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

Friday, April 30, 2021

AEF's 353rd Infantry in Stenay, France, on Armistice Day 1918

On the morning of 11 November news of the coming of the Armistice was well circulated within the AEF. Overnight, units of the 89th and 2nd divisions had been fighting their way across the Meuse River, presumably to gain the most advantageous position possible when the Armistice fixed the positions of the opposing forces. One well-fortified town in the section assigned to the 353rd Infantry of the 89th Division had not been attacked, since the troops had been unable to find a crossing of the river. Major General William Wright was not happy about this situation and ordered that the town be captured. He ordered the town taken, and and the attack was mounted mounted at 8 a.m., three hours before the Armistice. General Wright would later be criticized for the casualties taken by his division during the Meuse crossings of 10–11 November. However, fortuitously there were no casualties in the capture of Stenay, and the operation yielded on of the most famous photos (below) of the AEF. 

Company A, 353rd Infantry, 89th Division
At Stenay 1058 hrs, 11 November 1918

Here's an account of the assault from the history of the 353rd Infantry:

Local information indicated that the First Battalion must cross the Meuse and enter Stenay. German snipers and machine gunners were active and artillery threatened at all times. One dare not show himself outside the dugout in daylight on account of the snipers. A major and his orderly were lying at this moment down the road. They had been picked off that very afternoon. The bridges across the river had been blown up. A patrol attempting to cross the river was stopped by machine guns. They had left their leader and several dead on the banks. At this critical moment in the narration Captain Dahmke, followed by Major Blackinton, entered the dugout. Then came the news which the men had anticipated. The calm, steady voice of Major Blackinton threw a pall on all listeners as he said, "Your orders are to be in Stenay tonight."

It was hard to realize the possibility of accomplishing the mission under the conditions. The Germans occupied the city of Stenay and the high ground beyond. They were prepared to hold their positions with machine guns and artillery. Moreover, there was the river and the canal to be crossed and only one boat available. It had a carrying capacity of thirty men. On the east side of the Meuse the 90th Division was advancing from the south. They were to have taken Stenay on the 10th and to announce occupation with a rocket signal. Close observation revealed no signal, and their location was unknown. The First Battalion must drive across the river for Stenay.

Prewar Photo of Stenay Bridge Destroyed in 1918

Meanwhile the Second and Third Battalions were on their way to co-operate with the 90th Division troops on the east side of the Meuse river. The Second Battalion left Les Forgettes Chateau in the early evening, never to return. The march led over the high hill in the heart of Tailly Woods, through Montigny and Saulmury. Near Ville-franche the engineers had constructed a pontoon bridge. Lieutenant Melvin with a patrol from Company "G" was on ahead. It seemed impossible to get definite information regarding the location of the 90th Division troops, but the battalion must be in position to advance on Stenay in the morning.

Without a moment's hesitation the men moved across the bridge in single file. The meadows between the river and the canal, on the east bank of the Meuse, were stiff with a heavy hoar-frost. Movement was necessary to keep from freezing. Finally the battalion halted near the locks on the Meuse Canal about two kilometers southeast of Mouzay.

Location of Stenay

Lieutenant Melvin reported that the town of Mouzay was filled with gas and that he had been unable to gain contact with the 90th Division troops. Major Peatross, Lieutenant Melvin, and a few runners again went forward while the men fell out along the steep banks of the canal. Some officers and a little party of men tried to kindle a fire in the lock-keeper's house. Someone had left a newspaper here. It was two days old but it gave the terms of the armistice. Everyone fully expected that fighting would continue. At 4:30 a. m. march was resumed to Mouzay where it was learned that a strong patrol had been organized to enter Stenay. Its mission was to determine the strength of the forces holding the town. The patrol did not accomplish its mission and the 90th Division did not attack in the morning.

The Second Battalion took over the abandoned German billets and proceeded to forget about the war. But hardly were the men asleep when shells began to fall into the edge of the town. There were no orders to move and no one stirred. Presently word came from the 179th Brigade Headquarters of the 90th Division that the armistice was signed. Those who were asleep were not disturbed and those who were awake found a place to sleep. The men of the Second Battalion were so nearly "all in" that they must rest before they could realize the news.

The experience of the Third Battalion was quite similar to that of the Second. Up until 2 a. m. of November 11th the Third Battalion held positions in La Haie Woods near Beauclair. At that hour, orders were received to join the Second Battalion across the Meuse River in the advance on Stenay from the south.

German Prisoners Captured in the Assault

The march of the Third Battalion led over the flooded roads along the Wiseppe River. Dawn brought them to Wiseppe. The enemy had destroyed the bridge. It was necessary to improvise a crossing. Only one man could make his way at a time on the treacherous logs. At last the battalion reached the pontoon bridge at Ville-franche.

All was going satisfactorily until the mooring of the boats gave way. Several men fell into the cold, swift river. Difficulties could not be allowed to impede the progress. The bridge was hastily repaired and the Third Battalion followed the Second in the direction of Mouzay.

While sitting alongside the road an officer drove up and announced the news of the armistice, and gave orders to continue on to Stenay. The chief concern of the men now was to find a good place to rest.

