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

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Censoring the Troops' Letters: A Tutorial

These slides telling the story of how censorship worked on the front lines were produced by the National Library of Wales as part of their WWI Centenary educational program.

Monday, November 29, 2021

How Fraternization with Enemy Forces Comes About

Possible Episode of Fraternization Late in the War

By Maud Williams

In 2005, Christian Carion’s film Merry Christmas revealed to the general public the phenomenon of fraternization at the front during the First World War, a subject rarely discussed in France and Germany up to then. In the years following the film’s release, memorial monuments honoring these fraternizations sprang up from the ground, such as in Liverpool in 2014. Today’s policy seeking to build a “European memorial community” raises the question of how this policy reflects the realities of the period and invites us to revisit the phenomenon of fraternization at the front in a more concrete fashion.

Fraternization at the front can be defined as fraternal interaction in war zones between soldiers from opposing camps. These rare occurrences are the result of a frozen front and mutual identification between soldiers. These spontaneous events were connected to religious events or responded to a need for survival. The military authorities of belligerent countries reacted strongly, and the dissemination of accounts remained limited, making their reconstruction difficult for historians.

The primary factor in the appearance of fraternization at the front is the prolonged geographical proximity between the soldiers of two armies, which is made possible by the stability of a front. With its trench warfare, the First World War is the example par excellence of this type of situation. Sometimes separated by a no man’s land of only a few metres, the soldiers of both trenches lived in a proximity that promoted encounters between soldiers. We also find this configuration during the “phony war” along the Maginot line from September 1939 to May 1940, or in the winter of 1942-1943 during the battle of Stalingrad, when soldiers dug trenches amid the ruins of the city.

A second required factor is mutual recognition between soldiers, who find points in common despite being enemies. This mutual recognition pacified sentiments of hostility between the two camps, and left room for a more peaceful reciprocal attitude. This process is clearly visible during the Great War, for instance when soldiers noted that they shared the same difficult living conditions. They could hear the soldiers on the other side of the no man’s land speaking, laughing, and crying, and could see them smoking, digging trenches, or removing water from flooded tunnels. The enemy thus lost the attributes assigned to them by official propaganda and became human again. A fraternal and supportive link was subsequently established between the soldiers, who considered themselves as equals.

Finally, fraternization also explains the weariness of soldiers in the face of protracted war: they saw no end in sight and came to question the meaning of their presence at the front. For example, during the Great War, there was a substantial increase in cases of fraternization as the months went by. A routine set in at certain parts of the front, as daily exchanges with the enemy became almost normal, part of life at the front.

In time of war, fraternization could be a part of everyday life at the front, or instead depend on occasional or situational events. The first category emerged from the system of “live and let live,” which was developed for the Great War by the historian Tony Ashworth. He argues that soldiers instituted a coherent system in which they ritualized the violence of their everyday lives in an effort to reduce its impact. During the First World War, soldiers established regular hours of attack, and mutually informed one another of their habits in order to reduce losses. As a result, solidary communication spontaneously took place between the two armies, for example during reconnaissance missions, or during the recovery of the dead, when soldiers sought to avoid killing one  another.

In parallel to these fortuitous interactions, some fraternizations could be created in connection with religious celebrations which were observed and therefore shared by both enemy camps. During the Great War, fraternization took place during Christmas and Easter in particular, and grew in scope on the Western front in December 1914. They included two thirds of the German-British front and were also present on the Franco-German and Russian fronts, growing increasingly frequent at the latter until they reached their peak in 1917. A second event, this time of a political nature, reinforced this trend: the October Revolution in Russia and peace negotiations with Germany.

Whatever the case, fraternization generally translated into the exchange of goods (food, tobacco, drinks, objects), along with attempts at communication, which were often limited due to the language barrier. Gestures, music, games, and dance were the primary vectors for communication. Russian and German soldiers danced together between the trenches in 1917, while English and German soldiers played football during the Christmas truce in December 1914.

Only the troops and non-commissioned officers who were present at the front lines experienced fraternization and did so while respecting hierarchy, as soldiers and officers fraternized with their respective peers. Members of the general staff learned of this only through reports and saw them as acts of “passing intelligence to the enemy” deserving of punishment. The punishments could include the death penalty, but were generally less severe, such as fatigue or prison sentences. Measures were also taken in advance to combat any form of fraternization. They included fighting against boredom and inaction at the front, which were considered to be aggravating factors that led to fraternization, as well as maintaining a certain animosity towards the enemy in order to avoid rapprochement. The demonization, dehumanization, and deindividualization of the enemy would counter the inclination of soldiers to consider the enemy as their equals, or as brothers-in-arms suffering from the same miseries. The propaganda campaign on German barbarity during the First World War intended for soldiers at the front in 1939-1940, along with the numerous conferences on war aims, contributed to this process.

During the Great War, these events went largely unobserved in the French and German media. Only England authorized—or at least tolerated—reporting on the subject, as British media was subject to much less severe censorship. In Russia there was initially silence regarding these events but in 1917 Russian revolutionaries used them in their propaganda to promote an end to the fighting. In 1939, fraternization on the French-German front was entirely absent in both the French and German media.

One can nevertheless suppose that public opinion was partially aware of the phenomenon, as numerous letters from soldiers mentioned these encounters between combat lines in both 1914-1918 and 1939-1940. While some were censored, many slipped through the net. Personal communication channels and soldiers on leave also spread the information to a broader public.

Source: EHNE Encyclopedia 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Spring 1918: Why Target the British?

