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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Virginia War Memorial

Photos by Steve Miller

Built originally to honor veterans of the Second World War, the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond now honors the Commonwealth's veterans of all conflicts including the Great War. Their display cases now hold a number of WWI items, including the unique love letter shown below.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

30 July 1918: Joyce Kilmer Is Killed in Action


        by Joyce Kilmer, 165th Inf., 42nd Division, AEF

 My shoulders ache beneath my pack
          (Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).
        I march with feet that burn and smart
        (Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).
        Men shout at me who may not speak
        (They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).
        I may not lift a hand to clear
        My eyes of salty drops that sear.
        (Then shall my fickle soul forget
        Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?)
        My rifle hand is stiff and numb
        (From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).
        Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
        Than all the hosts of land and sea.
        So let me render back again
        This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War — Reviewed by Dennis Linton

King, Kaiser, Tsar: 
Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War
by Catrine Clay
John Murray Publishers, 2006

Once Georgie came to the throne, things might have improved. But by then the friendship between Georgie and Nicky, nurtured through the years by their mothers, was well established, and they did not include Willy in "the Club". It was anyway too late.

King, Kaiser, Tsar is a compelling comparative biography of the formative lives of George V of Great Britain, Wilhelm II of Germany, and Nicholas II of Russia, who would lead their countries into World War I. The three future leaders grew up knowing each other since early childhood in a vast extended family overseen by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At times, it is hard to believe that the first cousins — who affectionately called each other Georgie, Willy, and Nicky throughout their lives — could not have found a way to avert the march to war. The book details the grandeur and dysfunction of each of the three royal courts that molded each of the men on both sides of the turn of the century. As the narrative unwinds, the reader learns not only to decipher the individual personalities but also how their roles as a constitutional monarch, a defacto autocrat, and an absolute monarch formed the way in which they dealt with each other and their respective governments. Each in their own way was unsuited to hold together a crumbling empire, let alone lead their countries into war. Regardless of their family connections, the three rulers were playing the game of international politics on a world stage, and power was the more motivating factor than family.

Catrine Clay weaves a tale not only of the three cousins as they grow up but also of the intertwined relationships of the children and grandchildren of Queen Victoria and their influence in the coming of age of the eventual King , Kaiser, and Tsar. The author is at her best revealing the role of Queen Victoria and the women in the rulers' lives in statesmanship through the letters and correspondence they shared across a continent in which Queen Victoria attempted to influence by matchmaking many of the monarchial households. Clay does a magnificent job of describing the extravagant state visits and weddings where the three cousins interact, each measuring the other and then backbiting in subsequent correspondence and diaries. It is through these diaries and correspondence that the reader begins to uncover the animosity, as well as the alliances, between the three cousin's relationships which will mirror their countries' parts in the impending war.

It becomes almost amusing that with every state visit each of the men bestow honorary military titles among each other in their respective armies and navies. At one point, Wilhelm, already the Kaiser during this particular visit to England, arrived on the royal yacht accompanied by a court of 67 men. Wilhelm always wore varying military uniforms and this time he is wearing the uniform of a British admiral. At dinner, he proceeds to address the weaknesses of the British Navy in the Mediterranean. George, in attendance as a lowly prince who was in the navy and had spent years at sea, humorously noted in his diary that Wilhelm must have forgotten that the title of admiral was purely honorary. While each of the leaders is amply covered in the book, the most attention is given to the lengthy, oft-times quixotic reign of Wilhelm II and his frequent mood swings. Wilhelm is clearly painted as the villain of the three in his responsibility for the war. Clay describes the Kaiser as a virulent anti-Semite who could not decide whether he loved or despised England. The biography becomes a bit tedious with Clay's obsession detailing the possibility that Wilhelm was a closet homosexual who was manipulated first by Bismarck and then by Count August zu Eulenberg, who knew Wilhelm's liking for "lange Kerls", long-limbed young men. While this all may be true, however never proved, Clay spends more time in the book on this titillating issue than the entire four years of the Great War.

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Throughout the book, it becomes evident that the relationship between George and Nicholas is stronger, and both begin to despise Wilhelm. Wilhelm's overbearing and patronizing attitude toward Nicholas culminates in the Willy-Nicky telegrams of July 1914. It is almost incredible that, although they were discussing war against each other, they still ended each telegram with "Willy" or "Nicky".

The book almost comes to an abrupt ending, leaving the reader looking for a missing chapter or two. Barely 30 pages cover the entire four years of the war, and most of those pages deal with July 1914 or the final fates of the royal cousins. Even though the subject of the individual rulers is covered in many formats, this book is ultimately a worthwhile read because it weaves the tale of three cousins who rise to power in a world they cannot change but forever changes them and the countries they lead.

Our Reviewer: Dennis Linton, COL, U.S. Army, retired. Assistant Professor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. Museum Docent at the National World War One Museum at Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri.

