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

Monday, October 18, 2021

Map Series #22—The Great War in Asia and the Pacific

Japanese Siege Artillery at Tsingtao

The Asian and Pacific Theatre of World War I in good part involved a conquest of German colonial possession in the Pacific Ocean and China. The most significant military action was the careful and well-executed Siege of Tsingtao in what is now China, but smaller actions were also fought at Bita Paka and Toma in German New Guinea. All other German and Austrian possessions in Asia and the Pacific fell without bloodshed. Naval warfare was common; all of the colonial powers had naval squadrons stationed in the Indian or Pacific Oceans. These fleets operated by supporting the invasions of German-held territories and by destroying the East Asia Squadron.  Troops from Australia, New Zealand, India, Southeast China, and China proper were also sent to support the Allied efforts in the Middle East and Western Front. A nice summary of the the various operations in this theatre can be found at MILITARY WIKI.

Click on Map to Enlarge
(Display Width=580px  Larger Width=1042px)

Source: Cambridge History of the First World War, Vol. I

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Battlefield Innovations: 1915–1917

French Trench in Vosges Mountains, 1915

By David Stevenson

Although the Western Front remained static in 1915–17, it would be wrong to assume that tactical procedures failed to adapt to the new conditions, despite the stereotyped view that attacking forces simply went on repeating the same mistakes. On the contrary, we can see an evolution towards better coordinated combined operations. In September 1915 and April 1917 the British and French armies on the Western Front attempted sequenced offensives, a preliminary blow drawing off the German reserves before the main attack came in a different sector.

 At the Chantilly conferences of December 1915 and November 1916 the Allies adopted even more ambitious plans for synchronized offensives in summer 1916 and spring 1917 respectively. The summer 1916 schedule of attacks (Russia’s Brusilov offensive in June 1916; the Anglo-French Somme offensive starting in July; Romania joining the Allies in August; and Italy’s capture of Gorizia in the same month) placed the Central Powers under great pressure, and the Allies agreed to follow it up with still more powerful synchronized attacks in the following spring, until the March 1917 revolution in Russia disrupted this scheme.

In summer 1917 the British planned to combine an inland advance from the Ypres salient with an ambitious amphibious landing on the Flanders coast in order to  capture the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge (which the Germans were using as destroyer and submarine bases), although this project failed to get beyond the first phase.

At the tactical level, moreover, the Allies were improving their capacity for all-arms operations. They developed more sophisticated air reconnaissance and photography, and began locating enemy artillery by flash-spotting and sound-ranging. First the French and then the British experimented with the "creeping barrage:" a protective curtain of field-gun fire running just ahead of the attacking infantry, which if correctly timed would force the defenders to keep their heads down until the attackers were virtually upon them.

But the Germans (who by and large were on the defensive on the Western Front) meanwhile evolved new counter-techniques of defensive warfare, particularly  after Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff took over the German Army High Command (Oberste Heeresleitung—OHL) in August 1916. These techniques included building ever more elaborate trench fortifications, which by 1917 might comprise five successive defensive systems, each consisting of three principal trench lines plus communication trenches and including deep dugouts—or continuous trenches might be abandoned in favour of mutually supporting and camouflaged concrete strongpoints. But in addition, the Germans concentrated fewer troops in the first line (where they were most vulnerable) and held them further back for prompt counter-attacks, while their artillery lay further back still and mostly survived Allied bombardments. These methods worked well against the French Chemin des Dames offensive in April 1917 and against the British Third Ypres offensive during August.

Mine-Destroyed German Trench on Messines Ridge, 1917

More generally, the German army had a strong tradition of systematic and self-critical learning from experience and regular revision of doctrine. Not only was it developing new defensive tactics but it was also developing new offensive ones: particularly the Bruchmüller artillery system and the "stormtroop" (Stosstruppen) tactics for infantry, which will be discussed further in the next section. These methods can be seen developing from the Battle of Verdun in 1916, via the operations in Galicia (July 1917), at Riga (September 1917), and at Caporetto (October 1917). 

The Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 encapsulated the new developments. The initial British attack there used 476 tanks and a surprise artillery bombardment and air strike, before the infantry broke through the German lines. But a German counterattack two weeks later, delivered by specialized assault troops who also achieved surprise, recaptured much of the lost ground. At this stage the two new systems seemed more or less to cancel each other out. 

From: "Joint or All-Arms Warfare on the Western Front, 1918,"  2014 International Forum on War History: Proceedings

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Recommended: A Tribute to Australia's HMAS Sydney

HMAS Sydney Departing for War, 1914

The name Sydney is one of the most famous ever carried by an Australian warship. The first Sydney was a Town Class light cruiser; one of three ordered in 1910 which were part of the initial Australian fleet unit. Traditionally cruisers were the most versatile element of a naval force. A cruiser’s role was to go anywhere and to do anything and they were to prove particularly useful in the role of trade protection and scouting duties. The Town Class cruisers were really a group of classes, each representing a steady improvement in seakeeping and warfighting capabilities. Sydney (I), Melbourne, and Brisbane belonged to the third group known as the Chathams. These incorporated a side belt of 3-inch armor to improve protection against high explosive shells, while better stability resulted in increased accuracy of their gunnery.

