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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tea and Biscuits with John Terraine

  
John Terraine
When I started my deep study of the First World War, John Terraine (1921–2003) was its most prominent living historian. He was also a founder of the Western Front Association (WFA) and its honorary president. The project I had in mind at that time was to produce a documentary video on the American involvement in the 1918 campaign, and Terraine had authored a very influential book on the last year of the war. I had countless questions about his commentary that I would enjoy asking of him if I had the opportunity.

In 1989 I found myself in London to explore the archives of the Imperial War Museum en route to the Western Front for my first visit. Thanks to Great War Society member Irv Roth, I was equipped with an introduction to the then president of the WFA, David Cohen. David and his wife hosted me for cocktails and could not have been nicer to me. In the course of the evening I mentioned that I would enjoy speaking to John Terraine about his 1918 study, and David promised to see if he could arrange a visit with the great man. 

John's Favorite
Biscuits
Within a day, I think, David called back and said John would be willing to set aside an hour, no more, to chat with me. There was a little tone of caution in David's voice and I asked if I was being an imposition.  David said no, it was just that John was a bit tired of people who wanted to debate Douglas Haig with him, (Americans were presumed to be in the anti-Haig camp). I responded no, that Haig was not a focus for me. But I also asked if there was anything I could do to reassure John of my goodwill. David mentioned that Terraine really enjoyed a certain kind of biscuit (cookie for you Yanks out there) sold only at Harrods department store. They came in a tall tin similar to the 21st-century version shown here.

The morning of the interview I rode the Tube to Harrods, bought a tin of the biscuits, then took a London taxi to John's flat in Kensington. When he answered the door his eyes went right to the tin of biscuits. I knew I was in. Those cookies were the best investment I ever made in my World War I education. John Terraine spent the entire afternoon—which was punctuated by several tea and biscuit breaks—educating me on the events of 1914–1918, and I got almost all of it on tape.  Which I proceeded to lose for 20 years.

When I moved to my current home in 2010, I was overjoyed to rediscover the tape, and one of our editors, Diane, made a transcript.  I published it in our magazine OVER THE TOP in full in January 2011.  It was one of the most appreciated and commented on issues we have every produced.  (If you would like  to download the issue with the full 7,500 word interview for $4.50, just email me here: greatwar@earthlink.net and I'll send you information on how to do so.)

Here are three of the highlights from that day when I was able to share biscuits and tea with one of the most notable historians of the First World War.

1.  MH: There's a recent influential book out by James Joll titled The Origins of the First World War. He takes what a Californian, like myself, would call an "artichoke approach," peeling off layer upon layer [of causative factors]. I think if he were here, he would rank highly the arms race, the colonial competition, and a lot of the internal politics of each of the participants  as major contributing causes of the war [but add that these were, in good part, responses] to the modernization of society.

John's Work on the 1918
Campaign That Was of
Interest to Me
JT: Oh, absolutely, yes. As far as I see it, the First World War, and the Second World War, are part of the warfare of the period of the first industrial revolution. I think of three major wars during that period: the American Civil War being the third. They have very clear affinities. The character of each of those wars is determined—in my view absolutely—by the state of technology and by the influence of the Industrial Revolution.


2. MH: Do you feel there is a differentiation morally or in the laws of great nations as to the logic of the British naval blockade versus the submarine warfare of the Germans?

JT: Well, I made it perfectly clear in my book on the submarine war that, as I saw it, we were engaged in blockade in a manner not seen before, based on the Royal Navy, not at all like the kind of blockade that we conducted against the French in Napoleonic Wars, which involved sitting outside their ports, frequently in full view, and daring them to come out. It wasn't like that at all. It was a long-distance affair. They were about four or five miles away from the German ports, but it was effective nevertheless. We were the first off the mark because we instituted it from the word go, and it was a little while before the Germans retorted by declaring that their submarines would blockade the British Isles. So both sides were conducting a long-recognized, long-accepted naval warfare when they instituted the blockades. I don't really make any distinction between them.

One of John's Lesser-Known Works on War & Technology That I Strongly Recommend

3. MH: [By] July of 1918, there's over a million American men on the Western Front. By September 1918 there's almost two million men. And if we had been in the war another year, there would've been four million men. . . If the war had gone through 1919, it seems to me that the Americans would've had by far the largest contingent over there.