Dennis Linton

Monday, July 28, 2014

100 Years Ago: Quotes from July 1914


Headline, Washington Times, 28 July 1914

A mead 
Bordered about with warbling water brooks. 
A maid 
Laughing the love-laugh with me; proud of looks.''
Shaking the heavy dews from bloom and frond. 
Bursting the surface of the ebony pond.
Wilfred Owen, diary entries, July 1914

Anarchist Bomb Intended to Kill John D. Rockefeller 
Explodes Prematurely Killing Four 
in Lexington Avenue Apartment in New York City
4 July 1914
We have the prospect of winning [or] we still certainly have the prospect of maneuvering the Entente apart.
Bethmann-Hollweg, 8 July 1914

The text of the note to be addressed to Belgrade, agreed today, is such that we must reckon with the probability of of a warlike confrontation.  Should Serbia nevertheless yield and conceed to our demands, then such a move by the kingdom [of Serbia] would not only mean its profound humiliation and . . . a diminution of Russian prestige in the Balkans, but would also imply certain guarantees for us in the direction of a restraining of pan-Serb infiltration on our soil.
Count Berchtold to Franz Josef, 14 July 1914

There are always clouds in the international sky. You never get a perfectly blue sky in foreign affairs. And there are clouds even now. But we feel confident that the common sense, the patience, the good-will, the forbearance which enabled us to solve greater and more difficult and more urgent problems last year will enable us to pull through these difficulties at the present moment.
David Lloyd George, speech, 17 July 1914

In one of the most memorable baseball games of all time, outfielder Red Murray of the New York Giants ended his team's 21-inning, 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates with a spectacular catch. He was immediately struck by lightening, knocked unconscious, but held on to the ball for the final out.
17 July 1914

A brilliant achievement at forty-eight hours notice. More than anyone could have expected.   A great moral victory for Vienna but it removes any reason  for war .  .  . the reservations on few points of detail can in my view be cleared up by negotiation.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, 25 July 1914

This will take attention away from Ulster, which is a good thing.
Herbert Asquith, letter, 25 July 1914

Everything tends towards catastrophe & collapse. I am interested, geared up and happy. Is it not horrible to be built like that? The preparations have a hideous fascination for me. I pray to God to forgive me for such fearful moods of levity. Yet I w[oul]d do my best for peace, and nothing w[oul]d induce me wrongfully to strike the blow.
Winston Churchill, 28 July 1914

Everything possible must be done to save the peace. I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter.
Tsar Nicholas II, 29 July 1914

This war will turn into a world war in which England will also intervene. Few can have an idea of the extent, the duration and the end of this war. Nobody today can have a notion of how it will all end.
General Helmuth von Moltke, 30 July 1914

The Stain, Early Film of Silent Star
Theda Bara Debuts, July 1914

I thank you heartily for your mediation which begins to give one hope that all may yet end peacefully. It is technically impossible to stop our military preparations which were obligatory owing to Austria's mobilisation. We are far from wishing war. As long as the negotiations with Austria on Servia's account are taking place my troops shall not make any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this. I put all my trust in God's mercy and hope in your successful mediation in Vienna for the welfare of our countries and for the peace of Europe.
Tsar's Telegram to the Kaiser, 31 July 1914

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why "Horizon Blue" for the Poilu's Uniform

As all World War I students know, the traditional French uniforms of blue coats and rouge pantaloons made dandy targets for German machine gunners in the opening battles and just had to be replaced.  But why was the horizon blue color scheme selected?

Veterans Visiting the Tomb of France's Unknown Soldier

The evolution of the French uniform is one of the more fascinating aspects of French army history of the period. While several efforts to modernize French uniforms to appear less conspicuous had been undertaken in the decade preceding the outbreak of war, none succeeded in really getting off the ground. It was only in 1912 that progress was made toward developing a new cloth referred to as drap tricolore ("tricolor cloth") and composed of blue, white, and red threads. Approval for the new cloth was already won when it was discovered that the manufacturers of the red dye (the synthetic alarizin) used in the process were all German. Production of the cloth went ahead nonetheless with the red thread simply omitted. The final (heathered) cloth was to be officially composed of three threads — 35% unbleached white, 15% dark blue (indigo), and 50% light blue — with a twill weave.

The cloth itself began production in August 1914 and was officially referred to as bleu clair ("light blue"), per the official decision on 25 November 1914. History has recorded this as bleu horizon ("horizon blue") following a January 1915 issue of the highly popular periodical L'Illustration, which referred to "a new gray-blue greatcoat, called horizon color." Thus, while horizon blue is used as a blanket term for the new cloth, it was never an official term. Furthermore, light blue is technically more accurate when used to describe the cloth generally produced prior to spring 1915 (the captions for images below reflect this terminology). The term "light blue" 'is deceiving, though, as in actuality the range of colors varied from an ashen light blue to a medium blue-gray. While the new cloth did not achieve the true neutral tone original intended, due to the nature of the early dyes, the cloth often faded to a light blue-gray, which melded well with the chalky mud of Champagne and Artois.

Despite the administrative decision-making in the summer of 1914, distribution of the new uniforms had not yet begun when war broke out. . .

Read more at the Website of the 151st Infantry Reenactors. . .

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Remembering a Veteran — 26 July 1918: Major Mick Mannock, VC, Killed by Ground Fire

The air aces of World War I — like the Red Baron — left a rich mythology that persists to the present day. But the man who was, perhaps, Britain's best pilot, remains little known.