The first cruiser laid down for the RAN was Sydney (I) which was launched in August 1912 by Lady Henderson, wife of Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson. She commissioned at Portsmouth on 26 June 1913 under the command of Captain John CT Glossop, RN. She departed Portsmouth on 25 July 1913 and first arrived on the Australia Station at Albany on 19 September 1913. On 4 October 1913 she formed part of the Australian Fleet Unit that ceremonially entered her namesake harbor to a rapturous welcome from tens of thousands of spectators who turned out on the shores of the harbor to welcome the arrival of ‘their’ fleet.

Following a period spent in eastern Australian waters, Sydney (I) proceeded to Singapore in March 1914 to meet and escort to the two new Royal Australian Navy submarines, AE1 and AE2, which were en route to Australia from England. Sydney (I) spent the remaining months of the prewar period working up in Australian waters.

The days preceding the outbreak of war in August 1914 found Sydney (I) in Queensland waters. On 3 August 1914 she was joined at Townsville by the destroyers HMAS Warrego and Yarra before proceeding north to form a unit of Admiral Patey's Pacific Squadron.

Following the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, Sydney (I) operated in New Guinea and Pacific waters and in the brief campaign against the German Pacific possessions during which she carried out a series of punitive patrols. Highlights during this period included the capture of Rabaul (9 to 11 September 1914) and the destruction of the Angaur Island Wireless Station on 26 September 1914.

Firing One of Sydney's 6-inch Guns

In October 1914, Sydney (I) and her sister ship Melbourne detached from the Flagship HMAS Australia, and returned to Australia to form part of the escort for the first ANZAC convoy which consisted of some 38 transports. The convoy’s escort comprised Sydney (I), Melbourne, HMS Minotaur and the Japanese cruiser Ibuki. The convoy sailed from Albany on 1 November 1914 and on the morning of 9 November 1914 was steaming some 50 miles east of the Cocos Islands.

At about 06:20 on 9 November, wireless telegraphy (W/T) operators in several transports as well as in the escorting warships received signals in an unknown code followed by a query from the Cocos Island W/T station, 'What is that code'? It was in fact the German cruiser Emden under the command of Captain Karl von Müller, ordering her collier Buresk to join her at Point Refuge to coal. Shortly afterwards, the Cocos Island telegraphists signaled 'Strange warship approaching’ followed later by the same message prefixed by ‘S.O.S.’ — the international distress call.

Emden had by then anchored in Port Refuge and immediately dispatched a landing party, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Von Mücke, with orders to destroy the cable and wireless stations.  As Von Müller patiently awaited the return of his landing party, smoke was sighted on the horizon which was at first assumed to be the Buresk. Soon afterwards the masts of the approaching ship were recognized as those of a warship. The ship Von Müller had spotted was Sydney (I) which, as the nearest warship to the Cocos group, had been ordered by Captain Silver in Melbourne to proceed at full speed to investigate. By 07:00 Sydney (I) was 'away doing twenty knots' and at 09:15 had simultaneously sighted the island and the Emden some seven or eight miles distant. At first Captain Glossop could not tell whether the ship sighted was Emden or the Königsberg, both of which were thought to be at large in the Indian Ocean at that time.

Continue the story of Sydney's pursuit of Emden here:

Friday, October 15, 2021

Future U.S. Marine Corps Commandants at Belleau Wood

That four future Marine Corps commandants fought at Belleau Wood might not surprise many of our readers.  The name of one who was not there, however, might surprise you.  Legendary Marine, John Lejeune, was busy with other duties within the AEF at the time.  More on that below, but here are the four that were destined for greater responsibilities after surviving that struggle for the little forest near the Marne River in June 1918.

Now, about General Lejeune's whereabouts:

From May to August 1917, Lejeune helped organize the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments and took command of the new Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia. He remained there until May 1918, whereupon the commandant sent him to serve on General John J. Pershing’s (1860–1948) staff, at Chaumont, France. From 19 June to 4 July, Lejeune served with the 35th Division in the Vosges Mountains. He earned promotion to major general on 1 July, and on 5 July he briefly assumed command of the 64th Infantry Brigade of the 32nd Division. Then, on 25 July, he took command of the 4th Brigade (Marines), 2nd Division. Just three days later, Lejeune took over command of the entire 2nd Division. Shortly after his taking command, the 2nd Division participated in the American-commanded St. Mihiel Offensive, the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge, and the final stage of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Sources: and Encyclopedia 1914-1918

Thursday, October 14, 2021

"Back to the Stone Age'" or The Flintstones on the Western Front


From War in a Different Light

During the Great War, armies not only dug trenches into the earth but also built large and voluminous underground dugouts, shelters, huts, storage rooms, aid posts, and what not. In certain regions in northern France, most notably around Arras, Soissons, Rheims, the Chemin des Dames, and other regions, thankful use was made of either natural caves or stone quarries. Many of such underground cavities were quite large, allowing shelter for thousands of men at a time, others were more modest in size but perfectly adaptable for use as living quarters, often by the addition of a wall, windows, and door.