JT: I think that's true, yes. And it's one of the great ironies of history, and history is not short of ironies, that round about the period of June to September of 1918, when the tide was just about to turn and then did turn, and the Germans were palpably being defeated in the field, at precisely that time the British government was exploring ways of getting the BEF, or the bulk of it, out of France altogether and letting the Americans carry the Western Front. But the Armistice in November 1918 rather spoiled that plan. [News of this policy change by the Lloyd George government caught me truly by surprise.]

MH: Was that in the way of a serious plan or a contingency plan?

JT: It was a serious intention. "Plan" is going to far, because they couldn't formulate a plan, but it was an intention. . .The idea was to cart the British Army off to the Middle East, or somewhere like that, which in my opinion was a lunatic project. Utterly unpractical. And I would've thought, totally unproductive. But that was the idea—anything to get the army away from the terrible killing ground on the Western Front. And to enable the government to avoid doing its duty—that's the way I would express it.

MH: John, was Haig a supporter of that concept?

JT: Oh, no, absolutely not.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Three Naval Heroes of the War


All three officers shown here were awarded their nation's highest honor for notable service in the Great War.



Lt. Commander George Nicholson Bradford (1887–1918) had demonstrated his heroic nature in 1909 when he led the rescue of three men from a fishing trawler that had been rammed by his ship HMS Chelmer. During the April 1918 raid at Zeebrugge. Bradford's converted ferryboat* HMS Iris, carrying a Royal Marine assault force, was unable to secure itself to the dock.  Bradford was killed trying to set the grappling hooks while exposing himself to enemy fire. With the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross, he joined his late brother Roland Boys Bradford to become the only brothers to be awarded the honor in World War I.
(*corrected from original posting.)



In 1903, when he was 17, the future Kapitänleutnant Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière (1886–1941) joined the German Navy. Before the war he served as torpedo officer aboard the cruiser Emden. Then he became aide-de-camp to Grand Admiral von Tirpitz and was serving on the Admiralty staff when the war started. First, von Arnauld tried for a zeppelin command. But with no zeppelin commands available he eventually found himself taking command of U-35. From January 1916 to March 1918 he racked up a formidable record, sinking 194 ships totaling over 453,000 tons. Under his command, U-35 fired only four torpedoes, one of which missed the target. Von Arnauld's weapon of choice was his 88mm deck gun. He was awarded the Pour le Mérite and asked for and got an autographed photograph from the Kaiser. Recalled to service in the Second World War as an admiral, he was killed in a plane crash at Paris in 1941. 


Capitano Luigi Rizzo (1887–1951) started the war as a naval reservist and eventually became a double recipient of Italy's Medaglie d'Oro al Valor Militare, as well as three awards of the next tier, silver medal.  He commanded the high-speed motorized torpedo boats that sank the Austrian battleships Wien at Trieste in December 1917 and the Szent István in June 1918.  The Italian king awarded him the title "Count of Grado." His WWII service included the assignment of destroying Italian ships before the German navy could seize them when Italy left the Axis powers.  His success did not sit well with the Germans and he was taken prisoner by the Gestapo for the remainder of the war. He survived and was repatriated to Italy after the war. Rizzo died in 1951, holding the rank of admiral.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Bréguet 14, Finest French Bomber of the Great War


A Bréguet 14 at an American Depot in 1918

The Bréguet 14 was the aircraft that the French aircrews had been waiting for since 1916—a day-bomber that could hold its own against the German fighters. Aviation historian René Martel described the single-engine biplane as powerful, stable but sensitive on the controls, fast-climbing, well-armed, and capable of flying in large formations. It was first used operationally in autumn 1917. Under its wings it carried 32 17.6-pound bombs released by the Michelin automatic bomb rack. 

A Restored Bréguet 14 Flying in 2014

It was also powerful, propelled by a Renault engine and later by a Lorraine-Dietrich of 300 horsepower. At the end of the war, it was even equipped with 370-hp American Liberty engines. The use, at the same time, of the Rateau turbocompressor enabled it to reach new levels of altitude. It was also light, thanks to the bold use of "duraluminum," which was used by the German air service in its zeppelins and Junkers airplanes.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What World War I Medal Has General Pershing on It?

