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

Monday, May 10, 2021

Eleven Things I Found at the British Library's Website

Click on image for best viewing.  Here they are 580 pixels in width, enlarged they are 1000 pixels.  MH

This poster commemorates killed soldiers from
Magrè a small town near Vicenza, Italy

This map shows the Allied front line at the Ypres
Salient on 2 December 1917 and the wet and
totally inundated areas.

Indian Patients at the Dome Hospital, Brighton

Lusitania Poster by Belgian Gisbert Combaz (1869–1941)

Original Publication of "Futility" by Wilfred Owen
in The Nation, 15 June 1918

"It's a Long, Long War to Tipperary" Handkerchief

From Digger Dialects (Slang of Australian Soldiers)

Sicilian school publication commemorating Italy’s
entry into the First World War, 24 May 1915

Trench life photos published in a German magazine

Fragments of an explosive bullet extracted from the wound
 of a Serbian soldier in the Russian hospital at Valievo, from "Report upon the atrocities committed by the Austro-Hungarian army during the first invasion
of Serbia;" submitted to the Serbian government.

This chart plots the locations and movements of the Allied
 and German ships between 5:30 p.m. and 5:48 p.m.
during the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The Death of Horatio Kitchener

Kitchener, the Recruiting Poster

On 5 June 1916,  just off the Orkney Islands, armored cruiser HMS Hampshire hit a mine.  Nearly all the crew and passengers would perish that evening, including Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum and his staff.  Kitchener was en route to Russia,  on a secret mission to bolster support from the tsar for the war.  

He was the most senior officer from either side in the First World War to die on active service and .his loss was viewed as a national disaster. When war broke out in 1914, Kitchener was immediately appointed war secretary. The Times reflected the popular mood, writing: “We need hardly say with what profound satisfaction and relief we hear of Lord Kitchener’s appointment.” The new war secretary was no bonehead and quickly delivered himself of the hugely significant judgment that, far from being over by Christmas, the fighting would last for years. He recognized at once that Britain’s small professional army—vastly outnumbered by the conscript forces of continental Europe—would need to be multiplied in size many times. The war would be won, he said, by “the last million men”.

The Doomed HMS Hampshire


By mid-1916, however, Kitchener, had lost his sway with the political leadership. They had come to despise him for his high-handedness and laid blame on  him for the Gallipoli fiasco and the 1915 shell crisis. With the tsar was begging for fresh supplies of guns and explosives and Britain was worried whether Russia, which had taken enormous casualties, would have the will to stay the course of the war. Kitchener jumped at the idea of leading a mission of reassurance. As the commander of the Grand Fleet, Admiral John Jellicoe, who lunched with him just before his departure, recalled later, the war secretary “expressed delight at getting away for a time from the responsibilities and cares attaching to his Office.” He seemed almost to think of his mission as something of a holiday.

Just before 8:00 p.m. on the first day out, there was a tremendous explosion, when a mine, recently laid by U-75, was struck. The Hampshire shuddered and took on water. “It was as though an express train crashed into us,” recalled a stoker who survived. The lights on the cruiser failed as the electrical system short-circuited, though the propellers continued to turn. Within minutes, the vessel was sinking by the bow, with most of the lifeboats not launchable in the storm. It was still daylight, and onshore in the Orkneys, observers from the Royal Garrison Artillery had seen the Hampshire explode. The postmistress in the remote settlement of Birsay sent an immediate SOS by telegraph to Kirkwall to alert the naval authorities. But the Hampshire went down in 15 minutes—time only to launch three small life rafts, which were soon hopelessly overcrowded with desperate sailors. 

