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

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Who Was Sir Hall Caine?

Sir Hall Caine

Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine, C.H., K.B.E., was born in Runcorn in 1853. His books sold in their millions, outselling his contemporaries, and he was mobbed by crowds of adoring fans wherever he was recognized. He wrote novels, plays, short stories, film scripts and works of non-fiction. Many of his novels were turned into films (all black-and-white silent movies), including The Manxman by Alfred Hitchcock. 

Caine was 61 at the outbreak of World War I. The British secretly set up the War Propaganda Bureau under the MP Charles Masterman, and Caine was one of 25 leading authors Masterman invited to the Bureau's London headquarters in 1914 with the purpose of best promoting Britain's interests during the war. Shortly after, Caine was one of 53 leading authors in Britain to sign the Authors' Declaration, a manifesto drafted by Masterman stating that Britain "could not without dishonor have refused to take part in the present war." Following the "Rape of Belgium."

Caine edited King Albert's Book in support of the exiled King Albert of Belgium. The book was Caine's idea and was published in Christmas 1914 by the Daily Telegraph. The proceeds from the book, £20,000, went to the Daily Telegraph Belgium Fund, created to support British efforts to receive and maintain Belgian refugees in Britain. Caine invited 250 of the most notable people of the time including authors, artists, composers, and statesmen to present their view of the events in Belgium. In 1918 King Albert of Belgium made Caine an Officer of the Order of Leopold of Belgium for his efforts. Caine's portrait by the Belgian painter, Alfred Jonniaux, was presented to him by the Fine Art Department of the Belgian Government. 

Caine wrote extensively for the English, American, and Italian newspapers. He claimed that by this work, and his personal influence with Italian statesmen, he greatly helped to bring Italy into the war on the side of the allies. President Woodrow Wilson had declared the United States neutral and his policy of neutrality was enormously popular with the American people. Caine urged America to join the war by writing articles, mainly for the New York Times, and in 1915 he gave a series of lectures in the United States. 

In 1915 a collection of WWI articles that Caine had contributed to the Daily Telegraph was published as a book entitled The Drama of 365 Days: Scenes in the Great War. In 1916 Caine was invited to work with Lord Robert Cecil at the Foreign Office toward the creation of the League of Nations after the end of the war. Our Girls: Their Work for the War was published in December 1916, consisting of a series of Caine's articles written for the Ministry of Munitions, together with additional stories about the working lives of women in the factories and in the hospitals. It was designed to be a gift for munitions girls to send to their men at the front. 

The National War Aims Committee was set up in 1917 to focus on domestic propaganda. Caine was recruited for the committee by Prime Minister David Lloyd George to write the screenplay for the film Victory and Peace, designed to show what would happen in a German invasion. Most of the negative of the newly finished film was destroyed in a fire at the offices of the London Film Company in June 1918. It was re-filmed over four-months, just as the war ended, and was therefore never released. 

Toward the end of 1917 Caine was offered a baronetcy in recognition of the contribution he made to the war effort as Allied Propagandist and his position as a leading man of letters. Caine declined the hereditary peerage and accepted a knighthood instead. He was made Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE), insisting on being called, not "Sir Thomas" but "Sir Hall." Caine died in 1931 at his home, Greeba Castle, on the Isle of Man.

Source:  Great War Theatre, University of Kent 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Lieutenant Elliott M. Braxton Jr., 80th Division

Lt. Elliott M. Braxton

Thoughts regarding his own state of mind and the safety of the soldiers he was to command prompted 22-year-old Lieutenant Elliott M. Braxton Jr., of Newport News, VA, to write to his Uncle Will expressing his concerns about leading his men in combat:

At some critical instant will I flinch or hesitate? It’s a horrible thought. I don’t think I fear death by sea or land, but I do fear at some point where seconds mean life or death to lose control of myself for a minute, to scream and turn, to slink in the bottom of a trench, to fail, to lack the nerve to lead my men over the parapet when the supreme need comes. These worry me more than any possible wound…it’s the impulse of the moment; the lack of control that scares me.   The notes on warfare say that a second lieutenant or any platoon commander has almost life and death power over about thirty men. I know they look to him for everything. But I can’t get the feel of it. Other men will do these things, but it is not personal to me. It is like being in a glass cage when it is raining. You know it is raining and wet, but you are dry, there is only a faint barrier between you and the water, yet the moisture doesn’t affect you. I can think of it, but I can’t feel it.

The actual life doesn’t touch me. What will it feel like to send a man to his    death? What will it be like to cause the death of several men? What will their mothers think? Will everybody point at me and say there’s a man who made John die? I can’t feel that such things are possible. It is not a question of just knowing. I have to have a physical sensation to understand and realize. The thing is too big for me.

This sounds wild and is poorly expressed, but it mirrors my ideas. All is hazy. My duties, responsibilities, problems and successes are dim, nebulous, intangible,  misty. One thing alone is clear. I want to play the game to the end without flinching. My first duty is to help mold two hundred and some odd, many very odd, men into a team, not a machine, for a machine is driven, but a team will follow me wherever I lead with absolute confidence.

Sunday Morning at Cunel by Harvey Dunn

Lt. Braxton was killed in action on 11 October 1918 near the Cunel front, then on 15 May 1919, “for meritorious services and extraordinary gallantry in action,” Brigadier General Lloyd Brett cited Braxton: “When the Company had been cut in two by having the artillery barrage pass thru, Lieut. Braxton collected the  scattered units left and took up the attack. As he led his command over the crest of the hill which led down into Cunel, his command came under annihilating machine gun fire. While attempting to lead his men forward under this he fell, mortally wounded, dying almost instantly. Lieut. Braxton by his coolness and courage stopped his panic-stricken men, leading them forward in the advance, and filling in the gap in the attacking lines.