The irony of a regression toward a more primitive mode of habitation was not lost on news editors and photographers. Many magazines published photos of such dwellings accompanied by all manner of captions. While scorn might be heaped upon the enemy for living in caves, like cavemen, the own troops might equally well be praised for the adaptive ingenuity of adjusting to difficult circumstances and making the best of things. It was all a matter of perspective.

Most of the images shown here are from the early years of the war and come from news magazines on both sides.

Postscript: The American 26th Division spent some time in the caves near the Chemin des Dames in the spring of 1918.  The Doughboys left a number of inscriptions on walls.  A good collection of them can be viewed HERE.

Thanks to Tony Langley for the article and photos

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Execution of Captain Fryatt – A Roads Classic

Before the war was a year old, Captain Charles Fryatt had already had a number of close shaves with German U-boats. After growing up in Harwich, Essex, he followed his father into the merchant navy. In March 1915, captaining the SS Brussels, he attempted to ram a prowling U-boat, actions that won him national acclaim.

But on 25 June 1916, his ship was cornered by five gunboats and Captain Fryatt was imprisoned.  He was tried in Bruges on charges of being franc tireur—a civilian engaged in hostile military activity. Captain Fryatt had earlier told his captors he did his duty to protect his crew but, according to press reports, was not allowed to speak at his trial.

The hearing, sentence and firing squad all took place on the same day, 27 July 1916. When his funeral was held in Harwich, schoolchildren were given the day off and the streets were lined with people. Among the lasting tributes, the local hospital was named after him.

The public reaction to Charles Fryatt's death echoed that of Nurse Edith  Cavell eight months earlier. In both cases, the Germans had intended to show defiance would not be tolerated. In both cases they acted in accordance with their military code and international law. Stephen Badsey, Professor of Conflict Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, explained: "Both were guilty of breaching military law and once the Germany military had determined they had a right to execute them they were going to go ahead and do it, without thinking through the wider impact."

In both cases they failed to consider the propaganda battle. The outcry in both cases was that Germany had "violated civilisation." Newspapers across the world raged at the actions of the German army. Headlines were fat with words like "murder" and "atrocity."

In a letter to Mr Fryatt's widow, King George V called his death an "outrage." Every means of communication—songs, postcards, posters, films, and even stamps—were used to convey such examples of "the Hun" at work.

Both Fryatt and Cavell were initially buried close to where they were shot, but shortly after the war their bodies were exhumed and brought back to England. The same train carriage was used in both cases. Capt Fryatt's funeral was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, but his body was also taken home and buried at All Saints' Church, Upper Dovercourt, Essex.

He was celebrated in two main memorials, but in addition to the hospital, a road and a pub in Harwich also bear his name.

Adapted from a BBC Website article

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


By Maarten Otte
Pen and Sword, 2018
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

Approach to Montfaucon Today

Disclaimer: Half of this book (Full title: The American Expeditionary Forces in the Great War: Montfaucon) is a travel guide for the Montfaucon area and the Meuse-Argonne battlefield, and although I’ve researched and written about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, I have never visited the battlefield. PLB

The failure of the 79th Division to take Montfaucon on the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive has been the subject of some historical analysis. This current book, by historian Maarten Otte, is the latest examination of the action at Montfaucon. Otte acknowledges two recent books describing the division’s terrible struggle to advance against the Germans in late September 1918. As Otte says, “there is no comparison to be made between this book, which should not be regarded as a major study, and these large-scale works” (p. xi). Indeed, Otte intends his book to be used as a reference to the battle for readers at home or visiting the battlefield. This is Maarten Otte’s second book in Pen and Sword’s Battleground series. The author lives in the area of the battlefield and makes good use of “his intimate knowledge of the ground” (p. viii).

Otte starts with an overview of the war and some key personalities; he then reviews the Montfaucon terrain as an observation post rather than as a fortified bastion. He also gives a nice overview of the famed observation tower in Montfaucon as well as a description of different types of German dugouts and fortifications in the area.

The meat of Montfaucon is a narration of the advance of the 79th Division, covered chronologically and referencing the left and right “halves” of the division’s attack formation. Otte gives more detail about September 26 and 27, the most important of the days on which the division fought, and less so for September 28 through 30. The author relies on only a few different primary sources in his description of the American attacks; a broader variety would have been helpful but would have lengthened the book and put it at odds with Otte’s primary purpose. Still, his use of these sources allows us to get a good feel for the tenacity of the men as they faced German machine guns and artillery with little food, water, and supplies.

Wounded Men of the 79th Division

The author’s historical scholarship is sound. While critical of some aspects of the American 1st Army, such as the overly ambitious objectives of the first day and the dreadful traffic jams behind the lines, he approaches the topic fairly and is thoughtful in his assessment. Otte makes good use of both American and German primary sources, such as unit histories and diaries. The nature of the book causes Otte to focus narrowly on one area and mostly on one American division; detailed examinations of strategy or operational concerns are absent.

