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

Sunday, March 31, 2024

For Easter Sunday — An Imperial Fabergé Red Cross Egg — A Roads Classic

Greater love hath no man than this, 
that a man lay down his life for his friends.

So reads the gilt inscription from the Bible that fills the central band of this opalescent-white enamel egg embellished with two red crosses. A closer look at this treasure also reveals an intricate pattern underneath several layers of enamel, created by a decorative engraving technique known as guilloché.

This is the 24th Imperial Easter Egg that Faberge designed for the Romanov royal family. He created his first for Alexander III in 1885 after being appointed “Supplier to the Court of his Imperial Majesty.”

On top of the egg, is the Cyrillic monogram and crown insignia for the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna—Emperor Nicholas II’s mother; while the two red crosses are bordered at each corner by the dates 1914 and 1915.

It was in August of 1914 that Russia entered World War I by declaring war on Germany and Austria. In less than six months, over a million men were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. In the spring of 1915, Nicholas II presented this Imperial Easter Egg to his mother, who was president of the Red Cross. That same year he would travel to the front line to take personal command of the army.

The simplicity of design and austerity of materials—there are no gemstones used here—reflect the mood of the country. The Fabergé workshops were beginning to produce war supplies, and their London branch was closed down, but that didn’t prevent the House of Fabergé from creating a memorable and beautifully crafted surprise inside this egg.

A gold-trimmed folding screen contains five one-inch oval portraits topped by tiny red crosses. Each miniature painting is surrounded by panels of white guilloché enamel and backed by mother-of-pearl inscribed with the initials of five women who were near and dear to both Nicholas II and his mother. Dressed as Sisters of Mercy, they are from left to right, his sister Olga, his oldest daughter, also named Olga, his wife Alexandra, his second daughter, Tatiana, and his cousin Maria Pavlovna.

True to their cause, the Empress Alexandra and her two eldest daughters did tend the wounded and dying soldiers in a hospital she organized at the Imperial Winter Palace.

This Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg, which was confiscated by order of the Provisional Government in 1917 for safekeeping, was eventually acquired by Lillian Thomas Pratt in 1933.

Found at the Website of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Friday, March 29, 2024

Occupation Duty from an Occupier's Viewpoint

German Hussars in Brussels

by Lieutenant Arne Somersalo, 1st Squadron of Hussars, German Imperial Army

(Editor's note:  The author was a Finnish student studying in Jena, Germany, at the start of the war. He decided to enlist in Germany's army and was eventually commissioned an officer in the Hussars. He served until the Armistice, earning the Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd Class.  Upon returning to Finland, he joined his homeland's army and then air force. Somersalo wrote a popular memoir of his somewhat improbable service with the Kaiser's army. From the samples I've seen he neglected some of the more brutal aspects of the occupation, but includes some interesting details and insights. Strongly anti-Soviet and right-wing, he became a controversial figure during the interwar period. He later fought the Russians in the Winter War and into the Second World War.  He was killed in 1941 while serving as a liaison officer with a German SS Division. MH)

The Author as a German and Finnish Officer

The 1st Squadron of Hussars extended its traditions in Fréniches [near Ham, France] to the early mobile days of the war. One dark August night 1914 it was the first German unit to arrive in that long and narrow village, when pursuing English dragoons. The tired Hussars stopped at the Northern end of the village. The English, equally tired, were sleeping in the other end of the village. The population did not betray either. In the morning the pursuit continued and there was fighting in front of the village.

As the war became stationary the Hussars returned and became regular "guests" of the village. Although the inhabitants had initially shied from them and feared them, the relationship changed in a short time. "Huns" were normal, friendly men. The population was short of meat and the Hussars were lacking potatoes. This became the basis of a mutual common market that became the closer the longer the billeting lasted. Germans learned French, the French learned German, they conversed with a pidgin language consisting of both. They understood each other better than Bavarians and Hamburgers each other. . . 

Often one saw soldiers helping the inhabitants in farm work. As a German would in the evening sit on the stairs of a house, sucking his pipe, the children used to come about, talking and begging for sugar. Patting their heads a German soldier, a family father himself, would remember his own home with yearning.

In the countryside there was no national hatred worth mentioning. The peasants in occupied France understood the situation, obeying all orders with commendable calm - as long as they were not wronged.

During the mobile war they had seen a lot of misery and death that had been equally suffered by the Germans and the French. The inhabitants knew that a soldier had to obey orders, and did not blame him for the misfortune that had fallen on his nation. They even sympathized with our fate, expressing sorrow for our men killed in action, even grieving for those they had learned to know.

During a long time billeting, even intimate relationships came about in the usual way. The French men were away... Moral ideas were liberal enough initially. Later, as troops were rotated, they became totally stunted. The Army command had to organize a strict medical control which did not allow any exceptions, therefore being deeply offensive for the more moral individuals... The Germans were succeeded, as the fortunes of the war were reversed, by French, English, Moroccans, Negroes etc.. The nation sunk ever deeper on its way to perdition.

Probably a Staged Photo Showing a Landlord with
His Billeted "Guests"
(The civilian on the right doesn't appear too jolly, though.)

The fate of an occupied region was also in the happiest case extremely heavy. From early night to late morning the inhabitants were not allowed to leave their abodes. In the daytime they could not leave their village without a passport issued by the Kommandant. They could send letters only by the German Field Mail. They had to live in one room - the others were quarters for German soldiers. They could make use of their property only partly. Almost all farming was under the German army administration. Every family had been left with only a small plot, enabling them to survive. Horses and cattle were registered and could neither be sold nor butchered without the permission of the Kommandant. Products with military usability were confiscated. Even a part of the production of the hen coop had to be handed over. The Kommandant was the lord and king of the village: any time he could order the inhabitants to work duty or put them under arrest. He had to be humbly greeted on the street.

