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

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Remembering a Veteran: Canadian Ace Billy Bishop, VC, Royal Flying Corps

Billy Bishop is widely known as the top Canadian flying ace of the First World War, boasting 72 victories and numerous accolades including the Victoria Cross. He was an Air Marshal and the recipient of many medals. During the Second World War, he was a key player in the implementation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Young Billy

William Avery (Billy) Bishop was born in Owen Sound, Ontario on 8 February 1894. He was 20 years old when the war broke out in 1914. As a youth, Bishop had a reputation as a bit of a scrapper. He shied away from team sports, preferring solo endeavors like swimming, horse riding, and shooting. Foreshadowing his future love of flying, as a 15-year-old he flew a makeshift "aircraft." Made from bed sheets, wooden crates and string, he tried to fly it off the third story of his house.

Royal Military College

Even though he was not much of a student, he attended the Royal Military College in Kingston. He had a range of reported efforts—working hard, a bit of failing, and some cheating.

Arriving in England

In 1914, he joined the Mississauga Horse cavalry regiment, and later transferred to the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles. Frustrated with the mud of the trenches, he requested yet another transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. He figured the war would be much cleaner in the air.

Earliest flights

Even though Bishop had displayed great capabilities on the firing range and was very good with a gun, he rode along as an observer at first. However, he showed a talent for taking aerial photographs, and he soon began training others. On his first mission, he acted as an aerial spotter for British artillery. He continued to work on reconnaissance missions and bombing flights without ever firing a gun.

Becoming a pilot

After he injured his knee during a flight and his father suffered a stroke, he was sent home to Canada to recuperate. With the help of some influential friends he made during this hiatus, he was accepted for training as a pilot at the Central Flying School. Soon after receiving his wings, he had a crash landing resulting in an order to retrain. Luckily, Major Alan Scott vouched for him, and by chance, the very next day he saw his first victory, shooting down a German plane. They let him stay, and as luck would have it, the very next day he saw his second victory.

Becoming a flying ace

Bishop was often allowed to go on solo missions, deep into enemy territory. With his uncompromising approach, Bishop racked up his victories, becoming an ace. He got the nicknames "Hell's handmaiden" and "the Greatest English Scouting Ace" from the Germans. He specialized in the surprise attack, with victory after victory. He was awarded the Military Cross for his participation in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The enemy put a bounty on Bishop's head, yet he pushed on to acquire the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as the Victoria Cross. He was considered one of the top flying aces of the war.

Marriage and promotion

While on leave to Canada, he married his long-term fiancée, Margaret Eaton Burden, and wrote his autobiography, Winged Warfare. When he returned to Europe, he was promoted to major and given command of No. 85 Squadron, "The Flying Foxes."

Recruitment icon

Billy Bishop had become an integral character/story in Canadian recruitment efforts. There began to be worry about what would happen to morale on the home front should something happen to him. He was moved and promoted to lieutenant-colonel. By the time the war ended, he claimed 72 air victories. Some historians believe the total could be lower. He seemed to have a tradition of circumventing the rules. Often victories were attributed in the absence of the usual need for witnesses, etc.

Second World War

During the Second World War he was appointed the first Canadian Air Marshal. He served as the Director of the Royal Canadian Air Force in charge of recruitment, a task he did remarkably well. This resulted in an overflow of applicants.

Death and legacy

Bishop went on to explore various business interests, mostly connected to aviation, and spent most of his remaining days between England and Canada. With the wars taking a great toll on his health, he died in 1956. Bishop and his wife, Margaret, had a son, William, and daughter, Margaret, both of whom went on to be excellent aviators in their own right.

Bishop is memorialized in streets, roadways, parks, a mountain, buildings, airports, and the list goes on. He also boasts a long list of medals and honors.

Source: Veteran's Affairs of Canada

Friday, May 20, 2022

The USS Ticonderoga Went Down Fighting

USS Ticonderoga

The USS Ticonderoga (previously S.S. Kamilla Rickmers) was a steamship in the United States Navy which served as a cargo ship. She was originally built as a German steamer in 1914. She was seized by United States Customs officials in 1917, then turned over to the Navy and fitted out as an animal transport and renamed Ticonderoga. The ship was armed with two 6-inch deck guns fore and aft.  Her captain was Lt. Commander James J. Madison, USNRF. Under Madison’s command, Ticonderoga carried cargoes to France three times through the summer of 1918. After loading at Norfolk from 5–19 September 1918, for what would be her fourth voyage, Ticonderoga steamed to New York where she joined a convoy bound for Europe.