Routes of Hampshire & U-75


Interviews in the local archives hold the recollections of some of the Orcadians who braved the howling winds and torrential rain to try to rescue those sailors who might make it to the few inlets between the cliffs. They found the life rafts dashed on the rocks, one thrust by the enormous waves into a crevice in the cliffs high above the sea. The British war secretary was last seen standing in his field marshal’s uniform on the starboard side of the quarterdeck, calmly talking to two staff officers as the ship went down. The official report lists 643 dead, though local historian Brian Budge believes the true figure to be 725. It is certain that there were a mere 12 survivors. Of Lord Kitchener there was no sign at all. Though corpses continued to wash up the shores of the Orkneys for weeks afterwards, his body was never found.

When news of the loss of HMS Hampshire reached London, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reached for his purple ink pot. Lord Kitchener, he said, had left behind “the memory of something vast and elemental, coming suddenly and going strangely, a mighty spirit leaving great traces of its earthly passage.” How to register the loss of this powerful force?

Kitchener Memorial St. Paul's Cathedral


The death of Kitchener had a profound impact on the country. “Very like President Kennedy or Princess Diana’s deaths in later years, everyone who was alive then would remember the moment they heard about Kitchener’s death even though three weeks later 20,000 died at the Somme,” says  author James Irvine.  

Sources:  The Scotsman,  4 June 2016; Financial Times, 7 November 2014

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Colonel Troy H. Middleton, 4th Division, AEF


Colonel Troy H. Middleton at the End of WWI

As a Lieutenant General, Troy Middleton (1989-1976) was one of America's most successful commanders of the Second World War.  His army career had begun 35 years earlier when he enlisted in the Army as 20-year old private.  Within two years, Middleton had earned a commission and led troops on the Vera Cruz Expedition and the Mexican Border episode.  Then came the Great War during which he was promoted to full colonel, the youngest in the United States Army and Expeditionary Force. Much of his life was centered around  Louisiana and Louisiana State University (where he eventually became its president) and is well-remembered in the area.  In 2020, a newspaper in the Baton Rouge area published a long tribute to him covering his entire career.  Here are some selections covering his military service.

During World War I. . .  he commanded the First Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment in the most important and decisive battle of the war late in 1918 — the Second Battle of the Marne. His men faced the battle-hardened Prussian Fourth Guard Division, which had just returned from a month’s rest, in a four-day battle where the fate of the war was at stake! Middleton’s men pushed the Germans back 12 miles, and the victory was won! From the Marne, Colonel Middleton led the 4th Division to attack the Germans near Verdun. His men broke through German defenses, pushing them back five miles. On October 11, 1918, he was given command of the 39th Infantry Regiment. Overnight he had to prepare to lead his men into enemy territory using a tactic called “marching fire,” where all of the troops constantly fire their weapons while moving through the woods. This caused the dug in Germans to surrender and Middleton’s men’s moved to the edge of the Meuse River. Then, as Colonel Middleton [now commander of the 47th Infantry of the 4th Division] was preparing to chase German defenders down the Moselle River, the Germans signed the surrender, and the war was over.   He also received the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his exemplary service.

Generals Eisenhower and Middleton

 Following World War I, Middleton served at the U.S. Army School of Infantry, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School, the U.S. Army War College, and as commandant of cadets at LSU. He retired from the army in 1937 to become dean of administration and later comptroller and acting vice president at LSU. His tenure at LSU was fraught with difficulty, as Middleton became one of the key players in helping the university recover from a major scandal where nearly a million dollars had been embezzled.

Recalled to service in early 1942, upon American entry into World War II, Middleton became commanding general of the 45th Infantry Division during the Sicily and Salerno battles in Italy, and then in March 1944 moved up to command the VIII Corps. His leadership in Operation Cobra during the Battle of Normandy led to the capture of the important port city of Brest, France, and for his success he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal by General George Patton. 

President Middleton, Louisiana State University

His greatest World War II achievement, however, was in his decision to hold the important city of Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. Following this battle, and his corps' relentless push across Germany until reaching Czechoslovakia, he was recognized by both General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, and Patton as being a corps commander of extraordinary abilities. Middleton logged 480 days in combat during World War II, more than any other American general officer. 