Kommandants were set by the Army or Army Corps HQ. Usually he was the commander of a locally billeted transport column, an older Reserve Officer, who could employ his men and numerous horses for large scale farming. Their tasks were strictly regulated and closely controlled. But the HQs had more important worries, and the Kommandants were fairly independent.

If a Kommandant was good, the village was happy and the inhabitants open-minded and friendly. But a bad Kommandant could bully his subjects to the blackest despair. Most were just and humane, but every one ruled with a heavy hand.

The inhabitants did have some rights. Expropriation and billeting could be executed only by the Kommandant. German soldiers knew what were the consequences of a spontaneous confiscation. After the 1870 war the Army Revision Bureau had sent reminders and payment demands to officers who had acted without orders for more than 30 years. Considering this had a dampening effect, but it did not prevent injustices from happening. Proving a case was often very difficult, especially as troops were moved about. . .

No inhabitant had to starve. The American Relief Committee delivered food with the authority of an international treaty. Export of food (to Germany) was forbidden. Soldiers on furlough were ordered to use trains which were inspected at the German border under the control of the Committee. But as the food crisis in Germany deepened, extra trains were put in traffic. These were not inspected, and the regular trains ran empty.

As the war went on, the ideas on law and justice were modified and "Besorgung" (marauding) became ever wilder. In the rear of the front there happened things seen only in Russia so far. Front troops would strip unoccupied houses of the furniture, for the interest of their unit though, not for any individual.

Checking on the Traffic in the Countryside

Health care was provided free of charge in every occupied village by German military doctors. Before the war the hygienic standards in the countryside of Northern France were appalling. The buildings for quiet isolation called for by human natural needs were totally unknown in large areas. As the Squadron would ride through a village early in the morning the street was lined by a great parade of most various human posteriors. Our laughing muscles were strained and our hands, holding lances, were itching.

Bathing amenities were unknown in chateaus and towns. Once, scouting for quarters for an Army HQ, I entered an unusually large chateau of a count. Built 10 years before the war, it comprised some 60 rooms, including a library of four halls. The librarian was a Jesuit. I enquired him about the bathroom. At first he did not understand my question, then answered perplexedly: "The count and the countess naturally have their baths in Courtai" - 20 km away.

German order made miracles happen. Villages were transformed. Garbage heaps disappeared, the village streets had to be weeded. The inhabitants were forced to clean their courtyards. At first they wondered and grumbled, finally yielding.

Their homes, however, were meticulously clean and orderly. Stone floors were mopped daily and desktops were shining. Vermin was unheard of - except after billeted soldiers. French peasants seemed to concentrate their cleanliness instinct in their homes, only to be the more dirty outside of it...

A Surprisingly Candid Photo That Seems to
Have Evaded Censors

In towns the relationship between the inhabitants and the occupiers was worse. There was less military billeting, and military administration was strict. Townspeople had not suffered much from the war - except the paralysis of trade - and they could take a more detached look at us. They were clandestinely in contact with the "mainland", receiving information - and hope. When a German entered a café all talk was interrupted. They had been talking about the coming liberation. Hated German soldiers received veiled hostile looks.

A woman showing herself on the street with a German officer had defiled herself for ever. That did not, however, prevent them from making closer acquaintance within four walls. Public and clandestine dancing halls flourished. Their number increased in step with the unemployment. All sorts of vices sapped the vitality of the nation, corroding ever deeper as the war continued.

In the country we were like at home, but in towns we were treading volcanic ground. Cemetery soil covers the dust of many a French hero in once occupied areas. Spying for your country, assisting able-bodied young men over the border and passing information are dangerous deeds in an occupied country.


Source: Over the years of struggle. Memoirs of a Finnish soldier from the World War by Arne Somersalo

Thursday, March 28, 2024

On the Generalship of Armando Diaz

Maresciallo d'Italia Armando Diaz

The Italian Army's Supreme Commander for much of the Great War, Luigi Cadorna, is usually listed near the top of the list of the war's "Donkey Generals." However, his post-Caporetto replacement performed quite capably but is, today, mostly forgotten. This is partly due to the fact that—postwar—he served in Mussolini's first Fascist government. I think his year in the top job was impressive and worth recalling.

An Italian of Spanish descent and born in Naples, Armando Diaz (1861–1928) started his military career very early. After attending the military school at Nunziatella, he became an artillery officer at the military academy in Turin in 1884. His first active service was during the war against Turkey in 1911, where he served as a lieutenant colonel and infantry commander in Libya. Promoted to major general in 1914, he was assigned to Luigi Cadorna’s (1850–1928) staff when Italy joined World War I. 

In 1916, he asked to serve in a combatant unit and was promoted to lieutenant general and commander of the 49th Division in the 3rd Army at the Isonzo Front. After being wounded in service, he received a silver medal for his valuable military contributions.After the defeat at Caporetto, Diaz replaced Cadorna as chief of the  general  staff on 9 November 1917, while the great retreat was still underway. He led the reorganization of the remaining forces to stand on the Monte Grappa massif and along the Piave River, which successfully halted the German and Austro-Hungarian offensive.

