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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Krieg (War) by Käthe Kollwitz




The Sacrifice


Most readers are probably familiar with Käthe Kollwitz's dramatic Grieving Parents sculpture. (Article HERE.) After the Great War, however, her work shifted from sculpture to graphic art.  One critic described her later work  as featuring "strong arresting images with simple dignified subjects. The forms are deceptively simple. They reflect her single-mindedness yet belie the grueling struggle for technical perfection and clarity of expression which was involved in their perfection."

The Volunteers

The Mothers


From the MOMA website:

In 1919, Käthe Kollwitz began work on Krieg (War), her response to the tragedies endured during what she called those "unspeakably difficult years" of World War I and its aftermath. The portfolio's seven woodcuts focus on the sorrows of those left behind—mothers, widows, and children. Kollwitz had struggled to find the appropriate means of expression until she saw an exhibition of Ernst Barlach's woodcuts in 1920. Revising each print through as many as nine preparatory drawings and states, Kollwitz radically simplified the compositions. The large-format, stark black-and-white woodcuts feature women left to face their grief and fears alone, with their partners, or with each other.

The Widow II

The Widow

Only one print, Die Freiwilligen (The Volunteers), shows the combatants. In it, Kollwitz's younger son, Peter, who died in the war, takes his place next to Death, who leads the troops in an ecstatic procession to war.  Kollwitz wanted these works to be widely viewed. By eliminating references to a specific time or place, she created universally legible indictments of the real sacrifices demanded in exchange for abstract concepts of honor and glory. The prints were exhibited in 1924 at the newly founded International Anti-War Museum in Berlin.

The Parents


The People

Sources: Australian War Memorial and the MOMA Websites

Saturday, May 23, 2020

New Paired Memorials at Halifax and Passchendaele

I continue to learn of new WWI memorials that were dedicated as part of the recent Centennial commemorations. These two monuments below connect Halifax, Nova Scotia, from which 350,000 Canadian soldiers departed for the Western Front, and Flanders, where it is believed over half of the 67,000 Canadians who died in the war fell.

Click on Images to Enlarge


Embarkation Point for Departing Troops at Halifax

Canada Gate Is Located at Crest Farm from Which Canadian Forces Launched Their Final Assault to Capture the Village of Passchendaele, November 1917

Friday, May 22, 2020

"OOPS," said the editor.

Dear Readers, 

I regret to report a major goof on my part.  Roads to the Great War's comments section was spam-bombed by someone who has a lot of free-time these days.  In attempting to selectively remove dozens of malicious comments, I guess I got carried away with the delete button.   I removed—forever apparently—all your comments posted between 6 April 2020 and yesterday. You can, of course, repost them if you are inclined to.  Alas.

An American Airman Forsees His Death

I couldn't help thinking of Yeats's poem when I found this in an issue of Air and Space magazine.

Lt. Grider
(Replaced 22 May 2020)
John MacGavock Grider from Arkansas was one of 210 cadets who joined the aviation section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps shortly after the United States entered the war in 1917. Volunteers from the group were sent to England for training. In May 1918, Grider was assigned to Royal Flying Corps 85 Squadron, where he downed four enemy aircraft [fact challenged]. On 18 June he was killed in action. After his death, his letters were edited and published by his friend Elliott White Springs. “I can’t write much these days,” wrote Grider. “I’m too nervous. I can hardly hold a pen. I’m all right in the air, as calm as a cucumber, but on the ground, I’m a wreck and I get panicky. Nobody in the squadron can get a glass to his mouth with one hand after one of these patrols. Some nights we have nightmares. We don’t sleep much.”

By the time Grider wrote the following entry, he was already a man forever changed: 

It’s only a question of time until we all get it. I’m all shot to pieces. I only hope I can stick it out. I don’t want to quit. My nerves are all gone, and I can’t stop. I’ve lived beyond my time already. It’s not the fear of death that’s done it. It’s this eternal flinching from it that’s doing it, and has made a coward out of me. Few men live to know what real fear is. It’s something that grows on you, day by day, that eats into your constitution and undermines your sanity. I have never been serious about anything in my life, and now I know that I’ll never be otherwise again. Here I am, twenty four years old. I look forty and feel ninety. I’ve lost all interest in life beyond the next patrol.

A few days later, Grider was shot down 20 miles behind German lines. He was given a decent burial by the Germans, and his grave was later found by the Red Cross. Death must have come as a relief to him.

[Ed. note: Contrary to this article, John Grider is listed on the Tablet of the Missing at the American Flanders Field Cemetery.]

[Ed. note2:  In the comments section below, you will see a reader has challenged the facts behind this article, most importantly, whether Lt. Grider was actually the author of the diary entry that forms the substance of the posting.  I will be contacting the author of the original source material [for me], a 2018 article published in Air and Space Magazine to get his view.  Our commentator cites the author of Warbirds, Elliot White Springs, as the true originator of the diary entry. My understanding, however, is that Springs drew heavily on the diary of Grider and eventually conceded this at the behest of Grider's family. The commentator was correct, however, about the photo of Lt. Grider, which I have replaced above.

