Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the treadEdward Thomas, Roads
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Thursday, August 11, 2022
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
By Rifleman Edward Henry Cecil Stewart (13 Nov 1891–1 July 1916), Regiment: 1/5 Grenadier Company, London Rifle Brigade was killed on the first day of the Somme. His body was never recovered, and he is listed on the Thiepval Memorial. Before the war he had worked at the Great Western Railway Audit office at Paddington Station London.
Extract from Undated Letter (Spring 1915?)
. . . As long as you kept your head down you were comparatively safe, so as it went on, this was where I had my first escape. I was on sentry duty for a couple of hours, from 1am to 3am and was instructed to keep a sharp look out. I did not care for the idea of keeping my head above the trench and looking for beastly Germans, however it had to be done, it was quite uncanny to watch the enemy trench which appeared somewhat like a black wave and only sixty yards in front, then you would suddenly see the flash of their rifles and machine guns immediately after would come the report and nasty thuds on the sandbags which you might be resting against. I fired about five shots at their flashes (the only target to aim at) then another two shells which lodged in the parapet either side of my head leaving about 2 to 3 inches between me and certain death. I thought that near enough but it turned out that it was to have something nearer than that. Our casualties here amounted on the average, to about two per day killed, of course, we thought it terrible at the time at least I did.
Early April saw us relieved by another division and we were sent a few miles back for a well-earned rest, which consisted of physical drill and a run before breakfast. The remainder of the morning being spent in platoon drill musketry drills. After dinner we put the “cap on” our rest (why so called I do not know) by having a route march for two hours. We spent a few days like this and were dispatched with all possible speed to Ypres, here we went in to support the Canadians and spent a most unpleasant eight days, during which time we lost several hundred men, nearly all my friends who came out in the same draft and were killed or wounded, we had to retire, the best part being that the Germans did not find this out until two days after when we were more or less safely bivouacking in a very pretty wood. We stayed here for about a week; then we got to work again, digging reserve trenches just behind the front line, building up parapets which had been demolished by the enemy’s high explosive shells and such like, working all night and getting what sleep we could in the daytime.
One morning we were awakened by the most awful din, it seemed as though hell had broken loose, shells were falling like summer rain. And people have often told me in the course of conversation it was raining shells and I admit I took it with a grain of salt, could not be possible I thought, but such I was surprised to find was possible and actually taking place there about 3.30am. This bombardment started and about half an hour later, I, with three others, were ordered to start reinforcing. We went up in fours, it being considered safer that way, half a mile over open ground we had to do, this being swept continually with shells, to give you a slight idea I can say the previous night, just in front of our reserve trenches was a beautifully green field, and the next morning it was as much as one could do to see any grass at all, simply one mass of craters, varying in diameter from ten to twelve paces.
I had gone about half the required distance when a shell fell only a yard from where I was, the force of the concussion [explosion] pitched me several yards to my left and I came down rather heavily, however I reached the first line without any further mishap, where we had to stay until midnight when we had to be relieved again owing to not having enough me to hold the trench. Our honours were one V.C. (Victoria Cross), two D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Orders), one Military Cross and one or two D.C.M. (Distinguished Conduct Medals). The next day I paraded sick, my back paining me so much that I could not stand straight for a week after. I am now back with the regiment who are on the line of communications. We are having leave shortly and if possible will pay a visit to the Audit office. Have you any news of Chichester?
(Rifleman) E.H.C. Stewart
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
|Author William Shirer (rt) with Edward R. Murrow|
In just under 600 pages (hardbound; Kindle edition reviewed), William L. Shirer shares his meticulous research and personal insights on this pivotal period in French—and European—history, covering the years 1871–1940. While this book is primarily about the beginning of World War Two, it contains insights into France before 1914, and it starkly shows the devastating effects of the 1914–18 war on France.
The author should be no stranger to readers of 20th-century history. Shirer was a correspondent in Europe from 1920 to 1941, covering WWII from England, then returning to Germany after the war in 1945. His best-known book is Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960, Simon & Schuster, New York), which won a National Book Award while selling over a million copies in hardback and paperback. He also penned a multi-volume autobiography, a history of the Bismarck chase in 1941, and a juvenile biography of Adolph Hitler, and many others on WWII.
