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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ungaretti, Poet Laureate of the Carso

Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888–1970) is considered by some to be the greatest modern Italian poet. During the war he served with the 19th Infantry Regiment on the bleak Carso Plateau on the lower end of the Isonzo River sector. The fighting in the area was some of the grimmest of the war. Ungaretti began writing poetry there during interludes. 

Later he was attached to the Italian contingent sent to the Western Front. He was a modernist and Dadaist, and after the war aligned with Mussolini's Fascists through the fall of the dictatorship. Following the Second World War, he and his reputation went through a slow "rehabilitation". However, his political history probably denied him the highest literary honors.

Mte. San Michele and San Martino del Carso were on the front line and are the subjects of two of Ungaretti's most famous poems.


Like this stone of
San Michele

as cold
as hard
as thoroughly dried

as refractory
as deprived of spirit

Like this stone
is my weeping that can't
be seen

Living discounts death

The Battlefield Where Ungaretti Fought As It Looks Today


Of these houses
bur fragments of memory

Of all who
would talk with me not
one remains

But in my heart
no one's cross is missing
My heart is
the most tormented country
of all

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ten Statistics from the Great War

The Spoils of War: Captured German Artillery on Display in Paris

1) 1 . . . . . . Still unexploded mine on the Western Front (at least — see note below)

2) 12 . .  . Air aces of all nations with more than 50 aircraft downed

3) 75 . . . . . . . . … .  Distance fired in miles by German  Paris Guns

4) 324 . . . . . . . . . . . . .British tanks  in service at Battle of Cambrai

5) 466 . . . . .  . .  . . . Length of Western Front in miles October 1914

6) 4,278 . . . Trains required to mobilize French Army in August 1914

7) 7,000,000 . . . . . . Estimated combatants maimed for life, all nations

8) 8,300,000 . . . . . . .  . . . . Estimated combatants killed, all nations

9) 32,000,000 . .Estimated artillery shells fired in Battle of Verdun

10) 61,526,000. . Soldiers mobilized by all belligerents in Great War

There are many different sources of World War I statistics, so these numbers can vary wildly depending on the source.  I attempted take the most conservative credible figures in each case. For instance one archeological report suggested there could be as many as 5 fully charged, unexploded mines underneath Messines Ridge.  I decided, however, to stay with the traditional numbers of one cited by most sources, which indeed, refers to a mine on Messines Ridge in Flanders. MH

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Amiens Cathedral: War Memorial for the Allied Nations

The city of Amiens, capital of the Department of the Somme, was occupied by the British Army throughout the war and was defended mightily, especially in the spring of 1918. The Dominions contributed many forces to the battle in the area as well. Consequently, the city holds great emotional weight throughout the English-speaking world, including the United States, which had engineering troops who helped defend the city. Since the famous Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Amiens was a site of worship during the war, it was a natural focal point for commemorating the sacrifices of the war's fallen afterward. There are at least 11 commemorative unobtrusive memorial tablets in the cathedral today. Contributor and battlefield documentarian Steve Miller has provided of photos of a selection of these from his collection.

Great Britain and Ireland


New Zealand

6th Engineers of the U.S. Army

Interior View of Some of the Tablets

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Weapons of War: The Entrenching Tool

From the "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War" – World War I Exhibit at
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914
Reviewed by Ron Drees

Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914
by Jeff Lipkes
The Brabant Press, 2014 (reissue)

Rehearsals is a book of several sections: Wehrmacht atrocities against the Belgian people in August, 1914; a comparison of the 1914 German invaders and nation to the Allied invaders of 1944–1945; a commentary linking the settlement of the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian war with the Treaty of Versailles; a commentary on German society, such as its anti-Catholicism; and a linkage of the murder of Belgium civilians to Polish civilians in 1939. This is a complex book that hopscotches across history and thus requires careful reading of the later sections.

The first 12 chapters are straightforward. Invading German troops march into Belgian towns, accuse the local populace of shooting at them, round up a bunch of men, and without trials or discussion or any process, march the men out of town and murder them. Frequently, women and children are included. Usually many homes and buildings are burned. The death toll was over 6,000 between the various villages, all within a few days in August. After the Great War, plaques and monuments were put up to memorialize the murdered civilians, but the Germans returned in 1940 and removed the plaques.

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The "villages" part of the book is like a relentless pile driver; deaths and burnings relentlessly pile on top of other deaths and burnings. Then Lipkes makes his text interesting by beginning to seek explanations. He compares German, French, and Allied troops and notes that the first may have suffered from mass hysteria — but more likely German officers may have provoked reprisals to terrorize civilians. Furthermore, the German definition of total war made the killing of civilians necessary.

What led to this murderous mindset by supposedly a very civilized nation? A "bellicose minority" of Germans believed that war was a cure for human and national diseases. This minority included the most influential of Germans who considered war a biological necessity to remove weak nations. A corollary of this belief was that a German military officer could behave as he liked; he was required to defend the Kaiser's uniform even if that meant cutting down a civilian with his sword, cutting in line, or dueling with fellow students.

