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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Mr. Punch's History of the Great War


Charles L. Graves, ed.
Cassell and Company, Ltd, 1919 
 (Current reprints available)
David F. Beer, Reviewer

26 April 1916 Cover, Featuring Mr. Punch

One of the best-known humor and satire magazines in Britain was Punch, or, The London Charivari. It ran from 1841 until 1992, with a brief resurrection from 1996 to 2002. In its heyday it helped coin the term "cartoon" with its clever and sometimes scathing illustrations. Its prose style was informal for the times and could happily rip apart pretense and hypocrisy. The title was taken from the "Punch and Judy" puppet or marionette shows dating back to the 1600s, and Mr. Punch, the hook-nosed curmudgeon of those shows, is also the main character in the magazine. Often including poetry, John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" was first published anonymously in the 8 December 1915 edition of Punch.

Punch flourished during the Great War, and the magazine was more than ready to cover the conflict:

Though a lover of peace, Mr. Punch from his earliest days has not been unfamiliar with war. He was born during the Afghan campaign; in his youth England fought side by side with the French in the Crimea; he saw the old Queen bestow the first Victoria Crosses in 1857. . .Later on again he had watched, not without grave misgiving, the growth of the great Prussian war machine which crushed Denmark, overthrew Austria, and having isolated France, overwhelmed her heroic resistance by superior numbers and science, and stripped her of Alsace- Lorraine (vii).

This prologue introduces almost 300 pages of month-by-month commentary, including cartoons and poetry, summing up events for each month in Punch's unique and patriotic style. August 1914 opens thus:

Four weeks ago we stood on the verge of the great upheaval and knew it not. We were thinking of holidays; of cricket and golf and bathing, and then were plunged in the deep waters of the greatest of all Wars (1).


The month includes a one-page cartoon of a small, defiant boy with a small stick defending a gate marked "No Thoroughfare" being threatened by a large man with a huge cudgel, curved pipe in his mouth, and large sausages dangling from one pocket—obviously Germany—with the caption "Bravo, Belgium!"

Each month through November 1918 is similarly dealt with in four or five pages, with some three to five cartoons plus verse, and the book concludes with a retrospective epilogue that also looks forward to the year ahead. You could get a lot of enjoyment just browsing through the cartoons,but be warned that some of them contain a distinctly British sense of humor.

Typical of Punch's commentary as it follows the war's events is that of December 1915:

Things have not been going well in the East. The Allies have been unable to save Serbia, Monastir has fallen, and our lines have been withdrawn to Salonika. The experts are now divided into two camps, the Westerners and the Easterners, and the former, pointing to the evacuation of Gallipoli, are loud in their denunciations of costly "side-shows"(66).

Yet the fortitude of the British soldier must also be emphasized, or in the words of Mr. Punch "The 'philosophy of Thomas' is inscrutable…and he derives satisfaction from comparisons:"

If we're standin' in two feet o' water, you see
Quite likely the Boches are standin' in three;
An' though the keen frost may be ticklin' our toes,
'Oo doubts that the Boches' 'ole bodies is froze?
(66)


An accompanying cartoon shows a wounded and bandaged (but ever-generous) Tommy berating a German prisoner with "Look what you done to me, you blighters! 'Ere-'ave a cigarette?" (68). The beginning of the Somme battle is treated in the same phlegmatic manner in July's entry for 1916:

. . . July has brought us a new experience-the sound fifty or sixty miles inland in peaceful, rural England, amid glorious midsummer weather, of the continual throbbing night and day of the great guns on the Somme, where our first great offensive opened on the 1st, and has continued with solid and substantial gains, some set-backs, heavy losses for the Allies, still heavier for the enemy (97).

A full-page cartoon for the same month shows a laughing Tommy bandaging his own wrist wound with his rifle in the crook of his arm and a German helmet pinned on the bayonet, the caption below stating in all capitals: WELL DONE, THE NEW ARMY. The following month, August, includes a short poem "from an R.F.C. man":

Returning from my morning fly
I met a Fokker in the sky,
And, judging from its swift descent,
It had a nasty accident.
On thinking further on the same
I rather fear I was to blame
(104).