Hindenburg & Ludendorff, 1918

A Decision to Gamble

In the fall of 1917, General Erich Ludendorff, the de facto operational commander of the German Army, began planning his 1918 campaign. Despite his successes in the past year—in particular, effectively taking the Russian Army off the board—long-term prospects were not good. The Central Powers were looking increasingly shaky and the Kaiser's army was bleeding away with forecasts for potential replacements trending sharply downward. The other principal enemies since the war's outbreak, France and Britain, of course, were facing the same pattern of losses and declining manpower. They, however, were about to tap into a nearly fathomless reservoir of new soldiers. Since April, the United States of America had been raising and training a huge army across the Atlantic, and it would be arriving in great numbers by mid-1918. Ludendorff—blind both to the declining situation on the German home front and to the massive casualties that would certainly ensue from aggressive operations—chose to mount a major offensive campaign, gambling that he could force the Allies to the peace table before the Americans became a factor. His calculations showed he would have a short-term slight advantage in the spring. Russia's revolution and collapsing war effort would free up German units in the east. Fortyeight divisions could be transferred to the Western Front, increasing German strength to 191 against 178 Allied divisions. On this small margin would the good general risk the fate of the German Empire.  

Targeting the British

The next big decision was whom to target. Given his finite resources, Ludendorff recognized that he could not attack everywhere at once on the Western Front. One obvious line of thinking is that to defeat a coalition one should focus on one member and defeat it before turning on the second, now lacking any support from its ally. But whom to attack? At a war conference in Mons on 11 November 1917, Ludendorff explained his answer:

The situation in Russia and Italy will make it possible to deliver a blow on the Western Front in the New Year. . . about thirty-five divisions and one thousand heavy guns can be made available for one offensive…Our general situation requires that we should strike at the earliest moment...before the Americans can throw strong forces into the scale. We must beat the British.

But why the British rather than the French? First, it was the numerically smaller of the two main allies.  Also, as commentator General David Zabecki pointed out, 

An added advantage to attacking the BEF was the lack of rear area depth in the sector, with the British front lines averaging only 90 kilometers from the channel coast.  On the other hand, France had proven in the 1914 Marne campaign that it could retreat deeply into the nation’s heartland if it was pressured. 

German Troops Assembling for Operation MICHAEL

But Where to Attack?

In preparation for the great German offensive of 1918, Ludendorff met at Mons on 11 November 1917 with the chiefs of staff and the principal operations planners from the army groups and the German high command (OHL). They identified several potential attack scenarios but could not decide on one. Ludendorff ordered the planners to develop fully the plans for several different courses of action, with the final decision to be made at a later date. The two most viable options at that point were operation GEORG, to be executed in Flanders by the army group of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, and operation MICHAEL, to be executed against the British southern wing in the Somme.

Almost from the start, Ludendorff leaned toward the southern option. In describing the deliberations at the Mons conference, he later wrote:

It would seem that an attack near St. Quentin. . . Offers promising prospects. After reaching the line of the Somme between Péronne and ham it might be possible, by resting the left flank on the Somme, to advance the attack still farther in a northwestern direction, and thus eventually roll up the British front. For the success of this operation it would be especially necessary to render useless the various rail centers by means of long range artillery and bombing squadrons. That would create difficulties for the timely arrival of the enemy’s strategic reserves.

The final decision came at a planning meeting at the Aresens field headquarters on 21 January 1918. It was to be MICHAEL, but GEORG, the Flanders assault, was kept on the back burner as a deception for the time being but also as a contingency for a future initiative. 

Original Concept for Operation MICHAEL

The promise of new methods underlying Ludendorff's thinking was his belief that the German army had developed a tactical package that would create a major breach in the enemy front and allow following troops to wage a decisive campaign of maneuver—“roll[ing] up the British front"—in his words.

Source:  March 2018 OVER THE TOP

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Two Interviews of Robert Graves Interviewed from the 1960s

If you have any urge to meet an utterly unconventional and interesting personality, watch both of these. MH

With Malcolm Muggeridge, 1965

BBC, 1969

Friday, November 26, 2021

Recommended: The Attacks on U. S. Shipping that Precipitated American Entry into World War I by Rodney Carlisle


The Sinking of  the U.S.-Registered Freighter SS Vigilancia — Shown Here During Its Spanish-American War Service—Finally, Tipped the United Sates Over the Brink from Neutrality to War

About a week ago, I recommended a somewhat specialized article, "Historical Approaches to Post-Combat Disorders" by Prof. Edgar Jones of King's College, London.  I thought the paper was fascinating, both comprehensive and densely detailed, that it would be futile and not at all fair to the author to provide only a synopsis or a brief excerpt.  I decided simply to provide a link to the article, to allow readers to download the full piece, so they could print it out and read it at their leisure. There have been no comments about the posting to date, but I have received a few email from readers whom, I guess, are particularly interested in PTSD and related matters.

Anyway, since I sitting on a whole library of such articles on a wide range of topics that I've gather over the past 35 years, I've decided to bring more of these to our readers attention.   Here I'm recommending an detailed analysis of how, step-by-step,  Germany's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare led to President' Wilson's request that Congress declare war on Imperial Germany.

It was written by Rodney Carlisle formerly of Rutgers University and author or co-author of over 30 history books, including Rough Waters: Sovereignty and the American Merchant Flag.  To start, here  is his abstract of the 25-page article:.

Between 3 February 1917 and America's declaration of war on 6 April 1917, ten United States merchant ships were sunk, nine of them by German submarine. These losses constituted the casus belli for the entry of the United States in the First World War. The loss of three ships in particular seemed to convince Wilson and his cabinet that Germany had declared war on the United States; nonetheless, when he made his presentation to Congress, he interpreted the causes of the war in much broader terms. Details of the ship losses and questions of international law about it itself, as well as Wilson, his cabinet, and Congress' reaction to the events, are all detailed here.

