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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Last of the Ebb: The Battle of the Aisne, 1918
reviewed by Terrence J. Finnegan

The Last of the Ebb: The Battle of the Aisne, 1918
by Sidney Rogerson

(The book includes an introduction by Malcolm Brown and a chapter titled "The German Side" by Generalmajor A.D. von Unruh, Chief of the General Staff, 4. Reserve Korps .)
MBI Publishing, 2007. First published in 1937

Author Captain Sidney Rogerson
Sidney Rogerson was a staff officer in the Worcester Regiment, 23rd Brigade of the British Army's 8th Division in 1918. Rogerson titled his book The Last of the Ebb to reflect the last receding of a British-held sector in the war, where the "ebb for one side implies the top of the tide for the other." His work mentions the confusion of working with the French, be it the inability to communicate due to language, application of strategy, and tactics for defense, as well as the lack of awareness of German intentions, partly due to inadequate French aerial reconnaissance of the German advance. His self-described job was a sort of "dogsbody" taking the place of anyone who went on leave to working whatever was not specifically covered by his fellow staff officers.

After suffering from an arduous campaign on the Somme front that spring, four British divisions, including 8th Division, were relocated to a "quiet sector" near Reims in the Champagne region. The sector was known by the Germans as "the sanatorium of the West." This was in accordance with Général Foch's roulement plan to rest tired divisions in order to build up the Allied general reserve. The four British divisions now were under command of Général Denis Duchêne, French 6 Armée. Unfortunately for the British, the German Crown Prince Wilhelm's Army Group committed 7 Armée to Operation Blücher, attacking across the Chemin des Dames, pushing to the Aisne river. The brilliant Oberstleutnant Bruchmüller prepared the German artillery for the 27 May 1918 attack. MG (ret.) David Zabecki described Bruchmüller's preparation for Operation Blücher as "another masterpiece of secrecy and operational security." Rogerson recalled, "Within a second a thousand guns roared out their iron hurricane . . .It was a descent into hell." Not only did the initial massive two hours and 40-minute barrage put the Allied defenders into a state of shock from high explosive, also vast quantities of Blaukreuz (diphenylchlorarsin) ["sneezing gas"] made the entire front a total hell. Generalmajor A.D. von Unruh recalled, "The enemy had no time to resist,"

Order Now
Rogerson writes of the confusion experienced by the British defenders that first day of the offensive to the French strategy of holding the sector. "Our gallant allies, however, knew best." Such as what was experienced by the U.S. 26th "Yankee" Division at Seicheprey in April 1918, the newly arrived British forces were put forward into the closest battle lines to No Man's Land, known as Position 1. The end result was a similar fate to the "sacrifice positions" of Seicheprey. By the end of 27 May German Stosstruppen had advanced 22 kilometers, the largest single-day advance of any attack in World War I.

On 28 May OHL objectives for Operation Blücher changed from a diversion to draw forces from Flanders and the Somme to a decisive battle on the Western Front. Supreme Allied commander Général Foch saw that Operation Blücher was not going to lead to any decisive operational results. He recognized it as a feint designed to draw off Allied reserves, however. Strategic reserves from Flanders or Somme sectors did not head south to Champagne.

Perhaps the most gripping description by Rogerson was of the heroic action on the third day of Operation Blücher by Brigadier-General W.G. St. G. Grogan, Worcester Regiment, 23rd Brigade, 8th Division. In order to steel the courage of his men while under heavy fire from artillery, Minenwerfer, and machine guns, Grogan was seen riding "in full view of the enemy, talking and joking with the men as he passed." His risk was deliberately to hold the line as best the 23rd Regiment could achieve with the major losses suffered. At one point, Grogan charged advancing Stosstruppen "cocking a snook" [thumbed his nose] at an infantryman about ready to fire his rifle. Grogan's horse took the bullet in the nose and Grogan dismounted and coolly bandaged the beast with his own handkerchief.

Grogan's counterattack so inspired the troops that the German advance party fled back down the hill. Two months later Brigadier-General Grogan received the Victoria Cross from King George V. Brigadier-General Grogan replied to Rogerson's congratulations, "as a personal remembrance of the very strenuous and I hope cheery times which we passed together on the Aisne and the Marne."

Brigadier Grogan
By the end of the third day the German advance showed no signs of ceasing, but they slowed down to feast on the spoils of war. At Fismes, Generalmajor A.D. von Unruh recalled, "There were enormous quantities of tinned food and preserves of all descriptions which our soldiers looked on as delicacies almost unheard-of...There were also plentiful supplies of alcohol and this was a more serious matter." General der Infanterie Ludendorff issued a reminder that Operation Blücher's main purpose was to "threaten Paris," which spurred Allied Reserves to depart from Flanders. The four British divisions in the sector had been reduced to composite battalions. That night the U.S. 2nd Division and 3rd Division left for Chateau-Thierry.

Post-battle assessment of Operation Blücher was impressive. They caught Général Duchêne's 6 armée totally by surprise and advanced 60 kilometers in four days, with 50,000 prisoners and 600 guns captured.

Rogerson's account is a quick read, full of British humor and insight on the prevailing misery of the time, and a good account of action at the front from this fast-paced advance of Operation Blücher. The similarity between the British experience in The Last of the Ebb and the story of the American 102nd Infantry, 26th Division, at Seicheprey one month prior is worth noting. The Allies obviously had problems quickly sharing tactics and techniques experienced on the line. The Last of the Ebb is a valuable addition to any collection of primary source accounts of battles on the Western Front in 1918.