Otte includes two car tours and three walking tours; their descriptions begin on page 159 and run about 70 pages. A numbered and labeled map accompanies each tour. For each walking tour the author gives an approximate duration and a distance. He also includes helpful hints about whether the terrain is difficult for hiking and what type of shoes to wear. Otte includes cautions and warns of places one can visit “at your own risk.” All the tours are accompanied by GPS coordinates of significant points and helpful tips about points of interest to visit along the way. These include places to stay, private museums, etc. Five appendices give orders of battle, statistics relating to the battle, and a list of 20 German observation posts and shelters in the area, accompanied by current photographs.

There are 27 maps and diagrams scattered throughout the text of Montfaucon. Some of these maps are reproductions of the American Battle Monuments Commission maps, and others are geared for each car or walking tour. There are dozens of photographs throughout the book; these are helpful in giving the reader a feel for the men and terrain involved. Especially helpful and interesting are present-day photographs of areas of the battlefield, including some monuments. There are no end notes and only an abbreviated “Selected Bibliography.” While this is not the “final word” on the American fighting at Montfaucon, it is a fine overview of the action of the 79th Division there, and it would be a worthy companion for anyone touring that battlefield. .

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, October 11, 2021

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Genealogical Help: World War I Burial Case Files

This version contains corrections made 15 October 2021

Temporary Cemetery for the Fallen of the 147th U.S. Infantry

By Lynna Kay Shuffield

When Cpl. William W. Brown, Co. D, 141st Infantry, 36th Division, "went over the top" during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in World War I on 8–9 Oct 1918, he fought as only a Texan should. While courageously advancing under violent artillery and machine gun fire, Brown was killed in action by German shrapnel, which resulted in fractures of the skull and left arm at the elbow.

He was originally buried in an isolated battlefield grave on the Medeah Farm at St. Etienne-a-Arnes (Ardennes). He was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre with a silver star for extraordinary heroism. Brown was disinterred and reburied four times before he reached his final resting place at the Meuse Argonne Cemetery #1232 at Romagne-sous -Montfaucon in Meuse, France in Grave 174, Sec. 85, Plot 4.

Corporal William Brown's Final Resting Place
(While Under Construction)

You are probably wondering how I learned so much about Corporal Brown and his death. There are little-known documents called "burial case files" for most World War I casualties contained in Record Group 92 now located at the National Archives facility in St. Louis, MO. These files are related to servicemen or women who died while in the military during the time period 1915-39; the files were maintained for war casualties as well as for military domestic deaths.  See for the NARA catalog description of the burial case files.

The folders are arranged alphabetically and contained documents related to the individual's name, military organization, place of residence, date of death, circumstances of death, places of burial, next of kin, etc.  These files also contain documentation if the mother of the deceased participated in the "World War I Mothers' Pilgrimages" program, which was sponsored by the U.S. government.  This program transported mothers and wives of the deceased to the overseas military cemeteries.

Contact Information:

National Archives at St. Louis (RL-SL)

1 Archives Drive, Room 340

St. Louis, MO 63138

Phone: 314-801-0850

Fax: 314-801-9187


Be sure to include as much information as you know about the solider, i.e., full name, date of birth/death, service number (if known), places of residence, etc.

Thanks to Patrick Osborn of the National Archives for pointing out that the contact information in the original version of this article was out of date.

Friday, October 8, 2021

A Chaplain's View of WWI Combat, the Spanish Flu, and the Impact of War, Part 2 of 2

In Part 1, Chaplain Stewart Robinson described his duties with the 78th "Lightning" Division through the St. Mihiel Offensive until he was struck down with by the Spanish flu. He continues his account:

September 24, 1918, Tuesday, Clear +61; French hospital train evacuation through Burgundy

“Did not stay long in this Base Hospital #45. It is an evacuation hospital now and we were shot out on a French hospital train. I did not feel very well but the experience was novel and I enjoyed it. Towards evening I went to bed on one of the swing litters with the rest of the sick and wounded men. The French attendants took pretty good care of us. They fed us our supper. We reached our destination about 1 a.m. and I had a bath and went to bed.”

September 25, 1918, Wednesday, Clear +62;  Base #26 Hospital,  Allerey-sur-Saone, Cote d’Or, France

“A beautiful day. I did not feel so very lively and kept pretty well down in bed all day. The nurses are very nice to us. This is Base #26. The little village here is quite a center for hospitals. My malady seems to be slowly yielding to the treatment forthcoming. They do not give me much medicine. Perhaps they have only a very little. But I guess it is just as well. Being quiet here has awakened within me a great desire to turn my footsteps homeward.”

September 27, 1918, Friday, Cloudy +60; Allerey hospital

“Still this quiet life here continues and I keep on feeling better all the time. I keep thinking all the time of the chance of getting back home to work over there. I feel that this will doubtless be what will happen, because of the prayers of the dear folks back home. The fact that I can do just as much there as here and the fact that I want and pray for it myself. Things like that have worked out so before. God has a way of doing very wonderful things for those who love Him.”

September 30, 1918, Monday, Clear +59; Ward under quarantine for meningitis. Ready to get out.