Friday, October 29, 2021

Special Halloween Film Recommendation:
Deathwatch — Deliver Them from Evil:

Deathwatch: Deliver Them from Evil

Lionsgate Films, DVD, 2003

Deathwatch Does an Excellent Job Depicting the Standard Trench Warfare Scenery

Dear Readers,

Our regular contributor on literary matters, David Beer—in his usual serious and insightful manner—has contributed, a review of what is, to our mutual understanding, the only known cross-genre World War One/Zombie film, Deathwatch, for our special Halloween posting.  David's review, which focuses on the movie's religious implications, stands alone and is worthy of your attention.  However, after your editor read the draft of the review, he came to the conclusion that David, who is usually au courant with the latest developments in popular culture, had overlooked (or chosen to avert his gaze from) a dimension of the film that is part of a truly big phenomenon these days.  His review sidesteps the "living dead," that is to say, the zombie, elements of Deathwatch. While being a little subtle in its "Z" symbolism and avoiding any use of the "Z" word in the script,   Deathwatch, nevertheless, has earned a place on various lists of "Best Zombie" productions—right up there with Walking DeadWorld War Z, and my personal favorite, Zombieland.  Since David passed over the zombie clues in his review, your editor has supplemented his text below with stills from the film that capture the film's zombie essence.  MH

Review by David F. Beer

This film brought to mind two lines from the last poem Isaac Rosenberg wrote before he was killed in action. The poem, “Through These Pale Cold Days,” describes suffering soldiers and states how "They see with living eyes/How long they have been dead." This is about as close to a spoiler as I want to go in discussing this horror film based on WWI. The surface plot is easily described. A group of British soldiers go over the top at night into the face of intense machine gun fire and exploding shells. Several standard trench warfare motifs are provided: the fear before the attack, the youngest soldier panicking and refusing to go over until threatened at gunpoint by an officer and helped by a sympathetic comrade, tangles of barbed wire to negotiate or get caught up in, mud containing bloated corpses, and the inevitable mowing down of men by the enemy’s furious fire power.

The Corpses Have a Peculiar Look to Them, However

It’s almost unbelievable that anyone could live through such a "stunt" but surprisingly the next scene shows a group of apparent survivors trudging over no man’s land in thick fog that they mistake for gas. When they discover it’s only fog and remove their masks, one soldier wonders what happened to the night—he can’t understand how it suddenly became light. Apart from the ominous and eerie background music we've heard from the beginning of the film, this is the first hint we get that all is not normal. Further hints will occur, however, such as a compass that no longer works, barbed wire that seems to have a life of its own, and blood that seeps from the mud in the German trench the survivors now occupy.

All but one of the Germans in the trench are dispatched quickly enough, but not before it’s apparent that they are paralyzed with fear not of the British soldiers but of a nameless and invisible force that has already been decimating them. They try to warn the British about it but to no avail. Gradually it overcomes all but the youngest and most innocent soldier, named Charlie Shakespeare, who in the end is able to leave the dark trench and walk out into the light—but not before he glimpses all his dead comrades sitting around a fire in a dark corner of the trench, seemingly alive.

Motion Detected Among the Not Quite Dead

To arrive at an understanding of what director/writer Michael J. Bassett seems to have in mind in this film (and it’s admittedly open to interpretation) we have to absorb numerous oblique hints. Why, for example, is the subtitle of the film “Deliver them from evil”? Why the quick focus on a cross one of the soldiers is wearing?  What is the significance of the Bible passage read over the pile of corpses? What are the ghostly voices that are heard at one point above the trench? Why such comments by the soldiers as "There’s so many dead," "God isn't here," "We are still alive," "We’re dead, Charlie, I know that now," and Charlie Shakespeare’s exclamation as he leaves the trench after seeing all his dead comrades sitting around a fire—"I’m not dead!"? And what do we make of the German soldier at the very end waiting, with a knowing look in his eyes, for the next squad of British soldiers who are about to occupy the trench?

 Zombie Film Convention:  The Living Dead Need
a Shot to the Head to Be Truly Dead

Film enthusiasts will enjoy Deathwatch—even though it’s considered a fairly low-budget B film — not only for its combination of supernatural horror mixed with a WWI movie, but also for the parts played by actors such as Andy Serkis of Planet of the Apes and Lord of the Rings among other accomplishments, by Jamie Bell as the young and decent Charlie Shakespeare who had lied about his age to get into the army, and by Laurence Fox, whom I last saw as Inspector Lewis’s assistant in the spin-off of the Inspector Morse series. No spoilers, or not too many, I hope, in this short review, but I can’t help concluding with part of another poem this film brought to mind—the opening lines of Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting”:

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

By David F. Beer (with a little help from the Editor)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Le Quesnoy: New Zealand's Last Victory of the War — A Road's Classic

On 4 November 1918, the New Zealand Division liberated Le Quesnoy, a town of some 3000 people in northeast France. It had endured four hard years of occupation since the German advance in August 1914.

In August 1918 Allied armies broke through the heavily defended German Hindenburg Line and began advancing east and northward. By early November the New Zealand Division was outside Le Quesnoy. The next phase would involve the town although it was not the primary objective. The assault intended to take the Allied lines to the north and west beyond Le Quesnoy toward the Mormal Forest. Three divisions were involved, the British 37th and 62nd, along with the New Zealanders. The aim of the operation was to invest the town and prevent its influencing the advance toward the River Sambre, along with the capture or destruction of the German divisional artillery which was located beyond Le Quesnoy. 

