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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Dangerous Place
Reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

A Dangerous Place
by Jacqueline Winspear
Allison & Busby, 2015

A Dangerous Place is the eleventh novel in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie is a private investigator who served as a nurse at the front during World War One. Working with an ex-soldier, Billy Beale, she solves crimes related to the war. Unlike Winspear's previous novels, A Dangerous Place is set in 1937 and not the 1920s, and in Gibraltar rather than London. By 1937 Maisie has changed. She is a widow who has not only lost her husband and baby daughter but also her faith in herself as a detective — can she still solve crimes? Does she remember what she has been taught by her mentor, Dr Maurice Blanche? Can she return to England and pick up her life again as a single woman and as a private investigator?

As the story progresses it becomes increasingly clear that despite her fears, Maisie has in fact not lost her skill as a private investigator. As she solves the mystery of Sebastian Babayoff's death she recalls the valuable lessons she had learned as a detective in London in the 1920s. Describing herself as an advocate for the dead, she forces herself to remember everything she was taught by Maurice Blanche: "the dead have stories to tell — that even following the most dreadful passing, there is evidence to suggest what had happened to that person" (38). Maurice had also taught her that "duty [is] about doing all in our power to bring a sense of...a sense of rest and calm to those left behind" (38). Like all good detectives, Maisie knows that her primary task is to restore order so that all can move on, including herself.

Author Jacqueline Winspear
A Dangerous Place gives many valuable insights into Maisie's most important principles: "Knowledge is the light. Come out of the darkness one lamp at a time. Paint your picture of what came to pass question by question — and remember, some are never meant to be answered because the response closes the door to knowledge you most want and need" (45). As she reflects on the dreadful images of her husband's fatal accident and her unborn baby's death shortly afterward she recalls what Maurice once told her: "Watch the image, and let it go. Take note of it, know that it is there, and allow it to move away, across the landscape of your mind's eye.Allow yourself to see connections"(111). Maisie remembers these things both for herself and for her case as she buries herself in retracing Sebastian's last days and discovers the reason for his murder.

There is, however, one important principle that Maisie has forgotten and one which she has always followed in previous cases, namely to spend time with the victim. Maisie has not seen Sebastian's body, and, even more important, she has failed to investigate his past. It is not until halfway through the story that she realizes these omissions; characteristically, however, once realized, she sets about rectifying them with admirable determination and efficiency.

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By chapter 15, Maisie is clearly once more the brave, determined, and sensitive investigator of the previous novels. In this chapter she follows Sebastian's trail to Spain, a country now torn by war. It is here that she finds the answers to her questions and also acknowledges for the first time that she not only needs to rediscover herself as a detective but also to return to her former profession as a nurse and work through her pain both physically and emotionally. On a short visit to a small hospital in the mountains outside Madrid Maisie is given the opportunity to tend wounded soldiers. Her decision to return to the hospital at the end of the novel is an acknowledgement that she has finally learned to shoulder her grief. With her case solved and with her therapeutic work at the hospital complete the reader is in no doubt that she will be able to return to England and her family and pick up the threads of her former life.

Gibraltar is an excellent choice for the setting of A Dangerous Place. As the narrator explains, "perhaps someone who felt the depth of scars across her heart every day could be at home in a place with so many reminders of war, with war still so close, across the border" (87). In Gibraltar and Spain Maisie learns how "to slay the dragon of memory" (90). It is no coincidence that the name of the baby girl Maisie delivers in the Spanish hospital on her first visit is "Hope". Maisie is ready to move on. And indeed so are we as readers as we eagerly await the next episode in the adventures of private investigator Maisie Dobbs.

Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Wounded Ernest Hemingway's Letter Home

While he was recuperating from his wounds in Milan, Ernest Hemingway wrote this letter to his parents.

Ernest Hemingway Recuperating in Milan

18 October 1918

Dear Folks:

Your letter of September 24 with the pictures came today, and, family, I did admire to hear from you. And the pictures were awfully good. I guess everybody in Italy knows that I have a kid brother. If you only realized how much we appreciate pictures, pop, you would send 'em often. Of yourselves and the kids and the place and the bay—they are the greatest cheer producers of all, and everybody likes to see everybody else's pictures. 

You, dad, spoke about coming home. I wouldn't come home till the war was ended if I could make fifteen thousand a year in the States—nix. Here is the place. All of us Red Cross men here were ordered not to register. It would be foolish for us to come home because the Red Cross is a necessary organization and they would just have to get more men from the States to keep it going. Besides we never came over here until we were all disqualified for military service, you know. It would be criminal for me to come back to the States now. I was disqualified before I left the States because of my eye. I now have a bum leg and foot and there isn't any army in the world that would take me. But I can be of service over here and I will stay her just as long as I can hobble and there is a war to hobble to. And the ambulance is no slacker's job. We lost one man, killed, and one wounded in the last two weeks. And when you are holding down a front line canteen job, you know you have just the same chances as the other men in the trenches and so my conscience doesn't bother me about staying.

Three Views of Hemingway in Italy.  Right Image Is After Hospital Discharge

I would like to come home and see you all, of course. But I can't until after the war is finished. And that isn't going to be such an awful length of time. There is nothing for you to worry about, because it has been fairly conclusively proved that I can't be bumped off. And wounds don't matter. I wouldn't mind being wounded again so much because I know just what it is like. And you can only suffer so much, you know, and it does give you an awfully satisfactory feeling to be wounded. It's getting beaten up in a good cause. There are no heroes in this war. We all offer our bodies and only a few are chosen, but it shouldn't reflect any special credit on those that are chosen. They are just the lucky ones. I am very proud and happy that mine was chosen, but it shouldn't give me any extra credit. Think of all the thousands of other boys that offered. All the heroes are dead. And the real heroes are the parents. Dying is a very simple thing. I've looked at death and really I know. If I should have died it would have been very easy for me. Quite the easiest thing I ever did. But the people at home do not realize that. They suffer a thousand times more. When a mother brings a son into the world she must know that some day the son will die, and the mother of a man that has died for his country should be the proudest woman in the world, and the happiest. And how much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered. 