Later, under his command, the Italian Army, supported by reinforcements from the British, French, and Americans, would gain its two greatest victories of the war.  The first was the June 1918 defeat of the Austro-Hungarian "last ditch" offensive of the war, known as the Battle of the Piave River. Subsequently, he organized and trained his forces for the decisive conflict of the Italian Front, which came to be known as the Battle of Vittorio Veneto.

Vittorio Veneto looms large in the Italian national psyche, as well it should. It was a decisive battle that defeated Austria-Hungary and redeemed Italia Irredenta. It is also the most  significant victory by the Italian army in the history of the nation, before or after. 

King Vittorio Emanuele III, General Diaz and Third Army Commander the Duke of Aosta at a Postwar Awards Ceremony

After the defeat of the enemy's June attack along the Piave River, General Diaz corrected the poor "lessons learned" system of General Cadorna with a system that analyzed information at the Commando Supremo level and distributed it to the army. The first fruit of this new system was a detailed analysis of the Battle of the Piave issued to the field in July of 1918. The lessons learned during the Battle of the Piave would be put to use during Vittorio Veneto.

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto started on October 24, 1918 with attacks across the breadth of the theater of operations from the Trentino to the sea. The Austrians repulsed the initial Italian Fourth Army attacks along the Grappa, and sent some of their best units to the area. Diaz was not like Cadorna; he had the vision to see how actions linked together. The attack of the Fourth Army was drawing in the Austrian reserves, just as Diaz wanted.

 On 26 October Diaz sent everything he had across the Piave. The Piave is a river with a strong current, and was in flood. Many of the bridges were swept away by the current, but by evening the Italian Eighth, Twelfth, and Tenth Armies had established some small bridgeheads. Air resupply replenished the forces in the bridgeheads when the bridges were destroyed. The Italian breakthrough started when the XVIIIth Army Corps, which had been in reserve, crossed the Piave on the Tenth Army bridge during the night of 27–28 October, and attacked along the boundary between the Fifth and Sixth Austrian armies. The Austrian Sixth Army commander, facing a threat to his lines of communication, ordered a retreat to the second defensive line. The order for the retreat was the beginning of the end for the Austrians.

The fighting around Mte Grappa was still intense, but the  Austrians were approaching exhaustion. Along the Piave the Italians were starting to pour across. By 1 November the Battle  became an Italian race for territory. A naval expedition seized  Trieste on 3 November. On 4 November, Italy and Austria-Hungary  signed an armistice. In his victory message Diaz announced: "The Austro-Hungarian Army is vanquished. . ."

The Italian victory of Vittorio Veneto owed much to the exhausted state of Austria-Hungary but only after Italian forces had broken the frontline defenses of the Austrian army. The rear elements of the Austrian army, particularly some of the reserve divisions of the Sixth Army, had refused to fight even before the breakthrough of the XVIIIth Army Corps. When the XVIIIth Army Corps broke through the Austrian defenses they capitalized on the demoralized state of forces in the Austrian rear, clearly validating Clausewitz's statement that "a threat to the rear can, therefore, make a defeat more probable, as well as more decisive."

The strategic aim of Vittorio Veneto was the defeat of the Austrian army, which in turn would end the war. Diaz believed that if the Italians could break through the Austrian defenses the demoralized army would not withstand the defeat; he was right. The difference in the way Diaz pursued the strategic aim, in contrast to Lundendorff or Cadorna, was that he committed the forces appropriate to the task. Diaz accepted a great deal of risk at Vittorio Veneto by committing everything Italy had to the attack. The class of 1900 had already been called up, and some of the boys of the class of 1899 were already in the line. Diaz had no reserves left.

Monument  at Bassano del Grappa to the Boys of the
Class of 1899 Who Fought in the Final Battle

The contribution of Vittorio Veneto to Allied victory is underrated. The Austrian army was defeated in the field. There was no doubt in the mind of Austria-Hungary that she was defeated. Ludendorff wrote in a letter to Count Lerchenfeld that at "Vittorio Veneto Austria did not lose a battle, but a war, and herself, bringing Germany down in the ruins with her . . . if Austria had not collapsed, we could still have gained time and resisted without difficulty during the whole winter."

After the war, Diaz was appointed a senator. In 1921, he was ennobled by King Victor Emmanuel III and given the title of 1st Duca della Vittoria ("Duke of the Victory"). Benito Mussolini named him Minister of War in 1922, and upon retirement in 1924, he was given the honour of Maresciallo d'Italia (Marshal of Italy).

Sources: Operational Art on the Italian Front During the Great War, Robert C. Todd. Army Command and General Staff Coll, Fort Leavenworth, KS, School of Advanced Military Studies, 1992; 1914-1918 Online; Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

What Pre-Revolutionary Russia Can Tell Us About Russia Today: Part I – Messianic Russia

The Kremlin—Symbol of Russian Power

The Russian nation is an extraordinary phenomenon in the history of all mankind that may hold the power to bring a new light to the world.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Russia has hypnotic power. This was especially evident in its dynamic 19th-century history, when its population tripled. Russian military power, critical in defeating Napoleon, cowed the empire's neighbors and allowed the tsar to expand wherever he could get away with it. Even Europe's master statesman, Otto von Bismarck accepted that Germany's well-being depended on peaceful relations with the Russian bear. (Wilhelm II forgot this and started down the road to doom in 1914.) 

