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

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Oklahoma and the First World War

World War I troop train leaving Hugo, OK, for Camp Travis, TX, March 1918 
(21531, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection, OHS)

By Jim Bissett
Oklahoma Historical Society

When World War I broke out in Europe in August 1914, most Americans responded in a deeply ambivalent way. Their initial response was that the United States must, at all costs, remain uninvolved in the conflict. As the presidential election of 1916 attests (when "he kept us out of war" became the centerpiece of Pres. Woodrow Wilson's successful reelection bid), most national leaders responded to this prevailing sentiment. Once the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, however, public opinion on the conflict underwent a complete reversal, and Americans embraced the war effort with a ferocity that bordered on hysteria. Oklahomans' responses to the war between 1914 and 1918 were certainly consistent with this pattern. Indeed, it can be argued that the transformation from neutrality to "100 percent Americanism" was even more precipitous in the Sooner State than in the rest of the nation.

Oklahomans initially expressed a deep aversion to the war, an opinion compounded by the conflict's negative economic effect on the state. Germany's blockade of Allied ports effectively closed off valuable western European markets to American agricultural products, leading to a steep decline in crop prices. In Oklahoma, where agriculture was king, the results were disastrous. The month after the war began, the prices that Oklahoma's cotton farmers received for that commodity dropped more than 20 percent, from ten cents to eight cents per pound. Prices remained below the ten-cent mark for a full year, falling to six cents per pound in November 1914. Although the effect was not as direct for Oklahoma wheat farmers, prices for that crop remained below one dollar per bushel during 1914.

Elected officials in Oklahoma experienced firsthand their constituents' negative feelings about the war. U.S. Rep. William H. Murray, whose record as a political leader predated statehood, discovered in 1916 that his open support for war preparedness cost him his Fourth District congressional seat. Additional evidence of Oklahomans' lack of enthusiasm for the war came in 1917 when the U.S. Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which called for all men of draft age to formally register for conscription on a single day in June of that year. In June 1917 Oklahoma officials estimated the number of draft-age males in the state to be 215,000. Of that number, only 111,986 young men actually registered, and more than 80,000 of these claimed to be exempt from the draft. Thus, only 15 percent of the state's draft-age men indicated their willingness to fight in the European war. By war's end 59,247 white men and 19,999 African Americans had been inducted. Approximately 5,000 American Indians either enlisted or were inducted.

However, the economic crisis caused by the European war lessened Oklahomans' initial aversion to the conflict. As the United States moved closer to entering the war in late 1916 and early 1917, British and French markets were reopened, and American farmers became important suppliers to the Allies. The resulting increase in demand meant that for Oklahoma farmers the hard times of 1914 and 1915 were replaced by extraordinary prosperity. By December 1916 cotton farmers in the Sooner State were getting eighteen cents per pound for their crop (compared to just over six cents two years earlier), and prices would break the thirty-cent mark before the armistice in November 1918. The trend was identical for wheat farmers, who saw prices double between 1914 and 1918. When the United States formally declared war on Germany in April 1917, most Oklahomans were much more inclined to react favorably.

Sam Anderson, a Creek soldier, in France wearing
a German helmet (22646-4, Oklahoma Historical
Society Photograph Collection, OHS).
Some, however, still opposed American involvement. The most dramatic manifestation of antiwar sentiment came in Seminole and surrounding counties in August 1917 when rumblings of discontent with the war led to an uprising known as the Green Corn Rebellion. After seizing control of local institutions, the organizers of the uprising planned to travel to Washington, DC, hoping to attract enough supporters on the journey to force the federal government to change its war policy. These plans never materialized, however, and the Green Corn Rebellion was easily put down by local authorities before the rebels left the state.
The Green Corn Rebellion and its aftermath helped spark a backlash against opponents of the war in Oklahoma. During 1917 and 1918 those who disagreed with American war policy were perceived as "radical" and "un-American," and the period was marked by unprecedented hysteria and the suppression of dissent. In this sense, developments in Oklahoma mirrored those in other states where federal officials used the recently enacted Espionage and Sedition Acts to prosecute approximately eighteen hundred antiwar dissenters. In addition, the federal government created a network of semiofficial watchdog organizations called the Councils of Defense to ensure the support of the citizenry for the war. In Oklahoma the council was directed by James Monroe Aydelotte of Oklahoma City, who presided over a network of county and local organizations dedicated to promoting loyalty and support for the war effort. Among other things, the Councils of Defense promoted the sale of war bonds, distributed loyalty pledge cards, and even reported to authorities the names of citizens who were less-than-enthusiastic in their support for the war. Given the kind of super-patriotism engendered by the Councils of Defense, especially the tendency to equate dissent with disloyalty, it is hardly surprising that at times the actions taken by these "patriots" took a decidedly extralegal form. Those identified as disloyal were often subjected to rituals of public humiliation (as the man in Comanche County, who was forced to publicly explain his refusal to sign a loyalty card and then to kiss the American flag) or violent intimidation (as happened to Robert Carlton Scott, Carl Albert's grandfather, who was given two hundred lashes by a mob for his refusal to sign a loyalty card).