This militarism supported German nationalism. Germans believed that they were a chosen people, incapable of doing wrong, especially the German Army. "Deutschland Uber Alles" is more than a song; it is a national mind-set. This resulted in Christianity melting away. Selected phrases that capture this include, "The German people are the elect of God…" and "It must please God to see Himself mirrored in the German soul". Contrast that with Abraham Lincoln who was concerned not that God was on our side but that we were on God's side.

Reparations became a controversial topic after the war. Lipkes claims that Belgium and France were inadequately compensated for damage willfully caused by the Kaiser's government. While the Central Powers were assessed $33 billion, Germany paid only $5.375 billion of its share of $12.5 billion. Instead, in an effort to help Germany pay its bills, the U.S. loaned it billions, in effect financing rearmament.

Depiction of the Dinant, Belgium, Atrocity of  23 August 1914 (Tony Langley Collection)

Then Lipkes performs a truly unique act; he compares the reparations of the 1870–1871 Franco-Prussian war to the Brest Litovsk treaty of March 1918, and Poland in 1939. While Germany had suffered no damage to its territory in 1870–1871 and 1939 and little from Russia in 1914–1918, it made the conquered nations pay for the costs of a war they had not started. Payment was required in terms of money, land, and economic dependence. Perhaps other authors have discussed Franco-Prussian reparations in light of the Versailles Treaty, but I haven't seen them. He concludes that the problem with the Versailles Treaty was its feeble enforcement. Germany's president greeted the Wehrmacht as heroes, denying a defeat. Twenty-seven years later, the German people would definitely know that they had lost the war when millions of their civilians died.

Lipkes continues with other topics, such as German anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, the greed of conquering troops as they looted beaten nations, and the deportation of civilians to serve as forced labor. Moreover, he draws an analogy between Foreign Secretary Grey's appeasement of Austria and Chamberlain's efforts in 1938. Eventually there were investigations by the British government into the Belgian atrocities. These resulted in trials of Germans by Germans in Germany and the not surprising "not guilty" verdicts.

This book covers a great deal more material than the title would indicate. I submit that the post-village atrocity chapters are the most valuable. I recommend that prospective readers first read one or two chapters describing the murders in particular villages and then initially jump to the Explanations, Epilogue, Afterword, and Appendices for new and valuable information. The justification for murdering whole villages is that terror reduces resistance. The later sections provide background as to why such terror came about.

Ron Drees

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fighting Mustard Gas with SAG Paste

American Soldier Suffering Severe External  Mustard Gas Burns

Of the chemical agents employed by the Germans against the Allies, mustard gas was responsible for 39 percent of AEF gas casualties. Once mustard gas made contact with the skin, it destroyed tissue as long as it remained, doing damage several hours before the first symptoms appeared. To combat this persistent blister agent, the Gas Service made available to line units an ointment called SAG paste (a term coined by reversing the letters of "gas") to protect exposed flesh. SAG paste came in a 3.5cm by 16cm collapsible tube and became a standard-issue item for the prevention and treatment of mustard burns. According to one veteran, it looked like and had the consistency of "carbolated vaseline". Doughboys who entered a mustard-contaminated area or who anticipated a shelling of Yellow Cross smeared their bodies with the ointment. 

An Interesting 1921 War Surplus Advertisement that Indicates While Different Manufacturers Varied the Formula, Zinc Was Always the Active Ingredient for SAG Paste

It proved very effective, a medic in the 35th Division noted, if used in time. However, it was uncomfortable because it caked when the men perspired and rubbed off on clothing when a soldier engaged in any physical activity. The paste also presented a danger — if not removed after exposure to gas it eventually absorbed the mustard agent without neutralizing it, which meant that the agent ultimately came into contact with the skin. There were other uses for the paste; medics, for example, found it to be effective in soothing mustard burns by blocking the oxygen to the contaminated area. Enterprising men in the trenches found it extremely effective in exterminating "cooties", the Doughboy slang for body lice.

Chemical Warfare in World War I:
The American Experience, 1917-1918
by MAJ. Charles E. Heller, USAR

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Hughie Dodd, AIF, Tunneler and Outstanding Diarist

Hughie  (middle) Touring the Front with His Mates

Born at Broken Hill, New South Wales, on 14 April 1894, Edward Gilmore (Hughie) Dodd was the second child of Jabez Edward Dodd and Florence Wilson (née Johnston). Hughie came to the Western Australian goldfields as a young boy of four years, where he lived at Coolgardie and later in 1899 at Brown Hill. He attended Brown Hill School and later the Kalgoorlie School of Mines, where he qualified as a fitter and turner, leaving formal education aged 14. When the family moved to North Perth, Hughie completed his apprenticeship as an engineer with Hoskins’ Foundry at Murray Street, Perth in 1914.

Hughie enlisted in Perth on 4 January 1916 at the age of 21 years and 8 months after serving in the 84th infantry (a local militia reserve). On 30 March 1916 he was appointed to the No. 6 Tunnelling Compay with the rank of "sapper" and was promoted to sergeant on 2 May 1916. He embarked from Australia on 1 June 1916 when this diary commences. It was transcribed verbatim by his grandson, Keith Hugh Dodd, and the original has been donated by the family to the Army Museum of Western Australia.