The best complement to reading and understanding Operation BLÜCHER's offensive is found in two excellent sources: Edmonds, Brigadier-General Sir James E. Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1918, May–July: The German Diversion Offensives and the First Allied Counter-Offensive. Reprint of 1939 edition, London and Nashville, TN: The Imperial War Museum and The Battery Press, Inc. 1994.

by Terrence J. Finnegan

Editor's Note:

Our reviewer, Terrence Finnegan, has written his own analysis of the character of operations in 1918 in A Delicate Affair: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches.  An autographed first edition is now available for $22.00 plus postage.

Contact the author at:

Monday, August 22, 2016

America's Road to the Battlefields of Europe

The Story of America's Road to the Battlefields of Europe 


Over the Top: Magazine of the World War I Centennial

If you feel as I do that the American side of the Great War Centennial has been a bit neglected and wish to learn more about how the United States was both pulled and pushed itself into the hostilities, there is something that will help fill some information gaps.

As you might know, the staff of Roads to the Great War also produces a full-color, monthly subscription magazine titled Over the Top. From our first volume we have studying how the nation got involved in what started as a European war, that evolved into a world war. Seven of our 116 issues have been dedicated to looking at the run up to the Declaration of War of 6 April 1917. These are now available for purchase. You can download all six issues shown below for $30.00 or purchase single issues for $4.50.

Please take a look at the covers below.  If your are interested, ordering information follows.

Click on Images to Enlarge


  • The full set of seven issues is $30  issues and you can opt to have the PDF files mailed to you on a CD or sent to you as an email attachment.
  • Single issues can be purchased for $4.50 each and are only available via email. Please specify which issues you want when you order.
Payment Options:

  • Send funds via PayPal to account:, or
  • Send check or money order payable to "Military History Press" in U.S. dollars to:

106 San Pablo Town Center #260
San Pablo, CA 94806

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Recommended: Australia's World War I Victoria Cross Recipients

This is one of the cleverest and most efficient uses of technology for providing a dense collection of information I've seen recently. From The Australian website, the stories of all 64 of Australia's WWI VC recipients can be accessed just by clicking on the party's name. Shown here is Private Thomas Cooke, who was posthumously decorated for an action at Pozières during the Battle of the Somme, 24–25 July 1916.

Visit the site at:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Key Sites in the Later Battle of the Somme

The battle of the Somme kept rolling on — at times apparently mindlessly — after the huge losses of 1 July 1916.  Here are some of the key sites during the middle and late stages of the 141-day battle.

Once again our contributing editor, Kimball Worcester, is going to help with the pronunciations. Her system is a non-academic approach to phonetic transcription aimed at giving reasonably accurate, clear, and simple direction for English speakers who want to have some insight into pronouncing these words and names. The bolded and blue syllable is the one to stress, as in bolded.

Bazentin [Bah-zon-ta] Wood was captured on 14 July in one of the best executed operations of the Somme campaign. In the subsequent fighting, Lt. Robert Graves, future author, was wounded near this site, the communal cemetery and CWGC extension, and reported killed.

Longueval [Long-val] was at the center of the battle of the woods fought for over three months.  Here is one of the most famous views of the Somme battlefield, High Wood, from the 12th Gloucester (Bristol's Own) Cross 

Guillemont [ Geel-mon] was an important point in the German defenses at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. It was taken and lost by British forces several times until it was finally secured on 3 September. One of the villages streets in named after German soldier/author Ernst Jünger, who later wrote of the fighting in the area. 

Gueudecourt [Ger-de-coor] marks the furthest point of advance from the 1 July starting line of all British units during the Battle of the Somme. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment played a decisive role in capturing the site and is honored with a Caribou Memorial similar to that at Beaumont Hamel.

Mouquet [Moo-keh] Farm: Australian, British, and Canadian forces suffered over 20,000 casualties in a two-month effort to capture this farm that was highly fortified (and in a slightly different location) on the edge of Thiepval Ridge.

, [Say-ee–Say-ee-sel]standing at the north end of a ridge, was the objective of French attacks in September and October 1916 and was captured on 18 October.  There is little to see today in the rebuilt village.

Now a single row of houses along the Ancre [On-cr] River, St. Pierre Divion [Sa Pyair Dee-vee-on] was a machine gun outpost that extracted a great toll from the Ulster Division on 1 July. Shown in the "then" photos are troops walking through the former village in the mud sometimes after its capture on 13 November.

Friday, August 19, 2016

America's First Flag to the Western Front, Part III

Part III: The Service and Death of Arthur "Clifford" Kimber,

Bearer of the First Flag

By Patrick Gregory

The First Flag Today
Orignally Borne to France by
Clfford Kimber
Although he left from Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay Area as a Stanford volunteer, Arthur "Clifford" Kimber was not a native of California. The family had only moved west from New York eight years before when his father, a clergyman, died suddenly in the summer of 1909. It had been a terrible loss for a still young family: for his widow Clara, more than 20 years his junior, and for his three sons John, Clifford, and George. At 13, Clifford was the middle child. The Rev. Arthur Kimber had been a dynamic and inspiring figure, not just to a family who looked to him for his love and support but to a large body of parishioners in downtown New York. 

Thousands of men and women, many of them recent immigrants to the United States, flocked to his mission church in Manhattan's Lower East Side. He was the vicar of St. Augustine's, an Episcopal church in the city's Bowery, an area which acted as a magnet for the city's dispossessed or newly hopeful. St. Augustine's offered spiritual, and a good deal of practical, support on the way to a new life. The mission was an offshoot of Trinity Church on Broadway and Wall Street, the main Episcopal church of New York and by comparison to St. Augustine's possibly the wealthiest parish in the United States. Kimber senior had been appointed in 1872 to head up this new offshoot, something he devoted himself to over the following 35 years. But it was another aspect of Kimber's ministry, his social activism, which brought him into contact with New York's public authorities along the way, working with them to try to find practical as well as religious solutions to the city's problems. 