Le Quesnoy was one of Vauban's best examples, with a maze of ramparts, high walls, causeways,  and tunnels surrounded by moats. While considered outmoded by the 19th century, they would prove to be an effective defence with the weapons available to the Germans in 1918. The town was taken by German forces in August 1914
Depiction of the Scaling of the Wall

Troops were in place soon after dark on the night of 3 November. At 5:30 a.m., the guns opened fire and the New Zealand Division raced forward. The creeping barrage machine guns maintained intense fire throughout the first phase, in spite of the heavy shelling that came.

The 3rd (New Zealand) Rifle Brigade had to clear positions forward of the town, and this indicated that the Germans were prepared to fight and hold. The New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion supported with covering fire coordinated in consultation with the infantry brigadiers. The Auckland and Otago Companies, with two sections of the Canterbury Company, provided the covering fire for the first phase. The Otago and Auckland Companies put down barrages along the southern and northern outskirts of the town.

By mid-morning the town was completely enveloped. Several attempts to induce the German garrison to surrender had failed and the Rifle Brigade began attempts to penetrate the defences. Covered by mortar and machine gun fire, and shrouded by mist and smoke projected forward by the Royal Engineers, the New Zealanders moved forward under fire from machine guns and snipers, toward  the outer ramparts. Lieutenant Francis Evans of the 4th Battalion, leading a patrol, reached the outer ramparts before being killed.

The Location of the Scaling Today

At around 4 p.m., Lieutenant H W Kerr led a patrol to a location on the walls where a narrow bridge was located. It was about the only place where scaling ladders could reach the crest of the defences. He took with him the battalion’s intelligence officer, 2nd Lieutenant L.C.L. Averill, MC, who had already spent much of the morning reconnoitering the defences.

Supported by mortars and covering fire from Lewis machine guns, they reached the bridge and erected the ladder. It was steadied by two riflemen and Averill was first up. The division’s Official History recorded the moment:

“ … Averill quickly reached the top of the brick work and stepped over the coping  onto the grassy bank. Crouching behind it, he peered over. It was one of the most  dramatic moments in the Division’s history. There was an instant crashing through  some brushwood on the far side and Averill saw two Germans of the bombing post  rushing away.

“… He sent a revolver bullet after them. Kerr was now on the topmost rung. The two  officers could see a pair of machine guns on the salient on their right, pointing into the  moat but abandoned.  They stood up and walked over the top of the grass slope and  down the other side towards the boulevard. They were greeted by a great jabbering of  German. Kerr fired a shot at the man who appeared to be leader, but missed. The  whole  enemy party bolted into an underground cavern under the rampart.

“…By this time the remainder of the battalion were swarming up the ladder. They were led by Barraclough himself who took with him a signaller and apparatus in order to open communications with brigade headquarters and establish the 4th Battalion’s claim to the  honour of the town’s capture. “

The Editor with a Tour Group at the Le Quesnoy Memorial

Several hundred prisoners were taken, along with quantities of guns of all calibres. Only the break into the town triggered a mass surrender by the defenders, and shortly afterward the 2nd Battalion marched in through the Valenciennes Gate. They were greeted by cheering townspeople who appeared from behind closed doorways as soon as they saw the New Zealanders.  

For the New Zealand Division, the action was the climax of a bitter campaign that began when it arrived in France in May 1916.  Although hard fighting took place in the following days until the Armistice on 11 November, nothing would supplant the action that day. Next day the French president, Raymond Poincaré. paid an official visit with the New Zealanders providing a guard of honour at the Place d’Armees and on 14 November, there was an exchange of flags between the town and the division.

The French sculptor Félix Desruelles prepared the New Zealand Memorial, which was unveiled at a ceremony on 15 July 1923 attended by Marshal Joseph Joffre, Lord Alfred Milner (who had served in the wartime British Cabinet), the New Zealand High Commissioner in London, Sir James Allen, and Lieutenant Averill.

At the Unveiling of the New Zealand Memorial on 15 July 1923 
Lieutenant Leslie Averill Points to the Place Where He Scaled the Ramparts
 (Alexander Turnbull Library)

Source: Website of the New Zealand Embassy

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Four from the Imperial War Museum's Art Collection

 Click on Images to Enlarge

Blood and Iron by Charles Ernest Butler

Some early artistic responses to the war were unconvincing; some showed unrealistic scenes of hand-to-hand combat and cavalry charges in a style more associated with the Napoleonic or Crimean Wars of the 19th century while others used out-dated religious and jingoistic imagery. Charles Ernest Butler’s narrative painting Blood and Iron depicts Christ comforting Belgium while the German Kaiser glances coldly on with the angel of death on his shoulder. 

The Battle of Ypres: The Worcesters at Gheluvelt by Charles Sargeant Jagger 

In February 1918 the British War Memorials Committee was established to create an artistic memorial to the nation’s effort and sacrifice. Sculptural works like this one were also planned for inclusion in a Hall of Remembrance which would house the collection. Due to lack of funds the Hall was never built and the works were given to the Imperial War Museum. Today they continue to inform how we commemorate conflict and have helped to build the visual iconography associated with the First World War.

Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells by Anna Airy

Artists also played a role in documenting the effect of war on the Home Front, particularly on women’s lives. Here we see an interior view of the workshop in the Singer Manufacturing Company, where the majority of workers were women. During the First World War the factory switched from making consumer goods to armaments. Anna Airy was commissioned to produce four paintings depicting munitions production and  here we see the women producing 15-inch shells for battleships.

