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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The National WWI Museum and Memorial: An Appreciation

by Asst. Editor Kimball Worcester


Despite having studied the Great War and its legacies for some decades, this was my first trip to the one hundred-year-old museum and memorial in Kansas City, MO. When first built, on a substantial rise, the edifice and tower must have dominated the skyline for some distance. Its presence is now diminished somewhat by surrounding buildings, but when walking the paths and stairs around it on that rise, the visitor is struck by the true aesthetic solemnity of the design and its execution. The commitment of the citizens of Kansas City at the time to commemorate the recent war resulted in a venue and collection that honor and educate, celebrate and mourn. 

 Sculpture on the Main Floor

The specific draw for me was the opportunity to see (and measure and photograph) a special recent acquisition: a uniform coat belonging to a female machine gunner in the nascent Red Army, c. 1918/19. The coat is made of cloth (rough, probably linen, striped lining and a cotton-weave outer layer) and retains its machine gunner’s badge and rank stripes on the left sleeve. There are two buttons, one of which is an embossed metal, somewhat corroded, presumably part of the original issue. The other button is possibly wood, not the embossed metal, likely replacing the lost original. The coat is practical—with a gusset down the sleeve for ease of movement and a very wide skirt—as well as stylish; the considerable gathering at the back waist looks fashionable while being unrestrictive. There are deep pockets to accommodate combat accoutrements. The overall condition of the coat is remarkable for its age and circumstances, a wonderful find for the museum. One must wonder where it has been these last hundred years.


 Russian Woman Machine Gunner's Coat, c. 1918/19


My Sketch in Hopes of Replicating


Uniforms abound at the museum: a Russian nurse’s uniform, which I surmise came from a Kaufmann Society nurse, given that the dress is black. The Kaufman Nursing Society was established in 1900 in St. Petersburg by the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna. The schooling was strict and the nurses held to a high standard. Their graduates served with well-recognized diligence, professionalism, and distinction on all fronts in the most difficult of wartime circumstances. 

The tunic below belonged to a member of a Kornilov regiment in the Volunteer Army during the civil war, with its identifying death’s head patch. Various representative uniforms from all fronts and fighting units, air, sea, and land, emphasize the involvement of real women and men and bring the pathos of their fates into high relief.


Kornilov Regiment Patch and a Chevron of the 
Volunteer Army Colors

The permanent exhibit manages to include obtrusive items like heavy artillery and an airplane in an unobtrusive way. They fit in well with the cases of objects and information, rounding out the comprehensive experience of a complex war. The more delicate items of art also feature to their advantage, such as a Princess Mary box with its contents and this stunning Louis Raemaekers' drawing of German oppression of the Belgians.


Another work of art presents in the form of a puzzle bearing a beautiful painting of a submarine and two seaplanes. The artistry in the seascape caught my eye, but the clear identification of the U-boat piqued my historian's curiosity. U-72, type UE-1, was built in Hamburg in 1915 and commissioned in Jan 1916. She experienced four different commanders and four patrols between April 1916 and November 1918, based in the Adriatic. U-72 was scuttled on 1 November 1918 at Cattaro, present-day Kotor in Montenegro. How satisfying it is to visit a museum, enjoy anew all the aspects one has studied for years, and to come away with a new bit of knowledge. Thank you, National WWI Museum and Memorial.


Photographs used with the gracious permission of the National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO.


  1. Yes, it is a great place--with a lot of atmosphere. I've been there twice, to conferences, and really enjoyed it. So much to learn.

  2. Just did their "War Remains" Virtual Reality experience. It was terrific. It has been donated to the museum so it should be available for some time.