Back in August 1915 the magazine had complained that “The war of Notes goes on with unabated energy between Germany and the U.S.A.” and also recorded that “Mr. Winston Churchill, the greatest of our quick-change political artists, is said to be devoting his leisure to landscape painting. The school that he favors is not publicly stated.” (50). However, April 1917 finds Mr. Punch less tongue-in-cheek when he reports that

Once more the rulers of Germany have failed to read the soul of another nation. They thought there was no limit to America’s forbearance, and they thought wrong. America is now ‘all in’ on the side of the Allies. The Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack are flying side by side over the Houses of Parliament. On the motion introduced in both Houses to welcome our new ally, Mr. Bonar Law…declared that the New World had stepped in to redress the balance of the old; Mr. Asquith…lauded the patience which had enabled President Wilson to carry with him a untied nation; and Lord Curzon quoted Bret Harte (145).

A drawing of a huge eagle, talons outstretched and swooping away from the Statue of Liberty, accompanies this month’s entry.

Thus it goes with Mr. Punch, as this engaging volume follows the course of the Great War with popular historical analysis, humor, irony, many telling cartoons and plenty of poetry—much of it moving and clever. I can recommend Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War to anyone who would enjoy a chronicle of the War laced with the wit and wisdom that was available to the British reader on the home front.



David F. Beer

Monday, March 18, 2019

From the U.S. Navy's WWI Collections — Art



The U.S. Navy has done a terrific job of documenting its service during the Great War. On the next three Mondays, we will be giving examples from their collection of naval art, artifacts, and photography.  Much of the material can be found at the online sites of two institutions: the National Museum of the U.S. Navy and the Naval History and Heritage Command.  Links to the two sites can be found at the bottom of this page.

Click on the Images to Enlarge


Sixth (U.S.) Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet Leaving the 
Firth of Forth


Outward Bound for Freedom


Survivors Awaiting Rescue Off the Isles of Scilly


Chief Yeomanette of the Navy



14-Inch Rail-Gun Train


USS Bainbridge at Sea


Capturing Black Mont, 3 October 1918


Shooting Down a Kite Balloon


British Attack on the Zeebrugge Mole, 23 April 1918


The U.S. Battle Fleet Returns to New York City, 26 December 1918


A Brother's Homecoming







Sources:

National Museum of the U.S. Navy
(LINK)

Naval History and Heritage Command
(LINK)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Madison Square Park’s Victory Arch



Victory Parade for the 27th Division, AEF
New York City, 25 March 1919

Keith Muchowski

Washington Square Arch in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and The Soldiers' and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza are two of the most iconic structures in all of New York City.  Long gone today, however, are several archways in New York City that, while no longer extant, were meaningful to the people who built and experienced them in their time. And then, almost as quickly as these arches were built, they were gone.

Leading this list of fleeting corporeality is an edifice constructed in New York City just after the Great War—the Victory Arch that stood at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets from 1919–1920. Other examples of these transient edifices include the original plaster and wooden Washington Square arch hastily constructed in 1889 for the centenary of President Washington’s first inaugural. This is not to be confused with two additional albeit more modest arches built at the same time a few blocks north in Madison Square for that same centennial. A decade later, again in Madison Square, came the Dewey Arch, built in honor of the admiral who had done so much to win the war in Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. Citizens turned out at these sites in the hundreds of thousands to honor the achievements of those for whom they were constructed and witness what they knew was history in the making.

Aerial View of the Completed Arch

Ironically the Victory Arch was not conceived in triumph but can be traced to when the war’s outcome was still very much in doubt; planning for a Great War-related edifice dated as far back as February 1918, when most Doughboys and prospective recruits were still stateside. The project’s major stakeholders included the eminent National Sculpture Society, the Mayor’s Committee on National Defense, and the U.S. military itself, among others. These leaders envisioned a monument that might serve as a recruiting tool in those still-early days of American involvement in the war. That structure never materialized, but on November 12—the day after the Armistice—officials returned to the idea of a memorial and the project was on once again. Because a Mayor’s Committee on National Defense no longer made sense once the Armistice came Mayor John Francis Hylan immediately created two new bodies: a Mayor's Committee of Welcome to Home-Coming Troops and a Mayor’s Committee on Permanent War Memorial. Hylan quickly appointed department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker chairman of both committees. As the committee titles indicate, Wanamaker and his associates had a dual mandate—first would be the homecoming welcomes for various units, followed thereafter by the creation of a permanent Great War memorial.