Major Mannock

Photographs of Mick Mannock, Britain's highest-scoring fighter pilot from World War I, are surprisingly rare. Before his death Mannock had just completed an extraordinary run of success, shooting down 20 German planes that May — four of them in one day — and winning the Distinguished Service Order (one below the Victoria Cross) not once but three times in little over a month.
But all was not right with this ace in his last days. The inspirational hero of both his squadron and the RAF was struggling to control his nerves, nerves which were tearing him apart. From his personal diary held at the RAF Museum in London it's clear that Mannock had been wrestling with his emotions from the moment he first went into action just over a year earlier.

"Feeling nervy and ill during the last week. Afraid I'm breaking up."

So bad were the terrors that in his early days of flying some of his fellow pilots on the Western Front believed that Mannock was "windy", in other words, a coward. A sympathetic commanding officer gave him a chance, and over the following months Mannock was able to suppress his fears and start shooting down enemy aircraft. With the "kills" came the awards for gallantry.
Flying aircraft in World War I was a shockingly dangerous profession. Of the 14,000 airmen killed in that war, well over half lost their lives in training. On an early patrol over France one of the bottom wings of Mannock's Nieuport bi-plane suddenly broke off in flight. Mannock managed to land the aircraft, extraordinarily lucky to have survived.

But what Mannock — and many other pilots — feared most, was going down in flames, without a parachute, and burning to death. For this reason he carried a revolver in his cockpit, vowing that if his plane did catch fire he would shoot himself, before the flames devoured him.

Mannock developed his own macabre way of conquering his nerves. Not dissimilar to the Captain Flashheart character played by Rik Mayall in Blackadder Goes Forth, Mannock too could be loud and brash.

"Flamerinoes boys! Sizzle sizzle wonk," he would announce as he burst into the mess regaling all of how he had sent some unfortunate "Hun" airman down in flames. And when in April 1918 various members of his squadron raised their glasses to the recently killed Manfred von Richthofen — the Red Baron — Mannock refused with the words "I hope the bastard burnt all the way down".

Mannock (Far Left) with the Pilots of 74 Squadron

And yet behind this brash exterior was a deeply sensitive man. Born into a working-class military family Mannock was not the typical young public school airman associated with World War I movies. He was a committed socialist and at 29 he was much older than his fellow pilots. But Mannock was also a man of contradictions. He hated Germans with a vengeance, possibly because he was so badly treated by the Turks when he was interned by them earlier in the war.

Yet despite this, when he rushed out to inspect the remains of a German plane he had just shot down and found one of the airmen dead inside, he recorded in his diary: "I felt exactly like a murderer." In little over 12 months Mannock amassed 73 victories, confirming him as Britain's highest scoring pilot of the First World War and yet today, outside aviation circles, virtually no one has heard of him.

Part of the explanation is that unlike Germany, which promoted their air heroes such as the Red Baron, Britain had a policy of keeping their pilots identities firmly under wraps, preferring the idea that it was a team effort and not all about the individual. The effect was that while photos and stories of the Red Baron were splashed over newspapers around the world, in Britain Mannock, or "Captain X" as the press referred to him, was virtually unknown.

By the early summer of 1918 the air war had reached its savage climax and Mick Mannock's nerves had returned. A friend witnessed Mannock on leave, sobbing and trembling violently, saliva and tears having soaked his collar and shirt. And despite all this, Mannock's sense of duty meant that he returned to France to face whatever came his way.  On the morning of 26 July while out on patrol he downed his last German aircraft, but made the fatal error of flying low to observe the kill and it was then that his aircraft was hit by German ground fire.

Mannock's aircraft was last seen going down in flames. His nightmare had been realised. It is not known if he was able to use the revolver he always carried with him.

Sources:  BBC and Spartacus Websites

Friday, July 25, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 28: High Wood

High Wood was the last of the major woods in the Somme offensive of 1916 to be captured by the British. Despite a whole series of attacks spanning two months, High Wood held out until 15 September 1916, when it was captured by the 47th (London) Division. Many other units of the British Army fought here, including the Gloucester Regiment, Cameron Highlanders, the Black Watch, Highland Light Infantry, and the Bengal Lancers, who charged the wood with some success. High Wood was never fully cleared after the war.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A World War I Polish-American Cemetery in Canada

By Walter Kudlick

In the small Ontario, Canada, town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (population 12,500 or so but with lots of tourists in the summer months) there is a cemetery with a small section bounded by a wrought iron fence and featuring three tall poles flying large Canadian, American, and Polish flags. A bronze plaque contains the following information (abridged and edited): This burial plot commemorates the Polish soldiers who trained in this community from 1917 to 1919 at Camp Kosciuszko and subsequently made the supreme sacrifice. They personified the Polish soldier's motto:"For your freedom and ours!" 

