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

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Under Bombardment — A Roads Classic

View of a Bombardment

[Editor's Note:  This is one of the best descriptions I've ever read of what it was like to be the target of a pre-attack bombardment from the enemy.  It's from the novel Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison  (1898–1954), who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He was wounded in August 1918 in the Battle of Amiens and survived the war.]

We never become accustomed to the shellfire. Its terror for us increases with each passing day. The days out on rest ease our harried nerves, but as soon as we are back in the line again we are as fearful and jumpy as the newest recruit. With the first hiss and roar of a shell we become terror-stricken as of old.

We look at each other with anxious, frightened faces.

Our lips tighten.

Our eyes open wide.

We do not talk.

What is there to say?

Talk of the coming offensive continues.

The sector becomes more tumultuous.

The guns rage all night.

We "stand to" long before dawn and wait at the parapets expecting an attack until long after sunrise.

The fatigues are innumerable.

Every night there are wiring parties, sapping parties, carrying parties. We come back exhausted from these trips. We throw ourselves down in the dugouts for an hour's sleep.

But we do not rest.

There is no time for rest. We stagger around like drunken, forsaken men. Life has become an insane dream.

Sleep, sleep–if only we could sleep.

Our faces become grey. Each face is a different shade of grey. Some are chalk-coloured, some with a greenish tint, some yellow. But all of us are pallid with fear and fatigue.

It is three in the morning.

Our section is just back from a wiring party.

The guns are quiet.

Dawn is a short while off . . .

We sit on the damp floor of the dugout.

We have one candle between us and around this we sit chewing at the remains of the day's rations.

German Troops Undergoing an Artillery Barrage in an Underground  Bunker

Suddenly the bombardment begins.

The shells begin to hammer the trench above.

The candlelight flickers.

We look at each other apprehensively. We try to talk as though the thing we dread most is not happening.

The sergeant stumbles down the steps and warns us to keep our battle equipment on.

The dugout is an old German one; it is braced by stout wooden beams. We look anxiously at the hole of the ceiling in which we sit.

The walls of the dugout tremble with each crashing explosion.

The air outside whistles with the rush of the oncoming shells.

The German gunners are "feeling" for our front line.

The crashing of the shells comes closer and closer. Our ears are attuned to the nuances of a bombardment. We have learned to identify each sound.

They are landing on the parapet and in the trench itself now.

We do not think of the poor sentry, a new arrival, whom we have left on lookout duty.

We crowd closer to the flickering candle.

Upstairs the trench rings with a gigantic crack as each shell lands. An insane god is pounding it with Cyclopean fists, madly, incessantly.

We sit like prehistoric men within the ring of flickering light which the candle casts. We look at each other silently.

A shell shatters itself to fragments near the entrance of the dugout.

The candle is snuffed out by the concussion.

We are in complete darkness.

Another shell noses its shrieking way into the trench near the entrance and explodes. The dugout is lit by a blinding red flash. Part of the earthen stairway caves in.


In the blackness the rigging and thudding over our heads sounds more malignant, more terrible.

We do not speak.

Each of us feels an icy fear gripping at the heart.

With a shaking hand Cleary strikes a match to light the candle. The small flame begins to spread its yellow light. Grotesque, fluttering shadows creep up the trembling walls.

Another crash directly over our heads!

It is dark again.

Fry speaks querulously:

"Gee, you can't even keep the damned thing lit."

At last the flame sputters and flares up.

Broadbent's face is green.

The bombardment swells, howls, roars.

The force of the detonations causes the light of the candle to become a steady, rapid flicker. We look like men seen in an ancient, unsteady motion picture.

The fury of the bombardment makes me ill at the stomach.

Broadbent gets up and staggers into a corner of our underground room.

He retches.

Fry starts a conversation.

We each say a few words trying to keep the game alive. But we speak in broken sentences. We leave thoughts unfinished. We can think of only one thing–will the beams in the dug-out hold?

We lapse into fearful silences.

We clench our teeth.

It seems as though the fire cannot become more intense. But it becomes a little more rapid–then more rapid. The pounding increases in tempo like a noise in the head of one who is going under an anesthetic. Faster.

The explosions seem as though they are taking place in the dugout itself. The smoke of the explosives fills the room.

Fry breaks the tension.

"The lousy swine," he says. "Why don't they come on over, if they're coming?"

We all speak at once. We punctuate our talk with vile epithets belittling the sexual habits of the enemy. We seem to get relief in this fashion.