Time was of the essence. In late 1918 and early 1919 troops were coming home by the thousands crammed aboard transatlantic ocean liners, soon to be discharged and returned to their families. Wanamaker and his associates got down to work immediately, selecting Madison Square just before Thanksgiving and by year’s end hiring Thomas Hastings to design the arch. Paul Wayland Bartlett, head of the National Sculpture Society, was to execute a chariot atop the edifice with symbolic figures representing wisdom, power, justice, and peace alongside it. Eager to take part, dozens of prominent artists and architects, including Daniel Chester French, Cass Gilbert, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney participated as well, not just in Madison Square, but at sites farther up Fifth Avenue at the 42nd Street New York Library and East 60th Street adjacent to Central Park. Donations poured and volunteers rolled up their sleeves for the task.


The work proceeded over the winter while troops continued their return. On one day alone—6 March 1919—over 13,500 men from the 27th Division arrived in New York Harbor aboard the Leviathan and Mauritania. The 27th—O’Ryan’s Roughnecks—was comprised primarily of men from the Empire State and their return naturally drew great excitement. Men from the 27th continued pouring in over the following days and weeks and the division’s homecoming parade was soon scheduled for 25 March. It would stretch nearly five miles from Washington Square Park up Fifth Avenue to 110th Street. The New York Times described Fifth Avenue on the eve of the event, gleaming as it was in the flood lights of 100,000,000 candle power, as a “canyon of brilliancy.” The 27th Division parade that passed through the Madison Square Park Victory Arch that 25 March was the largest gathering in New York City up to that time. The crowd was so large and proved so unwieldy that two people were killed and over thirty wounded as attendees pushed forward to get a better look. The following day the Roughnecks were back at Camp Upton, soon to be discharged in early April and returned home. In early May the men of the 77th Division had their parade. City and military officials maintained a stronger presence for the march through the Arch of the Doughboys from the 77th “Liberty” Division.

The Soldiers' View As They Marched Through the Arch

The parades and homecomings over, the Madison Square Victory Arch was demolished by summer 1920. Rodman Wanamaker and his colleagues then began their next task—building a permanent memorial. The idea of a Great War memorial for New York City continued for almost a decade and a half. Interest was initially intense but waned as the 1920s progressed and it became apparent that the war to end all wars had led only to revolution, discontent, and instability. Many were also turned off by what they saw as the various proposals’ excessive triumphalism, anti-German nativism, and excessive price tag. United States Congressman Fiorello H. La Guardia, himself a Great War veteran—a major in the U.S. Air Service stationed on the Italian-Austrian front where he ran bombing runs and worked as a translator and liaison—eventually even soured on the project. La Guardia was elected mayor of New York City in November 1933 and in January 1934 appointed Robert Moses commissioner of the New York City Parks Department. Moses believed parks should be more for exercise and recreation than commemoration and quickly set about on his mission of building playgrounds, swimming pools, and ball fields. While there are many fine World War One monuments in New York City, a permanent, large-scale Great War memorial for Gotham was not to be.

Keith Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn, writes occasionally for Roads to the Great War. He blogs at thestrawfoot.com.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: Pvt. Ollie O. Olive, 116th Infantry, 29th Division, AEF


By Glenn Hyatt

Ollie Olive, Private, Co. K, was operating a captured machine gun, holding out against one of the counterattacks along the railroad spur. As described by one of his comrades to his family after their return from France: "Ollie climbed into a tree to have a better line of fire on the enemy with the machine gun. His position was located by the enemy and with a withering fire they cut him down. He didn't suffer but was killed outright."

Olive fell at the age of 19, defending his comrades, his body was recovered and returned to his family. Olive is buried at Arlington Cemetery.
Tom Morgan's Hellfire Corner





They Had a Rendezvous with Death


The fall weather finally providing a relief to the summer heat and Armistice/Veterans day just around the corner I took time this weekend to finish up a little business that I seem to have put off again and again. I planned to visit the grave of a fellow Virginian from my home town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, who was lost in the Great War.

My interest began some years ago while visiting our World War I memorial with my fellow VFW members. The name of Ollie O. Olive seemed to leap from the tarnished bronze plaque, and I wondered, who was he, how did he meet his fate?

My fascination continued as I interviewed his surviving sisters and became familiar with the family's story of their lost brother. During trips to France I visited the battlefield and found the location where the men from Fredericksburg fought during World War I. I had even located a picture of Ollie in uniform.

Ollie was a young man whose family worked a small farm just outside of town. He was a frail and sickly boy, nearly crippled at times with what the family described as the rheumatism. In 1916 Frederickburg's National Guard regiment, (The Washington Guard, 2nd Virginia, Company K), mustered into service for the Texas border. Ollie fancied himself as a soldier but was disappointed when he was not accepted. 