So, dear old family, don't ever worry about me! It isn't bad to be wounded: I know, because I've experienced it. And if I die, I'm lucky. 

Does all that sound like the crazy, wild kid you sent out to learn about the world a year ago? It is a great old world, though, and I've always had a good time and the odds are all in favor of coming back to the old place. But I thought I'd tell you how I felt about it. Now I'll write you a nice, cheery, bunky letter in about a week, so don't get low over this one. I love you all. 


Source: Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917–1961

Sunday, June 28, 2015

When Intellectuals Go to War

(I ran into this insightful article in the left-wing journal Jacobin, which I like to check up on periodically.)

By Corey Rubin

On the recommendation of my colleague Shang Ha, I’ve been reading Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. There I came across this letter from Arnold Schoenberg to Alma Mahler, dated 28 August 1914. Ross quotes  only a snippet, but here’s a lengthier excerpt:

Arnold Schoenberg

Meanwhile, you have certainly already heard of the glorious victory of the Germans against France, England, and Belgium. It is among the most wonderful things that have happened. But it does not surprise me: it is not any different from the war of the Greeks against the Persians. . . My friends know it, I have often said to them, I never had any use for all foreign music. It always seemed to me stale, empty, disgusting, cloying, false, and awkward. Without exception. Now I know who the French, English, Russians, Belgians, Americans, and Serbians are: barbarians! The music said that to me long ago . . . But now comes the reckoning. Now we shall send these mediocre purveyors of kitsch back into slavery.

Schoenberg was hardly the only artist to support his team during the First World War. But what strikes me in his stance here is something you often see when intellectuals go to war: their tendency to interpret the war in the most parochial terms imaginable, that is, as an expression of their own causes and concerns, no matter how alien those might be from the state waging the war.

Not only did Schoenberg see German war aims as the defense of German/Viennese culture (again, he was not alone in this), he also saw it more specifically, and improbably, as an extension of his own battle against retrograde tendencies in modern music. As if the Kaiser had read Harmonielehre and decided to march into Belgium on behalf of atonality. . .

A state goes to war for its reasons. It takes an especially potent form of imaginative power to assume that the academic question that happens to be on your mind at the moment is somehow shared by the men and women who are leading that state. . .

Read the full article here:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Recommended: A Little Guide to the American Field Service in Paris

If you are interested in learning about Paris during the Great War this is a terrific little guide from the American Field Service (AFS) and it's now available on line. It has a nice opening essay on the American presence in Paris back to the days of the revolution and then as series of over 40 well-done articles and firsthand accounts  and descriptions about sites to see in the city with wartime, AFS, or general U.S. connections. Here is the selection on the  Lycée Pasteur, which morphed into the American Ambulance Hospital of Paris,

Lycée Pasteur,
21 Boulevard d'Inkermann, Neuilly-sur-Seine

The Neuilly Lycée, whose opening under Principal Fleureau had been stated for 1 October 1914, was transformed from the outset of the 1914–1918 war into an auxiliary military hospital managed by Americans. Until America herself entered the war, the entire personnel of this hospital was comprised of volunteers. This was the case when, one June day in 1917, I was transported in rather poor condition to a ground floor classroom overlooking Rue Perronet. There were a dozen of us there, all badly wounded (since in principal at the American Ambulance, the only people there were those who truly needed to be!) The material organization was perfect, a meticulous cleanliness reigned supreme, with scrubbing commencing at seven in the morning. In each room (a classroom, in principle), there were two nurses and a male attendant – a luxury of personnel and means, to be sure, which were unknown in French military hospitals; so we were spoiled and all the much so as our medical condition required more care. After the hell of the front lines, this was paradise! (M. Lasserre Soixante-Quinzième Anniversaire du Lycée Pasteur, 1989.)

Under the wise leadership of Dr. Dubouchet, three other men, Mr. Laurence Benét, Dr. Edmond Gros, and Mr. A. Wellesley Kipling, have been powerful in promoting the phenomenal growth of the Ambulance Corps. Their titles are, respectively, Chairman of the Transportation Committee, Chief Ambulance Surgeon, and Captain of Ambulances. These gentlemen have worked together unselfishly and indefatigably, and the rapidity with which the manifold difficulties incidental to the construction and organization of automobile ambulance trains have been overcome is due to their untiring efforts. (Eric Fisher Wood. The Notebook of an Attaché, 1915.)

The Transportation Department originated with a small committee during the first week of August 1914, and was organized with a view of providing ambulances for the transportation of patients to and from the proposed Ambulance Hospital. By August 15th eight town and touring cars were available and in constant use, and were rendering most valuable service in connection with the work of installation and equipment. On this date the Manager of the Ford Automobile Company donated ten chassis for the duration of the war, and these were at once fitted with ambulance bodies, designed and, to a large extent constructed, by the volunteer members of the Department. These little cars were at once utilized for the transportation of equipment and supplies, and the personnel worked unremittingly in installing the wards and other departments of the hospital. It was in large measure due to the Transportation Department that the hospital was ready for patients eighteen days after the buildings of the Lycée Pasteur were requisitioned. (Report of Ambulance Committee of 1915. New York, 1915.)

In September 1914, when the line of battle surged close to Paris, a dozen automobiles given by Americans, hastily extemporized into ambulances, and driven by American volunteers, ran back and forth night and day between the western end of the Marne Valley and Paris. During the Autumn and Winter that followed many more cars were given and many more young Americans volunteered, and the battle front having retired from the vicinity of Paris, these sections of motor ambulances were detached from their headquarters at the hospitals at Neuilly and Juilly and became more or less independent units attached to the several French armies, serving the dressing-stations and army hospitals within the Army Zone.