In the end, the effect of World War I on Oklahoma was mixed at best. The increase in crop prices proved short lived. Soon after the war ended, Oklahoma farmers began suffering the effects of an agricultural depression. It would last for more than a decade, a crisis that was tied to the conflict's imperfect peace. Even more significantly, the use of intimidation to artificially limit the scope of political discourse proved to be one of the more enduring legacies of American involvement in the European war. Under such conditions the political dialogue shrank considerably as those holding positions considered to be outside of the mainstream were prevented from articulating them.

Hobart's Armistice Day parade, 11 November 1919 (20869,
Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection, OHS).

The results of the super-patriotism of 1917 and 1918 and the hysteria it engendered can be seen most clearly in the elections of 1918 and 1920. Faced with such a stringent narrowing of the public discourse, many Oklahomans simply retreated from the democratic process. Voter turnout in 1918 shrank by more than 97,000, almost a third over 1916, and despite the fact that at least 100,000 voting-age males had come to Oklahoma since statehood, fewer males voted in 1920 than in 1907. In this sense, the events of 1917–19, known as the "First Red Scare," foreshadowed trends more commonly associated with the Cold War a generation later.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Cadillac Goes to War

1918 CADILLAC TYPE 57 - U.S. 1257X

Before the Jeep became the standardized and ubiquitous military vehicle, the United States military tried a little of everything. WWI saw an interesting mishmash of cars on the battlefield, but it was the Cadillac Type 57 that was predominantly favored by officers. This example, carrying the military designation U.S. 1257X, is the only known survivor and remains in remarkable un-restored condition. It was brought to France and placed in the service of the American Expeditionary Forces by a YMCA volunteer Rev. Dr. J. H. Denison and driven throughout France to set up leave areas. One of its many passengers was Eleanor Butler Alexander-Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter-in-law, who was charged with leading women serving the war effort with the YMCA.  The Cadillac U.S. 1257 is listed on the National Historic Vehicle Register.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Photo Credit and Tip of the Hat to Dave Gaddis
Source: National Historic Vehicle Register Website

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Remembering World War I in America
Reviewed by David F. Beer

Remembering World War I in America

by Kimberly J. Lamay Licursi
University of Nebraska Press, 2018

It's no secret to most of us that memory of the Great War is kept far more alive and vibrant in Britain than it is in the United States. Now, of course, with the excellent work of the Centennial Commission, the construction of the WWI Memorial in Washington, DC, and the numerous articles and books appearing on the war, one might hope that public awareness of the conflict will increase. But will Americans become more mindful of the war and its consequences? And if not, why?

These questions are what this highly researched book sets out to answer. As the author states in her Introduction,

America truly came of age during and after World War I, yet many Americans think of it as merely the numerical precursor to World War II. Their only consciousness of the earlier global conflict is a hazy vision of parades, Doughboys, and trenches…But Americans' common perceptions of the war end there…battles and a general understanding of why war was waged come fairly easily to mind for World War II and the Civil War, but not so for World War I (xiv).

The rest of this volume is a detailed analysis of why this is so. Why didn't America continue to commemorate the war by great national and local acts of remembrance? Why were there no national keepers of memory? The simple answer seems to be that the post-WWI generation, including those who had been to war, simply wanted to forget. Many weren't at all sure it had been worth it. Statement like this, however, need to be supported by solid evidence. Remembering World War I in America supplies this with an insightful introduction and conclusion which bookend four lengthy chapters on "State War Histories," "War Memoirs," "War Fiction," and "War Films."

