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

Monday, August 31, 2020

About the Amalgamation Issue

Editor's Note: For this rather complicated topic, I've drawn on two sources. "The Amalgamation Controversy, 1917-1918: America's: Fight for Independence", by Lt. Col. Maxwell C. Baily, USAF, an Air War College Research Report Abstract, 1988; and "Pershing's Decision: How the United States Fought its First Modern Coalition War" by  Michael S. Neiberg,  US Army War College, 2010. The sections draw from each contributor are clearly identified. Minor revisions were made in the texts to coordinate the narratives. MH



From America's declaration of war in April 1917 until just prior to its first offensive as an independent army at St. Mihiel in September 1918, the French and British pressed for American manpower to be amalgamated by small groups—individuals, companies, battalions—into existing French and British formations. . . 

The amalgamation controversy was the product of a degree of American military unpreparedness which seems incredible viewed backward from seventy years. The fact that the American army was small and scattered is understandable. But, the almost total lack of mobilization, and war planning, and initial preparation actions, that would seem prudent with Europe at war for nearly three years is hard to comprehend.  The [other] problem was the war had used up all the fighting men [available to the British and French armies.]

. . . But the prevailing American opinion favored an independent American army as reflected in tie thoughts of Secretary of War Newton Baker, [Acting Army Chief of Staff] Tasker Bliss, and especially President Wilson. Baker had practical concerns noting American habits, food, and temperament were different than the British and French.

The [initial] guidance on independence was clear:

In military operations against the Imperial German Government you are directed to cooperate with the force., of the other countries employed against the enemy; but in so doing the underlying idea must be kept in view that the forces of the United States are a separate and distinct component of the combined forces, the identity of which must be preserved. [from the President, delivered by Secretary of War Baker to Pershing]

Source:  Baily




[Things, however, became more complicated six months later and amalgamation once again became a major issue.]

In early December, 1917, American Expeditionary Forces Commander General John Pershing warned the Secretary of War that with the collapse of the Russian front, the Germans would be able to concentrate as many as 260 divisions on the western front in the spring. Against that force, the allies had just 169 divisions. Pershing judged that it was "very doubtful" that the Allies could stop the Germans given the disparity in manpower.

Part of the problem stemmed from the mismanagement of American mobilization. Preparing America for a major war was a monumental challenge, characterized by so much inefficiency and corruption that Secretary of War Newton Baker had offered to resign. Despite having been technically at war since April, the United States had just four infantry divisions in France, and they were all short on training, equipment, and modern staff techniques. Pershing estimated that the United States would need to have at least 24 divisions [which were at least twice the size of the divisions of the other combatants] on the western front by June for the Allies to have a chance to stop the expected German attack. At the time, few Americans (and even fewer Europeans) held out much hope that the Americans could meet this need.

One solution offered by the Europeans. . . amalgamation, would have the United States insert its men directly into existing British and French units at the company level. Europeans argued that amalgamation would compensate for the inexperience of American officers and NCOs as well as American lack of familiarity with modern staff arrangements and technologies like aviation, armor, and heavy artillery. American troops would thereby be commanded at the tactical level by American junior officers, but the operational and strategic direction of American forces would be handled by more experienced Europeans.

President Wilson, like most other Americans, [had been] initially aghast at the idea of amalgamation. Some Americans looked at the enormous casualty levels on the western front and recoiled against the thought of their young men being used as cannon fodder by European generals. Pershing contended that the Europeans had become too tied to trench warfare; his "open warfare" doctrine, he argued, would restore mobility to warfare by emphasizing American aggressiveness and marksmanship. Wilson and his political advisors also recognized that an amalgamated American force would not allow for a distinctive American presence on the western front. Wilson knew that he would need to be able to point to an American contribution to victory if he were to represent American interests in any post-war peace conference.



Your Editor Speaking at the Presidio of San Francisco on General Pershing in 2015.  I Pointed Out in the Talk that Despite His Anti-Amalgamation Posture He Proved Quite Flexible in Providing Forces During the Spring Crisis and the Final Victory Offensive


Wilson [had given] Pershing a written order before his departure for Europe forbidding him from amalgamating American forces. Pershing stubbornly held to his position that American forces would only fight under a completely American chain of command on a distinctly American section of the Western Front. At one point, he even told French premier Georges Clemenceau that he was prepared to see Allied forces pushed back to the Loire River (meaning the loss of Paris) rather than amalgamate American forces into larger European units.

Yet it was obvious that the Americans were not yet ready to fight on their own. Having held to a strict definition of neutrality, the Americans had had virtually no opportunity to learn about modern war. They needed time to learn about trench warfare and modern tactics. They also needed time to build relationships with their French and British allies and to overcome the inefficiencies of their own mobilization. Few doubted that they could do it. The question was whether they would complete these enormous tasks in time to stop the German spring offensive.

The solution came in the form of an agreement signed in mid-December 1917. It read "in compliance with the request of Great Britain and France, prompted by the expectation of a strong German offensive, the President agrees to the American forces being, if necessary, amalgamated with the French and British units as small as the company." The final decision on the level of amalgamation was to be Pershing's.

The decision was undoubtedly the right one and probably saved thousands of American lives. Pershing ultimately decided to amalgamate at the division level, meaning that American soldiers took their orders from American officers up to the level of major general, but overall strategic direction came from more experienced French officers at the corps, army, and army group levels. This system functioned well at the watershed Second Battle of the Marne in July 1918 and gave the Americans the crucial experiences they needed to fight a coalition war and make their mark on the final victory. It also provided General Dwight Eisenhower with the model he used in building his own coalition in the Second World War.

Source: Neiberg

The Main French Memorial in the Champagne at Navarin Farm
the American Figure on the Right Recognizes the Contribution of the 70,000 Americans Who Fought in the Sector, All Under French Command


The AEF would never achieve complete independence. During the Meuse-Argonne campaign four divisions had no organic artillery due to the shipping priorities of the spring and early summer. The French willingly provided the support. In addition, French aircraft, tanks, and even an entire army corps fought along side the Americans and under American command. French corps and army troops were used throughout American operations and no doubt added considerable expertise in battlefield distribution of ammunition and other supplies in the difficult terrain of the Argonne Forest.