At that time, however, these squads of ambulances, being generally in groups of only about five, were inadequate in size to stand independently and were, therefore, attached by the French Government to other existing services in the rear of the Army Zone. (AFS Fund. Interim Reports, 1917.)

On October 1st, at the request of the British Expeditionary Force, a small detachment of five ambulances was detached for service in the field, and on October 8th left Paris for its new duties. This was the first opportunity of realizing the long cherished plan of a Field Service, which as money and ambulances have become available has been increased and extended until on 31 August 1915, four complete sections, aggregating 91 ambulances and cars were operating in the zone of the armies in addition to 15 ambulances, and 28 other cars attached to the Ambulance Hospital. One hundred and fifty-two officers and men were on duty with the transportation department on the same date. (Report of Ambulance Committee of 1915. New York, 1915.)

View the entire guidebooks at:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Interesting Symbolism: The U.S. Services of Supply Monument at Tours

The World War I Tours American Monument is located in the city of Tours, France, 146 miles southwest of Paris. The monument commemorates the efforts of the 650,000 men who served during World War I in the Services of Supply (SOS) of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and whose work behind the battle lines made possible the achievements of the American armies in the field. The city of Tours was its headquarters during the war.

It is located just east of the southern end of Pont Wilson, which crosses the Loire River and consists of a handsome fountain of white stone with a gold gilded statue of an American Indian holding an eagle. Around the column are four reliefs depicting allegorical figures representing the four principal divisions of the SOS  organization—construction, distribution, procurement, administration—and in the lower part eight coats of arms of French cities where important installations of the SOS were located: Tours, Brest, Saint-Nazaire, Le Mans, Is-sur-Tille, Nevers, Neufchateau, and Bordeaux.

Most prominent are the figures atop the structure, but the beautifully executed eagle and Indian, upon reflection, raise some questions for me as to their relevance to what is being commemorated with this memorial. What exactly do they have to do with the mission and accomplishments of the SOS? The eagle, of course, has always been an all-purpose American symbol. What, however, does the human figure represent? Is he, the American people, sending American vitality to France? 

Certainly, American Indians were well represented in the AEF, fighting well wherever they appeared and contributing two of the great traditions of the war: the first code-talkers in U.S. military history,and "the Indian Sgt. York,"  Joseph Oklahombi of St. Etienne (another prospective Medal of Honor candidate IMHO).  I guess where I'm a little stuck, however, is the specific connection to the Services of Supply. The individual clearly does not represent a U.S. soldier (or stevedore or engineer).  Then again, the same question can be raised about the Indian-head emblems adopted by the Lafayette Escadrille, and the 2nd "Indian-head" Division of the AEF. Those figures are not contemporary aviators or infantryman. All I can gather is that the Tours figure is another embodiment of America, adding  a human dimension to the American symbolism of the eagle.

Scholar of the American Indians' service in the Great War, Diane Camurat, seems to think along the same lines.  While questioning the appropriateness of the sculpture, she suggests the eagle and Indian both incarnated wildness, freedom, and physical prowess, thus symbolizing the American participation in the war. Comments welcome.

Images and details from

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Cesare Battisti, Alpini Corps, Italian Army

From La Grande Guerra by Leo Benedetti

Cesare Battisti was born on 4 February 1875, in Trento, the seat of the Trentino province, then a part of Austria-Hungary. His parents were well-off shopkeepers in Trento. Although the Trentino had been part of Austria since the 1500s, it was Italian in language and culture. 

Five years before Battisti's birth, upon the capture of Rome from the Papacy, Italy became a unified nation with Rome as its capitol. The movement to unify Italy was called "Il Risorgimento" (The Resurgence"). But, the Trentino, Trieste, and Istria (the territory around Trieste) with mostly Italian people remained under Austrian rule. After 1870 a movement to liberate these unredeemed lands (Italia Irredente) began. Those members of this movement in Italy, or in the "occupied" lands, were called Irredentists. 

Cesare Battisti [Center] and Fabbio Filzi [Rt] Executed 12 July 1916
Aviator Damiano Chiesa [Lt] Met a Similar Fate Afterward

This was the milieu in which Cesare Battisti reached maturity. The Irredentist movement was the subject of much discussion and controversy. The Austrians, of course, were very much against the spreading of this ideology. The double empire was composed of many nationalities, and its leaders were fearful of ideas of separation taking hold, and they therefore suppressed Irredentism forcefully. 

In high school Cesare was interested in Italian history and culture, but in the Austrian-run schools the study of history ended with the Napoleonic era. Battisti began a search for information pertaining to Italian writers and poets and then began to copy parts of their works which were of interest to him. 

His interest in social conditions began at this time as well. He became a school leader and was quite popular. Some of his school friends were needy, and he helped them during hard times. He was able to do this because his family owned a grocery store. Some believe that his future interest in socialism was sparked by these experiences. 

When he was 18 he entered the University of Florence, where he graduated with honors, completing a thesis was on the geography of the Trentino. At the university he was also thoroughly introduced to socialism meeting some of the important Italian socialist thinkers and party leaders of the time. On completing his studies, he returned to Trento where he published a geographical review in which the economy, resources, and Italian cultural background of the Trentino were analyzed. 

In 1911 he was elected to the Diet (Parliament) in Vienna. His agenda was to get an Italian university established in Trieste. Until the turn of the century there was no university in Austria with an Italian curriculum. The University at Innsbruck was the only Austrian university that had a law course taught in Italian. Opponents to this program tried to split its supporters by suggesting that the university be established at Trento instead. Recognizing the ploy, and even though he was a Trentino deputy, he supported the Trieste site to keep the support for an Italian university intact. 

At the Diet, Battisti was sworn in by its youngest member and a fellow Italian, Alcide DeGasperi, who — after WWII — would become Italy's Prime Minister. But the two men didn't see eye to eye. De Gasperi, a member of the Catholic Party, and Battisti, a socialist and Irredentist, disagreed completely. De Gasperi's supporters disrupted socialist party meetings, and Battisti referred to De Gasperi sarcastically as "Von Gasperi." 