During these hours, the officers of the First Battalion continued their efforts to find a way across the Meuse River. Lieutenant Driscoll and Lieutenant Connors had not reported back with their patrols at 3 a. m. Lieutenant Chalmer with Private Cadue was sent out. The light from a burning barrel of oil at the water's edge enabled him to locate Lieutenant Connors' patrol. No crossing could be found. When they returned Major Blackinton set out with Captain Dahmke to confirm the information of the patrols.

Lieutenant Hulen in command of "A" Company had posted sentries under cover to make observations. At nine o'clock Lieutenant Chalmer reported back that a crossing could be effected.

After the Armistice, with French Civilians

The high, embanked road leading over to Stenay had been blown out in no less than eight places, and the bridges over the river, canal, and mill-race were destroyed. Some engineers had been trying to estimate the possibilities of a crossing, but were driven away by enemy shrapnel. On the basis of this information, Company "A" was ordered to cross the river. Lieutenant Connors was to lead with the patrol, Lieutenant Chalmer was to follow with his platoon in fifteen minutes and prepare crossings. It was now 9:30 a. m.

A heavy fog hung close to the surface. Nothing was visible but the broad expanse of the water which disappeared in the haze a few yards out from the shore. Every man wished he could look beyond. Surely the enemy was waiting to open fire at the first appearance of advancing troops. But this fog that had been so disagreeable served effectively as a screen for our activities.

Nearer approach to the road showed mysterious rows of sticks driven in the ground parallel to the water's edge and at right angles to the road. These sticks stood some seven or eight feet high. Wisps of vegetation were tied about two feet from the top. Their use was apparent. Machine gunners knew the range to these sticks. They knew the intervals between the poles and could control their field of fire from right to left without being called upon to estimate it. Quietly and patiently the men worked their way forward. The gaps which had been blown in the embanked road were from fifteen to thirty feet across. Water rushed through the openings below. It was necessary to make a steep descent on one side, pass over the debris in the bottom, and then make the steep ascent on the other side to continue toward Stenay. After crossing five of these gaps, the bridge which spanned the Meuse loomed into view. One long girder lay suspended from its base on one side across the gap. Just beyond was the bank of the canal, covered with wire entanglements. The bridge across the canal was out, but fifty yards above lay the ruins of the lock-gates which afforded a passage. The mill-race was still to be crossed. Its bridge was completely down. Heavy timbers were soon adjusted into a foot-log. Only one man could cross at a time, but in the event of shelling this formation was highly desirable.

The thought of machine gun fire was oppressive. On the battlefield there was a chance of flanking the enemy but here the men were at the mercy of the enemy. We could do nothing but move ahead. Safely across, the patrols reported that they were ready to leave. Lieutenant Hulen with the slightest trace of a smile on his worn face said, "It is reported that there will be no firing after eleven o'clock, but don't throw away your equipment!"

At ten o'clock Lieutenant Connors reported the occupation of Stenay in the following brief message:

"Private Gielow defeated for mayor of Stenay by three votes."

View Today from the Rebuilt Meuse Bridge

He immediately set about getting the French civilians out of their cellars and rounding up the few Germans who remained behind. The town was still being bombarded in the southern section, but the patrols met no resistance in their operation.

At 10:30 a patrol from the 90th Division entered the town from the south. Lieutenant Connors notified its leader, a Lieutenant Quinn, that the town of Stenay was in the possession of the First Battalion, 353rd Infantry, 89th Division. Before 11 a. m., Armistice hour, all of Company "A" had made their way across and a line of outposts was established on the heights above the town. There were no casualties, but the mental strain and physical exertion had been terrific. The men of the First Battalion had earned the right to the good billets of Stenay for their regiment.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

America's Spruce Squadrons


The Sitka Spruce Can Grow to Over 300 Feet Tall
and 15 Feet in Diameter

By James Patton

The Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is a coniferous evergreen tree native to the coastal forests between Oregon and Alaska. A hardy species, it can grow in many other ecosystems but usually not nearly as large as in their native range, where they can grow to over 300 feet high, with a trunk diameter exceeding 15 feet, making them by far the largest species of spruce. The wood is widely used for pianos, harps, violins, and guitars, as its high strength-to-weight ratio and regular, knot-free rings make it an excellent conductor of sound. All quality pianos have soundboards made of Sitka spruce. During WWI, these attributes plus the long, tough fibers that don’t splinter even when struck by bullets, made it the essential material for aircraft wing spars. 

From the onset of the war the lumber industry in the Pacific Northwest was the key supplier to the Allies of Sitka spruce, even though the stingy pay and dangerous conditions in the logging operations spawned violent unionization efforts, and strikes were frequent. Coupled with the lumber industry’s preference for other species that were preferred as building materials, the availability of Sitka Spruce varied widely.  After the U.S. declared war in 1917, the logging industry lost workers to the army, the labor strife intensified, and the supply further declined to about 2 million board feet per year. With the U.S. now planning to build its own aircraft, the War Department estimated that 10 million board feet per year would be needed. 

Accordingly, a former army captain named Brice Disque was hired to evaluate the situation and recommend how to obtain the needed production. Disque spent a couple of months touring and interviewing. His final report concluded that the army would have to reorganize and operate the whole industry itself. 