Download the full paper


Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Doughboy's Thanksgiving Day Pumpkin Pie



By the President of the United States: 
a Proclamation

It has long been the honored custom of our people to turn in the fruitful autumn of the year in praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for His many blessings and mercies to us as a nation. That custom we can follow now even in the midst of the tragedy of a world shaken by war and immeasurable disaster, in the midst of sorrow and great peril, because even amidst the darkness that has gathered about us we can see the great blessings God has bestowed upon us, blessings that are better than mere peace of mind and prosperity of enterprise.


Large-scale war broke out in Europe in 1914, but America maintained its neutrality for several years. After six American ships were sunk by German submarines, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. The first American troops reached France in June 1917. Over 2,000,000 American soldiers were sent to France before the end of the war in 1918 and nearly 2,000,000 more were in training at home for service abroad if needed.

During the First World War, special efforts were needed to feed five distinct groups: American troops stationed in the U.S., American troops abroad, the U.S. civilian "home front," European allied troops, and European civilians. Herbert Hoover was given sweeping power to set prices and to take measures against hoarding and profiteering. Americans were urged to save on sugar, wheat, fat, and meat. Civilian Thanksgiving recipes reflected this patriotic austerity, as pumpkin pies were sweetened with molasses and served with sugarless ice cream.

The "doughboy" diet now included a greater variety of food and a wider use of fresh foods, even in the field. The military’s ability to produce food and send it to the troops overseas was greatly improved.

American troops celebrated Thanksgiving at camps in the United States and overseas during the First World War. Soldiers and sailors from every region of America, men who often had little in common, gathered together to celebrate a unifying and patriotic holiday, a day that was uniquely American. This unifying theme was emphasized by the military Thanksgiving menu, a menu that centered almost entirely on "traditional" New England food.

This Is the Thanksgiving Menu for Company A of the 134th Infantry, Which Was Training at Camp Cody, NM, in 1917

There was an appreciable upgrading of the standard overseas ration. Here was the (probably ideal) recipe for pumpkin pie filling that mess sergeants were expected to deliver.


  • 25 pounds pumpkin
  • 6 pounds sugar
  • 20 eggs
  • 1 nutmeg
  • 1/8 ounce cloves
  • 1/8 ounce ginger
  • 1 ounce salt
  • 2 cans evaporated milk.

Peel and clean the pumpkin; cut into pieces about 2 ounces each; pour 1 inch of water into a boiler, then put in the pumpkin. One inch of water will be sufficient, even though the boiler be filled with pumpkin, as pumpkin contains much water. Boil slowly until done, about 40 minutes. Then mash well, add the beaten eggs, sugar, milk, and spices, and mix well; make the pies without a top crust, and bake slowly. This recipe may be improved by the addition of a small amount of cream.

Recipe From: Manual for Army Cooks. Government Printing Office, 1916

Text from the Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

What Was a Roleur?

ROULEUR Pilot training philosophy in France differed from that in other countries. In France, it was presumed that student pilots learned better by doing rather than by watching. Therefore, the instructor rarely, if ever, went aloft with the student. From the very beginning, the student would be told, on the ground, what the instructor wanted him to do. He would then get into the airplane and learn by doing. Initial instruction was given in a variety of aircraft that had been deliberately modified to prevent them from flying (usually by clipping several feet off of the wings). This enabled the plane to roll along the ground; hence the generic name of "Rouleur" for such aircraft. Other, unofficial, nicknames assigned to such craft were "Grasshopper" and "Penguin."

A French Trainee in a Clipped Wing Rouleur

The purpose of such aircraft was both to allow the student pilot to learn how to manipulate the manets controlling the gas and air mixture to the rotary engine and to teach the student aviator how to control the direction of movement of the aircraft over the ground by the use of the rudder. Up to the entry of the United States in the war, all American citizens traveling to France and enlisting in the Aviation Militaire underwent initial training on such aircraft; including those who became members of the Lafayette Escadrille.  Training on rouleurs is authentically depicted in the 1958 film, The Lafayette Escadrille.

While numerous combat obsolete aircraft were used in this mode one of the more frequently used was the Morane-Saulnier Type G. The Société Anonyme des Aéroplane Morane-Saulnier brought out the Type G in 1913. It was a single-engine monoplane with shoulder-mounted wings. It came in both a single-seat and a two-seat configuration. Following its combat history, the aircraft was relegated to training duties. For training, only the single-seat version was used. 

Source: The Doughboy Center

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The 1916 War Between “Pancho” Villa and the U.S. Army: The Military Legacy of the US/Mexican Border

By Jeffrey LaMonica
The Edwin Mellen Press, 2021
David F. Beer, Reviewer

This short volume (75 pages plus end notes, bibliography, and index) researches the nature of the United States Army’s 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico and the part General Pershing played in the operation. The author also considers the extent to which the expedition was successful and whether it was an effective "practice run" or dress rehearsal for America’s involvement in World War One.

Order Through the Mellen Press HERE

There is little question that Pershing learned important lessons in his campaign against Villa and soon took them with him to the Great War. How successful the expedition was, however, remains open to debate. A lot of research has been done on the reasons for the expedition, how it was carried out, its shortcomings, political fallout, and conclusion, and the author cites well over 40 of these sources.

We learn a lot about the Punitive Expedition in this book which reads somewhat like an extended research paper. The expedition into Mexico is “one of the lesser known and more misunderstood military campaigns in US history” (p. 1). Villa and his army of Villistas attacked Columbus, New Mexico, in March 1916, resulting in General Pershing leading 10,000 U.S. soldiers into the state of Chihuahua in search of Villa. The U.S. government sent an additional 150,000 National Guardsmen to patrol and protect the border.