“The ward is still under a quarantine for a case of meningitis that was discovered here. I am feeling much better and am anxious to get away from here now. The war is progressing in wonderful shape. I do believe that before so very long we shall see the end of it. How the world and land of France longs for that day when peace shall come again. Perhaps this coming Christmas will see a day spring of a new era of peace in the world, built on a little more secure foundation than it has ever had before.”

A Ward at Base Hospital #26

October 4, 1918, Friday, Cloudy +60; Recovered and released “to leave this place…” Train to Dijon

“Awoke, dressed for breakfast and started to leave this place. I was scheduled to go to Convalescent Camp last night but they did not send for me. Today the camp was writing to pass me through immediately and wrote my orders for me to go to Chateau d’Aux, Louplande. Nobody knew where this place was, so I started for Dijon Cote d’Or, where I plan to spend the night. I will seek after this place in question and hope that it will be on the way homeward. That has become my ardent desire now. The Fall and cold weather bids me fly back to the sunny southland of home sweet home.”

October 8, 1918, Tuesday, Clear +60; Train from Montparnasse to Le Mans, Orders back to 78th Div.

“Arrived by train from the Gare de Montparnasse at Le Mans and thence to La Suze at 4:30am. The local paper carrier took me out to the Chateau d’Aux (aka Villaines) in Louplande in a little donkey cart. The sight of the little village in the first streaks of dawn. When we reached the edge of the estate another pretty sight greeted me in a little stone house from whose chimney the smoke curled and whose door and window gave forth a fresh pink glow. Chaplain Moody came down and said I was to go back to my division (78th). Well, we will hope for the best.”

In Mid-October the 78th Division was transported from the St. Mihiel Sector to the left flank of the American First Army which was in the midst of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

October 16, 1918, Wednesday, Rainy +58; Slept in French freight car with thousands of loaves of bread

“Slept in a French freight car on the floor with some thousands of loaves of bread. Morning dawned cold and wet. A company of railway engineers gave me some breakfast and I had my first ride in an American locomotive run by a man who used to run from Kansas City to Chicago. We ran from Clermont to Aubreville. There I caught an ambulance going to the 78th. Late in the evening we reached Lancon, where I met Colonel MacMillian, who took me over to Chatel to P.C. A mine blew up at 1 a.m. and a shell or 2 lit in the edge of village. So goes life.”

October 17, 1918, Rejoins the 78th Division in the Meuse Argonne battle. Close call with artillery shell

“Found my work in a pretty complete state of confusion, thanks to the many changes which had happened in my absence. There have been many changes in the HQ. The prospect is not overly bright for the future. Rode down in the evening with MacDonald. About 45 seconds after he drew his truck out of a barn door where it had been standing a shell sailed in right on the spot.  We reached Les Islettes and found a place to sleep with some of the supply train. They had a nice fire which was very acceptable and brightened up the evening.” 

October 22, 1918, Tuesday, Cloudy +58; Evacuation Hospital #14, “the agony and suffering of this awful war passes all imagination.”

“Did not need to get up this morning. One of the patients in the shock ward died during the wee hours when I arrived. He had lost an arm and his leg had a horrible wound fully three inches deep and nearly a foot long. I held his head on Sunday while his leg was dressed. It was agonizing to see his face written all over with signs of extreme pain. The agony and suffering of this awful thing passes all imagination. I am tired of the thing and I have barely seen the fringe of the thing. We are in the midst of God’s great testing by fire. I trust Him for all things.” 

78th Division Stretcher Bearers in the Argonne Sector

October 26, 1918, Saturday, Cloudy +63; “Shells land 50 yards of me, they were big ones and whistled painfully…I was delivered from great danger.” St. Juvin, France.

“Went out over the hills to the front, visited 115 Brigade reserve, 155 P.C. and went up into St. Juvin. We hold one end of this little village and the Boche is in the other. He was trying to blow up the little bridge by which one had to get into town. It was a pretty strenuous time and I was assured anew that God takes care of us. They (shells) fell inside of 50 yards of me. They were big ones and whistled painfully. The trip was in the line of duty and I was delivered from great danger. God is able to keep me and use me through all the days of my life. I can trust Him. I must dare to do so.”

At the end of the month, Chaplain Robinson is ordered to a Services of Supply Base at Brest on the French Coast.

November 6, 1918, Wednesday, Clear +50; Lambezellec, France, Thousands of graves of those who died of influenza upon landing in Brest… .

“Arose at leisure-Went out to Lambezellec and had a funeral. There are thousands of graves out there of men had influenza and died when they landed here. In p.m. I looked over some of the features of Casemate Fautras where some of my work is to be done. Had supper and went to the movies with Sledge, a very genial Southern Baptist chaplain. The movies were American and one was very funny and I laughed more than I have all summer. The little nascent moon hung in the West. I felt a premonition of home by the week.”

Thanksgiving, November 28, 1918, Thursday, Clear +49.