During the mid-1890s he worked through the city's Police Board, cooperating with Theodore Roosevelt, then Police Commissioner for the city in a campaign to curtail the city's drinking hours. That was before the young Arthur Clifford had even been born, yet pride in the memory of his father's work and his common cause with Roosevelt fired the young Kimber in his teenage years. 

By the time Kimber was growing up in California, Roosevelt had already reached and departed the political summit, yet the former president remained young Kimber's political hero. It was no accident, therefore, that he sought out Roosevelt before he set out for Europe in 1917, anxious to receive some words of wisdom from the great man. Later still, and in France the following year, Kimber was just as pleased to have trained as a pilot alongside Roosevelt's youngest son, Quentin — "QR" — whom he described in his letters home as "a pretty good sport [who] has lots of life [and] is absolutely democratic and very well liked". 

Lt. Arthur Kimber, U.S. Air Service
Formerly American Field Service
But whatever political allegiances passed down by his father, or indeed any more personal or moral qualities he instilled in his middle son, there was another more practical inheritance which young Clifford was gifted by the Rev. Kimber — an interest in gadgetry and machines. That gadgetry included the latest form of transport then being pioneered, aviation. In spite of his clerical training and background, Arthur Kimber was a man who also thought and taught with his hands — practical life skills to parishioners, as well as busying himself in his workshop at home with all manner of mechanical projects and inventions. Clifford was an avid student and helper in all his workshop activity. In time, in 1907/08, he and his elder brother spent a year at a school in Canterbury in England, and it was after their spell there that the Rev. Kimber took his two older boys for a holiday in continental Europe. There, on 8 August 1908 in France, the three were in the crowd at a horse-racing track at Hunaudières near Le Mans to witness Wilbur Wright making the first official public demonstration of his Wright Model A aircraft, the flying machine he and his brother Orville had designed. It was a flyaway, runaway success. It wowed the crowds and Clifford Kimber was hooked. 

After his father's death the following year he and his brothers — now relocated to California — found solace in aping the exploits of Wright, taking to the hills near the various homesteads where they lived, to build and fly gliders. They formed a little club and poured what money they earned locally into the materials needed to build the gliders, with the rather more daring Clifford acting as chief architect and pilot, even if all was not plain sailing. There were mishaps on the way, failed attempts which reduced the carefully assembled wooden constructs to firewood. His mother, Clara, in a memoir many years later, recalled her son taking off in one especially large glider and flying it from Cragmont in the Berkeley Hills, crashing further down the slopes. He emerged largely unscathed, if $10 the worse off, but at least one San Francisco newspaper jumped the gun to publish untimely — and erroneous — accounts of his death. 

Kimber with His Operational SPAD Fighter
It was that flying bug which inspired him years later to apply for a posting to the nascent U.S. Air Service in France. Within a matter of weeks of joining the ambulance corps he had written to Edmund Gros, a San Franciscan of French heritage who was the medical director of the American Field Service. Gros, a physician, managed to combine his medical duties for the American Ambulance with a different role — that of the de facto organizer of early American aviation efforts in France. It was he who had helped create the Lafayette Escadrille, the original unit of American pilots who flew with the French air service from 1916, and the "Lafayette Flying Corps," the later American foreign legionnaires who would fly with a variety of other French squadrons. Ambulance volunteer Kimber wanted to be part of Gros's plans and to play an active combat role in the war and thus wrote to him in Paris. After some negotiation and medicals Kimber was accepted in September 1917 for the American air arm proper, now beginning to be pieced together. 

Clifford Kimber spent the next year in aviation service, the first six months in training over the winter of 1917/18. It was an exacting schedule of first basic, and then advanced training schools, finally being tutored at a third camp in aerial gunnery techniques. Yet delays afterward — delays in transporting a vast force of men and materiel to Europe as well as the wrangling still going on as to the American Expeditionary Force's exact role and theater of operations — saw him frustratedly having to cool his heels for a time. He then acted as a "ferryman," delivering warplanes around France from distribution depots and airfields. 
But finally it was time for active service as Kimber went into combat with both the French Air Service — Escadrille Spa. 85 — and the U.S. Air Service's 22nd Aero Squadron, seeing action across the front in northeastern France in the summer and early autumn of 1918. Kimber fought with the 22nd during the Americans' St. Mihiel campaign, narrowly escaping with his life in an attack by enemy fighters. Acting as his patrol's rear guard, he was jumped by a group of Fokker aircraft and his plane riddled with gunfire. "Unreasonably shot to pieces" in the restrained words of the squadron's official historian, Arthur Raymond Brooks. 

Yet less than two weeks later Kimber's luck ran out. It was late in the morning of 26 September 1918, the opening morning of the Meuse-Argonne campaign, when the young lieutenant led a patrol to strafe roads to the north of the German Kriemhilde Stellung battle-lines. Descending from the clouds on an enemy gun battery in the village of Bantheville, his SPAD XIII fighter was hit by a shell from the ground. The plane exploded and Kimber fell to his death. The moment was witnessed by the fellow members of his patrol who saw the remnants of the aircraft plunge to the ground, yet his body was not recovered at the end of the war.

It took another three years for that to happen, before his body was finally identified in an unmarked grave in the village. A year after that in the summer of 1922, 1st Lieutenant Arthur Clifford Kimber was finally reinterred in an official plot, only a matter of miles from where he had fallen. His grave can today be found toward the back of the American military cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, in one of the final rows of the last plot. An early volunteer for the war in France, he came to be one of the last buried there.