In the ensuing months the papers were filled with reports and letters from Company K as they served on the border. They returned in February of 1917 to a parade through town as the community crowded into the streets welcoming the returning heroes. The men of Company K marched through town before being demobilized and returning to civilian life. But as fate would have it, Ollie's chance to join up came again in just a few short months.

With the declaration of war in April of 1917, Company K was once again called up. The paper was full of advertisements calling for the enlistment of able bodied men to fill the ranks for service in Europe. Ollie went to the recruiter and this time convinced them that he would fill the bill. Without even a chance to return and say good-bye to his family, Ollie began the adventure which would culminate in a strip of shell-torn forest on a French farm, north of Verdun.

Company K, became part of the 116th Infantry, 29th Division, and was selected to assault the heights overlooking the sleepy Meuse River which meandered across the blood drenched battlefield of the Western Front. Occupied by the enemy since 1914, these heights provided a commanding position from which German batteries raked the allied troops attacking through the Argonne Forest. On 16 October 1918 Ollie and his fellow Virginians joined an attack across an open field against the German lines. Machine guns played their deadly tattoo, cutting through the Doughboys like a scythe. Ollie and the other survivors of Company K gained the woods sheltering the enemy line. As Ollie's comrades related the story to his family, he mounted a captured machine gun in the shattered stump of a tree and raked the Germans in counter attack after counter attack. Finally the enemy located his position, and as the soldier in Alan Seeger's epic World War I poem, Ollie kept his rendezvous with death.

After the war, as the victory celebrations passed and the horror of war dimmed in the veterans' eyes, Ollie was returned. His family selected Arlington Cemetery as his final resting place and there he was laid to final rest.

As I walked the distance from the reception center to Section 18 in the back corner of the grounds, I recalled my visits to the battlefield and that same strip of woods where Ollie fought and died. I recalled the moss covered trenches and collapsed bunkers that still run through that section of battle line, the rusted equipment poking through the forest floor and the barbed wire which still lay in coils in the tangled underbrush. I also recalled the details of  Ollie's unselfish sacrifice.

Ollie's Resting Place: Section 18, Arlington National Cemetery,
Argonne Cross in Distance

I reached Section 18 and looked for Ollie's grave, #3240, I also became very aware that all about me were soldiers' graves that had one thing in common. These were the dead of the Great War, the fallen, those who had given their all in the War to End All Wars...Names such as William Penny, 318 Infantry, 80th Division, Leroy Small 115th Infantry 29th Division, 167 Infantry of the (Rainbow) Division, Second Division. Boys from Wyoming, New York, Oregon, and so on and so on..all of which were dated 1917–1919. Then I found plot 3240, Ollie's unassuming white marble stone was inscribed "Ollie O. Olive, 29th Division, Virginia, October 1918."

I looked around me, there in all directions row after row of white marble stones stood as mute testimony to those who slept below. Ollie had kept his rendezvous with death, as all the men who lay in this yard, they had given their lives for their country, for democracy, for mankind.

When November 11th approaches and we commemorate the Armistice of 1918 as well as veterans everywhere, remember Ollie and his comrades. For they have passed to us the torch of freedom.

Sources: The Doughboy Center and Find a Grave

Friday, March 15, 2019

The World War One Origins of the American's Creed


Dunedin, Florida


I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.


William Tyler Page
While the Great War was still under way, the House of Representatives honored William Tyler Page, a longtime Congressional employee and future Clerk of the House, for his authorship of the “American’s Creed.” In 1916, on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War I, Henry Sterling Chapin, the editor of an educational journal, devised a national writing competition to foster patriotism and civic responsibility among U.S. citizens. 

Of the more than 3,000 submissions for an American Creed, Page’s winning entry was described as “brief and simple but remarkably comprehensive of the best in American ideals, history, and tradition, as expressed by the founders of the Republic and its greatest statesmen and writers.” 

The House ceremony to recognize Page included Speaker of the House James Beauchamp (Champ) Clark of Missouri and former Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois. Members of Congress paid tribute to the veteran employee—who began his career as a House Page in 1881—for his service to the institution and his country. Page, who received $1,000 for his winning entry, recited the “American’s Creed” on the Capitol steps which ended with the declaration, “I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.” In further recognition of Page’s accomplishment, the House placed a bronze tablet of the “American’s Creed” in the Capitol.