Collapse is in five parts, called “books.” The Prologue is a familiar recap of the events of the summer of 1940, when the French armies fell apart in the face of the German blitzkrieg. This familiar story contains a disturbing undertone not of betrayal, but of anticipation, as if this disintegration of the French Army was, if not expected, welcomed.
|Occupying Paris, 1940|
Book One, The Rise of the First Republic 1871-1919, covers the period from 1871 and the end of the Paris Commune, to 1919 and Versailles. While most readers recognize these waypoints, they may not recognize much of what happened to France in this time, save the chapter on the Dreyfus affair. The France that Shirer describes is a nation in chaos, of communists and socialists, of monarchists (yes) and anarchists, of lonely Republicans and the entire nation in economic turmoil most of the time. The Dreyfus scandal only emphasized the state of unrest that France suffered most of the time. When the country came together in 1914 to fight off the German invaders, the reader might be surprised, because there is nothing in the preceding text that suggests that France would unite over anything. Shirer covers the Great War itself in a paragraph or two, but Versailles gets its own chapter in Book Two.
Book Two, Illusions and Realities of Victory 1919-1934, includes everything from Versailles to the global depression. Shirer cannot help but express a deep sadness for the country that he loved so much, describing the devastating effects of the million French war dead, the industrial-scale almost mechanized erosion of French morale during and after the war, and the most remarkable refusal of most in the French Army to recognize the changes that the internal combustion engine and the radio had wrought on warfare. They were aware of the writings of Rommel, Liddell Hart, and Douhet, but most of them, especially in the higher echelons, didn’t care. They firmly believed that the combat methods that “won” the Great War for France were good enough and could not be dissuaded. While we howl at such blindness today, the country that they defended agreed with them…when they thought about it, which wasn’t often. They were mostly concerned with economic survival, which, given the state of the economy, was never assured. Nor was the safety of the Republic, which seemed to lack broad-consensus support even in the government.
|French Premier Pierre Laval (Executed 1945) with |
the German Police Chief of Paris
Book Three, The Last Years of the Third Republic 1934-1939, covers the struggles for France to survive while watching Germany and Italy appear to thrive under fascism. Governments came and went in the Third Republic—over a hundred of them. Yet, it seemed as if it was always the same men in different offices, a situation that some described as a game of musical chairs. Yet, to be French before WWII was to be a political chameleon, as politicians went from Right to Left and back again while never changing their supposed political affiliations. Book Three also describes the French responses to Germany’s aggressions, from the Rhineland crisis in 1936 to the beginning of WWII in 1939, each viewed with confusion, fear, some panic, yet forced calm. Shirer gives the Munich crisis and the agony of Czechoslovakia three entire chapters; the Spanish Civil War, one.
Collapse was frankly something of a surprise. It contains personal interjections by Shirer about the events he actually witnessed, and about a country and a people he clearly loved. As a historian, I have to disdain these personal interludes; in Collapse I can see their value.
Book Four, The War and the Defeat 1939-40, describes a French response to the war in terms I could barely recognize. There were those high-placed in the French government who openly admired fascism, others who were avowed monarchists, and there were those who regarded the Republic and the Constitution of 1875 as a tragic mistake. There were also those who believed that France had no business fighting this war alongside Great Britain, that Britain dragged them into the war for unknown—or unstated—purposes. The surprise of the German advance through the Ardennes was familiar; French insistence that Britain was doing less than all it could to save France was not. Shirer describes the rush to surrender in the highest halls of the French government in painful detail and the role of Philippe Pétain in pushing the disillusion of the Republic.
Book Five, The Collapse of the Third Republic June-July 1945, is anticlimactic. The problem we have in reading history is we already know the ending, where the story ends up. In Collapse, that the French Republic ended in the summer of 1940 is plain, but how is no less surprising than much of the rest of the book. When liberated in 1944, the French people took some pains to investigate just who was responsible and meted out punishment to those most guilty of truly betraying the idea of France. Book Five shows why France put Pierre Laval up against a wall and shot him in 1945, while handing out the same fate to Pétain (though the courts commuted his sentence to life imprisonment), and why France tried Charles De Gaulle in absentia and sentenced him to death in 1941.
While Collapse of the Third Republic is not a WWI book, it is about the long-term effects of that war on one of the “victors,” and provides insights into why Georges Clemenceau was so adamant to punish Germany at Versailles. I highly recommended it to any student of the Great War to provide a complete picture of why winning is often nothing more than surviving.