© Patrick Gregory 2016

Adapted from An American on the Western Front: The Letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, Patrick Gregory & Elizabeth Nurser (The History Press, UK, June 2016)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

America's First Flag to the Western Front, Part II

Part II: Arrival on the Western Front

By Patrick Gregory

The First Stanford Unit had been serving on the front for nearly three months when the flag arrived in France. The Californian students were but the latest in a long line of young men — with Ivy League colleges heavily represented — to have heeded the call to serve as ambulance drivers from the opening weeks of the war in 1914. One of the first major encounters of the war, the first Battle of the Marne in September 1914, had acted as an early recruiting sergeant as young volunteers began to find their way to France, first in ones and twos and then in groups, determined to do their bit for an Allied cause with which many came to identify. 

A.C. Kimber, AFS Driver
A number of ambulance groupings had begun to emerge through the tail end of 1914 into 1915, the Harjes Formation — named after the senior partner of the Morgan-Harjes Bank in Paris, Herman Harjes — and the second, Richard Norton's Anglo-American corps. These developed separately and worked as distinct units for over a year, before eventually merging under the banner of the American Red Cross. But it was a third ambulance grouping which grew out of the American Military Hospital in Paris which would grow into the largest and best organized — the American Ambulance Field Service or later simply "American Field Service," and it was that which the Stanford students had come to join. 

The volunteers had arrived in the field in mid-March, forming the backbone of what was now officially classified as SSU 14 — Section Sanitaire Etats-Unis 14 — assigned, as was the practice, to an individual division of the French army. In the case of the Stanford unit it had been given the task of looking after the 55th French Infantry Division — battle-weary veterans of the Marne and First Battle of the Aisne, soldiers who had fought through campaigns in the Artois sector and around Verdun. The volunteers' job was to evacuate the division's wounded during fighting from frontline emergency postes de secours dressing stations, transporting them for treatment to the rear of the lines. 

Since April the French troops had been aware that their new ambulancier colleagues were officially at war as well, and so, to mark the United States' status as an "associate" of the Allies, the flag carried to France by their fellow Stanford student — the first official flag of the American government to be flown at the front — was now to be presented by their division. 

Accordingly, two regiments of the 55th assembled with the Stanford men on the morning of Monday 4 June. It was 9 o'clock, a clear sunny day, the setting a field outside the village of Tréveray in the Meuse department some 50 miles south of Verdun. "The field of review was on the top of a high hill overlooking the valley and village," recalled Kimber, "and with a wonderful view in all directions. As we approached we could see company after company of French soldiers maneuvering into position. They all wore the steel helmets and had bayonets in place. [A divisional commander] Colonel Collon, reviewed the troops, riding up and down the lines in front of them." 

First American Flag to the Battlefields Presented, 4 June 1917

Once assembled, three of the Stanford group, a color party, stepped forward. Behind them French flags and standards flew, tended by their own guards of honor. Ranked behind them a regimental band and the rest of the Stanford men, regiments of French troops either side of them. Across the field Clifford Kimber began a short address, one which included a statement he had had brought to read from the Secretary of War Newton Baker. After he was finished Kimber handed the flag over to the colonel to make the formal presentation. Collon now addressed the assembly, this time in French, before handing the flag over to the Stanford color party. With the ceremony complete, the regimental band struck up the "Star Spangled Banner", the American anthem quickly followed by a rousing chorus of the "Marseillaise". 

This 4 June wasn't the only ceremony involving the flag, however. Exactly a month later — mindful of the significance of the day in the American calendar and wanting to mark the work of Section 14 — four companies of French soldiers, veterans of recent fighting around Téton in the Champagne region's so-called "Battle of the Hills", assembled to award the unit with a number of Croix de Guerre. One medal was pinned to the flag and two others awarded to individuals in the unit: one to the French-American member of the unit, Pierre "Peter" Fischoff, who had worked in the ambulance service since 1915, the other to the section head, Allan Muhr. A ceremony followed by what even for peacetime would have been considered a lavish feast, a ten-course meal, accompanied by table wine and large quantities of the fizzy wine which gave the area its name. 

The section continued in its original guise until the latter part of September 1917. At that point the American Field Service and other volunteer units were taken over by American Expeditionary Force and its U.S. Army Ambulance Service. The old S.S.U. 14 now became the new Army Ambulance's "Section 632," yet by that time many of the original members of the First Stanford had left to go into other branches of service or theatres. Some had elected to join a second wave of Stanford volunteers on ambulance duty in the Balkans while others went into aviation and others branches of service. Two of those in aviation, Kimber himself with U.S. 22nd Aero Squadron, and Alan Nichols who had joined one of the French Foreign Legion squadrons of the Lafayette Flying Corps would lose their lives, killed in action in the summer and autumn of 1918. 

The First Flag Today with Streamers
But the flag did find its way safely back to America. Two of the original members of the Stanford section who had set off from California in February 1917 brought it back there in 1918. Walter Malm, who had served as the unit's sous-chef, and Harold Blote, who worked both in France and the Balkans, carried it back to the university where it was placed in Stanford's chapel. In time the flag bore not only the Croix de Guerre awarded in the summer of 1917 but also battle ribbons which showed the later service in war of the different Stanford units in France, action around the Aisne and Marne in 1917 and 1918 and the postwar occupation of the Alsace region up until March 1919. 

The First Flag still exists and remains at Stanford. It hung in the Stanford chapel until the early 1970s, but since that time has been stored safe — albeit not on public display —in the institution's Special Collections & University Archives. 

To be continued. . .

© Patrick Gregory 2016

Adapted from An American on the Western Front: The Letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, Patrick Gregory & Elizabeth Nurser (The History Press, UK, June 2016)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

America's First Flag to the Western Front, Part I

Part I: The Journey Begins

By Patrick Gregory

On 24 April 1917, less than three weeks after Congress, following President Wilson's war message, declared war on Germany, a crowd gathered around a group of students on San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront. The young men standing proudly to attention at the Ferry Building that lunchtime were drawn from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. 