Some American units never fought as a distinct national army. The 27th and 30th Divisions under II Corps, fought under British command on the Somme. Six American divisions fought with the French in the Vosges Mountains, while the 2nd and 36th were assigned to the French Fourth Army for the assault on Blanc Mont Ridge in the Champagne. The 332nd Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Division was even sent to Italy in July 1918, and the 339th Infantry Regiment of the 85th Division was part of the Murmansk Expedition. 

Source: Baily

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Slowing Down the Schlieffen Plan

By  late August 1914, the Schlieffen Plan was coming unraveled. There were issues of physical exhaustion and communications and coordination breakdowns, but possibly the most importantly, the supply line back to Germany was nowhere what was needed to sustain the huge five-army advance as it moved into France.  

Strong Belgian resistance contributed to this, including especially extensive demolition of railway infrastructure, greatly hindering the use of the network to supply German forces. Even a month after the occupation of Belgium, barely 15 per cent of the railway network was operating despite 26,000 workers being drafted in.

The rapidly advancing German troops far outran their supply lines once they entered France. They were soon up to 80 miles ahead of their nearest railhead, and horse-drawn transport could not adequately bridge the gap. The increasingly exhausted German troops were short of food and ammunition, and also faced stiffening resistance as the French used their well-developed rail network around Paris to assemble a new army to protect the capital. Meanwhile British forces were rushed across the Channel and deployed with the French and Belgian forces. The German advance ground to a halt. This theme - of the momentum of an initially successful advance faltering as supply lines were outrun, while defending forces were rapidly concentrated to fill the breech - was to be replayed many times during the next four years.


Click on Images to Enlarge


Locomotive Derailed for Maximum Inconvenience



Blocked Tunnel



Railroad and Vehicular Bridges Blown at Namur


Demolished Bridge at Termonde on Scheldt River



This photo documents a daring ploy by the Belgians during the siege of Antwerp. Five locomotives were sent down lines on which German troop trains were approaching.  The ensuing collision resulted in the crashes shown and the arrival of the troops being transported delayed.



Spectacular Demolition of Rail Bridge Over the Nethe River


Friday, August 28, 2020

Portugal's Unknown Soldiers


Tomb with Christ of the Trenches


On 9 April 1921 there were brought from Flanders and Portuguese Africa to the Monastery of Batalha, Temple of the Motherland, the two "Unknown Soldiers, representing in all their glory those lost during the expeditions sent to the referred theaters of operations and symbolizing the heroic sacrifice of the Portuguese People.”

Batalha Monestary


Ever since the end of the 19th century, the Monastery of Batalha has been an object of nationalistic fervor due to its cultural and psychological significance in history, which would later lead to its appointment as dedicated resting place for the Unknown Soldier, becoming a patriotic place of pilgrimage where the national soul could find sanctuary.

Double Tomb


And so, laid to rest beneath the spectacular vault of the Chapter House and lit by the so-called "Flame of the Mother Country" of the Monumental Lamp created by Lourenço Chaves de Almeida, a guard of honor watches over the tomb under the protective eye of the maimed "Christ of the Trenches" that had been the constant companion of the Portuguese troops in the campaign of Neuve-Chapelle, Flanders.

Photos from Steve Miller, text from the Batalha Monastery website. 


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Water—The Desert Necessity

Turkish Military Caravan at an Oasis

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

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

Camel-Borne Pakhals


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Turkish Solution—Horse Version


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

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

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

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

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


The Turkish Solution—Camel Version


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

The divisional tanks are walls of sand-bags supporting tarpaulins, which rest on the ground. The water is carried up from the river about 14 miles away. It comes by convoy, and is carried in ordinary A.T. carts, lined with-tarpaulin, and in pakhals stacked inside big motor-lorries.

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Russian Exodus: The Crimea, 1920

 


By Stephen McLaughlin


By early November 1920 the final victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia was no longer in doubt. The anti-Bolshevik White cause was on its last legs, confined to the Crimean Peninsula. It had received a stay of execution when Poland invaded the Soviet state, drawing off major units of the Red Army, but an armistice had been signed on 12 October, and now massive numbers of Red troops were gathering to attack the last remaining White stronghold.

General Peter Wrangel, leader of the White forces, had foreseen this outcome as early as May, when he began secret preparations for an evacuation of his armed forces, officials, and their families. In composing his plans he could rely on the fact that the White naval forces had complete control over the Black Sea. Ships were gathered and repaired, coal was stockpiled, and plans for an orderly retreat of the rearguard forces were carefully worked out. There was one great unknown, however—where would his people go once they had been evacuated? 

Red forces smashed through Wrangel’s defenses on 11 November. That same day Wrangel proposed to French Admiral Dumesnil that France take the Russians under its protection; in return, all the ships of the evacuation fleet would be transferred to France. Two days later an agreement to this effect was signed between Wrangel and French representatives.

By this time the evacuation was already under way. Units of the White army retreated along prearranged routes toward the embarkation ports—the great naval base of Sevastopol was the largest, but ships were also earmarked for Evpatoria, Feodosiya, Kerch, and Yalta. Despite careful planning, there were problems, especially at Feodosiya, where a panic broke out. Some troops had to be redirected to other ports and ships were rerouted. Wrangel was on the move throughout the embarkation process, constantly steaming from one port to another in the cruiser General Kornilov to ensure that everything was being done to save as many as possible from the vengeance of the Bolsheviks.


The first ships put to sea from Yalta and Evpatoria on 14 November, and by the 18th all were under way, bound for Constantinople. Conditions aboard many of the overcrowded ships were appalling—refugees aboard some were so tightly packed that they could not even sit down, sanitary facilities were lacking, as were food and water. The big transport Rion, with several thousand aboard, ran out of coal and wound up drifting and helpless until the cruiser USS St. Louis—one of several American ships assisting in the evacuation—took her under tow. The old destroyer Zhivoi had set off under tow because her engines weren’t working but foundered when rough seas parted the tow line, taking 250 people with her.

