second half of the war, its impact was increasingly limited by protective masks, such as the small box respirator. Gas made the battlefield even more horrific than it had been but never proved to be a decisive weapon.

Within weeks of the gas attack at the Second Battle of Ypres, the Allies issued goggles and simple cotton face masks soaked with an anti-gas solution to the troops. These masks, which were hand-sewn by civilian volunteers, offered only limited protection to the lungs.

By mid-1915 a more effective anti-gas hood was mass-produced for the British Empire forces. It was a cloth sack with eyepieces that was pulled over the head like a pillowcase. The cloth was treated with an anti-gas solution that filtered the air as the soldier inhaled.

The small box respirator, which was introduced in 1916, was much more sophisticated than earlier anti-gas equipment. It consisted of a face piece and a filter box, connected by a corrugated tube. The small box respirator was carried in a canvas haversack, normally on the soldier’s chest. In the event of a gas alarm, the soldier fastened the respirator against his face, leaving the filter box in the haversack. When the soldier inhaled, he drew air through the filter box, where it was decontaminated before passing through the corrugated tube and into the face mask.

The small box respirator was ineffective if the delicate corrugated tube was damaged, which could allow contaminated air to enter the face piece without passing through the filter. To ensure that the equipment functioned properly, soldiers went to mobile testing stations for respirator inspection and repair.

After the first gas attack, British pharmaceutical research chemist E. F. Harrison transferred from an infantry battalion to the Royal Engineers to work on anti-gas equipment. Here, he developed the small box respirator. In November 1918, Harrison died of pneumonia, a lung condition that was aggravated by his repeated exposure to deadly chemicals during respirator experiments.

Although improvements were made to the materials and construction of the small box respirator after the war, its basic design remained unchanged until 1942–1943, when a more compact model with a directly mounted filter was introduced on a limited scale in the British and Commonwealth armies.

Source: The Canadian War Museum Website

Also See: The PH Helmet Respirator

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Verdun: Act 1, Scene 2: Bois des Caures

When much of the German Army retreated north after the 1914 Battle of the Marne, Crown Prince Wilhelm's Fifth Army dug in a perimeter around Verdun. Facing them 14 km north of Verdun were French soldiers in a wood named Bois des Caures. Both sides further fortified their positions for the better part of a year, when the Battle of Verdun would begin in their sector. After the stupendous opening barrage, it would be the site of the first infantry assault of the war's longest battle.

Frontline Trenches and French Redoubts (R1-5)

Taking command of the French defenses at Bois des Caures in 1915 was an industrious, formerly retired lieutenant colonel, who had returned to service when the war broke out, named Émile Driant. He had had parallel careers as a writer on nationalist matters and Futurism (often under the pen name Capitaine Danrit), which ended with the war, and as a deputy for Nancy in Parliament, which did not. By July 1915 he had had already fought in six major engagements arourd Verdun. At Caures, Driant took command of two battalions of Chasseurs Alpin to defend 2000 meters of frontage. Recognizing the vulnerability of the position, he developed an in-depth system of defenses 800-1,000 meters deep (see map above) with strengthened firing trenches and a series of five strong points surrounding a command post built with reinforced concrete. Meanwhile, he was already telling his parliamentary colleagues that "the [German] hammer will fall on the Verdun-Nancy line." 

Driant (with Cane) Inspecting the Position

From August 1915 on, Driant used his parliamentary connections to pass on warning of an impending German attack. This, of course, raised the ire of the army staff. In early 1916 his outposts began regularly reporting a build-up just behind the German front line. On 10 February 1916, he wrote his wife, telling her of a prisoner of war who had bragged that the Kaiser was planning to be strolling on the Verdun esplanade shortly. The attack Driant had long anticipated opened with a ten-hour barrage on 21 February followed by an infantry assault on Bois des Caures. 

Driant's 1,200 Chasseurs fought valiantly there in the face of overwhelming odds until, during the afternoon of the 22nd, he found he was outflanked on both sides. Driant ordered his few remaining men to withdraw toward the Fortress line. It was during that retreat that Driant himself was killed at the southern edge of the wood. Since the men with him had been taken prisoner by the Germans, firm news of his death did not reach Paris until 3 April. Some time after that, Mme. Driant received a letter from Germany informing her that her husband had been honorably buried and that his grave would be carefully tended until peace returned. 

In holding their positions and fighting to the end Col. Emile Driant and his Chasseurs, outflanked and overwhelmed, sacrificed their lives in order to slow the progress of the enemy. He is proudly remembered by the people of Verdun who still commemorate the fighting in the Bois des Caures with a ceremony held on 21 February every year. Driant was the first hero of the Battle of Verdun.

French Re-enactors at Driant's Temporary Grave

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Zane Grey: War Hater

(Pearl) Zane Grey was one of the first millionaire authors and with Jack London was one of the two most famous writers in America when the Great War broke out. After starting out as a dentist, he had seen an opportunity for a popular series of Westerns after reading Owen Wister's classic The Virginian. His breakthrough work was the 1912 Riders of the Purple Sage. Over his career, Grey became a major force in shaping the myths of the Old West and inspired the growth of what has become a huge literary genre. He also wrote about hunting, fishing, travel, and baseball, while also authoring six children's books. He had a dramatic response to the war, finding it repugnant, especially after the United States declared war. 

Grey suffered from extreme melancholia at times, and America's entry into the war in April 1917 set off a new and serious bout for him. He found himself repelled by its venality and fevered jingoism. He thought the young men who rushed off to the war were foolish, and he suffered vivid images of destruction and death that set off what he and his circle recognized as a breakdown. He later described it as a "hopeless, morbid, sickening, exaggerated mental disorder." 

Always an enthusiastic traveler, he was encouraged to join a group rail expedition around the States organized by his wife in the summer of 1917. It was during this trip that he had the idea of linking his reservations about the war and conditions in the U.S. to his fictional writing. This led eventually to one of his lesser-known works, The Desert of Wheat (currently published as War Comes to the Big Bend), in which the villains of the piece are "Wobblies" of the International Workers of the World, who are sabotaging the wheat harvest. 