Illinois Was One of Only Seven
States to Complete Official Histories After the War
You may not completely agree with the author's arguments, or if you do, you might find them a bit depressing. However, you'll have to agree that she has done her homework. Chapter I: State War Histories (subtitled "An Atom of Interest in an Ocean of Apathy") shows that although there was initially tremendous effort at the state level to create war histories, most such histories never materialized. Only seven states finally managed to publish one. For would-be publishers, gathering material was stymied by "indifference of men" and "indifference to the history of the war" (p. 3). Questionnaires were often not returned by men who had served, although one county partly solved this problem by having police deliver and collect the forms.

"War Memoirs" (Chapter 2) fared somewhat better, as many soldiers wrote their own personal narratives. (We have published more than one on this blog.) The author includes in this category published accounts such as Mildred Aldrich's Hilltop on the Marne, Alan Empey's Over the Top, John Thomason's Fix Bayonets! and General Pershing's My Experience in the World War, plus several titles now largely forgotten. Although Hervey Allen's Toward the Flame gained more popularity than most, these and many other titles "were and are still relatively obscure in the larger literary canon" (p. 89). As with other genres she covers, the author convincingly cites publication numbers, sales figures, and library holdings to support her argument.

One of the most popular writers in the 1920s and later was Zane Grey. Sinclair Lewis was also well known for his exposures of small-town America. However, Chapter 3 of this book, dealing with "War Stories," claims that

Readers showed interest in tales about the war, but they preferred stories that used war as a backdrop for passion, heroic exploits, and journeys of redemption. Reading a soldier's memoir might have seemed like a civic duty but reading war fiction was immersing oneself in a martial adventure (pp. 93–94).

Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Willa Cather's One of Ours became two of the bestselling books dealing with the war. There were many others, including Dos Passos's Three Soldiers, but most are long forgotten. Interestingly, pulp fiction proved much more attractive to the public. Magazines such as War Stories, Battle Stories, War Aces, and even Love and War Stories, plus many more (some surviving for only a few issues) were among at least 48 titles that were either solely or partially dedicated to war stories in the 1920s (p. 136). Yet, despite their numbers and popularity, the war pulps were ephemeral. They did little to establish long-term memory or commemorative remembrance of the war.

The Stars of The Big Parade
Highest Grossing Silent Film of All Time

In the book's final chapter, "War Films," the author points out that movie viewers were far more numerous than readers. "The market for Willa Cather's books was numbered in the thousands, but the market for popular war movies like The Big Parade was in the millions." (p. 147) In the 1920s the movie theater was by far the most popular entertainment venue, with millions of Americans attending weekly. Thus, the war movie had the best potential for forming a lasting collective memory of the war. Why this didn't happen was that the public was more interested in "Shootin' and Kissin'" films (p.147) than in war films, although The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Big Parade, and What Price Glory? did at the time prove popular.

This is a fascinating book packed with facts, statistics, dates, titles, lists, and a full bibliography and index. It's hard to find fault with Lamay Licursi's arguments, given the evidence she presents. Her book has helped me understand the difference between America and Britain regarding how "alive" the Great War is in each nation. If you are interested in this subject, I heartily recommend Remembering World War I in America.

David F. Beer

Monday, May 28, 2018

100 Years Ago: U.S. 1st Division Attacks Cantigny

This is the anniversary of America's first offensive operation of the First World War.  It involved the recapture of a tiny village in the western Somme sector named Cantigny. In April 2000, historian, novelist and a friend of ours, Thomas Fleming wrote this appreciation of the battle for American Heritage magazine.

Doughboys of the 1st Division at Cantigny with a French Schneider Tank

In May 1918 the 1st Division was rushed north of Paris to help the French and British contain the two great German offensives of that deadly spring. As these German drives ran out of steam, the Americans demanded a chance to demonstrate what they could do on the offensive. Finally they got a one-regiment show, aimed at capturing the ruined village of Cantigny, which sat on top of a ridge opposite the 1st Division’s lines. As the attack approached, McCormick came down with the Spanish flu and had to be half carried to a meeting with General Pershing, where the field-grade officers were exhorted to prove the prowess of the AEF—or else. McCormick reeled back to his dugout and commanded his batteries from a field telephone beside his cot.

The French gave the Americans 12 heavy Schneider tanks, a flame-throwing unit, and no fewer than 37 batteries of additional artillery. Unintentionally, the Germans were also cooperating. They were planning another offensive, this time against the French on the Chemin des Dames, some 40 miles south of Cantigny. They needed their crack 30th Division for this drive and withdrew it from the Cantigny lines, replacing it with the 82d Reserve Division, which was full of overage veterans, teenage recruits, and assorted other flotsam, including railway guards.