Zhivoi, however, was the only ship lost of 126 that set out from the Crimea. An estimated 145,000 people were rescued, many of whom would certainly have met a terrible fate under the Reds. From Constantinople they would eventually disperse across Europe and America, but all of them owed an enormous debt to the foresight and planning of General Peter Wrangel.

Photos from Wikipedia



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Russian Origins of the First World War


by Sean McMeekin
The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2011
Terrence J. Finnegan


Russian Prisoners at Tannenberg
Massive Losses in a Secondary Sector

At first glance, Sean McMeekin’s 2011 work on Russia appears to be a revisionist approach to the countless works on origins of World War I. The title is misleading, however. His work, nevertheless, is an important gap filler—full of insightful detail on what was and what was not accomplished by the largest army in the world when war was declared and in the years that followed. To my surprise, Russian Origins resonates with facts that have not been brought forward over the past century. That makes this work essential for discussion on any topic about Russia's involvement in World War I. Having spent the past seven years researching the role of aviation over the Eastern Front and its land campaigns, I found solving the enigma of how Russia suffered repeated catastrophic failures much more understandable with McMeekin's assistance, spelling out the behind-the-scenes facts of the ongoing drama.

For instance, McMeekin shows a Russian bias in conducting their opening campaign against Germany and Austria-Hungary. German East Prussia was not an objective, for it did not promise reward of territorial gain. The Southwest Front opposite Austria-Hungarian armies in Galicia—a less formidable force, hamstrung by so many cultures and languages, and not capable of defending the territory that Russia sought—was clearly their objective. Meanwhile, the Northwest Front’s holding pattern opposite Germany’s 8th Army resulted in the Tannenberg disaster of August 1914. Had Russia succeeded in applying mass more effectively against German forces in East Prussia, the road to Berlin could have been reached and the outcome of the entire world history changed for the remainder of the 20th century.

Later, Russian objectives on the Eastern Front still placed Southwest Front priorities first—Galicia was the prime objective for Russian military strategists, as seen by the number of armies fielded and the best commanders such as General ot kavalerii Brusilov leading the Russian Eighth Army toward Lemberg and beyond. The Galician campaign did not benefit the Western allies. In fact, it allowed Germany greater flexibility to focus more on the Western Front over the Eastern Front, despite the obvious threat to Berlin, given a successful Russian advance.

Russian Recruiting Poster  

McMeekin’s work continues past 1914, making the title confusing for the cursory reader. His depth of knowledge on the emerging role of Turkey as a member of the Central Powers is clearly apparent as campaigns are spelled out. Foremost in this reading is the revelation of Russian failure in supporting the Allies at Gallipoli–Churchill’s doomed offensive on the Straits of the Dardanelles. Clearly, a successful conquest of the straits benefited Russia most of all, freeing their fleet to be more than a fixture on the Black Sea. Russian manipulation of British priorities hinged on what was in store for Egypt and Persia, the latter rarely mentioned in writings on the war. A vision of Turkey divided up after the war governed a sizeable portion of priorities for fighting in the region. Russia stood to gain the most from a dismembered Turkey, and Great Britain gained satisfaction that their priorities for holding onto Persia would remain.

Churchill’s proposal for naval operations offered to the Russians in January 1915 vastly underestimated what was required. The Russians saw this chancy campaign being highly risky, most likely reinforcing their desire to let the British (and French) proceed on their own in the Dardanelles. McMeekan summed up the sad legacy with “Inspired or not, Russia’s generals saw no reason to risk losing their own sailors and soldiers if the British and French were willing to do this for them.” In subsequent chapters the Russian legacy of not supporting the British was evident with Townsend’s campaign that led to the disaster at Kut.

Another important discussion addressed is Russia’s role with Armenian nationals that eventually led to the Ottomans' crushing resistance and committing the horror on an entire culture that remains an issue to the current day. McMeekan details the fighting between Armenians and Turks going back to 1890. Conflict escalated between 1894–1896 with as many as 50,000 to 80,000 Armenians killed. Russia’s role was to assume the Armenians were “in their pocket and aimed unambiguously to exploit them.” Details on how the Russians factored the Kurds into this complicated scenario are provided by the author, with the Russians seeing both Armenians and Kurds keeping the Ottoman troops tied down in counterinsurgency operations.

When Turkey entered the war about 200,000 Armenians crossed over to Russia. Russian foreign policy paralleled what occurred at Gallipoli with the British—they promised support to the Armenians as long as they acted in full obeisance to Russia’s instructions. The gap between Russia’s imperial ambitions and her limited means to achieve them played havoc with Armenian objectives. The resulting legacy of halfhearted support discovered by the Ottomans meant any military action by Armenian “rebels” required massive retribution. Atrocities by both Turks and Armenians at Van in eastern Turkey on 13–14 April 1915 only reinforced the desire to eliminate anything Armenian, and the Genocide commenced. Russia’s only excuse was that this was the time of the great retreat in the Southwest Front in Galicia—priorities were focused on the direct threat to Russia by advancing German and Austria-Hungarian forces.

The writing in Russian Origins is well done. The story unfolds very well despite a lack of common knowledge in the west of the key Russian figures (outside of the Tsar, Grand Duke Nikolai, and Rasputin). Research at key archives in the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Germany, Austria, and Russia further shows McMeekin’s depth of analysis based on original sources. The geographical maps are superb, easy to follow and apply to the reading. Photos are scarce, but this does not take away from the book’s purpose to spell out the strategic role played (or not accomplished) by Russia. McMeekin has done justice to history, and his work should be sought by those wanting a complete understanding of all the campaigns that shaped the First World War.

Terrence J. Finnegan


Monday, August 24, 2020

The Story of FANY



By James Patton

The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (known as FANY) was an all-female group organized in 1907, originally envisioned to be mounted aid givers, but instead they provided ambulances and drivers to the Western Front. Although rebuffed by the British Army and the Red Cross as amateurs totally unsuited to war conditions, the astute FANY leadership quickly attached their organization to the Belgian Army instead. Acting before they could be banned from travel to the war zone, FANY personnel, then (and now) known as “FANYs,” first arrived on 28 October 1914 and soon set up their own hospital at Lamarck in the Pas-de-Calais, which operated until 1916. In 1915 they set up a second hospital in the Pas-de-Calais, and later they operated a hospital for Belgian convalescent cases in the Loire valley which ran until June 1917. Additionally, FANYs set up regimental aid posts, mobile kitchens, and even operated a mobile bath vehicle that served 40 men per hour.  