“Held service at Fort Federes. Had dinner with Co. I 2nd Pioneers. Took bath in the p.m. Went to Officers’ Club in even. and enjoyed a very fine turkey dinner. Met Wm Larimer Jones II of Princeton 1915 on street. He was just in town from the U.S.S. Dekalb and gave the heartening news that she had no chaplain. This may be the slant I have been praying for. I had another feeling today that an advance towards home was about to come to me. Wired GN> regarding matter. Heard that Esther is up at St. Malo a port not such a great distance from here. I pray I may be about to leave for home.

Stewart Robinson spends the next four months hoping for a timely return home. He finally sails on 25 February 1919. 

March 7, 1919, Cloudy, +55; Arrives in New York harbor, train home to Philadelphia

"Went up on deck right after breakfast and sighted land at about nine o’clock. All the moments thereafter were spent in eagerly looking for new things on the shore or in the water. We came along through the Bayand along the buoyed channel to the upper way past the forts and past the Statue of Liberty.

We docked at one o’clock and as soon as we came out of the dock I saw Anne MacGregor and the folks waiting behind the gate. We had a cursory examination for bugs and creeping things and then were able to get out to see the impatient dear ones. It was a very happy sight for there were many little parties like our own.

Caught 5 p.m. train for Philadelphia and spent a thankful and happy evening and went to bed at peace and full of a very great and deep thanksgiving to God."

March 8, 1919, Clear, +57; Home in Philadelphia

"Spent the whole day in the house unpacking and visiting. It was one long happy hour with no thought of time or obligation. I wired for permission to report on Monday at Camp Dix where I am to go to be demobilized. This request was granted and this added to the joy of the day In the evening Anne MacGregor and I walked over to see Grandfather who is sick in the hospital.

There seems to be a few jobs on the horizon into which I may have a chance to insinuate myself. One possibility is the chair of English Bible at Lafayette. This seems like a large thing to be put in my way at this stage of the game but I do believe that I could make a success of this very piece of work. I wonder if God has this bit of work for me. I will wait, work and pray."


After WWI, he pastored Presbyterian congregations in Cleveland, Ohio, Lockport, NY, and Elizabeth NJ, until retirement in 1961. For 12 years he edited, The Presbyterian, an independent journal published in Philadelphia. After WWII, 1951–53, he served as Chairman of the Army-Navy Chaplains Commission, visiting troops during the Korean War. He authored a monograph on the influence of colonial clergy on the American Revolution. His papers are archived at the National Archives, Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary.

Thanks to Dave Robinson of McLean, VA, for bringing his grandfather's diary to our attention.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

A Chaplain's View of WWI Combat, the Spanish Flu, and the Impact of War, Part 1 of 2

The Rev. Stewart MacMaster Robinson, D.D. (1893–1965) was born in Clinton, NY, on 21 July 1863, he grew up in Philadelphia, the only child of William Courtland Robinson, a Presbyterian minister, and Augusta Horner Robinson. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University in 1915. He prepared for Christian ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1915–17, where he received a call to serve as an Army chaplain in late 1917. March–May 1918 he attended Army Chaplain’s School at Camp Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky, and was commissioned as an Army officer on 29 May 1918. He shipped out from Hoboken NJ and arrived at Brest France aboard the USS Covington on 27 June 1918. [The Covington was sunk on its return voyage to the U.S.]

Chaplain Stewart MacMaster Robinson

Upon arrival in France, he was assigned to the 78th Division, AEF, and promoted to Senior Division Chaplain at age 24. He served as the division burial officer at the St. Mihiel campaign until he was infected with influenza in late September 1918. After his recovery, he returned to the front lines with the 78th Division in mid-October in the Meuse-Argonne campaign. His diaries record the impact of the war on him and his comrades in arms.  

In September, the 78th Division found itself initially in reserve for the opening of the St. Mihiel Offensive.

September 12, 1918, Thursday, Rainy +60; Great American Offensive at St. Mihiel Salient

“At 1 a.m. the Great American Offensive. Listened with mingled feelings to the thundering of the guns. I did not sleep much. Mingled feelings kept me from sleeping very well. At 5 a.m. the barrage went down and our boys went over. We are back in the reserve. Everything went along very smoothly. Towards evening I saw at least 3000 Hun prisoners marched back. It was a very impressive sight. I worked a lot on getting our cemetery established. We will put it well forward because we have moved a great way today. It has been a great day in many ways. I hope to tell my dear ones at home all the details that will spring to my mind. DV (Dieu Veulent, God Willing) when in God’s loving time I am with them again.”

September 13, 1918, Friday, Partly Cloudly +60; Burials begin on battlefield.

“Left Rogeville to lay out a cemetery near to Regnieville. Took a lorry load of unfit soldiers. The body of an officer came along behind in an ambulance. Finally we reached a secluded hillside and buried the man as the great guns boomed over our heads. There was no need for any firing squad (to salute). It was a great sight to see all the signs of the recent battle. There was all kinds of material scattered about, guns on the road, and long lines of cars and wagons. We have taken very many prisoners. Rode home by moonlight past the crashing of our big guns.”

September 14, 1918, Saturday, Clear +66; Gathering the dead, I found all too many.