Battisti Near the Front

In 1909 Benito Mussolini was expelled from Switzerland and was then sent by the socialist party to Trento to be editor of the party newspaper L'Avvenire del Lavatore  (The Coming of the Worker). Even though he and Battisti were both socialists, Mussolini was then anti-militarist, a pacifist, and an internationalist, and as such rejected Battisti's Irredentist views. Mussolini was soon expelled from Austria and was sent to Italy to be editor of the party paper, Avanti. Mussolini subsequently completely switched sides and by 1914 had become an ardent nationalist and pro-war agitator. 

When hostilities began in August 1914, he left Austria for Italy where he became very active in promoting an Italian war against Austria. He wrote articles for Mussuolini's Avanti, criticizing those socialists espousing pacifism. He wrote to the king and spoke at pro-war demonstrations whenever he had the opportunity. 

Italy's pro-war movement involved several kinds of people with various goals. Some, like the Futurists, believed that a war would strengthen a nation, making the people tougher and more able to rise to greatness. There were others that saw war as a method to unify the people, to develop a patriotic sense in a nation that had existed for only about 45 years. Some, like Mussolini, saw war as an opportunity to gain personal power. Others, like author Gabriele D'Annunzio, wanted a chance for personal aggrandizement, adventure, and honors. The king and some politicians wanted Italy to achieve great power status, to protect and expand its interests in the Balkans, and to gain some colonies in Africa and Asia Minor. Battisti's main goal was to unify all Italians, including those living in Italian areas of the Austrian Empire. His was a patriotism based on an ethnic-centered nationalism that even overrode his socialist views and put him at odds with the anti-war, internationalist tenets of the socialist party.

Later, when Italy entered the war against Austria in May of 1915, Battisti enlisted in the Italian Alpine Corps. He put his extensive knowledge of the geographical area of the Trentino at the disposition of the Italian Army and eventually joined the Edelo battalion of the 5th Alpini Regiment. He received a medal for valor and became a 2nd Lt. After seeing action in several engagements, Battisti was put on the staff of the 1st Army information office and was invited to speak in Milan honoring the Alpini Corps. Administrative duty didn't suit him, and soon, after a massive Austrian attack in the Trentino (the 1916 Strafexpedition), he requested a transfer and received a posting to the Alpini Vicenza Battalion. During the Italian counterattack he was given command of the battalion's 2nd company. His unit was cut off and he was captured. With him was one of his subordinates, a 2nd Lt. Fabio Filzi from Istria, like Battisti, an Italian from Istria, another  Austrian-ruled region.  

The two men were identified as Austrian subjects and therefore traitors. There are accounts that a fellow Italian had betrayed them. The two were put on a horse drawn cart, chained and heavily guarded. In this fashion they were carted off on the long trip to Trento. On the way they were insulted, spat upon, and stoned by people and soldiers who were egged on by the authorities. When they arrived at the castle Buon Consiglio in Trento a group of officials took turns beating the two prisoners. 

The next day, 12 July 1916, at the summary court martial, the two were quickly found guilty of treason and condemned to a form of hanging similar to strangulation. Battisti protested that they had been in captured in uniform on the field of battle and therefore should be considered POWs. This defense was rejected out of hand. He requested a military execution by firing squad so as to not dishonor the Italian Army uniform, but the judge denied his request, and instead procured for him some shabby civilian clothes. Fabio Filzi was sentenced to the same fate. 

Battisti on the Way to His Court Martial

The prisoners were taken directly from the court to the gallows. Battisti was refused an opportunity even to write a last letter home. He turned down the last rites from a priest. At the first attempt to strangle him, the rope broke. According to tradition, when this kind of thing happened, the sentence would be commuted. Instead, in Battisti's case a new rope was sent for and the execution proceeded. Battisti shouted "Viva Trento Italia! Viva l'Italia!" After the execution, Battisti's and Filzi's bodies were thrown in the sewer of the castle with no casket or marker. 

The Austrians photographed the execution and post cards were produced from them. The authorities hoped that this would serve as an example and be a deterrent to other minority groups. Instead the effort backfired, making martyrs of Battisti and Filzi and showing the Austrians in a barbaric light. They quickly realized this, stopped the distribution of the cards, and tried to recall the ones already distributed. But it was too late. The photos became propaganda tools in the hands of the Italians to whip up anti-Austrian feelings even more in Italy. 

The Death of Battisti

Although condemned as a traitor in Austria, in Italy, even today some 80 years later, he is considered a patriot, hero, and martyr. In Trento there is a dramatic monument to him at the site of his grave. In towns and cities all over Italy there are streets and piazzas named after Cesare Battisti. 

Sources and Thanks: Historia, May–June, 1985 [no author cited]. Encyclopedia Italiana, 1932. Photos from Tony Langley, Rich Galli and the author. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Émilienne Moreau, Heroine of Loos and Later Pursued by the Nazis

Contributed by Tony Langley

At 17 years old during the battle of Loos in 1915 Émilienne Moreau was decorated by the British and French for having killed single-handedly several German soldiers who were killing wounded British soldiers. The Germans never really took a liking to civilians who killed their soldiers, even in defense of the helpless, which it arguably was. So when they came back in 1940, she was in real deep trouble, wanted for murder. She (and husband and other family members) joined the Resistance and stayed out of German hands during the war by moving all over the place. After WWII she went into politics and made it to deputy minister. Not bad for a mine worker's daughter in early 20th-century France.