Despite suppressing the first post-Napoleonic revolt against the old order, the Decembrist revolt of reformist military officers in 1825, Russia then continually disconcerted the rest of world by serving as an incubator for more extreme radicalism. Regardless of the oppressive measures taken by the tsars' agents, secretive groups of Russians relentlessly borrowed or invented, then tested, perfected, and propagated the revolutionary and nationalistic ideologies that would make the next century one of the most violent in history. All of this went on while innumerable Russian writers and musicians—like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov—were enchanting the world with their creativity. In this series we will explore why 19th-century Russia was so dynamic and dangerous in order to see what insight it might lend on Vladimir Putin's 21st-century Russia.

Russian Icon Suggesting Divine Blessing
of the Nation

Messianic Russia

Russia's centralized and militarized state has distinguished the country for centuries, although whether its militarization was offensive or defensive has been a matter of considerable historical debate. Nonetheless, starting from the beginning of the 16th century, Russia eventually and uniquely came to control major portions of two continents.

Historian George Vernadsky embraced the argument of geographical determinism—that the peculiar geography of Eurasia encouraged a dynamic national grouping (i.e. Russia) to extend its domination as far as possible for security reasons. Richard Pipes suggests, however, that the Russians, and later the Soviets, adopted an ideology—be it "Moscow as the Third Rome" or Marxism-Leninism—that promoted and encouraged the government to be inherently aggressive and expansionist. 

A powerful national myth is required to dominate such extensive territories, and the Russians developed one under the first tsars. The 15th century saw the emergence of a messianic vision for the Russian state and the people of Moscow as the "Third Rome," or historical protector of Orthodox Christianity. The first Rome was long gone, and the second Rome, Constantinople, fell in 1453. In 1472 Russian Prince Ivan III married Sofia Paléologue, the niece of Byzantium's last emperor, Constantine, and this marriage gave legitimacy to Russia's claim as Byzantium's historical successor. In 1520 the monk Filofey supposedly wrote in an oft-cited letter to the tsar.

And now, I say unto them: take care and take heed, pious tsar; all the empires of Christendom are united in thine, the two Romes have fallen and the third exists and there will not be a fourth. 

Ivan the Terrible—Note Religious Elements

In 1547 the Muscovite prince Ivan IV ("the Terrible") officially adopted the title of tsar, derived from the Latin caesar, to emphasize that the line of Christian capitals was matched by a succession of rulers. Iver Neumann has argued that the Third Rome doctrine anointed Russia as the divine successor to Constantinople, but Russia's borders were never fully identified, thus providing religious justification for expansion. Throughout Russian history, Holy Russia has been invoked as the suffering savior of the world, and its historical mission was the crux of the Russian Ideal.

Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev attributed the Russians' messianism to their unique combination of Western and Eastern qualities:

The Russian people is not purely European and it is not purely Asiatic. Russia is a complete section of the world—a colossal East-West. It unites two worlds, and within the Russian soul two principles are always engaged in strife—the Eastern and the Western. 

This East-West duality, though, would contribute much to the pre-revolutionary strife in Russia. The eternal question of East or West was at the heart of the 19th-century debate between Russian Slavophiles and Westernizers. The Slavophiles were aristocratic romantic intellectuals who believed in the superior nature and historical mission of Orthodox Christianity and in Russia as uniquely endowed with a culture transcending East and West. They touted traditional institutions such as the peasant commune as models of harmonious social organization and claimed that rationalism, legalism, and constitutionalism would destroy Russia's natural harmonious development. The Slavophile movement was a reaction against the Westernizing efforts of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.

The Westernizers took the German idealism of Hegel as a starting point but argued that while Russia possessed many unique and superior features, its historical mission required it to follow the path of Western civilization. They criticized Russian autocracy and took a more positive view of the rule of law and constitutionalism. While the Slavophile ideology was anchored in Russian Orthodoxy, the Westernizers placed little value on religion; some became agnostic or even atheist, while the moderate Westernizers retained some religious faith and their political and social programs supported moderate liberalism with popular enlightenment.

This messianic impulse, nevertheless, would naturally provide a self-evident (to Russia) legitimization to a constantly expansionist foreign policy. Richard Pipes commented that it "promoted an extraordinary imperial appetite." Russia could also justify certain acquisitions by stressing its role as defender of Orthodox Christianity. It believed Orthodox Ukrainians, for example, should accept the tsar's sovereignty because the tsar would protect them against both the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire and the Catholics of Poland. 

Christianity was a powerful spiritual unifying force that helped involve various tribes and tribal unions of the vast Eastern Slavic world in the creation of a Russian nation and Russian state.

Vladimir Putin, 2014

Source: “Russia’s Early Identity Questions” from the chapter "Russia's Historical Roots" in the book The Russia Balance Sheet by Anders Åslund and Andrew Kuchins. Copyright: Peterson Institute for International Economics. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

They Called it Shell Shock: Combat Stress in the First World War

Order a Copy of This Title HERE

By  Stefanie Linden

Helion & Company, 2017

Reviewed by Michael Robinson

Originally presented in Reviews in History, August 2017

Over 80,000 cases of shell shock were officially recognized by British Army personnel during the First World War. The diagnosis remains a culturally and historically resonant symbol of the First World War in Britain. Its significance has been influenced by the famous postwar memoirs of ex-servicemen who recounted their personal experiences of shell shock. Similarly, Pat Barker’s critically and commercially successful Regeneration trilogy only served to reinforce shell shock as an integral cultural reference point. 