According to Grey's biographer Thomas Pauly, the I.W.W. was just an excuse to for Grey's "anguished obsession with the war." The novel's plot involves a penetration of the union by German agents, playing on a latent disloyalty of the many immigrants who avail themselves of American opportunity but secretly hate the American government and people. The ranchers in the story eventually triumph over the subversives, but the novel was just the first of a series set in Grey's contemporary time that assessed the war's damage to the nation. Other works, for example, included veterans from the fighting who were disabled physically and psychologically. Two titles from this period are suggestive of Grey's pessimism: The Vanishing American and The Day of the Beast. Grey's self-administered form of therapy was frequent fishing, which gave him a break from his war-related writing. But, apparently, when he returned to writing, his gloominess also came back. He even wrote of his theory that the war was damaging the nation's fisheries. 

When the war ended, Grey returned to writing about the Old West, his true love. His emotional depression subsided and he came back to be the nation's most successful writer in the postwar period. His popularity declined somewhat during the Depression. Gray died in 1939. Nevertheless another war would return him to prominence. The U.S. Government reissued many of his titles as inexpensive paperbacks to be carried in the hip pockets of GIs, who loved his work. Dwight Eisenhower always called Zane Grey his favorite author. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Pandora's Box: A History of the First World War

By Jörn Leonhard; Trans. by Patrick Camiller
The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2018
David F. Beer, Reviewer

The Kaiser Visits His Forces in the Field (Early War)

What was the First World War? With the hindsight that we have today, it appears as the formative prelude, elemental crisis, or early turnaround of the still young twentieth century. Soon after its outbreak, people experiencing the war had already begun searching for the right words to describe what was so vast, novel, and even monstrous about it. . . (pp. 2-3)

This almost magisterial volume is a treasure trove for military historians and serious World War One scholars, but at 1087 pages, with a bibliography of some 72 pages, it's not for the beginner or faint-hearted. The author, Jörn Leonhard, is Professor of West European History at the University of Freiburg and brings his wide-ranging knowledge and research to Pandora's Box, thereby giving us a profusion of detail, analysis and interpretation that isn't found in any other single volume that I know of.

The breadth and depth of the book becomes evident even with a cursory leafing through its pages. Its ten chapters are organized into sections and subsections which aren't indicated in the formal table of contents. For example, the 146 pages of Chapter 4, Stasis and Movement, are subdivided thus:

1. Looking for Military Decisions: Battle Zones and Strategies;

2. Violence in War's Shadows: Occupation Regimes and Ethnic Differences;

3: Progressive Tools of War, Violence, and their Political Costs: The Mobilization of Technology in Gas and Submarine Warfare;

4. Wait-and-See Neutrality and Rival Promises: New Players and Their Expansionist Fantasies;

5. Contingency and Stubbornness: The Soldier's Experience of the Front and the Limits of Wartime National Rhetoric;

6. Shirkers, Profiteers, and Traitors: Economic Pressures, Social Conflicts, and Political Volatility on the Home Front;

7. Multiethnic Societies at War: From Undisputed Loyalty to the Escalation of Ethnic Violence;

8. Justifying War, Understanding Violence: Intellectual Responses to the Wartime Experience;

9. Seventeen Months of War: Radicalization and Extension beneath a Surface of Stasis and Movement.

This chapter, like others, contains at least one map, several black and white photos, and concludes with several bulleted points of emphasis. Some photos are particularly moving, such as a young boy in chains under sentence of death in Ukraine and another of Armenian children who have died of starvation.

I can't find many aspects of the Great War that aren't discussed and analyzed in this volume. In the first two chapters, Legacies and Antecedents, the author looks at the prehistory of the war and what it inherited from the nineteenth century. Following are chapters entitled Drift and Escalation: Summer and Fall 1914; Stasis and Movement: 1915; Wearing Down and Holding Out: 1916; Expansion and Erosion, 1917; and Onrush and Collapse: 1918. The last three chapters, Outcome; Memories; and Burdens are all on the manifold consequences of the war the twentieth century experienced and that we still suffer from. Throughout the book we encounter solid historiography of the war and plenty of relevant statistics. A four-page appendix of bar graphs breaks down the losses suffered by British, Empire, French, and German armies for each month of combat, including German losses on the Eastern Front.

On occasion the author employs rhetorical questions to leap into his topics. Hence we have detailed material introduced by "What was the First World War? "But how did the outbreak of war affect families in a position between nations and states [who]could not be assigned to a single nation?" "When and how did the war begin?" "What (regarding the battle of the Somme) then, were the reasons for the catastrophe?" "Why did 1916 represent such a watershed in the war?" "Why did the German army remain capable to the end of inflicting high casualties on the Allies?" "How was the complex legacy of the multiethnic empires addressed after the end of the war?" Each question is answered at length.

Lone Dead German Soldier (Late War)

The following paragraph, from Chapter 6, section 9, and subtitled Demography, Class, and Gender: The Contours of Postwar Societies is fairly indicative of the author's overall style and approach:

In 1917, the long-term structural features that would mark post-war societies were becoming more discernible. This applied first of all at the level of demography: conservative estimates put at roughly 12 percent–one in every eight–the percentage of mobilized soldiers who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918. Another 30 percent were wounded, and 10 percent were interned in POW camps. But such totals mask considerable differences between countries: in France, for example, 77 percent of all soldiers were wounded, killed, or taken captive, while the two million German soldiers who lost their lives represented the highest proportion of all the belligerent countries. Demographically, the heaviest toll was among men aged between 20 and 24: more than 70 percent of soldiers killed came from this age group (p. 685).

Interesting anecdotes and facts frequently appear in this work. Some of the many that were new to me include:

  • Early in the war about a dozen German soldiers were actually impaled by British lancers.

  • Unlike in other parts of Africa which held out, the small 3,000-strong defense force in German Southwest Africa had to surrender in May 1915 because the 1904 near extermination of the Herero had left them with few indigenous troops.

  • The British use of Maori and Indian troops "aroused curiosity but also a subliminal fear, while the deployment of black troops in Allied units provoked German accusations of barbarian warfare."