On September 22, 1918, Ticonderoga cleared New York for the last time.  During the night of 29–30 September, the ship developed engine trouble and dropped behind the convoy. On the morning of 30 September 1918, the ship was attacked by the German submarine U-152. As the ship's gun crews prepared for action, her commanding officer tried to ram the enemy, but narrowly missed.  The U-boat's gunners opened fire at a range of 500 yards, targeting Ticonderoga’s bridge and forecastle, quickly putting the cargo vessel’s forward gun out of action. The ship’s 6-inch gun aft continued the battle.  The Ticonderoga fought on, but a torpedo hit and the loss of her second deck gun eventually doomed the ship.

During the two-hour engagement, of the 237 sailors and soldiers onboard, only 24 survived.  Many, including the commanding officer, suffered wounds. Commander Madison, in spite of severe wounds, continued to direct and maneuver the ship until forced to order her abandoned. After the order was finally given to abandon the sinking ship, Madison, who had lapsed into unconsciousness from loss of blood, was lowered into a lifeboat.  On the morning of 30 September 1918, Ticonderoga slipped beneath the sea.  The British steamer Moorish Prince found his life boat,  saving him and 21 of his surviving crew, on 4 October 1918. Two of the survivors were taken prisoner by U-152.

Two Officers from Ticonderoga, Prisoners on U-152

Commander Madison would receive the Medal of Honor for his leadership during the battle.  Unfortunately, he would eventually die from his wounds in 1922.  His citation reads:

For exceptionally heroic service in a position of great responsibility as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, when, on 4 October 1918, that vessel was attacked by an enemy submarine and was sunk after a prolonged and gallant resistance. The submarine opened fire at a range of 500 yards, the first shots taking effect on the bridge and forecastle, 1 of the 2 forward guns of the Ticonderoga being disabled by the second shot. The fire was returned and the fight continued for nearly 2 hours. Lt. Comdr. Madison was severely wounded early in the fight, but caused himself to be placed in a chair on the bridge and continued to direct the fire and to maneuver the ship. When the order was finally given to abandon the sinking ship, he became unconscious from loss of blood, but was lowered into a lifeboat and was saved. . .


Commander Madison with Medal of Honor

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Decline and Long Rise of Vienna from the Great War

Cut off from all roots, and even from the earth that used to nourish these roots—this is how I truly feel. . . . I was born into a great and powerful Empire, the monarchy of the Habsburgs, but you’d better not search for it on the map: it got washed away without a trace.

Stefan Zweig, 1936

Vienna 1900

By Peter Berger

At the outbreak of war in August 1914, 2,149,834 persons were registered as residing in Vienna, meaning that the imperial capital's population had grown by almost 50 percent [in the past quarter century]. In Europe around 1900, no more than five capitals exceeded the one million mark. Besides Vienna, these were London, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg.

On the eve of the murders of Sarajevo, Vienna was a place of blatant contradictions. Within its boundaries, one would meet striking poverty in the heavily industrialized peripheral districts, the “no man’s land of social life” (to quote the American sociologist and architecture critic Lewis Mumford).  Violent manifestations of working class discontent were not the norm, but one particular instance of revolt, the “price-hike riots” of September 1911, had left a lasting impression on the rulers in Vienna’s Rathaus. Coexisting with widespread urban poverty, but mostly ignorant of it, was Vienna’s affluent and numerically small business and professional elite.

While [with war] Vienna was slowly drained of its young male population deemed fit to fight, an influx of newcomers almost immediately made up for the loss. The first transport of wounded combatants arrived in the Austrian capital as early as 24 August 1914. In the initial seven months of the  conflict alone, an estimated 260,000 war casualties were treated in Vienna’s medical facilities, hospitals in the first place, but also buildings which originally had served other purposes like the university, parliament, etc., and now got subsequently converted into makeshift infirmaries.

Wartime Food Queue in Vienna

Food supply and hunger would a persistent problem throughout the war. According to historian Andrea Brenner, Vienna’s permanent food chaos was a combined effect of false expectations concerning the duration of the war, Allied blockade measures, military events on the Eastern front, rivalries between the monarchy’s administrative bodies (competing ministries, army and civilian bureaucracies), and unresolved tensions between Austria and Hungary.  As a prewar net exporter of agricultural products, the Habsburg monarchy had never given much consideration to preparing for times of food scarcity. Neither was there such a thing as a contractual basis for the supply of Vienna with Hungarian grain and meat. It was simply treated as given. Due to weather caprices, the 1914 wheat harvest of the Hungarian plains turned out to be disappointing, and Magyar authorities withheld parts of the usual Viennese share of the crop for home consumption. The prevailing sentiment at the outset of the war had been one of national unity in the face of foreign aggression. 