Youth Mourning by George Clausen

Many artists tried to capture the private emotion of war, especially if they had served at the Front or if they were personally affected in other ways. In this painting by George Clausen, the naked woman, representing Youth, kneels in grief before a wooden cross marking a grave. In the distance are the flooded craters of a battlefield. The painting is Clausen’s personal response to the First World War, in particular the death of his daughter’s fiancé. This depiction of private grief, however, also conveys a wider sense of a nation in mourning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Lawrence of Arabia’s Secret Dispatches during the Arab Revolt, 1915–1919

Fabrizio Bagatti, Editor
Pen & Sword Military, 2021
David F. Beer, Reviewer

This book surprised me in a couple of ways. First, considering the number of books and articles written about T.E. Lawrence, I didn’t think there were any "secrets" left regarding his life and work. Also, the more I read, the more I was impressed by how he could write pages of clear and effective prose while laboring under circumstances far from the best. Although several of his dispatches were typewritten, a great many were written in his own hand: “General Clayton, please excuse the ink. I’m writing under difficulties.” (p. 223)


Most of these confidential dispatches were previously published for a very select group of intelligence officials in the Arab Bulletin, a publication initiated by Lawrence in 1916 to cover the war in the desert. Some 114 issues appeared over three years and included numerous reports sent in by Lawrence, who later used many of them to "flesh out" his Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Thus, the content of several of these reports may already be familiar if you’ve read a lot about Lawrence of Arabia. Nevertheless, I found much that impressed me in this book.

Lawrence is never reluctant to give an opinion. He reports how he’s heard that “ninety per cent of Turks were good soldiers, and ninety percent of Arabs were bad” (p. 53). Sherif Sharaf is a “very sinister looking individual, for his left eye droops about a quarter of an inch…he is acting as chief of staff to Feisul – but appears to advise him very little.” (p. 111) Said Abdulla’s encampment is described thus:

The conditions in his camp were, I thought, unsatisfactory. He had a force of about 3,000 men, mostly Ateiba. They seem to me very inferior as fighting men to the Hard and Juheina. They are of course altogether Bedouin and their Sheikhs are ignorant, lacking in influence and character, and apparently without any interest in the war… Said Abdulla himself gave me rather the same impression. (p. 162)


En Route to Aqaba

Requests to Lawrence’s superiors are often interesting. Besides the usual need for money and arms, he reports that

Auda abu Tayi wants a set of false teeth. The ships doctors question their ability to cast his mouth in wax. Could a dental assistant be sent down from Egypt to do what is possible here? (p. 224).

It’s also noted that gold watches could be very useful. Given to the right tribal leader, they may procure more cooperation than a shipment of weapons. Maps sent to him were often incorrect, or as he put it, “filthy.” Countless details like this make the dispatches interesting reading.

I was pleased that the last Bulletin entry focuses on the character I feel is often neglected in the story of Lawrence of Arabia: the camel. (Have you ever ridden one?) These existed in amazingly large numbers; a single clan might own a few thousand. They were generally well treated since they were an essential means of transportation—and at times one would become a meal. Sometimes fights broke out “over the question of camels.” (p. 119) It wasn’t unusual for Lawrence to make some long and uncomfortable camel trips:

I had better preface [a preliminary report] by saying that I rode all Saturday night, had alarms and excursions all Sunday night, and rode again all last night, so my total of sleep is only three hours in the last three nights… (p. 103).

Matters are made worse in one instance when after a lengthy ride he complains that he had “developed boils which made camel riding uncomfortable, and on top of them first a short attack of dysentery and then somewhat heavy malaria…” (pp. 161-2). As he points out in this last memo, the endurance of a camel is usually greater than a rider’s: “With strong camels my experience has been that the man gives in sooner than the camel. My longest month was 1,400 miles, and I found it very difficult.” (p. 280)

The editor of this collection of Secret Dispatches, Fabrizio Bagatti, has done a masterful job. His 17-page introduction, “Historical Truth and Textual Truth: T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt” gives us a full military and political background to the wartime Arab world and the role Lawrence played there. Bagatti’s footnotes to the text are extensive, and his index to names and places is helpful. Three maps at the beginning of the book put us in the right geographical places, and some of Lawrence’s original maps are within the text, plus 11 black-and-white photos. This is a fine book for scholars and for anyone interested in the writing and exploits of Lawrence of Arabia.

David F. Beer

Monday, October 25, 2021

Finland: From the Russian Empire to the EU

Turku Castle—a Center of Power During Swedish Rule

Finland as a part of the Russian Empire 1809–1917

Russia captured the region of Finland from Sweden in 1808–1809. The Emperor of Russia, Alexander I, gave Finland the status of a Grand Duchy. Most of the laws from the time of the Swedish rule remained in force. During the Russian rule, Finland became a special region developed by order of the Emperor. For example, Helsinki city center was built during Russian rule.

Starting from 1899, Russia tightened its grip on the Grand Duchy of Finland. Finland did not take part in World War I, but nationalism also had an influence on the region of Finland. Finland was granted its own parliament in 1906, and the first elections were held in 1907. Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917, and the Bolshevik government that seized power in the October Revolution in Russia recognized Finnish independence on 31 December 1917.