Although numbering only 63 in total, the group — one section from Stanford, two from Berkeley — was dwarfed by the entourage accompanying it. Some 3,500 uniformed university cadets thronged around, themselves flanked by detachments from the U.S. Army and Navy. All had come to celebrate the young men's decision to leave imminently for the war in France — volunteers of the "American Ambulance" or "American Field Service", a corps of ambulance drivers already serving on the Western Front. At a given signal, the assembly moved on en masse for the two-mile march from the Ferry Building down to the city's Civic Auditorium, there to take part in an historic leave-taking ceremony, one which would help symbolize America's participation in the Great War. 

The Civic Auditorium Rally

More than 12,000 people crammed inside the auditorium for the occasion, having come to listen to the speeches being made and anthems sung and to witness the presentations which followed. Californian dignitaries sat and stood on the platform, figures drawn from the worlds of politics, the church, and the army. Among them, and from the universities concerned, the dean of the faculties of the University of California David Barrows and the president of Stanford and chairman of the League of California Ray Lyman Wilbur; the French consul-general Julien Neltner; Mrs. Herbert Hoover; and the San Francisco industrialist and entrepreneur W.B. Bourn. The latter was representing the group the "Friends of France". The Friends and the American League of California were to present brassards for the young men to wear during their service in France, and also to hand over four American flags. These flags had been brought beforehand by the Bishop of California for blessing and one of them was soon to take on a special significance — it would become the first official American flag to be brought to the front and flown in service there. 

Mindful that it would be some time before the first contingent of American Expeditionary Force troops would be ready to leave for Europe, the American League of California had approached Secretary of War Newton Baker in Washington for permission to fly this "First Flag" and the other flags as official standards in France. Baker had agreed, and in the San Francisco ceremony that April day, the First Flag was handed over to the detachment of volunteers representing Stanford. The Stanford students would have the responsibility of bringing the flag to France as soon as possible, and once there presenting it to a group already serving on the front — the First Stanford Unit — who had set out from their university two months before. 

Because it was likely that this new "Second Stanford" would take some time to gather itself, however, it was decided to entrust the banner to one member of the unit and to ask him to travel on ahead of the group. That task now fell to 21-year-old Arthur "Clifford" Kimber. 

"Allies Day," New York, May 1917
Childe Hassam
Kimber began his journey four days later, setting out on the first leg of his trip on an overnight train from the Oakland Mole railroad wharf across the bay from San Francisco. His journey across America was to take a week in all as he wound his way doggedly across country: up through California and into Oregon; over into Washington State and Idaho, across Montana and North Dakota into Minnesota, and across the Mid-West and beyond. There were stop-offs on route in Portland, Chicago, and Detroit to try to gain some publicity for the flag, something he had promised his unit he would do. 

A photograph of Kimber posing proudly with the flag duly appeared in a newspaper in Oregon, and before long he found himself touring factories in the big industrial cities of Chicago and Detroit, factories which would soon be gearing up for the demands of the war effort. Reaching New York on Saturday 5 May, Kimber's first port of call was the offices of the American Field Service and the organization's main figurehead in the United States, the Bostonian Henry Sleeper. With his ship scheduled to leave for Europe just ten days later, it had already been planned that the flag would be paraded down Fifth Avenue — the so-called "Avenue of the Allies" — at the head of an American Ambulance parade, something the two men now discussed. Theirs was to be one of several processions and cavalcades New York would see that week, with the Allied representatives Marshal Joseph Joffre of France and British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour in town at the head of their countries' respective war delegations. The American Impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam was also there, an artistic witness to these heady days of flag-waving and cheering crowds, days which would later be commemorated in one of his Flag Series, "Allies Day May 1917," now in the National Gallery of Art. 

The parade involving the American Ambulance volunteers, when it came on Thursday 10 May, was a stirring affair. Yet it was one with some comedic overtones. The crowds did indeed gather in strength to see this special Stars and Stripes being carried through the city, and they lined the pavements down the route. But festivities were somewhat marred beforehand by a prank played by some of the ambulance students from University of California, Berkeley, who had come to New York for the parade. As Stanford's senior and larger rival, and seemingly annoyed by the attention being afforded Kimber, some of the University of California students surrounded him. They snatched the flag from his grasp and, succeeding in bundling it into a taxi with one of their unit on board, made off down through Manhattan. What followed owed more to a Keystone Cops sequence than a serious war rally, a rather farcical chase complete with a passing policeman jumping on the running of a second taxi to give pursuit. The offending student party was eventually stopped and the flag returned to allow the ceremony to proceed. 

Note from Former President Roosevelt

The rest of Kimber's time in New York passed off with less excitement, barring a stop-off to visit former President Theodore Roosevelt. The latter was an old acquaintance and sometime ally of Kimber's late clergyman father, but, more specially, he was young Clifford Kimber's political hero. The two talked of Kimber's father and his ministry before moving on to the main subject at hand, the war. Roosevelt, by that time in his late 50s, reflected ruefully on the fact that it appeared unlikely he would be permitted to raise his own corps of troops for the front. If that changed, the former president said, all the younger man had to do was write to him and he would use him in some capacity. But for now, the older man took the notebook proffered and inscribed a message of good luck to the volunteer on his travels. 

Before leaving New York, Kimber went to Trinity Church on Wall Street. There, on Sunday 13 May, with the rector Rev. William Manning presiding, he took part in a service carrying the flag and afterwards placed the flag in the chancel of the church. Many parishioners paused before it with some stopping to touch or kiss the folds of consecrated cloth. The following afternoon, accompanied by his mother, Clara, who had travelled to New York with him, he took a taxi down to Pier 62 on the Hudson river, there to board the steamship St. Louis, bound for Liverpool in England. A reassuring ship to sail for Europe in, the St. Louis — later renamed the USS Louisville and used as a troopship of the A.E.F. — had been the first such American vessel to be armed and to sail the Atlantic in the spring of 1917 after Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. 

