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

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Signaler and Diarist Sergeant Cyril Lawrence, AIF

By Craig Fullerton

Australian Signalers at Gallipoli—Cyril Lawrence on Right

Cyril Lawrence was apprenticed as a blacksmith in early 1913 when he was about 18 years old and working for a smithy in Brunswick, Victoria, when World War I broke out. He was probably living with his mother at 20 Staley Street, Brunswick, at the time. He enlisted as a sapper in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 19 August 1914, just 15 days after Australia entered the war. He had just turned 19. He was allocated the service number 132 and assigned to the 1st Australian Division Signal Company. He listed his next-of-kin as his mother, Mary. He indicated that he had previous experience in the Signal Engineers and Senior Cadets for two years. Cyril was just 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed just 9 stone, 10 lbs, so he was not a big man. He had a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair.  

He left Australia on 20 October 1914 on board the HMAT Karroo, and his unit initially spent time training in Egypt. But by 5 April 1915 they had joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force off the Gallipoli Peninsula. The MEF was part of the British Army and commanded all the Allied forces at Gallipoli. At this time it was in the throes of planning for the Gallipoli landings, which took place on 25 April 1915. Cyril Lawrence was among those who created the Anzac legend on that fateful day. 

As soon as the sappers landed they established a divisional signal office and laid wires between HQ and the brigades at the front lines. This involved men physically rolling out miles and miles of cable—an extremely hazardous task. But by midnight the HQ signalers sat with telephones and message forms and were constantly in touch with the frontline commanders. One of Cyril’s signaler comrades from another battalion—Elias Silas—recorded an account in a book he published in 1916. His diary for 25 April provides a graphic account of what the signalers had to contend with on that day and the following days:

25 April: In the distance one can just discern the Dardenelles opening up – the thunder of the guns is much clearer – the weather this morning is beautiful; what will it be to-night? Studies. I have eaten well. I can now see fire from the guns. I wonder which of the men round me has been chosen by Death. I do not feel the least fear, only a sincere hope that I may not fail at the critical moment. 

5.30 pm: We are on the battlefield, well under the fire of the enemy – it is difficult to realise that every burst of flame, every spurt of water, means Death or worse. For days before we reached the final scene in the ‘Great Adventure’ we could hear the ceaseless thunder of the bombardment, we have been told of the impossible task before us, of probable annihilation; yet we are eager to get to it; we joke with each other about getting cold feet, but deep down in our hearts we know when we get to it we will not be found wanting. . .

27 April: Still fighting furiously – now all signalers have been wiped out of A and B Companies except myself. Just had a shell each side of my dug-out – I felt in a real panic as it is a most horrible sensation. Our ships have missed the range and sent eleven shells into us in a minute; I do not think anyone has been hit – the Turks’ trenches are so near ours that it is marvelous how accurately the ships find the range. For three days and nights I have been going without a stop. 

Somehow, Cyril Lawrence also survived the mayhem and carnage of these opening days at Gallipoli. However, on 26 May his luck ran out and he was wounded, receiving a shrapnel wound to his right leg. He was evacuated to the No. 1 General Hospital in Heliopolis, Egypt. By 15 June he had recovered, was discharged, and rejoined his unit at the front. Just over a month later he was back in hospital with a bout of influenza that laid him up for two weeks. He rejoined his unit on 7 August, when it was in the midst of the Battle of Lone Pine.

[Editor's note:  Sometime during his hospitalization, Cyril became a diarist himself.  Some of his entries appear in histories of the Anzacs. I've added some of his observations to the remainder of Craig Fullerton's article.]

7 August: As we approached the shore, what an aspect opens up before us. Valleys and valleys, scrub-covered hillsides, men getting about looking all the world like ants. But above all, the thing that meets, or rather hits the eye, is the number of dugouts. The whole landscape is covered with them. It looks for all the world like a mining camp. . . Anzac looks like a young city. . .

The trenches are totally different to what I expected. It is sure death to put your head up to look around. Even the periscope mirrors measuring three inches square at most are picked off one after the other. When the Turks charge they usually cry ‘Allah, Allah’, and our boys reply ‘Come on you bastards, we’ll give you Allah’. From the frequent use of this word ‘poor old Turk’ wants to know if ‘Bastard’ is one of our gods.

Cyril on Left at Anzac (AWM)

The Australians suffered an estimated 2,277 casualties and the opposing Turkish forces between 5,000 and 6,000 killed or wounded during that battle. Two months after enduring the horrors of the Gallipoli landings, Cyril was still in the thick of it. Later, he would vent about the mismanagement of the campaign.