But very soon it became obvious for everyone that instead of promoting  consensus, war acted as a great divider of society. This was particularly true for the patchwork middle class “little folk” coalition which, before 1914, had endorsed Vienna’s Christian Social government of both mayors, Lueger and Weiskirchner. With the decision to introduce the protective measure of “Mieterschutz” (a set of laws curtailing the right of landlords to expel tenants or to raise their rents at will, largely aimed at safeguarding soldiers who returned from the front) in early 1917, the Christian Socials made the hard choice between homeowners and middle-class tenants, both of them potential supporters of political Catholicism. Similar choices had to be made between small manufacturers squeezed out of the market by lack of available raw materials and labor, and others who supplied the army and hence did enjoy privileged access to resources; or between civil servants pressing for “indexed,” i.e. inflation-adjusted, salaries and those segments of the bourgeoisie for whom the public service and its privileges, imagined or real, had always been a thorn in the flesh.


“When the end of the Habsburg Empire came after four years of war, which for Vienna included almost three years of want and unfreedom, and when the capital of a large realm became overnight the capital of a small, isolated, defeated Republic of six million inhabitants, another Vienna rose from the shambles…” Ilsa Barea wrote in 1966. This was Red Vienna of the Social Democrats who had conquered the city hall following victory at the first communal elections under universal (male and female) franchise in May 1919. It was the Vienna legally separated in 1922 from the rural province of Lower Austria whose majority of Catholic land folk would hardly have welcomed the social experiments now launched by the Viennese socialists: banning compulsory religious education at public schools, legalizing divorce, seizing “excess” living space from apartment owners to accommodate the homeless, introducing luxury taxes to pay for a vast program of construction of flats for workers, etc., etc. It was the Vienna of a timidly defensive bourgeoisie, unsettled by the departure of the old gods (throne, altar, and uniform), and chafing at the “social disorder” caused by the apparent emancipation of the working class, and by soaring inflation which in a few hours destroyed savings it had taken years to accumulate.

In his beautiful account of the Viennese atmosphere in the August days of 1914, Edmund de Waal speaks of “two speeds” discernible in the  imperial capital: a fast one of the soldiers’ marching feet, and a slower one of the food lines shuffling along in front of groceries, tobacco stores, and warm rooms for homeless persons. In the early 1920s, there  reigned a third speed, that of the rattling calculators behind the counters of banks or shops adding up millions, then billions and trillions to amounts equivalent of a worker’s daily pay, or the cost of a few bottles of drink. No wonder the question of whether Austria would be capable of surviving within her new boundaries occupied the minds of her contemporaries. According to the composer, Ernst Krenek, everyone from the secretary of state down to the last chimney sweep was convinced that Austria could not last. According to Krenek, Pan-Germanic and Nazi “Anschluss” propaganda easily fed on this general sentiment.

While the war caused the number of people residing in Vienna to swell  from 2.15 to 2.4 million, a reverse trend set in following the collapse of Habsburg rule. Many who lived in Vienna left the city for one of the new successor states who offered passports and jobs to those who, as ethnic Czechs, Slovaks, South Slavs, etc., chose to return to the land of their forebears. Some 20,000 Jewish ex-refugees from Galicia, however, remained—to the intense dislike of Vienna’s anti-Semites. Viennese façades looked dull and impoverished, partly due to wartime neglect, and partly because homeowners did not bother to invest in objects that, because of new rent regulations, failed to produce returns on capital. As a heritage of the war years, undernourishment and tuberculosis continued to plague the urban population. As late as 1919, more people died than were born in Vienna. The rate of underfed schoolchildren amounted in 1920 to an estimated 75 percent. An average Viennese child in the 1920s could not hope to exceed the height of children of equal age living around 1800.  Countries that had remained neutral in the World War I took pride in hosting Viennese “war children” for a period of several weeks or months of abundant diet and medical care. The number of children invited to Denmark, the  Netherlands, and Switzerland is reported to have been 90.000.