In that instant a shell hurtles near the opening over our heads and explodes with a snarling roar. Clods of earth and pieces of the wooden supports come slithering down the stairway.

It is dark again. In the darkness we hear Anderson speak in his singsong voice:

"How do you expect to live through this with all your swearing and taking the Lord's name in vain?"

For once we do not heap abuse and ribaldry on his head. We do not answer.

We sit in the darkness, afraid even to light the candle. It seems as though the enemy artillerymen have taken a dislike to our candle and are intent on blowing it out.

I look up the shattered stairway and see a few stars shining in the sky.

At least we are not buried alive!

The metallic roar continues.

Fry speaks: "If I ever live through this, I'll never swear again, so help me God."

We do not speak, but we feel that we will promise anything to be spared the horror of being buried alive under tons of earth and beams which shiver over our heads with each explosion. Bits of earth from the ceiling begin to fall . . .

Suddenly, as quickly as it began, the bombardment stops.

We start to clear up the debris from the bottom of the stairs.

To think we could propitiate a senseless god by abstaining from cursing!

What god is there as mighty as the fury of a bombardment? More terrible than lightning, more cruel, more calculating than an earthquake!

How will we ever be able to go back to peaceful ways again and hear pallid preachers whimper of their puny little gods who can only torment sinners with sulfur, we who have seen a hell that no god, however cruel, would fashion for his most deadly enemies?

Canadian Troops Awaiting an Enemy Assault

Yes, all of us have prayed during the maniac frenzy of a bombardment.

Who can live through the terror-laden minutes of drum-fire and not feel his reason slipping, his manhood dissolving?

Selfish, fear-stricken prayers–prayers for safety, prayers for life, prayers for air, for salvation from the death of being buried alive . . .

Back home they are praying, too–praying for victory–and that means that we must lie here and rot and tremble forever . . .

We clear away the debris and go to the top of the broken stairs.

It is quiet and cool.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Thank You World War One for the Sun lamp

Berlin Children Suffering from Rickets, Around 1918

In the winter of 1918, it's estimated that half of all children in Berlin were suffering from rickets—a condition whereby bones become soft and deformed. At the time, the exact cause was not known, although it was associated with poverty.

A pediatrician in the city, a former medic in German Army – Kurt Huldschinsky – noticed that his patients were very pale. He decided to conduct an experiment on four of them, including one known today only as Arthur, who was three years old. He put the four of them under mercury-quartz lamps which emitted ultraviolet light.

Huldschinsky may have been inspired by he earlier work of Danish-Faroese-Icelandic physician, Niels Ryberg Finsen (1860–1904), who received the 1903 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology, for his pioneering work on the therapeutic and physiological effects of light treatment from artificial light sources.

Dr. Huldschinsky

As the treatment continued, Huldschinsky noticed that the bones of his young patients were getting stronger. In May 1919, when the sun of summer arrived, he had them sit on the terrace in the sun. The results of his experiment, when published, were greeted with great enthusiasm. Children around Germany were brought before the lights. In Dresden, the child welfare services had the city's street lights dismantled to be used for treating children.

Researchers later found that Vitamin D is necessary to build up the bones with calcium and that this process is triggered by ultraviolet light. The undernourishment brought on by war produced the knowledge to cure the ailment.  

Dr. Huldschinsky was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work. By the 1920s and '30s, light therapy was all the rage and manufacturers in Europe and America were making shiny new sun lamps that cast ultraviolet rays—and that also came to be used for cosmetic tanning.

Of course, the use of ultraviolet light is now treated with much greater caution: overexposure to ultraviolet light over a long period of time can lead to melanoma and other skin cancers.

By the way, Dr. Huldschinsky was Jewish and eventually needed to flee Germany. He emigrated to Egypt, where he was allowed to practice, passing away in 1940.

Source: BBC; NIH: Circulating Now, 20 December 2016

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Three Great Readings of Siegfried Sassoon's World War One Poems

"Dreamers" read by Tom O'Bedlam

"Aftermath" read by Charles Dance

"Everyone Sang" read by Sir John Gielgud

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A Baker's Dozen Images of Britain's World War I Arms Industry

In 2015, Historic England conducted a retrospective survey of the nation's First World War National Factories. These factories were directly controlled by the Ministry of Munitions to produce vital war material, everything from wooden boxes, respirators, shells, and explosives to optical glass and vehicle radiators. Many were adapted from existing works, while others were located in specially designed factories. Some were finished to high architectural standards and followed the latest thinking in factory design and the provision of welfare facilities. 