  • Overstretched French field surgeons developed "guillotine" amputations to save time.

  • The German government coined the term "pension psychosis" for those wounded veterans they feared might be trying to get state benefits through pretense.

  • Partly because the war had "unleashed a succession of ever-rising expectations," President Wilson was seen by some as a kind of Christ-like savior figure when the Paris peace treaties were worked out, but sadly "his policies led to a final surge of contradictory and ultimately incompatible expectations."

    As might be expected from his title, Jörn Leonhard begins and ends with the myth of Pandora and her box containing every imaginable form of evil and misery. Only one good thing lay in the bottom of the box: hope. But the box was slammed shut before hope got out, and now "all forms of misery filled the land, sea and air, all manner of fevers laid siege to the earth, and death, which used to creep up slowly on mortals, quickened its step" (p. 2). The children of Thomas Mann (who along with several other literary figures is often quoted) were about to put on a play featuring Pandora's Box when they heard war had broken out. Although they didn't realize it right then, a very real box of horrors had been unleashed on Europe and the world.

    Although many may find this book a bit daunting, there's no disputing that it's a powerful and rich record and analysis of the First World War. It can also serve as a valuable reference book since end notes, bibliography and index are so thorough. I rather wish it had come out as Volumes 1 and 2 rather than as one lengthy book, but nevertheless, I'm very pleased to have it within reach on my bookshelf.

    David F. Beer

  • Monday, June 10, 2019

    Visit the June 2019 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

    I'm always surprised when I compare the subscribers list for Roads to the Great War, our daily blog, with the listing of our subscribers to our monthly newsletter, the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, to see how little overlap there is between the two groups. If you haven't done so yet, I hope you will take a look at our latest issue, and, if you like what you see, that you will choose to become a subscriber or regular reader of the Trip-Wire. Below is a sampler of three of the 14 articles in our latest issue. Please take a look. I've also provided links to the current issue so you can visit the full issue.

    Sunday, June 9, 2019

    The Return of Private Olsen from the Argonne

    Recently, when I was researching new material for our Doughboy Center website, I ran across the story of Private Clarence Olsen of the 355th Infantry of the 89th Division, AEF.  It immediately brought to mind the painting below by John Steuart Curry, titled "The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne." Private Davis was a boyhood friend of the Kansas artist. Private Olsen was a Nebraskan, but his story had the same ending in the same sort of place. Read on and you will see what I mean.

    From the Collection of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts

    November 5, 1918

    My Dear Mother:

    I had just got through writing a letter to Henry on October 28th and telling how safe we are, but Fritz got the best of me that same evening. I am now in the hospital minus one leg just above the knee and a shrapnel hole through the other one just below the knee. From present indications I am getting along as well as can be expected and lately have not suffered very much.

    This may be somewhat of a shock that I should put it as plainly as I do, but you might as well know exactly how things are now. Then you won't worry if recovery seems slow later on. Everybody has been treating me just fine, and you can be sure they are doing all they can to put me "back on my feet" in the shortest possible time. I will send Henry's letter as soon as I can find it. It is somewhat soiled, but I think he will be able to read it. I shall try to get letters out as often as I can, but you don't want to expect a large number at first as everybody is busy and I must not burden them too much. Let Hans know about this and have him inform the Kearney friends. Greetings and love to everybody.

    Your loving son,

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    January 24, 1919

    My Dear Mrs. Olsen:

    I am in receipt of a letter from your son, Hans Olsen, written from Bayard, NE. asking in regard to his brother Clarence, and your son.

    Clarence was evacuated from an evacuation hospital near the front to Base Hospital No.49, November 15 and came under my care. He sustained very severe wounds about November 9, I think, in a few days before the signing of the armistice.

    A high explosive shell wounded him in both legs and resulting gas gangrene made it necessary to amputate both limbs above the knees. This was all done before he entered Base Hospital No. 49, and in it no doubt was the only measure possible to give the poor boy a chance to live. The shock of course was intense. When he came to my care, he had a developing broncho-pneumonia, but he put up a most wonderful fight against the inevitable.

    I talked to him each day as we both came from Nebraska and have the same name. He related many interesting, at the same time, harrowing experiences at the front. Although very modest and reluctant in telling his own personal part in it, I could easily see that your son was one of the bravest and most courageous boys in his command.

    The tragic part of it all is the fact that he should fight through the war and be cut down when victory was in sight, but he was happy in being able to live and know that the war was over and won, and all due to the American Dough-boy.

    He was cheerful throughout, never complaining, a true soldier, even though the worst injured in my wards.

    I instructed the nurses to give him extra care, which they were glad to give and spent a great deal of time in adjusting him to protect his limbs and prevent bed sores and do all we could to give him a chance.

    He had great fortitude and resistance, but the trial was too severe and he passed away without a struggle or pain December 2, 1918.

    He was given a military funeral. Our chaplain - Jasper H. Tancock, Dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral at Omaha - presided at the grave, and after the sound of the firing squad died away, the remains of your dear boy were laid to rest while taps was blown for him the last time.

    Clarence made the supreme sacrifice, and all in all he may have accomplished more by his death than if he had lived.

    As you will note, I am now with the 82nd division and no longer with Base Hospital No. 49, but in due time you will receive any belongings or property that Clarence possessed as it is an order from the government.

    You may rest assured that your boy did not suffer much, as we did everything to ease him, and he died a soldier in every sense of the word.

    A neat cross with his name and regiment, marks his grave at Allerey, France, and it will always be kept in the best of condition as he is sleeping in a government cemetery with many of his comrades in arms.

    Hoping this letter will allay to some extent your anxiety and worry, I beg to remain.

    Yours sincerely,

    J.E. Olson
    Capt, W.C. Field Hospital No. 526.
    A.P.O. 742

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


    Body of Farwell [Nebraska] Youth Whose Funeral He Conducted in France, Comes Home

    Killed in the Argonne

    On December 4, 1918 at Allery, France, Dean J. A. Tancock of Trinity Cathedral, then with Base Hospital 49, said the funeral service for Private Clarence Olsen, Company F., Three hundred and Fifty-fifth Infantry, who died of wounds received in action. 