Baton Rouge National Cemetery

Retiring from the army again in 1945, Middleton returned to LSU and in 1951 was appointed to the university presidency, a position he held for 11 years, while continuing to serve the army in numerous consultative capacities. He resided in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, until his death in 1976 and was buried in Baton Rouge National Cemetery. 

Sources: Wikipedia; Central City News, 15 June 2020

Friday, May 7, 2021

SS Prince Charles: The First Successful Q-Ship

From: Q-SHIPS AND THEIR STORY by E. Keble Chatterton

Q-Ship of Similar Size to Prince Charles

Anti-submarine decoy vessels, Q-ships were equipped with concealed guns and torpedoes, and sometimes with false colors.  Many different types of vessels were used, mostly conversions, but some were special built.  One of these was the collier SS Prince Charles a  little vessel of only 373 tons. In peacetime she was commanded by her master, Mr. F. N. Maxwell, and  manned by five deckhands, two engineers, and two firemen. These men all volunteered for what was known to be a hazardous job and were accepted. In command was placed Lieutenant Mark Wardlaw, R.N., and with him went Lieutenant J. G. Spencer, R.N.R., and nine active-service ratings to man the guns and use the rifles. 

Prince Charles carried the weakest of armament—only a 3-pounder and a 6-pounder, with rifles forward and aft. Having completed her fitting out with great secrecy, the Prince Charles left Longhope in the evening of 21 July with orders to cruise on routes where submarines had recently been seen. Proceeding to the westward at her slow gait, she saw very few vessels until 24 July. It was just 6.:20 p.m., when, about ten miles W.N.W. of North Rona Island, she sighted a three-masted vessel with one funnel, apparently stopped. A quarter of an hour later she observed a submarine lying close to the steamer. Here was the steel fish Prince Charles was hoping to bait.

Uncovered Deck Gun on a Q-Ship

Pretending not to see the submarine, and keeping on her course like a real collier, Lieutenant Wardlaw’s ship jogged quietly along, but he was closing up his gun’s crews behind their screens and the mercantile crew were standing by ready to hoist out the ship’s boats when required. The German now started up his oil-engines and came on at full speed toward the Prince Charles. It had just gone seven o’clock and the submarine was 3 miles off. The collier had hoisted her color's and the enemy was about five points on the bow when a German shell came whizzing across. This fell 1,000 yards over. Lieutenant Wardlaw now stopped his engines, put his ship head on to the Atlantic swell, blew three blasts, and then ordered the crew to get the boats out, in order to simulate the movements of an ordinary merchant ship in the presence of an attacking submarine.

In the meantime the enemy was approaching rapidly and fired a second shot, which fell between the funnel and the foremast, but landed 50 yards over. When the range was down to 600 yards the enemy turned her broadside on to the collier and continued firing; and this was now the time for the Q-ship’s captain to make the big decision. Should he maintain his pretense and continue to receive punishment, with the possibility of losing ship and lives in the hope that the submarine would come nearer? Or should he reveal his identity and risk everything on the chance of winning all? This was always the critical moment when the Q-ship captain held in his judgment the whole fate of the fight, of the ship, and his men.

Lieutenant Wardlaw, seeing that the enemy could not be enticed to come any nearer, took the second alternative, and opened fire with his port guns. The effect of this on the German was remarkable and instantaneous; for her gun’s crew at once deserted the gun and darted down into the conning-tower. But whilst they were so doing, one of Prince Charles’s shells struck the submarine 20 feet abaft the conning-tower. The enemy then came round and showed her opposite broadside, having attempted to dive. She now began to rise again as the collier closed to 300 yards, and frequent hits were being scored by the British guns. By this time the surprised Germans had had more than enough, and were observed to be coming out of the conning-tower, whilst the submarine was settling down by the stern. Still the British fire continued, and when the submarine’s bows were a long way out of the water, she took a sudden plunge and disappeared. A large number of men were then seen swimming about, and the Prince Charles at once made every effort to pick them up, 15 officers and men being thus saved out of 33.