Important events

1812 Helsinki becomes the capital

1827 The old capital Turku is destroyed in a fire, emphasizing Helsinki’s standing

1860 Finland adopts its own currency, the markka

1906 Universal and equal right to vote, also for women

6 December 1917 Finland declares independence

Helsinki When It Was Capital of a Russian Grand Duchy

Early years of independence 1917–1945

In the early years of independence, Finland’s position was fragile. Soon after independence, a bloody civil war broke out in Finland. The war was fought between the Reds or labour movement and the Whites or government troops. The Whites received support from Germany and the Reds from Russia. The war ended in the Whites’ victory.

Finland was strongly in the German sphere of influence because the Soviet Union became the biggest threat to the security of the state. In the 1930s, many right-wing and far-right movements were popular in Finland, as in other parts of Europe.

In August 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed that Finland belonged in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. During World War II, Finland fought on two occasions against the Soviet Union on the German side. Finland lost both wars, but the Soviet Union never occupied Finland.

Because Finland was able to defend its territory in wars soon after gaining independence, Finland’s wars in the 20th century have been considered as a time where the independence of the State of Finland became established.

Important events

1918 Civil War between the Reds and Whites

1921 Act on compulsory education makes it mandatory to attend six years of elementary school

1939–1940 Finland is thrust into World War II when the Winter War breaks out between Finland and the Soviet Union

1941–1944 World War II continues as Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union


The first government of independent Finland. P. E.
Svinhufvud, the first Prime Minister of Finland,
sitting at the head of the table.

Rebuilding, industrialization and the Cold War 1945–1991

As a defeated party, Finland had to pay the Soviet Union heavy war reparations in the form of goods. The war reparations included, for example, trains, ships, and raw materials. Finland financed the building of the goods with loans and aid. The production of the war reparations helped Finland evolve from an agrarian country into an industrialized country. The industrialization started a migration from the countryside into the cities.

In 1948, Finland and the Soviet Union signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, where the countries promised to defend each other against external treats. In practice, Finland was in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence throughout the Cold War, and the country’s foreign and domestic policy were guided by fear of the Soviet Union.

Important events

1948 Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance between Finland and the Soviet Union

1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki

1968 Finnish comprehensive school institution founded

Part of Europe 1991 onward

The collapse of the Soviet Union and loan-based economic growth in the 1980s caused a recession in Finland in the 1990s. The worst time of the recession was in the early 1990s; many Finnish people were unemployed, companies went bankrupt, and the state had little money.

In about 1995, the Finnish economy started to grow, the most important company being mobile phone company Nokia. Finland joined the EU in 1995 and was one of the first countries to adopt the euro as its currency.  Regarding security matters, Finland is not a member of NATO but works closely with it.  Finland's nuanced relationship with NATO was described in a 30 September news story at

Finland, a close NATO ally, will keep a close eye on the alliance’s development, bearing in mind the possibility of membership, President Sauli Niinistö told a Finnish Insitute for International Affairs seminar. He added that the country could shape the EU into becoming a more powerful global actor in terms of defence and security.

The president also praised his country’s “dense web” of defence and security partnerships with other Nordic countries, the US, and the deepened cooperation with France and the UK.

But Finland will not automatically participate in all initiatives. Aiming at “active stability policy”, the country wishes to improve its “interoperability with chosen partners”, the president added.

Finnish Soldiers Training Recently

Important events

1991 Worst economic crisis in Finnish history

1995 Finland joins the European Union

Sources: Finnish Heritage Society; InfoFinland

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Historian Gary Sheffield Takes on War Horse Author Michael Morpurgo

From The Centenary of the First World War: An unpopular view
By Gary Sheffield

It is nothing new to suggest that poets and novelists have been more influential in shaping popular views of the First World War than historians. The children’s writer Michael Morpurgo is a recent case in point. The author of War Horse and Private Peaceful, both of which have been turned into popular films, Morpurgo’s work will have far greater influence on non-specialists’ perceptions of the Great War than anything I am likely to write. I am not for one moment denying his right to put forward his perspective or the right of authors to spin imaginative fiction out of real-life events. However, I look at his work from the perspective of a historian who works from a basis of fact, not fiction. Take something Morpurgo wrote in Private Peaceful. Denouncing the British Army’s disciplinary regime, he attacked the execution of two soldiers "for simply falling asleep at their posts." To put it no more strongly, this comment displays a lack of understanding of the realities of trench warfare. For a man to fall asleep at his post was not a trivial matter. It was a very serious offence which could have endangered the lives of his comrades: a sleeping sentry could allow an enemy raiding party into their trenches, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

In fact, only two men were executed for sleeping at their posts. They were Private Thomas Downing and Private Robert Burton, both of 6th Somerset Light Infantry, who were shot in Mesopotamia in February 1917. It is clear that these men were executed pour encourager les autres. Lieutenant General Marshall wrote of Burton: the "actual fact... [he was found] sitting down shews [sic] such a want of appreciation of his duties as a sentry, responsible for the lives of his comrades [emphasis added]," that the sentence should be carried out. Historians Cathryn Corns and John HughesWilson have commented that Marshall was being over-zealous. In fact, a common practice in the trenches was for sympathetic officers to deliberately wake up dozing sentries. What is so often missing from fictional accounts of the First World War, and much popular history, is that executions in the British army were rare events. They tended to be used as an extreme method of maintaining discipline, or graphically demonstrating to the mass of soldiers the possible penalties. Out of the 5 million plus men who served in the army in 1914-18, only around 350 were executed. Around 90 per cent of men sentenced to death were not actually executed, their sentences being commuted. This was a "managed figure," it has been argued, the military authorities believing it would deter malefactors "without appearing excessively harsh."