Soldier tallying planks at Vancouver

So on 29 September 1917 Disque was returned to active duty as a lieutenant colonel and placed in charge of developing the plans for the army take-over. Subsequently, on 6 November, the new Spruce Production Division (SPD) was created as a part of the U.S. Signal Corps’ Aviation Section. Disque was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the SPD. His headquarters were established in downtown Portland, Oregon, where several floors of the new 15-story Yeon Building were requisitioned. The main site for induction, training, and operations was set up at the Vancouver Barracks, the army base in Washington near Portland.  

An early obstacle to overcome was the union question. The rather notorious Industrial Workers of the World was striving to represent the entire workforce. Unionizing soldiers seemed to be  totally out of the question, but a Portland lawyer named Maurice Crumpacker proposed a devious solution—the SPD would form a company union, also known as a "yellow union" (a practice banned by the Wagner Act in 1935). Crumpacker was made the head of the new Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, or the “4Ls” which actually continued in existence until 1939, long after Crumpacker left; he was elected to Congress in 1924.  The logging companies and mills were required to negotiate with the 4Ls, which set wage rates higher than previously paid and implemented minimum requirements for work hours, lodging, and food, which in most cases exceeded anything seen before in the woods or mills. About 125,000 men were enrolled in the 4Ls. 

The SPD was initially authorized 10,317 officers and men. They signed up several thousand loggers and mill workers, although this often required a waiver because many of these men were over 40. Some of the draftees assigned had been classified at induction as "Limited Service," and the rest of the contingent was filled by assigning soldiers and officers who had volunteered for the Air Service. As production ramped up it became apparent that many more men were needed so the authorization was upped, reaching 28,825 in May 1918. 

Portland Headquarters Today

The officers and soldiers were assigned to various work duties. Each crew was designated as a squadron (this was the Air Service) and eventually there were 149 of them, ranging in size from 35 men to over 300. Most of these squadrons were assigned to lumber camps and sawmills. Most of these facilities belonged to private lumber companies although the SPD built some as well. The army men worked side by side with civilians in the forests and mills, and all were paid the same. 

Other squadrons were assigned to construction duty, building, and maintaining infrastructure including saw mills, housing camps, roads, and even railroads in the forests. The SPD also procured heavy-duty trucks. These improvements made it possible to access many stands of spruce that had been passed over by the lumber companies as too expensive to harvest.

 The SPD also built a "cut-up" plant at Vancouver, where several squadrons were assigned to process the lumber into actual airplane parts. This was an improvement as previously the wood was delivered in large lengths and the aircraft factory had to cut their parts themselves. 

To further insure protection from labor strife, a group of squadrons were assigned to protect the infrastructure from damage or sabotage, to expel agitators, to suppress strikes, and also to fight forest fires. These men were armed with .30-.30 Winchester 94 carbines, a very popular civilian model, rather than army rifles, which alleviated the need for the army to supply the ammunition. 

Mixed Civilian-Military Crew Handling a Log Section

By November 1918, about 28,000 soldiers were stationed in the Pacific Northwest, working with about 100,000 civilians. About 20,000 soldiers were engaged in logging, construction, and mill work in the field (in about 235 camps) with the civilian lumbermen. Another 4,000 worked at the cut-up plant in Vancouver. Finally, an additional 4,000 men were permanently located at Vancouver Barracks, to help with administrative and support structure plus the security force. 

The SPD produced over 143 million board feet of Sitka spruce wood as well as other woods needed for ship construction in just 15 months, halting work almost immediately after the Armistice, and all of the military personnel were promptly discharged. Wherever possible, SPD property was shipped back to Vancouver and auctioned off at bargain prices. Anything that couldn’t be moved was abandoned to the logging companies and mill owners.

The SPD had a large and lasting impact on logging in the region. The companies adopted working conditions similar to those of the SPD, and they took great advantage of the new sawmills plus the logging roads and rail lines that the SPD had built to access more timber.

Four L's Insignia

Shortly after the Armistice, Disque, who was by then a brigadier general, was accused by members of Congress of wasting taxpayer’s money, especially on a $4 million railroad built on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, but those allegations were never substantiated. In March 1919 Disque left the army and the lumber industry. 

Sources include Bob Swanson’s definitive Spruce Squadrons website: 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Application of Airpower in the Third Afghan War


British Aircraft on Patrol During Afghan War

The Third Anglo-Afghan War also known as the Third Afghan War, the British-Afghan war of 1919, and in Afghanistan as the War of Independence, began on 6 May 1919 when the Emirate of Afghanistan invaded British India and ended with an armistice on 8 August 1919. Airpower played a key role during the 3rd Afghan War (1919) and the revolt in Waziristan (1919-1920). Five Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons of BE2Cs, Bristol F2Bs, De Haviland DH9As, and De Haviland DH-bombers were used in strafing and bombing attacks on the rebellious frontier tribes and on targets in Afghanistan itself, including Kabul and Jalalabad. The attacks on Afghan towns, although small-scale, helped bring King Amanullah to the negotiating table.

Handley Page V/1500 Bomber, "Old Carthusian,"
That Bombed Kabul

In May 1919, during the brief Third Anglo-Afghan War, the Royal Air Force (RAF) employed a lone Handley Page V/1500 to bomb the palace in Kabul. Although little physical damage resulted, the bombing caused great distress among the city’s residents. One author noted that “the women of the royal harem rushed on to the streets in terror.”