Date?:  Soon these English idiots will have ruined one of the finest bodies of men that ever fought. Once, I used to worship the British soldier as a hero and I was proud to be a Briton, but jigger me if I am now. For we see nothing but British blundering, boasting, bullying, bluff and blasting failure and doing nothing. God but it’s disheartening.

On 1 December 1915 he was promoted to the rank of 2nd corporal. This was initially a temporary promotion necessitated by the evacuation of 2nd Corporal Burns, who was sick, but he was confirmed in the rank on 12 January 1916. He rose rapidly after that, attaining the rank of corporal on 28 February 1916 and just over a year later, on 30 March 1917, sergeant. The Australian 1st Division left Gallipoli in December 1915. Sometime before his departure, Cyril made one of his most lyrical entries one evening:

From my office I can look out the door and see him [the sun] go down.  First the water away down below. . . ever restless now, takes on a deeper hue. Imbros [an offshore island] seems to rise from nowhere and stand in somber silhouette against the violet sky beyond. . . the mist, grey nothingness, seems to rise; then there is on last flash of crimson fire across the dancing water and. . . he has gone.

He boarded the Grampian on about 21 March 1916 bound for France, disembarking at Marseilles a week later, on 28 March. On 28 May he was once again admitted to hospital and finally rejoined his unit on 17 August and within a few days was sent to England for training at the Royal Engineers Training Depot at Hitching in Hertfordshire. He would spend his 21st birthday there, and his training concluded on 21 March 1917 when he set off to rejoin his unit in France, arriving six days later. By this time the 1st Australian Division Signal Company was in Baizieaux, in the Somme region in the northwest of France. 

The New Sergeant Just
Before 
His Death
(Author's Website)
By 7 April the unit had relocated to nearby Bancourt where it engaged in the never-ending task of maintaining the communications network, laying miles and miles of telephone cable to the ever-changing infantry and artillery frontline positions as they began to get the upper hand over the beleaguered German forces. Upon being promoted to sergeant on 30 March 1917, Cyril was assigned to the No. 1 Artillery subsection. It was during battle on 18 May 1917 that he was hit by an enemy shell, receiving a severe wound in the back. He was evacuated and treated at the 34th Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) situated in La Chapelette, near Peronne about 12 miles to the east of Amiens. Tragically, he died from his wounds just five days later, on 23 May 1917. In his last days he received a number of visits from the chaplain of the 34th CCS, Rev. John M. Forbes, who wrote to his mother, Mary, after Cyril’s death. Cyril was buried at La Chapelette British Cemetery. His grave is located at Plot I, Row E, Grave No. 7.

Back home, Cyril’s death was announced in The Argus:

LAWRENCE – Killed in action, somewhere in France, on the 23rd May, Sergeant Cyril Lawrence, dearly beloved eldest son of Mary and the late Harry Lawrence, “Selukwe”, 20 Staley Street, Brunswick; loving brother of Jean (Mrs Reitschell), Nellie, Florrie, and Aubrie, after two years and 10 months service in Egypt, Gallipoli, and France, of the First Contingent, aged 21 years and 8 months; late of Harrietville. Another Anzac hero Called for higher service (Inserted by his loving mother, sisters, and brother)

Excerpted from Craig Fullerton's IN THE SHADOW OF FEATHERTOP, 2014 winner of the Alexander Henderson Award for Best Australian Family History. The book can be ordered at Craig's website:  https://craig-fullerton.com/.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Saga of Submarine Turquoise


1913 Photo of Turquoise

The British-French Dardanelles submarine campaign lasted from April through December 1915. Nine British and four French submarines took part. Several Allied submarines were lost attempting to go up the strait into the Sea of Marmara and one was lost coming out. One French submarine, Turquoise, successfully penetrated the straits in early October but ran into serious trouble on 30 October when it ran aground near Nagara Point within range of Turkish shore batteries. Captured, her captain failed both to scuttle her and to destroy classified information aboard. 

Turquoise Crew in Captivity, Bastille Day 1918

Included in the sensitive material onboard was material on a planned rendezvous of Turquoise with British submarine E-20 in the Sea of Marmara on 6 November. The Turks promptly passed that information to their German allies, and UB-14  waited submerged at the rendezvous point. When E-20 showed up on the surface, she was torpedoed and sunk by UB-14. Only nine of the crew survived. The entire crew of Turquoise survived and was held captive for the remainder of the war.

Müstecip Onbaşı

The boat, however, was moved to dry dock and quickly made available to the Ottoman Navy. Renamed Müstecip Onbaşı, the submarine served until Turkey's withdrawal from the war. It was officially returned to France in January 1919 and was eventually scrapped in Istanbul.