U-38, Sister Boat of U-36

So ended the career of U-36. She had left Heligoland on 19 July for a cruise of several weeks via the North Sea, and, up till the day of meeting with Prince Charles, had had a most successful time; for she had sunk eight trawlers and one steamer, and had stopped the Danish SS Louise when the Prince Charles came up. It was not until the submarine closed the latter that U-36 saw the Englishmen clearing away some tarpaulins on deck, and the next moment the Germans were under fire, and the captain gave orders to dive. By this time the submarine had been hit several times, and as she could not be saved, she was brought to the surface by blowing out her tanks. The crew then took to the sea, and the engineer officer opened the valves to sink her, and was the last to leave. Inside, the submarine was wrecked by Prince Charles’s shells and three men were killed, the accurate and rapid fire having immensely impressed the Germans. Thus the first Q-ship engagement had been everything that could be desired, and in spite of the submarine being armed with a 14-pounder and carrying seven torpedoes, the U-boat had been beaten in a fair fight. Lieutenant Mark Wardlaw received a DSO, two of the crew the DSM, and the sum of £1,000 was awarded to be divided among the mercantile crew.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Brief Truce on the Eastern Front in 1914

Reported by Fritz Kreisler in Four Weeks in the Trenches

We were in the first days of September, and upon reaching the swamps near Grodeck, south of Lemberg, a determined stand was decided upon by our commanding general. It seemed the most propitious place for a formidable defense, there being only few roads through otherwise impassable swamps. On September sixth my battalion was ordered to take up a position commanding a defile which formed one of the possible approaches for the enemy. Here we awaited the Russians, and they were not long in coming. First they violently shelled our position and silenced one of our batteries. Finding their artillery fire did not draw any answer from our side, they attempted to storm our position by means of frontal infantry attacks, combined with occasional raids of Cossacks, which were always repulsed. Finally the Russian infantry succeeded in establishing a number of trenches, the one opposite us not more than five hundred yards away. It was the first time we had come in close touch with the Russians, almost within hailing distance, and with the aid of our field glasses we could occasionally even get a glimpse of their faces and recognize their features. We stayed four days opposite each other, neither side gaining a foot of ground.

A Russian Trench

It was there and then that I made a curious observation. After the second day we had almost grown to know each other. The Russians would laughingly call over to us, and the Austrians would answer. The salient feature of these three days' fighting was the extraordinary lack of hatred. In fact, it is astonishing how little actual hatred exists between fighting men. One fights fiercely and passionately, mass against mass, but as soon as the mass crystallizes itself into human individuals whose features one actually can recognize, hatred almost ceases. Of course, fighting continues, but somehow it loses its fierceness and takes more the form of a sport, each side being eager to get the best of the other. One still shoots at his opponent, but almost regrets when he sees him drop.

By the morning of the third day we knew nearly every member of the opposing trench, the favorite of my men being a giant red-bearded Russian whose constant pastime consisted in jumping like a Jack-in-the-box from the trench, crying over to us as he did so. He was frequently shot at, but never hit. Then he grew bolder, showing himself longer and longer, until finally he jumped out of the trench altogether, shouting to us wildly and waving his cap. His good-humored jollity and bravado appealed to our boys and none of them attempted to shoot at him while he presented such a splendid target. Finally one of our men, who did not want to be second in bravery, jumped out of the trench and presented himself in the full sunlight. Not one attempt was made to shoot at him either, and these two men began to gesticulate at each other, inviting each other to come nearer. All fighting had suddenly ceased, and both opposing parties were looking on, laughing like boys at play. Finally the Russian would draw a step nearer, and our man boldly advanced too. Then the Russians urged on their man with shouts and laughter, and he made a big leap forward, standing still, whereupon the Austrian also jumped forward, and so, step by step, they approached until they nearly touched each other. They had left their rifles behind, and we thought that they were going to indulge in a fist fight, all of us being sorry for our champion, for he was a small and insignificant-looking man who looked as if he could be crushed with one blow by his gigantic opponent. But lo, and behold! The big Russian held out his hand which held a package of tobacco and our Austrian, seizing the tobacco, grasped the hand of the Russian, and then reaching in his pocket produced a long Austrian cigar, which he ceremoniously presented to the Russian. It was indeed a funny sight to see the small, wiry, lean Austrian talking in exaggerated terms of politeness to the blond Russian giant, who listened gravely and attentively, as if he understood every word.