The Strudlhofstiege

And yet, Vienna rose again. It did so, with lasting effect and visibly for everyone, only in my lifetime, to be precise: during the 1960s. I recommend to those who wish to sense a distant echo of the feelings shared by a generation who went through World War I and its aftermath to visit Vienna’s ninth district. There, at the feet of the “Strudlhofstiege” (a stairway leading from the baroque gardens of the aristocratic Liechtenstein dynasty to the one-time residence of Count Berchtold, Francis Joseph’s foreign minister in 1914) a memorial plaque bears the lines of a poem by the novelist Heimito von Doderer

When the leaves lie on the steps
Autumn breath arises from the old staircase
What has walked on it ages ago.
Moon within two closely
 Embraced, light shoe and heavy steps
The mossy vase at its core/Outlives years between wars.
Much has fallen to our sorrow
And the beautiful lasts the shortest.

Source: Excerped from "Exiles of Eden: Vienna and the Viennese During and After World War I,"  Contemporary Austrian Studies, Volume 23

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Worst Year of the War for the German Army? Hands Down—1918

A Dead German Soldier in a Captured Trench

By almost any conventional way of measuring, the [1918]  campaign was far more costly, and involved greater physical demands, than any which came before.  This fact becomes clear from the casualty figures alone. Between 21 March 1918—the beginning of the German offensives—and the conclusion of the Armistice, the German army would suffer 1.8 million casualties. This amounted to about 225,000 casualties per month, or between 5 and 10 percent of the total strength of the Westheer.

Click on Image to Read Details

In both absolute and proportional terms, this was by far the highest rate of less suffered during the entire war. It was in fact one of the highest rates of loss sustained by any army in modern military history. It is nearly twice as high as German monthly losses on the Eastern Front in 1943, at the height of the fighting on the Eastern Front in World War II, and it is two-and-a-half times greater than British monthly losses during the Somme offensive.

Source:  PhD Dissertation " 'If Only This War Would End': German Soldiers in the Last Year of the First World War." Ryan Edward Zroka, 2013

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Secret War on the United States in 1915

By Heribert von Feilitzsch
Signature Book Printing, 2015
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

Franz von Papen, Future Supporter of Adolf Hitler,
Was Military Attache to Washington, DC, in 1915 
and Up to No Good

The United States entered the Great War in 1917 but readers of The Secret War on the United States in 1915 will quickly come to the realization that the Great War had entered the United States by 1915. How this happened is of particular interest in the current environment of NATO’s indirect involvement in the Ukrainian War. America’s 1915 involvement in the Great War had two aspects: the manufacture and sale of war materials to the Entente and Germany’s counter-campaign to prevent the delivery of those materials and to disseminate German propaganda in the U.S. Under the direction of their Secret War Council, German agents plotted cornering the market on strategic materials, labor unrest and sabotage.

Though neutral, Britannia’s rule of the waves had converted the United States into an Entente workshop. When the Council’s propaganda efforts failed to sway the balance of American public opinion, the Council turned to more direct action.

The common denominator in German efforts was money. Some initiatives were economic. Schemes included the setting up of manufacturing plants to justify the purchase of machine tools, raw materials, and to hire skilled workers—thereby limiting their availability to other businesses. Resources having been controlled, production was delayed and sales made to neutrals or Mexican civil belligerents. To the extent that these schemes were successful, deliveries to the Entente were interrupted.

For example, phenol is a chemical compound with many industrial uses, including as a keen ingredient in TNT. The German purchase of a year’s supply for Bayer Chemical Company (think aspirin) provided a cover to divert phenol from the production of high explosives. The dangling of German money to purchase mainstream and ethnic newspapers met with mixed success. The Secret War Council's influence in peace movements and labor disputes remains difficult to discern, but the effort was there. Most seemingly counter-intuitive was the encouragement of the U.S. preparedness movement that was justified for its potential to divert military equipment to domestic demand.

When monetary incentives failed to yield the desired results, the council turned to violent sabotage. Among the examples of the council’s efforts to raise the cost of Entente supplies were the injection of methylene dye into grain to create blue dough; cigar bombs that started fires aboard ships; plots to attack the Welland Canal; attempts to infect exportable horses and mules with anthrax and glanders; and most spectacularly, the Black Tom explosion. The book also makes a case for the War Council being an instigator of Mexican rebel attacks on American towns and interests, thereby distracting attention and military supplies from the Western Front.