Sources: USHistory.org; U.S. House of  Representatives Website

Thursday, March 14, 2019

At Bois de Borrus the Night Before the Meuse-Argonne


By Major Ashby Williams
Commander, First Battalion, 320th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division 


The 80th Division Moves to the Front for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive


AFTER THE MEN had had their coffee—I remember I drank a good swig of it, too—I gave directions that the men should get in shape to move out of the woods. Then followed one of the most horrible experiences of my whole life in the war, and one which I hope never to have to go through again. The Boche began to shell the woods. When the first one came over I was sitting under the canvas that had been still spread over the cart shafts. It fell on the up side of the woods. As I came out another one fell closer. I was glad it was dark because I was afraid my knees were shaking. I was afraid of my voice, too, and I remember I spoke in a loud voice so it would not tremble, and gave orders that Commanders should take their units to the dugouts which were less than a hundred yards away until the shelling was over, as I did not think it necessary to sacrifice any lives under the circumstances. Notwithstanding my precautions, some of the shells fell among the cooks and others who remained about the kitchens, killing some of them and wounding others.

In about twenty minutes I ordered the companies to fall in on the road by our area preparatory to marching out of the woods. They got into a column of squads in perfect order, and we had proceeded perhaps a hundred yards along the road in the woods when we came on to one of the companies of the Second Battalion which we were to follow that night. We were held there perhaps forty-five minutes while the Second Battalion ahead of us got in shape to move out. One cannot imagine the horrible suspense and experience of that wait. The Boche began to shell the woods again. There was no turning back now, no passing around the companies ahead of us, we could only wait and trust to the Grace of God.

We could hear the explosion as the shell left the muzzle of the Boche gun, then the noise of the shell as it came toward us, faint at first, then louder and louder until the shell struck and shook the earth with its explosion. One can only feel, one cannot describe the horror that fills the heart and mind during this short interval of time. You know he is aiming the gun at you and wants to kill you. In your mind you see him swab out the hot barrel, you see him thrust in the deadly shell and place the bundle of explosives in the breach; you see the gunner throw all his weight against the trigger; you hear the explosion like the single bark of a great dog in the distance, and you hear the deadly missile singing as it comes towards you, faintly at first, then distinctly, then louder and louder until it seems so loud that everything else has died, and then the earth shakes and the eardrums ring, and dirt and iron reverberate through the woods and fall about you.

This is what you hear, but no man can tell what surges through the heart and mind as you lie with your face upon the ground listening to the growing sound of the hellish thing as it comes towards you. You do not think, sorrow only fills the heart, and you only hope and pray. And when the doubly-damned thing hits the ground, you take a breath and feel relieved, and think how good God has been to you again. And God was good to us that night—to those of us who escaped unhurt. And for the ones who were killed, poor fellows, some blown to fragments that could not be recognized, and the men who were hurt, we said a prayer in our hearts.

Such was my experience and the experience of my men that night in the Bois de Borrus, but their conduct was fine. I think, indeed, their conduct was the more splendid because they knew they were not free to shift for themselves and find shelter, but must obey orders, and obey they did in the spirit of fine soldiers to the last man. After that experience I knew that men like these would never turn back, and they never did.

From Experiences of the Great War (1919)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Cape Helles Memorial to the Missing


James Patton

Cape Helles

The Helles Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Memorial to the Missing is located on the promontory called Cape Helles by the British, at the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula near the small village of Sedd el Bahr in Turkey. The memorial includes the 30-meter-tall obelisk depicted above, which dominates the skyline, and can be seen from ships passing through the Dardanelles as well as from the city of Çanakkale and the ruins of ancient Troy on the other side of the water. There are inscribed on the panels that surround the base and on the low walls surrounding  the obelisk 20,887 names of personnel with no known grave.

The Memorial

The site was designed by Sir John J. Burnet, a French-trained Scot, who designed many important buildings in Glasgow during its Golden Age, and became known for a style called "Burnet Baroque." He also designed the Edward VII Galleries at the British Museum in London, for which he was knighted in 1914.

For the 25 April 1915 landings at Gallipoli the British command designated six spots on the peninsula and coded these S, V, W, X, Y, and ANZAC beaches. Cape Helles is situated between V and W beaches. These two little coves were vitally important because most of the reinforcement and resupply would have to come through them. No fools, the Turks were aware of this and so, unlike ANZAC, both sites were heavily defended.