The attacks on Kabul and other Afghan towns, although small scale, helped bring King Amanullah to the negotiating table. Within days, Afghanistan’s King Amanullah Khan had called for a truce. Nevertheless, the month-long war gained the Afghans the conduct of their own foreign affairs. A peace treaty recognizing the independence of Afghanistan was signed at Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) on 8 August 1919.

Sources: Wikipedia, British Army Museum, RAF Archives, Encyclopedia Britannica, Imperial War Museum

Monday, April 26, 2021

What? Nurses and Soldiers Flirting on the Wards!—A Roads Classic

[This article is dedicated to a certain nurse who was assigned to my ward at Williams Air Force Base Hospital once upon a time.]

VAD Nurses and Soldier-Patients on an Outing

Where there are male soldiers and young female nurses, there’s bound to be trouble. At least, that was the view of many when the First World War began. Red Cross volunteers were under strict instructions not to socialise with soldiers. But what could you do when young men flirted with you?

Helen Beale, a VAD in France, bemoaned the strict rules about socializing with men in her letters home: “The rule is that nobody must go out with a man, even if it’s your own brother and you are with other people, too.”

The rules, she said, simply didn’t make sense: “Although you mayn’t go and have tea at a shop with anyone it’s apparently quite permissible to go with them for a lonely walk on the sandhills and bring them back for tea.

“And though you equally mayn’t go motoring with a friend you may get a lift given you by any casual motorer-by and nobody says nuffink!

Lighting a Cigarette for a Patient
“I believe these questions are settled and rules made by a pack of silly old women in England.”

Male visitors at the field hospital where Helen worked  were not encouraged. Men seemed to quickly realise they were not welcome. When Helen’s family friend popped in unannounced at the camp, she wrote: “I was at lunch so just missed him as he said he really didn’t dare face a sisters’ mess to come and find me.”

Sex and the VAD

Although the rules seemed ridiculous to people like Helen, they were in place to protect VADs. Many of these young women had led very sheltered lives and had never been told about sex. The Red Cross offered self-defence classes to many VADs as part of their training.

In her memoirs, VAD Kathleen Theodora Rhodes recalls how naïve she was. She was “on a troop train in Rouen in the afternoon–the only female on it–and had to travel all night, alone in stygian darkness, with an unknown officer.

“But I was such a sweet innocent in those days that it did not occur to me to be nervous. […] After some hours he said to me, ‘Aren’t you nervous, alone like this in the dark with a strange man?’

‘Not in the least’, I replied and asked innocently: ‘Why should I be?’ He did not explain! But he treated me with the greatest chivalry until we were dumped on the station in Etaples at 4.30am and he said goodbye quite reluctantly.”

Flirting in the Wards

Whilst they couldn’t socialize in private, the injured soldiers and the nurses spent many hours together in the wards. As we’ve seen from Oona Chaplin’s Kitty and Richard Rankin’s Captain Gillan on The Crimson Field, emotions in a hospital could run high.

If a patient wanted to flirt, nurses had little opportunity to escape. Helen Beale wrote to her mother: “We have a very tiresome new patient in the wards…he is by way of being very gentlemanly and swagger but as it takes the form of calling us ‘you girls’ and the like—and worse—I strongly object and shall snub him when opportunity arises!”

Playing Cards with the Patients
Other flirtations were more welcome. “Another such nice boy in the ward comes from Lincolnshire and is the most incorrigibly cheerful thing you can imagine considering that he has lost his leg and part of his left hand has been blown away, too. He nearly made me lose countenance the other day when I was washing him.

“I was diligently rubbing his back etc when the jolly old YMCA man came in to bring the men parcels of fruit that he had brought up for them from the village. What must my boy say than ‘wouldn’t you like to be me, sir, lying here being washed by a nice young lady like this!’”

Helen also enjoyed watching the military nurses flirting with the doctors: “I scent a love-affair between the Sister and the house surgeon, who comes in constantly and stays much longer than I feel sure there is any need to and they have long confabulations together! A somewhat exposed way of being great friends though, as all the ward and all the nurses can see and speculate about it!”

Rumors of flirtations and secret liaisons between VADs and “khaki” must have reached Red Cross headquarters. Dame Katherine Furse, the Red Cross commandant-in-chief wrote an open letter reprimanding VADs because “there is too much inclination at present to replace good work with sloppy sentiment.”

“A soldier is very adaptable and will accept what is given him”, she wrote. “If his nurses are familiar, and discipline is replaced by slackness and sentimentality, he will respond accordingly.”

She urged VADs to act professionally and prove themselves “worthy of their responsibilities” so that their patients would respect them.

Love Letters

Many nurses carried autograph books with them as a souvenir for patients and colleagues to sign. Some men took this as an opportunity to write flirtatious notes. An example in our archives has a poem from an injured soldier, who wrote:

“Sister Orrell is her name,
Single is her station;
He’ll be a very lucky chap
Who makes the alteration.”

Others knew that flirting—even in writing—was not worth the risk, as one wry poet explained:

“What? Write in a book
Where young ladies look
And old maids spy?
Not I; not I.”