The adventures, skirmishes, activities, and quality of the U.S. forces involved in this operation to capture Villa forms the central content of LaMonica’s work. Attention is also paid to Mexican forces, and it’s interesting to learn that the General Staff of the British War Office had in 1906 published an extensive handbook of the Mexican Army which was hardly flattering. Although regular American army troops were better trained and equipped, the same could not be said of troops of the National Guard. A 1916 War Department report on mobilizing the National Guard

…assessed eighty-nine percent of the National Guard units on the border as either ‘fair, poor, unfitted, not ready, or wholly unprepared.’ One Regular Army officer states ‘It will be nothing short of murder to send these troops into any sort of active service…they have absolutely no conception of even the elements of military tactics.’ Another exclaimed, ‘It is pitiful to watch their incompetency’’ (pp. 44-45).

Aiding in the search for Villa and his men, U.S. Army engineers built and repaired 350 miles of roads and constructed two bridges. The Signal Corps did their best with elementary telegraph and telephone equipment, including wire that easily broke and large cumbersome devices that might communicate wirelessly between ten and 200 miles, depending on weather conditions. These required mules and wagons for transportation (p. 51).

A JN-3 "Jenny" of the First Aero Squadron in Mexico

On 15 March the First Aero Squadron arrived on the border and joined General Pershing in Mexico a few days later. The squadron consisted of 11 officers who were pilots, 84 support personnel, and eight Curtiss JN-3 aircraft. These flew hundreds of reconnaissance flights but also faced serious challenges. The aircraft had problems with their controls and landing mechanism, causing numerous crashes. Since their maximum altitude was 10,000 feet they couldn’t fly over the Sierra Madre mountains—a favorite hiding place for the Villistas (p. 53).

Muddled orders, inconsistent governmental directives, and pressure from the Mexican government also conspired to make Pershing’s task difficult and uncertain. In the end, American troops withdrew, never successfully eliminating the Villistas. The border between the United States and Mexico was to remain unsettled and troublesome—even as it is today. Some of the officers who led troop formations during the Punitive Expedition were to lead thousands of troops during the Great War (p. 65), including George S. Patton. General Villa was to live out a comfortable retirement in Chihuahua until his assassination in 1923.

This book is a work of solid scholarly research containing a myriad of details that help us understand how the expedition was carried out, the obstacles it faced, and the varying opinions of its success. I highly recommend it to those interested in the history of the United States Army and of U.S./Mexican relations in the period immediately prior to America’s entry into World War One.

David F. Beer

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Allies' Great Advantage: Global Maritime Trade

An Atlantic Convoy Underway for Europe

Historian Keith Neilson of the Royal Military College of Canada  suggests the Entente, plus the United States, had a decisive edge in the industrial style of war that quickly emerged in 1914

The First World War marks a watershed in political, social and military terms. In a political sense, it brought an end to the long nineteenth century and caused the collapse of four empires, ushered in Bolshevism and set the stage for both fascism and Nazism. It also upset the existing social order, bringing about a revolution in the relations between ruled and rulers. All of this occurred due to what has been termed the first ‘total war’, a conflict that involved all aspects of society at an unprecedented level  Such remarks are commonplace (and to some extent debatable). However, what is undeniable is that the First World War was fought on an industrial scale, and that munitions of war were consumed at an unprecedented and formerly impossible rate. At  the simplest level, this was possible because of the industrial revolution. However, such a statement, while true, is to simplify and homogenize what occurred. A deeper-level analysis demonstrates that it was not the industrial revolution as such, but the surrounding changes that accompanied it, that made possible the actual conflict as it was fought and the consumption of articles of war at the level that occurred. Further, such an analysis shows that the two sides – the Entente and the Central Powers – fought the munitions war in different fashions, styles dictated by their geography and their pre-war economic and financial circumstances. A comparative study of both coalitions would entail much more than can be attempted in a limited space. However, the broad outlines of how the Entente provided itself with munitions during period from 1914 to 1918 suggests that its activities with regard to supply during the conflict had a particular, maritime, style, quite different from that of its Continental opponents. . .

In the nineteenth century, the economic dominance granted to Europe (and its transatlantic derivatives in North America) by its technological and  manufacturing advances, gave it a global economic hegemony that is only now beginning to wane. Accompanying this advantage was the development of a new style of trade, most prominent in the north Atlantic region. The new  trading system linked the new manufacturing techniques of the industrial revolution with the revolutions in transportation and communications – primarily the railroad and steam powered iron ships with regard to the former and the telegraph (both locally and transoceanic) with respect to the latter – to produce an integrated global trading system. This first globalization centered upon Britain. As the center of the international banking world and possessing the bulk of the world’s ocean-going mercantile marine, Britain was the hub of the new order. International commerce flowed through Britain: British banks provided capital for overseas investment to an extent well beyond that of any other country. .  . When the war began, the globalized economy began to come apart. This was most noticeable on the Continent, where pre-1914 trading patterns were shattered by the advance of armies. Globally, the British implemented a course of economic warfare designed to crash the German economy (and, incidentally, with it the entire global trading system).  As a result of this, although the plans for economic warfare soon turned into the blockade, a lesser, if still effective, manifestation of economic pressure,

Germany and the Central Powers were largely excluded from the global trading system, except by indirect means involving neutrals. While even this limited access was important, the Central Powers were thrown back on an earlier, semi-autarkic economic system for the duration of the war.  Not so, the Entente. While the global trading system was deformed by the war, the Entente retained its access to the wider world. 