In what was later studied as a textbook case in "how not to land an invasion force on a hostile beach," written by Lt. Col. George S. Patton in 1936 for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the British 29th Division was all but destroyed, but toeholds were gained and held due to extraordinary acts of heroism. Six Victoria Crosses were awarded for actions on V Beach that day and six more for actions on W Beach (also called "Lancashire Landing" to honor the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers).

Names shown are men of the King’s Sandringham Co. ,
the subject of the BBC TV show All the King’s Men

Among CWGC memorials, there are some atypical aspects to the Helles site:

First, there is no cemetery attached to the memorial.

Second, there is no Book of Names.

Third, the lists include British, Indians, Newfoundlanders, Australians, and other Colonials. This is the only CWGC memorial that recognizes both British and Australians, and no other CWGC memorial has so many different  groups represented.

Fourth, the lists include naval personnel lost at sea in the Gallipoli campaign, especially on the battleships destroyed on 18 March 1915.

Fifth, the lists also include personnel known to be dead but buried at sea.

John Hambidge, MBE

One of this latter group is 240 Sergeant William John Piggott, Royal Engineers (Territorial Force), 1/2nd  London Field Company, attached to the 29th Division for the Gallipoli Campaign, who was from Eastleigh, Hampshire, and was a railwayman in civilian life on the London and Southwestern Railroad. Sjt. Piggott died on 1 September 1915 while on a hospital ship en route to the U.K. He was the maternal grandfather of my good friend John Hambidge, MBE, of Macclesfield, Cheshire. In the photograph John has his right hand by his grandfather’s inscription. We are left to speculate as to why a railway engineering unit was sent to Gallipoli.

James Patton

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Railway Guns of World War I


By Marc Romanych and Greg Heuer
Illustrated by Steve Noon
Osprey Publishing, 2017
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

French Railroad Piece Deployed at Verdun

In World War I artillery was truly the king of battle. It inflicted more casualties than any other weapon, and railway guns, although not predominant, were a part of this bloody work. It is fitting, then, that authors Marc Romanych and Greg Heuer have teamed with artist Steve Noon to produce this short but informative book on these interesting rail-borne weapons. The authors are well qualified to produce this book. Romanych, a retired U.S. Army officer, has previously written on fortifications and artillery for Osprey Publishing, and Heuer is a student of the history of technology, to include heavy artillery. Noon has produced artwork for over 30 books for Osprey Publishing.

After a brief introduction and overview of the history of railway guns and an outline of the nomenclature used by each nation, the authors proceed to review the development and fielding of these guns on a year-by-year basis. For each country the authors provide a narrative of the numbers and types of guns produced and general accounts of their manufacture. They also include a table for each year showing, by country, a list of each of the railway guns fielded, giving their designation, range, and number fielded.

There is something here for everyone. Technical enthusiasts will enjoy the descriptions of the development and characteristics of the guns, including recoil and traverse systems, while others will appreciate the accounts of the use of the guns in combat. And everyone can learn about the operations and tactics involved with these guns. Consider the authors' description of the work necessary for computing firing data for the guns. After initial computation taking into account range, azimuth, type of ammunition and charge, other factors had to be taken into account:

At long distance, a minor error could result in a wide dispersion of rounds, so once basic firing data was determined, firing corrections were calculated for the difference in elevation between the gun and its target (determined by map), direction (lateral wind, rotation of the earth), and range (wind, air density, weight of projectile, muzzle velocity, barrel wear, and perhaps even curvature of the earth and displacement of the firing track during multiple firings) (p. 39).

There are many photographs of the guns of each nation, and Noon's excellent artwork helps us visualize these guns in color. This book is highly recommended as a useful introduction to this topic.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Rubaiyat of William Hohenzollern




Awake, old Tirpz I Bid Hindenburg arise,
"Der Tag" has come, I long to hear the cries
Of Europe ! Well proceed to raise all Hell,
Let's use our day from dawn. Time flies! Time flies!

-o-o-o-

Dreaming, it seemed to me the World was mine,
Waking, I think that the idea is fine;
We'll wade right in to see what we can grab,
And glut ourselves with murder, rape and wine.

-o-o-o-

Come,  fill the cup, and don a mask of pain
That we should have to cleanse the World again 
Consider we our cause both pure and strong,
So first we'll try our hand in old Louvain.