Source: The British Red Cross blog at:

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Map Series #19: Le Hamel 4 July 1918

When I was researching my recent article on General Fuller and tank warfare, I discovered he had included this very helpful map on the battle of Le Hamel, which is considered a tactical masterpiece by General Monash and an example of where the potential of the tank was on full display. This map is exceptional because it shows where the tanks were deployed at the opening of the attack.

I have supplemented the map with three photographs which will help the reader appreciate the terrain, which, to me, looks just perfect for tank warfare. Please note the directions. North is to the left; the attack was mounted from west (bottom) to east (top).  C is the 

A.  Australian Front Line

A-B.  No Man's Land

B.  German Front Line

C.  Final Objective (Looking West from the Site of the present day Australian Memorial.)

Click on Images to Enlarge

To learn more about this interesting battle, read our article here:

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Recommended: Lowell Thomas Discovers Lawrence of Arabia

T.E. Lawrence and Lowell Thomas

By Mitchell Stephens

Originally presented in The History Reader, 19 June 2017

During the First World War Lowell Thomas was confirming—as he zipped to Europe, through Europe and then to the Middle East— that being in motion was his preferred state. And the direction he preferred for all this moving about, the direction that might best satisfy his adventure addiction, was also becoming clear: toward the increasingly exotic. From Egypt Lowell had made it to Palestine.

And now he was hearing talk of a significant military campaign under way in Arabia—at the time, for a European or American, among the most exotic locales on Earth. Lowell had even spoken with a colorful Englishman, in the habit of dressing in Arab robes, reputed to be riding at the head of the Arab forces.

Arabs were among the ethnic groups using the First World War as occasion to try to gain independence from the sprawling, heterogeneous and increasingly rickety Ottoman Empire and Turkish rule. Since that empire was allied with Germany in this war, and with an eye toward postwar influence in the region, the British were enthusiastically encouraging this “Arab Revolt”—supporting it, advising it, funding it. They were primarily working with the Hashemites, Sherif Hussein bin Ali and his sons, who had dynastic claims in the western part of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hejaz. Major T. E. Lawrence first tagged along with an emissary to the Hashemites, then became an emissary himself. . . 

That initial mention of Major (he had been promoted) T. E. Lawrence in one of Thomas’ notebooks was an account of the effort a month earlier by Lawrence and some Arab forces to hold on to the town of Tafilah, just south of the Dead Sea, which the Arabs had captured and the “Turks” were trying to retake. Here it is in its entirety:

 At southern end of Dead Sea, he & six Bedouins ran into outposts of a whole Turk Division, only had one machine gun & he was manning that. Held Turks off until he could send for re-enforcements. Said: “I believe I ran, yes, I’m sure I ran. But I kept count of the number of paces I ran so we had the range.”

When his re-enforcements arrived he left part of his men where they were & took most of his force around behind Turk Div. Killed divisional commander, took 500 prisoners & killed all the rest.

In his shows and writings, Lowell Thomas would go on to, as Ben Hecht later put it, “half invent the British hero, Lawrence of Arabia.” And this is Thomas’ initial sketch of that supposedly fearless, shrewd, indomitable leader of Arabs and slaughterer of Turks. It is, therefore, a significant piece of evidence.

Lowell Thomas seems to be either taking notes in these initial paragraphs on “Maj. T. E. Lawrence” or writing from notes, and given the appearance of the first person in them, they appear to be notes from an interview with T. E. Lawrence himself.

In that case the story of T. E. Lawrence’s holding off a whole Turkish division at Tafilah by firing a machine gun came from Lawrence. And that story is almost surely untrue. It does not appear again—even in the most hagiographic biographies of T. E. Lawrence, even in the one Thomas himself would write.

A few pages later in this notebook, Thomas returns to the subject of “Maj. T. E. Lawrence.” Here Thomas records a full seven pages of notes. He jots down his first description of Lawrence: “5 feet 2 inches tall. Blonde, blue sparkling eyes, fair skin—too fair even to bronze after 7 years in the Arabian desert. Barefooted, costume of Meccan Sherif.” We know that at this time T. E. Lawrence, in full Arab dress, posed for photographs by Harry Chase. And these extended notes by Thomas include discussions of T. E. Lawrence’s adventures that must have been based on interviews in Jerusalem with Lawrence.

The dozens of biographers of T. E. Lawrence disagree on the extent of Lawrence’s own responsibility for inflating his accomplishments and thereby helping create the legend of “Lawrence of Arabia.” But it is apparent even from Thomas’ initial efforts to record T. E. Lawrence’s story—which would also have been Lawrence’s initial brush with attention outside the military—that T. E. Lawrence inflated some of his accomplishments and therefore contributed quite a bit to that legend. There is other such evidence. If “Lawrence of Arabia” was half invented, Lowell Thomas must share credit for the invention with T. E. Lawrence himself along with some of his votaries in the British military.

Read the full article here:

Friday, April 23, 2021

Don't Miss Your April 2021 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire


In this issue, we focus on the Great War in the Lorraine in 1914, where much important things were happening while the world's attention was focused on the Race to the Sea in Western France.