An American Worker Trimming Shells for the Entente

What does all this suggest? The obvious conclusion is that the Entente, as a maritime coalition, pursued a style of warfare sharply different from that of the Central Powers. Able to gain access to global resources, the Entente powers had a distinct advantage in providing munitions for its forces. The focus of this was Britain, and it seems fair to conclude that there is a distinct British way in munitions just as much as it has been argued that there is a distinct British way in warfare.  While the British also pursued an increase in their domestic production by means similar to the Continental states through the setting up of the Ministry of Munitions, their preferred approach reflected their pre-war economic commitment to free trade and globalization.

Such an approach had many advantages in the war. The ability to tap global resources acted as a multiplier effect on the economics of Britain and her Allies. In fact, those looking to discover why the Entente won the First World War might begin profitably by looking at the advantages that the economic style of a maritime power provided. While the famous geographer and geopolitician, Halford Mackinder, had argued before the war that the Power that controlled the Asian heartland was destined to control the world, he might better have been advised to contend that the Power which had maritime access to the world’s resources might dominate the globe.

Source: "The Maritime Way in Munitions: The Entente and Supply in the First World War,"   Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Issues 3 & 4, 2012

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Emergence of Phosgene Gas

The shadow of gas warfare is very long and covers us still. The very agents used in the Great War are still causing death and injury through deployment in conflict areas such as Iraq and Syria. Industrial accidents, train derailments and dumped or buried gas shells are other sources of poison gas hazards. In this age of terrorism. . . frontline resuscitation specialists, may be directly involved in the management of gas casualties or become victims ourselves. Several other lethal gases were used in the Great War, including diphosgene, chloropicrin, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic trichloride, and chlorvinyldichlorarsine (dubbed lewisite—the "dew of death"). However in terms of quantity, the most important gases used were chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas. For example, Germany produced mustard gas at a rate of 300 tons per month. Chlorine was, eventually, chosen as the first gas for mass use.  It proved, however, to have limitations for the user, and counter-measures became more effective.

A more lethal gas emerges

As defenses against chlorine gas became increasingly effective, a new more lethal gas was being developed: phosgene. This gas is easy to manufacture and can be produced, for example, by mixing carbon monoxide and chlorine gas and exposing the mixture to sunlight. It has the chemical formula COCl2  and is colorless and denser than chlorine, reducing its ability to spread easily. Phosgene can also form unintentionally when chloroform or other chlorinated solvent is degraded by ultraviolet light in the presence of oxygen. Trichloroethylene (trilene) can also breakdown to hydrogen chloride, dichloroacetyline, and phosgene at high temperatures as can occur in sodalime. This reaction was described by Australian pediatric anesthetist Margaret McClelland, OBE, in 1944 and is believed to have caused trigeminal nerve toxicity in some patients.

Effects of phosgene

Although high concentrations of phosgene can be rapidly fatal, lower concentrations are much less irritating to breathe than chlorine, with a not unpleasant odor like freshly mown hay. As a consequence, soldiers tended to inhale more phosgene than a similar concentration of chlorine. Soldiers exposed to low concentrations of phosgene could remain battle-effective initially.

However, over hours, phosgene reacts with lung fluids, resulting in the formation of hydrogen chloride and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen chloride then forms  hydrochloric acid, which damages the alveoli leading to severe pulmonary edema and heart failure.

A graphic description of the effects of phosgene poisoning is provided in the book Death’s Men—Soldiers of the Great War:

shallow breathing and retching, pulse up to 120, an ashen face and the discharge of 4 pints of yellow liquid from the lungs each hour for the 48 of the drowning spasms”.  Of the estimated 91,000 deaths due to gassing in the Great War perhaps 80-85% were due to phosgene, mostly Russians on the Eastern front. The Russian soldiers had little protection against any type of gas.      


116 Russian soldiers were victims of a gas attack on
9 August 1916 at Krevo, Belarus

Treatment of phosgene poisoning

Patients exposed to phosgene gas were treated in a similar way to chlorine poisoning including bed rest and oxygen therapy. Venesection was sometimes used, an amount of 15 ounces was described in one case (about 450 ml).

Delivery of phosgene on the battlefield

Phosgene was often mixed with chlorine gas to help spread the denser phosgene. The Allies referred to this mixture as "white star" after the markings on their gas shells. The Germans painted their chlorine/phosgene shells with a green cross. The first German mixed chlorine/phosgene attack occurred at Wieltje, near Ypres in December 1915, using cylinders.

Chlorine/phosgene mixture gas attacks were used extensively during the battle of the Somme (July–November 1916).

Australian Engineers Releasing Phosgene
(Possible Drill?)

Increased troop protection

By the time phosgene was being used in late 1915, the British were using the "P" or Phenate or Tube helmet. Unlike the Hypo Helmet, the P helmet had two mica eye pieces and a mouth piece with an exhaust valve for exhalation. It was made up of two layers of flannel and was soaked in sodium phenylate and glycerine, which provided increased protection against phosgene and chlorine.

The PH helmet was then issued in January 1916. PH stood for phenate/hexamine and hexamethylene tetramine and this combination offered even more protection against phosgene. To counteract the efficiency of these gas helmets, chlorine and phosgene were often delivered with tear gas. This would cause lacrimation, coughing and choking and tempt the soldier to pull off his gas helmet and subsequently be gassed.

In January 1916 the familiar canister gas-mask was introduced with a face mask, hose, and a canister containing absorbent materials to filter out or destroy toxic  gases. This British version was known as the "Small Box Respirator," and it was carried in a bag on the chest at all times. Materials in the canister included pumice mixed with hexamine to neutralize phosgene and powdered charcoal mixed with potassium carbonate to neutralize chlorine. Activated charcoal was used extensively. It is a highly porous form with greatly increased surface area and increased absorbency.  Wood charcoal was used initially as the absorbent, but charcoal made from seeds, nuts, fruit stones and shells was found to be more effective. The Germans favored a version of the gas mask that dispensed with the hose between the mask and the canister, called snout canisters.