Book Cover Showing A.C. Kimber
& the Actual First Flag
The nine-day voyage on the St. Louis passed off without incident, life on board gradually settling into a comfortable if humdrum routine, but in the last 24 hours of the crossing, that easygoing mood of passengers suddenly darkened. The ship was entering the coastal waters around the British Isles, the danger zone where most U-boat activity of the war had been concentrated. They passed the area off the Irish coast where the Lusitania had been sunk two years previously and now spotted an empty lifeboat and some floating wreckage in the sea, evidence of more recent activity. After a few hours, a U.S. destroyer came out to guide them and chaperon them the rest of the way to Liverpool. Yet the mist swirling around them kept the approaching land largely hidden from view and that last night, fearful of having to abandon ship in haste, many of the passengers took to sleeping on deck or inside in the saloon, fully clothed. 

Yet make land they did in Liverpool on Wednesday 23 May as the passengers spilled gratefully onto the quayside and docks below. After a few brief hours of sightseeing in the port city, Kimber was on his way again, a train carrying him and others from the ship to London. Overnighting in the capital that evening he next secured passage on a cross-Channel troopship to France, and by dawn on the Friday he was in Paris. Kimber was to spend the next week there, staying at the American Field Service headquarters and getting used to the disciplines of his new quasi-military life. Then, after discussions with the director of the AFS, A. Piatt Andrew, he prepared to make for the front to join the First Stanford Unit. He would finally deliver his precious cargo.

© Patrick Gregory 2015

Adapted from the forthcoming An American on the Western Front: The Letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, Patrick Gregory & Elizabeth Nurser (The History Press, UK, June 2016)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An American on the Western Front
reviewed by Jane Mattisson Ekstam

An American on the Western Front: The First World War Letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, 1917–1918

by Patrick Gregory and Elizabeth Nurser

The History Press, 2016

An American on the Western Front is more than the story of one soldier: it also describes how America entered the global stage in 1917. The story of Arthur Clifford Kimber (he signed himself "Cliff") had been told before by his mother, in the small volume The Story of the First Flag (1920), which is based on selected letters. Unlike the earlier story, however, An American on the Western Front places Clifford's letters in their historical context. An American on the Western Front is thus not one but two stories: that of Arthur Clifford Kimber and that of America's involvement in World War One.

Order Now
Thanks to Clifford's mother's careful storage and typing of her son's letters (many were also addressed to Clifford's brothers, John and George), the scholarly use of historical sources, Professor Andrew Wiest's short but highly informative introduction, and Elizabeth Nurser's editing skills, An American on the Western Front provides the reader with an unusually rich picture of America's involvement in the last two years of the war. In the words of Andrew Wiest, An American on the Western Front is "an important first step" in filling "the historiographical lacuna of the experience of American soldiers fighting and dying in the trenches of France" (19); it shows that the war was fought by "young men with real lives and dreams" (20). In total, there are 160 letters in the collection; those sent to friends have not survived. Many of the letters are quoted in full in the 35 chapters that make up An American on the Western Front. In one of the earliest letters, Clifford tells his mother that the American army is full of patriotic young men who have "quit their studies" (Clifford was a student at Stanford University in 1917; 56). On his journey to England, he reflects on the dangers of crossing the Atlantic and on the sinking of the Lusitania, a story described to him by a steward who had survived. In France Clifford not only wrote letters but also took photographs. Having observed a confirmation service in the small village of Ligny-en-Barrois, for example, he took an emotive photograph, which is included in An American on the Western Front (126). The innocence of the children (the girls are all dressed in white) is in stark contrast to what is going on around them. Clifford is horrified by the atrocities committed by the Germans and proud of his nation for entering the war. It is in the letter that describes the confirmation service that Clifford begins to reflect on the attractions of being an aviator. He is excited by all that he is learning in the war and particularly impressed by those who wish to become pilots. He says, however, that "I have definitely made up my mind not to consider'"(126) such a step, preferring to drive an ambulance. Nonetheless, he changes his mind, and three chapter later (chapter 15), he describes his very first flight. When in June 1917 he was asked if he would like to be a pilot and agreed to accompany a senior pilot on a 45-minute flight, he became convinced that he would indeed "make an excellent aviator" (158).

Arthur Kimber in Flight Training

As the speed of the airplanes increased and as they became more maneuverable, Clifford realized that it was becoming increasingly dangerous to fly. He describes one accident in which he was involved:

Enclosed is a souvenir. It is a piece from the propeller of the chasse plane I wrecked today, my first smash-up and a mighty good one, take it from me. But I was not hurt, so DON'T WORRY. You may be interested to know what it is like to be in an aeroplane wreck. Got in the plane this afternoon and made three flights with fair landings. These chasse type planes land very fast, 40 to 50 miles per hour and faster, and as I said before are very, very sensitive and quick to respond. In fact sometimes we are too brutal with the controls, as the French moniteurs say. We forget ourselves and handle these highly sensitive machine birds as we handled the lumber wagons we first flew in, planes like the Curtiss, Farmans, and Caudrons; that's what I did today.

I came down pretty fast, a little faster than I thought, like a 'bat out of H.' to use the generally accepted expression over here, and I didn't redress, pull back on the stick, quite soon enough. Result: the plane hit on the wheels and bounced way up in the air; this would have done nothing if I could have kept even, it would have ended in a 'pancake' or three point landing, but I tipped a little to the right. I corrected, but was too brutal, for instead of shoving the stick to the left just a little, I threw it over all the way as I should have done with a C. Up went the right wing; down went the left; and in the twinkling of an eye the left wing hit the ground, crumpled up like paper with a cracking sort of sound and the end strut dug in. The machine hesitated a second and then with a swing and a sudden jerk it reared up on its nose splintering the propeller into bits (only a matter of a couple of hundred dollars or so; thank heaven I don't have to pay a cent; it is on Uncle Sam and you good old taxpayers at home), and burying the revolving motor a foot in the ground

Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, Romagne
On June 15th 1918, Clifford recorded the death of a fellow aviator. An American on the Western Front contains several letters about exploits in the air, Clifford's own and those of others. His final letter bears no trace of suspicion that it might be his last. Recording a move to a new camp, he explains that he must be up early the following morning to report for duty. It was to be his last night. What happened in Clifford's final flight is related in the following chapter, "Final Flight", chapter 33.