    Clarence Olsen of Farwell, Nebraska, former student at the Kearney State Normal School while in the Argonne was struck by a high explosive shell, and both legs were shot off. On December 2, 1918, he died in the hospital. 

    Tomorrow in Farwell, Dean Tancock will again say funeral services over the body that he saw buried in France. This time it will find a final resting place in the soil of the home town.

    At the funeral, will be two of Olsen’s comrades, men who served in his company with him at the front. The pallbearers will comprise six of them, Alfred C. Nielsen, Lewis Jacobsen, Christ Jensen and Einer Hermansen of Dannebrog, also R. I. Armstrong of St. Paul, Nebraska, and Ed Borzyce of Farwell. 

    The Farwell home guards will meet the body at the train tonight, when it arrives from Hoboken, and tomorrow the funeral services will be attended by the St. Paul post of the American Legion. The ceremony will be held in the Danish Farwell Church, and interment will take place in the Farwell Cemetery. 

    Private Olsen is survived by his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Olsen, also two brothers, David of Farwell and Hans of Kearney. 

    The ex-service men who attend will be in uniform. 

    Monday, February 21, 1921
    Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska)

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Source:  NetNebraska, Nebraska NPR

    Saturday, June 8, 2019

    The Great Blunder: Germany Opts for Unrestricted U-boat Warfare

    I command that unlimited U-boat warfare begin on February 1 with all possible vigor. You will please take all necessary measures immediately but in such a way that our intention does not become apparent to the enemy and to neutrals in advance. Basic operational plans are to be laid before me.
    Wilhelm II, 9 January 1917 

    Up Periscope

    The decision to initiate unrestricted U-boat warfare, implemented by Germany on 1 February 1917, was one of the most fateful of the 20th century. In hindsight, it was clearly a grave error by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his advisers. The decision followed a long and acrimonious debate involving all sectors of German society. There was great disagreement down to the final hour, especially regarding breaking existing international law and potentially provoking the United States into joining the war on the side of the Allies.

    It was an end to the war through military victory and a German-directed peace (Siegfrieden). The key to their ambitions lay with U-boats loosed to pursue unrestricted submarine warfare. Better to play va banque, all or nothing, in a single decisive action. The U-boat would win the war. 

    The decision was kept secret and America was not notified until the last day of January, the eve of the start of the new strategy. The government-to-government note read in part: 

    Since the attempts to come to an understanding with the Entente Powers have been answered by the latter with the announcement of an intensified continuation of the war, the Imperial Government — in order to serve the welfare of mankind in a higher sense and not to wrong its own people — is now compelled to continue the fight for existence, again forced upon it, with the full employment of all the weapons which are at its disposal. 

    Sincerely trusting that the people and the Government of the United States will understand the motives for this decision and its necessity, the Imperial Government hopes that the United States may view the new situation from the lofty heights of impartiality, and assist, on their part, to prevent further misery and unavoidable sacrifice of human life. Enclosing two memoranda regarding the details of the contemplated military measures at sea, I remain, etc.

    Delivered to Secretary of State Lansing
    31 January 1917 

    Source: Over the Top: Magazine of the World War I Centennial
    November 2016

    Friday, June 7, 2019

    War Poet Jessie Pope by David Beer

    By bridge and battery, town and trench,
         They’re fighting with bull-dog pluck;
       Not one, from Tommy to General French,
                            Is down upon his luck.
           There are some who stand and some who fall,
                    But how does the chorus go—
                              That echoing chant in the hearts of all?
    “Are we down-hearted? NO!”

    While reading Jessie Pope’s 1915 War Poems, (published now by Forgotten Books in their Classic Reprint Series) I found myself rather enjoying her work. Visions of a young Maggie Smith singing “I’ll Make a Man of You” in Oh! What a Lovely War came to mind, as did memories of patriotic songs we sang in school many years ago in Devon. Pope’s war poems bring a different attitude toward the war than we’re used to getting from the established war poets. 

    It’s not hard to see why her work, consisting of easy rhythm, pleasant rhyme, and pro-war sentiment, was considered simplistic and jingoistic. Also, the fact that Wilfred Owen ironically dedicated early versions of his "Dulce et Decorum Est" to a "Certain Poetess" (meaning Jessie) didn’t help. People assumed that Owen was mocking her simple-minded support for the hideous and brutal war as portrayed in his and other war poets’ work. However, it’s worth remembering that Pope’s poems reflect an attitude in Britain at the start of the war—whereas Owen’s poetry is written as a result of experiencing it.

    Born in 1868, she was educated at North London Collegiate School and soon became a regular contributor to Punch, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Express as well as to other high-brow publications—very impressive accomplishments for a woman of her time. Before the war she published humorous light verse and wrote verses for children's books such as The Cat Scouts. She also edited and found a publisher for a novel of social criticism after its author died. 

    Jessie Pope
    When war broke out, Jessie was ready to take up arms for her country with her light verse just as eagerly as many young men took up rifles. Her two “recruiting poems” are usually all we find of her in an anthology today—if we find anything. These first appeared in the Daily Mail and seem to have established her reputation regardless of what else she wrote. 

    “Who’s for the Game?” is typical of her approach, pressuring young men to enlist by piling rhetorical questions on them. Given the context in which it was composed—Britain as it went to war—the sentiment is not, at least to my mind, surprising or overly enthusiastic. Neither Britain nor Pope saw clearly what they were about to get into:

    Who’s for the game, the biggest that’s played,
    The red crashing game of a fight?
    Who’ll grip and tackle the job unafraid?
    And who thinks he’d rather sit tight?
    Who’ll toe the line for the signal to ‘Go!’?
    Who’ll give his country a hand?
    Who wants a turn to himself in the show?
    And who wants a seat in the stand?
    Who knows it won’t be a picnic, not much,
    Yet eagerly shoulders a gun?
    Who would much rather come back with a crutch
    Than lie low and be out of the fun?
    Come along, lads— but you’ll come on all right—
    For there’s only one course to pursue,
    Your country is up to her neck in a fight,
    And she’s looking and calling for you.