Yet, this has arguably been damaging to the historiography. These works focus primarily on the officer class which has led the working-class Tommy’s torment to be comparatively obscured, despite their sizeable majority. Leading military psychiatrist researchers, Simon Wessely and Edgar Jones, went so far as to argue: "To an extent, shell shock was hijacked by the literary fraternity."  Indeed, it was only in 2002, with Peter Leese’s Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War, that the first in-depth and exclusive academic analysis of Britain’s experience of shell shock was offered. Leese’s work has been subsequently added to by a small number of additional studies into shell shock.

Stefanie Linden’s They Called it Shell Shock provides a fresh approach to the historiography of shell shock and the men who suffered from psychoneurotic reactions as a result of service in the First World War. Drawing on a host of research resources, including medical publications, institutional records, and the histories of soldier-patients who underwent treatment during the conflict, Linden’s work demonstrates the universal psychological suffering of servicemen of both the British and German armies. By doing so, this work provides the very first comparative analysis of both British and German servicemen who suffered from combat stress during the First World War. . .

They Called It Shell Shock contributes to firmly established features in the historiography of shell shock. For example, Linden makes it clear that traumatized soldiers suffered from a huge variety of subjective psychological symptoms, which could be induced by an immediate incident or the cumulative effect of service, but that some servicemen also developed psychoneurotic symptoms despite never having been exposed to active service, with many breaking down away from the front and even on home leave (pp. 32, 181). Indeed, a quantitative analysis of the Charité records demonstrates that almost a quarter of patients had not even seen action (p. 181). Linden’s analysis also provides further evidence of the differentiation in  treatment and perception of shell shock depending on whether a sufferer was a private or an officer with the treatment on offer to the latter much preferable to the former (pp. 94–8). In addition to addressing well-trodden paths in the historiography, They Called it Shell Shock provides welcome considerations into largely neglected aspects of First World War history. The study addresses suicide and desertion in separate chapters via the analysis of German and British medical literature to consider how service during the First World War could drive German and British servicemen to suicide (pp. 146–57) or desertion (pp. 158–76). Such analyses of these important subjects are welcomed, and it is no criticism of the author to suggest that much more research into these neglected topics is now required.

In addition to providing timely analyses into overlooked topics, They Called It Shell Shock is undaunted by tackling the complex relationship between shell shock and combat-induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While recognizing the intrinsic similarities in both diagnoses, Linden argues that medical diagnoses are dictated by the existing cultural and environmental context. In warfare, this includes medical progress, societal beliefs, stereotypes and stigma, and the nature and conduct of a given conflict. As Linden observes: "The physical expression of distress may also be mediated by cultural forces through popular health fears, which alert patients and doctors to particular areas of the body" (p. 235). Linden’s considered appraisal of the two diagnoses is welcome especially as debate, confusion, and disagreement regarding the relationship between PTSD and shell shock continues to feature on the floors of conferences.

The undoubted strength of The Called It Shell Shock lies within Linden’s analysis of more than 600 original medical case files of British and German soldier-patients who underwent neurological and psychiatric treatment at the National Hospital at Queen Square in London, the Charité Psychiatric Department in Berlin and the Jena Military Hospital in Jena. With regards to the former, the vast majority of patients admitted to Queen Square were private soldiers with only four shell-shocked officers being admitted between 1914 and 1918 (p. 60). Thus, this study brings timely attention to the regular private who has been overshadowed by the officer class. This original research on previously untouched medical archives allows Linden to demonstrate the universality of subjective psychoneurotic symptoms including traumatic brain injury, fits, twilight states, states of stupor, exhaustion, and paranoia and psychosis, which affected both British and German soldiers alike. . .

Ultimately, They Called It Shell Shock will be of immense interest to shell shock historians, specialists in trauma studies, those interested in the social and cultural effects of the First World War, as well as a broader audience of students interested in the impact the First World War had on servicemen and combatant nations.

Excerpted from Michael Robinson's original review.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Most Beautiful World War One Cemetery I've Ever Visited

By Editor Mike Hanlon

During my time leading tours of World War One battlefields, I was able to take one group to the sites south of Verdun in and around the Vosges Mountains. Unlike almost all my other tours, however, I had never done a pre-reconnaissance of the area. Also, my guidebooks were a little weak on this sector, especially on the German side of things. Since I always included stops at the cemeteries and memorials of all the combatants, I was forced to select  almost-randomly three German cemeteries using a Michelin map, guided exclusively by the proximity of the cemeteries to our main route. I guess by accident, I struck gold. I've visited hundreds of the cemeteries from the war, and this one turned out to be the most beautiful I've ever experienced.

Different Elements Around the Graves: Stone Bridge,
Stream, Somber Plantings

The German war cemetery Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines at Montgoutte in Alsace,  stunned all our group when we arrived and approached the front gate. The elegant and somber landscaping, the dignified arrangement of the graves, and its magnificent centerpiece 40-foot cross were collectively a masterpiece of design and—at least to me—felt like a holy place of remembrance. The photos here,  of course, can only hint at the experience of being there in person. I hope if you ever find yourself traveling in the area you have a chance to visit the cemetery.

Enhanced Stream Bed

Perhaps, though, I should share one caveat.  The current look of the cemetery is not anything like the original "natural" look of the little mining district valley where it is set. The design and appearance of the cemetery evolved over decades and two world wars, although the large cross was begun when the Great War was still raging. The current "look" was, as best I can figure, finalized in 1966 with the intention of turning the cemetery into a "showpiece", possibly as a pilgrimage destination. The undated photo below shows some interim configuration with the large cross installed but with little of the current landscaping added and the graves still marked with a mixture of cross designs.