This tome is part of a trilogy penned by author Heribert von Feilitzsch in which he makes a strong case for concluding that the Great War came to the United States in 1915, both for American commercial and German martial interests. Perhaps heedful of Deep Throat’s advice “to follow the money,” von Feiltzsch’s investigation into bank records and financial transactions has uncovered a web of espionage not often illuminated by other historians. Though dismissed as a massive failure, the author posits that, although the physical damage inflicted was negligible, like the later 9-11 attacks, the added costs of heightened inspection and security, plus delays in shipments and increased insurance rates, added to the expense of the Entente War effort while focusing American attention on more localized needs.

I recommend The Secret War on the United States in 1915 along with the others in the von Feiltzsch’s trilogy, The Mexican Front in the Great War and The Secret War Council to Roads readers who seek a thorough investigation into the role of the German Secret War Council in bringing the Great War to the United States.

Jim Gallen

Monday, May 16, 2022

Weapons of War: The Knobkerrie or Trench Club

Austrian Trench Raiders

A knobkerrie  is a form of wooden club, a short stick with a carved know at the top, used mainly in Southern and Eastern Africa.  It is somewhat similar to the Irish shillelagh. In the First World War, enhanced versions, generically known as "trench clubs" found to be especially useful during in-close trench fighting and raiding.

Notes for bombing units, issued by the general staff, recommended that soldiers should be ready to use "a bayonet or special stabbing knife or weapon for hand-to-hand fighting, such as an axe or knobkerry (trench club)."

Siegfried Sassoon recalls in his memoirs his  preparation for a raid on the enemy’s trenches: "It was time to be moving;  I took off my tunic, slipped my old raincoat on over my leather waistcoat, dumped my tin hat on my head, and picked up my nail-studded knobkerrie."

Samples Used by African Tribes

Reportedly, a medium-sized club worked best within the confined spaces typical of trench warfare. The average club was approximately a foot and a half long. (See photo at top.) Trench clubs weren’t standard issue, so troops would gather materials found in the trenches and either put them together themselves or have unit’s carpenter do it. Nails, the shell of a Mills bomb, and a variety metal components were affixed the clubs, usually in mass quantities, to increase lethality.

Great War Designs

This excerpt from the war diary of the 18th King's Royal Rifle Corps, describes the equipment of a trench raiding party near Ypres on 12 July 1916.

The day passed quietly. At night the Bn carried out a raid upon the enemy’s trenches. The raiding party consisted of Lieuts G.H. Wingfield and T. J. H. Fryer with 28 other ranks. The starting point was trench 125 which was held by the 15th Bn Hampshire Regiment. The party left the PIGGERIES at 8.45 PM and moved up to trench 125 from which they were to advance. Zero hour was fixed at 10.40 PM. Ten minutes before this time the raiding party left the trench & crawled forward to within about 35 yards of the enemy line. The raid was carried out in three parties composed of the following: Party A Lieut Fryer & 9 O.R. of whom Lieut Fryer and 5 carried knobkerries & wire cutters & two men on each flank carried rifles. Party B 10 bombers, each carrying a knobkerrie & 10 bombs. Party C Lieut Wingfield & 9 men carrying knobkerries & hooks.

Sources: "Strange Hells: A new approach on the Western Front,"  Historical Research 80( 211) (150-166); Great War Forum, 12 February 2007

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle


In 1917, although victory was still not assured, a number of people in Scotland were determined that those who had sacrificed their lives should be appropriately remembered and that their names should be permanently recorded and honoured in a National Memorial. The move was strongly supported by servicemen of all ranks who felt deeply the loss of their comrades.

A Scots Piper at the Main Entrance

It was clear however that the scale of the First World War was going to need new thinking on the subject of memorialization. Such thinking was already well advanced when, in 1917, the architect Edwin Lutyens came forward with his idea of "the Great War Stone," a permanent, non-denominational alter-like national stone which by its simplicity alone would convey the magnitude of loss. This stone was to become the world famous Cenotaph. It was decided that the war was also to be memorialized in the establishment of a National War Museum, later to become the Imperial War Museum, London. Alongside this, local museums were also to be established. As a focus of National and Imperial mourning it was logical that the Cenotaph and the National War Museum be located in the Imperial Capital, London.

Panel from the Frieze Around the Shrine

Central Hall of Honor

A number of eminent Scots were also thinking along the same lines and while they strongly supported the concept of the London Cenotaph and National War Museum they also wanted a truly Scottish memorial, in Scotland, recording the names of all Scots and displaying Scottish material. The moving force behind this vision was John George 8th Duke of Atholl. A leading member of the Scottish aristocracy, the Duke of Atholl, or "Bardie" as he was known from his title, the Marquess of Tullibardine, was a serving soldier who had fought in the Sudan and had raised the Scottish Horse Yeomanry. He was a man of considerable vision and energy and, what was more important, he had both influence and connections.  By war's end, one in five Scots who enlisted during the First World War never came home.  Something must be done to honor Scotland's fallen, so there was tremendous support and momentum to build a memorial.