Hughie married his sweetheart, Lam (Alma Whiskin) in 1921 and they had two children, Alan and Joy. Alma’s orphaned niece, Lil Whiskin, also became part of their family, and all the children served their country during World War II. Hughie’s military records show repeated hospitalisations for treatment of trench fever, then tonsillitis. He was gassed in France and suffered the effects for the rest of his life.

Damage from a Messines Mine Blown 7 June 1917 Documented by Hughie

After the war, Hughie was employed by the Metropolitan Water Supply as Engineer-in-Charge of the Fremantle branch. He was a logical man, thinking through any problems. Foremen and construction workers treated him with respect and affection, bringing him news of work and gifts, when he was incapacitated. A kind, gentle person, Hughie was the hub of the Whiskin and Dodd families. He had a dry, quiet sense of humour and a terrific general knowledge.

Hughie died aged 63 on 27 November 1957 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood. His ashes were interred at the foot of the Memorial Wall in the Western Australian Garden of Remembrance in Smyth Road, Nedlands. A bronze plaque was erected on wall 9, row F.

His well-detailed and photo-supplemented diary describes Hughie’s activities at the front line maintaining and repairing pumps and electrical equipment for Australian tunneling units on the Western Front. Access the diary here:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dowager Lady Grantham's Special Message for Roads to the Great War Readers

Our oldest and best-known recurring publication at is our free monthly newsletter the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire. Every month we provide a portal to a vast amount of information on the Great War. Our February issue features our usual  collection of articles, links, imagery, and the special message below:

To view the full issue just click on:

A Message from Violet 

Dowager Countess of Grantham

The Official Favorite Downton Abbey Character of

Dear Roads to the Great War Readers, 

No doubt you will regard this as rather unorthodox, my pushing my way into an electronic publication. First electricity, then telephones, now the Internet. Sometimes I feel as if I’m living in an H.G. Wells novel. But life is a game, where sometimes the player must appear ridiculous. While there can be too much truth in any relationship there is a time for forthrightness. I must say that I find this fascination in our former colonies with my family's story a bit puzzling, and — forgive me for saying this — utterly middle class. Especially so, since before Downton Abbey there was Abingdon Pryory and the Greville Family Saga, which I'm amused to say were brilliantly chronicled by that American from Hollywood, California, the late Mr. Philip Rock. (Why does every day involve the intrusion of an American?) If you would like to discover the source from which Downton Abbey's producers borrow their plot and some of my dialogue, you might consider reading this wonderful trilogy that was reissued recently. 

By the way, the first volume of the Abingdon Pryory Trilogy — The Passing Bells — covers the Great War, the second the postwar period, and the last the run up to the Second World War. I'm certain readers of Roads will recognize the provenance of the first volume's title: 

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle: Can patter out their hasty orisons. . . 

Dowager Lady Grantham

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Execution of Captain Fryatt

Before the war was a year old, Captain Charles Fryatt had already had a number of close shaves with German U-boats. After growing up in Harwich, Essex, he followed his father into the merchant navy. In March 1915, captaining the SS Brussels, he attempted to ram a prowling U-boat, actions that won him national acclaim.

But, on 25 June 1916, his ship was cornered by five gunboats and Captain Fryatt was imprisoned.  He was tried in Bruges on charges of being franc tireur — a civilian engaged in hostile military activity. Captain Fryatt had earlier told his captors he did his duty to protect his crew but, according to press reports, was not allowed to speak at his trial.

The hearing, sentence and firing squad all took place on the same day, 27 July 1916. When his funeral was held in Harwich, schoolchildren were given the day off and the streets were lined with people. Among the lasting tributes, the local hospital was named after him.

The public reaction to Charles Fryatt's death echoed that of Nurse Edith  Cavell eight months earlier. In both cases, the Germans had intended to show defiance would not be tolerated. In both cases they acted in accordance with their military code and international law. Stephen Badsey, Professor of Conflict Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, explained: "Both were guilty of breaching military law and once the Germany military had determined they had a right to execute them they were going to go ahead and do it, without thinking through the wider impact.

In both cases they failed to consider the propaganda battle. The outcry in both cases was that Germany had "violated civilisation." Newspapers across the world raged at the actions of the German army. Headlines were fat with words like "murder" and "atrocity".

In a letter to Mr Fryatt's widow, King George V called his death an "outrage". Every means of communication — songs, postcards, posters, films, and even stamps — were used to convey such examples of "the Hun" at work.

Both Fryatt and Cavell were initially buried close to where they were shot, but shortly after the war their bodies were exhumed and brought back to England. The same train carriage was used in both cases. Capt Fryatt's funeral was held at St. Paul's cathedral, but his body was also taken home and buried at All Saints' Church, Upper Dovercourt, Essex.

He was celebrated in two main memorials, but as well as the hospital, a road and a pub in Harwich also bear his name.