Source: Submarine Operational Effectiveness in the 20th Century: Part One. Australian War Memorial; Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pusher Aces of World War I


by Jon Guttman
Osprey Publishing, 2009
Dale Thompson, Reviewer


Farman MF11 Pilot and Observer Both Manning Machine Guns

Jon Guttman is well known for his treatment of WWI aviation history. In his latest, Pusher Aces of World War I, Guttman brings to life the history of the pusher aircraft and their pilots.

The pusher aircraft were so called because the propeller and engine were behind the wing, just like the Wright Fliers of ten years previously. They were deployed with the French and British squadrons at the start of the war, 1914. Initially they were used as observation and photo-reconnaissance platforms. What better place for the observer than out in front? As soon as the observers began shooting at each other it was found that the gunner did very well out in front; it was also found that these aircraft were highly vulnerable to attack from the rear.

The German aircraft in 1914 were all tractors, with the engine and propeller ahead of the pilot. At that time the British and French were developing their own tractor-type fighter aircraft that began to displace the pushers. With the arrival of the Fokker Eindeckers and their synchronized machine guns in 1915, the pushers were completely outclassed as fighters.

Pusher Aces traces the development and deployment of these aircraft, following their combat action and the pilots and gunners who flew them. This book will serve as a valuable source for historians who are studying either aircraft or combat crews during World War I. There is little detail on he developmental history of the various models built by Voisin, Farman, Vickers, de Havilland, and others. The book, though, features substantial detail about the crews and combat the pushers encountered.

Author Guttman's editors augmented this book with 24 superb color plates showing makes, models, and color schemes for the pushers. A fine collection of black-and-white photos is also distributed throughout the book. The appendix includes a table of the aces who flew these aircraft, tabulated by name, scores, aircraft type and serial number, and their squadrons. This listing should be of special interest to researchers. A bibliography is included in the appendix. Jon Guttman has contributed yet another valuable volume on WWI aircraft and pilots and their contributions in that war.

Originally Presented in the Winter 2010 Issue of Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society

Monday, May 25, 2020

George Marshall Reflects on the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Marshall at Ft. Benning
Former chief of operations for the U.S. First Army during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive,  Lt. Col George C. Marshall led the Army’s Infantry School at Fort Benning during the post-World War I period from 1927 to 1932. In 1931, one of his former instructors, Capt. Lloyd Winters, then assigned to the 21st Infantry Regiment in Hawaii, wrote Marshall to ask for comments for a lecture he planned to deliver for on the Meuse-Argonne operation. Below is the response. I have underlined some points I found particularly striking

Critical reviews of the Meuse-Argonne operation are usually concerned with strategical and larger tactical aspects of the battle. The most instructive phases would seem to be those related to smaller affairs, matters of direction and method within the brigade, and especially in the battalion and the company. However, every lesson should be learned with a clear understanding of the special conditions under which the battle was fought—a tired and outnumbered enemy, unable to strike a heavy counter-blow but extraordinarily skillful in the employment of artillery and machine guns; our troops [were] strong and vigorous, but deficient in training and lacking that finesse of troop leadership which comes from experience.

To me, the following were the most instructive aspects of the battle:

The chaotic conditions which usually developed within a few hours of a formal “jump off”. Troops could be lined up for a set assault and carried through the first phase in comparatively good order, but as the necessity for local decisions, maneuver, adjustments and cooperation developed the efforts became disorganized or confused to a remarkable degree, and only the courage and determination of the natural leaders enabled the troops to press on. Leaders understood how to deploy but seldom how to [re-de]ploy or regroup their scattered forces without bringing the action to a standstill. Fighting of this character will be normal to open warfare.

The inability of subordinate leaders to achieve a combination of fire and movement. Under the stress of battle headlong attacks were usually launched, and while often successful, heavy losses and disorganization usually robbed the unit of further striking power.

Inability of local leaders to approximate any idea of the situation beyond their immediate flanks. The misunderstandings and unfortunate results, due to the above reason, made tragic history over the entire battlefield. The strain of the fighting was so intense that the brain of leaders seemed a blank to all but the violent impressions of their immediate front.

The small part pure tactics played in the handling of most situations. Local decisions were usually dominated by reasons other than tactical,—fatigue, inability or unwillingness to alter existing dispositions, and response to orders to renew the attack by efforts straight to the front. Yet in our training we usually consider only the tactical problem.

