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

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: California and the Great War in 1916

I have been supplying some information to the lead state agency in California, the Department of Veterans Affairs, for proposing a Centennial World War I Commission for our state.  To respond to possible questions along these lines, "How was California involved before the April 1917 Declaration of War?" I sent the following email. I believe some similar statement could be made for every state in the Union.  I invite our readers to submit similar entries for your states or hometowns.

Captain Nelson Holderman, on the Left, Served with the California National Guard 
on the Mexican Border in 1916 and  Later Would Receive the Medal of Honor 
for Service with the Lost Battalion in the Argonne Forest

1.  In 1916 California mobilized 135,000 National Guardsmen for service on the Mexican border. Frankly, most of the troops and most Americans didn't quite understand the Wilson Administration's policy with respect to Mexico. However, this whole brouhaha is considered part of the American run-up to involvement in the Great War, connected to the preparedness of the army, General Pershing, and the Zimmerman Telegram of early 1917, which tried to entice Mexico into joining the war against America.

More on this at:

Aftermath of the Preparedness Day Bombing

2.  The Preparedness Day bombing in San Francisco on 22 July 1916 that killed about ten people and injured many more was a BIG DEAL at the time, and it links the terrorism of the times to the world of today.

More on this at:

Holt Tractor Model 120, Note the Tracks, Later Adapted for Tanks

3.  The Holt Tractor Company of Stockton, California, was intimately involved in the development of the tank, which debuted in combat on 15 September 1916 in the Battle of the Somme.

More on this at:


  1. Fingers crossed the Governor endorses the idea today.

  2. The San Francisco Bay Area was THE center of activity just before and during the war. Much more needs to be done to commemorate WW1 in and around SF.

  3. There was a preparedness camp in Monterey in I believe 1916, funded by the same SF bigwigs who brought Camp Fremont to the Bay Area. William Bowers Bourn, one of those SF bigwigs, bankrolled the Friends of France, which subsidized some of the civilian ambulance drivers that the Bay Area sent. Labor history also needs to weigh in because the Building Trades Council, powerful enough to elect a mayor, was opposed to intervention. The war was controversial in SF as the Preparedness Day Bombing would indicate. (My Camp Fremont book has more on this). But historian Curt Gentry argued that the bombing was not sedition, but rather a failed ship sabotage by German or German-led spies. -- Barbara Wilcox

    1. Hi Barbara - I thought you would like to know that we will be publishing a review of your excellent book next tuesday. Mike