    The other poem, “The Call,” written in 1915, expresses similar sentiments using the same techniques while subconsciously waving a white feather in front of young men who need to be pressurized to join up. The tone again is colloquial with its use of dialect and the repeated word “laddie” to make its message up close and personal. The first of its three stanzas is typical:

    Who's for the trench -
    Are you, my laddie?
    Who'll follow French -
    Will you, my laddie?
    Who's fretting to begin,
    Who's going out to win?
    And who wants to save his skin -
    Do you, my laddie?

    This however isn’t the only war poetry Jessie Pope wrote. Her subjects include pride in Kitchener’s Army, a Cossack charge, Gallipoli, an ANZAC hat, the war budget, German propaganda, and the admirable job women were doing in the workforce. Since she never had any doubt about the outcome of the war, she produced a poem to be sung to the tune of “Marching Through Georgia” as our troops marched into Germany, as she was sure they would. In “To a Taube” she combines a sense of wonder at flying machines (“A dove in flight and shape and hue/The dove of war”) with the horror of aerial bombing. The Taube becomes a bird of prey, and is also

    A thirsty hunter out for blood-
    Drinking adventure to the dregs-
    Where hidden camps the country stud
    You drop your eggs,

    and the concluding stanza presents us with a far from jingoistic observation:

    Thus, man, who reasons and invents,
    Has inconsistently designed
    The conquest of the elements
    To kill his kind.

    Jessie Pope could also paint a domestic scene realistically and movingly, a scene played out by countless women in their homes as they sat knitting and thinking of their "boys" at the front. In “Socks” she does this in five short stanzas opening with an image of knitting needles (“shining pins”) and ending each stanza with a refrain consisting of the technical language of knitting:

    Shining pins that dart and click 
    In the fireside’s sheltered peace 
    Check the thoughts that cluster thick - 
    20 plain and then decrease. 

    He was brave – well, so was I – 
    Keen and merry, but his lip 
    Quivered when he said good-bye – 
    Purl the seam-stitch, purl and slip. 

    Never used to living rough, 
    Lots of things he’d got to learn; 
    Wonder if he’s warm enough – 
    Knit 2, catch 2, knit, turn. 

    Hark! The paper-boys again! 
    Wish that shout could be suppressed; 
    Keeps one always on the strain – 
    Knit off 9, and slip the rest. 

    Wonder if he’s fighting now, 
    What he’s done an’ where he’s been; 
    He’ll come out on top somehow – 
    Slip 1, knit 2, purl 14.

    They’re out to show their grit

    One more poem will suffice to illustrate the diversity of this poet so often maligned as simplistic and narrowly focused. Those who denigrate her are probably unaware that in her prewar years she was already considered a noted writer of light verse and a successful publisher and journalist. Social historians also see her as a member of a group of significant (but now forgotten) home-front female propagandists such as Mrs Humphry Ward, May Wedderburn Cannan, and Emma Orczy. Some of her work indicates that she was not opposed to the Suffragette movement. Her poem "War Girls," similar in structure to her other poems, expresses sentiment worthy of Sylvia Pankhurst in the way it celebrates how the war has created opportunities not previously open to women:

    There’s the girl who clips your ticket for the train,
    And the girl who speeds the lift from floor to floor,
    There’s the girl who does a milk-round in the rain,
    And the girl who calls for orders at your door.
    Strong, sensible, and fit,
    They’re out to show their grit,
    And tackle jobs with energy and knack.
    No longer caged and penned up,
    They’re going to keep their end up
    Till the khaki boys come marching back.

    There’s the motor girl who drives a heavy van,
    There’s the butcher girl who brings your joint of meat,
    There’s the girl who cries ‘All fares, please!’ like a man,
    And the girl who whistles taxis up the street.
    Beneath each uniform
    Beats a heart that’s soft and warm,
    Though of canny mother-wit they show no lack;
    But a solemn statement this is,
    They’ve no time for love and kisses
    Till the khaki soldier boys come marching home.

    After the war Jessie Pope continued to write poetry and children’s books and even a short novel. In 1926, when she was 61, she married a widower bank manager and moved from London to nearer the east coast of England. She died in Devonshire at age 76 in December 1941, during some of Britain’s darkest hours of the Second World War but fortunately far from the dangers of Germany’s new and more deadly versions of the Taube and its “eggs.”

    P.S. You can go to YouTube if you like, search for Jesse Pope, and enjoy several different contemporary readings of her poems.

    Thursday, June 6, 2019

    75th Anniversary of D-Day: The World War One Connections (A Roads Classic)

    There are many interesting connections between the D-Day invasion and the Great War. I thought we would share a few today on its 75th Anniversary.

    Click on Image to Expand

    United States National Guard Memorial,
    Omaha Beach, Vierville-sur-Mer

    America's National Guard Memorial for both World Wars is located at the west end of Omaha Beach. That section of the beach was where the 29th Division landed on 6 June. This is a sector featured in both Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day (remember Robert Mitchum as General Norman Cotta?). It was also the place where the Bedford Boys met their fate. The 29th Division, a unit formed with National Guard troops from the Atlantic Coast region, also fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of WWI. The distinguished service of the division in what are the most famous American battles of both World Wars contributed to the selection of this site as the National Guard's National Memorial. The large panel to the left on the photo above describes the contributions of the National Guard to the U.S. victory in WWI.

    Click on Image to Expand

    Erwin Rommel with Pour le Mérite

    Except for Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, almost every senior officer on both sides at Normandy had served at the fronts in the Great War. The most highly decorated of these, however, was Atlantic Wall commander Erwin Rommel. He is shown here wearing his Pour le Mérite, awarded for his service at Caporetto in 1917. Rommel's reputation as a general bounces up and down a bit, but if you are ever able to visit Caporetto and track his actions there, you will undoubtedly conclude he was one fantastic lieutenant.