Sources:  Air and Space magazine, February 2018; Find a Grave (Photo)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Secret of the Paris Gun


The Paris Gun Test Firing

During my Bat Soup Plague incarceration, my better half issued orders for me to commence de-cluttering my office forthwith. Unable to evade the mission, I soon found myself looking through my back issues of Military History Quarterly, and I re-discovered  this interesting entry from Major General David Zabecki. He rather concisely reveals the secret to  the Krupp-built Paris Gun's phenomenal 78-mile range (theoretically 81 miles according to the Encyclopedia Astronautica).

Designed by Krupp’s Professor Fritz Rausenberger, the officially designated Wilhelmgeschütz (Kaiser Wilhelm Gun) was one of the most remarkable artillery pieces ever built. Its maximum range of 126,000 meters far exceeded that of any gun built before. Or since. The Germans used three of them against Paris between March and July 1918, earning them the name Paris Guns. Very few conventional artillery pieces fired in war have been able to achieve even half their range.

The Paris Gun was constructed by inserting a 210mm liner tube into a bored-out 380mm naval gun barrel. The liner extended some 39 feet beyond the muzzle of the base barrel. A 19-foot smooth-bore extension was then added to the front of the extended liner, giving the composite barrel a length of 130 feet. The entire composite barrel required an external truss system to keep it straight.

Virtually all artillery pieces achieve their maximum range when the barrel is elevated to an angle of 45 degrees. Anything over 45 degrees is classified as high-angle fire, and as the elevation increases the range decreases. The Paris Gun, however, appeared to defy the normal laws of ballistics by achieving its maximum range at an elevation of 50 degrees. The reason was that at 50 degrees the round from the Paris Gun went significantly higher into the stratosphere than at a 45-degree elevation. The reduced air density at the higher altitudes caused far less drag on the body of the projectile, which resulted in the greater horizontal range.

Read our earlier article on the operation of the Paris Gun HERE.

Source:  Military History Quarterly, Autumn 2014.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Aviation by the U.S. Official War Artists


Click on Images to Enlarge


Valley of the Marne at Mont St. Père
George Harding Matthews



Alert Nieuports – 147th Aero Squadron
Harry Everett Townsend




Double Escape (Observation Balloon)
Harry Townsend 



Boche Plane Falling in No Man's Land
George Harding Matthews



Lame Ducks, Issoudun
J. André Smith



Vanquished by the Boche Plane
George Harding Matthews



Aero Squadron Near Toul
J. Andre Smith



Forced Landing Near Neufchateau
Harry Everett Townsend

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House


by Godfrey Hodgson
Yale University Press, 2006
Jolie Velazquez, Reviewer



Edward House
This political biography is a great read for those interested in American international diplomacy during the era surrounding World War I. Mr. Hodgson falls into the camp of biographers who love their subject,, and while the reader would like to know much more about the personal relationship between the academic President Wilson and the wily backstage manager of his foreign policy, we do find out why Edward House was so admired by many of the leading figures in both American and European power circles.

House retired from business in middle age to take part in shaping social and political policies. He cut his teeth on rowdy Texas politics during the time of prairie populism and was instrumental in electing governors and senators, though he always refused to accept an appointment or run for office himself. When he decided to take on national issues, he found Woodrow Wilson to be the candidate he most wanted to work with since they already shared many of the same ideals. His initial help in getting Wilson elected led to a greater role on Wilson's team. How their political relationship rapidly developed into a warm friendship is still a mystery in this book and one of the reader's few disappointed expectations.

House was Wilson's primary civilian advisor on all politically touchy subjects, such as making cabinet appointments, and for all purposes he ran foreign affairs, the president's greatest weak spot. Even Secretary of State Robert Lansing deferred to House's judgment. Prior to the outbreak of the war, House engaged in a clandestine "shuttle diplomacy" mission to prevent hostilities. (The Kaiser later mentioned its near success.) Once the war began, House and Wilson turned their energies to creating their plan for peace, the Fourteen Points and the League of Nations. Lines are blurred as to who contributed more to this effort, but it was certainly a collaborative endeavor.

Hodgson saves his best narrative for the 1919 Peace Conference in Paris and the eventual breakup of the House/Wilson relationship. The details add a lot to one's knowledge of what went on behind the scenes at the negotiations and make a wonderful addendum to Margaret Macmillan's book on the conference. With so much material at hand to analyze, the author goes into every theory about why the friendship cooled. (Hint: Edith Wilson looms large.) It is clear, however, that a clash in styles was inevitable: House's more pragmatic and tactful handing of issues at the conference grated against Wilson's haughty idealism to the point where accusations and apologies were exchanged for the first time.

The book is meticulously researched, and the style is easy on the brain while still explicating profound issues. It gives credit to a unique individual whose personal charm, modesty, and intelligence were needed at the point this country was taking a lead role on the international stage. House's involvement with every important diplomatic issue of his day was disparaged by "Edith's camp" of memoirists and historians for many years, so we are grateful to Hodgson for delivering a different and thoughtful perspective on the Wilsonian era.


Originally Presented in the Fall 2009 Issue of Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society

Monday, May 18, 2020

October 1917: La Follette Speaks Out for Dissent and Free Speech

In this excerpt from Dissent: The History of an American Idea, Ralph Young looks at how the limits of dissent as one of our nation’s defining characteristics were tested during World War I.