Adapted from a BBC Website article

Thursday, February 19, 2015

100 Years Ago: Allied Naval Operations at the Dardanelles Begin, 19 February 1915

The naval assault on the Dardanelles began 100 years ago today with bombardment by an assemblage of British and French battleships against the outer forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles.  Although it seemed modestly effective, it was merely the opening of a month-long exercise in wishful thinking that would end in utter failure. The idea of a naval-only assault succeeding in capturing territory and forcing a nation like Turkey out of the war was both strategically, and in a practical sense, absurd. At postwar hearings questions like, "How could a fleet capture a capital like Constantinople or a peninsula like Gallipoli?" shattered the underlying logic of the whole ships-without-land-forces approach. The operation, in addition, was mounted at tremendous disadvantages for the Allied fleet, which some admirals recognized at the time, but which the expedition's chief advocate, Winston Churchill, chose to ignore or minimize.  

HMS Cornwallis (left foreground) Firing on 19 February 1915

No matter how much armor battleships carry, for instance, forts can be, well, simply more fortified and able to withstand more hits. Advantage forts. Forts, meanwhile, are fully stable gun platforms and have every gunnery targeting solution within their range already in hand. Warships, however, are bouncing, rolling, and vibrating while underway, making targeting incredibly complicated and are sitting ducks while at anchor. Advantage forts. Then there were additional complications like mobile artillery batteries land-side that were almost impossible for the ships to locate, while the battleships were easily sited by the gun crews. Oh, and by the way, the straits were mined and had to be cleared of these before the battleships could get through to Constantinople. These additional points entailed further disadvantages for the battleships.

For a month,  there were more bombardments deeper into the straits that seemed to yield better results, especially when Marines were sent ashore to clear some of the key positions. (Of course, the defenders returned as soon as the Marines returned to their ships.)  During this period, though, it became clearer to the local commanders that they were in a quandary — one that they would never resolve — that they could not allow the battleships to get close enough to reduce the concentration of six forts at the Narrows until the mines had been cleared. Conversely, the minesweepers could not get near the minefields until the guns were silenced.

Fort Sedd el Bahr at the Mouth of the Straits

The losses, however, would exceed the admirals worst fears.  The naval-only approach to the Dardanelles Campaign would end with with the defeat of a full-fleet assault by all the assembled British and French battleships on 18 March 1915. During that disaster, considered by Turkish historians to be the decisive event in the year-long fighting in the area, three battleships were sunk, three knocked out of action, and several more received serious damage. That evening the admirals called for land forces to help capture the forts, so the mines could be cleared, to allow the ships to sail on to Constantinople. What followed was a land campaign as ill-considered and beyond the capacity of the invading forces as the naval operation, but that's a story to be told elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Samuel Gompers's Insight

American labor leader Samuel Gompers was a big booster for the war effort.  Shortly after the United States declared war, he made something of a rah-rah speech that contained this gem that I think proved true not only for the First World War, but the Second, as well.

This war is a people's war — labor's war. The final outcome will be determined in the factories, the mills, the shops, the mines, the farms, the industries, and the transportation agencies of the various countries. That group of countries which can most successfully organize its agencies of production and transportation, and which can furnish the most adequate and effective agencies with which to conduct the war, will win.

Gompers Visiting an American Trench on the Italian Front

Listen to the full speech at the Library of Congress Website:   (Audio File)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fire and Movement: The British Expeditionary Force and the Campaign of 1914
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

Fire and Movement: The British Expeditionary Force and the Campaign of 1914
by Peter Hart
Published by Oxford University Press, 2014

The history of 1914 is one of armies mobilizing and first experiencing the war that would consume them over the next four years. Each army has its story. Fire and Movement is the story of the British Army during those early days of World War I. While continental powers had their massive ground forces at the time, Britain defended its Empire by ruling the waves and maintaining a small professional army. This war was not to be the one the British anticipated and, in the time frame covered by this book, they sent only a small expeditionary force to fight alongside the much larger French Army.

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One cannot tell the story of 1914 without looking down the long road that led to war, and author Peter Hart begins his book with the lead-ups that prepared the belligerents for the war they would fight. British alliances were driven by an interest in preventing any one nation from achieving dominance of the Continent. The ascent of the German Empire, particularly its challenge to the Royal Navy, strained its relations with Britain and drove the United Kingdom to establish its primarily alliance with its traditional rival, France. 1914 found the British prepared for a war it expected to fight by destroying the German Fleet followed by blockade. But although the war took unexpected turns, Britain's recent war against the Boers had left it with an advantage over its allies and foes, namely a greater appreciation for the value of mobility and power —  that is, a war of fire and movement.

Hart's book follows the BEF through the battles of 1914, those that frustrated the Schlieffen Plan, deflected the knockout punch against France, and set up a stagnant war of trenches and slaughter that put the Germans on the road to eventual defeat. The names of the battles are known to the devoted Great War student: Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne, Aisne, the Race to the Sea, and, finally, Ypres, where mobility and hopes of a quick victory sank into the mud. The narrative concludes with the legend of that unique day when the warriors suspended hostilities to share their Christmas celebrations.