    Click on Image to Expand

    Graves of Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.,
    Omaha Beach Cemetery, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer

    There is a single American who fell in the Great War buried at the Omaha Beach Cemetery with all the casualties of the 1944 campaign. It is President Theodore Roosevelt's son Quentin, a former Nieuport 28 pilot with the 95th Aero Squadron. He was shot down and killed in July 1918, then buried near his crash site. His brother, Theodore, Jr., died in 1944 from heart disease shortly after leading the initial assault on Utah Beach as the assistant commander of the 4th Division. At the family's request, Quentin was re-interred to lie in peace next to his brother. The gold star on Ted's grave indicates the Medal of Honor which he received for his actions at Normandy. Ted had also served with distinction and had been seriously wounded in World War I.

    Also See Our Article: 
    Overlord's Commanders and Their Great War Service

    Wednesday, June 5, 2019

    1914: The Unspoken Assumptions

    By Henry G. Gole
    From: "The Great War: A Literary Perspective,"  Parameters, 1987

    How does one begin to explain the festive reception to war described in virtually all the literature of the time? Certainly part of the answer lies in the fact that the war experienced was not the war expected. War is always filled with surprises, but the sharp contrast between the euphoria of August and the later fatalism of front soldiers invites analysis.

    In Redemption By War (1982), Roland N. Stromberg describes the alienation of the artist and the intellectual in the decades before 1914, an alienation caused by the widespread neglect of things of the mind that seemed to accompany mass production, industrialization, and social fragmentation. It seemed to creative and sensitive people that technological progress was bought at the price of some inner core of values whose loss was lamented. The philistinism meant, for example, that Germany's search for a place in the sun would turn the land of thinkers and poets away from philosophy, art, and religion. Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks (1900) reflects this concern, and Hermann Hesse's Un term Rad (Under the Wheel, 1906) suggests that the new age crushed sensitive souls as boors prospered. Franz Kafka's protagonists confront faceless bigness that denies individuality; Max Weber's sociology characterizes impersonal bureaucratic behavior that regards people as parts of a big machine. The artist and the intellectual reacted to soulless modernism by turning inward, thus demonstrating estrangement from the external world and a tendency to make art or energy or revolution ends in themselves. The literature in the years before the war abounds with phrases suggesting the disconnectedness of a beautiful "inner life" with ugly external life. D. H. Lawrence summed up the mood in 1912—"The last years have been years of demolition." Stromberg's thesis is that alienated intellectuals were ready for the drastic "redemption by war." 

    James Joll, the distinguished British historian, offers yet another partial explanation for the ease with which Europe tripped or slipped into war in his 1914: The Unspoken Assumptions (1968). Joll contends that there are unspoken assumptions abroad in any age, assumptions that the historian must discover and bear in mind as he attempts to understand specific events. They are not to be found in archives. All of us are naturally affected by the spirit of the age, especially in our formative years, in ways as automatic as taking a breath. Joll suggests that World War I leadership was probably less influenced by the intellectual currents of 1900 to 1914 than by Darwin and Nietzsche. Perhaps, he speculates, the idea of social Darwinism influenced men in a way that predisposed them to a trial of strength. States, statesmen, soldiers, and certain unspoken assumptions were at work. That these things mattered is probable, but precisely how much they mattered is at best an educated estimate.

    Joll joins Stromberg in noting how Europe seemed to welcome the escape from the dull and ordinary of everyday life and the plunge into a great adventure, an experience expected to elevate and purify a generation of Europeans. Something great and wonderful was expected. Further, involvement in war allowed societies temporarily to evade disruptive domestic issues. National values thrust aside class values. Of course, class tensions would return as the war ceased to be a great adventure and took on the character of a grinding man-killer promising no profit and deserving an end.

    In Germany the ruling Social Democrats experienced schism and defection; in France the mutinies of 1917 were widespread and not unrelated to class feelings; in Britain strikes broke out on the home front during the war; in Russia two revolutions took place; in Italy defeatism reigned. But as war broke out the tensions were shelved. The unspoken assumption was that Europe would be better for the war. 

    Tuesday, June 4, 2019

    Tommy: Best Reads on the British Soldier of World War I

    Clark Shilling, Reviewer

    The BEF Arrives, 1914

    Students of the Great War received a wonderful gift this year with the release of Peter Jackson's movie, They Shall Not Grow Old. Digitizing film footage from the Great War and converting it into color, sound, and 3-D, has given us a remarkably modern view of what life was like for British soldiers in the trenches of the Great War. (One of the lasting images from the movie left in my mind was how many of the men had very bad teeth!)

    If you have not seen the movie, or if you have seen it and want to learn more about the British Army in the Great War, please let me recommend the works of several authors who wrote about the experience of the British Expeditionary Force in France in World War I.

    My first recommendation would be the book Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front 1914–1918 by British military historian Richard Holmes. In a very interesting interview included at the end of his book, Professor Holmes stated that it was not his intent to write an operational history, describing battles and "tracing lines on maps." Instead he wanted to author a social history of the British soldier in World War I.

    One of Holmes's most interesting observations is that the BEF evolved through four distinct phases during the war. The first was the Old Army, the British prewar professional army that landed in France in August 1914. Known as "The Old Contemptibles", it was made up of long-serving soldiers and led by aristocratic officers with strong military traditions. This army was later reinforced by the second army, the Territorials, part-time soldiers whose original job was to protect Britain from invasion while the Old Army served overseas.

    The third army was the New Army, also known as Kitchener's Army, consisting of the volunteers who answered Lord Kitchener's call in 1914. This was the army of the pals brigades, groups of men who volunteered together from the same businesses, schools, or neighborhoods and were organized together into units. Their baptism of fire was the Somme Offensive of 1916. The fourth army was the conscript army raised after conscription was instituted in 1916. The conscription army was a younger and more homogeneous army than the previous three, and by 1918, Holmes says, about half of the Tommies were 18-year-olds.

    Holmes covers training, deployment, life in the rear areas as well as what it was like to serve in the front lines. There are chapters devoted to such details as trench construction, the equipment soldiers carried into the trenches, and how the front lines were supplied with food and drink. The author devotes chapters to the individual branches of the army including the infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers, and medical services. Professor Holmes describes how morale was maintained and punishment administered. In a very interesting chapter, Holmes relates how various religious denominations attempted to provide for the spiritual needs of the Tommy.