Senator LaFollette
In October 1917, Senator Robert La Follette delivered a blistering address in defense of free speech and dissent. “Since the declaration of war, the triumphant war press has pursued those Senators and Representatives who voted against war with malicious falsehood and recklessly libelous attacks, going to the extreme limit of charging them with treason against their country.” There have been many attacks, he went on, against him personally and demands that he be expelled from the Senate. But such attacks were not just aimed at politicians but were also being directed at ordinary citizens in an attempt to coerce them into silence and acquiescence in an unjust war. “The mandate seems to have gone forth to the sovereign people of this country that they must be silent while those things are being done by their Government which most vitally concerns their well-being, their happiness, and their lives.” This was deplorable. American citizens must not be “terrorized” in this way. 

He produced several affidavits of Americans being subjected to unlawful arrest merely for expressing opposition to the war. “Honest and law-abiding citizens of this country are being terrorized,” he admonished, even though they have committed no crime. Throughout the nation “private residences are being invaded, loyal citizens of undoubted integrity and probity arrested, cross-examined, and the most sacred constitutional rights guaranteed to every American citizen are being violated.” 

Of course, he conceded that citizens recognize that in time of war security measures are needed that might chip away at some civil liberties, but, he emphasized, “the right to control their own Government according to constitutional forms is not one of the rights that the citizens of this country are called upon to surrender in time of war” (La Follette’s emphasis). When the country is at war, he went on, it is even more necessary to preserve this right than it is in time of peace. In wartime the American citizen

“must be most watchful of the encroachment of the military upon the civil power. He must beware of those precedents in support of arbitrary action by administration officials which, excused on the pleas of necessity in war time, become the fixed rule when the necessity has passed and normal conditions have been restored.

More than all, the citizen and his representative in Congress in time of war must maintain his right of free speech. More than in times of peace it is necessary that the channels for free public discussion of governmental policies shall be open and unclogged.”

The most important right the American people enjoy is the right “to discuss in an orderly way, frankly and publicly and without fear, from the platform and through the press, every important phase of this war; its causes, and manner in which it should be conducted, and the terms upon which peace should be made.” And any attempt to stifle free speech, public discussion of the war, or even severe criticism of the administration’s policies, is “a blow at the most vital part of our Government.”

Early Antiwar Demonstration in New York (Alamy)

Many Americans applauded La Follette’s stance. Even former president Theodore Roosevelt was furious about Wilson’s attempts to suppress dissent. When Wilson’s supporters said it was wrong to criticize the president, especially in time of war, Roosevelt lashed out angrily. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president,” he said, “or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.” 

But many of those who dared to “tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant” found themselves in trouble with the law. In June 1918 Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs was arrested under the provisions of the Sedition Act for a scathing antiwar speech he gave in Canton, Ohio. “Wars throughout history,” Debs reflected, “have been waged for conquest and plunder.” When Feudal lords in the Middle Ages sought to increase their domains “they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war.” It was the serfs, the peasants who fought and died in the battles back then. “The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught . . . to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt.” This has not changed. Now, just as then, it is the master class that profits from war, the working class that dies in wars. “They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.” 

The Great War, Debs insisted, is an imperialist war for the benefit of American businessmen and financiers—the Wall Street gentry—who he likened to the Junkers, the autocratic Prussian ruling class that was the force behind German aggression. These “Wall Street Junkers” were lying about the war’s goals when they say it is the war to make the world safe for American democracy. The war is really about profits, nothing else. They wrap themselves up in patriotism and intimidate the people by questioning the patriotism of anyone who does not wholeheartedly support the war. “These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag,” Debs scoffed,

“who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.”

These deceivers are the real traitors, Debs insisted, not those who criticize the war, not those who stand up for liberty and justice. Those are the real patriots.

Shortly after Debs delivered this speech, he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Along with his prison term he was stripped of his American citizenship. “I have been accused of obstructing the war,” Debs said when he was permitted to speak to the jury before sentencing. “I admit it. Gentlemen, I abhor war. I would oppose war if I stood alone.”  But then he also confessed that he believed in the Constitution. “Isn’t it strange that we Socialists stand almost alone today in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States? The revolutionary fathers who had been oppressed under king rule understood that free speech and the right of free assemblage by the people were fundamental principles in democratic government. . . . I believe in the right of free speech, in war as well as peace.”

Source:  The Constitutional Daily

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Pvt. Troy E. Leach, Supply Company, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division, AEF

Contributed by Robin Clayton of Walnut, Mississippi

Young Troy Leach on the Right

My grandfather, Troy Elbert Leach, born Christmas 1895 in Blue Springs, MS, was an illiterate coon dog hunting farm boy who had never gone anywhere outside Union County, MS, until the Great War reached America.

Brand New Soldier Troy Leach on the Left

He enlisted in the U.S. Amy at New Albany, MS, and left on a troop train from the Frisco Crossing at the Harahan Bridge at Memphis, arriving at Camp Pike, AK, on 3 October 1917. He began rifle training but caught the influenza and almost died. Afterward, Troy Leach became a cook.

Training as a Cook

After Camp Pike’s 87th Division was skeletonized and absorbed into services of supply, he left for Camp Dix, New Jersey, by train. Troy crossed the Atlantic on an English cattle boat, fetching food for the seasick Doughboys as he ran up and down the ship ladders unfazed. Troy wound up in the supply company for the 2nd Division's 9th Infantry, arriving as a replacement, just as the Marines were finishing up Belleau Wood and just in time for the division's next attack, on Vaux.