Eventually, in 1916, the British Red Cross recognized the FANYs but only as ambulance drivers. Later the Surgeon General of the Royal Army Medical Corps was said to have declared of the FANYs: “They’re neither fish nor fowl, but damned fine red herring.” 

Unidentified FANY Driver with Her Ambulance


In 1918 another hospital was formed at St. Omer, as a joint venture between the FANYs and the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs). This hospital became one of the most decorated women’s units of the war with staff receiving 16 Military Medals and three Croix de Guerres. 

Meanwhile, back in 1916 the FANYs had also caught the eye of the French Red Cross. FANYs took over a hospital near Reims and staffed ambulance units based at Amiens, Chalons-sur-Marne, Bar-le-Duc, Chateau-Thierry, Epernay, and Sézanne.

After the Armistice FANYs assisted with refugee management, stretching well into 1919. 

In the Great War the FANYs received 17 Military Medals, 27 Croix de Guerre, one Legion d’Honneur, and 11 Mentions in Despatches.

FANY Group Photo


After the Great War

During the interwar years the FANYs did not go dormant like the VAD or the American Field Service Ambulance Corps. They continued to concentrate on Motor Transport, and in 1938 they aligned themselves with the newly formed Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was a women’s voluntary branch of the Royal Army. With this move the FANYs disengaged themselves from medical service. 

In a move reminiscent of their early assistance to Belgium in 1914, the FANYs sent units to support Finland in the 1939 Winter War and prepared to send them to Poland as well. Later FANY ambulances served with the British Red Cross, the American Ambulance Service, and the British Committee for the French Red Cross. During the war FANYs served as wireless operators, encryption specialists (coders and decoders), and radar operators as well as drivers (including Princess Elizabeth) in the UK, North Africa, Italy, India, and Ceylon.  

During WWII there were over 6,000 FANYs, and 2,000 of these served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Winston Churchill’s secret intelligence unit that operated in support of resistance activity in occupied Europe. Many FANYs were attached to the main wireless listening station, and some others who were fluent in French were trained for service on the ground. These FANYs went through extensive training in weapons, silent killing, field craft, sabotage, parachuting, Morse coding/decoding, and wireless maintenance and repair. SOE was particularly interested in using female operatives as couriers because they were less likely to attract the attention of the German security forces, since over 1.6 million young French males had been deported as conscript labor. Of the 50 women that SOE successfully infiltrated into occupied Europe 39 were FANYs, and 13 of those were lost. 

Some of these FANYs were:

Noor Inayat Khan, GC (1914–1944), born in Russia to an Indian father and an American mother and raised in France. She was assigned to the main Resistance network in Paris and was for a considerable period of time the only SOE wireless operator active there. Eventually she was betrayed and shot by the Gestapo in September 1944.

Memorial to Violette Szabo, GC,
Lambeth Palace, London


Violette Szabo GC (1921–1945), born in France to an English father and a French mother. In 1940 she married Etienne Szabo, a Hungarian-born Foreign Legionnaire. Primarily a firearms expert, she was captured shortly after D-Day after a firefight in which she covered the escape of two French colleagues. She was shot in January 1945.

Odette Sansom, GC, OBE (1912–1995), a French citizen who married an Englishman in 1931. She was inserted into France in 1942 and served as a courier, operating mostly in Italian-occupied territory. In April 1943 she and her boss Capt. Peter Churchill DSO (1909–1972) were tracked down by the Abwehr and detained by the Italian SIM. Throughout sessions of brutal torture, both Churchill and Odette maintained that he was a relative of the prime minister and that she was his wife. Although both were sentenced to death, they were held back by the SS as bargaining chips. Both survived the war, and they married in 1947.

Nancy Wake, AM, GM (1912–2011) was a New Zealander who was married to a French citizen named Henri Fiocca. In 1940 she had been living in France for ten years, and for three years thereafter she and her husband worked for the Resistance in Marseilles; it was during this period that the Gestapo code-named her “The White Mouse.” When their cell was compromised she managed to escape to England, but her husband was arrested and shot. She became a FANY, joined the SOE and returned to France in 1944 as a saboteur. She rose to lead a unit in Vichy territory that grew to 1,500 persons and she supervised several American OSS agents.  

All four of these heroic FANYs have been featured in British movies.

The George Cross


Perhaps a word about the George Cross (GC) would be helpful. This medal was instituted by King George VI in 1940 to recognize “acts of the greatest heroism or for most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger.” Since inception there have been a total of 408 GCs bestowed. The GC is subordinate only to the Victoria Cross, which is restricted to military personnel. The FANYs weren’t (and still aren’t) members of the military, so the GC is the highest medal that a FANY can receive. 

For their WWII service, FANYs received three GCs, two George Medals, a King’s Medal for Courage, a King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct, two Commendations for Good Service, and 36 Mentions in Despatches. Non-military honors bestowed on FANYs were one CBE, six OBEs, 23 MBEs, one AM and 10 BEMs. Foreign decorations included one Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, six Croix de Guerre, two Médailles de la Résistance, one Norwegian Liberty Medal, one U.S. Bronze Star, and one U.S. Medal of Freedom with Palm. The FAN’s who have died in the service are memorialized at St. Paul’s Knightsbridge, near Hyde Park Corner in London.

Today

FANY exists today, with the official name now The Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps (FANY). HRH Princess Anne is the commandant. It is still all-female and the members are still known as FANYs. They are still unpaid; in fact, each FANY has to pay an annual membership fee to belong. They have a rank structure that is parallel to the Army, and FANYs are accorded the courtesies of rank when serving beside the military. Today’s FANYs are trained and equipped to assist with all types of civil and military emergencies or incidents that occur within the realm of the Crown. There is no equivalent organization in the United States.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Why Is the Italian Front So Neglected in Histories of the Great War?

Italian Memorial at Trieste (Detail)


By Nicola Labanca, University of Sienna 

In the best general and international histories, references to the Italian-Austrian Front in the First World War are rare and often inaccurate. The responsibility for this neglect lies not only on the shoulders of international historians nor can it be explained only by the language barrier. The roots of the problem are not only global but also local. 