Artist Depiction of an Austrian Trench

By this time all precautions and even ideas of fighting had been forgotten, and we were surprised to find ourselves out of the shelter of our trenches and fully exposed to the Russians, who, in turn, leaned out of their own trenches and showed their heads in full. This unofficial truce had lasted about twenty minutes, and succeeded more in restoring good humor and joy of life among our soldiers than a trainload of provisions would have done. It was one of the incidents that helped to relieve the monotony of trench life and was heartily welcomed by all of us. The fighting, however, soon was resumed with all its earnestness and fierceness, but from this moment on a certain camaraderie was established between the two opposing trenches. Between skirmishes an unofficial truce would frequently be called for the purpose of removing the wounded. During these times when the stretcher-bearers were busy, no shot would be fired on either side

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Remembering Important Great War Historian Lyn Macdonald


Lynn Macdonald (1929-2021)

From Penguin Books

The historian Lyn Macdonald died on Monday 1 March. She was 91 years old, and is survived by her husband Ian, and children Aline, Alastair and Michael.

After leaving her job as a BBC Radio producer in 1973, Macdonald established a reputation as one of the most highly regarded historians of the First World War. In a largely male-dominated field, then as now, she stood out as a pioneering and distinctive female voice; in 2016, Antony Beevor said of her that “Lyn Macdonald’s books on the First World War set the standard for a generation”. Her superb chronicles of popular history were notable for their extensive use of eyewitness and survivor accounts, and she drew on oceans of contemporary letters and diaries as well as capturing the memories of a dwindling supply of veterans. In doing so, she cast a unique light on the experiences of the ordinary ‘Tommy’ in the wider context of the First World War, documenting the innocence of a lost generation and bringing to life the disillusionment, the questioning and the heroism of the men of the British Army. “My intention,” she said, “has been to tune in to the heartbeat of the experience of the people who lived through it.”

Her first book, They Called It Passchendaele, was an oral history of the 1917 Passchendaele campaign that gathered testimonies from over 600 participants to portray the human realities behind one of the most disastrous events in the history of warfare. She then wrote The Roses of No Man’s Land, a chronicle of the war from the neglected viewpoint of the casualties and the medical teams who struggled to save them. It later served as the inspiration for the memorable BBC drama, The Crimson Field; the director, Sarah Phelps, spoke of how the book “opened a door on to both the military nurses and also these girls who came from these Edwardian drawing rooms and were thrown into this extraordinary explosive and horrifying and exhilarating world.”

These books were followed by Somme, a history of the legendary and horrifying battle that has haunted the minds of succeeding generations; 1914, a vivid account of the first months of the war and winner of the 1987 Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Award; 1914-1918: Voices and Images of the Great War, an illuminating account of the many different aspects of the war; and 1915: The Death of Innocence, a brilliant evocation of the year that saw the terrible losses of Aubers Ridge, Loos, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres and Gallipoli. Her last book was To the Last Man: Spring 1918.

Building on more than two decades of research, Macdonald had the rare talent of conveying the poignancy and heroism of front-line soldiers’ experiences and describing what it was that enabled those who survived to get through it. Her stories were vivid, harrowing, sometimes terrifying – yet shot through with humor, immense courage, comradeship, high spirits and an astonishing spirit of resilience and hope.

Eleo Gordon, who was Macdonald’s editor at Viking for over two decades, said, “Lyn Macdonald was one of the best – a great BBC Radio presenter and interviewer of countless Old Soldiers (as she called them), whose remarkable memories grew into her books on the First World War. Her care and close attention drew out the innermost thoughts and memories of those soldiers’ experiences and influenced so many of today’s historians.