Typical Marker

As a result of the movement to regain the independence of Poland and policy differences with the United States, 22,174 volunteers of Polish descent crossed the Niagara River from Youngstown, NY, to this community and joined 221 Polish-Canadians for military training from 1917 to 1919. They were trained by Canadian officers and outfitted and financed by France. As a result, they wore French uniforms and hence were called the "Blue Army." In Europe the volunteers were assigned to the Fourth French Army in battalion and regimental groups and participated on the Western Front in the Champagne sector of France in 1918. In October 1918 the battalion and regimental groups were united to form a separate Polish army, which with additional volunteers totaled 80,000. At the end of World War I, the soldiers were transported across Germany to defend the new-found independence of Poland and repel the Bolshevik invasions. At this burial plot rest 25 of 41 soldiers who were stricken and died of influenza while in training.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Favorite Great War Animal Photos (Non-Equine)

We got such a great response over the horse images we posted last week that I thought our readers may enjoy some other animal images that have been sent to me over the years. Thanks to those of you who have sent these along.

Mascot of Italian Alpini

Whiskey & Soda of the Lafayette Escadrille

French Army Red Cross Dogs

British Officer and Kitten

Manfred von Richthofen's Moritz

Mobile Pigeon Coop

Bonneau and John McCrae
Also, check out this great video at Michigan's WWI Centennial Project:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed — Reviewed by Jim Gallen

Enduring Courage:
Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed
by John F. Ross
Andre Deutsch, 2014

Before reading Enduring Courage I had not known much about Eddie Rickenbacker. After losing his father in a brawl over a lunch at age 13, Eddie started his career as a mechanic and a race car driver. Rubbing elbows with Henry Ford and Fred Duesenberg, Rickenbacker rode the circuit and competed as a driver at the 1911 Indy 500. It was his familiarity with engines and his trip to England to discuss racing with Sunbeam Motors in 1916–1917 that introduced Eddie to the world of flight and the war that would make his name a household word.

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This new biography of Rickenbacker is divided into four "books": "Racing," "Flying," "Fighting," and "Immortality." Through them all run the threads of machinery, speed, and courage. The second and third books will be of greatest interest to readers of Roads to the Great War. These are the pages that focus on Rickenbacker's wartime heroics as "Ace of Aces." Eddie eased into the war gradually, as did his neutral nation. While visiting London he noticed that he stood out in civilian clothes, became aware of the emerging role of aircraft as weapons, and met some of the men who flew them. Author John F. Ross introduces the reader into the brotherhood of aviators, the Royal Flying Corps and the Red Baron's Flying Circus. He even injects the humor of Richthofen, who, upon hearing that a bounty had been placed on his head, cracked that he should get the prize if he shoots down the whole British squadron.

As America became involved in the war, Rickenbacker pitched the idea of an air squadron of race car drivers, who could get the most out of their machines, to a brass who thought that anyone so familiar with engines would be overly cautious. His break came when President Wilson suggested that a well-known car racer be employed as Gen. Pershing's driver. Tipped off, Eddie enlisted and headed off to Europe where he made the acquaintance not only of Pershing but also of Billy Mitchell and other officers in the air corps. Flying lessons, a commission, and the Wild Blue Yonder followed in rapid succession. As Eddie's skill and reputation grew he advanced in rank to command of the 94th Aero Squadron. The chapters dealing with the Air Corps take the reader over the land and into the barracks, the cockpit, and the dogfights with Rickenbacker. We meet the officers he met, Patton and MacArthur, and those with whom he shared headlines such as Quentin Roosevelt and Canada's Billy Bishop.

So just what was the role of air power in those early days? We read of the romance of the knights of the air who fought a war of chivalry beyond the reach of those trapped in the trenches below. We learn of reconnaissance of enemy ground formations and counter-reconnaissance by shooting down enemy planes and observation balloons.

The Armistice found Rickenbacker with 26 kills as America's Greatest Hero of the Great War and with a name recognition exceeding that of Gen. Pershing. He earned the Medal of Honor, although it would not be bestowed until 1931. Heroes do not live on yesterday's headlines, and Rickenbacker returned home to try a series of commercial ventures with varying success: the Rickenbacker automobile not so good, the Indianapolis Speedway better, Eastern Airlines the best. Peacetime aviation had its dangers as demonstrated by a 1941 crash while on a business trip.

Capt. Rickenbacker Receiving Oak Leaf Clusters to His
Distinguished Service Cross from First Army Commander Hunter Liggett

A figure as famous as Rickenbacker could not, and would not, stay clear of controversy. His opposition to the New Deal and dabbling with America First isolationism drew the enmity of the Roosevelt White House, but his conversion to support America's entrance into World War II made him an asset that could not remain unused. Called into service as a spokesman by the Air Force's Gen. Hap Arnold, Rickenbacker made goodwill tours of airbases. His status as a military hero made him the logical messenger to Gen. MacArthur, whose public comments had become intolerable to the White House. His trip across the Pacific ended in a crash at sea after which Rickenbacker's will triumphed over the dangers of the then longest float across the open sea by downed aviators.

The title Enduring Courage reminds us of the driving theme running through the book. The theme is shown in the life of a man courageous enough to face a world after losing his father at a young age, to lead the charge into the age of mechanically produced speed both on land and in the air, and the courage to participate in another war with its own dangers. Readers will learn much about aviation in the Great War and particularly America's contribution to it. Mostly though, they will remember the enduring courage that makes this life one to study as we look back on the Great War.