“Moved the division headquarters from Rogeville to Limey. The later town is only ¾ mile from the front line on Sept 11 but several from the present line. Explored the old No Man’s Land and the trenches of the Hun. All his apparatus was very interesting, the signs especially. I was out gathering the dead and I found all too many. They were a sad spectacle. One especially called forth my sad pity. Now at last we are in the midst of real cruel bloody war! I have seen blood enough this very day. Tonight we have been down once in the dug out already. I pray to tell my sweetheart all this.”

September 15, 1918, Sunday, Clear +68; Many burial services as St. Mihiel battle rages in NE France

“Limey-France-(Meuse et Meurthe). Had a little service of Horace Infusine and Sgt. Cornne. Went out and held burial service for Carpenter of 353 over 11 Mess. Went on later in p.m. buried more of our U.S. men and one Hun. Saw a Hun plane bring down 2 observation balloons. Held another service over the 14th chapter of John which I could read without any light because I know it. Talked to a Hun prisoner of the 397 Prussian Infantry. Our men are going up in the line tonight. The day has had many experiences. I feel so sorry for the poor folks at home who will hear of these dead I buried.”

German Trenches, St. Mihiel Sector

September 16, 1918, Monday, Clear +72; Slept in captured Hun dugout.

“Moved over into some of the Huns’ dugouts at Loge Mangin. The drive pushed Fritz back quite a way but the country between is pretty well smashed to pieces. There are all kinds of mementos of the Hunnish occupation, in the shape of stuff the he left behind him. For a retreat that was planned for so long a time as his communique said he certainly left a lot of stuff behind including many thousand prisoners. Went to sleep in the telephone exchange down in a dugout where nothing but a good big bomb could get me. The night was not very satisfactory because of all the phone activity and movement of people.” 

September 17, 1918, Tuesday, Rainy +68; “Terror and death is the only teacher for 78th Div on the line.”

“Our troops have begun to actually take over their part of the line. It gives me a queer sensation to realize that the crowd I went down to Dix to see last Fall is now in fact here on the firing line. The training is all over. The die is cast and now the ordeal of battle grim experience terror and death will be the only teacher. We all hoped these divisions would have been spared by the ending of the war but it seems not to have been planned. God has some lesson to teach us by these portents. "

September 18, 1918, Wednesday, Partly Rainy +67; Sadness and fear, shell shock and gas…

“We have laid out a cemetery down the road from Thiancourt to Regnieville. The Hun puts a few shells over it about once a day or more. We heard of 18 men and officers killed last night at the front. The awful work has been begun. Sadness and fear will be rolling across the ocean now as news of these deaths confirm the fact that we are in the line. There are stern experiences ahead. We need grace to stand them. Rode with Col. Eckwurzle through battered towns and saw shell shock and gas cases in of Field Hospitals. So, the war is indeed on for the Seventy Eighth Division of peaceful Camp Dix.

September 19, 1918, Thursday, Rainy +65; “I saw 7 bodies gathered in an alley, I hate the Kaiser!”

Rode on horse down to see how our cemetery had been laid out. In p.m. went up to Thiaucourt out of a sense of duty to see how things were getting along there. The place was shelled all the time. I saw 7 bodies gathered in one little alley and some wounded. I was about terror stricken myself. Every time I went out one of the things (shells) would shriek and crash. I see plainly where they will have to catch me to pin any medals on me for valor. My chaplains are doing their work in a wonderful manner and I only wish I had the nerve that they are showing. I hate the Kaiser!”

September 20, 1918, Friday, Clear +60; “I have a miserable cold in the head…” Flu starts.

“Rain abated and I put my clothes out to dry. The dugout makes a good place to sleep in some ways but there is no very great supply of air. However, it is part of this game and the dugout was made be the Hun and made well in order that he might be very snug and we are living in it. Stood in the observation post up in a tree and watched our shells knock down one of Fritz’ vantage spots. Their aim was very good. Find I have a miserable cold in the head and feel a bit mean for that reason. Now I am going to bed~”

Robinson with the Division's Chief Surgeon

September 21, 1918, Saturday, Clear +60; …many of our boys have been killed…hard days…”

“Spent the day with some office work and going over to the 2nd Battalion of the 312th that came out of the line today. The YMCA had some stuff ready for them to eat. There is a beautiful moon which means Jerry will be over in all probability to look for some of our guns. One thing is a help, he is not interested in us and does not throw much stuff overboard. A good many of our boys have been killed. These will be hard days for many of the folks back at home. So goes life.”

Then illness would strike Chaplain Robinson

September 22, 1918, Sunday, Cloudy +57; “It is a sad business, this war.”

“Arose at 7am. Held Communion at 8:30. Preached for Smylie at 3 Battalion 312 Infantry in the morning. They were just back from the line. They came out in very good shape. In p.m. I had a little service at HQ for my own men. They have been shelling some of the areas in our neighborhood but they have not found our woods out as yet. Four Hun prisoners came through today. They were pretty good looking in health and were very glad to be with us. This is a typically Fall day in the woods. I only wish we were to go back to the city directly. A good many of the boys are losing their lives around this country. It is a sad business, this war.”