An American on the Western Front is a labor of love and a tribute to the USA's efforts in World War One. It is both scholarly and passionate; Patrick Gregory is an historian and son-in-law of Elizabeth Nurser, the daughter of Clifford's brother, George. The family story is a national as well as a personal one and deserves to be read by all who wish to know more about the USA's involvement in the war. The accessibility of the language, the richness of the illustrations (pictures, photographs, and maps), and the additional information in the copious notes and appendix make An American on the Western Front pleasurable as well as instructive reading.

by Jane Mattisson Ekstam
Østfold University College, Norway

Before he joined the Air Service, Arthur Kimber also made a highly symbolic contribution to America's commitment to join the war "to save civilization." In the next three issues of Roads to the Great War, author Patrick Gregory will share the story of how the "First Flag" of America was transported to the battlefields of the Western Front.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A VC for Shooting His Own Men

This one caught my eye and I thought I should share it with our readers:

George Raymond Dallas Moor, VC, MC & Bar (22 October 1896–3 November 1918) was a recipient of the Victoria Cross. 

Born in Australia and educated at Cheltenham College, following the outbreak of the First World War, Moor was commissioned as a second lieutenant on probation in the 3rd Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment, British 29th Division on 29 October 1914. He was 18 years old when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC. The citation in the London Gazette, 23 July 1915 reads: 

On 5 June 1915 south of Krithia, Gallipoli, Turkey, when a detachment of the battalion which had lost all its officers was rapidly retiring before a heavy Turkish attack, Second Lieutenant Moor, realizing the danger to the rest of the line, dashed back some 200 yards, stemmed the retirement, led back the men and recaptured the lost trench. This brave act saved a dangerous situation. The action actually took place early on 6 June during the Turkish counter-attack following the Third Battle of Krithia. 

Moor "stemmed the retirement" by shooting four of his own men. In the words of the 29th Division's commander General Henry de Lisle, Moor shot "the leading four men and the remainder came to their senses." Moor was promoted to lieutenant on 30 October 1916. 

He was later awarded the Military Cross (MC) and bar (second award). The citation for his MC read: 

Lt. George Raymond Dallas Moor, V.C., Hamp. R. For conspicuous gallantry and skill. He carried out a daylight reconnaissance all along the divisional front in face of heavy machine-gun fire at close range, in many places well in front of our foremost posts 

At the time of the second award he was ADC to the General Officer Commanding 30th Division, and an acting General Staff Officer, Grade III. The citation in the London Gazette, 29 July 1919 reads: 

On October 20th, 1918, about Pijpestraatthe  [his] vanguard commander was wounded and unable to carry on. Owing to heavy shelling and machine-gun fire, the vanguard came to a standstill. Lieut. Moor, Acting General Staff Officer, who was reconnoitering the front, noticed this ; he immediately took charge, and by his fearless example and skillful leading continued the advance until the objective was reached. He has a positive contempt for danger, and distinguishes himself on every occasion. (M.C. gazetted 2nd December, 1918.) 

Moor was in poor health as a result of his war experiences, and he died of Spanish Influenza at Mouvaux, France, on 3 November 1918. His Victoria Cross is displayed at The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum & Memorial Garden, Winchester, England. 

Source: (Cited from:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A WWI Inspiration for Patton's Most Famous Quote?

Patton after the War
You've seen the movie: with a massive American flag behind him. A medal-bedecked George Patton, played by George C. Scott, mounts the stage and asks his GI audience (and you) to remember:

No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

According to the highly informative Quote Investigator (QI) Website, the script for the 1970 film sourced a 1958 work by Lt. General James Gavin, that said Patton had made almost that exact statement in a 1943 pep talk to troops in North Africa. QI, though, points out that the sentiment had been expressed in some forms previously, the closest of which comes from the First World War, in which Patton himself fought. We also know from Patton's own writings that he was an avid reader of all the Great War's literature, including poetry.

In 1917 a collection titled “War Poems” was published with the author name “X." Later “X” was revealed to be the British author and journalist Thomas William Hodgson Crosland. The poem “Dying for Your Country” contained a precursor in its fourth stanza.

So, Johnny, keep your barrel bright,
And go where you are told to go,
And when you meet, by day or night,
Our friend the enemy, lay him low;
And you must neither boast nor quake,
Though big guns roar and whizz-bangs whizz—
Don’t die for your dear country’s sake,
But let the other chap die for his.

Patton's version is certainly more "rough and tumble," and I know of no proof that he ever read Crosland's poem, but he certainly captured the same sentiment.

Patton at Fort Meade Where He Would Meet Dwight Eisenhower

Source:  Quote Investigator

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Halifax: A Tragedy with a Unique Dimension

By most measures, the greatest non-nuclear explosion in history occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in December 1917. The approximate casualty estimate was 2,000 killed and 9,000 wounded and blinded. More Nova Scotians died in the Halifax explosion than were killed in World War One. Out of 60,000 inhabitants, 25,000 were left homeless. So many people suffered eye injuries that the science of treating damaged eyes was advanced significantly by the newly established Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Halifax would become known as a center for caring for the blind. That story within a story is one worth recounting.