Over 8,700 companies and factories in the UK produced munitions of various sorts during the Great War. However, of these only 218 were directly administered by the Ministry of Munitions as National Factories. Of these, 170 National Factories were established in England, at 174 locations, with the balance located in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

Roads to the Great War presents here a baker's dozen of the most interesting photos from Historic England's final research report.  They are all displayed at 580px width, but by clicking on them you can expand them to 1200px, which will make the captions more readable.

Source: "First World War National Factories: An archaeological, architectural and historical review by—A Historic England Assessment" by David Kenyon.

The entire survey report with all 62 images can be downloaded HERE.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis

Order This Title HERE

Adam Hochschild
Mariner Books, 2023
Reviewed by Jim Gallen

American Midnight is the tale of an era during and in the wake of the Great War in which popular sentiment and law focused on anyone deemed disloyal, un-American, or just different. It was a time in which labor unrest and war combined to foment a perfect storm that swept away rights normally accepted as the American birthright. The precipitating force that brought underlying tensions to the surface was American involvement in the Great War. Led by a president, Woodrow Wilson, who saw dissent as treason, Americans united to purge disloyalty from the nation.

Guilt was established by association. Membership in the Industrial Workers of the World, the “Wobblies,” was sufficient to draw investigation, prosecution, and imprisonment. German names established disloyalty and subjected their holders to vigilante violence. Unwillingness to purchase Liberty Bonds merited social ostracisation and worse. In St. Louis, their purchase was offered as satisfaction for speeding tickets.

Suppression of dissent was enforced by patriotic individuals, quasi-official investigators, and direct government action. In Collinsville, Illinois, a row erupted between 30-year-old German native Robert Prager, either because he was preaching socialism or was a company spy, it was not clear which. Though having been rejected by the U.S. Navy due to a glass eye, Prager was seized by a group of miners from his home, stripped to his underwear, and forced him to walk barefoot down the street draped in an American flag. After being rescued by a policeman, police stepped aside while a larger mob removed him and hung him from a hackberry tree.  Commentary in the Washington Post observed, “In spite of such excesses as lynchings, it is a healthful and wholesome awakening in the interior part of the country.”

The American Protective League, APL, “Organized with Approval and Operating under Direction of the United States Department of Justice Bureau of Investigation,” enabled its members unable to go to France to fight the “enemy” domestically. To business leaders it provided forces to fight organized labor. Among APL’s accomplishments were getting 50 Wobblies fired from military plants in Philadelphia and Wobbly farm workers purged from the wheat fields of South Dakota, inspiring a Justice Department official to hail the South Dakota APL as “The Ku Klux Klan of the Prairies."

Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson

Postmaster General Albert Sidney Burleson excluded from the mail publications “calculated to…cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny…or otherwise embarrass or hamper the Government in conducting the war.” Among indiscretions deemed worthy of banishment were saying “that the Government is controlled by Wall Street or munition manufactures, or any other special interest” to “attacking improperly our allies.”

Wisconsin Senator Robert M. Lafollette’s opposition to the war was investigated by the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections to determine whether he deserved expulsion.  Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who had collected over six million votes in 1912 and whose party elected over one thousand state and local officials, was a target due to his opposition to the war. In a June 1918 speech Debs stated the following: “They have always taught you that it is your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourself be slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, never had a voice in declaring war.” That provided the evidence for indictment and conviction under the Espionage Act. His ten-year sentence kept him imprisoned until President Harding commuted his sentence to time served in December 1921.

American Midnight chronicles a time in our history during which American rights melted under the pressure of martial fervor. I recommend it to Roads readers seeking to look beyond the smoke and the sound of the guns for other battlegrounds in which the Great War was waged and the shadow it cast Over Here.

Jim Gallen

Sunday, February 25, 2024

How an American College Supported the War Effort #2: Clemson College

Clemson's Corps of Cadets Before the War

What is now known as Clemson University in South Carolina was founded in 1889 through a bequest from Thomas Green Clemson, a Philadelphia-born, European-educated engineer, musician and artist who married John C. Calhoun’s daughter, Anna Maria, and eventually settled at her family plantation in South Carolina. A longtime advocate for an agricultural college in the Upstate (Western part), Clemson left his home and fortune to the state of South Carolina to create the institution that bears his name.