-o-o-o-

Should any doubt my will, or us dispute,
Man, woman, child, don't hesitate to shoot;
We'll play the policeman,, and for Kultur's sake
My son, young Bill, will pick up all the loot.

-o-o-o-

How sweet is mortal sov'reignty—you see
How sov'rcignty has made a God of me,
As I a God of it—play we the role
Thus, each one part, and that alternately. 

-o-o-o-

I sometimes think that never lived so great
A monarch as Myself—in fact of late
My greatness has appalled 'me and I bow,
I bow my humbled head upon the gate

-o-o-o-

There is no door, but that we have the key,
There is no depth debarred from you and me,
Success alone will justify our game,
So kill the land and terrorize the sea.

-o-o-o-

And if the man you burn, the child you kill,
Should even for one moment keep you still,
Think well 'tis for our sacred Kultur's sake,
And by a million murders steel your will.

-o-o-o-

Yet . should success to dust and ashes fade,
And Justice. rise from out the Hell we made,
We'll say that others lit the fire, and we
But fanned the flames, to mark the price they paid.

-o-o-o-

So Tirpz I with Hindenburg and me conspire,
With murder, rapine, frightfulness and fire,
Let's raise all Hell and, even should we fail,
At least we'll have " Der Tag" of our desire. 

Source: The Wipers Times

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Our Monthly Newsletter: The St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

The March 2019 issue of the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, sister publication to Roads to the Great War,  is now available:



This month's issue contains articles on such topics as:

  • Austria-Hungary in the First World War

  • Mary Borden's Song of the Mud.

  • America Demobilizes Her Wartime Forces

  • Portent of Another World War

  • Looking Back: Our Retrospective of the War, Part III

  • A German Admiral Evaluates the Prospect of America Joining the War

  • Harry Moseley: Greatest Scientific Loss of the First World War

  • Hell's Angels: A World War One Film Classic

  • All Our Regular Features


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Saturday, March 9, 2019

Remembering Joyce Kilmer: A Roads Classic

A Forgotten War Poet: Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, 
165th Infantry, 42nd "Rainbow Division," AEF

By David Beer


Kilmer Before the War
Few people remember Joyce Kilmer. In a very random survey I asked some friends, all reasonably well educated and “of a certain age,” if they had heard of him and none had. One was sure I must be referring to a woman. All however were familiar with the lines “I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree.” This memory seems to be all that remains of an American journalist, editor, and poet who, born in 1886, enlisted in 1917 and as a sergeant in the 42nd Rainbow Division met sudden death at the Second Battle of the Marne from a sniper’s bullet through his forehead on 30 July 1918. He died by the Ourcq River, a stream in Picardy, and left behind him a wife and three children His comrades of the 42nd buried him by the side of the stream.

When Kilmer met his death at the age of 32 he was already an established writer and poet, with some 42 poems to his credit. Perhaps “Trees” was his best-known work, and it was certainly popular among ladies who liked to sing it at gatherings in their parlors, but to judge Kilmer by this rather lightweight and sentimental lyric of six couplets is to underrate a poet who also composed longer works such as “The White Ships and the Red” and “Rouge Bouquet.” The former is a long, haunting reflection on what just a week earlier had shocked the nation and helped point us toward war with Germany: the sinking of the Lusitania. For Kilmer, as for much of the nation at the time, this was an act of shocking barbarity, so shocking that the countless ships that over the centuries have sunk to the bottom—Spanish galleons, Roman triremes, and even “the grim Titanic”—look up from their resting places startled:

The ghostly vessels trembled
From ruined stern to prow;
What was this thing of terror
That broke their vigil now?
Down through the startled ocean
A mighty vessel came,
Not white, as all dead ships must be,
But red, like living flame!

Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, KIA
Soon the Lusitania gives her lengthy answer, reinforcing the color imagery of the white ships that met their ends in expected ways and the red ship now joining them, stained by a bloody and shameful act:

"But never crashing iceberg
Nor honest shot of foe,
Nor hidden reef has sent me
The way that I must go.
My wound that stains the waters,
My blood that is like flame,
Bear witness to a loathly deed,
A deed without a name.

"I went not forth to battle,
I carried friendly men,
The children played about my decks,
The women sang – and then –
And then – the sun blushed scarlet
And Heaven hid its face,
The world that God created
Became a shameful place!