Doughboys Advancing in the Argonne

The serious effect of poor arrangements to provide hot food to the fighting line. In the few divisions where the supply of hot food was rigorously required, the more so when the fighting was desperate, troops performed feats utterly beyond those who received cold food or went hungry. The former were able to remain “in the line” for much longer periods, to the great saving of the army reserves being collected to stage a renewed general assault. In prolonged fighting the delivery of food is as important as the maintenance of communications.

The small understanding of the practical proposition of maintaining morale. Few officers understood the fatal effect on their troops of a pessimistic attitude and of criticism of seniors. Where the opposite condition existed the troops often achieved the impossible. Their success was seldom due to tactics or technique, unless it was the technique of leadership. It might truthfully be said that in most instances the performance of the troops could be accurately measured by the mental attitude and bearing of the leaders. It was seldom that a determined, resourceful leader failed. It was seldom that a dispirited or disgruntled or critical leader succeeded. Courage was a common trait, but not fortitude and unquestioned loyalty.

In general, it has seemed to me that we discuss the battle in a large or ponderous fashion, ignoring those features which really determined the issue in the hundreds of local situations which made up the great operation. Unless we deal with the facts about these, the errors will all be repeated, and to a more serious degree in warfare of movement with an army taking the field in the first month of a war.

Source: Lloyd N. Winters Papers, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Krieg (War) by Käthe Kollwitz




The Sacrifice


Most readers are probably familiar with Käthe Kollwitz's dramatic Grieving Parents sculpture. (Article HERE.) After the Great War, however, her work shifted from sculpture to graphic art.  One critic described her later work  as featuring "strong arresting images with simple dignified subjects. The forms are deceptively simple. They reflect her single-mindedness yet belie the grueling struggle for technical perfection and clarity of expression which was involved in their perfection."

The Volunteers

The Mothers


From the MOMA website:

In 1919, Käthe Kollwitz began work on Krieg (War), her response to the tragedies endured during what she called those "unspeakably difficult years" of World War I and its aftermath. The portfolio's seven woodcuts focus on the sorrows of those left behind—mothers, widows, and children. Kollwitz had struggled to find the appropriate means of expression until she saw an exhibition of Ernst Barlach's woodcuts in 1920. Revising each print through as many as nine preparatory drawings and states, Kollwitz radically simplified the compositions. The large-format, stark black-and-white woodcuts feature women left to face their grief and fears alone, with their partners, or with each other.

The Widow II

The Widow

Only one print, Die Freiwilligen (The Volunteers), shows the combatants. In it, Kollwitz's younger son, Peter, who died in the war, takes his place next to Death, who leads the troops in an ecstatic procession to war.  Kollwitz wanted these works to be widely viewed. By eliminating references to a specific time or place, she created universally legible indictments of the real sacrifices demanded in exchange for abstract concepts of honor and glory. The prints were exhibited in 1924 at the newly founded International Anti-War Museum in Berlin.

The Parents


The People

Sources: Australian War Memorial and the MOMA Websites

Saturday, May 23, 2020

New Paired Memorials at Halifax and Passchendaele

I continue to learn of new WWI memorials that were dedicated as part of the recent Centennial commemorations. These two monuments below connect Halifax, Nova Scotia, from which 350,000 Canadian soldiers departed for the Western Front, and Flanders, where it is believed over half of the 67,000 Canadians who died in the war fell.

Click on Images to Enlarge


Embarkation Point for Departing Troops at Halifax

Canada Gate Is Located at Crest Farm from Which Canadian Forces Launched Their Final Assault to Capture the Village of Passchendaele, November 1917

Friday, May 22, 2020

"OOPS," said the editor.

Dear Readers, 

I regret to report a major goof on my part.  Roads to the Great War's comments section was spam-bombed by someone who has a lot of free-time these days.  In attempting to selectively remove dozens of malicious comments, I guess I got carried away with the delete button.   I removed—forever apparently—all your comments posted between 6 April 2020 and yesterday. You can, of course, repost them if you are inclined to.  Alas.

An American Airman Forsees His Death

I couldn't help thinking of Yeats's poem when I found this in an issue of Air and Space magazine.

Lt. Grider
(Replaced 22 May 2020)
John MacGavock Grider from Arkansas was one of 210 cadets who joined the aviation section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps shortly after the United States entered the war in 1917. Volunteers from the group were sent to England for training. In May 1918, Grider was assigned to Royal Flying Corps 85 Squadron, where he downed four enemy aircraft [fact challenged]. On 18 June he was killed in action. After his death, his letters were edited and published by his friend Elliott White Springs. “I can’t write much these days,” wrote Grider. “I’m too nervous. I can hardly hold a pen. I’m all right in the air, as calm as a cucumber, but on the ground, I’m a wreck and I get panicky. Nobody in the squadron can get a glass to his mouth with one hand after one of these patrols. Some nights we have nightmares. We don’t sleep much.”