2nd Division Insignia
Troy was a wagon driver and cook. His daughter used to say he was good with meat, especially hamburgers, and he knew how to make corned beef from scratch. He went through Soissons, St. Mihiel, and was driving a water wagon near Blanc Mont in the Champagne in October.

On 8 October, this Mississippi country boy was told to deliver water to his outfit. This was the day the 2nd Division was being relieved by the 36th Division. There was much confusion, the lines overlapping. He could not find them, so gave his load of water to another outfit. After failing to deliver his load of water to the outfit he was ordered to, he was ordered to try again,  "Or don’t come back." Well, he didn’t come back.

Troy Delivered Water in a Studebaker-Built Tank Like This

On the way, he saw a lieutenant on a motorcycle needing help, and he and the "mule tank"  stopped. A plane flew over just then and dropped a bomb on an ammo dump, exploding. Troy lay on the field wounded in the lung and shoulder blade till 9 October.

It Was Farther Down This Road That Troy Was Wounded

By then St Etienne was taken and Troy was removed from the 2nd Division and evacuated to the hospital. I was told Pershing himself pinned a medal on Troy. He was placed on a hospital ship and arrived in the USA on 23 December 1918.

Troy Recuperating in Hospital

Two days later, Troy Leach turned 23. He recuperated and was discharged from the Army at Camp Shelby, MS, in 1919. He later went to Mississippi State Barber College in Starkville and [also] learned to read.

Troy and Estella After the War


He married Estella Pannell and had five children. Troy, Jr., the oldest, would serve under Patton in North Africa. He was a motorcycle courier from Oran to Marrakesh.


Estella and Troy with Daughters Sarah and Scotti [Mother of Contributor] and Son Joe

Troy Jr. During World War II



The First World War never left Troy, Sr., alone, though, He was hospitalized for shell shock,  depression, and his old wounds at Hines Illinois Military Hospital about the time he joined the New Albany Chapter of the American Legion, in 1932. Troy finally got a little pension started to feed his family, as he was evaluated as disabled from the war.

Troy During His Second Hospitalization in the 1930s

Like Alvin York, Troy was a church music leader, serving the Blue Springs Baptist Church until he finally succumbed to his injuries on 22  June 1950.

Despite the Adversity He Faced, Troy Remained a
Proud Veteran and American Legion Member; Here He Is Wearing His WWI Campaign Medal and Purple Heart


Friday, May 15, 2020

From Dead Serious to Silly: Five Censored Photos from the War

This selection of images from a 1926 U.S. Army Signal Corps report, "The Military Censorship of Photographs" shows the wide range of discretion that censors can exercise during wartime.

Click on Images to Enlarge


American Dead Awaiting Reburial at Cierges, France




A Hidden Anti-Submarine Gun Newly Installed on a Navy Ship




The Censor Thought This Photo of Soldiers Training on Wooden Machine Guns Could Be Used by German Propagandists.  The Doughboys, However, Seem to Be Having a Good Time.





President and Mrs. Wilson Intending to Show Their Support for the War Effort at a Camouflage Demonstration. 
The Censor's Problem Is with the  Rock. It's Papier-mâché and Part of the Cover of  a
Hidden Listening Post.





"Possibly Subject to Misinterpretation." 
This Is Not a Still from South Pacific, but a Morale Visit by
a Group of Broadway Chorus Girls to
Pelham Bay Naval Station.



Thursday, May 14, 2020

77th New York Metropolitan Division to Be Honored in France


Men of the 77th Division About to Attack the Argonne Forest

The episode of the Lost Battalion during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive is the most remembered and commemorated event of America's effort in the Great War. That patched-together unit trapped on that hillside for five desperate days came from men from the 77th Division, composed of men from New York City and the nearby communities. The Lost Battalion has its own monument overlooking the site and has been the subject of a well-done feature film. All well justified, of course. However, this focus has inadvertently led to a century-long neglect of all the other accomplishments of the full 77th division, including those of the men who were trapped temporarily with the Lost Battalion, who —once sprung loose—carried on the fight right up to the Armistice.

Shoulder Patch, 77th Division
Consider: No other division captured as much enemy territory during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as the 77th Division. They advanced 37 miles in the 47 days of the operation, being in the line 32 days total. Including its earlier service in the Aisne-Marne sector, the Metropolitan Division suffered 10,194 casualties in action including 1,486 dead in the war. Yet, unlike many of the other divisions that served in France, the 77th has never had a monument to its accomplishments placed on the battlefields it liberated in 1918.

Happily, however, that is about to change. A group of boosters are coordinating with numerous government officials, agencies, and foundations, in both the U.S. and France, to dedicate a private memorial to the U.S. 77th Division. The monument will be placed at the village of Villers devant Mouzon, on the Meuse river, which became the point of the division's farthest advance on 11 November 1918.  Poetically, the Hillburn Granite Quarry of New York state has presented  an exceptional design that is sure to highlight a true American story—from a small New York quarry to the banks of the River Meuse.