In November 1889, Gov. John Peter Richardson signed a bill accepting Clemson’s gift, which established the Clemson Agricultural College and made its trustees custodians of Morrill Act and Hatch Act funds, federally provided for agricultural education and research purposes by federal legislative acts.

Initially an all-male, all-white military school, Clemson College, as it was generally known, opened in July 1893 with 446 students.    In the early years of Clemson, the Board of Trustees decided that Clemson would use a system of military discipline similar to most land-grant colleges of the time.   Students were required to wear uniforms, lived in barracks, held rank, and practiced military tactics.  The Clemson Board of Trustees asked the War Department for the detail of an officer to act as Commandant, responsible for life of cadets outside of the classroom. Clemson became a coeducational, civilian institution in 1955 and the corps of cadets disbanded. With academic offerings and research pursuits, the institution became Clemson University in 1964.

Clemson Students on Military Duty at the Guard Post

The National Defense Act of 1916, which brought all college military training programs under the federally-controlled Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), had just been implemented.   All freshmen and sophomores were required to participate in ROTC.  Juniors and seniors who passed rigorous requirements continued to the advanced ROTC program with the hope of receiving an officer’s commission.  Students not accepted for advanced ROTC still participated in the college’s military program.  

By 1917, Clemson College had just under 1,000 students, approximately 70 faculty members and several dozen other employees.  All the students, faculty and administrators, and most of the staff, were white males. Frequently called Clemson Agricultural College, the school’s main areas of study were agriculture, engineering and textiles. There were five varsity teams – football, basketball, baseball, track and tennis — and inter-class athletic competitions in the same sports.  Literary societies and the YMCA were other popular extracurricular activities. 

Clemson Tiger, 11 April 1917

In April 1917, the entire senior class sent President Woodrow Wilson a telegram, volunteering its services to the United States' World War I effort.   In early May 1917, forty-eight Clemson seniors and twenty-one juniors left campus to go to the Reserve Officer Training Camp at Fort Oglethorpe in northwestern Georgia near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Several were selected to be instructors because of their Clemson military training. By the end of 1917, several hundred Clemson students had entered military service. They were joined by many of the school’s approximately 1,500 alumni and other “Clemson men” who attended the college but never graduated. Clemson’s programs in engineering and mechanics gave many soldiers and sailors an advantage with the new and developing technologies of war. Other graduates participated in important war work, including research in agriculture and mechanics.

From the class of 1917, 79 of the 110 men who volunteered that April day put on the uniform during a time of  war. Their service record speaks for itself; at least 22 saw combat service in France, no less than three confirmed air to air victories by Class of 1917 aviators, three Distinguished Service Crosses, one Navy Cross, four Silver Star Citations, one French Legion d’Honneur and at least four French Croix de Guerre. In addition to students, a number of faculty members, extension workers and other employees left their positions with Clemson College to serve their country in the military or related war work. Other faculty, staff and students who did not enlist were drafted and sent to training camps to prepare to go overseas.

An Everyday Scene During the War at the Campus

After military service created a shortage of male faculty members nationwide, Clemson administrators hired the college’s first women faculty members in Fall 1918. In one case, Rosamond Wolcott replaced her brother Wallace who left his position teaching architecture to join the Army. Wolcott had a B.A. and Master of Architecture from Cornell University. 

The Student Army Training Corps

With the rapid expansion of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe, the U.S. War Department needed more officers and technical experts. Colleges with housing, equipment and expertise for training large numbers of students were seen as ideal places to meet this need with the establishment of the Student Army Training Corps (SATC) program.

Young men at least 18 years old who had not been drafted could apply to one of two tracks of study:

Section A: Men who had completed a grammar school education could enroll in short-term trade and technical classes comparable to college vocational courses.

Section B: Men who had completed a standard high school course of study could study either standard college courses or special war courses in subjects such as engineering, mining, chemistry, physics, bacteriology, and sanitation.

Clemson SATC Students in Training to Be
"Topographic Draftsmen"

The program also included military training and regulations. Students inducted into the SATC were given uniforms, free tuition, room and board and the usual soldier's pay of $30 per month. In May 1918, Clemson began offering short-term courses in auto mechanics, radio operation, blacksmithing and carpentry to men enrolled in SATC Section A. After a number of delays, Clemson began a Section B program on October 1, 1918 with regular college courses in Agriculture, Engineering and Chemistry for over 400 SATC students. The SATC students also had two and a half hours of military training each day and marched to and from classes.  Clemson also had a Naval Section of the SATC with about 80 men. Although uniforms were to be provided, they didn’t arrive at Clemson until the program was almost over.