John D. Beatty
Monday, August 8, 2022
|FDR's Diplomatic Passport When He Visited the |
Western Front in 1918
Eighteen days later, three American steamers were all torpedoed, one without warning, and President Wilson called a Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue of war. With tears in his eyes, Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels cast the last vote for war and made the decision unanimous. On 2 April, the president went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war. FDR was seated on the House floor next to his chief. Having been told by the president that "war has been thrust upon us" by the German government and that "the world must be made safe for democracy," Congress rose to thunderous applause. America was now at war.
FDR threw himself into his mobilization duties. When Congress declared war on 6 April 1917, the Navy had slightly more than 60,000 men in its ranks and a meager 197 ships in active service. Within six months, its strength was quadrupled, and by war's end it would have nearly half a million men and over 2,000 ships. Except for sporadic firings on German submarines, the U.S. Navy for the most part did not engage the enemy in World War I. But thanks to its escort duties across the Atlantic, at the time of the armistice the Navy could boast that not one of the troopships that had carried two million Doughboys to the war had been lost on its watch.
Roosevelt was also responsible for Navy supply procurement. He contracted for vast amounts of materiel, sometimes before Congress had even appropriated the money, and he ordered the rapid expansion of training camps and the acceleration of ship construction. FDR was so effective at these tasks that the phrase "See young Roosevelt about it" was often spoken in wartime Washington.
Indeed, Roosevelt was so successful in the procurement arena that a mere two weeks after entry into the war, FDR was called to the White House for an urgent meeting. It seems that the Army chief of staff hadcomplained to President Wilson that "young Roosevelt" had cornered the market on supplies. An amused Wilson told FDR "I'm very sorry, but. . .You'll have to divide up with the Army."
As successful as he was, though, FDR did not want to be behind a desk for the duration of the war. He desperately wanted to see action, not only out of patriotism but because he knew that military service had been a part of cousin Teddy's path to the presidency. Indeed, FDR went to TR and asked the old lion's advice: "You must resign," TR counseled. "You must get into uniform at once."
But both Daniels and Wilson saw it differently. The talents, energy, and decisiveness that FDR brought to his position were indispensable as far as they were concerned. Daniels told Roosevelt that he was "rendering a far more important war service than if he put on a uniform." Army General Leonard Wood, who had gotten wind of FDR's desires to resign, wrote that "Franklin Roosevelt should under no circumstances think of leaving the Navy Department. It would be a public calamity to have him leave at this time." Finally, President Wilson put an end to the matter, instructing Daniels to "Tell the young man to stay where he is."
His disappointment at not being allowed to enlist did not dampen Roosevelt's enthusiasm for his job, however. One of FDR's most notable achievements during this period was his support for the laying of a North Sea mine barrage—a chain of underwater explosives stretching from the Orkney Islands to Norway.
Finally, in the summer of 1918, FDR got his chance to see the war. Secretary Daniels had ordered Roosevelt to go because the Senate Naval Affairs Committee was leaving for Europe soon, and he wanted FDR to get there first and to correct any problems that might raise the ire of the committee. Roosevelt departed for Europe on 9 July 1918 aboard USS Dyer, a newly commissioned destroyer that was rushed into service without a shakedown so it could escort a convoy of troopships across the Atlantic war zone. FDR would consider his trip to Europe during World War I to be one of the great adventures of his life, and many of the stories he told about the trip became more colorful with each telling.
His accounts of events in letters to Eleanor are vivid and detailed, and he delighted in the more adventurous parts of his crossing. For example, two days out of Brooklyn, the convoy hit rough seas, and the Dyer was pitched about. As FDR recounted, "One has to hang on all the time, never moving without taking hold with one hand before letting go with the other. Much of the crockery smashed; we cannot eat at the table even with racks, have to sit braced on the transom and hold the plate with one hand. Three officers ill, but so far I am all right . . . "
There was much excitement the next day too, as FDR's convoy crossed courses at dawn with another American convoy out of Hampton Roads—"a slip-up by the routing officers" as FDR called it. But before the other convoy could be identified as friendly, the Dyer's alert whistle had blown and everyone had manned their gun stations. As the lookout spotted more and more vessels, "we began to wonder if we had run into the whole German fleet." Later the same day, just a few hundred miles from the westerly Azorean island of Fayal, a periscope was reported by the lookout. The Dyer headed for it at full speed and fired three shots from the bow gun. It turned out to be a floating keg with a little flag on it, probably thrown overboard by a passing vessel as a target to train gun crews. But FDR took it in stride, and through the years of retelling the floating keg would become a menacing U-boat that grew closer and closer until FDR himself could almost see it.