Aerial Photo of the Cantigny Battlefield

On 27 May the storm troopers struck on the Chemin des Dames with annihilating force. The French 6th army evaporated. The French artillerymen preparing to bombard Cantigny said they would stay for a day. Then they were heading south to try to stop the Germans before they reached the Champs-Élysées. The Americans decided to attack anyway.

At dawn on 28 May 1918, a torrent of steel came down on the somnolent companies of the 82nd Reserve Division. After an hour of fearful punishment, the Doughboys of the 28th Infantry Regiment went over the top and captured 255 men. American casualties were fewer than 100.

The next morning the French, eager for a gleam of success, trumpeted this tiny American victory in their newspapers, and the headlines echoed around the world. That same day, the French artillery and tanks departed, leaving the Americans dangerously under-gunned and without air support.

Now it was German artillery that came cascading down, and the Yanks were dug into open slopes. By the time the 28th was relieved, on 31 May, it had lost 45 officers and 1,022 enlisted men. The German 82nd had taken a worse beating, though, with 1,408 casualties on the very first day.

French Flamethrower Team with Doughboys in Cantigny's Ruins

For Pershing and his staff, the little clash had vast significance. “I am...going to jump down the throat of the next person who asks, 'Will the Americans really fight?’” Pershing said. Cantigny had not only banished the amalgamation hoodoo but also proved to McCormick and his fellow Americans that they could stand up to Europe’s veterans. No matter that the veterans were third-rate soldiers; that is history’s judgment. Cantigny’s importance to the Doughboys was a matter of memory, an equally important realm for those who seek to understand history.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

100 Years Ago: Operation BLÜCHER Is Launched

German Troops Crossing a Canal, 27 May 1918 (IWM Photo)

Despite the disappointing results of Operations MICHAEL and BLUCHER, Ludendorff never wavered from his insistence that the defeat of the British  Army was the primary aim of his offensives.  While the planning proceeded for the diversionary operations in the south,  planning proceeded for the death-stroke against the British.  The preliminary plans for HAGEN  (another attack in  Flanders) and WILHELM (effectively  a renewal of MICHAEL were complete by May 17th Three days later Ludendorff made the final decision that HAGEN would be the main attack. 

Open preparations for the WILHELM attack would continue as a deception operation. But OHL also informed Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht that any attack in the northern sector could not be launched before late June. In the meantime, Army Group German Crown Prince, commanded by the Kaiser's son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, would conduct Operation BLÜCHER in the French sector. That attack would proceed from the Chemin des Dames ridge line south to the Vesle River, with the intent of making the Allies think Paris was under threat and forcing them to redeploy their reserves from the north.

British Artillery Retreating, 27 May 1918

Launched on 27 May 1918, the BLÜCHER attack once again achieved initial overwhelming success. In fact, it was too successful. Rather that halting the offensive at the line of the Vesle, as the plan called for, Ludendorff was seduced by what appeared to be the opportunity for a quick and easy victory. He first continued the attack to the line of the Ourcq River, and then beyond. By the time the BLÜCHER offensive finally reached culmination, the lead units of the German Seventh Army were on the Marne River. In the process, however, OHL withdrew five of the carefully husbanded divisions for the HAGEN attack and committed those units to the BLÜCHER fight.

Opening and Final Positions for Operation BLÜCHER

Operation BLÜCHER resulted in more territorial gains than even Operation MICHAEL had, but once again tactical success created major operational problems for the German Army. The Seventh Army now held a huge salient with exposed and vulnerable flanks, and its front line trace had expanded from 60 kilometers to 100 kilometers. Even worse, the Germans had no good rail lines into the new salient, making it extremely difficult to supply the forces there. And finally, General Foch had not been deceived by the attack. The majority of the French reserves north of the Somme remained in position. For those reasons, the Germans had no other options than to continue attacking in the south, to improve their logistical position and to attempt to draw away some of the French reserves.

Source: "A Battle Never Fought -- Operation HAGEN, August 1918," MajGen David Zabecki, PhD, Relevance, Winter 2011

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Water and the War in the Desert

Across the open desert a small column of mules is flinging a brisk trail of dust up to the brassy sky. They are in strings of three, and a native drabie is hanging on to the lead rope of each string. Each mule has a squat tin tank hooked on either side of his pack caddie. Two of these pakhals, as these rope-netted tanks are called, will fill the water-bottles of a platoon.