Main Focus: The Lorraine Gap of 1914

  • From Your Editor: Post-Marne Movements
  • The Lorraine Gap Evolves
  • Germany Files the Gap
  • Minding the (Former) Gap, 1914-1918

Éparges Spur on the Meuse Heights Would Be an 
Epic Battleground for the Entire War

  • What the Gap Led to in 1918
  • 100 Years Ago: The Second Battle of Inonu Marks a Turning Point in the Greco-Turkish War
  • The Spanish Flu vs. COVID-19: the Numbers
  • Documentary: HMS Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy Sunk on 22 September 1914

Greek Troops Advancing During the First Battle of Inonu, January 1921

Other Topics:

  • Different Perspectives on the 1914 Campaign
  • Germany's Vulnerable Point Was Lorraine
  • The Zabern Affair
  • Barbara Tuchman on the Decisive Moment in Lorraine
  • Plus all our regular updates and features

Next Month:  Flanders 1914: Locking in the Western Front

Thursday, April 22, 2021

American Industrialist & Philanthropist Joseph G. Butler, Jr., Visits France in 1916

By Kimball Worcester

The American Industrial Commission to France (1916) was organized and dispatched on its mission by the American Manufacturers’ Export Association in response to a suggestion made November 21, 1915, by President E. M. Herr of the Association at a reception-luncheon given to the French Trade Commission, headed by M. Maurice Damour, deputy of The Landes… Official assurances, conveyed subsequently through Ambassador Jusserand, established French acquiescence beyond doubt, and indicated the unusual character of the opportunity offered an American organization to study French industrial conditions. 
(Chapter I, “The Inception of the Commission,” Report to the American Manufacturers Export Association by the American Industrial Commission to France, September–October 1916)

Thus begins the dense and informative report of the 13-member mission on which the Ohio industrialist Joseph G. Butler, Jr. (1840-1927), traveled to France in autumn 1916 as “the representative of the steel and iron industry.” Butler pioneered steel making in Youngstown, Ohio, in the late 19th century. His companies included the Ohio Steel Company, subsequently the Ohio Works of Carnegie Steel, later U. S. Steel, in addition to Youngstown Sheet and Tube and the Youngstown and Suburban Railway Company. 

The summary of the commission’s report opens with “America must become an important factor in European reconstruction after the war, and whatever tends to throw light on the specific needs of one nation cannot fail to call attention to the similar needs of all.” The report is, predictably, businesslike and solid, while Butler’s reminiscence is personal and chatty as well as astute and heartfelt. This is a chapter of reminiscence from 1925, published two years before his death in Recollections of Men and Events, and he also wrote a more extensive account of his 1916 journey in  A Journey Through France in War Time  (Cleveland: The Penton Press, 1917).

The commission set sail on 3 August 1916 on the French ship Lafayette, an appropriate vessel indeed. Butler comments on the ship: "We found a gun mounted on the prow of our vessel, the Lafayette, and were assured that it was meant for business if the occasion arose, the Captain explaining that his instructions were to fire on the German submarine, if any such vessel threatened his ship." They docked in Bordeaux on 3 September, with Butler observing: 

The first thing that struck me when we landed at Bordeaux was the large number of able-bodied men employed about the docks. It seemed strange when man-power was at such a premium. We were told that these were Spaniards. At this port I saw also a great deal of steel that had been made in Youngstown [namely, his companies’ steel]. Butler recounts as well of Bordeaux: I had secured a small French flag at Bordeaux and carried it with me constantly on the journey through France, waving it whenever the opportunity occurred, in spite of the warning given us by our chairman that we were to observe strict neutrality. This flag was received with great enthusiasm. 

Butler accurately comments on the commission’s official neutrality: "Our chairman was thoroughly convinced that we should observe the strictest neutrality, although we were to be the guests of the French Government and to visit a stricken country with which most of us felt the greatest sympathy." Good points, there. Butler’s Francophilia shows throughout the memoir without degrading into the “filthy Hun” Germanophobia. 

The Schneider Works at Le Creusot

The commission visits textile factories, munitions manufacturing, shelled cathedrals and towns, and Le Creusot, where “the greatest of all French steel and munitions plants is located.” They were kept away from the area where the high-explosive shells were loaded, as “it was thought the danger was too great.” He notes, interestingly, that this plant is “the oldest business concern in France, having been chartered as a coal mining proposition in 1253.” They traveled largely by automobile, near the First Marne battle lines, to Rheims, Baccarat, Limoges, Belfort, and Besançon (the “gateway to the Front”), among other locales. They are feted by the French and speeches are made on both sides, although Butler himself does not speak French (one wonders how many on this American commission actually did). Butler can’t help name dropping a bit. He meets Lloyd George at the Hotel Crillon in Paris and “greeted the English Premier in Welsh, his native tongue, which secured for me a few minutes conversation with him…[he said that] ‘the world is big enough for us all’ [and that] the British were ‘fighting the battle of civilization.’”

Further adventures bring Butler and the commission ultimately to Le Havre on 18 October, whence they cross the Channel and make their way to Liverpool, embarking on the Philadelphia for the journey back across the Atlantic, arriving “without incident.” Later, Butler philosophizes toward the end of his 1925 essay: 

What does civilization mean if it fails to include justice and consideration for others What do knowledge and skill and industry profit, if they are to be used to destroy what they have already created? And what do the long ages of man’s struggle upward to the light avail if they lead to scenes such as have been described [above]? Since that time the German dream of dominance has been shattered and the human race seems safe from another such catastrophe as the World War, but there does not appear to be much evidence that Europe has learned from this experience the lesson it should teach which is that if human progress is to be real, both the head and the heart must have a share in solving the problems of mankind.