Jim Gallen

Monday, July 21, 2014

Centennial Update from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commemoration Commission Acting Chairman, Robert Dalessandro

The Commission's Acting Chairman, Robert Dalessandro, who is also Chief Historian of the U.S. Army, was interviewed on the Federal Broadcast Service on Friday, 18 July 2014. In the ten-minute interview he gave a full summary of the Commission's mission and plans, and provided a wonderful summary of why the remembrance of America's participation in the war is so important.

Click Here to Play the Interview

Thanks to Mark Levitch at the WWI Memorial Inventory Project for the heads-up on this interview.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why Is There a Replica of the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco?

Big Alma's Triumph

Alma at the Turn of the Century

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels is the female Horatio Alger of San Francisco history. After Commodore Dewey's triumph at Manila Bay in 1898, San Francisco decided the city needed a commemoration of the victory.  Dewey's flagship, the USS Olympia, had been built at the city's Union Iron Works. The location was to be in Union Square, and the design would feature a tall column with a 9-foot tall statue of the "Goddess of Victory" atop. Artist Robert Ingersoll Aitken hired Alma, then working as a laundry girl, as his model for the goddess.  

Detail from the Dewey Monument, Union Square, San Francisco

After the monument's 1903 dedication by President Theodore Roosevelt every man about town wanted to meet the artist's shapely model.  Alma, now having the choice of the pack, selected sugar baron Adolph Spreckels to be her husband.  This gave the former laundry girl a position in high society, in which Alma immediately became an "operator" of the highest order.

French Pavilion, 1915 San Francisco Fair

Now jump forward in time to 1915.  Alma, now known as "Big Alma", is now occupying the top rung of San Francisco social ladder, an acquaintance of presidents and kings, and already a renowned art collector. She has been contemplating combining her ambitions to show off her collection and to see the city add a world-class art gallery.  San Francisco, this year, is also the site of the exposition celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal.  Much of the rest of the world is at war at this time, unfortunately, so few of the combatants are represented. But France decides, nevertheless, to build a major pavilion exhibiting  the works of their A-list Impressionists and new school artists, and — incidentally — to keep them safe, away from any Zeppelin raids.  The design they selected is a 3/4-scale model of Paris's Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Big Alma, Wiser and More Formidable

When she saw it, the Francophile Alma was besotted. All her dreams together in concrete form, she wants one of her very own. Alma soon persuades Mr. Spreckels to support her project financially and, apparently, all of San Francisco's upper crust and political operatives as well. When America enters the war, Alma did everything she could do to support the nation's and the Allies' efforts. This allows her to use her connections and formidable political skills both to win the support of the French government and to gain designation of the museum as the State of California's memorial to its fallen in the Great War, to “honor the dead while serving the living.” World War I, of course, delayed the groundbreaking for the project, until 1921. 

Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

Constructed on a remote site known as Land’s End, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor was opened on Armistice Day 1924. Alma was grieving at the time; Adolph had died a few months earlier. The memory of the 3,600 Californians who had lost their lives on the battlefields of France during World War I is preserved in the museum's "Book of Gold", a vellum-paged register signed by General John J. Pershing and French marshals Joffre, Pétain, and Foch. In it, each name of California's fallen is inscribed. Today the complex is still one of the city's two premier art venues. References to the war are only visible on a plaque in the courtyard and on little plates on the big trees just south of the complex (visible on the left above) that were planted by Marshals Foch and Joffre on visits to the site.

Marshal Foch Signs the Book of Gold Under Alma's Guiding Hand

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Argonnenwald: A Sapper's Song from the World War, 1915

Translation by Jeff Curtis

The Argonne Forest
A Sapper's Song from the World War

Argonne Forest, at midnight
A sapper's song from the World War, 1915

Argonne Forest, at midnight,
A sapper stands on guard.
A star shines high up in the sky,
bringing greetings from a distant homeland.

And with a spade in his hand,
He waits forward in the sap-trench.
He thinks with longing on his love,
Wondering if he will ever see her again.

The artillery roars like thunder,
While we wait in front of the infantry,
With shells crashing all around.
The Frenchies want to take our position.

Should the enemy threaten us even more,
We Germans fear him no more.
And should he be so strong,
He will not take our position.

The storm breaks!  The mortar crashes!
The sapper begins his advance.
Forward to the enemy trenches,
There he pulls the pin on a grenade.

The infantry stand in wait,
Until the hand grenade explodes.
Then forward with the assault against the enemy,
And with a shout, break into their position.

Argonne Forest, Argonne Forest,
Soon thou willt be a quiet cemetery.
In thy cool earth rests
much gallant soldiers' blood.

Source:  Trenches on the Web at

Friday, July 18, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 27: South African Memorial at Delville Wood

Delville Wood was a tract of woodland, nearly one kilometer square, the western edge of which touched the village of Longueval, 11 km east of Albert in the Somme sector. On 14 July 1916 the greater part of Longueval village was taken by the 9th (Scottish) Division and on the 15th, the South African Brigade of that division captured most of Delville Wood. The wood now formed a salient in the line, with Waterlot Farm and Mons Wood on the south flank still in German hands, and, owing to the height of the trees, no close artillery support was possible for defense. 