We now know that the Lusitania also carried less innocent cargo besides “friendly men” and playing children serenaded by their mothers. This was not known in May of 1915, however, and the poem effectively conveys the sense of shock and injustice the sinking caused the American people, all intensified by the aura of grief and tragedy that emanates from the ghost ships.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Need for Flight Surgeons in World War I


By Lewis Barger, Office of Medical History, U.S. Army

Equilibrium testing for an aviation candidate,
19 March 1918. Early tests tried to replicate
aerobatic stresses. Courtesy National Archives
The Army’s association with heavier-than-air flight began on 10 February, 1908, when the Army signed a contract with the Wright brothers for an airplane. It was four years before the War Department published instructions, drafted by Surgeon General George H. Torney, directing the medical examination of pilot candidates attending the Signal Corps Aviation School. By April 1914, the particular physical demands of aviation were becoming better known, and two future Brigadier Generals, ophthalmologists Theodore C. Lyster and W.H. Wilmer, outlined new specifications for aviators: “Vision, ocular muscle balance, and the effect of refractive errors, were particularly considered.”

It wasn’t until April 1917, that the Medical Service for the Aviation Section was created. Newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel Lyster was put in charge of aviation issues in the Surgeon General’s Office and was responsible for the physical examinations of all those seeking to serve in the Air Service. In two month's time Lyster organized 67 examining units at sites around the country. He also incorporated the specifications he had worked out with Wilmer into the physical standards for pilot candidates, but he recognized that the standards were based more on common sense than actual analysis.

Aviator's Oxygen Mask in Position,
Ready for Use.  From Wings of War
by T.M. Knappen, 1920
Meanwhile aviation cadets were dying at a horrific rate in training accidents, leading Lyster to call for a research program to determine what type of person would best be suited for aviation duty. In September, Lyster was made Chief Surgeon of the Aviation Section, Signal Corps and promoted to colonel. He immediately set to work organizing an Aviation Medical Research Board, which the War Department gave the authority to:

* Investigate all conditions which affect the efficiency of pilots.
* Institute and carry out experiments and tests to determine the ability of pilots to fly at high altitude.
* Develop and test systems to supply pilots with oxygen at high altitudes.
* Act as a standing medical board for the consideration of all matters relating to the physical fitness of pilots.

One of the board’s first actions was to create the Central Medical Research Laboratory. The laboratory was created with departments of otology, cardiovascular medicine, physiology, psychology and neurology, and ophthalmology, and opened on 19 January 1918 at Hazelhurst Field in Long Island, with Colonel Wilmer as director. By that summer, 20 branch laboratories had been set up at flying fields throughout the United States and Wilmer was on his way to Europe to establish a Medical Research Board for the American Expeditionary Force. All this expansion was driven by the high rate of non-combat deaths, which would continue to drive research after the war ended.

Brigadier General Theodore C. Lyster
In May 1919 the first eight-week course of instruction for flight surgeons was given by the Central Research Laboratory at Hazelhurst Field. By 1922 the laboratory had been renamed the School of Aviation Medicine and in 1926 was moved to Brooks Field in San Antonio. That same year COL Louis H. Bauer published Aviation Medicine, the first textbook on the subject. 

Although Surgeon General Torney recognized the need for standards of fitness for military fliers relatively early, losing 59% of the fliers killed in France to non-combat accidents provided the War Department with the impetus to create research facilities to study the unique environment and demands of flight. Once the Medical Department was adequately resourced, they moved rapidly to the forefront of research and education on the subject and made significant contributions to the field of aviation medicine.

Source:  "The Beginnings of Aviation Medicine," The AMEDD [Army Medical Department] Historian, Summer 2014










Thursday, March 7, 2019

Rube Goldberg Explains the War



Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist whose work mocked America's fixation on technology. After receiving a degree from the University of California in 1904 he took a job designing sewer pipes for the San Francisco Sewer Department. A few months later he became a sportswriter and cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bulletin. He also briefly worked for the New York Evening Mail, creating three long-running comic strips. His most popular drawings depicted complex gadgets that performed even the simplest tasks in convoluted, elaborate ways, known as Rube Goldberg machines. In 1948 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial cartoon, "Peace Today," which conveyed a warning against atomic weapons. Besides his wacky machine designs, all attributed to Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, Goldberg produced political cartoons and many regularly appearing strips like "Boob McNutt,"  "Sideshow," and "Father Was Right."

Rube was touring Europe when the Great War broke out. He sent a cartoon home from Paris explaining to his countrymen just how the war broke out.
















Sources: Biography.com, Screwballcomics.blogspot.com