A synopsis of each battle is presented, but the particular contribution of this book to the Great War literature is its focus on the experiences of individual British soldiers. Readers are introduced to memoirs of dogfights, air bombing, the treachery of false surrenders, cold and filth, pain and death, philosophical acceptance, and occasional humor. Hart's style leavens his own narratives with long quotes from the participants themselves that help us see the battles through their eyes. To cite a few, looking toward the heavens, a Lt. Francis Le Breton reports what he saw:

This aeroplane then came back over us, and a British biplane came up from the other side of the Aisne, and the two aeroplanes had a duel. We could hear the shots fired. After a little manoeuvring the British machine suddenly tilted up sideways and started falling: it recovered partly, however, and flew back in a rather slanting attitude whence it came.

Many of us have seen sterile recreations of trenches in museums, but we get a much different perspective from the words of a solder of the 15th Brigade:

Oh that mud! We had heard lots about Flanders mud, but the reality transcends imagination, especially in winter. Greasy, slippery, holding clay, over your toes in most places and over your ankles in all the rest — where it is not over your knees — it is the most horrible 'going' I know anywhere. Whether you are moving across plough or grass fields or along lands, you are perpetually skating about and slipping up on the firmer bits and held fast by the ankles in the softer ones.

1914 Trench in Flanders

The trenches were not just filthy and sloppy. They caused pain and illness that could only be described by one who experienced them, such as Lt. Arthur Ackland, who wrote:

The bottom of the trenches became deep in icy mud. In this they stood, up to their knees, day and night, for we could not spare a man from the trenches, and soon we began to experience what we call now 'frost-bitten feet'. No one knows what it is but I think myself it comes from the continual pressure of the mud and lack of ventilation to the feet. Anyhow, it is a dreadful thing and the men suffered agonies from it.

As hard as it is to imagine, amidst the horror soldiers were still able to see irony and make attempts at humor. Capt. Arthur Martin-Leake observed:

We had roast pig for dinner today. The beast was reported officially to have died from shell wounds!! It is extraordinary how often edible creatures meet this end.

My favorite part of the story is the Christmas Truce, the Christmas in which civility temporarily suppressed the terrors of war. In the words of Rifleman Graham Williams:

Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently makeshift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air!...First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up 'O Come All Ye Faithful the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words 'Adeste Fideles'.

Fire and Movement gave me a greater understanding of the initial developments of the Great War and their significance. Many military history books paint the big picture, the sweep of armies, and the significance of campaigns. While this book does that to some extent, it mainly focuses closely on the experiences of the individual soldiers. I particularly recommend it for readers in search of their stories.

James M. Gallen

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rakı with Norman, My 2009 Interview of Historian Norman Stone

Historian Norman Stone

One of the rewards/punishments for being a magazine and website editor is that you get a lot of review copies of new titles from publishers. As I was in the last stages of preparation for my 2009 trip to Gallipoli, I received a copy of Norman Stone's concise new history titled World War One from Basic Books, his American publisher. I found it a terrific little work (not much in the military history field has so frequently surprised me or made me smile) and want to strongly recommend it to you. Reading some of the accompanying biographical information, I learned that the author was currently teaching at universities in Ankara and Istanbul. An email exchange with the publisher's marketing staff yielded his email address, and the professor and I were soon corresponding. It turned out that that academic year, he was at Bilkent University in Ankara, but he would be visiting Istanbul for a brief post-Ramadan holiday while I was passing through. We could meet for a drink and talk about his book. There were some complications, but on the evening of my first full day in Istanbul I found myself in a yellow cab heading for a rendezvous with one of the most acclaimed of all World War I authors at the bar of his elegant 19th-century hotel, the Grand London. (Its owner later bragged to me that it is used as a set in a lot of films made locally.)

Great Place to Meet a Noted Historian, No?

As we were getting acquainted, our discussions focused mostly on his new work and how pleased Norman and his publisher were about its reception. The manuscript was originally produced for a small publisher as part of a series, but that party got cold feet over the marketability of a WWI title. When mega-publisher Penguin Books heard about it, however, they jumped on it, guaranteeing a larger production run, international distribution, much more visibility on its release, and a much, much more lucrative deal for the author. Needless to say, after outstanding reviews and excellent initial sales, a large second run is being planned. We spent some more time covering the single major criticism of World War One that has surfaced: Norman's assertion that the July Crisis of 1914 was not a case study in mutually reinforcing diplomatic blunders as it's usually depicted, but a series of manipulations by a German government exploiting the Archduke's assassination to initiate a war they desired to fight before Russia got too strong for them. Norman told me that he's convinced Germany's intentions and strategy were fully revealed in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and that if they had won in the west something similar would have ensued there. After he explained this, I finally understood why he opened the work with the signing at Brest-Litovsk, which had puzzled me initially.

Norman then shared that he needed to get some food before his midnight departure for Ankara and invited me to join him for dinner. I had eaten already but was happy to tag along and accompanied him through some sort of time warp to a nearby alley that had a series of outdoor cafes strung out along its route. The crowd was international, the feel exotic. "This is as close as I'll ever get to the Casbah," I thought to myself. We worked our way to a crowded spot where he was recognized by a waiter and some of the other customers —  obviously, Norman is a regular there —  and suddenly another table and two chairs magically appeared. We sat. I was surprised to find myself lounging in the middle of a street, next to the owner of the Grand London, whom I had met earlier.