Her story is one of those Great War fait-divers that would make a great movie. It's a wonder no French director has ever done one on her.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Kingdoms Fall — The Korniloff Affair
Reviewed by Dennis Linton

Kingdoms Fall — The Korniloff Affair
by Edward Parr
Create Space Publishing, 2014


New York Times headline of 9 November 1917

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The events of 1916–17 in Europe are the setting for this latest historical thriller by Edward Parr. This is the second installment in the author's "Kingdoms Fall" series and follows Kingdoms Fall — The Laxenburg Message (2013). This episodic book continues to tell the story of the major events of World War I through the perspective of two British officers working for the newly formed Secret Intelligence Service. We were introduced to our main protagonists, David Gresham, the lieutenant, already an undercover agent, and Captain James Wilkins, secretly the son of Lord Bartlett, in the first book of the series on the battlefields of Gallipoli where they formed a team. The first book saw the duo take on a series of increasingly difficult espionage missions that indirectly changed the path of the early years of the Great War.

The fast pace of the second installation weaves intricate events as they unfold across the continent with Gresham and Wilkins as witnesses or players. The book opens with them chasing a mysterious German spy trying to incite rebellion in Ireland to undermine the war aims of the British Empire. While this theme continues, our novice spies once again take on their military role in the Battle of the Somme. The book is at its best when it describes action on the battlefields where our heroes shine…most of the time. However, given the fast pace, the book quickly moves back to explaining the diplomatic dealings of building and shifting alliances. Thus the scenes quickly shift to Italy with a young Mussolini, to Salonika and the Greeks, and ultimately to Romania.

As the daring duo leave for Romania the pace magnificently slows down. Just like the first book, Edward Parr does a splendid job of telling the story of the lesser-known theaters in the war. For example, the book accurately (with a bit of creativity on the role of Gresham and Wilkins) describes Romania's entry and subsequent failures in the war. As the adventures continues to unfold, the author further develops the characters' personal side.

General L.G. Kornilov, 1916
A new character is introduced, a nurse who is caring for one of our heroes but develops as a love interest for the other. The nurse Emma is American, an aide-mémoire for those Americans who romantically volunteered to serve in the war's early years. Emma becomes both a challenge and asset to Wilkins and Gresham as they move to their biggest adventure yet: keeping Russia in the war as an ally while its very empire is collapsing at the beginning of the Russian Revolution. The tale touches on the complexities of a revolution where a young Stalin, Kerensky, and finally General Korniloff try to guide the fall of the empire and the future of Russia in their own visions. This collides with the mission of keeping Russia in the war, and ultimately each of our main characters has to choose his own dangerous path in the tumultuous events rapidly unfolding. Gresham, Wilkins, and even Emma shift between the roles of behind-the-scenes player, witness, and sometimes victim as the final scenes unfold. The storytelling is illustrative and action-packed. This book is highly recommended, and as a reader and historian I eagerly await the next in the "Kingdoms Fall" series.

Dennis Linton

Monday, June 22, 2015

What Was the Score for Q-ships vs. U-boats?

I keep discovering questions I never thought about asking about the war.  I stumbled across on a BBC webpage that had the answer to a question I should have raised long ago.  Just how did Q-boats match-up against their targets.

Q-19, HMS Privet

The Q-ships, recall, were an improvised response to the U-boat threat that had the potential of starving Britain out of the war. They were designed to mimic the look of merchantmen to attract submarine attacks.  U-boats, despite what you see in the movies, preferred surface attacks in the First World War.  When the submarine approached, the ships guns were unmasked and the crews opened fire.  The Q-ship's best hope, of course, was to get in the first shot before the U-boat's deck gun found its target or torpedoes were launched.  The Q-ship, alas, was something of a sitting duck by this time.

Now here's what the final scorecard looked liked according to the BBC:

  • Total Q-ships in service, 1914–1918:  193
  • U-boat vs. Q-ship duels:  70
  • U-boats destroyed:  15
  • Q-ships sunk:  44

A few interesting notes:

One Q-ship VC was awarded to Captain Harold Auten, whose ship was sunk in an engagement in Bigbury Bay.

Q-7, HMS Penhurst

The most successful Q-ship, the HMS Penshurst (photo above), is credited with sinking two U-boats. Details are available for one attack. On 14 January 1917 she was attacked by UB-37.  After the usual "abandon ship" tactics, the Penhurst awaited developments.  The enemy closed within 700 yards and began firing.  Though hit, the Penhurst replied effectively with the first shell from her 12-pounder striking the base of UB-37's conning tower.  Other shells found their mark and the submarine sank.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

America's Liberty B Truck

As America's war effort ramped up in 1917, there was a collective realization that the fleet of vehicles needed to support a semi-mechanized army needed some standardization. The Liberty truck was the solution. It was designed by the Motor Transport section of the Quartermaster Corps in cooperation with the members of the Society of Automotive Engineers. A group of leading automotive engineers was summoned to Washington in 1917 to design standardized trucks for the AEF. It took took 50 men 69 days to design a 1-½ ton "A" model and the 3–5 ton "B" model. Production of the Liberty B began in the fall of 1917, and the first models were delivered to the secretary of war on 19 October. Of the almost 9,500 produced by 15 manufacturers, more than 7,500 were sent overseas. The Liberty's four-speed transmission coupled with its 52-hp engine gave the truck a top speed of about 15 miles per hour. 

Sources: Photo, Wiki  Commons; Data, American Military Vehicles of World War I by Albert Mroz

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Anglo-Indian Army Slang

British people who lived or served in India often assimilated Hindi and Urdu words into their daily conversations.  Gradually these were disseminated through the Indian Army and the colonial civilian population, and thanks to the First World War, throughout the British Army and the forces of the rest of the Empire.

The label for this color comes from an Urdu word for dust. The Indian Army championship pistol team above are wearing khaki colored uniforms, first adopted in the 19th century.

British officers referred to Germany's highly trained riflemen as "snipers." This word harks back to the Indian Army in the late 18th century when officers would go bird hunting in the hills and the tiny snipe was one of the hardest targets to hit.

"Have a dekko" or "take a dekko" uses the Hindi word dekho meaning "look."