Answer:  The U.S. Army Occupation of Germany Medal




The Army of Occupation of Germany Medal is a service medal of the United States military which was created by the act of the United States Congress on 21 November 1941. The medal recognizes those members of the United States military who served in the European occupation force following the close of World War I and was awarded to any service member who performed occupation garrison duty in either Germany, or the former Austria-Hungary, between the dates of 12 November 1918 and 11 July 1923. At times the occupation force was as large as 250,000 men.

The medal was primarily created due to the rising tension with Germany, between 1939 and 1941, and also as a means to honor the World War I service of General of the Armies John J. Pershing. 

The medal was designed by Mr. T. A. Rovelstad, Heraldic Division, Office of the Quartermaster General, in June 1942, and was approved by the Secretary of War on 8 July 1942.

It is bronze and 1.25 inches in diameter. On the obverse is a profile of General John J. Pershing, circled by four stars indicating his insignia of grade as Commanding General of the Field Forces. In the lower left is the inscription “GENERAL JOHN J. PERSHING” and on the right is a laurel wreath superimposed by a sword with the dates “1918” and “1923” enclosed by the wreath. 


The reverse shows the American eagle perched with outspread wings standing on the Castle Ehrenbreitstein, encircled by the words “U.S. ARMY OF OCCUPATION OF GERMANY” and three stars at the bottom of the medal.

Sources: U.S. Army Heraldry & Wikipedia

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The First Tank-vs.-Tank Battle


At Cachy, South of Villers-Bretonneux: The First Tank Battle Was Fought Here

In April of 1918 the Germans launched an assault against the British lines at Amiens as a follow-up to their massive Michael Offensive initiated on 21 March 1918. This led to the first tank-vs.-tank battle in history. Three British Mark IVs faced off against three German A7V tanks. Two of the three Mark IVs were "females" outfitted with only machine guns, leaving only one (equipped with 6-pounders) to engage with the German tanks, each equipped with a single front-mounted cannon and machine guns on its side. After a lengthy exchange the Mark IV disabled the lead German A7V, which was then abandoned. The remaining German tanks withdrew, and, while attempting to pursue them, the Mark IV was taken out by artillery. 

German AV-7 That Fought in the Battle 

British Mark IV Tank of the Type Involved in the Battle

Source: Worldoftanks.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: James Norman Hall. Infantryman, Aviator, Prisoner of War, and Author


James Norman Hall (1887–1951) was born in Colfax, Iowa, and educated in his home state. At the outbreak of World War I, Hall joined the British Army, serving in the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, taking part in the Battle of Loos. Hall published his war memoirs in 1916 under the titles Kitchener's Mob and High Adventure. Hall reenlisted in 1916 as a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, underwent air training, and was assigned to Squadron 124 on 16 June 1917. Ten days later he was seriously injured in a crash.


When America joined the war, Hall transferred to the American Air Service serving with the 94th, then the 103rd Aero Squadron. In May 1918 Hall was shot down behind German lines and then spent the last six months of the war in a prison camp. Late in the war he met Charles Nordhoff, another American pilot who had served in the war with French units. The two men won a commission to write a history of the Lafayette Flying Corps inclusive of the Lafayette Escadrille.

James Norman Hall During the War*
When Hall and Nordhoff subsequently received an advance from Harpers to write travel articles, they moved to Tahiti. In 1921 appeared their travel book Faery Lands of the South Seas. Hall continued writing travel books and with Nordhoff published novels. In 1925 Hall married Sarah Winchester; his friend had married a Polynesian woman a few years before.

In 1929 appeared Nordhoff's and Hall's jointly written book about flying, Falcons of France. After Hall's suggestion the team started to write Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), the story about charismatic Fletcher Christian and Captain William Bligh. Two additional volumes of the series were published in 1934, and the following year saw their work filmed in one of Hollywood's greatest epics, starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. Hall died in Tahiti. His posthumously published memoir, My Island Home, appeared in 1952.
_______________
* This photo replaces our originally incorrect image, which showed Lafayette Escadrille founding member Bert Hall. (We got our Halls confused.)  Thanks to reader Karen Tallentire for catching this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Naval War in the Mediterranean
reviewed by James M. Gallen

The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1914–1918

by Paul Halpern
Oxon and New York, 2016


Battle of the Otranto Straits, 14/15 May 1917

The Great War was truly a first world war, the theaters of which extended far beyond mud and trenches, gas, and no man's land. The Naval War in The Mediterranean 1914–1918 presents the war in a different venue that, while literally a backwater, comes alive as author Paul Halpern describes its actions and personalities and places it in the context of the larger conflict.