By the time Grider wrote the following entry, he was already a man forever changed: 

It’s only a question of time until we all get it. I’m all shot to pieces. I only hope I can stick it out. I don’t want to quit. My nerves are all gone, and I can’t stop. I’ve lived beyond my time already. It’s not the fear of death that’s done it. It’s this eternal flinching from it that’s doing it, and has made a coward out of me. Few men live to know what real fear is. It’s something that grows on you, day by day, that eats into your constitution and undermines your sanity. I have never been serious about anything in my life, and now I know that I’ll never be otherwise again. Here I am, twenty four years old. I look forty and feel ninety. I’ve lost all interest in life beyond the next patrol.

A few days later, Grider was shot down 20 miles behind German lines. He was given a decent burial by the Germans, and his grave was later found by the Red Cross. Death must have come as a relief to him.

[Ed. note: Contrary to this article, John Grider is listed on the Tablet of the Missing at the American Flanders Field Cemetery.]

[Ed. note2:  In the comments section below, you will see a reader has challenged the facts behind this article, most importantly, whether Lt. Grider was actually the author of the diary entry that forms the substance of the posting.  I will be contacting the author of the original source material [for me], a 2018 article published in Air and Space Magazine to get his view.  Our commentator cites the author of Warbirds, Elliot White Springs, as the true originator of the diary entry. My understanding, however, is that Springs drew heavily on the diary of Grider and eventually conceded this at the behest of Grider's family. The commentator was correct, however, about the photo of Lt. Grider, which I have replaced above.

Sources:  Air and Space magazine, February 2018; Find a Grave (Photo)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Secret of the Paris Gun


The Paris Gun Test Firing

During my Bat Soup Plague incarceration, my better half issued orders for me to commence de-cluttering my office forthwith. Unable to evade the mission, I soon found myself looking through my back issues of Military History Quarterly, and I re-discovered  this interesting entry from Major General David Zabecki. He rather concisely reveals the secret to  the Krupp-built Paris Gun's phenomenal 78-mile range (theoretically 81 miles according to the Encyclopedia Astronautica).

Designed by Krupp’s Professor Fritz Rausenberger, the officially designated Wilhelmgeschütz (Kaiser Wilhelm Gun) was one of the most remarkable artillery pieces ever built. Its maximum range of 126,000 meters far exceeded that of any gun built before. Or since. The Germans used three of them against Paris between March and July 1918, earning them the name Paris Guns. Very few conventional artillery pieces fired in war have been able to achieve even half their range.

The Paris Gun was constructed by inserting a 210mm liner tube into a bored-out 380mm naval gun barrel. The liner extended some 39 feet beyond the muzzle of the base barrel. A 19-foot smooth-bore extension was then added to the front of the extended liner, giving the composite barrel a length of 130 feet. The entire composite barrel required an external truss system to keep it straight.

Virtually all artillery pieces achieve their maximum range when the barrel is elevated to an angle of 45 degrees. Anything over 45 degrees is classified as high-angle fire, and as the elevation increases the range decreases. The Paris Gun, however, appeared to defy the normal laws of ballistics by achieving its maximum range at an elevation of 50 degrees. The reason was that at 50 degrees the round from the Paris Gun went significantly higher into the stratosphere than at a 45-degree elevation. The reduced air density at the higher altitudes caused far less drag on the body of the projectile, which resulted in the greater horizontal range.

Read our earlier article on the operation of the Paris Gun HERE.

Source:  Military History Quarterly, Autumn 2014.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Aviation by the U.S. Official War Artists


Click on Images to Enlarge


Valley of the Marne at Mont St. Père
George Harding Matthews



Alert Nieuports – 147th Aero Squadron
Harry Everett Townsend




Double Escape (Observation Balloon)
Harry Townsend 



Boche Plane Falling in No Man's Land
George Harding Matthews



Lame Ducks, Issoudun
J. André Smith



Vanquished by the Boche Plane
George Harding Matthews



Aero Squadron Near Toul
J. Andre Smith



Forced Landing Near Neufchateau
Harry Everett Townsend

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House


by Godfrey Hodgson
Yale University Press, 2006
Jolie Velazquez, Reviewer



Edward House
This political biography is a great read for those interested in American international diplomacy during the era surrounding World War I. Mr. Hodgson falls into the camp of biographers who love their subject,, and while the reader would like to know much more about the personal relationship between the academic President Wilson and the wily backstage manager of his foreign policy, we do find out why Edward House was so admired by many of the leading figures in both American and European power circles.