“For her last book, To the Last Man: Spring 1918 we decided to set off in a minibus for the Front, staying in local hotels, days out in the fields, finding old redoubts, overgrown trenches, you name it, with the evenings spent in a large huddle around Lyn as she recounted her wonderful stories of the old boys she had interviewed and a portrait of the past long gone. I will miss her but maybe now she will meet up with all her Old Soldiers.”

Also see our past reviews of her works:  

(To the Last Man. . .)               (1915. . .)

To Read Lyn Macdonald's Works:

In preparing this I article, I was disappointed to discover that most of the titles shown above are out of print and, surprisingly, only the 1915: Death of Innocence volume (which I proceeded to order) is available in the Kindle format. (Others may be found at If you are still willing to shop for used books, you might start with the utility in our right-side column.  Good hunting, I promise you any effort you make to read her works will be well-rewarded. MH

Monday, May 3, 2021

Recommended: The Scrapbook of an American Army Nurse in the First World War


Nurse Edith MacDonald at Cape May, New Jersey,
two months before shipping out for France
with Base Hospital 115

By B.J.  Omanson
Presented in History and Lore of the Old World War

When Edith Lois MacDonald returned to her home in Columbus, Ohio, in the summer of 1919, after a ten-month stint of overseas service as a U.S. Army nurse with Base Hospital 115 in Vichy, France, she brought with her a sizeable collection of photographs ranging in size from 9 × 7" enlargements to tiny shots just 1.5 x 2.5". In addition, there was the usual stack of individual souvenir postcards and postcard booklets from Vichy and neighboring towns (Dijon, Digne, Monte Carlo, Nice), and an assortment of other paper ephemera acquired during her overseas service: a handwritten and signed note from King George to “Soldiers of the United States” welcoming them on their way through the British Isles to “…take your stand beside the armies of many nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom…”; a formatted postcard sent by the A.E.F. to the folks back home, informing them that their daughter has arrived safe in France; a Special Order on onionskin paper granting Nurse MacDonald and her traveling companion, Nurse Elizabeth Payne, permission to visit Nice and the nearby Alps for one week in February of 1919; a foot-long itemized and illustrated receipt from Hotel Westminster in Nice, filled out on both sides; and a French Transport Order permitting Nurse Edith MacDonald to travel by train from Tour to Bordeaux (probably the first leg of her journey back to the States).

Hotel Ruhl in Vichy, home of Base Hospital 115

Upon arrival at Vichy it was found that the hospital was to be a part of what was known as a Hospital Center, which was the usual manner in which the hospitalization of the A. E. F. was handled. There were in Vichy when No. 115 arrived, two Base Hospitals, No. 1, from Bellevue Hospital, New York City, under the command of Major McKee, and No. 19, from Rochester, New York, under the command of Major, afterwards Lieutenant Colonel, John M. Swan. . . . .

Eye Clinic, Base Hospital 115

No. 115 was assigned to the Hotel Ruhl, a magnificent concrete building nine stories high, said to be the tallest building in France. The maximum capacity of this building was 1657 beds, and it was said to be one of the largest hospitals under one roof in the world. It had been occupied as a hospital by the French since August, 1914,, but was closed for a while, and had been reopened by Base Hospital No. 1 a short time before the arrival of No. 115. The building was in charge of Captain Thomas Atkins, of Base Hospital No. 1, and he remained in that capacity till No. 115 was ready to take charge, giving valuable and much appreciated assistance, and helping greatly in all matters concerning the transfer. The building was taken over by No. 115 on September 11th, with 822 patients in the wards.

By the opening of the Battle of the Argonne, the carrying capacity of Hotel Ruhl had been more than doubled, to a total of 1657 beds.

Army Nurses Lottie M. Mumbauer and
Lorena S. Ingraham

Continue exploring Nurse MacDonald's Scrapbook