Villers devant Mouzon (Insert: Mock-up of Memorial)

The dedication to the 77th Division Memorial is planned for Villers devant Mouzon on 28 June 2021, the anniversary of the signing of the Versailles Treaty. Planning for the event is being closely coordinated with the 77th Sustainment Brigade, Ft. Dix (which traces its lineage to the 77th Division), the 77th Infantry Division Reserve Officer Association, and the 50th Attack Squadron, Shaw AFB, which in October 1918 provided support for the Lost Battalion. All will be represented and included in the dedication. The commemoration also will include a flyover dedication by Dorian Walker in his recently restored DH-4 Liberty, the only one the world.

The point of contact for the event is Col. Charles E. Metrolis, USAF, whose great-uncle Edwin Welch, was killed in a post-Armistice action, on a bridge over the Meuse river near Villers devant Mouzon.  Contact him HERE if you have any questions about the dedication.

New York's Own Returns Home (ARTICLE)


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pyotr Nesterov: Aviation Innovator & First Air-to-Air Combat Victor


Display at Russian Air Force Museum

In our article on 1 May 2020, "The Birth of the Air War,"  contributor Jon Guttman made reference to an 8 September 1914 air attack mounted by aviation pioneer Pyotr Nesterov (1987—1914).  Another of our contributors, Steve Miller, has informed us that the story behind the encounter is fascinating and that his brief career as as an aviation innovator is worthy of further discussion.  

Replica of Nesterov's Nieuport IV  Monoplane

Nesterov graduated as a military pilot in 1912 and was assigned to a detachment at Kiev.  He soon gained fame as the first pilot to fly a loop in his Nieuport IV monoplane. He was disciplined for his dangerous maneuver but gained international fame for it, nevertheless. Throughout his brief flying career Nesterov was a tireless student of the new science. He worked out new methods flying higher, safer, and at night. He suggested using aircraft for bombing and for ramming enemy airplanes.

Display at Russian Air Force Museum

It was this last combat tactic that would bring an end to Nesterov's career and life. Flying his Nieuport IV on  8 September 1914 would use a ramming technique to become history's first pilot to down an enemy aircraft, the Austro-Hungarian Albatros B.II of Franz Malina and Friedrich Freiherr Rosenthal. All three aviators died from the collision. It is believed that he may have been trying to disable the enemy airplane by using his wheels to rip off a wing, but a catastrophic collision resulted instead. Nesterov posthumously received the Order of St. George and is today honored at the Russian Air Force Museum near Moscow.

Sources:  Russiapedia.com, Steve Miller Archives

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

From The Unutterable Beauty: "Dead and Buried" by G.A. Studdert Kennedy


 Commentary by
David F. Beer


Rev. Studdert Kennedy
The Reverend Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy came to the Western Front from a small English parish and served as an army chaplain. He soon became known as "Woodbine Willy" to troops near the front lines due to his practice of giving out cigarettes to needy soldiers. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, survived the war, and returned to parish work. He died an early death in 1929 from a combination of asthma and exhaustion. He wrote numerous poems, published and still available in The Unutterable Beauty. He was also the author of several notable books on theology in which he questioned the concept of God being both omnipotent and all-loving; his experience in the war had proved otherwise. The God he served never intervenes in the affairs of humans yet loves us and suffers along with us through the Christ. The war, the suffering deity, and the hypocrisy perpetuated in "the many-fountained Gardens of Versailles" is the subject of this poem.


Dead and Buried

I have borne my cross through Flanders,
Through the broken heart of France,
I have borne it through the deserts of the East;
I have wandered, faint and longing,
Through the human hosts that, thronging,
Swarmed to glut their grinning idols with a feast.

I was crucified in Cambrai,
And again outside Bapaume;
I was scourged for miles along the Albert Road,
I was driven, pierced and bleeding,
With a million maggots feeding
On the body that I carried as my load.

I have craved a cup of water,
Just a drop to quench my thirst,
As the routed armies ran to keep the pace;
But no soldier made reply
As the maddened hosts swept by,
And a sweating straggler kicked me in the face.

There's no ecstasy of torture
That the devils e'er devised,
That my soul has not endured unto the last;
As I bore my cross of sorrow,
For the glory of tomorrow,
Through the wilderness of battles that is past.

Yet my heart was still unbroken,
And my hope was still unquenched,
Till I bore my cross to Paris through the crowd.
Soldiers pierced me on the Aisne,
But 'twas by the river Seine
That the statesmen brake my legs and made my shroud.

There they wrapped my mangled body
In fine linen of fair words,
With the perfume of a sweetly scented lie,
And they laid it in the tomb
Of the golden-mirrored room,
'mid the many-fountained Gardens of Versailles.

With a thousand scraps of paper
They made fast the open door,
And the wise men of the council saw it sealed.
With the seal of subtle lying,
They made certain of my dying,
Lest the torment of the peoples should be healed.

Then they set a guard of soldiers
Night and day beside the Tomb,
Where the body of the Prince of Peace is laid,
And the captains of the nations
Keep the sentries to their stations,
Lest the statesman's trust from Satan be betrayed.

For it isn't steel and iron
That men use to kill their God,
But the poison of a smooth and slimy tongue.
Steel and iron tear the body,
But it's oily sham and shoddy
That have trampled down God's spirit in the dung.