Camel-Borne Pakhals

At intervals along the column a British soldier strides along, bare-armed and bare-kneed, his shirt open over his brown chest, one sun-blackened arm through the sling of his loaded rifle. A big curved cover of green-lined khaki hangs from the back of his pith helmet, and a broad quilted band of the same material drapes his spine from neck to waist in protection from the blazing sun that swings directly overhead. He carries no pack, but his entrenching tool and water bottle hang from his equipment, and 200 rounds of ammunition fill his pouches. He wears a stocked haversack, too, for one must always be ready for emergencies in the desert, and slung from his bayonet scabbard flaps a grey canvas bag, shaped something like the hot-water bag of civilization. 

Trudging along the hot earth with the mules and their escort arc a number of native camp followers, bearers and syces chattering in cheery monotones and carrying canvas buckets, water bottles, and chargals—the grey canvas bags. These are voluntary members of the party who wouldn't walk a yard in the ordinary course of life if they could help it. 

A mounted sergeant completes the party. His saddle has four chargals suspended from it, and a water bottle is slung across his shoulders. From beneath his dust-laden brows his eyes stare keenly ahead as the column smokes along. There is nothing visible in the dead flat levels from horizon to horizon to tell you whence the column has come or whither it is heading. 

Presently the sergeant's horse whinnies loudly, and the mule strings begin to crowd and jostle forward. In the distance the shimmering haze falls away and discloses a long line of tents, the divisional watering-place, and the river. When its bank is reached, it needs all the strength of drabie and Atkins to keep the mules out of the water at the place where the pakhals are unloaded. But the unloading is completed, and then the mules are led downstream to drink. In the meantime, pakhals and chargals and water-bottles are filled ready for reloading. Half an hour later the regimental watering-party fades away again into the desert spaces where twelve miles away from the watering-place the regiment is dug into the left flank of the army that is pushing the Turk back into his own country. This from my diary: 

We have just pushed the Turk out of the______position. It is about 5 p.m., and the thermometer is somewhere near 120 in the shade. We have been on the move since 3 a.m., and are now bivouacked in a nullah near the river. Through unavoidable causes connected with the surprise nature of the operation, our water bottles were only half full when we commenced, and our pakhals were practically empty. Upon the track of our advance field hospitals are being erected to deal with the big casualties of the march. 

It has been a hot-weather day; the ground too hot to lay the bare hand upon; a rifle barrel untouchable. The sky is a lid of burning brass, and the sun a low-hung blast furnace. All the day we have been the target for hundreds of "dust devils" pirouetting from one rim of the lid to the other, silting our eyes and ears and nostrils with finely powdered earth that stings and scorches as though it had come from a red-hot crucible. 

Scarcely a shot was fired by the Turk in his evacuation, but the rigours of the blazing, waterless march have more than decimated the hardest of units. More than half my regiment have been knocked out, and the survivors just managed to reach the objective. Water must be got immediately. A water-party has just come in, dead beat, to say there is a section of Turks on the opposite bank with a Maxim, and there's no chance of getting water before nightfall. They have just managed to fill two pakhals. 

The Turkish Solution—Horse Version

We divide one of these between a party of picked men and a few drabies, rinse the mouths of half a dozen mules, and set out for another try. The nullah runs down to the river edge. Up-stream of the nullah I spotted a belt of reeds on the river bank, and observed that they could be approached most of the way by a fold in the ground. 

We unhooked" all the pakhals in the nullah, as near as we could get to the water without being observed. Leaving most of the watering-party behind under a sergeant, the mules and the rest of us 'began another trek back along the nullah to where it crossed the fold of ground. Along this the party proceeded towards the reed bed. We had almost got into the reeds before the Turk spotted our water mules, and got his machine-gun aligned on the new target. He opened fire for about fifty rounds. The result being unsatisfactory, he ceased fire, and shifted the position of his gun. We could track his course by the movement of the reeds in the belt on the opposite bank where lie was concealed. 

Reducing risk as far as possible, we made great play with the mules and our reeds and ourselves, and successfully counterfeited the movements of a watering-party. We carried on for about a quarter of an hour, and at intervals replied to his fire with bursts of "rapid" from our rifles. 