Regimental Panel for the Royal Scots ("First Foot)

Outdoor Sculpture Representing Courage

The Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle honoring them was built during the 1920s, opening in 1927.  The castle's former North Barracks was altered to create this masterpiece.  The memorial stands on the site of the church of St Mary, which was used as a munitions store in the 1530s and torn down in 1755. It was made by some of Scotland’s finest artists and craftspeople. The exterior of the building has many examples of sculpture, showing figures including Peace, Justice, Mercy, Knowledge, Truth, and Courage. Inside, beautiful stained-glass windows, stone carvings and bronzes depict scenes from the First World War and honor the different roles played by men, women and animals in warfare. Sculpture and stained glass depict moving scenes from the First World War.  Animal figures portray the virtues and vices.

Glass Window

A centrally placed shrine in the shape of a casket holds the Rolls of Honor, lists of the fallen, "who was either a Scotsman (i.e. born in Scotland or who had a Scottish born father or Mother) or served in a Scottish Regiment and was killed or died (except as a result of suicide) as a result of a wound, injury or disease sustained (a) in a theatre of operations for which a medal has been or is awarded; or (b) whilst on duty in aid of the Civil Power."  Following the Second World War a further 50,000 names were added to the Rolls of Honor. At this time it was decided to leave the memorial unchanged as a masterpiece of Scottish architecture and craftsmanship and no Second World War Battle Honors were added to the regimental bays. And it thus remains, a memorial to all who have died since 1914.  Even today names from the First World War and other conflicts are still being added.

Shrine with Rolls of Honor

Source:  Memorial Website

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Newfoundland Caribou Now Stands in Gallipoli

Spread across the Western Front battlefields are five bronze Caribous, all memorials to the men of Newfoundland who fought and  who died there in the Great War. Before arriving on the Western Front, however, these men as part of the 29th Division had fought in Gallipoli.  For many years there had been an effort to install a Newfoundland Caribou memorial there.  In April 2021 it finally was dedicated across the road from the Hill 10 Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the Suvla Bay sector.

After almost a year of training, the Newfoundland Regiment learned it would be part of the 29th Division of the British Army fighting in Gallipoli. After a short stay in Egypt, 1,076 Newfoundlanders came ashore along the shores of the Dardanelles Strait on 20 September 1915. The flashes and the sounds of distant artillery and rifle fire quickly told them they were finally in a war zone. The next day they were shelled by Turkish artillery as they huddled in their shallow dugouts for protection—their welcome to Gallipoli.

The young Newfoundlanders had arrived hoping for action and excitement but they were soon disappointed. They spent the first months digging trenches and keeping long night watches, spending time on the front line learning trench warfare techniques from the ANZAC and British forces that had been fighting there for months. 

Conditions were bad. Enemy fire and life in the trenches made the situation miserable for the Newfoundlanders. Even getting enough to drink was difficult; sometimes soldiers had to get by on less than a cup of water a day. The weather was harsh and unpredictable. The heat brought swarms of flies that helped spread diseases like dysentery which hit the Newfoundlanders hard. It could also be surprisingly cold as it was the worst winter in the region in four decades. Weeks of heavy rains and wind battered the soldiers, turning trenches into flooded ditches. When the rains finally stopped, the weather turned very cold and caused many cases of frostbite. Despite the difficult conditions, the Newfoundlanders persevered and earned their first battle honor when they captured Caribou Hill (a high point used by Turkish snipers) in November, with three men earning medals for their bravery in the fighting.

The lack of a military breakthrough convinced the Allies it was time to withdraw from Gallipoli. It was decided the Newfoundland Regiment would help in the difficult task of covering the evacuation of Allied troops onto waiting ships. This rearguard operation went well and the Newfoundlanders were among the last Allied soldiers to leave Turkey in January 1916

Newfoundlanders at Gallipoli

The hardships and death they experienced were a taste of the even harsher experiences that were waiting when they were shifted to Europe’s Western Front in April 1916. By war’s end, more than 6,200 men had served in the regiment. The price was high, however—more than 1,300 died and many returned home with injuries to body and mind that lasted a lifetime. The loss of so many of its finest young citizens and the toll taken on the survivors was a heavy burden that Newfoundland had to bear for decades.