|USS Dyer at the Azores|
On 14 July, FDR arrived in the Azores, where the next day the Dyer's engines broke down. He spent a day on the island of Fayal, touring the port of Horta and paying a courtesy call on the Governor and British consul. With the engines repaired, the Dyer left for Ponta Delgada, the larger Azorean island where an American naval base was located, and where he met with the admiral in command and toured the facilities. FDR's arrival in Ponta Delgada made such an impression on him that, after returning to the United States, Roosevelt commissioned noted naval artist Charles Ruttan to paint the scene. Roosevelt supplied pictures of the Dyer, photos of Ponta Delgada, and described the scene in detail for Ruttan, even down to which flags were flying on the Dyer and the number and type of support vessels in the harbor at the time. Roosevelt favored this painting so much that he later took it with him to the New York Governor's mansion, to the White House, and finally to his study in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, where he hung it behind his desk, and where it remains to this day.
FDR's convoy finally reached Portsmouth on 21 July, and he proceeded immediately to London by car where he reunited with his staff that had preceded him aboard the Olympic. He spent much of the next week in official meetings with British admiralty officials, touring British and Irish navy yards, and examining British intelligence operations, which he considered "far more developed than ours." He was impressed overall with the British and wrote to Eleanor "I do wish you could see all this in war time: in spite of all the people say, one feels closer to the actual fighting here." He would be even closer soon enough.
On 30 July, Roosevelt had a 40-minute audience with King George V. As he recounted to Mrs. Roosevelt, FDR, and the king "talked for a while about American war work in general and the Navy in particular. He seemed delighted that I had come over in a destroyer, and said his one regret was that it had been impossible for him to do active naval service during the war." After talking at some length about the progress of the land war and the atrocities and destruction committed by the Germans in Belgium and northern France, Roosevelt mentioned that he had spent some time in Germany as a youth and had attended German school. As FDR recalled, the king replied "with a twinkle in his eye" that " 'You know I have a number of relations in Germany, but I can tell you frankly that in all my life I have never seen a German gentleman.' "
The next day, FDR departed for France. Arriving in Dunkirk, Roosevelt saw firsthand the destruction of war. "There is not a whole house left in this place," he recalled. "It has been bombed more than any other two towns put together, in fact." FDR then toured the harbor and an American flying boat base which, by Roosevelt's account, was the first actual American flying base in Europe-a base regularly bombed by the enemy. Upon leaving the base, Roosevelt passed through the city itself where he saw much of the population, " . . .men, women and children, who are still here taking the nightly raids as we would take a thunder-storm, appreciating the danger perfectly but accepting a gambler's chance that the next bomb will hit their neighbor's house and not theirs."
Roosevelt's party proceeded through bombed out Calais, and then spent the night in a country chateau, the headquarters of an American night bombing squadron. During the night, Roosevelt could hear and see the anti-aircraft guns at Calais bursting in the night sky.
FDR's party proceeded uneventfully to Paris where, on 2 August, the assistant secretary had an audience with French President Poincare, and then attended a luncheon in honor of Herbert Hoover, who was hailed has a hero for his efforts to provide relief to persons displaced by the war. Later in the day, FDR met with Premier Clemenceau who declared that every Frenchman and every American were fighting better than the Germans because, as the premier declared, "he knows he is fighting for the Right and that it can prevail only by breaking the German army by force of arms." FDR would later write: "I knew at once I was in the presence of the greatest civilian in France."
|FDR on the Western Front|
After another day of meetings and dealing with official business, Roosevelt proceeded to the front on 4 August. They passed out of Paris toward Meaux, but their progress was slow. He saw French troops headed toward the front at Chateau-Thierry, as well as Allied wounded and German prisoners being brought the other direction. Meaux itself was congested both with troops and with hundreds of refugees who had fled down the Marne from the front lines. As they proceeded beyond Meaux to ChateauThierry, FDR witnessed one of the horrors of war refugees on the road, not knowing where they were going or if they would have a place to return to. Here is FDR's description of the scene: "They went with big carts drawn by a cow or an ox and a calf trotting behind, bedding, chickens, household goods and children, and some times a grandmother, piled on top."