Winslow Homer's Crack the Whip at the
Butler Institute of American Art

Joseph G. Butler, Jr., made good on this belief in human progress in 1919, when he donated his entire personal art collection to the museum he founded in Youngstown, Ohio, the Butler Institute of American Art, the first museum in the country dedicated exclusively to American art. From its inception, the Butler collected and celebrated works by American women and Black Americans. It is there today, a noted museum, free admission to all ( Butler was my great-great grandfather, the grandfather of my grandmother, whose husband (Capt. Benj. L. Agler) served on the Western Front in the 4th Division and in occupied Germany with the 26th Division. Butler volunteered, as did Agler, to further the combined causes of the U.S. and France during and after the Great War. 

Sources:; Recollections of Men and Events; Report to the American Manufacturers Export Association by the American Industrial Commission to France, September–October 1916.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

In 1920 J.F..C. Fuller Asked: "What had the influence of the tank really been?"

Here's his answer.

The effect of the tank’s mobility on grand tactics was stupendous. Between the winter of 1914 and the summer of 1918, to all intents and purposes, the Allies waged a static war on the Western Front. During these three and a half years various attempts were made to wear down the enemy’s fighting strength as a prelude to a decisive exploitation or pursuit, but these battles of attrition were mutually destructive and the Allies undoubtedly lost more casualties than they inflicted. Attrition without the possibility of surprise  or mobility is a mere “push of pikes,” it is a muscular but brainless operation. At the Third Battle of Ypres it cost us a quarter of a million men. 

Then came the tank, and true attrition was rendered possible; in other words, in tank battles the enemy lost more in human points than we did: it is doubtful whether in killed and wounded we lost, between August 8 and November 11, 1918, as many men as the prisoners we captured. This was only possible by our possessing the means of putting the grand tactical act of penetration into operation, by breaking down the “inviolability” of the German front, and by so doing rendering envelopment a reality.

Tanks Arriving at the Front

In minor tactics it was possible, by means of the tank, to economize life by harmonizing fire and movement and movement and security; the tank soldier could use the whole of his energy in the manipulation of his weapons and none in the effort of moving himself forward; further than this, sufficiently thick armor could be carried to protect him against bullets, shrapnel, and shell splinters. Human legs no longer controlled marches, and human skin no longer was the sole protection to the flesh beneath it. A new direction was obtained, that of the moving firing line; the knight in armor was once again reinstated, his horse now a petrol engine and his lance a machine gun.

Strategy, or the science of making the most of time for warlike ends, had practically ceased since November 1914. Even the great advances of the Germans in 1918 came to an abrupt stop through failure of road capacity, and roads and rails form the network upon which all former strategy was woven. The cross-country tractor, or tank, widened the size of roads to an almost unlimited degree. The earth became a universal vehicle of motion, like the sea, and to those sides which relied on tanks, naval tactics could be superimposed on those of land warfare.

German Prisoners, Canadian Tank, Amiens, August 1918

With the introduction of mechanical movement every principle of war became easy of application and, to-day, to pit an overland mechanical army against one relying on roads, rails, and muscular energy, is to pit a fleet of modern  battleships against one of wind-driven three-deckers. The result of such an action is not even within the possibility of doubt: the latter will for a certainty be destroyed, for the highest form of machinery must win, because it saves time, and time is the controlling factor on the battlefield as in the workshop.

From: TANKS IN THE GREAT WAR, 1914–1918 by Brevet-Colonel J. F. C. FULLER, D.S.O. (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry)

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices

 Edited by Constance Ruzich 

Reviewed by Bryan Alexander

Bloomsbury Academic, 2020

While Serving in These Trenches on Mte San Michele, Giuseppe Ungaretti Was Inspired to Write Some of the Greatest Poetry of World War I

World War I gave rise to an extraordinary wave of creative expression. Novels, memoirs, plays, manifestos, paintings, and more appeared from 1914 on, each grappling with the war’s disruptions, brutality, and transformation.  The war’s poetry is perhaps the most famous, with British war poets being widely taught and read.

With this volume Constance Ruzich gives us a new collection of WWI poetry, one which goes beyond familiar verse. [Connie runs the excellent blog Behind Their Lines , which looks at lesser-known poetry of the Great War.] To begin with, this new anthology includes works from a wide range of nations, from Russia and Germany to France, (including both French and Breton languages), Italy, India, New Zealand, and the United States (with white and Black writers). Connie also takes care to represent many women’s voices, which can be a surprise to readers accustomed to a primarily male field. She selects poems which offer varied views of the war: yes, the familiar sorrow and pity, as well as fervent calls for more fighting, criticisms of war profiteering, and thoughtful lines about battlefields long after the last shot has been fired.  