But then a new horror appeared—mustard gas—"the king of battle gases."

A final thought on today's threats

In the era of terrorism that we all live in, poisonous gas is being used to forward the twisted ideology of various groups. For example on 14 March 2016 the Daily Telegraph in Sydney reported that Islamic State militants used chlorine gas and sulfur mustard when attacking the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk.

We must not think of poisonous gas as merely a very dark chapter of a very terrible war but rather an ongoing menace to combatants and civilians alike in a world stricken by conflicts past, present, and future.

From: "Gas: The Greatest Terror of the Great War," A.P. Padley, Westmead Hospital, Westmead, NSW

Saturday, November 20, 2021

When Lebanon Came into Being

French Representative General Henri Gouraud
Announces Creation of Lebanon

In November 1918, Britain and France declared their intention of establishing in Syria and Iraq “national governments drawing their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native populations.” By the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, France was to be free to establish its administration in Lebanon and on the coast and to provide advice and assistance to whatever regime existed in the interior. In March 1920 a Syrian Congress meeting in Damascus elected Faisal king of a united Syria including Palestine; but in April the Allied Conference of San Remo decided that both should be placed under the new mandate system and that France should have the mandate for Syria. In June 1920 a French ultimatum demanding Syrian recognition of the mandate was followed by a French occupation and the expulsion in July of Faisal.

The mandate placed on France the responsibility of creating and controlling an administration, of developing the resources of the country, and of preparing it for self-government. A number of local governments were set up: one for the Al-Anariyyah Mountains region, where the majority belonged to the Alawite sect, one for the Jabal al-Duruz region, where most of the inhabitants were Druze, and eventually one for the rest of Syria, with its capital at Damascus. The French mandatory administration carried out much constructive work. Roads were built; town planning was carried out and urban amenities were improved; land tenure was reformed in some districts; and agriculture was encouraged, particularly in the fertile Al-Jazirah. The University of Damascus was established, with its teaching being mainly in Arabic.

It was more difficult to prepare Syria for self-government because of the difference between French and Syrian concepts of what was implied. Most French officials and statesmen thought in terms of a long period of control. Further, they did not wish to hand over power to the Muslim majority in a way that might persuade their Christian protégés that they were giving up France’s traditional policy of protecting the Christians of the Levant.

The first crisis in Franco-Syrian relations came in 1925 when a revolt in Jabal Al-Droze, sparked by local grievances, led to an alliance between the Druze rebels and the nationalists of Damascus, newly organized in the People’s Party. For a time the rebels controlled much of the countryside. In October 1925, bands entered the city of Damascus itself, and this led to a two-day bombardment by the French (see Druze revolt). The revolt did not subside completely until 1927, but even before the end of 1925, the French had started a policy of conciliation.

Druze Rebel Leader Sheikh Hilal al-Atrash, 1925

The administration of the region under the French was carried out through a number of different governments and territories, including the Syrian Federation (1922–24), the State of Syria (1924–30) and the Syrian Republic (1930–1958), as well as smaller states: the State of Greater Lebanon, the Alawite State, and Jabal Druze State. Hatay was annexed by Turkey in 1939. The French mandate lasted until 1943, when two independent countries emerged, Syria and Lebanon. French troops completely left Syria and Lebanon in 1946.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica Article; Wikipedia

Friday, November 19, 2021

Moline, Illinois, Has a Magnificent World War I Memorial

Moline, Illinois, World War I memorial is located at 630 18th Street, adjacent to the Township offices.  Around the flagpole is a sculpture by C.S. Paolo consisting of a circular grouping of bronze figures.  The figures include a soldier, an angel of glory, an angel of mourning, a boy, and father time. Another angel stands behind holding a semicircular garland. It was dedicated in 1929.

On Veterans Day 2021, Landmarks Illinois published its new comprehensive database containing more than 300 WWI monuments and memorials throughout the state. Explore the database HERE.

Thanks to Steve Miller for bringing this new resource to our attention.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Recommended: Historical Approaches to Post-Combat Disorders by Prof. Edgar Jones

Wow!  This article is highly recommended.  Professor Edgar Jones is Professor in the History of Medicine and Psychiatry at King's College London. He has studied both conventional armed forces and terrorism, exploring how individuals cope during periods of intense stress and the impact of traumatic experiences on their wellbeing.   In 2006, he published this—highly readable for the layperson—article in which he discusses post-combat disorders from pre-WWI to the Middle East Wars of the 21st Century. His article has tremendous breadth and hundreds of interesting details about war, soldiers, and suffering I've never appreciated before.  Here is the abstract for his article.  The link to download the full ten-page paper (pdf document) follows.

Almost every major war in the last century involving western nations has seen combatants diagnosed with a form of post-combat disorder. Some took a psychological form (exhaustion, combat fatigue, combat stress reaction and post-traumatic stress disorder), while others were characterized by medically unexplained symptoms (soldier’s heart, effort syndrome, shell shock, non-ulcer dyspepsia, effects of Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome). Although many of these disorders have common symptoms, the explanations attached to them showed considerable diversity often reflected in the labels themselves. These causal hypotheses ranged from the effects of climate, compressive forces released by shell explosions, side effects of vaccinations, changes in diet, toxic effects of organophosphates, oil-well fires or depleted-uranium munitions. Military history suggests that these disorders, which coexisted in the civilian population, reflected popular health fears and emerged in the gaps left by the advance of medical science. While the current Iraq conflict has yet to produce a syndrome typified by medically unexplained symptoms, it is unlikely that we have seen the last of post-combat disorders as past experience suggests that they have the capacity to catch both military planners and doctors by surprise.