Be Very Careful With This!
Norman ordered dinner and drinks for himself and informed me that I needed to be introduced to the Turkish national drink, rakı. A bottle and two glasses quickly appeared.  Rakı is a distilled beverage made from grapes and other fruits. It has a licorice taste and —  I can now attest  — packs a wallop. This would dramatically shift our interaction from balanced discussion to basically a one-sided — albeit highly entertaining — monologue by Norman. Part of this was due to my residual jet lag, part to the impact of rakı on me. The most import factor, though, was rakı's influence on my drinking companion. I haven't mentioned it yet, but Norman is a Scotsman. In our initial chatting this was hardly a communications issue. As the rakı flowed, however, Norman's Scottish brogue became more and more pronounced, and a point was reached after an hour or so, where I could no longer understand a single word he was saying. He noticed this and quickly diagnosed my reduced responsiveness as my being exhausted from my 8,000-mile journey and very kindly packed me in a cab, paid the driver himself, and sent me safely back to my own hotel. I do remember a few things, though, and I would like to share them with the readers. (Don't forget the effects of rakı, however.)

Coverage of the break-up of the German and Austria-Hungarian empires is succinctly addressed a the spirit reminiscent of Winston Churchill's 1945 letter to President Roosevelt warning that "When the war of the giants is over the war of the pygmies will begin." Buttar describes the earlier war of the pygmies with detail on what happened to Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and finally Poland after the Great War. All these stories are better known to the world today with the demise of the Soviet bloc. For scholars on Eastern Europe this section of The Splintered Empires should be required reading.

We discovered that we have a mutual friend. When he was writing his master work, The Eastern Front, Norman visited the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Just as I would years later, he found it daunting to navigate between the library collection and the archives section. And just as I was, he was rescued by a gentle little lady named Agnes Peterson, Curator of the European Collection at the Hoover. Agnes was also the person who encouraged me to share my discoveries with fellow WWI enthusiasts, and, I guess, bears some responsibly for this Blog that you are now reading. Sadly, I had to tell Norman that our friend had died recently. Of course, we raised a toast to her memory.

Norman gave me much helpful advice about visiting the Gallipoli sites. He emphasized the importance of the failure of the naval campaign, and the fact that for any amphibious landing its easier for the land forces to get resupplied than the troops coming off the ships. I told him that I thought the greatest opportunity for success by the Allies, the Suvla Bay operation in August, was "blown" by incompetent generalship. He responded that the greatest limitation on the Allies at Helles, Anzac, or Suvla was in providing water for the advancing troops. At Suvla this factor weighed heavily on the British commander, Lt. General Stopford. The following days visiting the battlefields, I was always aware of how dry things looked and that there always seemed to be few sources of water around the Allied positions.

Some of Norman's  best tales were off the World War I topic. I heard that evening about his work as a speech writer for Margaret Thatcher and his preference for teaching Turkish students, who are receptive to learning new things, versus Oxford-Cambridge types, who come in preformed and un-receptive to new thinking, if I heard things right.

The Sort of Place We Ended Up and I Met Rakı

I wish I remembered more from that evening because I had a really great time with Professor Norman Stone. He autographed my copy of his book: "For Michael Hanlon, with many thanks for being so kind." Same to you, Norman. I'll remember our evening together every time I taste licorice for the rest of my life.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

Proof That Soldiers Think About Food a Whole Lot

And food, I believe, must always have been the greatest relaxation of fighting men. Raids may come and raids may go — but food goes on forever. One bad meal will eclipse the memory of twenty good ones and leave the world in dismal gloom, presided over by his Satanic Majesty, the cook, who degenerates into a mere "belly-robber" and becomes the unhappy recipient of a thousand other uncomplimentary titles. The mess sergeant too is accused of vice of every description, from midnight raids on the larder, to feeding the food for hungry, suffering soldiers to the pet goat of another company

But even good food has special names of its own. Food in general is "chow." Stew is "slum" or "slumgullion." Coffee is "Java." Salmon — and there is a lot of it — is "gold-fish" or "sea-turkey." Corned beef is "corned willy," and canned meat of almost any variety is "bully-beef," or "monkey meat." In barracks when the mess is ready, the cook simply makes the announcement, "Come and get it I" and there is never any doubt about what he means. 

I was standing outside one of the squad tents recently when the voice of the rifleman corporal came booming out through the canvas. 

"When I get back," it said, "when I get back, I'm goin' to the Waldorf-Astoria, and I'm goin' to order soup and celery and olives and all that stuff, and a steak about three inches thick, and vegetables and salad and a piece of juicy huckleberry pie; and then I'm goin' to order a can of salmon and set it on the table, and then I'm goin' to say, 'Sit there, you damn' goldfish, and watch me eat!' Win I eat? O, boyl" 

And thereupon, the mere thought of "real food" caused such a mighty chemical "kick" that noises of human throttling and flying mess kits filled the air, and I moved on out of range.