We had just lost a mule when a volley of musketry broke from the nullah where we had left the real watering-party. This was the signal that our simple strategem had succeeded, and that the pakhals had been filled under cover of our demonstration. The diversion caused by this new fire attack upon the concealed machine-gun enabled the "camouflage" party to withdraw without further casualties. The mules were taken back to the pakhals. 

The water was being consumed by the exhausted survivors and sick of the battalion before night fell. 

The Turkish Solution - Camel Version

We are occupying one Turkish position while we prepare to eject the enemy from the line upon which he has retired. It is the middle of the hot weather in the middle of the desert and every man and beast is getting as much water as is required. 1 have a bath each evening. In the centre of our perimeter a big wide pit has been dug and lined with tarpaulin. Every morning and evening this is retired from three wells, which arc shared by the brigade. In addition, when the wells fall dry, our water-party goes to the divisional storage tanks, and can draw enough daily from this source for the-cooking and drinking needs of the whole regiment. 

The divisional tanks are walls of sand-bags supporting tarpaulins, which rest on the ground. The water is carried up from the river about fourteen miles away. It comes by convoy, and is carried in ordinary A.T. carts, lined with-tarpaulin, and in pakhals stacked inside big motor-lorries. 

That is how we safeguard our water requirements when we "sit down" for a, while. Here, in Mesopotamia, water is life. It is more. It is a thing for which the straightest man in the regiment would cheerfully break all the Commandments. When a soldier's body is watered he can march and fight and win. But when he is without water the sap of life is from him. He is like the perished tree, the branch of which breaks in the hand. He is Nothing. His rifle is lumber. His big guns are Mockery. A well-filled water-bottle is a won battle. So water is the first article of war, and as we water the regiment do we sweep the Euphrates-Tigris plains and push the Turk towards Aleppo. 

Sources: Thanks to Tony Langley for the photos and the article which originally appeared in the the British magazine The War Illustrated of 6 July 1918

Friday, May 25, 2018

Hungarian War Artist Szegedi Szüts

 by Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester

[I found this book in the military collectibles section of the Friends of the Coronado (CA) Public Library Annual Book Sale. Quite a treasure trove.]

MY WAR by István Szegedi Szüts 

(1893 Budapest–1959 Penzance, Cornwall)

 Self-Portrait, 1942

Permanent Collection, Falmouth (UK) Art Gallery

Szüts presents a stark monochrome work that is the essence of postwar German Expressionism. This entire book is what we now call a graphic novel, annotated only by page number in a list of illustrations, from 1 to 206. It was published in 1932 in the UK and New York. The paper is a thick, textured ivory with the satisfying proportion of 10.25" h x 6.5" w, with illustrations in pen, ink, and wash. The book is powerful in all respects.

The artist served as a hussar in the Austro-Hungarian Army through the war. Afterward he taught drawing from 1926 to 1936 in Hungary. His friends in the cultural world of Hungary included the composers Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, and György Ránki, the latter two friendships extending into Szüts's later years. 

Szüts visited London in 1929 and had a solo exhibition of 76 pictures at the Gieves Gallery. He emigrated to the UK in 1936 and married the artist Gwynedd Jones-Parry. They settled in Cornwall, where they lived until his death in 1959. 

Here are some excerpts. To pique your curiosity, I have included neither the first nor the last page...

28 Mars 


56 Attack



 61 Casualty Clearing Station


 65 For Valour


 90 Thunder


 107 Stop the War!


187 We Are All Decorated

Szegedi Szuts. My War. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1932.

Biographical Sketch at:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Nurse Amelia Earhart

Overall, the Centennial commemorations have done a fine job of remembering the work of the nurses who cared for the troops. Don't miss, for instance, the 2014 movie version of Testament of Youth, the story of the best known VAD nurse from the Great War, Vera Brittain. It has a whopper of a historical error regarding the dates of the Spanish Flu, but these things happen. 

However, as the photo above shows, it turns out that there is another very well known VAD nurse from the war—none other than aviatrix Amelia Earhart. In 1917 she volunteered to serve at military hospitals in Toronto, serving through the Spanish Flu, and becoming a casualty of the war. During late 1918 she became ill, suffering from pneumonia and maxillary sinusitis. The latter problem led to chronic sinus problems, which affected her flying.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Villanova University's Online Scrapbook, "Remembering WWI"

Wow! Talk about an eclectic collection this is one of the best online resources of fresh material and images of the Great War I've come across.  Here's the story of the origins of the site:

In the fall of 2015, graduate students in the Villanova Digital History course explored these scrapbooks as a form of memory and source of information on varied experiences during the First World War. Each student developed both an article exploring a key topic related to understanding World War I as well as a digital project based on the photos, letters, texts, and other items contained within the primary source scrapbooks.