    I found this book to be filled with hundreds of interesting small details about a soldier's experience in the trenches of World War I. Did you know, for example, that the King's Regulations until 1916 prohibited the shaving of the upper lip and that officers who did shave were sometimes subject to discipline? He also claims the term "chatting" originated from Tommies visiting while picking chats (lice) from their clothing. I did not know that.

    Passchendaele, 1917

    At 631 pages, it is not a quick read, but it is an encyclopedic description of almost every aspect of serving in the British Army in World War I.

    My next recommendation is the work of historian Lyn MacDonald. Her books were written over a 20-year period, starting in 1978. At that time, there were still many thousands of surviving British veterans, and MacDonald was able to conduct interviews with many of these former Tommies and incorporate their stories into her books. Some of her books are devoted to a specific year (1914: Days of Hope, 1915: The Death of Innocence) while others focus on specific campaigns (The Somme, They Called It Passchendaele, To the Last Man: Spring 1918). One of her early books, The Roses of No Man's Land was written about the medical services and the nurses who served the BEF. While she includes many details of life in the BEF, in contrast to Holmes's Tommy, MacDonald utilized her interviews with survivors of the war to build operational histories of the campaigns of the BEF.

    My third recommendation is the work of Richard van Emden. In 1998, the BBC produced a documentary for the 80th anniversary of the end of the war entitled Veterans, the Last Survivors of the Great War. Steven Humphries was the producer of that program, and Richard Van Emden was the researcher. Together, Humphries and van Emden wrote a book by the same name to accompany the documentary. It consisted of interviews with the handful of surviving veterans still alive in the late 1990s. In addition to Tommies, the interviews included sailors, nurses and even a female munition worker. It is a brief book at 200 pages and has numerous photos of the veterans, both during the war as well as photos taken late in their lives.

    Sgt. Alfred Anderson,
    Last Surviving WWI
    Veteran of the Black Watch
    Van Emden continued his work with veterans and in 2005 published Britain's Last Tommies: Final Memories from Soldiers of the 1914–1918 War in Their Own Words. In the years before 2005, van Emden interviewed the last 30 or so survivors of the BEF, and this book records their reminisces, their experiences, and their perspective on the war. The vast majority of this book's 368 pages are filled with these fascinating interviews.

    My final recommendation is Max Arthur's book Last Post: The Final Word from Our First World War Soldiers. Also published in 2005, outside of the introduction, the entire work consists of the interviews with the last 21 surviving British veterans of the Great War. It is logical that many of the same contributors to van Emden's book Britain's Last Tommies also contributed to this volume. The works of the other authors listed above are almost exclusively concerned with what the veterans experienced while serving King and Country. What is unique about Last Post is that the veteran's interviews are more autobiographical. The veterans not only comment on their role in the war, they also relate what their lives were like both before they entered the service as well as what they did with the balance of their very long lives after the war. The book includes interviews of soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

    The title of the movie, They Shall Not Grow Old, is a line from the poem "For the Fallen" written in 1914 by the British poet Laurence Binyon. The line refers to the thousands of young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country during the war. But millions of their fellow countrymen served and survived the war to return home, to grow old and to die. Now all of them are gone. The last Tommy, Henry John Patch, died in 2009. There will be no more reunions, no more interviews, and no more pictures. This wonderful movie and the books listed here are the best opportunities I know of to learn what it was like to be a British Tommy in World War I.

    Reviewed by Clark Shilling

    Monday, June 3, 2019

    The Liberty Bell Goes to War

    At the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair

    While I was growing up in San Francisco, one of my dad's fondest memories that he share with me was of viewing the Liberty Bell at the 1915 World's Fair. Later on, when I went to college and worked in Pennsylvania, I ran into some skeptical Philadelphians who doubted it would have been allowed to travel to the West Coast. It all turns out that the Liberty Bell's visit to the Golden Gate had a lot to do with the First World War. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that America got a case of Liberty Bell Fever during those days. Smithsonian magazine provided much of this background on the story.

    While popular, the Liberty Bell didn’t truly come of age as a national symbol until World War I. Its rise to glory began with a hastily organized train trip across the country in the summer of 1915 culminating in the stop in San Francisco, as President Wilson, former President Theodore Roosevelt, and other leaders felt the need to stir up patriotism after the sinking of the Lusitania, and the ensuing Preparedness Movement. It was the last long-distance trip by the bell due to concerns about enlarging its famous crack.

    However, when America declared war, the Liberty Bell was officially called to the colors. The Treasury was having difficulty financing the war effort. Despite endless appearances by movie stars (who had previously considered explicit politicking taboo), 11,000 billboards, streetcar ads in 3,200 cities and towns, and fliers dropped from planes, bond sales lagged. Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, who also happened to be the son-in-law of President Woodrow Wilson, needed some kind of national loyalty miracle. So he and his propaganda advisers, the Committee on Public Information, who had produced a series of clever posters (the Statue of Liberty using a phone, Uncle Sam carrying a rifle), decided to take one of their most arresting images and bring it to life, no matter how risky.

    25,000 Soldiers at Camp Dix, NJ, Form the Liberty Bell

    They would actually ring the Liberty Bell. They would ring it even if it meant that the most emblematic crack in political history would split the rest of the way and leave a 2,080-pound pile of metal shards. And the moment after they rang the Liberty Bell, every other bell in the nation would be sounded, to signal a national flash mob to head to the bank and buy war bonds.

    Philadelphia Mayor Thomas Smith tapped it first to announce the first war bond drive in June 1917, and the bell’s image subsequently appeared in countless posters advertising Liberty Bonds, which citizens were encouraged to buy to help pay for the war. Despite the concerns for the bell's integrity, it was transported to other sites for ceremonial ringings three other times during the war. The Liberty Bell was now a substantial part of the war effort, and Americans embraced it as national symbol as never before. Songwriters Joe Goodwin and Halsey K. Moore composed “Liberty Bell—It’s Time to Ring Again,” and their song reached the Top Five in 1918.