One reason was that, from very early on, there was both in Italy and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, little of the institutional support the war effort enjoyed elsewhere. This was not a popular war, as it was initially elsewhere, and thus was easily forgotten. The Empire dissolved in 1918 and 1919, and in Italy the rise of the fascist regime in the long run obscured rather than deepened the memory of Italian participation in the Great War. 

For 20 years the Italian dictatorship permitted the erection of imposing war memorials and helped construct myths about the war, but the public and private memories of war did not coincide. Later, during the Cold War, when Italy and Austria become democracies, nationalist prejudices and language barriers between Italians and Austrians for a long time prevented a dialogue either among historians or in the general public. After the end of the Cold War, two decades of national revival in former Eastern bloc countries did not help, nor did the Yugoslav civil wars. All these factors made it difficult to study and interpret the war effort of the Hapsburg Empire. In a word, national particularities—Italian and Austrian—obscured our understanding of the Italian-Austrian Front in the Great War. 

Front Line on the Carso Sector


Another reason was the imbalance between the two sides. An ancient empire faced a young nation-state, which defeated it. Vienna fought on at least three fronts (Eastern/Russian, southwestern/Italian and southern/Balkan) while Rome, the last of the Great Powers, focused almost entirely on its Alpine-Carso front; their war efforts were clearly very different. Nonetheless, they faced common challenges and sometimes found similar solutions. It is clearly time to go beyond old national hostilities in our understanding of a war whose hardships both populations shared. A history of the Italian fronts is essential in creating a more comprehensive and global interpretation of the history of the First World War. The Western Front has dominated discussion long enough, though its decisive position in the outcome of the war is not in doubt. Much about the Great War becomes clearer once we shift our attention south and east to the Italian-Austrian frontier.

. . . The Italian Front was a theater very different from that of the other major sectors: the armies were different, their war aims and strategies were different, the topography was completely different from the Eastern and Western Fronts. To a number of foreign military observers (and later to military historians) this created a peculiar situation, sometimes difficult to understand. Stereotypes or prejudices about national character stood in for considered analysis, or some concluded the Italian Front was simply insignificant. This was a major error, since developments on this front directly contributed to decide the outcome of the war.

(Ed. Note: The views expressed here are strictly those of the author.)

Source:  The Cambridge History of the First World War, 2014

Friday, August 21, 2020

Russia's Humiliation (from the Bosnian Crisis)

In 1909 Russia was still reeling from the defeat of her army, the annihilation of her main battle fleet, and an unsettling revolution. The embarrassment over the settlement of the Bosnian Crisis, in which Austria-Hungary mischievously decided to attempt to simplify their nationalities' problems with the annexation of the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, added to the Russian sense of humiliation. This was understood by all observers at the time, as this contemporary account shows. Five years later, the tsar would choose not to be humiliated again over a Balkan dispute. 

"Russia's Humiliation"
A Contemporary Newspaper Article from the 

Wellington, New Zealand, Evening Post, 31 March 1909 

Baron Aehrenthal's success, then, is practically complete. One can now see that his appreciation of the international situation was the result of broad and, on the whole accurate survey. . . .Russia, too, the head of the Slav family, has been brought low. She has been ousted from the Balkan Peninsula without shedding a drop of blood, and at the cost of a trifling sum. Constantinople, which more than once might have been hers, has definitely slipped from her grasp. Her prestige among her kindred has faded into nothing.

In the Twilight of Empire. Count Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal (1854 ...

Architect of the Annexation
Graf Lexa von Aehrenthal
Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister 


Thus wrote Dr. E. J. Dillon in last month's Contemporary Review, and for once the rhetoric of that exceptionally well-informed authority on Eastern affairs seemed [at first] to have overshot the mark. . . But [now] the collapse of Russia, reported on Saturday, is complete.

Her humiliation is abject and undisguised. The only chance of getting anything for Servia was by postponing the recognition of Austria's right to Bosnia and Herzegovina for simultaneous settlement with the Austro-Serbian differences. To [this] end British and Russian diplomacy has been steadily striving for weeks past, and with a fair prospect of success, when we were suddenly informed that "two factors have suddenly arisen making for peace in the Balkans," and that one of them was Russia's willingness as a prelude to the proposed conference to recognize the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is always easy to purchase peace by surrendering everything that your antagonist is fighting for, and this is what Russia has done.

Sometimes, however, a capitulation can be disguised as a compromise which secures something, or a semblance of something, for the defeated party, but here there is absolutely nothing to save Russia's face. "The greatest possibly excitement" is reported as prevailing in the Russian capital when the news became known, and the shame has been aggravated since by knowledge of how the surrender was brought about. The inducement was not a compensating concession of any kind of Russia or her protégé, but what the Daily Mail describes as "the free use of the mailed fist." When the German Ambassador reminded the Russian Foreign Minister that Austria was Germany's ally—a fact of which the Minister must be presumed to have had at any rate some inkling before—he appears to have entirely lost his nerve, and to have reported to the Russian Cabinet "the probability of a German mobilization on the Russian frontier within forty-eight hours". . . We need not wonder that the St. Petersburg newspapers are reported to be "profoundly indignant at what they deem the unreasonable panic behind M. Isvolsky's volte face," or that they speak of the betrayal of Serbia as involving "the eclipse of Russian influence in the Balkans for a century."

At the Future Assassination Site, Citizens of Sarajevo Read the
Proclamation of Annexation


If Russia had stood alone, the humiliation would not have been so abject. But in the present case she was supported by the same combination which successfully thwarted German aggression on France at the Algeciras Conference [which settled the First Moroccan Crisis to France's advantage over Germany]. Britain, France, and Russia stood together then as they were standing together now, until M. Isvolsky showed the white feather and told Germany not to shoot. The fall of M. Déclassé, to which the critics are comparing the collapse of the Russian Foreign Minister, was brought about by German dictation to the Republic while her ally was fully occupied with was with Japan. After that war was over Germany made the mistake of supposing that Russia was still a negligible factor in the politics of Europe, but at Algeciras the Kaiser learnt that Russia was still a power, and her combination with Britain in support of France was more than he could resist. The Kaiser has now had his revenge. 