The Great War in the Mediterranean was a three-dimensional swirl of air, land, surface and underwater combat. As in other theaters, national alliances shifted while officers competed for commands, savored credit for victories and dodged blame for defeats. The three principal conflicts depicted in the book are the Dardanelles Campaign, Adriatic threats by Austria-Hungary and Italy, and interdiction of commercial shipping.

Gallipoli, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, captured my interest more than any other section. The attacks were intended to force the Turks out of the war, open supply routes to Russia, and ensure the protection of the Suez Canal. Whereas other histories focus on the land battles, this gives proper attention to the naval assaults that the British initially hoped would lead them to victory. When Greek distrust of Bulgaria and Russian designs on Constantinople derailed plans to have the Greek Army seize the Dardanelles, naval bombardment of Turkish fortifications was the next tactic chosen. Overestimates of the effects of flat trajectory naval gunfire against land targets and underestimates of Turkish resistance forced the Allies to turn to the beach landings.

The initial bombardment of the Turkish guarding the entrance to the Dardanelles commenced on 19 February 1915, and by 1 March the British were prepared to destroy the intermediate defenses and clear the minefields. As ships moved into the more restricted Straits and mines forced them off shore, the Turkish artillery became dominant. Russian decisions to confine their attacks to regions close to their own bases of supply scuttled hopes for assistance from their Black Sea Fleet. When sea power proved no more successful than the Greek Army or the Russian Fleet, the British Empire and French (motivated largely to maintain French influence in the Levant) sent troops into the bloody and ultimately unsuccessful assault on the beaches. The navy that failed to force the Dardanelles landed and, at the end, evacuated the troops, the latter being the most successful aspect of the whole campaign and providing a model for the heroic evacuation from Dunkirk during another war. Between those bookends the Western navies supplied the troops ashore while their submarines interdicted Turkish supplies to the Gallipoli Peninsula.

This work shines the spotlight on aspects neglected in other studies of the war, some of which fit into place once they are revealed. The Adriatic provided a highway across which Austro-Hungarian and Italian forces threatened to traverse to attack each other's homeland. The weakness of those two combatants was shown as they relied on their allies to supply and defend them. While Italy entreated Britain and France to divert vessels to Italian waters, Austria-Hungary was aided by the overland transport of submarines from Germany, some of which then sailed with German crews and under either German or Austrian-Hungarian flags. The Austro-Hungarian "Fleet in Being" kept larger Entente forces unavailable for other work as submarines sunk their enemies' maritime assets.

The Officers of U-35 Operating in the Mediterranean
Capt. Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière (2nd from right) Was the 

Most Successful U-boat Commander of All Time


Entente, particularly British, merchant shipping paid a heavy toll in the Mediterranean in conjunction with the submarine war on the Atlantic. The concept of naval escort that grew into convoys was tested and experimented with in the Mediterranean. Just as boots on the ground supported spheres of influence so too did the allocation of patrol areas and apportionment of the naval work load. The global nature of the war is shown by the introduction of Japanese and American vessels into the Mediterranean. It was here that the first launch of a torpedo from an airplane occurred. Near the end, the Russian collapse and surrender set off a scramble between Russia, Ukraine, and Germany for the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the response of Britain and France to a threat that never really materialized.

As its 630 pages would suggest, The Naval War in the Mediterranean is an extremely detailed book, expending much ink on the names of officers, few of which are as recognizable as that of Capt. von Trapp of "Sound of Music" fame, and ships and the details of engagements. I did learn new concepts about the strategies involved, the flow of the combat, and its effect on the larger war. A condensation of 50 percent or more would leave enough to satisfy a casual reader like myself. This is the definitive and thorough narrative for the expert in the field and would be of great interest to them.

James M. Gallen

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fateful Alliance: France and Russia, 1894

  
When I first started studying the Great War, George Kennan's book on the French-Russian alliance was considered "cutting edge" amongst students of the war's origins. It didn't get a lot of attention in 2014, when so much was written about the causes of the war, but it is still essential reading.  Here is a summary of his argument and the document negotiated in 1892 and finalized two years later. The alliance was renewed and strengthened in 1899 and 1912.