This panoramic view of First World War poetry is divided into the kinds of human experience each poem addresses.  "Soldier’s Lives" leads the volume and presents the kinds of poetry most readers would expect, such as “The Night Patrol France, March 1916.”  Rupert Brooke is represented by a fragment. There is quite a tonal range, touching horror (“Song of Mud,” “Little Song of the Maimed" ("Petite Chanson des Mutilés"), momentary peace in war (“The Bathe”) and surreal comedy, (“In No Man’s Land”). One is a very musical piece, which was actually turned into a song (“On Patrol in No Man’s Land”). “The Hill” shows us the shocking first appearance of the tank.  Some of these poems describe the experience of war as one of extraordinary intensity, like Giuseppe Ungaretti’s “Vigil" ("Veglia"):



The "Minds at War" section takes us deeper into psychology, giving us views of characters’ thoughts during and close to the war.  For example, Albert-Paul Granier’s “Fever (La Fièvre") shows us a mind racing in terror and exhilaration. “Bivouacs” traces a soldier’s imagination from recalling the details of camp to flights of escapist fantasy. Amy Lowell’s “September, 1918” imagines a peace that was actually soon to arrive. Some of the “Minds” are lighthearted, like William Oliphant Down's “Picardy Parodies No. 2 (W.B. Y--ts"), which satirizes the famous Yeats by placing his mythical visions in the west front. 

The "Noncombatants" section gives us the views of civilians, from mothers sending sons to war to priests dealing with military occupation. Some are elegiac, while others wish destruction and heightened war on the enemy, like Émile Cammaerts’ brutal “New Year’s Wishes to the German Army" ("Voeux de Nouvel An à l’Armée Allemande").  Dorothy Parker’s cutting “Penelope” focuses on the contrast between soldiers and civilians.  May Sinclair’s “After the Retreat” ponders ruined cities from an ambulance volunteer’s viewpoint. C.H.B. Kitchin describes civilians experiencing the new art film of cinema, as it depicts the Battle of the Somme. “A Memory” (Margaret Sackville) ponders a savaged village but, again, not from a military standpoint:

"Making Sense of War" offers reflective or analytical poems, sometimes focused on social problems like venereal disease (“The Camp Follower”) or on calls for national renewal (“A Litany in the Desert”).  Classic references (“A Meditation upon the Return of the Greeks,” “I Saw a Man This Morning”) and Biblical language (“O Little David, Play on Your Harp,” “Solomon in All His Glory”) appear alongside the mundane details of daily life (“A Letter from the Front”). At least one is more abstract and also apocalyptic, Georg Trakl’s “Eastern Front" ("Im Osten):

While many accounts of the war’s cultural impact emphasize religious disillusionment, this section shows religion serving a serious and central purpose for a good number of poets.

"Remembering the Dead" and "Aftermath" take the postwar period as their subjects: disability, the gap between veterans and inexperienced civilians, unbearable loss, the desire for peace. What we now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appears.

With each poem the editor adds biographical background, as well as particular historical context. In addition, a solid introduction does a fine job of explaining the volume’s plan, along with some of the history of WWI poetry. Readers familiar with the First World War may recognize some themes and topics, from Gallipoli and futility to new technology and comradeship. Yet International Poetry of the First World War lets us see that history from new perspectives. This is indeed a rich, valuable, and rare collection of poetry from the Great War. 

Bryan Alexander


Monday, April 19, 2021

President Wilson's Stroke: Governing the Nation

Edith Wilson and the Ill President's Daughter,
Margaret, Accompany Him on an Outing

In recent years, the discovery of the presidential physicians’ clinical notes at the time of the illness confirm that the president’s stroke left him severely paralyzed on his left side and partially blind in his right eye, along with the emotional maelstroms that accompany any serious, life-threatening illness but especially one that attacks the brain. Only a few weeks after his stroke, Wilson suffered a urinary tract infection that threatened to kill him. Fortunately, the president’s body was strong enough to fight that infection off, but he also experienced another attack of influenza in January of 1920, which further damaged his health.

By February of 1920, news of the president’s stroke began to be reported in the press. Nevertheless, the full details of Woodrow Wilson’s disability and his wife’s management of his affairs were not entirely understood by the American public at the time. What remained problematic was that in 1919 there did not yet exist clear constitutional guidelines of what to do, in terms of the transfer of presidential power, when severe illness struck the chief executive. What the U.S. Constitution’s Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 on presidential succession does state is as follows:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

20 June 1920: the President and First Lady

But Wilson, of course, was not dead and not willing to resign because of inability. As a result, Vice President Thomas Marshall refused to assume the presidency unless the Congress passed a resolution that the office was, in fact, vacant, and only after Mrs. Wilson and Dr. Grayson certified in writing, using the language spelled out by the Constitution, of the president’s “inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office.” Such resolutions never came.

For the remainder of her life, Edith Wilson steadfastly insisted that her husband performed all of his presidential duties after his stroke. As she later declared in her 1938 autobiography, My Memoir:

So began my stewardship, I studied every paper, sent from the different Secretaries or Senators, and tried to digest and present in tabloid form the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President. I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.

Over the last century, historians have continued to dig into the proceedings of the Wilson administration and it has become clear that Edith Wilson acted as much more than a mere “steward.” She was, essentially, the nation’s chief executive until her husband’s second term concluded in March of 1921. Nearly three years later, Woodrow Wilson died in his Washington, DC, home at 2340 S Street, NW, at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, 3 February 1924.

Source: PBS News Hour, 2 October 2015, Dr. Howard Markel, Correspondent