Earlier Configuration

The earliest construction on the cemetery at Montgoutte was begun during the war using civilians and prisoners of war by the newly established German War Graves Service. From the Great War are 1,039 German burials, including 671 in individual graves. Later, 136 graves from the Second World War were added.  

German Soldier in the Center of the Cross

The graves are aligned on either side of a monumental granite cross, whose bronze medallion represents a German soldier. The stream that flows in the middle of the cemetery refers to the symbolism of rest and peace. It has been listed as a World Heritage site since 2023. About 6km to the west at the Sainte-Marie Pass is a French national cemetery holding 230 fallen from the First World War, which has an identical name, Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.  Today, the Montgoutte cemetery is maintained by the German federal government, which sends military personnel based near Bruchsal Untergrombach every year to carry out maintenance work.

Getting There


Heading north from Colmar, take N83/A35 to Chanenois and follow Exit 17 west to Sainte Marie Aux Mines.

Heading south from Strasbourg, take A35 to Chanenois and follow Exit 17 west to Sainte Marie Aux Mines.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Taken Prisoner: Firsthand Account of Major George Hercules Forster Tailyour, Royal Horse Artillery

Major Tailyour

Major George Hercules Forster Tailyour  (1877–1921) joined the Royal Horse Artillery in 1896. With the BEF, he was Brigade Major with the 5th Division, Royal Field Artillery. In the early struggle he was mentioned in General John French's First Despatch, which usually means he was reported by a superior officer to the higher command as having performed a gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy. At the Battle of Le Cateau, during the retreat from Mons, Tailyour was captured while helping the division's artillery withdraw as the battle was beginning to go poorly for the British He would spend the remainder of the war in captivity. He seems to  have spent his time in two POW encampments, Clausthal in Bavaria and Torgau-Bruckenkopf in Saxony. Possibly because of declining health, he was paroled to Holland on 5 January 1918 and returned home after the Armisitice. He resumed his service career and was given command of the Royal Artillery Brigade in Colchester, where he died in 1921 from the health problems caused by his time as a prisoner of war.

The British National Archives holds this firsthand account of his capture in 1914, which was republished in Stand To in June 2014. It's unclear when Major Tailyour wrote it.

On the 26th August 1914 at about 1pm there was a stampede to the rear of a number of teams of draught horses including those of the 28th Bde. RFA; with General Headlam's authority I proceeded from  the Div[ision] HQ to reform the teams of the Bde; and to try withdraw one of its batteries to a position near Reumont south of Le Cateau, as there were at the time no guns in the rear of the main position.  Owing to the confusion in the road near the Div. HQ I could not get my own horse so I took one that was being led by an orderly towards the rear.

After reforming the teams and taking them up to the position under cover near their guns, I went forward to reconnoitre the best line by which the teams could reach the batteries. I then met General Headlam, who said it was useless to attempt a withdrawal from the Bde. until the fire slackened and that he was going to see how the batteries were getting on the left.  On returning to the teams I found two of the captains with them (R.A. Jones and J. Thornburn) and conveyed the General's instructions to them.  I then discovered that the horse I was riding belonged to Major Bayley of the 28th Bde,. and had therefore to give it up. Unfortunately, though my orderly had followed me, he had done so without either of my horses and I had to proceed on foot after instructing him where to bring me a horse.  I then went to try to find out how the 15th Bde. on the right was getting on, especially the 11th Bty. which had been under severe fire earlier in the day.  

British Artillery at Le Cateau

I found one gun of this Bty. overturned in the valley to the South of this position and whilst detaching its breech block was passed by a company of Argyll and Sunderland Highlanders going up to the front trenches.  I brought the breech block back to the wagon line.  On my way to the gun I had secured a horse, said to belong to a man in the 11th Bty. who had been killed.  On my return to the teams of the 15th Bde. at about 2:20pm, I realised that the 28th Bde. could not have been moved and  feeling convinced that a Bty. would be required near Reumont, I decided to withdraw one of the Batteries of the 15th Bde., although I had no orders to do so.  I took up the teams of the 80th Bty. and after seeing all the vehicles off the position went on to inform the OC 15 Bde., Lt. Col Stevens, of what I had done.  

I missed his trench at first and coming back to it fell over the parapet thoroughly winded.   After recovering my breath I explained as best I could, what had happened and gave all the information I had, e.g. 40,000 French en route from Arras to come up on our left, 1st Corps (British) on our right, and an infantry brigade in reserve near Reumont.  As the last order known to Col. Stevens and myself was that there would be no retirement and as he was anxious no one should leave his trench at the time, I waited in his observation station in order to be able to take back full information on the situation.

A short time after my arrival in the trench the enemy, who must have collected in large numbers in the dead ground, suddenly turned from the right rear the flank of the infantry line in which the observation station was.  There was apparently no possibility of getting away and I was captured with Lt. Col. Stevens and his Bde. HQ.  Owing to the order issued earlier in the day, to throw away the government revolver cartridges, as they were of doubtful pattern, I was unarmed.


Sources:  R.S. Tailyour article in the Wartimememoriesproject: Stand To: The Journal of the Western Front Association; In the Hands of the Enemy: Being the Experiences of a Prisoner of War;

Saturday, March 23, 2024

At Work in a War Hospital

From The War Illustrated, 18 May 1918

Sentimental magazine stories of the wounded represent, as a rule, only one background to hospital life. The drama—which concerns itself, according to recipe, with that rare occurrence, a love-match between a patient (hero) and a nurse (heroine)—is staged in a ward.