The eight-foot-tall caribou bronze represents the emblem of the Newfoundland Regiment.  The were originally designed by British sculptor  and officer Basil Gotto. Because of COVID, there was not a ceremonial unveiling of the statue (and little publicity).

Friday, May 13, 2022

Out-Eating the Enemy: How Latin America Helped Feed the Allied Armies in Europe

Fray Bentos Corned Beef from Uruguay
Fed the British Tommies

By  Phillip Dehne St. Joseph’s College, New York, USA

When looking at the First World War, Latin America presents a conundrum. It was a place firmly outside the core military story that inevitably and justly dominates histories of the Great War. But despite this, Latin America was far more important to the outcome of the war than many of the military sideshows in Africa and the Pacific, which despite their unimportance to the overall outcome of war are often described or at least mentioned in general histories of the war. Supplies from Latin America were critical for the Entente’s war effort, helping to feed fighting men and civilians.

Latin America played a big role in allowing the Allies to maintain reasonable supplies, particularly in the critical year of 1918 when France received more than a third of its wheat imports from Argentina. Significant amounts of the tinned meat and lukewarm coffee consumed by the poilus of the French Army came from Uruguay and Brazil. Regardless of its culinary appeal, such food was better in quality, freshness and quantity than what German soldiers got, and the morale of the German civilians and troops correspondingly plummeted in the summer of 1918.  Although they did not fall into true famine by 1918, the German military and civilians had certainly worn down due to deprivation that would not have existed if the Entente simply allowed Germany to trade with all the world’s neutrals. 

Certainly the bulk of food for the Entente came from the English-speaking North American states, but critical food supplies, particularly meat and grains from the River Plate, flooded across the Atlantic and fed the civilians and soldiers of the British and French empires. The grain crops of South America were available on the opposite seasonal cycle from the supplies from North America, filling pivotal supply gaps in the early months of each year. These supplies were far quicker to ship to Europe than those from India, Australia, and New Zealand, and with significantly less usage of scant shipping. Throughout the war, food bought and paid for sat unshipped on Australian docks. 

The frozen meat supplied from the River Plate to the Allies made up more than half of the meat imported from overseas into Allied territories throughout the war, in 1917 supplying nearly four times the meat of Australia and ten times more meat than the United States. Without a doubt, Latin American food tremendously improved the ability of the British and French militaries and societies to resist the German offensives during the pivotal final year of war. 

Although it is not quite acceptable historical practice to speculate about what did not happen, one could easily imagine that a lack of available Latin American food would have simply meant that less food would enter Allied territories, leading their people and armies closer to starvation and perhaps creating unrest similar to that which developed in Germany in the early days of November 1918. It is probably impossible to calculate whether this food imbalance abetted by Latin American supplies meant that the war lasted a few days, a few weeks, or a few months less than if the Allies had not relied on Latin American produce. Regardless, it is fair to conclude that Latin American supplies contributed significantly to the Allies’ critical (and perhaps even decisive) ability to out-eat their German opponents. 

After the War: Starving Europe

Perhaps not surprisingly, access to food and financial supplies after the war exposed again the unique place of Latin America in the Great War. Throughout the Paris Peace Conference in the first months of 1919, representatives from all the victorious powers had to grapple with the competing imperatives of feeding the starving populations of defeated central Europe while sucking out of Germany as many tangible resources for reparations as possible. Latin America was one of the rare places where there was agreement between these imperatives. The inability of the victorious Allies to simply sequester German property in Latin America (in other words, their failure to really win the war on the “far western front”) meant that the German grain businesses and banks there still had resources that could be used to purchase and send food to the starving peoples of Germany.

By early May, German authorities had already purchased 100,000 tons of River Plate flour.  Germany did not need to send money or gold, because Argentina and other South American countries remained the one place in the world where the miserable, defeated, nearly failed state of Germany still had credit.

Source: "How Important Was Latin America to the First World War?,Iberoamericana, XIV, 53, 2014

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The World's Largest (and Longest) War Memorial Is in Australia

Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch at Eastern View

The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage-listed 240-kilometer (150 mi) stretch of road along the southeastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford. Built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I, the 151-mile-long road is the world's largest war memorial. 

The Great Ocean Road stretches between Torquay and Allansford and lies on the south end of the state of
Victoria in Australia.