A few miles from Chateau-Thierry, Roosevelt's party was delayed for an hour by an American artillery train. As they later came over the rise into the valley of the Marne where Chateau-Thierry was located, FDR saw a horrifying sight. "On the ridge to the left lay a wrecked village [likely the village of Vaux on the west side of Hill 204 site of the American monument], four times shelled"—first by advancing Germans, then by the retreating French, then by advancing Americans of the Second Division, and finally by retreating Germans. "This was complete destruction, only detached walls remained. . .We are now in a purely military area."
They proceeded, with some difficulty, to locate the French headquarters, met and had lunch with local commanders, then went on to the eastern edge of Belleau Wood. Everywhere Roosevelt looked, he saw destruction. They walked around and through shell holes, observing "the rusty bayonets, broken guns, emergency ration tins, hand grenades, discarded overcoats, rain stained love letters, crawling lines of little ants and many little mounds, some wholly unmarked, some with a rifle stuck bayonet down into the earth, some with a helmet, and some too, with a whittled cross with a tag of wood or wrapping paper hung over it and in a pencil scrawl an American name." It was a sight he would never forget—one that he would call on many times in the years to come.
Roosevelt's party spent the next several days touring the areas around Chateau-Thierry before proceeding to Verdun, but first they were issued helmets and gas masks. As they descended into the valley of the Meuse, they "came to the sharp turn known as 'L'Angle de Mort', so often described by American ambulance drivers, who passed through there so often by timing the intervals between shells, and where many of them were hit in spite of all precautions." Although the town of Fleury was pointed out to Roosevelt, there was not a brick standing to verify that a town had even existed there. He stopped to take a photograph, but he was hurried along because two German observation balloons had been spotted. As Roosevelt described it, after moving about a quarter mile, "sure enough the long whining whistle of a shell was followed by the dull boom and puff of smoke of the explosion at the Dead Man's Corner we had just left." Roosevelt had come under fire. The motor cars were sent back to conceal themselves, and the party continued their tour on foot. From a ridge, Roosevelt looked out over German and French trench lines, only 40 yards apart, but he could see no signs of life, even though he knew that they were manned at all times. And where there had once been forest behind the lines, there were now only stumps and wasteland.
Thus ended FDR's adventures on the front. The next day he departed for Rome, and then returned to Paris on 14 August. He spent the next three weeks inspecting American air and naval stations before boarding USS Leviathan on 8 September for the trip home. Aboard ship he was hit hard by the Spanish influenza that was sweeping Europe and the United States. His condition was exacerbated by double pneumonia, and Secretary Daniels, who was kept abreast of Roosevelt's condition, telegraphed FDR's mother and wife that they should meet the ship when it docked in New York on the 19th. Roosevelt had to be carried off the ship and taken by ambulance to his mother's house on East 65th Street.
Although FDR would recover from his grave illness, his marriage was changed forever. For, as Eleanor Roosevelt unpacked her sick husband's bags, she discovered letters that proved to her that FDR had had an affair with a young woman named Lucy Mercer. A major step toward reconciliation took place when FDR once again traveled to Europe in January 1919. This time he took Mrs. Roosevelt with him, and they boarded USS George Washington in New York, bound for Paris. Four days into the journey, the Roosevelts were notified that Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor's uncle and FDR's role model, was dead. Both FDR and Eleanor were stunned. As Mrs. Roosevelt wrote, "Another big figure gone from our nation."
FDR played no part in the peace talks themselves. Rather he had been sent to France to oversee demobilization and the disposal of the Navy's foreign assets. The Roosevelts returned home, again on board the George Washington five weeks later. This time they traveled with President Wilson, who was returning with a draft Covenant of the League of Nations. Because Wilson had for the most part remained in his cabin during the voyage, FDR was surprised to receive an invitation from the president to discuss the League. Later at a luncheon, Eleanor remembered the intensity with which Wilson spoke about the League and that he had said "The United States must go in or it will break the heart of the world. . ."
Back home, Roosevelt settled back into Washington life. He oversaw the completion of the Navy's demobilization and wrestled with the problems caused to the administration by higher prices, unemployment and labor unrest, and a Red Scare. 1919 also witnessed the failure of the Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and President Wilson disabled by a massive stroke.
|FDR Visiting Battleship USS Texas, August 1918|
Early in 1920, FDR was approached by an old friend about the possibility of his being a candidate for Vice President on the Democratic ticket. Well aware that the vice presidency had been on Theodore Roosevelt's path to power, FDR gave his assent. At the Democratic convention later that year, FDR gave a rousing speech in support of fellow New Yorker Al Smith's presidential nomination. Smith's nomination failed, but FDR's speech made an impression. After 44 ballots, the convention finally named James Cox of Ohio its presidential candidate, and Cox selected Roosevelt to be his running mate. Roosevelt was nominated by acclamation.