The Spanish Influenza struck America in the Fall of 1918.  At Clemson, influenza spread through the SATC ranks and into the local community with over 150 cases within a couple of weeks. All healthy non-SATC students were sent home, where some then contracted the disease anyway.  Faculty and staff members’ wives and daughters, local Red Cross volunteers and a few of the students’ mothers helped care for the sick. The Textile Building, Chapel and Trustee House all were used as temporary hospitals. 

With the Armistice,  Clemson's SATC program ended at the close of the Fall 1918 semester. Many students who left for military service gradually returned  to campus to continue their studies. In early 1919, Clemson President Walter M. Riggs was asked to go to France for six months as an Educational Director for the Army Educational Overseas Commission (AEOC). Riggs was stationed at a large university established by the War Department in Beaune, France to teach agricultural and basic mechanics. Clemson professor William H. Mills also went to France to teach with the AEOC.

Memorialization of Clemson's War Sacrifices

World War I Memorial in the Chapel

Approximately 800 Clemson students, former students and graduates served in the military during World War I. Thirty-two men with Clemson connections lost their lives. Clemson held its first memorial service for "The Great War" on March 7, 1919. A tree was planted for each Clemson man who died in service. The area became known as Memorial Grove. 

The afternoon was beautiful and warm and at four o’clock the people had assembled. The cadets marched to the grove in a body with the band…Each of the trees had a United States flag on it. The program was short, but impressive.  First the audience sang ‘America,’ then were led in prayer by Mr. Davis, then Gov. Ansel made his address, which was very good. The planting of the trees came next, this being done by members of the alumni on the faculty, and the Presidents of the Senior and Freshman Classes, each of whom had lost a member in the service. At the conclusion, The Band played ‘the Star Spangled Banner’. 

Letter to College President  Walter Riggs (Serving in Europe), March 8, 1919

Over time, several World War One commemorative plaques were dedicated on the campus. The one displayed above is in the Memorial Chapel. A bridge built over the Seneca River near campus in the 1920s also was dedicated to Clemson men who died in World War I. The bridge is no longer standing.  Similary to other colleges across America, Clemson’s football stadium was named Memorial Stadium as a tribute to the Clemson students who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States. 

Click on Image to Enlarge

The Scroll of Honor

Clemson's service and sacrifices in the Great War has been incorporated into the university's unique and beautiful Scroll of Honor. It honors 498 Clemson students and graduates who have been killed in this nation’s wars and in peace-time operations. Funded With the gifts from thousands of alumni and friends of Clemson,  the Memorial was dedicated in April 2010. The mound is circular in design to represent that duty, honor, and country are values that transcend time.  The names of the fallen and their class years are engraved on stones in random fashion, just as the men fell on the battlefield. The stones are mounted in the barrow at an angle so that visitors must bow their heads to read the names on the stones – as if in reverence to the memory of the heroes.

Cadet Carlos Golightly Harris

In 2014 graduate of the class of 1917,  Carlos Golightly Harris, was added to the wall.  He was discovered to have died from wounds in 1926 that he had received while serving as an officer with the 371st Infantry in France.  In February 1917 Harris contributed an editorial to Chronicle, a school publication on the possibility of prospects of America entering the war.

What will the United States do?’ is the question of the day. . . There seem to be two great motives effecting the minds of the people of the United States. The first is, to avoid war at any price; which motive seems to me to be either the outgrowth of a false and erroneous imagination of honor and credit or the manifestation of the weakest and lowest principles one could imagine – that of utter selfishness. The second and higher motive that effects us is, that motive which prompts us, as a nation, to uphold our honor and prestige for which we have so often fought and bled to obtain. Which would be more honorable, to enter the war as the deciding factor of bringing about world wide peace, and uphold our nation’s rights, or sit by with weakness and patience, and afterwards suffer the less of our prestige, and hear the character of our nation ridiculed with indifference by all the world?

Clemson University Today

Visit How an American College Supported the War Effort #1: Penn StateHERE.

If you have information on your school during World War I please send it along.  I'd like to continue this series. EMAIL

Sources: World War I and the Clemson Community; Tigers in the Trenches: The Clemson College Class of 1917 in the First World War by Alan C. Grubb and Brock Lusk; NARA; and various Clemson University websites.

Thanks to James Patton and Abby Rich, Clemson ’21, for bringing the Clemson story and resources to our attention.