Lt. Harold Speakman, 332nd Infantry in Italy

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Are Today's Historians Studying About World War I?

I have been provided a copy of the tentative program for the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History. It will be hosted 9–12 April 2015 by the U.S. Air Force's Air University at Montgomery, Alabama.  The four-day conference has a long, long program, but I would estimate that about 20 percent of the presentations are related to the First World War.  

U.S. Marines Begin Arriving in France, 1917

If past trends are any indication, a number of these talks will be expanded into full books in the future.  I've listed the WWI talks below. There seems, to me, to be some trends discernible, but I'll let you make up your own minds without my comments. I think you will also find the names and affiliations of the speakers interesting as well. An alternative title for this article is "Who Is Doing Cutting-Edge Research on the Great War."  

"The Impact of Irregular Warfare upon the Great War: The American Experience"
Steven Masternak, United States Air Force

"The Problems of Air-to-Ground Communication/Cooperation in the AEF"
Lawrence Mitchell Burke, II, Carnegie Mellon University

"Assessing Chemical Weapons in the Aftermath of World War I"
Thomas Faith, U.S. Department of State

"Victory in Mourning: How Five Million French Veterans Returned from World War I"
Bruno Cabanes, Ohio State University

"Transformation Arrives: The National Defense Act and Mexican Border Service, 1916–17"
William Boehm, National Guard Bureau

"A Cold Start: Reexamining the U.S. Army’s Stumble into War in 1917"
Rory M. McGovern, U.S. Military Academy

"Intoxicating Memories: Representations of Drinking on the Western Front"
Adam Zientek, Stanford University

"Conchies and Yellowbellies: Conscription and Conscience in the United States during World War I"
Jeffrey Copeland, U.S. Air Force Academy

"The Sinking of the Lusitania, Wilson’s Response, and Paths Not Taken: Historical Revisionism and the Ghost of William Jennings Bryan"
Douglas Peifer, Air War College

"Auf See Ubesiegt: German Naval Representations in the Decades Following the First World War"
Keith W. Bird, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce

"Sites of Memory and Mourning in Print"
Andrew Keitt, University of Alabama at Birmingham

"Conflict and Commemoration: World War I and the American War of Movement"
Nimrod Frazer, Independent Scholar

"Victory: British Soldiers and the Meaning of the Armistice"
Alex Nordlund, University of Georgia

"Seeing the World Anew: World War I Memory’s Impact on Nazi Historical Interpretation"
Derrick Angermeier, University of Georgia

"Leipzig Did Not Fail: How the Memory of Atrocities in World War I Provided a Foundation for Human Rights"
Alison Vick, University of Tennessee

"War Winners: Allied Reframing of the Salonika Campaign in Postwar Memoirs"
Robert L. Nelson and Justin Fantauzzo, University of Windsor

Recent Commemorative Event on the Salonika Front

"'We Too Should Lay Down Our Lives for Our Brothers": The Material Culture of Memory in WWI Germany"
Brian Feltman, Georgia Southern University

"Brothers in Arms: Republican Paramilitary Groups in Germany and Austria, 1918–1934"
Erin Hochman, Southern Methodist University

"Memory and Masculinity: Contested Images of Manliness in German Soldiers’ Writing on the Great War"
Jason Crouthamel, Grand Valley State University

"Rise and Fall of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, 1900–1918"
Stanley D. M. Carpenter, Naval War College

"War and the Unravelling of the State in the Ottoman Empire, 1912–1919"
James M. Tallon, Lewis University

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

At Gallipoli: The Colonel and the Corporal

Turkish Cemetery at Gallipoli with Mustafa Kemal Sculpture

For someone who has read only English-language sources about the Gallipoli campaign there is some adjustment required when you arrive in the area. The Gallipoli peninsula is a Turkish national park. While the Allied sites, monuments, and cemeteries are impressive and properly cared for, the Turkish sites exceed them in quantity and size. 

Mustafa Kemal's Quarters During the Battle

Two heroes of the battle receive a lot of attention. The best known, of course, is Mustafa Kemal, founder of modern Turkey, who earned his reputation here. That being said, what we witnessed can only be called an effort at cult building.  There are countless monuments and images of him (like the inserts) across the Gallipoli peninsula and at Çanakkale with kiosks extolling all his contributions. The yellow house (right) is in the village of Bigali behind the Anzac front line. It was Mustafa Kemal's quarters during the Gallipoli campaign and must-see stop for visitors.