In nine stanzas, with a rhythm that somehow reminds me of a marching cadence, the poet employs the metaphor of Christ on his earthly journey—but now in France rather than Palestine. Jesus suffered dreadfully but was able to survive the cruelty, neglect, and horror of the fighting. It was the politicians who finally crucified him: "Soldiers pierced me on the Aisne,/But 'twas by the river Seine/That the statesmen brake my legs and made my shroud."

This is what happened at Versailles, where decisions and forced agreements made World War Two all but inevitable. The treaty was hammered out by fair words, sweetly scented lies, thousands of scraps of (meaningless?) paper, subtle lies, smooth and slimy tongues, and pacts with the devil.

The final stanza sums it all up. Perhaps it has ever been thus.

David F. Beer

Monday, May 11, 2020

Dardanelles Diary: The View from Offshore


From the Illustrated London News, 5 June 1915:

AFTER three days in the fine natural harbour of this island situated in the Aegean Sea, and where the Allies have made for themselves a naval base to attack the Dardanelles, we left suddenly at noon on Wednesday, 28 April, 1915, for the scene of action.

Naval Forces off Gallipoli

Now to tell you of one of the greatest days in my life — the day that I first came under the fire and was privileged to see one of the finest bombardments yet fought in history. About three o'clock, or three hours after leaving Lemnos, we sighted many vessels and land ahead. Then we saw flashes, and knew where we were. The cannonade became distinct, and gradually we came up with hundreds of craft of every description surrounding the entrance to the Straits and around the Peninsula of Gallipoli.

Transports supplying soldiers, stores, guns, and ammunition were there galore, and the men-o'-war, small and large, were darting to and fro. Some were lying broadside on, and great flashes of flame came from their guns. We were soon up on the boat-deck to take in the situation and gather information. On Sunday we had landed some Australian, French, and English troops at Helles Bay.

Our troops were landed with great opposition. Barbed-wire entanglements on land and under the sea caused great trouble. The men got caught in this wire and were slaughtered in hundreds. Eventually, barges made the shore, and the British Iroops landed at Helles Bay. The Australian Contingent were landed at the bay shown on the map, and the opposition was even greater here. A transport was eventually run aground, and the troops got on shore by using this as a jetty.


When we steamed up, we saw the landscape as shown on the sketches enclosed, and if these are joined, you will get the whole. I am told this gives a very accurate idea, so that you can perhaps glean some interest from my efforts. As we got into position, the guns of men-o'-war in the mouth of the Strait were doing damage, and already the village was burning. Then another of our cruisers started on our right, and finally the Queen Elizabeth and a cruiser took a position on our left and right, respectively, and let go for all they were worth. Need I say what a stirring sight all this was! We could see the land laid out like a panorama before us, and could see the flash of the enemy guns as they sought the batteries of our landing-party. Many of their shells dropped near the coast. So near was the Dublin to us that we could view the landing of the great guns and the tars skipping around as happy as sand-boys. Then came the great flash and yet another, and the following volumes of smoke. A while, and then the crash; broadsides were fired —  salvos delivered. Jove! it was terrible! Every nerve quivered with excitement as we watched the bursting of the shells and the shrapnel. Bang! and up would go a great column of smoke from the village. As night fell, we could see the lurid flash of the bursting shells and the great flames of the burning village. This was war indeed!

Then the cruiser let go every gun she had upon her, and some trenches to the right of the village must have been sky-high. So night fell, and the fires and lights of our landing- party, and the great glow of the flaming village on our port, with the many lights of the vessels standing "off" on our starboard, made a scene I shall never forget. For a quarter of an hour our guns spoke at eleven o'clock. At 5 a.m. they gave the enemy a gentle reminder for thirty minutes. This was Thursday, and all day we heard the booming of guns and occasionally saw the bursting of enemy shrapnel. Early in the afternoon, a great column of smoke arose from behind a ridge of hills, and continued to rise all day. At night there was a great glow there, and a small town must have been well alight. In the evening, bombardment took place all round, and it transpired that our troops had a terrible time — the Turks advancing with heavy guns and forming a most strong opposition; so much that our troops were forced to retire.


British Cruiser and Transport Off of Gallipoli Peninsula

Two men came off the shore to our vessel and stated the carnage to be awful. If you only realised in England how we are hanging on by our eyebrows here, some of the spruce young city men would come and lend a hand. Think of it, and try and realise what a task we have when it is known that the Turks are reinforcing in thousands, led by Germans who have brought some very heavy guns with them.

Thursday afternoon, a battleship on the extreme left, where the Australians had landed, did some good work, and at night there was exchange of artillery fire. It was very cold this night. Up at 5 a.m. next morning, I heard heavy firing from the enemy, and just about 8 a.m. the shrapnel was bursting over our trenches. The enemy's fire became general, and several shells fell along the cliff; three dropped in the sea around a transport which lay about 300 yards in front of us. She immediately moved to the rear with her load of prisoners. We could see the Turks with their red flag and khaki uniform. Their hands were shackled! Altogether, very exciting!