The Lead Negotiators:
French General Raoul de Boisdeffre and Russian General Nikolai Obruchev

The first chancellor of Imperial Germany, Otto von Bismarck, forged the “Triple Alliance” with Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882, and he also maintained cordial relations and a nonaggression pact with tsarist Russia. Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, and his successors refused to renew the nonaggression pact with Russia on the grounds that it was logically inconsistent with Germany’s commitments to Austria-Hungary. The Russian foreign ministry sought to preserve friendly relations with Germany, but the Russian military insisted that a new alliance with France was essential for Russian national security. The tsar’s top military aide, General Nikolai Obruchev, took it upon himself to open direct talks between the French and Russian general staffs after a chance encounter with his French colleague, General Raoul de Boisdeffre, while vacationing on the Riviera. Despite reservations among the professional diplomats of both Russia and France, the generals persuaded Tsar Nicholas II and the French cabinet to endorse their secret military convention, which was signed by the chiefs of the army general staffs in August 1892 and ratified in January 1894 through an exchange of notes between the Russian and French foreign ministers. That agreement is reproduced below.

THE MILITARY CONVENTION OF AUGUST 1892

(signed by Generals Obruchev and Boisdeffre and ratified in January 1894)



If France is attacked by Germany or by Italy supported by Germany, Russia will employ all its available forces to attack Germany. If Russia is attacked by Germany or by Austria supported by Germany, France will employ all its available forces to combat Germany.

In case the forces of the Triple Alliance or of one of its members begin to mobilize, France and Russia will immediately and simultaneously mobilize all of their forces and deploy them as close to their borders as possible, as soon as the enemy mobilization is announced, without any need for prior discussions.

The forces available for deployment against Germany will amount to 1,300,000 men on the part of France, and 700–800,000 men on the part of Russia. These forces are dedicated to combating Germany simultaneously from the East and West in the most effective manner possible.

The military general staffs of the two countries will deliberate together to prepare and execute the measures outlined above. They will communicate to each other in times of peace all the intelligence regarding the armaments of the Triple Alliance that may come to their attention. The ways and means for coordinating their actions in times of war will be studied and planned in advance.

France and Russia will not conclude a separate peace.

This convention will have the same duration as the Triple Alliance.

Every clause enumerated above will be kept strictly secret.

SOURCES: George Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War and Slideshow.com

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why Is the Last Post at the Menin Gate So Memorable?

Answer:  It is both moving and bloody exciting. This photo from the Flanders tourism board captures the second part of that perfectly. Click on the image to enlarge and save it.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Man Who Gave Italy a War: Antonio Salandra



Antonio Salandra
Roiling Italian politics brought conservative, traditionalist Antonio Salandra to the top of the heap in March 1914. He was a nationalist who favored a foreign policy that suited Italian interests, and was in no way an enthusiast for the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. His appointment, which was considered a stopgap measure at the time, would prove to be highly influential on the course of the war. 

When the rest of Europe rushed toward the battlefields, Prime Minister Salandra announced that Italy would not be entering the war, claiming that the terms of the 1882 Triple Alliance Treaty did not apply because neither Austria-Hungary or Germany were attacked. As a practical matter, there was substantial opposition to the war in Italy and any territory that Italy hoped to gain was in Austrian hands rather than those of the Entente powers. The Germans and Austrians were furious, of course, feeling betrayed. But worse was to come for the Central Powers. 

Salandra and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino (initially a supporter of honoring the Triple Alliance), continued discussion with their purported allies, while also initiating secret negotiations with London and Paris to see how Italy could profit from the war by joining their side. The Allies won the bidding war, and Salandra patched together a broad, but somewhat thin, coalition from across the Socialist-Nationalist spectrum to support entering the war on the side of the Entente. Italy joined the war against its former Allies in the spring of 1915. 

Italian Prisoner of War Column, Asiago Plateau

Salandra, however, did not get the war he intended. The Army high command seized control of the war effort and suffered enormous casualties by mounting huge offensives across the Isonzo River with very little to show for it. Little more than a year after Italy had entered the war, Salandra's government lost support and fell, the first such dismissal for any World War I belligerent. The war that Salandra had engineered would be a disaster for Italy, but the fighting on the Italian Front would be a steady drain on the resources of the Central Powers, especially Austria-Hungary, and would contribute immeasurably to the eventual Allied victory.