Through these digital projects, we hope you glimpse how a few soldiers and nurses remembered their participation in the war. The photos and letters contained in these decades old scrapbooks demonstrate the importance of memory for understanding human experience and provide insight into the war that changed the world.

Here are a few samples:

A Futuristic Look at the War

Aerial Mounted Cameras

Boston Red Sox, 1918 World Series Champions

From the Accompanying Article
Sports had a waning influence during the war years. In the United States, most professional sports teams shut down due to World War I. Athletic men were needed for the war effort. “Work or fight” orders compelled professional athletes to join the military. Public opinion turned against athletes who chose to stay in the United States and play ball rather than join their fellow countrymen in combat. Professional baseball came under scrutiny when both the American and National Leagues decided against suspending their 1918 seasons. Game play was paused indefinitely on September 2, 1918, after the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs, but only for a few months as the war ended the following November. Despite the negative effects this controversy had on professional baseball’s reputation, attendance increased by over 50% during the 1919 season. This suggests that post-war Americans were eager to return to life and leisure as usual.

Belgian Orphans

Wartime Magazine

A Doughboy's Tourism Postcard

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Notes from the Trenches: A Musician's Journey Through World War I
Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

Notes from the Trenches: 
A Musician's Journey Through World War I

by Gary H. Foster, Capt., U.S. Navy (Ret.) ed
Outskirts Press, 2018

Gary Foster, a retired U.S. Navy aviator, inherited the footlocker shown above, full of his grandfather's World War I letters and memorabilia. His grandfather, Leo Foster, had been a bugler in the 32nd Division, and Gary thought the letters worthy of preserving and publishing. Accordingly, Gary used a self-publishing company to create this volume.

Leo Foster, 32nd "Red Arrow" Division
Leo Foster enlisted in Company M, 3rd Infantry Regiment, Wisconsin National Guard shortly after the U.S. declared war. After federalization of the National Guard, Leo found himself in Company C, 121st Machine Gun Battalion, 32nd Division. The 32nd was sent to Waco, Texas, for training, and Leo enjoyed himself immensely there.

Leo's letters during his first year of service reflect very little, if any, dissatisfaction with his situation. On the contrary, in many letters he tells of his happiness, especially in Waco, and the fun he's having with soldier and civilian friends. Like most soldiers, Leo was quite concerned with his food situation, and he took every opportunity to eat well; throughout his service he mentions the food he's eaten and the weight he's gained. Leo's quaint Midwestern speech pattern comes through in most letters. For example, in one letter we find: "Oh, sweet dill pickles in vinegar, talk about a gay life," and "Gee I will bet a can opener the sun will shine next". (p. 123)

His initial letters from France reflect naïve bravado common to U.S. soldiers before they had experienced combat. Commenting on his initial stint in the trenches, Leo says

Well I spent 12 days up there and believe me those 12 days were the greatest sport I ever enjoyed in my life. In fact, they ended too short...Now I expected to see some pretty tough times up there. Instead, it was the best time I had since I have been in the Army. Oh yea, plenty of shrapnel whistling around and the closer they would come to you the more sport it would be. (pp. 135–136)

After the war, however, we note a change in attitude evident in some of his letters. In February 1919, writing from his post in Germany in the Army of Occupation, Leo, speaking of himself and his fellow soldiers, writes: "We are not looking for any credit, and I doubt very much the fellows will do much talking when they get back. At least, I don't care to." (p. 236) In April 1919, referring to the Argonne, where he suffered a wound, Leo writes, "God I will never forget that place."
(p. 253) Leo was wounded in action at least twice, and he was hospitalized for the flu. He did not describe his wounding in great detail, no doubt in order to avoid upsetting his family.

Almost all of Leo's letters are lighthearted; there is not much mention of the horrors of combat. In fact, Leo writes comparatively little about his actual military duties. While this is a shame (it would have been interesting to learn about his daily duties as a bugler), his letters still provide a valuable insight into the life of a U.S. combat soldier during the war.