On 6 August 1920, a month after being nominated, FDR resigned from the Navy Department to campaign for the vice-presidency. Before he did so, he sent the following "All Navy" message to every ship and station:
I want to convey very simply to the officers and men of the Navy my deep feeling at this separation after nearly eight years. I am honestly proud of the American Navy. I am happy too in the privilege of this association with it. No organized body of men in the nation is cleaner, more honorable or more imbued with true patriotism.
We have grown greatly in these years, not merely in size but in right thinking and in effective work. I am very certain that this country can continue to give absolute dependence to the first line of defense. The Navy will carry on its splendid record.
Please let me in the years to come continue our association.
Thirteen years later, FDR would indeed continue his association with the Navy as he acceded to the presidency. He had seen war before, and he would see it again—carrying out the greatest expansion in the Navy's history to fight and ultimately to win a two-ocean war.
Source: Originally presented in the Fall 2011 issue of Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society
Sunday, August 7, 2022
|Daniels and FDR Honoring a Young Naval Officer|
|Rare Photo of TR and FDR Together with Lawyer|
W.H. Vanbeschoten, Syracuse, NY, 1915
|FDR After a Test Flight on a Navy Seaplane|
Saturday, August 6, 2022
|Men of the Australian Corps, 1918|
After the failed Gallipoli campaign, the larger part of the Australian Imperial Force moved to the Western Front in 1916. Along with a single New Zealand formation, its four divisions in France were initially organized into I ANZAC Corps (1st Division and 2nd Australian Divisions and the New Zealand Division) and II ANZAC Corps (4th and 5th Australian Divisions). A fifth Australian division, the 3rd, would be added to the mix when it arrived from Australia in November 1916. For two years the ANZACs found themselves in the middle of every major campaign on the Western Front. In November 1917, however, an all-Australian Corps was designated (the New Zealand Division had been reassigned to the British Third Army) and it would be destined as part of the British Fourth Army to play a leading role in the final victory offensive of the Allies.
The Corps' actions at Le Hamel, Amiens, Péronne, Mont St Quentin and the Breeching of the Hindenburg Line are well documented. However, the Australian Corps is not mentioned in accounts of the Armistice fighting because by 11 November it was out of the line. The nonstop fighting from July to October had exhausted the force—it needed a rest. For some reason it's difficult to find details about their final battle on the Western Front, a smaller, but very tough and important struggle around the fortified village of Montbrehain. With a little help from the Corps Commander, Geneal John Monash and some Australian sources, though, we can remedy that here.
|Note: Montbrehain on Right|
After passing through the American Divisions (27th and 30th) charged with capturing the highly fortified St. Quentin Canal and completing its capture, the Australians also took the Le Catelet line just east of the canal tunnel. Now only one German trench system remained. The 3rd and 5th divisions were replaced by 2nd Australian Division, which, in the last Australian infantry attack of the First World War, took the town of Montbrehain on 5 October. the attack on Montbrehain was both strategic and a coordinated part of attacks by other British forces. This attack breached the final elaborate system of German defences in the Somme sector. Advancing on the early morning of 5 October, Australian forces succeeded in occupying the village and in the process took 400 German prisoners. The action claimed 430 Australian casualties.
General Monash later summarized the accomplishments of the Australian Corps subsequent to his appointment as commander. There had been some criticism that the casualties were excessive for the gains made, but he felt that this was not the case.
Montbrehain was the last Australian battle in the Great War, and the fighting career of the Australian Army Corps had, as events turned out, come to an end. On that same day my Second Division was relieved by the 30th American Division, and I handed over command of the battlefront to [American Corps Commander] General Read. I had borne continuous responsibility, as a Corps Commander, for a section of the battlefront in France varying from four to eleven miles for 128 consecutive days without a break.
On these grounds, I believe that the real and immediate reason for the precipitate surrender of Germany on October 5th, 1918, was the defeat of her Army in the field. It followed so closely upon the breaching of the Hindenburg defenses on September 29th to October 4th, that it cannot be dissociated from that event as a final determining cause.