Then our dogs of war barked, and the Turkish-German guns were silenced. The village, to which the enemy had advanced, was given attention, and altogether the foe must have had a very warm time. Land fighting took place all day, but some good work was done from our vessels in the Narrows. From here a large forest and brushwood land was set on fire, and once more we had a bonfire. Dense columns of smoke arose, and as evening fell, the sky was painted red with the reflection of the flames. On this day we hear that the Australians put in some fine work, and especially at night under cover of the forest fire, when they did much damage to the enemy. During the morning, two of our aeroplanes carried out a reconnaissance, and a man-o'-war to our right was plumping shells right over the coveted hill. Oh, if we can only gain that prominence! Then, indeed, we should have an advantage, but one that would have been hardly earned. During the afternoon we were visited by a German 'plane. It had black crosses under the wings, and tried to drop a bomb on our observation-balloon. It was an unsuccessful attempt, however, and our anti-aircraft guns with their pop-pop-pop-pop-pop, sent her flying home.

After tea, we were treated to one of the finest sights of the many that have recently been offered to us. As twilight fell, the enemy made a terrific attack on our trenches. In the darkness, the bursting shrapnel, here and there and everywhere, was extraordinary. Away on the hill and ridge at the back we could see the flash of the enemy's guns. Then almost simultaneously would come the bang and the burst of the shell. Our artillery replied, and we could see the shell bursting on the Turkish positions. Then we had an exciting time, for the Germans sent over half-a-dozen star shells which lit up the land. These things are just like rockets, only that they fly lower —  more like a rifle-bullet. Behind the hill was the lurid glare of the fire, rifles and machine-guns cracked, the moon in all its fullness gradually rose in a beautifully clear sky, and we — well, we stood in breathless excitement as the players in this extraordinary drama carried on their part in the darkness of the land which lay before us. It gave me an unpleasant feeling of helplessness  —  a wholesome horror of war — but it was a wonderful sight. All night the guns boomed, and the next day (Saturday) too. In the morning we moved to the island of Tenedos, but speedily returned to the scene of the conflict. Once more we were "in the stalls," but expect to have to take our part at any moment.

V Beach, Cape Helles Viewed from River Clyde

We dropped some Engineers two days ago, and since then we hear that, upon landing, they were awaiting orders when a shell dropped right in their midst, and few of them were left. A cheerful prospect; but may God rest their souls — our late companions! More Engineers and some of the A.S.C. have left the ship, and the guns have been going all day long. Another fire occurred on Saturday afternoon, and the aeroplanes and observation-balloon were busy. Also guns boomed all day, but we seem to be getting used to these things.

Saturday evening we watched the battle, which quieted down. The sun sank behind the island of Imbros in all his glory, and as this island is very rocky and hilly it was a fine sight. The sea, too, was beautiful; and, as darkness fell, the many transports, with their flash-lamps, ships' lights, and signals, looked like a small town. Overhead, the stars shone out in the deep-blue sky in myriads. A lovely evening! Just after we retired (and I am now sleeping in the ladies' cabin on the top deck —  very comfortable, and plenty of sea air) the guns began to speak. It got so hot that our cabin was lit up by the flashes from our guns. We got up, put on our overcoats, and saw the fiercest of battles. To describe it in full would be useless to try. In the pitch dark the blue sky made a silhouette of the all-important hill. The enemy shrapnel burst continually all along the coast, and particularly over the Field Artillery and the two coves where our men are being landed. Great flashes came from our batteries, which did a lot of work, and the rifle-fire was quite audible and very rapid.

Just off the point of the Peninsula our man-o'-war let go every half-minute, and we could see her shells bursting on the hillside. Star shells floated over our encampments, and what with the continual lighting-up of the land by the bursting projectiles, the boom of the guns, the cracking of the rifles, and the rays of the searchlight with the signals flashing to and fro, an awful but memorable scene was presented to us.

This battle raged throughout Saturday night, May I, but abated somewhat during Sunday, although the naval guns kept up a constant bombardment, especially one man- o'-war well up the Straits. We attended service in the morning. One of the hymns struck me as being somewhat appropriate:

Through the night of doubt and sorrow
Onward goes the pilgrim band, Singing songs of expectation,
Marching to the promised land.

In the afternoon, after a dinner, I confess I enjoyed a nap. By the way, you will like to know our bill-of-fare. There is plenty of water for drinking purposes, but for washing body and clothes the sea provides.

Breakfast consists of tea, porridge, jam, bread, and butter. Always the same, sometimes minus the porridge, which has reached quite a good standard. Dinner gives us stewed meat or bully beef, doubtful potatoes, and occasionally haricot beans — no fresh vegetables. Sometimes no pudding; but if any, rice and currants (unwashed) or a plum duff. Tea consists of bread, butter, jam, and the favourite beverage (I mean tea). On rare occasions we get a cheese ration, and very welcome it is. The way we deal with rations is thus: Two orderlies, our lorry-drivers — clear the cabin up (we are fortunate to have the ladies' room, 30 feet by 15 feet on the top deck —  hence, plenty of air) and draw the stores. Regular times are detailed for drawing boiling water, meat, and bread. These are called "Sittings." At a certain time groceries (sugar, tins of condensed milk, and butter) are issued. At the start of the voyage "dicksees" (i.e., metal cans), tin mugs and plates, knives, forks, and spoons were issued. The three corporals get the men seated and serve each man with the food. No man is allowed to take anything, and thus all get equal rations.