By modern-day standards, the fact that some men who were executed were suffering from psychiatric wounds ("shell-shock," in the parlance of 1914-18) is shocking, as is the rudimentary and unfair nature of some of the courts martial. Yet we need to have a sense of historical perspective. The army of the First World War needs to be judged by the standards of the age, not of our own time. We can deplore the way soldiers were treated, but it is profoundly ahistorical to apply 21st-century mores and sensibilities to individuals and organisations which were the products of a very different society, a century ago. The fact that the First World War is—just—within living memory can blind people to that simple fact.

The centenary of the First World War, and the sheer volume of coverage it is being given in the media has led a number of public figures whose credentials for pontificating on the Great War are not readily apparent to do just that. In May 2013, a letter from a group of actors, musicians, poets, and politicians was published in the Guardian, a liberal-left British newspaper. It ran on predictable lines, and in some circles became known as the "Luvvies’ letter."  Cultural figures setting themselves up on experts on the history of the First World War have brought about criticism from historians and other knowledgeable commemorators.

Michael Morpurgo has gone on record that he opposes celebration of the First World War, particularly any events around the centenary of the outbreak (in August 1914) that engender any ‘"ense of national pride—flag-waving." In some ways, I have sympathy with his position. The outbreak of war is certainly nothing to celebrate, and nationalism in any form I find unhealthy. But to regard the First  World War as, in Morpurgo’s words, simply as "a holocaust of a war in which 10 million people died" is to ignore the vital issues of why Britain went to war, and why the British people, with remarkably little dissent or coercion, stuck at it until victory was achieved. It also disregards the opinions of men who fought in the war. Much recent research has demonstrated that the idea of widespread disillusionment and pacifism among former soldiers is a myth.  Morpurgo’s view that it would be appropriate to wear white poppies alongside red ones prompted one tweet that declared: ‘My granddad (R[oyal]  A[rtillery] 1914-18) would have kicked his arse." The evidence suggests that this former soldier would not have been alone in being angered by and rejecting Morpurgo’s viewpoint.

To differentiate between "nationalism" and "patriotism" involves semantics that I do not propose to explore here, but I see no contradiction in opposition to the former and celebrating, in a non-triumphalist way, the British national achievement in playing a leading role in defeating Imperial Germany’s bid for hegemony in 1914-18. After all, celebrating the UK’s role in defeating Nazi Germany is uncontroversial, as we saw during the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day which took place in June 2014. Because we tend to see 1914-18 through the distorting mirror of 1939-45, the gravity of threat posed by the Kaiser’s Germany to Britain has been almost entirely forgotten. If it is right to celebrate victory in the Second World War, it is also right to celebrate victory in the First. Bizarrely, when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced in 2012 the events that the UK Government had chosen formally to commemorate, the list included such defeats as the First Day on the Somme but ignored the great Allied victories of 1918 which ended the war. As Professor Peter Simkins has observed, such historical illiteracy is akin to commemorating the Second World War by marking Dunkirk and the fall of Singapore but not D-Day. 

To return to where I began: only a fool would deny the sheer horror and waste of the First World War. I defy anyone to visit a war cemetery on the Western Front, read the ages on the headstones and the messages from grieving families, and remain unmoved. Our horror and revulsion at mass death should not be allowed to obscure the true meaning of the war. That Britain and her allies won the First World War, and not Germany, is a fact of the utmost significance. The world that emerged from the First World War was imperfect. A world in which Europe was dominated by a victorious German empire that stretched from the Channel to the Ukraine in which liberal democracy had been extinguished would have been far worse. Unpopular as it undoubtedly is to say so, between 1914 and 1918 Britain fought a defensive, just war. 

Source: The Historian, Summer 2014

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Conscription of Colonial Labor to Support the War in Africa

Michelle Moyd,  Indiana University

World War I in Africa could not have been fought without the mobilization of vast numbers of soldiers and workers from the continent. . . These mobilizations occurred both alongside and beyond the battlefields of the four African campaigns of World War I, which were fought in the German colonies of Togo, Cameroon, German Southwest Africa, and German East Africa. The conscription of African laborers and troops was embedded in the wider violence of military campaigns occurring in these places. The German colonies became targets of Entente colonial forces at the war’s outset, as Entente powers anticipated, correctly, that conquest and occupation of these lands would accrue more land to their empires. Togo fell to British forces in August 1914, Southwest Africa to South African forces in  1915, and Cameroon to combined French, British, and Belgian forces in 1916. The campaign in German East Africa lasted until November 1918, when German Schutztruppe commander General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck finally surrendered to the British in Northern Rhodesia, or what is today Zambia. 

The mechanisms by which colonial powers pressed African men, women, and children into various forms of unfree labor were largely the same before, during, and after the war. What changed during the war was the scale. European mobilization of African troops and workers during World War I in Africa reflected longstanding colonial practices of labor conscription, resource extraction, and land grabs. The war exacerbated the harshest conditions of colonial occupation. This is the lens through which we should seek to understand the effects of World War I on Africans and Africa.   

Lettow-Vorbeck and the [native] askari who fought alongside him during the East African campaign (shown above) committed many abuses against African communities. They seized provisions and livestock, disrupted planting and harvest cycles, and pressed people into work for which they rarely received adequate compensation. Women were forced into performing domestic labor for soldiers on the march and were frequently the targets of sexual violence.