Cushy was borrowed from the Urdu word kushī by the British in India and used to describe things associated with pleasure, happiness, or ease. British and Empire troops applied it to aspects of their lives in the forces, dubbing an easy job or a comfortable spot as "a cushy number."

Evolved from the Urdu word bilāyatī for foreign or European, "Blighty" came to mean England, Britain, or simply "home." Troops of the First World War used "a Blighty one" or "a Blighty" to refer to a wound which would not be fatal but would get a man sent home.

From the Commonwealth War Graves Website

Friday, June 19, 2015

Unique Perspectives on the Great War in the Air

In OVER THE TOP, the monthly full-color subscription magazine for, we have tried to provide in-depth and fresh looks based on new research on every aspect of the events of 1914–1918. In addition to annual subscriptions (which are available for $30/yr) we make groups of selected issues available to the readers of Roads to the Great War via electronic downloading. The package of four costs only $15, individual issues are $4.50. (Be sure to mention you saw this on Roads and include your email address with the order.)

Here are four full issues we have produced with the help of various noted scholars on aviation during the war:

  1. The Zeppelin War  by  historian Ray Rimmel
  2. Dominators of the Air: The SE-5a and the Fokker D-VII  by aviation researcher Javier Arango
  3. Teenage Ace Werner Voss and the Greatest Dogfight of WWI  by Voss biographer Thomas Crean
  4. The Life of an Ace, Victory Claims, and Aviation Novels by Robert Walsh, Petter Fedders, and the Editors

Don't forget to include your email address!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gustaf Hellström, Swedish Foreign Correspondent for Dagens Nyheter (The Daily News), Paris 1911-1917

Contributed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

Gustaf Hellström was born in Kristianstad, southern Sweden, in 1882 and died in 1953. He was a novelist, journalist, and member of the Swedish Academy. While he is best known for his novel Lacemaker Lekholm Has an Idea (1927; translated into English), he was also a reporter in France between 1911 and 1917 and in America from 1918 to 1923, where he followed the peace process (this resulted in two books, in Swedish). In both France and America Hellström worked for the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter (The Daily News). His support of the Allies was unique among Swedish journalists, and Dagens Nyheter was the only Swedish daily newspaper to support the Entente Powers.

Portrait of Hellström in His Prime
The war continued to dominate Hellström’s thinking and writing long after it was over. While his newspaper reports provide detailed observations in Paris and at the front, they do not discuss war as a phenomenon. For Hellström’s views on the war in general we must turn to his Kulturfaktorn. Franska Stämningar under Världskriget (The Culture Factor. France During the War, 1916) and his novel Den Gången (That Time, 1944).  In The Culture Factor, an attack on Carl von Bernhardi’s doctrine that “war is not merely a necessary element in the life of nations, but an indispensable factor of culture, in which a true civilized nation finds the highest expression of strength and vitality” (Germany and the Next War, 6), Hellström states that “nothing is too big, no river of blood too wide or too deep, when it comes to drowning the culture factor. There is no other means than the sword to destroy those who take to the sword themselves” (173).

In the novel That Time, Stellan Petreus, a journalist and Hellström’s alter ego, comes to the conclusion that nothing, not even the love of a mother, can match the sacrifice that soldiers have made in war: “millions and millions have sacrificed their lives, security and freedom” (240) for their nation and their culture. In return, they have become ground in the machine of war: “a massive mill grinding the most valuable grains to a mixture of death, suffering and destruction” (355). This is a process, Petreus reflects, that far from realizing actually destroys the very aims war purports to defend. Hellström’s view of war permeates his novels and reports though it is never actually stated.

Hellström started writing his reports in Senlis, 50 kilometers north of Paris, where he studied the rapidly growing anti-German feeling in France. Anti-Prussian himself but not anti-German, Hellström was initially surprised by the strength of the French animosity. His reports demonstrate, however, that he was soon to forget the distinction between Prussian and German, with the result that he invariably presented the Prussians/Germans as barbaric and cruel. The French, on the other hand, are depicted as patriotic and organized; and contrary to the idea prevailing in Sweden at the time, they were not degenerate but strongly patriotic, ready to fight for their country.

On the outbreak of war Hellström moved to Paris; as a foreigner he was no longer welcome in Senlis and he needed ready access to information from the front. In the first months of the war he met soldiers on leave, interviewed them at railway stations, and visited hospital trains. Hellström showed that France was ready for the Germans and recorded with great pride the grand parade of volunteers at Place des Invalides in September 1914.

French Troops During the Battle of the Marne

His early reports provided new and detailed information about the first few months of the war, showing, for example, that the Germans suffered a major and humiliating defeat at the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September) – a fact that had not been made clear in other Swedish newspapers. His report “The Living Dead: A Picture of War," based on the battle, features discussions with a non-commissioned officer from a North African infantry regiment and with a captain. Hellström took a back seat, allowing the two to discuss their experiences freely. The non-commissioned officer explained with pride but also sorrow how he was awarded a medal for bravery and how, of the 1200 men of his battalion who marched into battle, only 48 survived; of these, 20 were to die shortly afterward. When the captain left, Hellström asked the non-commissioned officer, “What was the worst part of the Battle?” (78) The answer “the bayonets . . . the swearing . . . the screaming” (78), summed up the situation in a few but well chosen words. When the non-commissioned officer explained that he had contracted tetanus, Hellström ordered him to “tell the story” (78), recognizing its considerable news value. The worst aspect was not the paralysis, explained the soldier, but the smell exuding from his wounded arm – that and hearing a doctor say that nothing could be done for him. Hellström allowed the story to unfold because he knew that it would become an important part of his article.