Now for Sunday evening's battle! An everyday occurrence, which we now treat just as we do the playing of a band or going to the theatre or pictures at home. Our men-o'-war right up the Straits had been pounding away at the Peninsula. These naval guns form our heavy artillery for the infantry's advance. Suddenly shrapnel began to burst all round. Flashes came from the hill and the ridges, and we knew the enemy had opened the ball. The sun sank once more in glory behind the island of Imbros. As night fell, an aeroplane reconnoitered over their position. On the seaward side of the Peninsula our friend the cruiser started her work in the darkness; we could actually see the shells' trail. The enemy on the Asia Minor side were dropping shrapnel — "bags" of it —  just off the point, and, thank heavens most of it was short and burst over the sea.


HMS Queen Elizabeth Opens Fire

Away in the distance, and further up the Peninsula where the Australians landed, our ships were dropping shell after shell on the heights. Altogether we had plenty to see. In front of us lay the French hospital-ship, with the little tugs running to and fro to her. From the Strait came a great man-o'-war to take a rest and load up ammunition after her day's work, and the heliographs and signalling-lamps were busy all around us. The only sign of peace here is the tranquil and beautiful sky with its gems twinkling ever.

And you think, as you lie back on the cushioned seats of the train or the "Tube" —  you think the taking of the Dardanelles is going along so nicely —  at least, so the daily papers inform you. Oh, it 's a picnic to come here! It 's a holiday from our offices, our homes, and our loved ones. We are lucky to see the world and enjoy the beautiful climate: but can you ever realise what it is costing England's sons to hang on by their eyelids on this terrible place? We know, because we've seen it, and it has been a great and terrible experience. We have seen Britain's wonderful organisation and greatness as you can never know it, although the great city of London and all its splendid workings are example enough; but, believe me, if the Allies ever gain the ascendancy over this terribly strong military position, it will only be by dint of some of the hardest fighting in this war. Our boys have had their powers of endurance tested through the terrible winter in France, but the heat which is beginning to make itself felt, and the extremes of temperature, will test any man's physical powers to their utmost.

Monday, May 3. Comparatively quiet in the battle-area. Our naval guns continue to tickle them up! Some of the men rowed officers ashore and came back full of the tales of battle. On 5th May we are going to make a big effort to get the hill and its adjacent ridge, for, on that day, the Australians hope to have gained a certain ground which will be conducive towards victory. May it be so! Hundreds of Greeks —  compelled by the Turks to fight, are coming in to surrender. Our poor fellows lay wounded for three days between the two fires before they could be brought in for treatment. The enemy have one or two big guns which are a nuisance, and they are fighting very doggedly. But actually how things are going we cannot, of course, tell.

Today an enemy aeroplane made a daring observation-flight. Our anti-aircraft guns made a useful attempt to pot him, but he escaped after quite an exciting flight. He looked like flying over our way, and we speculated as to a bomb; but no, he tried another course.

The despatch-ship brought letters for the ships' officers to-day. None for us, and great disappointment. Three and a-half weeks and not a word by mail or Press from home. It's rough on fellows homesick and unused to it. Lucky merchants, those in France!

Another big battle on Wednesday night. We havegained the village of Krithea, and fighting hard for the Hill [Achi] Baba. [Neither were ever captured in the campaign.] As usual, a terrific bombardment by our naval guns and the French 75-millimetre, which were landed early.

May 6, Thursday. Awoke to a glorious morning  —  full sun and cool breezes, sea perfect and dancing in the sunlight. What weather, and we get it every day! Beautiful nights and myriads of stars come to our gaze after viewing sunsets that beat any picture "all ends up."
View of Anzac Sector

Guns booming and banging, as usual. At 6.25 a German aeroplane flew overhead and dropped three bombs around a transport lying 300 yards from us. Great columns of water went up. The missiles were meant for our artillery just outside the camp, situated by the landing-place on the sea side of Helles Point. Later, a British and then a French aeroplane made observation-flights, and we had a most exciting time as the enemy's aircraft guns made merry, and fired well over a hundred shots. To see the shell burst and the resulting smoke hang in the air was very pretty, and it was finer still to see the way our 'planes fooled the gunners by their daring.

Heavy bombardment continues. I was on the boat-deck in charge of the party disinfecting up and cleaning machines. Some of our officers and ship's officers went ashore, but the ship hooted them back, and we guessed we were to move. At five o'clock they came back, and we started immediately for Alexandria —  so we are told. So we left the danger zone. So it was, for if one of those bombs had, perchance, hit us, we should have been blown sky-high — why?  —  well, perhaps, you can guess! After a rubber of whist and an excellent day's grub, I went forward to enjoy the night and have a talk with two of the boys about the constellations and their marvels. The phosphorescence danced gaily by us, and above us the gems of the sky sparkled gloriously. Low down the old "Flasher" threw colour upon colour before our eyes. We picked out the Pole Star, turned west, and thought  of home.

The men flushing down the decks woke me at 5 a.m. this morning, but what a morning! Air like wine, and through the cabin-doors the islands of the Archipelago — the Cyclades group  —  were studded all over the ocean. So we continued to pass them whilst eating brekker and performing physical drill. A panorama fit for the god!

Our officers who went ashore brought across relics of the great battles. Shell, cases, bullets. Tres interessant! I hear that the fight upon landing was one of the most terrible in this war. Ghastly beyond words!

So ends my first visit to the Dardanelles.

Sadly, I've never been able to identify this correspondent. Thanks to Tony Langley for discovering this gem and providing the photos. MH.