Like his German counterparts fighting in Europe, Lettow-Vorbeck prioritized military necessity in prosecuting the East African campaign. While on the march, columns of his troops ruthlessly exploited African communities, requisitioning food stores, crops, and livestock. In the latter stages of the campaign, they also seized people, especially to fill the ranks of porters and laborers. In prioritizing military objectives over all others, Lettow-Vorbeck’s campaign ensured that significant portions of eastern and southeastern Africa would suffer from wartime devastation well into the post-war period. German East Africa’s last colonial governor, Heinrich Schnee, was appalled at Lettow-Vorbeck’s refusal to entertain any notion of preserving the colony for future development under continued German rule. But military necessity won the day, as it did in so many other places between 1914 and 1918.

To make things worse, the columns of Entente soldiers did the same things as they pursued the Schutztruppe throughout eastern and southeastern Africa until  Lettow-Vorbeck’s surrender in November 1918. The devastating effects of these depredations on East African populations also caused significant hardships due to famine and the spread of the influenza pandemic to the region through globalized military shipping and soldiers’ and laborers’ travel around the world.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s surrender to the British in Northern Rhodesia, a territory administered by British colonial authorities, in November 1918, marked the end of a campaign that had lasted more than four years. The Entente’s numbers far exceeded those of the Schutztruppe, as did their ability to resupply their forces. Despite the Entente’s numerical superiority, Allied armies had great difficulty in stopping the Schutztruppe in part because of Lettow-Vorbeck’s highly mobile style of warfare, which forced Entente troops to pursue his columns across vast distances. In the campaign’s final year, much of the fighting took place not in German East Africa but in Portuguese East Africa.

Source: "Ordeal and Opportunity:Ending the First World War in Africa", The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Winter 2019

Friday, October 22, 2021

Monument a la Gloire des Armees Francaises de 1914-1918

Paul Maximilien Landowski (1 June 1875–31 March 1961) was a French monument sculptor of Polish descent. His best-known work is Christ the Redeemer above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He produced over thirty five monuments in the city of Paris and twelve more in the surrounding area. Among those is the Art Deco figure of St. Genevieve on the 1928 Pont de la Tournelle. He also created Les Fantomes, the French Memorial to the Second Battle of the Marne which stands upon the Butte de Chalmont in Northern France.  He is also the sculptor  of another striking World War I  memorial, the Monument a la Gloire des Armees Francaises de 1914-1918.   The statue group is located against the wall of the Passy Cemetery at the Place du Trocadero in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, close to the Palais de Chaillot. With the nearby spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower it doesn't draw much traffic today, and I can't begin to count all the WWI buffs that I've escorted to the site who had no prior awareness of its existence. This memorial took almost four decades after the Great War to become a reality.  EUTouring has an account of the epic struggle to complete it. 

Click on Image to Enlarge

Your Editor at the Monument

The National Committee of the Monument to the Glory of the French Infantry, now known as CNM, requested permission from the Prefect of the Seine to erect a monument at the Place du Trocadero, leaning on the wall of the cemetery of Passy and a competition for the design of this was launched on 24 February 1937.  The winners of this competition were the French sculptor Louis Henri Bouchard and the architect Albert Drouet, and along with other contestants, their models for the Monument a la Gloire des Armees Francaises de 1914-1918 were put on display at the Grand Palais for a few days at the end of November that year.  

Left Detail

Eventually the project was authorized to start in the July of 1939, but by December the area had not been prepared for the monument, including moving a sewer, but then came World War II, so the original monument was delayed indefinitely, and it was only through a letter in 1950 from the Director of Fine Arts expressing the need to re-launch the product for a monument, that this started to happen.

Street View

Even though the original monument was designed to be in recognition of the French infantry, it was then decided that this would become the Monument to the Glory of the French Armies during the First World War, rather than one specific division, yet at this time it was also decided the original designs by Louis Henri Bouchard were too ambitious and too expensive. So a completely new design was drawn up, which also included someone who had died for their country, being held by another female figure.

Right Detail

The already world famous Paul Landkowski was commissioned for the new design.  And although the project was confirmed on 30 March 1953, the design by Paul Landowski was approved on 12 October 1953, with the proposal of the monument being published on 26 October that same year, due to the works required by the City of Paris, the first stone was not laid until 11 November 1954.

Sculptor Paul Landkowski

The Monument to the Glory of French Armies was finally inaugurated by the president of the French Republic, Rene Coty, on 13 May 1956. It is an impressive length of 216.5 meters with two inscriptions, which read A Nos Heros to the left of the statue group, and on the right,  A Nos Morts.

Sources: EUTouring, Google Maps, Wikipedia

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Remembering Frank Luke

Frank Luke Statue, Phoenix AZ

Frank Luke, Jr. was born and raised in Arizona Territory. On 23 January 1918, he got his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant at Rockwell Field in San Diego. After a leave, he was off to catch his ship in New York and find his war in Europe. His squadron continued flights over the coming days, finally engaging in their first combat action in two weeks on 14 August. On 29 August, the Eagle Squadron got orders to move to a new aerodrome at Rembercourt near the Marne River. From the small grass field hidden by a ring of trees and artificial camouflage, the 1st Pursuit Group would be launching support for the first American offensive of World War I near the town of St. Mihiel. For air power, it would be a defining moment if Colonel Mitchell could pull it off. For months the colonel had argued for a unified aerial role in the war, and the St. Mihiel offensive would give him that moment. Half a million American soldiers and Marines, supplemented by 110,000 French, were poised to strike at eight German divisions along the line from St. Mihiel. Mitchell commanded more than 500 fighter, observation, and bomber aircraft in support of the offensive.