House retired from business in middle age to take part in shaping social and political policies. He cut his teeth on rowdy Texas politics during the time of prairie populism and was instrumental in electing governors and senators, though he always refused to accept an appointment or run for office himself. When he decided to take on national issues, he found Woodrow Wilson to be the candidate he most wanted to work with since they already shared many of the same ideals. His initial help in getting Wilson elected led to a greater role on Wilson's team. How their political relationship rapidly developed into a warm friendship is still a mystery in this book and one of the reader's few disappointed expectations.

House was Wilson's primary civilian advisor on all politically touchy subjects, such as making cabinet appointments, and for all purposes he ran foreign affairs, the president's greatest weak spot. Even Secretary of State Robert Lansing deferred to House's judgment. Prior to the outbreak of the war, House engaged in a clandestine "shuttle diplomacy" mission to prevent hostilities. (The Kaiser later mentioned its near success.) Once the war began, House and Wilson turned their energies to creating their plan for peace, the Fourteen Points and the League of Nations. Lines are blurred as to who contributed more to this effort, but it was certainly a collaborative endeavor.

Hodgson saves his best narrative for the 1919 Peace Conference in Paris and the eventual breakup of the House/Wilson relationship. The details add a lot to one's knowledge of what went on behind the scenes at the negotiations and make a wonderful addendum to Margaret Macmillan's book on the conference. With so much material at hand to analyze, the author goes into every theory about why the friendship cooled. (Hint: Edith Wilson looms large.) It is clear, however, that a clash in styles was inevitable: House's more pragmatic and tactful handing of issues at the conference grated against Wilson's haughty idealism to the point where accusations and apologies were exchanged for the first time.

The book is meticulously researched, and the style is easy on the brain while still explicating profound issues. It gives credit to a unique individual whose personal charm, modesty, and intelligence were needed at the point this country was taking a lead role on the international stage. House's involvement with every important diplomatic issue of his day was disparaged by "Edith's camp" of memoirists and historians for many years, so we are grateful to Hodgson for delivering a different and thoughtful perspective on the Wilsonian era.


Originally Presented in the Fall 2009 Issue of Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society

Monday, May 18, 2020

October 1917: La Follette Speaks Out for Dissent and Free Speech

In this excerpt from Dissent: The History of an American Idea, Ralph Young looks at how the limits of dissent as one of our nation’s defining characteristics were tested during World War I.

Senator LaFollette
In October 1917, Senator Robert La Follette delivered a blistering address in defense of free speech and dissent. “Since the declaration of war, the triumphant war press has pursued those Senators and Representatives who voted against war with malicious falsehood and recklessly libelous attacks, going to the extreme limit of charging them with treason against their country.” There have been many attacks, he went on, against him personally and demands that he be expelled from the Senate. But such attacks were not just aimed at politicians but were also being directed at ordinary citizens in an attempt to coerce them into silence and acquiescence in an unjust war. “The mandate seems to have gone forth to the sovereign people of this country that they must be silent while those things are being done by their Government which most vitally concerns their well-being, their happiness, and their lives.” This was deplorable. American citizens must not be “terrorized” in this way. 

He produced several affidavits of Americans being subjected to unlawful arrest merely for expressing opposition to the war. “Honest and law-abiding citizens of this country are being terrorized,” he admonished, even though they have committed no crime. Throughout the nation “private residences are being invaded, loyal citizens of undoubted integrity and probity arrested, cross-examined, and the most sacred constitutional rights guaranteed to every American citizen are being violated.” 

Of course, he conceded that citizens recognize that in time of war security measures are needed that might chip away at some civil liberties, but, he emphasized, “the right to control their own Government according to constitutional forms is not one of the rights that the citizens of this country are called upon to surrender in time of war” (La Follette’s emphasis). When the country is at war, he went on, it is even more necessary to preserve this right than it is in time of peace. In wartime the American citizen

“must be most watchful of the encroachment of the military upon the civil power. He must beware of those precedents in support of arbitrary action by administration officials which, excused on the pleas of necessity in war time, become the fixed rule when the necessity has passed and normal conditions have been restored.

More than all, the citizen and his representative in Congress in time of war must maintain his right of free speech. More than in times of peace it is necessary that the channels for free public discussion of governmental policies shall be open and unclogged.”

The most important right the American people enjoy is the right “to discuss in an orderly way, frankly and publicly and without fear, from the platform and through the press, every important phase of this war; its causes, and manner in which it should be conducted, and the terms upon which peace should be made.” And any attempt to stifle free speech, public discussion of the war, or even severe criticism of the administration’s policies, is “a blow at the most vital part of our Government.”