Download the full paper


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Nellie Bly, World War One Correspondent: A Roads Classic

Nelly Bly! Nellie Bly! Bring the broom along,
We'll sweep the kitchen clean, my dear, and have a little song.
"Nellie Bly" by Stephen Foster

Nellie Bly, Correspondent

Pioneer reporter Nellie Bly, unlike her namesake, never stayed in the kitchen. Long after she had spent ten days in an asylum and have traveled around the world in record time, Nellie sent this report back from the Great War's Eastern Front.

[By] Miss Nellie Bly, special correspondent for the Evening Journal, on the firing line at Przemysl, Austria: 

Przemsyl, Nov. 1 — After the hospital feast all the officers and Prince posed for photographs. Colonel John was very anxious that no journalists should be in the group. The prince then bade us good-bye and disappeared over the hill, followed by two officers. We returned to our wagons. 

Our drivers were roasting potatoes among burning branches. They grabbed the hot potatoes and put them in the pockets of their sheepskin coats. Lieutenant Pichl and Acting Captain Arthur Nichl – the only black-eyed man among the thousands – asked me to stop at the Red Cross hospital. They both belong to the Tyrol and have been stationed here since the beginning of the war. They mounted their really fine horses. and rode along, one on each side of my wagon.

In the valley between us and the Russians is a village — the name I must not tell you. A fierce battle was fought there, and firing is kept on the village constantly. The land is covered with dead soldiers and officers of both armies. Perhaps the living among them. The dead cannot be buried, the living cannot be aided until the rain of hellish fire ceases. 


Dr. Johann Hand, the commander of the second Red Cross section, was delighted to see us. He proudly led me around to see all points of interest.

His "palace," as he called his cave, was just being finished. It was constructed just like all others except that a pane of glass, from a destroyed house, furnished him with one window. He insisted on my having a cup of tea — with rum — and drank a toast to America as I drank one to Austria. Dr. Hand has forty ambulances. They carry four men lying, or two men lying and four sitting, or eight sitting. He has eighty well-fed, good-looking strong horses. Splendid covered shelters have been built for them. Well-made, strong tents warmly lined with straw are provided for all the soldiers, and larger ones, with good-looking bunks, are ready for patients.

Splendid kitchens are under shelter, and small kitchens, which can be carried by a man, set down anywhere and used, are kept for emergencies. The man who made the tea had a broad smile all the while. Finally, when we were inspecting the different places, he touched me on the elbow.


"Please put in the Journal," he said, "that I am Henry Cross. I come from Lemberg. I had a barber shop on Fourth Avenue for many years. I came home to visit friends, and here I am. I want to go back to America. I will be an American citizen and stay there.”

Dr. Hand insisted on having me pose with him for a photograph. Beside us stood his assistant surgeon, his chaplain, George Kiener, of Salsburg, and others of his staff. The doctor held a bottle of medicine. It was iodine, the one remedy here for cholera. 


Between us and the Russians is a distance of 1,500 feet. In the valley between us and the Russians is a village. The name I must not tell you. A fierce battle was fought there, and firing is kept on the village constantly. The land is covered with dead soldiers and officers of both armies. Perhaps the living are among them. They have been there for ten days. The dead cannot be buried, the living cannot be aided until the rain of hellish fire ceases. Meanwhile the air is purified.

There can be no doubt but that at this point the Russian condition must be frightful. Dead and dying of cholera, the Russian soldiers are found along the line of battle or left behind in the trenches, where they are found by the advancing Austrians. Several times at night Russians have returned to the trenches to recover straw, and abandoned arms and knapsacks show with what desperation they seized the remnants of straw.

At one point a river or stream divides the two enemies. In the morning the soldiers of Francis Joseph and the Czar have met on the banks, each in quest of water. They take their water, and even barter with each other for cigarettes. Then they return to their different positions to open deadly fire upon each other.

The day is done. We enter our wagons for our return. I glance sadly at the dark, cold trenches. I say farewell to those I know. And the terrible booming and slaughter keep on ceaselessly.

A 2002 Issue Stamp Worthy of an American Legend

Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Cochran in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania, May 1864. Her adventures came about due to her work for the New York World newspaper. This was the age of "stunt" journalism, and Bly’s first report was to be an exposé of a women’s lunatic asylum. Pretending to be demented, Bly was admitted and experienced the lot of the patients confined on the island. The food was rancid, the nurses brutal, and the asylum hardly fit for humans. The article she wrote was a breakthrough in investigative journalism and led to reform for mental hospitals. 

Her next adventure was one that brought her worldwide fame. Bly undertook a challenge to make a trip around the world in a time faster than Phileas Fogg’s 80 days. She set out with a special passport signed by the Secretary of State, on 14 November 1889. Her voyage started in seasickness but would end in triumph. In France, she met Jules Verne, who thought she might manage the trip in 79 days but never the 75 she hoped. Having steamed across seas, gone through the Suez Canal, seen Colombo and Aden, visited a Chinese leper colony, and bought a monkey, Bly made it back to New York in a time of 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes.

Many adventures later filled with family and business conflicts and fleeing a warrant, she found herself in Vienna when war broke out. She began sending articles to the Evening Journal. She visited the battlefields, even trying out the trenches, and promoted U.S. aid and involvement to save Austria from the Bolsheviks.

In 1919, she returned to New York, where she successfully sued her mother and brother for return of her house and what remained of the business she had inherited from her husband. She returned to the New York Evening Journal, this time writing an advice column. She also worked to help place orphans into adoptive homes, and adopted a child herself at age 57.

Nellie Bly was still writing for the Journal when she died of heart disease and pneumonia in 1922. In a column published the day after she died, famous reporter Arthur Brisbane called her "the best reporter in America."