A key role for the fighters was to deny the German tacticians intelligence information on Allied troop movements. If the enemy did not know the Allied strength, the position of its elements, location of artillery units, and the movement of troops, the offensive might well be a great success and turn the tide of the war once and for all. Such information could only be denied if the fighter pilots could keep the German observation balloons out of the sky. Perhaps no other type of aircraft was as important to either side during World War I than the large observation balloons...called "Drachen" by the Germans and "Sausages" by the Americans. From a well-placed balloon near the front lines, an observer could watch enemy troop movements and direct deadly and devastating artillery fire with pinpoint accuracy. To the infantryman struggling to survive the horrors of war near the front lines, the appearance of an enemy balloon rising on the horizon was perhaps the most dreaded of all sights. 

Because of their great value to warfare, both sides took extreme efforts to protect their balloons, which were costly, scarce, and ultimately vital to success on the ground. One might think that the large orbs would be an easy target, stationary and far too big to miss. In fact, the most difficult victory for any flier on the Western Front was a balloon kill. First and foremost, one could not bag a balloon without flying beyond friendly lines. Because they were stationary and tethered to the ground, they were hoisted only in an area controlled by their own forces. To protect the valuable balloons, anti-aircraft guns were concentrated around them on the ground, to fill the skies with deadly explosions (called "Archie" by the Americans). This heavy concentration of fire built a protective wall around the gas-filled balloons that quickly destroyed any would-be attacker in the sky. Finally, if any pilot was flew into the deadly curtain of anti-aircraft fire in his quest to destroy one of the prized balloons, there was usually a flight of fighter planes lurking above to sweep in and quickly destroy him.

Frank Luke with Victory Aircraft

Every eye along the front turned eastward, where three German Drachen hung boldly in the fading twilight, then back at the legendary lone SPAD as it began to gain altitude and enter enemy territory. Minutes later a cheer went up all along the American lines as the explosion of the first German sausage lit the heavens. Though the first kill had looked surprisingly easy, it had not been. Perhaps as many as ten Fokker D.VIIs had seen Luke cross the lines and dove in to intercept him. It was a five minute aerial dogfight—one lone American in a French-made SPAD against ten German Fokkers in the flickering flames of a burning Drachen. The Fokkers broke off as they watched the doomed Spad fall, turning in search of additional prey. With the enemy fading in the distance, Luke leveled off just 50 yards above the ground. Amazingly, he and his airplane had recovered from their lethal dive.

Luke banked carefully on one wing, canvas now shredded, and pointed the nose of his SPAD at the second balloon over Briere Farm. Archie continued to break all around and the skies were full of flaming onions and flashing, ground-fired machine-gun tracers. Eyes intent on the second Drachen, he ignored all else to hold down the triggers of both his Vickers 11mm and stitch the balloon's side with hot incendiaries. The Drachen erupted around him, hot gasses searing his face and momentarily allowing him to forget the pain in his shoulder. Luke was hit, and hit bad.

Again he banked, turning toward Milly where the third Drachen was being hurriedly hauled towards earth by its frantic ground crew. Heedless of his pain or the now sputtering sounds of his airplane engine, he ran the gauntlet of continuous enemy fire. Holding down the triggers of his own guns, he swooped low on the third balloon as its crew tried in vain to bring it safely back to its nest. Again gasses exploded and the night sky lit up with the tell-tale signature of the American Ace of Aces...three balloons in less than 15 minutes.

Replica of Luke's SPAD XIII at the Phoenix Airport

Luke was flying dangerously low after diving to nail the third balloon before it could be hauled into its nest. The lack of altitude hid him from the enemy airplanes. Streaking towards home, he was bleeding, and his plane was badly damaged. Frank Luke was in deep trouble, but he was still breathing, his SPAD was still flying, and he still had bullets in his machine guns. Buzzing low over the village of Marvaux, he saw a troop of German soldiers along the city's main street and opened up as he passed over them. He saw half-a-dozen enemy soldiers fall. His last act of defiance in the face of death sapped his SPAD of any remaining ability to continue. In the distance he saw a line of trees and a small field large enough to put his crippled airplane on the ground. Fighting the stick, he leveled off as he fell, and rolled to a landing across the muddy pasture. Behind him he heard the shouts of the German patrol he had just fired on in Marvaux. Cradling his badly wounded shoulder, he forced himself out of the cockpit and ran for the tree line, working his way to a nearby creek.

Suddenly the enemy was upon him, surrounding him from a distance and calling for his surrender. Frank Luke drew his service pistol and gave them his answer. As quickly as Lieutenant Luke's pistol spoke in reply to the surrender demands, the enemy patrol riddled his body. Triumphantly, the Germans carried the shattered body of the American Ace of Aces back to Marvaux, stripping it of everything but the cheap wristwatch Luke wore on his left arm. There they dumped the body in the bed of an open manure wagon, refusing to let the townspeople even cover it. When at last the Germans had exacted their revenge, they dumped the body in an unmarked hole. 

Frank Luke, MoH

Over the weeks that followed, stories circulated that the man who was perhaps the greatest flier of World War I was hiding out with the French pilots among whom he had so often before found some semblance of friendship and respect. In just four days, Lieutenant Frank Luke had destroyed 11 balloons and three airplanes. On one of his flights, he downed two foes on only a few gallons of gasoline. The Army carried him as "Missing In Action" for three months, and not until six months after his death, when stories circulating around Marvaus prompted recovery and identification of Luke's body (identification was confirmed by his watch), was all hope for Luke's survival put to rest. It was then also, for the first time thanks to the reports of the villagers of Marvaux, that the story of Luke's last valiant battle on the ground became known. 

Source: The Arizona Military Museum