Around 3000 ex-soldiers, paid ten shillings per eight-hour shift,  helped to build the Southern Coast Road, and it wasn’t easy. They worked on rough terrain, through treacherous weather and on rocky cliff sides. Unsurprisingly, a few of the soldiers died during construction. Using tools such as explosives, picks, and shovels they carved the road into the cliff side, camping in the bush as they went.

Island Archway

On 18 March 1922, officials opened the first section of road from Eastern View to Lorne. To recoup some of the building costs, travelers had to pay a toll of two shillings for cars and ten shillings for wagons with two or more horses.

The Twelve Apostles

In November 1932, the road had its full official opening, celebrated with a weekend of festivities held near Lorne’s Grand Pacific Hotel. Officially renamed the Great Ocean Road, it was then acknowledged as the longest war memorial in the world. When the State Government acquired the road in 1936, they abolished all tolls.

1930s Toll Ticket

Sources:  Various Australian Tourism Sites and Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Krithia: Gallipoli

By Stephen Chambers
Pen & Sword Military, 2021
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

French Artillery Firing in the Third, Final, and Unsuccessful Battle to Take Krithia

Krithia is a village on the Gallipoli Peninsula that was a first-day objective of the troops who landed at Cape Helles on 25 April 1915. In his work Krithia, Author Stephen Chambers shows—like the overall Gallipoli campaign—the attempt to capture this village was a failure, but  also suggests it was also the start of a learning curve for the British Army. 

The book begins with a description of  the fighting on the landing beaches which were about 4.5 miles distant from the village. It then follows the course of battle through broad attacks in three Battles of Krithia from 28 April to 6 June, followed by more focused offensives until evacuation on 13 January 1916. At the conclusion of the Dardenelles campaign the Allied line was still 1.5 miles from the village.

Chambers draws heavily on letters and other writings from the warriors themselves. The many maps supplement the narratives. The photographs and drawings, both historic and contemporary, permit comparisons between scenes in war and peace. The portraits of the fighters put faces to the names. Perhaps the most poignant pictures are those of the soldiers next to those of their grave markers.

Red Line Indicates Allies Farthest Advance
Yellow Section Shows First Day Probe from Y Beach

Without disregarding the big picture, Krithia is what I term “small history”, history through the gunsights. It is full of tales of individuals, their backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. Each reader can select his favorites. I was intrigued by the description of William Forshaw, the “Cigarette VC” who had to keep his cigarette to light the fuses of the bombs he threw. Do not miss the drawing of him on page 233. I felt sympathy for the French Jesuit, Marie Lafont de Contagnet, who left his academic career in the Levant to serve as a chaplain at Gallipoli, where he lost his life.

Perhaps most telling is the uncensored letter from MP Captain Harold Cawley, another fatality, to his father who was also an MP, in which he described Major General Sir William Douglas:

He has a third-rate brain, no capacity to grasp the lay of the land, and no originality or ingenuity…He has been in the trenches three times since he landed, hurried visits in which he saw next to nothing...He is always thinking of himself, his food, his promotion, his health (p.181).

This is reminiscent of the correspondence of another politician-soldier, Theodore Roosevelt, to Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge in which he spoke of his commander, Major General William Shafter; “Our General is poor; he is too unwieldy to get to the front…Not since the campaign of Crassus against the Parthians has there been so criminally incompetent a general as Shafter.”

I had a general knowledge of Gallipoli, Churchill’s unsuc-cessful attempt to force the Bosporus first by naval then by land assault, in which Australia and New Zealand won their nationhood. Krithia gave me a much deeper understanding. The ANZACS remain a giant memory in the Antipodes, but most of the Allies involved were from Britain and its Empire, and the French outnumbered the ANZACS. Both Britain and France relied heavily on their colonial troops: the British, Indians; and the French, Senegalese. Gallipoli was a complex campaign, with three thrusts, including diversionary attacks such as that against Krithia. Though its goals were not achieved, it would serve as a case study that would yield benefits both in the Great War and World War II.

With the text ending on page 226 and with many pictures, Krithia is a fairly quick but worthwhile read. In my mind it converted Gallipoli from a name in a long-ago war to a place in which people to whom I can relate fought and died. Formerly seeming unfathomably remote, I can now envision it as a site at which tourists can learn, appreciate, and pay homage. Author Stephen Chambers, who has written a guidebook of Gallipoli, also describes six battlefield tours, gives advice to tourists, and considers the Gallipoli Legacy. I recommend Krithia to anyone seeking a more personal, up-close view of the Gallipoli campaign.

Jim Gallen