Sources:  Various Nellie Bly Websites provided the material and thanks to Donna G. for the inspiration.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Letters from a Yankee Doughboy: Private 1st Class Raymond W. Maker in World War I

By Bruce H. Norton
Academia Press, 2019
Terrence J. Finnegan, Reviewer

PFC Raymond Maker

Primary source material on World War I combat experience is a luxury that the enthusiast of the era savors. Bruce Norton’s published work of his grandfather Raymond Maker’s experiences as a soldier in the 104th Infantry Regiment of the 26th “Yankee” Division is a case in point. About 125 letters and 365 pocket diary entries written by Maker covering his time in France during the war are published.

Looking at the information shared is a reminder that all correspondence was censored by a senior rank. The journal was kept private and not shared. The reviewer’s own stock of letters from this time were subject to such extensive scrutiny that the subject matter was watered down to just trite statements of "feeling fine" and "went to church today." Censorship was reduced or eliminated come the Armistice—many a true feeling came forth after 11 November. Such is the case with Maker’s writings.

Private 1st Class Maker fought at Bois Brule in the Seicheprey sector on 10 April 1918. The 104th Infantry Regiment under the command of Colonel George Shelton, was the target of a three-day Ersturmung (taking by assault) by the 5. Landwehr Division. They failed and the 104th quickly became recognized for success in holding the ground and not losing a single foot of trench. The three-day battle was the first victory of American arms in the war. Maker’s role in the battle is not very clear. His journal for 10 April cites, “Moved around…today. Very tired this am, but I am feeling fine.” On 12 April (day of the second attack), he writes, “I got shelled today. It was fierce. Weather is fine and so am I. But believe me, a little shaky.” On the third day of the battle, Maker wrote, “Fixed my lines today, that had been blown up. This still gets on my nerves. Weather is fine, and I feel very tired.”

A large mural on the third floor of the Massachusetts State House features the 104th infantry regiment of the 26th “Yankee” Division. In this painted scene they become the first American military unit to have its colors (flag) decorated by a foreign government for its service at Apremont, April 1918.

On 28 April, Maker wrote in his journal, “Nothing different. Had a big review today by General Edwards and a Frog (General de Division Fenelon Passaga). It rained all day. The Regiment was decorated. Am feeling fine. I wish I could hear from home.” The next day he wrote his sister, “The Regiment that I am with, the 104 Infantry Battalion [sic—Regiment], had a Grand Review yesterday, by both an American and French General and a lot of us boys were given the French War Cross (Croix de Guerre) and the Regimental Colors were given the Cross of War (Couer de Guerre), so you can see that I am with a good outfit.” French recognition resulted in 117 being awarded the Croix de Guerre. It was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that a regiment was decorated en masse by an appreciative foreign government.

It was during the Aisne-Marne campaign that summer that Maker suffered his first war injury. On 20th his journal recorded, “Am all in. Got gassed this morning…. waiting to go to the hospital.” On 26 July he wrote his sister, "A fellow by the name of Smith (my pal) and myself crawled into the dugout and had a sleep. Well, we had not been asleep very long when someone yelled, ‘Gas, Gas!’ And I guess that they yelled too late because by the time we got our masks on we started to throw up and then everything went black for us. We came to a little while later and were sent to the hospital and then on to Base Hospital 31, and here I am.” On August 12th, he wrote his sister, "I am still at the hospital and go out every afternoon.” He returned to his outfit on 26 August.

Maker took a moment in September to write in his journal, “A year ago, this month we left, and we came here like Norman Prince, dying to get to France, and now, I’m dying to get home. I’ve seen a lot of active service and have been very lucky. This little book is about the only treasure I own, and I hope that I will be able to get it home with me, if I ever get there. Raymond W. Maker.”

Yankee Division Infantry Advancing Toward Bouresches Woods,
Torcy, France, 17 July 1918

The final campaign in the Verdun sector shares reflections on several issues. In letters dated the 4th of November, he recounts the thrill of seeing a German aviator destroying an observation balloon. " I saw a German come over today and he brought down one of our balloons. It was a great job, but I don’t think he got away. I guess he got his. I wish you could have seen it, he dove right down out of the sky and opened up with his machine guns and set the balloon on fire. A subsequent account provides more detail. "I saw a Boche get one of our balloons yesterday and it was a great job that he did. The balloon was up quite high and the fellow inside jumped out (they come down on parachutes like they do at the fairs.) And then the balloon caught on fire, but we have another one up early this morning that doesn’t bother us very much, but I guess that they got the Boche all right. We are getting a pile of their flying machines."

The 104th finished combat on the Verdun battleground. He reflected after the Armistice, "I never expected to come back because Verdun was hell. That’s all a Frog soldier told me. We never saw war until we were at Verdun and now I know he was right.” On November 9th, two days before the Armistice, Maker was wounded again. "We went up at 2 am, this morning. And I ran wire and went over the top at about 8 am, and I got caught in a German artillery barrage. I was lucky, a small shell fragment got to my leg, only a few others hurt and killed. Am all in, tonight. Such mud. Leg wound not serious."

When the Armistice came on 11 November, despite his recent wound, Maker exulted, "Today is one of the happiest days of my life. The War is off, thank God. And all the boys have gone about half mad with joy. Bands are playing all day and at night all kinds of flares in the sky. The best part of it all is that our Division was in the front lines and we were at Verdun, the greatest place in history.”

Waiting to return to the United States showed his frustration and anxiety about getting home. He had served honorably and possessed the wounds to show it. "We get our third service stripe on the 5th of April, so I will be fairly well fixed for stripes. I can wear two wound stripes to brag about, if I want to.” On 18 April 1919, Maker telegrammed home, “Will be home early tomorrow morning.” A very well-deserved homecoming! 

Terrence J. Finnegan,