The author provides background and clarifying information throughout the book. He also includes photographs of Leo and his friends and family, and ephemera and memorabilia associated with Leo's service. Foster has done a valuable service in preserving and publishing his grandfather's letters; perhaps others will be able to do the same during this centennial year.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, May 21, 2018

Did the British Upper Class Get Off Lightly in the Great War?

Cadet Corps at Eton Drilling

No, says the BBC in this 2014 article.

Although the great majority of casualties in WWI were from the working class, the social and political elite were hit disproportionately hard by the war. Their sons provided the junior officers whose job it was to lead the way over the top and expose themselves to the greatest danger as an example to their men.

Some 12 percent of the British Army's ordinary soldiers were killed during the war, compared with 17 percent of its officers. Eton alone lost more than 1,000 former pupils—20 percent of those who served. UK wartime prime minister Herbert Asquith lost his son Raymond, while future prime minister Andrew Bonar Law lost two. Anthony Eden lost two brothers, another brother of his was terribly wounded, and an uncle was captured.

Grave of Lt. Raymond Asquith at the Somme

Sunday, May 20, 2018

R.G. Head's WWI Aviation History Timeline

R.G. Head (1983Photo)
Former fighter pilot and USAF Brigadier General, Richard (R.G.) Head has produced a wonderful resource for anyone interest in the aviation operations during the Great War.  A  graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Head is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours.  

One of the first fighter pilots in Vietnam, he flew 325 combat missions in the A-1 Skyraider, for which he earned the Silver Star. He was also awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with 12 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.  Brigadier General Head served as deputy director for operations of the National Military Command Center, Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, DC.

R.G. Head's biography of Germany's first ace in World War One, Oswald Boelcke: Fighter Ace, was published in 2016 by Grub Street Publishing. It was reviewed at ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR on 3 January 2017

Here is a single month of notable aviation events from R.G. Head timeline:

(Reduced Size to Fit)

You can view the entire document here:

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Germany's Enemies: Portraits from German Prisoner of War Camps

These men are prisoners of war from various countries, captured in Germany. Nearly all of them glower into the camera, and the portraits are titled Our Enemies. 96 Character Heads from Prisoner of War Camps in Germany. The different headdresses highlight the ethnic diversity of the men. 

These pictures showed German readers the face of the enemy. Those depicted were especially "exotic" and "alien." This intentional portrayal of the prisoners was intended to make clear these were "evil foreigners." That Germany captured these men from across the world gave the message that Germany had the capacity to take on the entire world. 

Source: The British Library Website

Friday, May 18, 2018

Don't Miss: The AEF Battlefield Guide

In ten days, we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first American battle of World War One, the Battle of Cantigny.  More commemorations will follow. This booklet will help you keep all the action straight as the unfolding action is retold in the media. The AEF Battlefields covers the area on which the recent PBS WWI documentary was unaccountably weak.

Since 1991, I have been leading First World War battlefield tours to the Western Front, Gallipoli and Italy, and this will be my last year doing so. By far, the greatest interest for my groups has been in the American battlefields. Also, over the years I have received hundreds of inquiries through the Internet as to how to visit the site where a family member, a Doughboy, airman, Marine, or sailor served and how to gain information on what happened where they fought.  What I decided to do for the subscribers of my publications OVER THE TOPROADS TO THE GREAT WAR, and the ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE was consolidate and organize all the information I have gathered over the years on the battlefields of the American Expeditionary Forces into one document. I hope you will consider purchasing it. It is a distillation of all my research and on-site explorations on the subject, organized in a way that I believe is easy to follow. Here are some details about the work and how to purchase it.

The Battlefields Covered:

  • Cantigny
  • Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Vaux
  • Second Battle of the Marne
  • Flanders: Mt. Kemmel
  • Frapelle
  • St. Mihiel Salient
  • Meuse-Argonne
  • The Hindenburg Line & Beyond
  • Blanc Mont Ridge
  • Flanders-Lys
  • Other Notable Operations

Sample Section


  • 28-page, full color, large 8½ x 11 inch printable PDF document, readable on desktops, laptops, or P.E.D. devices
  • 10 major battles and 5 notable smaller operations covered
  • Each main section includes: quick facts, then and now photos, maps, details about the battle, and key sites to visit with GPS coordinates.
  • Delivered electronically
Price: $14.99

How to Purchase

Include Both Your Email & Mailing Address for Delivery