Thursday, August 20, 2020

British Medical Responses to First World War Casualties. Part 2 of 2


British Dressing Station in Salonika

By Doreen Isherwood

Gas Casualties

Gas warfare was introduced on the Western Front by the Germans on 2 April 1915 when they discharged 160 tons of chlorine gas against Allied troops near Langemark in Belgium. The gas, which causes death by drowning in the excess fluid secreted by the lungs, was a chemical by-product of the German dye industry. Haig's Intelligence Chief, Brigadier John Charteris, who witnessed the first attack, wrote: “The horrible part of it is the slow death of those who are gassed. . . slowly drowning with water in their lungs. . . and the doctors quite powerless.” Gas warfare using phosgene to mustard gas was used by all sides, but with the development of more efficient respirators and problems with unpredictable wind changes in northern France and Belgium, it never became a decisive weapon. Respirators, however, were no defense against the blistering mustard gas that rolled through the trenches in a yellow cloud.

Survivors of gas attacks suffered lung damage for the rest of their lives, leaving them vulnerable to repeated chest infections and limiting their chances of employment. Such was the fear of gas attacks at the outbreak of WWII that masks were issued immediately to the civilian population in Britain.

The vast canvas of John Singer Sargent's painting Gassed, which was voted “Picture of the Year” by the Royal Academy in 1919 (Gilbert 474), now hangs in a separate room in London's Imperial War Museum art gallery.  Sargent's assignment from the British Ministry of Information was to promote the spirit of cooperation of “British and American Troops Working Together.” However, when he saw a line of soldiers blinded by mustard gas queuing for treatment at a dressing station on the Somme, he ignored his official assignment in order to capture this moving portrait of the helplessness of the young men.

Psychiatric Issues 


Men at the front not only suffered horrific physical injuries but also experienced a wide range of mental traumas that often went unrecognized. The catchall condition, “shell shock” was denied by British medical officers and the military because of the threat to morale and discipline in the ranks. Mentally ill men could be branded as deserters and executed, causing many to hide their condition rather than to seek medical help. Signs of traumatic neurosis were already apparent in the industrial workplace. Leese equates the development of protective mental process in factory workers with those of soldiers in the trenches, but this assessment denies the reality of life in the trenches where routine was absent and survival improbable. He describes the response of many soldiers to the effects of prolonged battlefield exposure as “seasickness or anesthetic injection…a feeling of overwhelming mental and physical exhaustion… the resultant sense of lost self-identity and individuality.” 

Eventually, men would be assessed at the front, dividing those with mild symptoms who could return to active duty after a period of rest, from the more serious cases that needed specialized treatment in Britain. Methods ranged from peace and quiet to electric shock treatments. Nearly 4,000 patients were treated by a new team of doctors and scientists at the Red Cross Military Hospital near Liverpool. The team leader, Richard Rows, a follower of Freud and Jung, rejected the harsh physical treatments and adopted a revolutionary approach using psychoanalysis. The War Office took the unprecedented step of funding the hospital and from 1917 ran training courses to transfer the techniques to new centres in Britain and France. The emphasis was on returning the mentally wounded to the front line as soon as possible, but the gradual recognition of battle trauma paved the way for the new field of psychoanalysis and increased the standing of psychiatrists in orthodox medicine. Martin Gilbert reports that “as many as 50,000 former British soldiers were receiving government pensions for the continuing effects of shell shock.” 

Source: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the Journal of the World War One Historical Association

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

British Medical Responses to First World War Casualties. Part 1 of 2

 

Dressing Station

By Doreen Isherwood

The industrialization of war led to an unprecedented number of casualties during World War One. In response to the physical and mental trauma caused by the new weaponry, a corresponding rise in medical innovations occurred. Historian Lyn Macdonald expresses the view that “if nothing much came out of the battles at the front, the same cannot be said of the mirror image battles in the hospitals and laboratories behind it.”

Technological advances in the Western world, especially in the armament and chemical industries meant that “the First World War inaugurated the manufacture of mass death. . .” (John Keegan), but it also caused mass injuries, both physical and mental, that for some was a living death. In response, cooperation between scientists and medical professionals led to the development of treatments that would benefit the general public as well as combatants in WWI and all other conflicts since then. 

Infection and Gangrene

Doctors who had served in the dry conditions in the South African Wars were unprepared for conditions on the battlefields of northern France and Belgium. Here much of the land was poorly drained and enriched with manure, which favored the anaerobic gas bacillus. In these conditions, the injuries sustained by jagged splinters of shrapnel penetrating the flesh, carrying soil and clothing into the wound, allowed the bacillus to multiply rapidly.

Frederick Pottle, an American surgeon serving in France, describes the progress of the infection in graphic detail. He recounts the sensation of passing his hand over the skin of a patient at an advanced stage of the infection, feeling the gas bubbles shift and hearing them crackle. He emphasizes the necessity of speedy treatment to save the lives of men who would otherwise die of gas gangrene within a few hours despite radical amputations. An innovative technique developed by British, French, and American scientists and surgeons began to control and eradicate the infection in the early stages by continuous irrigation of the wound with the newly invented antiseptic that became known as Eusol. Intensive nursing care, as in all medical units, was essential in carrying out the treatment. The danger of tetanus from wounds infected in the fertilized fields was controlled by anti-tetanus serum, which was administered routinely at the first aid station. 

Shock and Blood Transfusion

The difficulty in deciding whether the patient was sufficiently recovered from shock to withstand surgery was one that faced all surgeons on the battlefront. Survival was greatly enhanced by the development of blood transfusions. In the years leading up to the outbreak of WWI, Viennese doctor Karl Landsteiner and team of researchers identified the four main blood groups and drew up guidelines for safe transfusions. The storage of blood was a major problem that was solved by the Canadian medical officer O.H. Robertson, who discovered that a solution of citrate glucose could preserve blood for up to 21 days. Research into transfusions slowed down at the end of WWI until 1940 when Charles Drew of Columbia University found that plasma could be more effective than whole blood in case of shock and superficial trauma, making refrigeration unnecessary. In the same year, Landsteiner discovered the Rh factor, making blood transfusions even safer. 