Sources: Giolitti, Giovanni. in Great Britain, Collected Diplomatic Correspondence

Friday, January 13, 2017

Belgian Armored Cars in Russia

By Tony Langley


Belgian Armored Car Team in Russia

Belgians were the first among Great War combatants to make extensive use of armored cars as a military weapon. During the siege of Antwerp, from mid-August to the first week of October 1914, numerous motor vehicles were stripped and rebuilt with armor plating. Machine guns were mounted and even rotating cupolas were fitted. Most vehicles were (re)built by the Minerva Motor Car Company in Antwerp, though other large industrial metal works and manufacturing firms contributed to the war effort.

Belgian Volunteers en Route for Russia Aboard the British Vessel
SS Wray Castle, September 1915

These armored vehicles were used for reconnaissance, long-distance messaging, and carrying out raids and small-scale engagements. Circumstances dictated that the small, outnumbered Belgian Army use these highly mobile armored cars in guerrilla-style hit-and-run engagements against the besieging German Army. Not only were they quite effective in conducting raids, blowing bridges, and delivering messages to exposed positions, they were extremely photogenic as well, a news editor's dream. The British press, playing up the "Brave Little Belgium" angle in newspapers and magazines, published many photos of Belgian armored cars in and around Antwerp. 

Photos of the Force Published in Le Miroir During 1916




René Rosselt, Killed in Action
After the fall of Antwerp in October 1914 and the retreat to the Yser, the front line stabilized and since a breakthrough was not forthcoming, there was little use for a highly mobile armored car force. The Russian military attaché to the Belgian armed forces suggested that the armored car force could be of use on the Eastern Front. Following protocol, Czar Nicholas made an official request to King Albert of the Belgians. It was decided to send a force of several hundred Belgians to Russia. Since Belgium and Russia were co-belligerents and not official allies, for legal reasons the Belgian soldiers were to be considered as volunteers in the Russian army.


The Belgian force sailed from Brest on September 22nd 1915 and reached Archangel on October 13, 1915. By way of Petrograd, they were sent to Galicia where they mainly saw action against Austrian forces. The Belgian armored cars came to be known as effective machine gun destroyers. They continued fighting after the Russian Revolution until the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. The Belgian armored car force was recalled but had a difficult time returning home. The trip back to Archangel being unfeasible, the Belgians, much like the Czech Legion, followed the Trans-Siberian railway, crossed northern China and ultimately arrived in Vladivostok. On April 18th, 1918 they boarded an American vessel, the SS Sheridan and sailed to San Francisco. From there they traveled on a much acclaimed and widely publicized trip through the US and sailed from New York on June 15th 1918, finally reaching Paris two weeks later. They were disbanded shortly afterwards. The last member of the Belgian Expeditionary Corps in Russia died in 1992.

Heading Home via Siberia

When it first set sail, the Belgian armored car force numbered 333 Belgians, all volunteers. In Russia 33 Russians joined its ranks. Counting reinforcements and replacements, 444 Belgians passed through the ranks. There were 58 vehicles of which 12 were armored cars plus 23 motor-bicycles and 120 bicycles. 16 Belgians were killed in action in Russia. Only one armored car was lost. It was captured by German forces and is said to have been used in Berlin during the insurrections of 1919.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Ralph Vaughan Williams



By James Patton

Soldier of the King
Ralph Vaughan Williams, OM (1872–1958) was one of the most prolific composers in the history of English music, certainly the most important of the 20th century even though he only lived for about half of it. He composed symphonies, operas, ballets, concerti, chamber music, film scores, radio scores, rhapsodies, and sonatas, as well as works for organ, band, chorus, piano, organ, and individual vocalists—over 180 distinct works plus dozens of adaptations. He is particularly known for his hymns written in the C of E choral style, mostly in his early period. The current hymnal of the Episcopal Church in the USA contains 24 of his works, more than any other composer, and his 1906 composition “For All the Saints” is found in most Christian hymnals regardless of denomination. Listen to this performance by the world famous Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (skip the ad):

His family was wealthy due to his mother’s inheritance from the Wedgewood potteries fortune. His father was a well-born vicar with the double surname Vaughan Williams, in that unusual English tradition, and Ralph enjoyed a living from his family for his entire life, which then paid over to The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust which still assists young musicians in their training. He married Virginia Woolf’s cousin, the cellist Adeline Fisher, in 1897. There were no children.