Hospitals altogether consist of wards—this is the idee fixe of the lay public, and even of the majority of those who have actually penetrated into the interiors of hospitals. Ward life, at all events, occupies the forefront of the picture, with, perhaps, a vague middle-distance of operating-theatre, recreation-room, cook-house, and dispensary.

The visitor, it is true, passes many closed portals in his long walk down the corridors to the bedside of the friend whom he has come to cheer. He catches sight of officials who would seem to have no direct connection with the arts of healing. But what goes on behind those portals, and how the officials are engaged, he seldom inquires.

Yet to the extensive male and female staff of a military hospital there is much more to think of than the wards and the getting well of those wards' inmates. A man may enlist as an R.A.M.C. orderly and be exceedingly busy, yet never once bandage a wound or even. witness the flow of blood. A girl may volunteer as a V.A.D. and never do any nursing.

When the Wounded Arrive

Behind the Scenes

A big war hospital is a complex machine, and needs for its smooth running a host of behind-the- scenes activities. Your friend whose arm is full of pieces of shrapnel, or who has had his leg amputated, is being served not only by skilled physicians and kindly Sisters, but also by clerks and registrars, accountants and card-index damsels, steward's-store men and sanitary squad, and electricians and bacteriologists; from the commanding officer and the matron down to the grimy individual who stokes the furnaces, or the Abigail in the pantry of the nurses' mess, there are troops of folk whose ministrations appear rarely to be appreciated ; but each of whom, in some remote and roundabout way, is reacting upon the restoration to health of that stricken soldier in the ward.

That soldier, even though he be laid low, is still a member of the Army; his existence is still the concern of the State; the War Office must keep track of him, as long as he is in the land of the living; his regimental depot has to hear about him, either now or when he emerges from hospital.

Every .move he makes involves the filling-in of documents. Before he reached the hospital his name and his particulars had been noted, in France, on the steamer, and in the ambulance trains; each separate step that he took, from battlefield to "Blighty," can, if necessary, be traced.

The moment he alighted at the hospital a clerical V.A.D. obtained from him his name, number, rank, age, length of service, religion, and a dozen other intimate details, and he was hardly bestowed in bed before another clerical V.A.D. was entering these in " Field Service Army Book" while yet a third clerical V.A.D., in charge of a filing system, was tackling on his behalf, "Army Form W3243" which is a printed card to fit a drawer in the admission and discharge index ; meanwhile, a fourth clerical V.A.D. is writing less elaborate memoranda upon a smaller card, which will be dropped, into its niche in the archives of the Inquiry Bureau.

The Patients Are Kept Busy on a Typical Ward

An Army in Miniature

All this is obvious enough, when you come to think of it. A hospital with a fluctuating population which, at its fullest, rises to 2,000, and with a salaried staff amounting to several hundreds, would fall into chaotic confusion were it not run systematically. It is itself an army in miniature. Its lines of communication must be maintained; the stream of supplies, whether of equipment or food of money, must flow, day after day and month after month, with absolute evenness.

Behind those shut portals, which the visitor passes so negligently, there is a never-ceasing clatter of typewriters and the whir of telephone bells; a glimpse within shows khaki-clad men who, though they have red crosses on their arms, are seated at desks much in the manner of city quill-drivers; or maybe women wearing the uniform of the V.A.D. attending to parcels letters, stamps, and telegrams in the hospital's own private post-office. Here, again, is the telephone room. It has the switchboard familiar in all large establishments—rows of little signal-holes and flexible snakes of connecting wires.

The hospital is not only linked with the outer world by half a dozen lines but also owns an intricate internal system of telephones—wards and offices and departments, and operating- theatres, and M.O.s' huts and sergeants' mess and kitchens and stores, and board-room and dental-room, as wells as a pathological laboratory and sentry-box, and paymaster and fire brigade. They can all speak to each other in an instant and all are thus dependent on the V.A.D. who by day, or the orderly who by night, presides at this central switchboard. And here and there, in the corridors of the hospital, you will remark an ordinary public telephone call-box; this is for the use of inmates, whether staff or patients, who wish to converse with their friends on matters unconcerned with hospital business. For the hospital's own lines must not be used for private affairs.

A Patient at Manchester Hospital Receives Visitors and a Mandolin Serenade from a Wounded Comrade

Task of the Pay Office

It may be that, in .your journey to the ward, you pass a door outside which is a queue of convalescents in blue uniforms. They are waiting to receive their pay. For the soldier who is in hospital has not, for that reason, ceased to be supported by the efforts of the tax-collector.

During his sojourn in the hospital the soldier is allowed to draw, for pocket-money, a small advance from the pay which accumulates for him elsewhere. I wonder how many civilians envisage the complications of the army bookkeeping which this system causes? Every regimental paymaster must be advised of each of the doles of a few shillings that concerns him. And the note which is handed to the soldier, with his railway warrant, when he leaves us —this, too, must be notified and duly deducted.

Our Pay Office staff pilots a department whose accountancy demands expert knowledge; it is a bank in miniature, handling some thousands of pounds weekly—for it not only advances these odd sums to patients, but distributes the salaries of the Sisters and the nurses, the probationers, the clerical V.A.D.s, the masseuses, the scrubwomen, and the unit of the R.A.M.C.