Field Surgery

Amputation Cases

Despite advances in sepsis control and surgical techniques, the extensive damage to extremities could leave amputation as the only option to save lives. By the end of the war about 41,050 British servicemen had lost limbs, and of these 26,262 were fitted with their first artificial limbs at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton, London. Before the war, the purchase and fitting of artificial limbs was left to the individual patient, but surgeons at Roehampton took charge of the whole program, discharging the patient only when he was able to manage his new limb(s) and follow some kind of occupation. Physical and occupational therapy were in the forefront of rehabilitation, equipping patients with skills for daily living and preparing them for jobs in the outside world. We are now more aware of the grieving process that can accompany the loss of a body part and these vulnerable young men found social rehabilitation difficult, leading to depression and suicide in some cases.

Facial Disfigurement

Facial injuries, often caused by shell splinters, were a particular problem. Steel helmets that offered some protection were introduced by the French in July 1915, followed shortly after by the British. (Gilbert 173) Until then, troops wore their normal soft uniform cap that not only gave no protection but also added to the risk of infection as fibers entered the wounds. 

Plastic surgery was in its infancy during WWI, but again cooperation between specialists accelerated the development of new techniques. The task of humanizing a shattered face after surgeons had helped to establish some functional use was an overwhelming problem. In 1916 sculptor Derwent Wood, was given the opportunity to set up a new department called Masks for Facial Disfigurements at the 3rd London General Hospital. Because of the social stigma associated with facial disfigurement, loss of fiancées and families unable to cope with the ravaged faces, the men tended to withdraw, staying close to fellow sufferers. There were inevitable suicides as they despaired of a future. Psychology was in its infancy and emotional support was usually left to hard-pressed nurses. 

Source: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the Journal of the World War One Historical Association

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Lockhart Plot: Love, Murder, Betrayal, and Counter-Revolution in Lenin's Russia


by Jonathan Schneer
Oxford University Press, 2020
Michael P. Kihntopf, Reviewer

Robin Lockhart's Passport Photograph

The public has always found stories about spies, plots of intrigue, and betrayals, of great interest—especially when there are mysteries associated with them and there is a romantic intrigue on the side. There are three stories from the early 20th century which hold the most public fascination: the case of the Austro-Hungarian counterintelligence chief, Colonel Alfred Redl, the femme fatale Mata Hari, and the Lockhart Plot.

Each of these tales has a mystique to them that historians have tried to wade through. In the case of Redl, the question is, and will remain, who did he sell mountains of mobilization information to on the eve to the Great War? For Mata Hari, the enigma is just who did she work for? Was it the British, the Germans, or even the French? In either case, documentation is sparse to non-existent, although the events leading to their capture are quite clear. Redl was never questioned after being caught. His captors wanted to minimize the publicity of such an auspicious figure being associated with the very skulduggery that he had made a reputation in exposing. Moments after his capture, his former colleagues gave him a pistol and closed the door. In Mata Hari's case, a firing squad ended any speculation about which government was using her and for what purpose.

In the case of the Lockhart Plot of 1918, controversy has always existed about who hatched, coordinated, and bore blame for its failure and just how much did London know about Lockhart's dealings. The candidates have been Bruce Lockhart, for whom the plot is named, Sidney Reilly, a mysterious agent of British intelligence (and some would say the model for Ian Fleming's James Bond), or even the American consul Dewitt Clinton Poole—no relation to General Fredrick Cuthbert Poole, who commanded the Archangel Expedition. Whereas the first two cases will stand as deep, dark, and murky, the Lockhart Plot has met its match in Jonathan Schneer's new work.

This book is an excellent read which kept me riveted to its pages for what was going to happen next. There was a tribulation on my part when I found in the book's first few pages a list of people the author wanted me to be familiar with. I was reminded of that age-old tradition in Russian literature of listing characters in a separate glossary to avoid reader confusion during plot development, fearing that I would have to page back and forth to ascertain who a person was. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first chapters were not confusing despite the comings and goings of hard-to-pronounce names. The pages succinctly laid out character analyses of Bruce Lockhart and the people he would encounter in devising a plot to overthrow Vladimir Lenin's government in its first few months of existence.

Felix Dzerzhinsky

One could adequately form an opinion of Lockhart, his lovers, and co-conspirators. There is even a chapter about Lockhart's nemeses, Secret Police (CHEKA) head Felix Dzerzhinsky and his assistant Jacov Peters, which outlined what their motivations were toward finding and eliminating enemies of the state. By the time the chapters about the intrigue started, I was thoroughly familiar with each side and I could sympathize with what each was trying to accomplish. I was a fly on the wall secretly watching the strokes and counter-strokes or an omni-knowledgeable entity. What became crystal clear was that the authorship of the plot belonged to Bruce Lockhart and that he hatched it without his superiors in London knowing what he was doing.

However, here's where the denial of involvement that Lockhart implied in his own book about his dealings in Russia come in. After successfully maneuvering the plan's elements he stepped aside and allowed his co-conspirators, a dizzying assortment of American, British, and French agents and political opponents to Lenin, to execute it. This calls to mind an equally dizzying number of Mother Goose adages. But I prefer Napoleon's maxim: all plans are worthless after the first shot is fired.

In a nutshell, Lockhart tried to coordinate the advance of the Allied Archangel Expedition into Russia for the purpose of reestablishing an Eastern Front. (Was that their purpose according to the Allied War Council?) Lockhart assumed that Lenin would send the Latvian Rifle Brigade, the most stalwart organization of the Bolsheviks beside the Kronstadt sailors, to meet the advance. Lockhart and the French consul successfully, in their opinion, bribed the Brigade's commanders to stand aside at the confrontation and support a march on either Petrograd or Moscow and facilitate Lenin's overthrow. He had hoped, by starving the people through acts of sabotage on their lines of supply from the interior, to enlist them in either city in the revolt.