In May 1915 Hellström was invited to take part in an official and also, at the time, unique visit to the front specially designed for reporters. He seized the chance to get “as close to the Germans as possible, to No Man’s Land, where the ravens fight over unburied dead bodies . . .” He stressed the unexpected nature of the visit, which he realized would be one of the greatest events of his life. In Amiens he was only 12 miles from the German lines. He did not, however, focus on the sounds of battle and the presence of airplanes but on the inhabitants of the town: “they are waiting, unified, display a mixture of patriotism, gravity and wisdom . . . absolute wisdom”. He was excited at the prospect of visiting army headquarters and surprised to find that they were not housed in a castle or a park but a bleak factory, whose chimneys poured out black smoke and whose machines thundered constantly in the background.

Hellström’s first sight of a battlefield was a shock: the beautiful meadow spread out before him hid, he soon discovered, between 100,000 and 200,000 soldiers crouched in trenches. The shocks continued: the sound of exploding guns was interspersed by birdsong; wild flowers were growing in abundance; and officers’ dugouts contained all kinds of home comforts. Hellström was also to see another side of life at the front, however: ruins, corpses, and the stench of decomposition. His walk through a tunnel reinforced the horror of war as he reflected on what would happen if the German and French tunnelers should meet: there would be “one big grave” filled with bodies ripped apart, screams and curses fit only for an “earthly hell."

Hellström’s reports from Paris and the front gave Swedish readers a new view of the war, one that was not entirely welcome due to the pro-German feeling in the country and one that contradicted much of what was being written in Swedish newspapers in general. Hellström was anxious to preserve his memories of his years in the picturesque village of Senlis, in war-torn Paris and his few days at the front, reproducing them almost word for word in his earlier mentioned prose, in Kulturfaktorn. Franska Stämningar under Världskriget (The Culture Factor. France during the War, 1916) and his novel Den Gången (That Time, 1944). The Gustaf Hellström Association continues to honor the memory of Hellström as a reporter and last year published  1½ Mil Härifrån Står Världens Största Slag: Gustaf Hellström Som Korrespondent i Första Världskrigets Frankrike (9 Miles from Here the World’s Greatest Battle Is Taking Place: Gustaf Hellström as Correspondent in France During World War One), which contains Hellström’s reports on the first two years of the war. 

Editor's Postscript
Our contributor, Jane Mattisson Ekstam, will be giving a lecture on Hellström as war reporter at the Swedish national book fair in Gothenburg in September this year.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ten Quotes About the Battle of the Somme

With the 99th anniversary of the famous battle coming in two weeks on 1 July, I've dug through the files and found some of the more memorable things said of the event. I found it hard, though, to find anything matching Kipling's poignant, "A Garden called Gethsemane, in Picardy it was. . . 

The River Somme

1. Before the world grew mad, the Somme was a placid stream of Picardy, flowing gently through a broad and winding valley northwards to the English Channel. It watered a country of simple beauty. . . Then came the pestilence.
A.D. Gristwood

2.  Every Englishman has a picture of the Somme in his mind, and I will not try to enlarge it.
A.P. Herbert

3.  The literature of 1 July 1916 is endless. Salutary at first, a proper corrective to the streams of propaganda claptrap about "laughing heroes" and "the Great Adventure" which had previously gushed forth, after a time it developed into a most mischievous mythology.
John Terraine 

Depiction of the 1 July 1916 Attack

4.  Devonshires Held This Trench, the Devonshires Hold It Still
Marker, Devonshire Cemetery

5.  South of the Ancre was a broad-backed high ground, and on that ground a black vapour of smoke and naked tree trunks or charcoal, an apparition which I found was called Thiepval Wood. The Somme indeed!
Edmund Blunden

6.  During my whole life I have not found a happier hunting ground than in the course of the Somme Battle. In the morning, as soon as I had got up, the first Englishmen arrived, and the last did not disappear until long after sunset.  Boelcke once said that this was the El Dorado of the flying men.
Manfred von Richthofen

7.  It seemed all over, hardly 20 minutes from the start. It was a strong point and still was, even with reinforcements it would be hopeless, with those sodding machine guns still in action. Behind we could see where we started from, in front, the Jerry lines on slightly rising ground. We could see the shape of the Quadrilateral, like a squashed diamond, behind the bank. Judging by the damned chatter when we were going over, a hidden machine gun at every point. Quiet enough now, they had already done all the damage, not giving their position away now, leaving the Jerries in the line to do the odd firing.
Harry Leedham

8.  Idealism perished on the Somme.
A.J. P. Taylor

9.  The tragedy of the Somme battle was that the best soldiers, the stoutest-hearted men were lost; their numbers were replaceable, their spiritual worth never could be.
Unidentified German Soldier

10.  It's the end of the 1916 winter and the conditions are almost unbelievable. We live in a world of Somme mud. We sleep in it, work in it, fight in it, wade in it and many of us die in it. We see it, feel it, eat it and curse it, but we can't escape it, not even by dying.
Edward Lynch

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Doughboys on the Great War; How American Soldiers Viewed Their Military Experience
Reviewed by Clark Shilling

Doughboys on the Great War; How American Soldiers Viewed Their Military Experience
by Edward A. Gutiérrez
University of Kansas Press, 2014

Training Stateside to Go "Over There"

It is always noteworthy when a historian uncovers an unused primary source that sheds light on past events or attitudes. The author of this book, Dr. Edward A. Gutiérrez, made such a discovery in 2000 while working as an assistant in the Connecticut State Archives. He found virtually unopened boxes containing thousands of questionnaires completed by Connecticut service personnel upon their discharge after World War I.

These questionnaires, called Military Service Records (MSRs), consisted of four pages of questions. Dr. Gutiérrez followed up this discovery with research that found that after the war, states were encouraged to collect war records related to American servicemen and women during the war. Half the states finally established commissions to do this and sent questionnaires to service personnel. The vast majority of these consisted of a simple card with a few general questions about a person's war service. But in the case of four states—Connecticut, Virginia, Minnesota, and Utah—detailed multipage questionnaires were developed. Connecticut's and Virginia's questionnaires were almost identical and the most detailed. In addition to asking about service events, these two states included five questions that required the servicemen to respond with their attitudes and opinions about how their war service affected them. These five questions, taken from the MSRs of Connecticut and Virginia were as follows:

1. What was your attitude toward military service in general and toward your call in particular?
2. What were the effects of camp experiences in the United States upon yourself—mental and physical?
3. What were the effects upon yourself of your overseas experience, either in the army or navy or in camp in France or in England?
4. If you took part in the fighting, what impressions were made upon you by this experience?
5. What has been the effect of all these experiences as contrasted with your state of mind before the war?