The three South African battalions fought continuously for six days and suffered heavy casualties. On 18 July they were forced back, and on the evening of the 20th the survivors, a mere handful of men, were relieved. On 27 July, the 2nd Division retook the wood and held it until 4 August when the 17th Division took it over. On 18 and 25 August it was finally cleared of all German resistance by the 14th (Light) Division. The wood was then held until the end of April 1918 when it was lost during the German advance, but  it was retaken by the 38th (Welsh) Division on the following 28 August.

Commemorating the efforts of the South African Brigade is a multi-part memorial, which is a candidate for the most beautiful such complex in the world. Most important is the wood itself, where many of the fallen from the war still lie. After the battle a single tree was left standing in the wood, and that tree is marked and part of a visit to the site. At the entrance is an archway (not shown) that has a statue of mythological figures Castor and Pollux and a war horse that was completed in 1926. A magnificent five-pointed museum was dedicated in the 1980s and honors the South African sacrifice in both World Wars and the Korean conflict. Field Marshal Jan Smuts, a significant figure in South Africa's history, has a significant display in the museum.

Source:  Commonwealth War Graves

Thursday, July 17, 2014

17 July 1917: The British Royal Family Changes Its Name!


~ King George V, in response to H. G. Wells's criticism of his "alien” 
[i.e. German-descended] and uninspiring court

Contributed by Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester

Today in 1917 the British royal family changed its surname to Windsor from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. 
The intertwining of the European royal families at the outbreak of war linked just about every one of them to Queen Victoria through her numerous progeny. Her grandchildren were consorts or rulers in five of the combatant countries — Russia, Germany, Rumania, Greece, and Great Britain — and numerous other princes and aristocrats throughout Europe were closely related. This proved especially difficult for the Empress of Russia (née a princess of Hesse-Darmstadt), who, in spite of her neuroses, was always a devout Russian patriot and had a true loathing for the Kaiser, her cousin. She became a natural target for discontent with the regime for this reason of her national origin alone.

Anti-German virulence in Great Britain had its own sad story, with long-naturalized German (or perceived as German) shopkeepers and tradesmen hounded from business and even dachshunds being attacked and vilified. Not a shining moment for a country defending liberty on the Continent. The British royal family itself bore a German name — Saxe [Sachsen]-Coburg-Gotha — the legacy of the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. Of course, the royal family was “German” well before the surname became a triple threat; the Hanoverians became British sovereigns in the early 18th century when the last Protestant descendant of the Stuart dynasty died childless (Queen Anne) and the succession jumped sideways to the Protestant Hanoverian descendants of Elizabeth of Bohemia, daughter of King James I of Great Britain. 

George V and his queen, Mary of Teck, ruled Great Britain during the Great War and were faced personally with the increasing anti-German atmosphere. By 1917 it was clear that a strong message had to be proclaimed as to the patriotism of his court and family, and after some internal debate, the king’s private secretary Lord Stamfordham came up with “Windsor”, after the ancient English royal residence used since the 12th century — a stroke of marketing brilliance. In addition, Queen Mary’s family name was changed to Cambridge (and Athlone) and the Battenbergs (who joined the family through Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Beatrice’s marriage) became the illustrious Mountbattens.
[Note that upon the birth in June 1894 of the future Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor, Queen Victoria wrote to the baby's father, the future George V, that "this will be the Coburg line, like formerly the Plantegenet, the Tudor,...Stewart (sic), & the Brunswicks," always promoting the legacy of Prince Albert. Not to be.]*

Prince Louis of Battenberg, Soon to Become Mountbatten

One Battenberg suffered this xenophobia particularly strongly. Prince Louis of Battenberg was a German-born prince but also a naturalized British subject and career British naval officer who rose to the rank of First Sea Lord in 1912. His wife was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. But anti-German pressure early in the war pushed him to resign his post — a blow to the dedicated officer — and in 1917 he became the 1st Marquess of Milford Haven, relinquishing all German titles as well. His son, Lord Louis Mountbatten, became Viscount Mountbatten of Burma, and, among other things, the last viceroy of India as well as the granduncle and mentor of the present Prince of Wales. He vindicated his father's resignation as First Sea Lord by acquiring the post himself from 1954 to 1959.   

In spite of all this maneuvering to substantiate public Englishness for the royals, George V himself could not have lived or acted more English, as he himself alludes to in his response to Mr. Wells’s assessment. He was the epitome of the stolid English family man; he loved his career in the Royal Navy and would have been content to remain there in relative obscurity had his older brother Prince Arthur not died and catapulted George into the direct succession. He had no problem with being uninspiring. Alien, however, was deeply unjust.

*James Pope-Hennessey, Queen Mary, 1867–1953, George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1959. p. 301

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

War Horses: Idealized and for Real

We received a press release that we thought we would share with you.  It's a program that focuses on war horses:

The Lightbox gallery and museum in Woking, Surrey, will commemorate the centenary of World War One with the exhibition "The Horse at War: 1914 – 1918" (25 November 2014 – 1 March 2015). Exploring the role of the horse in World War One, the exhibition will compare the glorified image of officers and their chargers at war with the piteous desolation of these animals as beasts of burden when faced with gunfire and trench warfare.