Vaughn Williams Conducting After the War

Ralph was educated at the Royal College of Music in London and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a doctorate in 1899. Throughout his life he the only honorific that he wanted was to be called "Dr.”, and he turned down all honors offered to him that carried a title, accepting only the Order of Merit in 1935, which is perhaps the most prestigious honor because there can be only 24 living holders at any time. The only wage-paying jobs that he ever held were as the organist at St. Barnabas Church in Lambeth, South London, from 1895 to 1899 and as a soldier of the King from 1915 until 1919.

Williams (Highlighted) in Formation

His First World War service has been described as one of the two watershed experiences in his career, which changed the flavor and volume of his musical ouevre. In the years after the war he produced a large number of his operas and symphonies. The other watershed was his tempestuous love affair with Ursula Wood, an aspiring poet he met in 1938. Both were married to others, he was 39 years older than she, and this went on until they married in 1953, after both of their spouses had finally died. If you’re curious, you can read more about this here: 

Shortly after completing what would be his most famous romantic piece, titled "A Lark Ascending," Vaughan Williams enlisted on 31 December 1914 for a four-year term of service as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force), in the 2/4th London Field Ambulance, part of the 179th Brigade within the 60th (2/2nd London) Division. The most likely reason he chose the Field Ambulance was his age—he was 42 years old. His first service was at the Duke of York’s HQ in Chelsea, a barracks that was very close to his residence, where he underwent training in squad drill, stretcher drill, first aid, and lectures on military practice. The drill was rigorous for Vaughan Williams, who had flat feet. There was, however, still enough time to form a band, with Vaughan Williams as the conductor, as there were many musicians who were serving in the unit. The "2" in 2/4th meant second line, which would normally not be sent on active service, but would repopulate the first line as needed. Thus it was reasonable for him to assume that he might never leave England.

Vaughn Williams (Right) with His Ambulance Section

But needs must, and second line notwithstanding, mobilization orders were received on 15 June 1916 and the battalion left for France on 22 June. Vaughan Williams went to Ecoivres, a few miles north-west of Arras, on the slopes of Vimy Ridge. The British had taken over this sector of the front line in March. Conditions were terrible. Their task was evacuating the wounded from the Neuville St. Vaast area. The terrain was largely flattened—nothing was more than five feet tall. The soldiers were surrounded by dead bodies and rats by the million. The men worked in two-hour shifts. It was dangerous work, the roads almost impassable from shelling. A biographer, Alain Frogley, writes of this period that, since Vaughan Williams was considerably older than most of his comrades, "the back-breaking labor of dangerous night-time journeys through mud and rain must have been more than usually punishing". The war left its emotional mark on Vaughan Williams, who lost many comrades and friends, including the young composer and protégé George Butterworth. “Never such innocence again,” another biographer, Philip Larkin, would later write.

Vaughn Williams (Right Rear) Military Bandmaster

In mid-November the 60th Division received orders to go to Salonika. For Vaughan Williams, the nightmare of the trenches was over, although circumstances in Macedonia weren’t all that great. He left that front in 1917 to take a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery, serving as a band conductor. Once again, however, needs must, and the German March 1918 offensive required that he take command of a battery and he served on the Western Front for several months before becoming the conductor of General Henry Horne’s First Army HQ Band. As a result of his artillery service, his hearing was impaired. 

Sources include The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society and The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

America and the War in 1917

Here is a slide show I gave a few years ago to the Cloverdale, CA, History Society.  Please feel free to borrow these images for any educational programs you might participate in.  MH

























Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Remembering a WWI Historian: George B. Clark, USMC



A friend of ours, Marine and historian George B. Clark, 90, died in his sleep on 23 December 2016 in Lebanon, NH.

George Clark (rt.) with Roads Reader Mark Mortenson
George is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jeanne; four children; four great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild. George was the son of James B. and Alice L. Clark of Providence, RI. He joined the U.S. Marines during WWII just out of high school and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. For many years he administered grants, contracts, and patents for Brown University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. After retiring, he wrote history prolifically,  mainly on U.S. Marine history. 

George's books on the Marines in the Great War are the most thoroughly researched and readable that are available. A selection of three of his works that focus on the Marine Corps experience in the war are displayed below. (Click on the links to learn about the books in detail.) His works are at times very critical of the 2nd Division's high command as well as AEF GHQ, for repeatedly assigning the Marine Brigade's parent 2nd Division to predictably high-casualty-producing operations like Belleau Wood, Soissons, and Blanc Mont. George loved the Corps and all Marines, though.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Stretcher Bearers

As a graduate of a USAF one-day stretcher carrying course at Sheppard AFB, TX, I have a place in my heart for the stretcher bearers of the Great War.