As simple as the plot may appear, the intricacies of lining up the right people was delicate and extremely dangerous. Millions of pounds sterling moved from one fist to another. Schneer very clearly shows how Lockhart, during the clandestine meetings and positioning, lost sight of his environment. He fixated on the end goal to such an extent that he ignored bells and whistles which indicated that the CHEKA knew what was going on and had placed their agents in the spider web that Lockhart had woven. However, Lockhart had assumed too much from the beginning. He had recommended that the Archangel Expedition consist of two divisions. London had only managed a few hundred men. Either amount would never have been enough to mount a campaign to march into the Russian hinterland. The plot was doomed from the beginning.

Jonathan Schneer, professor emeritus of Georgia Institute of Technology, has given us an excellent source to understand the events of the early days of the Bolshevik regime. As the public becomes aware of this book, I'm sure Professor Schneer will receive as much acclaim for it as he did for his 2009 work The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of Arab-Israeli Conflict. I highly recommend this work as an excellently written tale of espionage, intrigue, and betrayal.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, August 17, 2020

Who Was Pompey Elliot?


Brigadier General Pompey Elliott

Everyone expected the whole thing to fail, 

but something desperate had to be done.

Pompey Elliott After the Capture of Villers-Bretonneux


He was one of Australia's outstanding combat commanders in the Great War. Born in Victoria in June 1878, Harold Edward Elliott was nicknamed "Pompey" by his men. He was not pleased about it, but it stuck. Elliott was a huge and powerful man, a footballer and champion athlete.

He served with distinction in the Boer War before returning to Melbourne to study law and then work in his own legal practice. In 1909 Elliott married Catherine Frazer Campbell and they had two children, Violet and Neil. At the outbreak of war, Elliott was appointed to command the 7th Battalion at Gallipoli and he was later promoted to command the 15th Brigade on the Western Front.

He was known to be a fierce disciplinarian, whose strong character and energy established him as a character of the AIF. Stylish dress was not a priority for Elliott, who quite often looked scruffy and was once arrested for impersonating an officer. But he was a brilliant tactician and fierce fighter, immensely brave and held in extremely high regard by his men.

Larger Than life

He has been described as a larger-than-life character, full of exuberance and vitality and "irresistibly quotable." He regularly wrote remarkable letters to his children, still toddlers when he was at war. Here is an excerpt to his son, written in 1916 from the Western Front:

It is very, very cold here and the Jack Frost here is not a nice Jack Frost who just pinches your fingers so you can run to a fire to warm them but a great big bitey Jack Frost and he pinches the toes and fingers of some of Dida’s poor soldiers so terribly that he pinches them right off. Isn’t that terrible?

It has been said that Elliott could do things with his troops that no other officer could do. However, forced to attack at Fromelles against his recommendation, his troops suffered a third of all the Australian casualties in the attack. He resolved to work even harder to protect the lives of his men. After Polygon Wood (1917), he wrote to this wife about his men:

It is all due to the boys and the officers like Norman Marshall... It is wonderful the loyalty and bravery that is shown, their absolute confidence in me is touching—I can order them to take on the most hopeless looking jobs and they throw their hearts and souls, not to speak of their lives and bodies, into the job without thought.

You must pray more than ever that I shall be worthy of this trust, Katie, and have wisdom and courage given me worthy of my job.

In 1918 he was one of two brigade commanders credited with halting Germany's Operation Michael at Villers-Bretonneux and helped lead the pursuit to the Hindenburg line during the summer. By war's end Elliott had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the French Croix de Guerre and been mentioned in dispatches seven times.

A Life Cut Short

However, he had been overlooked for promotion to divisional command, a position he had long hoped for, and this became an enduring grievance. On returning to Australia at the end of war, Elliott focused on re-building his law practice but soon re-joined the militia as a commander. In 1919 he stood for the Senate as a Nationalist, topping the Victorian poll and was re-elected in 1925. He never held a post in government but spoke on many topics, particularly on defense matters.

Elliott was sharply critical of British high command, blaming it for the heavy Australian casualties during the war. He became deeply involved in the affairs of returned soldiers. In 1927 he was promoted to major general and threw himself into training with great enthusiasm, despite his disappointments still gnawing at him.

Elliott's continued sense of injustice together with the effects of his war service and his concern about the welfare of returned soldiers during the Great Depression combined to undermine his health and in 1931 he committed suicide, aged just 52.

Source: Website of the Australian Broadcast Company.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Private Albert E. Scott (The Brookline Newsboy) 101st Infantry (KIA)



The memorial shown above is located at the Town Hall of Brookline, MA, and is dedicated to the local lad who is believed to have been the youngest American soldier killed in the First World War, Albert Scott.  Scotty, as he was known in his hometown, enlisted at age 15 and was killed in action at age 16 on 23 July 1918 during an advance by the 26th Yankee Division north of Château-Thierry.  To his mates in his unit, Company H,  he was known as the "Brookline Newsboy."

Scotty's fellow newsboys raised $2,000 for a plaque in his honor. Brookline native Theo Alice Ruggles, well known by then for her war memorials, was chosen to create the Scotty memorial, which was dedicated in 1921.  A year later his body was disinterred from France and he was buried locally.

1922 Funeral of Pvt. Albert Scott

An unidentified member of Scotty's company later described the action for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and lost his life.

Pvt. Albert Scott
Of the many deeds of bravery and self-sacrifice in this one battle, I want to mention just one. That was the heroism of Albert Scott known as "The Brookline Newsboy" He was an automatic rifleman. He had distinguished himself in various ways, since our first entrance to the trenches, but he had never had a chance to lay [into] the Boches. Mounting to the highest position, he placed his rifle, I lay down beside it and opened fire on the enemy. I do not know how many clips of ammunition he fired, but it's safe to say at least thirty of the enemies fell. My attention was not upon him wholly, so I could not witness all of his work.

After some time had elapsed, I glanced in his direction and noticed that he had ceased firing, and that his face was buried in his hands. I said, What's the matter, Scottie?" There was no response. Then I crept nearer to him and noticed that his his hands were covered with blood. I withdrew below the parapet, took him by,the feet and unbuttoned his blouse and shirt.  He had two very fatal wounds, one in his shoulder and the other to his head.  Having been facing the enemy, the bullet striking his helmet could not have glanced off, but passed through and into his brain.  In a few minutes he was dead, having paid the supreme sacrifice.