When it is realized that these disbursements vary, in all sorts of manners, owing to differences of lengths of service and gradations of rank (e.g., a 1st Class orderly gets more than a 2nd Class orderly, to mention only one example out of a score), and that if a man is absent on duty for 24 hours he receives a cash allowance for his food accordingly, and that there are allowances (or deductions) for upkeep of clothes, for washing, and heaven knows what other technical minutiae—all calculated in pence per diem—it will be seen that the Pay Office of the hospital is by no means a place of repose for the slacker.

The Night Staff

The Pay Office employs some women clerks, but its main pillars arc men. Like all the other male employees of the hospital, these men are "unfits" in the lowest medical category. Even were they not, it would be easy to justify their retention here; for, as has been said, they are experts in a routine which, if muddled, would mean an appalling waste of the country's money as well as of labour. But I touch upon the fact of their "unfitness" because I have heard some nonsense talked (generally by comfortable civilians, too!) about this and similar berths being safe and easy sinecures for youngsters who should be in the trenches. Sate, admittedly; but easy—no. The work is a never-ending grind.

If the visitor, instead of quitting the hospital building, were to linger till ten or 11, or even 12 at night, and peep into the Pay Office—or, for that matter, the staff clerks', or admission and discharge, or registrar's offices—he would generally find the electric lamps still blazing and some of the khaki-wearers, white-faced and worn, still toiling at their army forms and ledgers.

At night no hospital ever pauses. In each ward there is a wakeful Sister or curse. There are night-duty orderlies and night-duty doctors; also a specialist surgeon ready to be called at a minute's notice. There is a night dispenser, a night ward-master, a night convoy squad, a night sentry at the gate, a night operator on the telephone, a night Sister, a night corporal.

The hospital, qua hospital, never sleeps. But it should be noted that some of its retinue, awake at uncanny hours, are doing without their sleep not because the time-table so ordains, but because they are conscientious slaves of allegiance to a "cushy job" more cruel in its tyranny than the onlooking critic conceives.

Thanks to Tony Langley for this contribution from his wartime periodicals collection.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Weapons of War: Found in Kansas City, KS—A Schneider Canon de 155 C modèle 1917

By James Patton

Sitting today in Shawnee Park at 7th St. and Shawnee Ave. in Kansas City, Kansas, is an interesting artillery piece with a WWI history. This howitzer has a curved shield, which means that it was made in France and used by American gunners in 1918. It is a Canon de 155 C modèle 1917 Schneider, C-17S for short, which was manufactured by Schneider et Cie., also known as Schneider-Creusot, as their principal works were in the city of Le Creusot in France. 

Schneider was founded in 1836 by the Schneider brothers, Joseph Eugène (1805–1875) and Adolphe (1802–1845). Their business grew quickly, especially in the manufacture of steam engines and locomotives, and the firm diversified into artillery production in the 1880s. 

A Battery of AEF 155s Firing in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

During the First World War era the business was run by Adolphe’s grandson Jacques, who also established the popular Schneider Trophy air races, held between 1913 and 1931. In the postwar era he was vilified by the antiwar left in France as one of the "Merchants of Death" who promoted and prolonged the war for personal gain.

Due to the huge supply of war surplus guns, the Schneider artillery business became unprofitable in the interwar years and was discontinued altogether in 1935. Later, in the 1950s, Schneider divested all of its iron and steel operations to concentrate on electrical devices, which it continues to produce today. 

The C-17S was the third and last model in a series that began with an order from Russia in 1910. It differed from the earlier models primarily because it used bagged propellant rather than cased shells. Total wartime production was 3,020. 

Doughboy Gunners Manning a Schneider 155

In 1918, the U.S. Army purchased 1,503 C-17S guns from France, designating it as the 155 mm Howitzer Carriage, Model of 1917 (Schneider), to replace the M 1908 6-inch gun (there were only 42 on hand) as the standard howitzer.

Additionally, they paid $560,000 for non-exclusive rights to the design and working drawings, and 626 guns were manufactured in the U.S. These were designated as the M1918, and they differed somewhat from the French guns, having a straight shield rather than a curved one, rubber tires rather than steel-rimmed wooden wheels, a pivoting spade, and a different breach mechanism. All of the U.S. units in action in France in 1918 used the French-built C-17S guns. The first U.S. regiment equipped with U.S.-made M1918 guns was about to embark for France when the war ended.

Side View Details

All of the C-17S guns were brought to the United States and later retro-fitted to the M1918 standard. In the 1930s, many were modernized with air brakes, new metal wheels, and pneumatic tires to enable highway-speed towing by trucks, but the Shawnee Park gun wasn’t one of them. 

The M1918 was the standard American heavy howitzer until replaced by the 155 mm Howitzer M1 beginning in late 1942. In 1940, many were sent to the U.K. under Lend Lease. The Shawnee Park gun was declared surplus by the Army and given to the Wyandotte County Salvage Committee in 1947 to replace a Spanish-American War gun that was scrapped in 1942.  

The French had over 2,000 C-17S guns in service in 1940, which fell into German hands and were used by them throughout WWII, along with several hundred others captured from other countries. 

For the artillery buffs, here are some statistics on the gun:

Overall weight: 9,120 lbs

Overall length: 257 inches 

Projectile weight: 95 lbs

Maximum range: 12,500 yards

Max./Min. elevation: 42°/0°

Max. Sustained Rate of Fire: 1 round per minute

Sources: "Heavy Howitzers" at This article—in slightly different form—originally ran on KansasWW1 on February 2, 2017.