Bearer Private C. Young described his typical night's work on the Western Front in 1916:


Slowly we worked our way along the trenches, our only guide our feet, forcing ourselves through the black wall of night and helped occasionally by the flash of the torch in front. Soon our arms begin to grow tired, the whole weight is thrown onto the slings, which begin to bite into our shoulders; our shoulders sag forward, the sling finds its way into the back of our necks; we feel half suffocated, and with a gasp at one another the stretcher is slowly lowered to the duckboards. A twelve-stone man rolled up in several blankets on a stretcher is no mean load to carry when every step has to be carefully chosen and is merely a shuffle forward of a few inches only.



One fondly remembered poet, Robert Service, had close contact with stretcher bearers and chose to honor them:



The Stretcher Bearer

My stretcher is one scarlet stain,
And as I tries to scrape it clean,
I tell you wot — I'm sick with pain
For all I've 'eard, for all I've seen;
Around me is the 'ellish night,
And as the war's red rim I trace,
I wonder if in 'Eaven's height,
Our God don't turn away 'Is Face.

I don't care 'oose the Crime may be;
I 'olds no brief for kin or clan;
I 'ymns no 'ate: I only see
As man destroys his brother man;
I waves no flag: I only know,
As 'ere beside the dead I wait,
A million 'earts is weighed with woe,
A million 'omes is desolate.

In drippin' darkness, far and near,
All night I've sought them woeful ones.
Dawn shudders up and still I 'ear
The crimson chorus of the guns.
Look! like a ball of blood the sun
'Angs o'er the scene of wrath and wrong. . . .
"Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!"
O Prince of Peace! 'ow long, 'ow long?


Flanders: Where Service's Brother Fell

Long after he had gained fame as the poet of the Yukon ("The Shooting of Dan McGrew"), Robert Service (1874–1958) made his way to the Western Front as a Red Cross ambulance driver. During his service he continued to write poems, which were collected in the volume from which "The Stretcher-Bearer" was selected, titled "Rhymes of a Red Cross Man". He dedicated the work to his brother, Lt. Albert Service, who was killed in Flanders in August 1916.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and the Great War


Society Matron

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875–1942) was a sculptor, art patron, philanthropist, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art. During and after the Great War she made memorable contributions to the war effort and its remembrance.

Whitney was born in 1875 to Cornelius Vanderbilt, II. In 1896 she married Harry Payne Whitney, son of William C. Whitney, secretary of the navy, 1885–1889. She studied sculpture under Henry Anderson, James Fraser, and Andrew O'Connor. In 1907 she opened a studio in Greenwich Village's MacDougal Alley. 

The Juilly Hospital

During the First World War, Whitney was involved with numerous war relief activities, most notably establishing and supporting a second American Ambulance Hospital (the first was just outside Paris) in Juilly, France, 30 miles east of Paris in 1916.  She personally financed the conversion of a wing of the Jesuit College of Juilly to a 200-bed hospital in time to care for French soldiers wounded at Verdun and the Somme. The hospital was staffed by American volunteers and eventually was absorbed into the Red Cross system as Hospital 6.


Typical Ward at Juilly

Gertrude made several trips to France during the war, keeping a journal and eventually publishing a piece on the hospital in several newspapers. Her sculpture during this period was largely focused on war themes. In 1919 she exhibited some of these works at the Whitney Studio in a show called "Impressions of War."

The Artist Working on a War Piece
(Quite a Change from the Society Lady, No?)

In the years after the war, she was also commissioned to do several war memorials, including the Washington Heights War Memorial (1922) and the St. Nazaire Memorial (1926) commemorating the landing of the American Expeditionary Force in France in 1917.

St. Nazaire Monument Remembering the First Doughboys to Arrive in France

A Soldier Struggles to Aid His Comrades: Washington Heights, NYC


While continuing her work as a sculptor in New York and France, she also supported young artists and formed the group Friends of the Young Artists, and in 1930 organized the Whitney Museum of American Art, which officially opened in November1931 in New York City.

Sources: American Field Service, New York City Archives, St. Nazaire, France website