Minnesota's and Utah's MSRs did not include these questions; however, Utah did include a section calling for remarks.

Dr. Gutiérrez's research indicates that except for the work of an occasional genealogist, these records, prior to the publication of Doughboys on the Great War, have never been used in any historical research. Service personnel from Connecticut and Virginia returned almost 28,000 MSRs, and of those, almost 1200 were fully completed, including answers to the five questions listed above. These serve as the basis for the research behind Doughboys on the Great War, and the author spent some 14 years going through these questionnaires and writing this book. Dr. Gutiérrez has supplemented the data in the MSRs with memoirs and diaries published by other World War I veterans, such as Alvin York.

First Division Ready to Move Up

The author argues that these MSRs provide a unique look at the attitudes of returning World War I service personnel for several reasons. First is their quantity—Doughboys from the four states of Connecticut, Virginia, Utah, and Minnesota returned roughly 110,000 of the questionnaires in various stages of completion, dwarfing the scale of any other source of doughboy reminisces. Second, they provide a diverse sample, including "old stock" Americans, recent immigrants, first-generation Americans, and African-Americans. Third, and to the author perhaps the most important unique quality, is their timing. Questionnaires were completed between 1919 and 1923. The respondents were still young, with fresh memories, perceptions, and emotions. As World War I receded into history, the contribution of that generation of Americans was largely forgotten. By the middle of the 1930s, many Americans felt that U.S. participation in the war had been a big mistake. It was not until the 1960s and the 50th anniversary of the war that attention refocused on the World War I generation. Efforts were made to interview remaining personnel starting in 1975 by the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). By this time, veterans ranged in age from their late 70s to early 90s. Dr. Gutiérrez quite reasonably argues that by this time memories had faded, emotions had been tempered ,and perceptions had changed. The author contends that the true voice of World War I Doughboys is to be found in the MSRs instead of reflections corroded by the passage of decades.

Using the MSRs, Dr. Gutiérrez examines various aspects of a Doughboy's World War I experience: what motivated them to serve, how training affected them, how the experience of combat impacted them, and what they looked forward to after returning home.

Over and over again and again, one common attitude infuses almost every page. The World War I generation was driven by a simple and innocent sense of patriotism and duty. For those who were "old stock" Americans, in their youth they were greatly influenced by veterans of the Civil War who filled them with stories of romance and heroism from that war. They were also influenced by books such as Stephen Crane's, The Red Badge of Courage, first published in 1894. The easy victory of the Spanish-American War and the speeches and writings of that war's most famous hero and the most influential pre-war American, Theodore Roosevelt, combined to convince them that service in war was a way to demonstrate their manliness, their sense of duty, and their patriotism. They were in effect what historian Richard Slotkin, in his excellent book Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationalism, called them—"sons of Theodore Roosevelt."

Marines After Action

A key feature of American servicemen in World War I was their diversity of origin, religion, and occupation. Dr. Gutiérrez quotes sources showing that almost 500,000 Doughboys in the A.E.F. were foreign born. [Editor's note: This figure seems somewhat high. It would equate to about 25% of the 2,000,000 men who served overseas. Most sources report figures in the range of 18 to 20 percent, which is still a remarkable statistic.] Many more were first generation Americans. Many of these future Americans or newly minted Americans saw service in the war as a way to prove that they were worthy of becoming Americans. Dr. Gutiérrez found this was especially true of Italian and Jewish Americans, two groups that were viewed negatively by a large number of their fellow countrymen. Many wrote that they wanted to pay America back for the opportunity and freedom they had found in their new home. African-Americans hoped their service would lead to the recognition of their rights and more equal treatment at home after the war.

Order Now

As it turned out, the war proved not to be the romantic adventure they had expected. Many used the familiar quote from General Sherman about war being hell, but most valued the comradeships developed during the war, felt the war experience made them a better person, and many said they would answer their country's call to serve if needed again.

The only section of the book that gave me pause was the section on shell shock and its modern namesake, PTSD. In this part the author seems to be editorializing on modern attitudes toward the effects of combat. I don't necessarily disagree with his comments, but I'm not sure of his qualifications to make these statements, and I question what they have to do with a book on World War I servicemen. Other than that, I found this book to be an entertaining and interesting read, opening a long closed window on the attitudes of World War I American serviceman. Hopefully, these MSRs will prove be a valuable source to future scholars of the American experience in World War I.

Clark Shilling

Monday, June 15, 2015

Robert Service's Bio-Warfare WWI Sci-Fi Novel

After he had parted ways with Dan McGrew, the Lady known as Lou, and Clancy of the Mounted, Robert Service, the poet laureate of the Yukon, found his way to the Western Front as an ambulance driver.  His Rhymes of a Red Crossman has some interesting war pieces, and his postwar Parisian writings include the classic "The Absinthe Drinkers".  He stayed in France, married a French lady, and wrote mediocre novels, including one about werewolves.  He never quite gave up on the war, however.

Of his several novels, The Master of the Microbe: A Fantastic Romance (1926) is science fiction, featuring a deadly "Purple Pest" virus developed by a German mad scientist who wishes to wreak vengeance on Europe for the German defeat in World War One by infecting the continent with plague; but it is stolen from him by an antihero master-criminal. The further action involves proto-superhero behavior on the part of characters whose costumes disguise their true identity. Europe is saved in the end. One reviewer described the work as a "gripping but unlikeable thriller."