September 23, 1918, Monday, Rainy +60; Doctor pronounced my case to be influenza, shipped off in ambulance…”

"Lay in my little wire bunk all morning feeling very poorly indeed. The wet and damp of this dugout has given me a real hard cold in the head. The whole outlook from here is dull in the extreme. The doctor pronounced my case to be influenza and I was shipped off in an ambulance to our Field Hospitals and thence on to Toul. It felt very good to get down in a white bed and sleep. There are real American nurses!” 

In Part 2, Stewart Robinson describes his treatment for the influenza, his duties for the remainder of the war, and his voyage home.

Thanks to Dave Robinson of McLean, VA, for bringing his grandfather's diary to our attention.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Shackleton's War

Shackleton Statue, Royal Geographical Society

Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874–1922) was an Anglo-Irish explorer. He made four trips to the Antarctic, including leading the Endurance expedition during the first two years of the Great War for which he is best known. He planned to cross the Antarctic, but the ship was crushed and sunk by the ice, and after a series of life-threatening adventures, including rowing nearly 800 miles in a small boat in huge oceans, he returned with all his men alive in 1916. A remarkable achievement.

Birth and Upbringing 

Ernest Shackleton was born in County Kildare, Ireland. His father was a doctor, and the family moved to London when Shackleton was a child. He joined the Merchant Navy when he was 16 and qualified as a master mariner in 1898. He travelled widely but was keen to explore the Poles.

With Scott and Wilson on the Discovery

In 1901, Shackleton joined Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition to the Antarctic. Edward Wilson, from Cheltenham, was also a member of this trip. Shackleton and Wilson spent many hours doing scientific work together but also joined Scott on a trek toward the South Pole. The conditions were terrible, but before they had to turn back, they got closer to the Pole than anyone had before. Shackleton became so seriously ill that he had to return to the UK.

The Nimrod Expedition

Back in Britain, Shackleton spent some time as a journalist but did not abandon his dream of returning to the Antarctic. In 1908, he led his own expedition, on the ship Nimrod. During the expedition, his team climbed Mount Erebus, the world’s southern-most volcano, made many important scientific discoveries and set a record by getting even closer to the South Pole than before. He was knighted on his return to Britain.

The Endurance Expedition

Shackleton After the Sinking of Endurance

In 1914, Shackleton made his third trip to the Antarctic with the ship Endurance, aiming to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. The departure of the expedition coincided with the August outbreak of World War I.  The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, however authorized the expedition to proceed. 

Early in 1915, Endurance became trapped in the ice, and ten months later sank. Shackleton achieved the extraordinary feat of rescuing all his men, despite having to move from ice camp to ice camp, and then row to Elephant Island in three small boats. There he left most of the crew to live as best they could in two of the boats, upturned to form huts. Meanwhile Shackleton and five others rowed 800 miles to summon help through some of the strongest seas in the oceans to South Georgia. Even then they were not out of trouble, as Shackleton and two colleagues had to cross the mountains and glaciers of the island to reach the whaling station, Grytviken, a feat never before achieved. This epic trip led geologist J.B. Priestley to say, "For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton." All Shackleton’s men were rescued alive.

First World War

Shackleton returned to Britain in 1917, before the end of the First World War, and immediately volunteered his services to help the war effort. Shackleton had achieved remarkable things in the Antarctic, but Europe had changed while he had been away. He was too old to enlist and was not a well man (though he never admitted this). He begged the Government for a suitable job. He had good standing in Argentina and Chile: the people there had lined the streets in their hundreds to welcome the polar explorers back from their ordeal in the ice, and Shackleton had been lauded wherever he went. So he was sent on a mission to South America to promote Britain’s interests and find out exactly how Britain was regarded. He returned in April 1918, but it is doubtful if his report was ever acted on.

Major Shackleton in His Army Uniform at
the Time of the Northern Russia Mission

His next posting was to prospect for mineral wealth in Spitsbergen on behalf of the Northern Exploration Company, a job that in peacetime would have appealed to the treasure hunter in him. He was given shares in the company as an incentive and allowed to have some of his former comrades join him, and they set off to Norway to investigate. The real reason for the trip was undoubtedly to preserve mineral assets for the Allies; Russian exploitation was believed to be a real danger. But Shackleton had only reached Tromsø in Norway when the War Office recalled him for a more urgent job.

The War Office thought Shackleton was the ideal man to equip Allied troops with suitable clothing and equipment for overwintering 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Murmansk in North Russia was the only port in the area to remain open throughout the winter, and the Government wanted to ensure it was available for th—llies to use. The troops were also deployed to assist the counter revolutionary White Russians. Shackleton was delighted as he could at long last hold a military post, with the associated uniform—he was appointed a major—and the posting held the prospect of danger, sledging, and possible fighting. He was also able to recruit some of his former crew and also Scott’s. But the posting was not needed long, two weeks after his arrival in Murmansk the Armistice was signed. He returned to London in December and resigned from his role in February 1919.

The Quest Expedition

Shackleton's fourth and final expedition, in which he aimed to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent, was on board the Quest. He set off in 1921, but on 5 January 1922 he died of a heart attack off South Georgia and was buried, at this wife’s request, on the island.

Sources: The Cheltenham Trust