Below is a set of images from the Lightbox gallery and my own files that shows the contrast of the gloried equestrian images and the real experience of the animals in combat.


Prepared for Gas Warfare

On Work Detail

Stuck in the Mud

Killed in Action, Haelen, 1914

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The First World War Remembered: In Association with Imperial War Museums — Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

The First World War Remembered: 
In Association with Imperial War Museums
by Gary Sheffield
Andre Deutsch, 2014

The First World War Remembered brings to life the events of the war from its outbreak to its aftermath and legacy. The book is comprehensive; it covers the Western Front, the war in Africa, the war at sea, Eastern Front battles, the Italian Front, campaigns in Palestine, the role of women in war, literary influences, diplomacy in war, the Russian Revolution, trench life, war in the air, the USA's entry into the war, and the final battles.

By way of a background, Sheffield identifies different national perspectives on the events of 1914–1918. In Britain, the war is seen as either a monstrous tragedy that should never have happened or a disaster that was not of Britain's making but in which involvement was unavoidable. From a French or German perspective it can be seen as the second round of the Franco-German war that began in 1870 and did not end until 1945. From an American perspective, World War One marked America's entry onto the world stage. Australia, New Zealand, and Canada were inclined to see the war as the time when they emerged from under the protective wing of the mother country. For Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states, World War One marked the beginning of a movement toward national self-determination. German Nazism, Italian Fascism and Soviet Communism were, argues Sheffield, all direct results of the war.

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Sheffield emphasizes the importance of both the home and the battle front. Each of the 55 sections of The First World War Remembered is complemented by over 200 photographs and color battle maps and more than 30 researched rare facsimile documents, including personal and unit war diaries, letters, secret plans, telegrams, orders, maps, and posters. The facsimile documents include Kitchener's order to the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in 1914, a letter describing the Christmas truce of 1914, and Sir Douglas Haig's handwritten draft of his famous "Backs to the Wall" order.

Sheffield's study is accompanied by a DVD which contains firsthand accounts of soldiers on the Western front. It also includes an edited silent film that is part of a series of films produced in 1918, toward the end of the war. The archival footage was shot by official cameramen working for the British War Office and features many sequences showing tanks on theWwestern Front.

In addition to reproducing more well-known details of battles, Sheffield also introduces lesser known features of the war. The section called "Specialists" is a case in point. Here fascinating information is provided on signalers, police, tunnelers, and medics. Sheffield notes, for example, that many decorations were won by signalers who crawled out into No Man's Land to repair broken telephone wires. He also describes the work of Ernest Gold, a British meteorologist, who was a pioneer in providing information on atmospheric conditions.

What is missing from the study, however, is the contributions of the pacifists to the war effort. While Sheffield mentions the growing influence of pacifism after the war, he makes only brief references to it during the war itself. These occur primarily in the section on "Literary Influences." As the books reviewed in our series on pacifism have revealed, the situation and role of the conscientious objector is a much neglected area in World War One studies.

Sample Pages

Sheffield concludes his study with reflections on "The Short Twentieth Century." He argues that "…the years 1914–1991 can be seen as one period bounded by the beginning of the First World War and the end of the Cold War." In between came the collapse of old monarchical regimes, the rise of dictators, World War Two, and the fall of the USSR. World War One was, concludes Sheffield, the trigger to a series of events that changed our world forever.

The First World War Remembered is the work of one of the world's leading experts on the military history of the war. The inclusion of rare material, meticulously researched and reproduced, the broad span of the study, and the above-mentioned DVD make The First World War Remembered a treasure trove for any reader interested in gaining a broad view of World War One, of its "strategies, tactics and battles, and the lives of the people who were there." The comprehensive index facilitates the navigation of this large and impressive volume. Packaged in an elegant presentation box, The First World War Remembered is an excellent gift for World War One enthusiasts and scholars alike. At just under $50, it is also excellent value!

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bastille Day 2014: Remembering the Lost French-American Monument at Pointe de Grave, France

Completed 1938, Destroyed by the German Army in 1942

Located at Pointe de Grave, France, at the mouth of the Gironde River. This stupendous monument marked the site from which Lafayette departed for America in 1777 and near where first American Doughboys landed in 1917. It was destroyed by the Nazi's in the Second World War and later replaced by the smaller marker.

Sunday, July 13, 2014 Your One Stop Center for World War I Centennial Information

Just click on this link to see all the publications and websites we offer for the serious student of the Great War of 1914–18. We are constantly upgrading our many features. As you can see above, we have a new header and logo for our home page. Our 1914-1918 Super Search feature has just been upgraded, and over the next few months we will be revamping our award-winning Doughboy Center website, which will remain in full operation during this time.
Mike Hanlon, Editor/Publisher

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Jünger's Response to Remarque

Ernst Jünger Wearing the Pour le Mérite

By Henry G. Gole

Remarque's powerful naturalistic prose in All Quiet has shaped our picture of life in the trenches as no other single book has. The impasse on the Western Front finally proved mass frontal assaults to be a purposeless waste of life. Attacks by hundreds of thousands of men, supported by preparatory fires of millions of artillery rounds, produced tens of thousands of casualties — but not only among the defending force. . .

Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel (1929) provides us a striking contrast to Remarque's pacifism, but he too is convinced that the front experience permanently separated the front soldier from the others. Jünger was one of the most highly decorated German soldiers of the Great War and one of the most often wounded [14 times]. His combat record was so impressive that he was handpicked to organize and lead elite troops whose mission was to infiltrate enemy front lines using techniques requiring extraordinarily brave and tough men. The infiltration teams, called Sturm (storm) — or Kampfgruppen (assault groups), relied on stealth to penetrate enemy lines, followed by shock action with individual weapons. The idea was to cause confusion and disorganization among defenders that would create openings for exploitation. Jünger led such assault teams and claimed to love it!

After the war Jünger observed the same chaos described by Remarque but came to different conclusions. Passive acceptance of the alienation of the veteran was not in Jünger's nature. He was convinced that a new man was born in the trenches, a man who would lead. Breast-beating and lamentations about unhappy circumstances simply would not do. The decisiveness of the assault team leader, his courage, and leadership, had a new objective — veterans led by such men would reshape the political world.

It is this mode of thought that is captured so well in Robert G. Waite's The Vanguard of Nazism (1952), a book about the adventurous souls whose answer to profound problems was movement and action. The collection of bold men who comprised the Freikorps (free corps) and veterans' associations organized along military lines consisted of veterans, boys who hadn't had their war, nationalists shamed by the Treaty of Versailles, royalists longing for the good old days of Wilhelmine Germany, those who had nowhere else to go, and those disenchanted with Germany's experiment with democracy. These men craved leadership, clear objectives, and a way out of Germany's many problems. Germany had not been prepared for the republic thrust upon it. Paramilitary action in the streets passed for political activity. 

Source:  "The Great War a Literary Perspective," Parameters, Summer 1987

Friday, July 11, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 26: The Leaning Virgin of Albert

A key destination for any tour of the Somme battlefields, Albert is a small town in the Province of Picardy. It found itself in the heart of some of the hottest action on the Western Front throughout the Great War. Unfortunately, Albert had one target that towered over the village making it an excellent observation post for whoever occupied it and an irresistible target for opposing gunners. Earlier town fathers, attempting to turn the community into a destination for Christian pilgrims, had built an impressive Romanesque basilica crowned with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary holding up her baby son to God. The Virgin also appears to be lame, an apparent message of the power of prayer for the handicapped.

During the early days of the war, German artillery had shelled the basilica, trying to knock it down and prevent the French artillery spotters from using it. They only succeeded in dislodging the statue of Mary, which by 1916 hung at a precarious angle just below the horizontal. This was just too visible and too heavenly connected for the soldiers passing through the town. The Legend of the Leaning [or Hanging] Virgin was born.

The British rendition was that whoever knocked her down would lose the war, the Germans apparently believing the opposite. Another version of the legend had it that the fall of the Virgin would signal the end of the war. The details of the various versions seem secondary to the belief by troops of all sides that the Virgin's natural descent was halted temporarily by a divine hand so its final destruction could mark the war's end. It must have provided a double psychic reassurance that the forces of Heaven had taken an interest in protecting the Virgin and her Child and would eventually take steps to end the suffering on the battlefield.

Interestingly, the man most responsible for finally knocking down the Leaning Virgin survived the war and shared his tale many years later:

I have read with great interest Mr. Harvey's article [in Air Pictorial magazine]. . .On page 136 there is a picture of Albert Cathedral as it stood in 1917, and Mr. Harvey makes a note that legend had it that the monument's fall would herald the end of the war.

In 1918 I was on the staff of the 5th Corps, Heavy Artillery, and an Army Order had been issued that no more buildings were to be demolished by gunfire. One early morning we had a telephone message from the Infantry Colonel of the Battalion holding the line quite near to the Cathedral to the effect that he was suffering heavy loss from machine gun-fire from the Cathedral Tower, and he asked that we should blow the place to blazes. My General was out on reconnaissance work, and my Brigade Major was absent at the time so I (quite a young Captain) was in charge. Realizing the Army Order and knowing that I should get no satisfaction from Army H.Q., I chose one of the 8-in. Batteries in the Corps, worked out some imaginary trenches well beyond the Cathedral, and then ordered the Major of this Battery to fire a couple of hundred rounds at these imaginary trenches, knowing full well that the line of fire would go clean through the Cathedral!

The Major was thrilled with this order and it was duly carried out and the Cathedral Tower and most of the surrounding Cathedral was blown to hell, thus probably saving the lives of many of our Infantry.
F. G. Petch, M.C., Vice-President of the Air League, London, E.C.2.

This succinct background summary is quoted in part from the website: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A HERO: The Battle of the Somme from the Letters of William George Ashby Bentley, 2nd Hampshires.

P.G. Petch's account is from Air Pictorial, Vol. 30, No. 7 

Incidentally, beneath the basilica is an outstanding subterranean museum that contains a wonderful collection of authentic artifacts and weaponry from the fighting and tells the moving story of a little village that found itself in the middle of one of history's great battlefields.