Early Antiwar Demonstration in New York (Alamy)

Many Americans applauded La Follette’s stance. Even former president Theodore Roosevelt was furious about Wilson’s attempts to suppress dissent. When Wilson’s supporters said it was wrong to criticize the president, especially in time of war, Roosevelt lashed out angrily. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president,” he said, “or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.” 

But many of those who dared to “tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant” found themselves in trouble with the law. In June 1918 Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs was arrested under the provisions of the Sedition Act for a scathing antiwar speech he gave in Canton, Ohio. “Wars throughout history,” Debs reflected, “have been waged for conquest and plunder.” When Feudal lords in the Middle Ages sought to increase their domains “they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war.” It was the serfs, the peasants who fought and died in the battles back then. “The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught . . . to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt.” This has not changed. Now, just as then, it is the master class that profits from war, the working class that dies in wars. “They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.” 

The Great War, Debs insisted, is an imperialist war for the benefit of American businessmen and financiers—the Wall Street gentry—who he likened to the Junkers, the autocratic Prussian ruling class that was the force behind German aggression. These “Wall Street Junkers” were lying about the war’s goals when they say it is the war to make the world safe for American democracy. The war is really about profits, nothing else. They wrap themselves up in patriotism and intimidate the people by questioning the patriotism of anyone who does not wholeheartedly support the war. “These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag,” Debs scoffed,

“who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.”

These deceivers are the real traitors, Debs insisted, not those who criticize the war, not those who stand up for liberty and justice. Those are the real patriots.

Shortly after Debs delivered this speech, he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Along with his prison term he was stripped of his American citizenship. “I have been accused of obstructing the war,” Debs said when he was permitted to speak to the jury before sentencing. “I admit it. Gentlemen, I abhor war. I would oppose war if I stood alone.”  But then he also confessed that he believed in the Constitution. “Isn’t it strange that we Socialists stand almost alone today in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States? The revolutionary fathers who had been oppressed under king rule understood that free speech and the right of free assemblage by the people were fundamental principles in democratic government. . . . I believe in the right of free speech, in war as well as peace.”

Source:  The Constitutional Daily

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Pvt. Troy E. Leach, Supply Company, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division, AEF

Contributed by Robin Clayton of Walnut, Mississippi

Young Troy Leach on the Right

My grandfather, Troy Elbert Leach, born Christmas 1895 in Blue Springs, MS, was an illiterate coon dog hunting farm boy who had never gone anywhere outside Union County, MS, until the Great War reached America.

Brand New Soldier Troy Leach on the Left

He enlisted in the U.S. Amy at New Albany, MS, and left on a troop train from the Frisco Crossing at the Harahan Bridge at Memphis, arriving at Camp Pike, AK, on 3 October 1917. He began rifle training but caught the influenza and almost died. Afterward, Troy Leach became a cook.

Training as a Cook

After Camp Pike’s 87th Division was skeletonized and absorbed into services of supply, he left for Camp Dix, New Jersey, by train. Troy crossed the Atlantic on an English cattle boat, fetching food for the seasick Doughboys as he ran up and down the ship ladders unfazed. Troy wound up in the supply company for the 2nd Division's 9th Infantry, arriving as a replacement, just as the Marines were finishing up Belleau Wood and just in time for the division's next attack, on Vaux.

2nd Division Insignia
Troy was a wagon driver and cook. His daughter used to say he was good with meat, especially hamburgers, and he knew how to make corned beef from scratch. He went through Soissons, St. Mihiel, and was driving a water wagon near Blanc Mont in the Champagne in October.

On 8 October, this Mississippi country boy was told to deliver water to his outfit. This was the day the 2nd Division was being relieved by the 36th Division. There was much confusion, the lines overlapping. He could not find them, so gave his load of water to another outfit. After failing to deliver his load of water to the outfit he was ordered to, he was ordered to try again,  "Or don’t come back." Well, he didn’t come back.

Troy Delivered Water in a Studebaker-Built Tank Like This

On the way, he saw a lieutenant on a motorcycle needing help, and he and the "mule tank"  stopped. A plane flew over just then and dropped a bomb on an ammo dump, exploding. Troy lay on the field wounded in the lung and shoulder blade till 9 October.

It Was Farther Down This Road That Troy Was Wounded

By then St Etienne was taken and Troy was removed from the 2nd Division and evacuated to the hospital. I was told Pershing himself pinned a medal on Troy. He was placed on a hospital ship and arrived in the USA on 23 December 1918.

Troy Recuperating in Hospital

Two days later, Troy Leach turned 23. He recuperated and was discharged from the Army at Camp Shelby, MS, in 1919. He later went to Mississippi State Barber College in Starkville and [also] learned to read.