    During and after the war, Allied leaders visited the bell, including the King and Queen of Belgium and Field Marshal Joseph Joffre of France, who said little but kissed the bell on his 1917 stop in Philadelphia. General John J. Pershing visited the bell on 12 September 1919, and was presented with a small golden Liberty Bell in recognition of his leadership of American armies in the world war.

    General Pershing on a Visit

    One hundred years later, the Liberty Bell returned to duty. The World War I Centennial Commission and the National Park Service designated  the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia as the Honorary Bell of Peace to commemorate the Centennial of the Armistice which was held on 11 November, as part of the Commission's nationwide Bells of Peace project.

    Sunday, June 2, 2019

    Gabriele D’Annunzio: The War Hero… and Fascist

    By Luciano Mangiafico
    Excerpted from "Nine Ways of Looking at D’Annunzio"
    Originally Published at Open Letters Monthly

    Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938
    On 24 April 1915, Italian customs officers at the Italian-Austrian border engaged in a firefight with Austrian reservists who were burning a small river-crossing bridge. The news that the Italians had suffered casualties prompted the D’Annunzio to address a frenetic crowd with fiery words, spurring the country to enter World War I:

    Our vigil is ended. Our exultation begins … The cannon roars. The earth smokes …Companions, can it be true? We are fighting with arms, we are waging our war, blood is spurting from the veins of Italy! We are the last to join this struggle and already the first are meeting with glory … The slaughter begins, the destruction begins … All these people, who yesterday thronged in the streets and squares, loudly demanding war, are full of veins, full of blood; and that blood begins to flow … We have no other value but that of our blood to be shed.

    D’Annunzio’s rhetoric was rousing, and he continued his campaign for war with several other speeches in Rome. Mussolini, the former Socialist agitator, also continually beat the war drums from the newspaper, Il Popolo D’Italia, (The Italian People), which he had founded with French money after he was kicked out of the Socialist Party for advocating war.

    In the war, which Italy entered on 24 May 1915, D’Annunzio served in the army, the navy, and the air corps. He lost sight in one eye in a plane crash, but this did not deter him from continuing to fight.

    On 10–1 February 1918, D’Annunzio participated in hit and run raid against the Austrian Navy. The raid, by three anti-submarine motorboats (each with a crew of thirty) led by Captain Costanzo Ciano, had infiltrated the Bay of Buccari and launched six torpedoes against Austrian ships at anchor; nets around the ships had stopped five torpedoes, while the sixth exploded prematurely and raised the alarm. Tactically, the raid was a bust, but the attendant publicity about the daring action reinvigorated the Italians, who were still demoralized by their 1917 defeat at Caporetto.

    In August of the same year, D’Annunzio led a flotilla of seven unarmed airplanes over Vienna, carrying only his violin, and dropped 50,000 handbills (his own composition, naturally), urging Austrians to surrender. After the end of the war, he agitated for a “greater  Italy.” On 12 September 1919, D’Annunzio organized his own small army made up of 2000 discharged soldiers and deserters and led a motorized column into the city of Fiume, whose status was to be the subject of negotiation with Yugoslavia. He made himself, Garibaldi-style, the dictator of what he called The Regency of the Carnaro, organizing a totalitarian republican government, calling himself Duce (Leader), overprinting stamps, issuing some with his own likeness, and otherwise acting as ruler. His soldiers wore black shirts, pledged allegiance to him, and became convinced that they were defending civilization against “a flood of Slav barbarians.”

    Mussolini Visiting D'Annunzio in 1935

    Evidently, D’Annunzio’s ego was thus satisfied for 15 months, and while the Italian government ordered the city blockaded, it did not prevent the Red Cross from keeping it well supplied. Thus the “legionnaires” were able to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, with endless mass meetings in the public squares, replying to the Duce cry, “To whom Italy?” with “To us!”. One of his “legionnaires wrote: “The city abounded with beautiful girls; the pastry shops were bursting with extraordinary sweets. One ate, one danced, one drank; indeed, it truly seemed that this city, with its life overflowing with gifts, was the reward for all our exertions during the war.”

    In November 1920, Italy signed a treaty with Yugoslavia making Fiume for the moment a free city. The new Italian prime minister, Giovanni Giolitti, ordered D’Annunzio to leave and disband his “soldiers.” When D’Annunzio refused to do so, Giolitti had the Italian army and the navy blockade the city. D’Annunzio then declared that he would resist. When Italian army units attacked on 24 December, nearly 50 lives were lost, including five civilians. D’Annunzio knew the game was up when a shell from the battleship Andrea Doria hit his palace and wounded him slightly. He made one final speech about the “Christmas of Blood” and, convinced that he could no longer milk his exploits for publicity, left the city and retired to a villa on Lake Garda, while his “soldiers” evacuated Fiume and returned home.

    D’Annunzio’s actions and the failure of the state to stop him promptly and prosecute him afterward provided the behavioral example that Mussolini learned well on his ascent to power: violence and illegality could be used with impunity to accomplish one’s political aims.

    D’Annunzio was a supporter of Mussolini and championed his rise to power, although he did not like Germans and Nazism and warned Mussolini against an alliance with Hitler. Perhaps because he was a mountebank himself, although a more refined and cultured one, he could see through the dangerous histrionics of the former Austrian corporal. In 1934 he wrote in pencil on the inside cover of his copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “The converted Jew Adolph Hitler with the ignoble face darkened by indelible splashes of the paint or glue that he held in his brush… which has became the scepter of a ferocious clown…”

    For his support of (or acquiescence to) fascism, D’Annunzio was handsomely rewarded: at Mussolini’s recommendation the king made him Prince of Monteneveso and gave him a substantial pension. He was made an honorary general in the air force, and an integral edition of his writings was published at state expense. In 1937, after the death of sitting president of the Academia d’Italia Guglielmo Marconi, D’Annunzio was appointed to the post, and he was provided with funds to restructure and enlarge the villa he had purchased in Gardone Riviera on the shores of Lake Garda.

    Also see Roads to the Great War articles on:

    D'Annunzio's Vittoriale

    D'Annunzio's Flight to Vienna