Friday, August 5, 2022
|In a British Trench, Salonika Front|
|A Bulgarian Officer Bearing the Request for an Armistice,|
24 September 1918
Thursday, August 4, 2022
|Volunteer Enrico Toti|
Enrico Toti (1882–1916) at age 14 enlisted in the Royal Navy as an electrician. After his discharge, he lost his left leg while working for Italian railways, at the age of 24. After his injury he became a cyclist. In 1911, riding on a bicycle with one leg, he cycled to Paris, and then through Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, up to Finland and Lapland. From there, via Russia and Poland, he returned to Italy in June 1912. In January 1913, Toti started cycling again, this time in Egypt; from Alexandria, he reached the border with Sudan, where the British authorities, considering the trail too dangerous, ordered him to end the journey and sent him to Cairo, whence he came back to Italy.
When war broke out between Italy and the Austrian Empire, Toti tried to volunteer for the Italian Army but was not accepted due to his injury. Undaunted, he reached the front line with his bicycle and managed to serve as an unpaid, unregistered, fully non-regulation “civilian volunteer” attached to several units, finally to the 3rd Cyclists Bersaglieri Battalion. When he was sent to the front he wrote patriotic letters to his family, friends and newspapers.
|Killed in August 1916, By October He Was |
a National Hero
Volunteer Toti was killed in the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo. The legend goes that as Toti lay dying on the field during the Sixth Battle of Isonzo, he hurled his crutch at the enemy. While the details of his death were never fully confirmed, his story quickly became well known, and he was almost inztantly a national hero. The postwar government of Mussolini promoted his story as well.
On 27 August 1916, he was awarded with the Gold Medal to the Military Valor, with this citation:
Volunteering, even if he was devoid of a leg, he rendered valuable services in the battle of April at quota 70 (to the east of Selz) and on 6 August in the battle that led to the occupation of quota 85 (to the east of Monfalcone). In the enemy trench, he continued to fight ardently even if he was wounded twice. Shot dead by a third bullet, he launched heroically his crutch to the enemy and died by kissing the plumage of his hat at Monfalcone, 6 August 1916.
|Statue of Toti at Villa Borghese, Rome|
He is buried at the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome. At least two statues honoring Toti stand today in Rome. Since his official military service was actually with the Italian Navy, two submarines (no longer active) were named for him.
Sources: Italofile.com; Wikipedia
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
Over the years, I've published thousands of images from the Great War. Once in a while I run across one that really moves me. Here's one such. MH
Click on Image to Enlarge
|Accompanied by a Chaplain, on 17 February 1918, South African Nurse Sister Mildred Flynn Lays a Wreath on the Grave of Her Brother, Dudley, Killed in the Fighting at Delville Wood During the Battle of the Somme|
Source: Imperial War Museum
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Wooden Crosses, or Les Croix de Bois (1932) in the original French, is considered by some critics to be the best of any nation's anti-war films, such as The Big Parade or All Quiet on the Western Front, produced in the interwar period. Maybe its toughest competition for this superlative comes from two better-known French anti-war films, Abel Gance's J'Accuse and Jean Renoirs Grand Illusion.
Its general plot is a Gallic version of All Quiet: a young idealistic French volunteer-substitute Gilbert Demachy (played by Pierre Blanchar) for Germany's Paul Bäumer joins a veteran unit, bonds with his mates, fights in many actions that gradually kill off most of his friends in the company, and, in the last scene of the movie, dies.
There are, however, many touches to Wooden Crosses that set it apart from similar war films. Gilbert's unit, the 39th Regiment of Infantry, is deployed to the Champagne, and all its combat sequences were filmed on location, in still existing wartime trenches that are recognizable because of the distinctive chalky-white soil of the region.
|French Graves in Champagne|
There are multiple intense dramatic set-ups throughout the movie. In one, the troops are asleep in a dugout when they hear digging underneath—the Germans are tunneling a mine to lay explosives directly below their position! Their superiors, however, order them to hold the position, and some of the men are driven mad as the mine's detonation becomes more and more likely. Finally, Wooden Crosses features some of the most explicit and effective uses of symbolism to reinforce its message I've ever seen. The cross as an icon of death appears in countless ways: burial parties carrying crosses pass nearby, some of the men attend mass in a nearby village, and countless cemeteries are worked in the action, including the most intense battle sequence of the movie.