Troy and Estella After the War


He married Estella Pannell and had five children. Troy, Jr., the oldest, would serve under Patton in North Africa. He was a motorcycle courier from Oran to Marrakesh.


Estella and Troy with Daughters Sarah and Scotti [Mother of Contributor] and Son Joe

Troy Jr. During World War II



The First World War never left Troy, Sr., alone, though, He was hospitalized for shell shock,  depression, and his old wounds at Hines Illinois Military Hospital about the time he joined the New Albany Chapter of the American Legion, in 1932. Troy finally got a little pension started to feed his family, as he was evaluated as disabled from the war.

Troy During His Second Hospitalization in the 1930s

Like Alvin York, Troy was a church music leader, serving the Blue Springs Baptist Church until he finally succumbed to his injuries on 22  June 1950.

Despite the Adversity He Faced, Troy Remained a
Proud Veteran and American Legion Member; Here He Is Wearing His WWI Campaign Medal and Purple Heart


Friday, May 15, 2020

From Dead Serious to Silly: Five Censored Photos from the War

This selection of images from a 1926 U.S. Army Signal Corps report, "The Military Censorship of Photographs" shows the wide range of discretion that censors can exercise during wartime.

Click on Images to Enlarge


American Dead Awaiting Reburial at Cierges, France




A Hidden Anti-Submarine Gun Newly Installed on a Navy Ship




The Censor Thought This Photo of Soldiers Training on Wooden Machine Guns Could Be Used by German Propagandists.  The Doughboys, However, Seem to Be Having a Good Time.





President and Mrs. Wilson Intending to Show Their Support for the War Effort at a Camouflage Demonstration. 
The Censor's Problem Is with the  Rock. It's Papier-mâché and Part of the Cover of  a
Hidden Listening Post.





"Possibly Subject to Misinterpretation." 
This Is Not a Still from South Pacific, but a Morale Visit by
a Group of Broadway Chorus Girls to
Pelham Bay Naval Station.



Thursday, May 14, 2020

77th New York Metropolitan Division to Be Honored in France


Men of the 77th Division About to Attack the Argonne Forest

The episode of the Lost Battalion during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is the most remembered and commemorated event of America's effort in the Great War. That patched-together unit trapped on that hillside for five desperate days came from men from the 77th Division, composed of men from New York City and the nearby communities. The Lost Battalion has its own monument overlooking the site and has been the subject of a well-done feature film. All well justified, of course. However, this focus has inadvertently led to a century-long neglect of all the other accomplishments of the full 77th division, including those of the men who were trapped temporarily with the Lost Battalion, who —once sprung loose—carried on the fight right up to the Armistice.

Shoulder Patch, 77th Division
Consider: No other division captured as much enemy territory during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as the 77th Division. They advanced 37 miles in the 47 days of the operation, being in the line 32 days total. Including its earlier service in the Aisne-Marne sector, the Metropolitan Division suffered 10,194 casualties in action including 1,486 dead in the war. Yet, unlike many of the other divisions that served in France, the 77th has never had a monument to its accomplishments placed on the battlefields it liberated in 1918.

Happily, however, that is about to change. A group of boosters are coordinating with numerous government officials, agencies, and foundations, in both the U.S. and France, to dedicate a private memorial to the U.S. 77th Division. The monument will be placed at the village of Villers devant Mouzon, on the Meuse river, which became the point of the division's farthest advance on 11 November 1918.  Poetically, the Hillburn Granite Quarry of New York state has presented  an exceptional design that is sure to highlight a true American story—from a small New York quarry to the banks of the River Meuse.

Villers devant Mouzon (Insert: Mock-up of Memorial)

The dedication to the 77th Division Memorial is planned for Villers devant Mouzon on 28 June 2021, the anniversary of the signing of the Versailles Treaty. Planning for the event is being closely coordinated with the 77th Sustainment Brigade, Ft. Dix (which traces its lineage to the 77th Division), the 77th Infantry Division Reserve Officer Association, and the 50th Attack Squadron, Shaw AFB, which in October 1918 provided support for the Lost Battalion. All will be represented and included in the dedication. The commemoration also will include a flyover dedication by Dorian Walker in his recently restored DH-4 Liberty, the only one the world.

The point of contact for the event is Col. Charles E. Metrolis, USAF, whose great-uncle Edwin Welch, was killed in a post-Armistice action, on a bridge over the Meuse river near Villers devant Mouzon.  Contact him HERE if you have any questions about the dedication.

New York's Own Returns Home (ARTICLE)