Corporal Seyit's Monument Near the Site of His Heroics

A second Turkish hero, however, is prominent both in Istanbul at the National Military Museum and on the peninsula. He is known as Corporal Seyit. He was an artilleryman at one of the emplacements near Kilid Bahr on the straits, 18 March 1915, the day of the major naval assault. The hoist on his artillery piece broke. Seyit carried three 275kg shells to the loading point on his back. The super-strong corporal seems to be the designated enlisted hero of the battle. Interestingly, he was a participant in the naval, rather than land, campaign.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Veiled Warriors: Allied Nurses of the First World War
Reviewed by Editor David F. Beer

Veiled Warriors: Allied Nurses of the First World War
by Christine E. Hallett
Published by Oxford University Press, 2014

If, like me, you're an avid follower of the TV series Downton Abbey, then you have probably admired the aristocratic Lady Sybil. During the Great War she devotes herself to the duties of a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) who, with minimal if any training, helps to take care of wounded soldiers on the grounds of her family's lavish estate. Also, if you've read Vera Brittain's classic Testament of Youth you may recall Brittain's own account of her good and bad experiences as a VAD during the war. Other literature has also portrayed the VAD as a hardworking, courageous, and long-suffering voluntary "nurse". Thus it's not surprising that such publicity has led us to neglect or ignore the fact that most of the professional and effective nursing of the troops was carried out by qualified, trained, and skilled nurses, not VADs.

A British Nurse Cares for Her Patients

Christine Hallett sets this record straight in her highly informative, thoroughly researched, and admirably organized book. Veiled Warriors above all brings home to us that behind the sometimes mythical or romantic image of the VAD lies the reality — in hospitals at home and in all the combatant countries, near or far from the front lines, in casualty clearing stations (CCSs), in tented or open aid stations, in mud, rain, and bombardment, there were to be found dedicated and trained professional nurses who had volunteered to help fight the war by taking care of wounded and dying men. This included volunteer American nurses, who, while their country remained neutral, were working for the armies of both sides of the conflict.

These professional nurses, dedicated and skilled, were nevertheless women of the early 20th century. Besides the war, they often had other battles to fight. This was a time of the suffragette movement and the struggle for women's rights to vote. British nurses, unlike their peers elsewhere in New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States, were still struggling for official professional recognition in the form of registration and certification. Moreover, male chauvinism in the medical profession, as elsewhere, could easily be found — often the outcome of prejudice or questionable logic:

. . .for many members of the military, the presence of any woman-trained or untrained-at the bedside of the wounded soldier was dangerous: the female military nurse put not only herself but her patient and, indeed, the whole army in danger, because she disturbed the masculine balance of warfare-confusing the thinking of the male combatant and softening his approach to his mission (p. 268).

Order Now
Yet political and social problems paled next to the actual duties the nurses had to perform and the conditions they often worked under. The changing nature of battles and campaigns frequently dictated where nurses must be and the kinds of medical challenges they might face, whether in Europe, East Africa, Mesopotamia, Serbia, Romania, or on hospital ships off Gallipoli. We are given explicit descriptions, often in the words of the nurses, of the horrors they faced — the dreadfully wounded, maimed, and disfigured men who were brought to them, frequently in overwhelming numbers. The author does not hesitate to provide graphic details of these challenges. Another war to be fought was the constant danger of infections:

Patients with anaerobic wound infections required frequent dressing changes to remove pus, apply antiseptics, and give the wound a chance to heal. Gas gangrene could often only be halted by amputating the infected limb. In some cases, nurses found themselves in the heartbreaking situation of dressing an amputation stump only to find it infected with gas gangrene. In some cases, patients returned to theatre several times, to have more and more of a limb removed as the deadly infection spread (p.82). On top of surgical nursing, these caretakers were required to feed, wash, toilet and comfort their patients, many of whom were in terrible pain or hardly able to breathe. Such labor-intensive work, as Hallett points out, couldn't have been achieved without the help of dedicated orderlies and volunteers such as VADs.

It's difficult to describe all the qualities of such an impressive book as Veiled Warriors. The author's prose is lucid and flowing, and although she uses numerous letters, diaries, and other written materials from the nurses themselves, she has the knack of providing direct quotes only where they are most telling. Her seven chapters are preceded by a useful introduction and summed up by a conclusion. Thirty illustrations — each actually a photograph — help bring her material even more alive, and copious endnotes accompany each chapter. A 21-page bibliography shows the extent of the author's impressive research and a detailed index guides us to specific topics or people within the text.

In reading this book I feel I got not only a fresh look at the history of the war but also a new and full insight into the role nurses played in it. Many of these women were no less heroic than the men they cared for. Their working conditions were often as frantic and challenging as those of the trenches. Some were stranded behind moving battle lines and had to trek hundreds of miles to get home. Many were killed while others were wounded either physically or psychologically, and it's no wonder that a home for damaged nurses was set up in England after the war. Eventually their profession gained the international recognition it deserved, but their sacrifices during the Great War are little remembered. We can be grateful that Christine Hallett's Veiled Warriors now exists to so effectively set the record straight.

David F. Beer

Monday, February 9, 2015

Prewar Colonization of Africa

While searching for some maps for an unrelated article, I stumbled across this interesting map showing the European colonization of Africa on the eve of the Great War. I had not realized before how comprehensive the effort was. Only Liberia and Abyssinia (Ethiopia) were unclaimed at the time.

Source:  History of the World War,  March and Beamish
This, of course, raises the issue for us in the 21st century: What in the world was this fascination that Africa held for Europeans? I only had time for a little research on this matter, but I did find this interesting discussion at the Saylor Foundation website.  (PDF article — Why Did Europe Colonize Africa?)