The Damage at Halifax

“City in danger. Explosion. Conflagration.” The alarm was sent by telegram to areas surrounding Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. Relief expeditions organised from Nova Scotia, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal did not know the cause of the explosion, nor the extent of the damage. Had the Germans invaded? Was the city destroyed? Reports of casualties varied from 50 to 50 000 persons. 

In the fourth year of the First World War, Halifax was a seaport of 47,000 people, a base from which Canadian troops were sent overseas. Warships gathered in the Halifax Harbor to be refitted and supplied before sailing in convoys to Europe. For this reason, Halifax was a prime target for the Germans, and many believed that they had attacked. However, the explosion was caused by an accidental collision between two vessels.

The Mont Blanc Explodes
At 08:48 hrs a French freighter, the Mont Blanc, collided with the Imo, a Belgian relief ship, as a result of navigational error in the Halifax Harbor. The Mont Blanc carried 3121 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of trinitrotoluene, 35 tons of benzol and 10 tons of gun cotton.  The benzol drums ignited, with flames and smoke rising 2000 feet into the sky. Women and men went to their windows, and children walking to school stopped on the street to watch the blazing fire. After 17 minutes the ship blew up with a force that launched the hull over 1000 feet into the air, destroying everything within a 2.5 km radius and shattering every window in the city. The force of the explosion was estimated at three kilotons.  A great number of the spectators — especially those watching what they thought was another ship fire from behind glass windows in their homes on the hill overlooking the harbor — received shards of glass in their eyes. Thus, an extra tragic dimension was added to the disaster —  its huge number of ophthalmic injuries. 

Finding the injured was the initial challenge.  George H Cox, an eye, ear, nose and throat (EENT) specialist from New Glasgow, a town 100 km away, joined the relief expedition.  Eleven Nova Scotian doctors with nurses and volunteers reached Halifax that evening to find the city in ruins. “We had to make our way along streets and tracks blocked and covered with debris of all sorts. . .every here and there dead men on piles of black stuff. The whole area was darkened by smoke or lit up by flames from the burning debris.”

In the ruins Dr. Cox and his colleagues discovered that an inordinate number of penetrating eye injuries occurred. The severity and the overwhelming number of eye injuries sustained that day made it impossible for lengthy eye‐saving procedures to be performed. Enucleation,  the removal of the eye that leaves the eye muscles and remaining orbital contents intact, was often the only option. Twelve ophthalmologists treated 592 people with eye injuries and performed 249 enucleations. Sixteen people had both eyes enucleated. Most of the eye injuries were caused by shards of shattered glass. 

The Halifax explosion sparked an outpouring of community support for survivors who were blind or partially sighted and served as a catalyst for the formation of one of Canada’s oldest charities, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Sources: Mostly excerpted from "The Halifax disaster (1917): eye injuries and their care." British Journal of Ophthamology, June 2007; "Halifax: December 6, 1917" by Andrew Melomet, St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, April 2010 .


Friday, August 12, 2016

Five Excellent Articles on the AEF

A lot of magazines make the past holdings available online for free. Here are five top-notch articles on the American Expeditionary Force I've come across recently.

Tragedy at Fismette, France, 1918
From: History Net
By Edward G. Lengel

The Doughboys Make Good: American Victories at St. Mihiel and Blanc Mont Ridge (pdf issue)
From: Army History
By Mark E. Grotelueschen

The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, 1918: Harbinger of American Great Power on the European Continent?
From: Foreign Policy Research Institute
Michael Neiberg

The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919
From: Public Health Reports
Carol R. Byerly, PhD

“Representative of a Victorious People”: The Doughboy Watch on the Rhine (pdf issue)
From: Army History
By Alexander F. Barnes

Feel free to add your recommendations for similar articles in our comments section. Be sure to include the title and url.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

By the Way — Let's Not Forget Salonika Either

The Salonika policy. . .was largely vindicated by the extremely practical test of results.
Winston Churchill, The World Crisis

Regular readers might recall that I recently got on my soap box about the Italian Front and the need to keep studying it. I just remembered that I did a similar piece about the Salonika Front a few years ago for our monthly newsletter, the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire.  Here it is.

The Salonika, or Macedonian, Front is mostly neglected today, except by specialists and the British-based Salonika Campaign Society. But consider: almost all the war's combatants sent forces to the theater; three quarters of a million men were deployed along its 170-mile front; even down to the 21st century it remains the greatest focal point of debate between the war's "Easterners" and "Westerners","and in fact,it was the front where the final collapse of the Central Powers began. 

Anglo-French forces began landing at the Greek port of Salonika on 5 October 1915. The troops were sent to provide military assistance to the Serbs, who were threatened by combined German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian armies. The intervention came too late to save Serbia, and after a brief winter campaign in severe weather conditions on the Serbian frontier, the Anglo-French forces found themselves driven back to a small perimeter around Salonika. At this point the British advised that the troops be withdrawn. 

Greek Memorial at the Battlefield

However, the French, with Russian, Italian, and Serbian backing, still believed something of strategic importance could be gained in the Balkans, and, eventually, the British also bought in to the policy.. After preparing the port of Salonika for defense, the troops moved up-country. During 1916, further Allied contingents of Serbian, Italian, and Russian troops arrived, and offensive operations began. These culminated in the fall of Monastir to Franco-Serbian forces during November. A second offensive during the spring of 1917 made little impression on the Bulgarian defenses. The front line remained more or less static until September 1918, when a third offensive was launched under the command of talented French General Louis Franchet d'Espèrey. With a breakthrough by Serbian forces west of the Vardar river, the Bulgarian Army was forced into a general retreat. The campaign concluded with the surrender of Bulgaria on 30 September 1918. Backdoors to both Austria-Hungary and Turkey were now open.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Meet the Golden Eagle of Belleau Wood

Americans should all be proud to know that one of France's eagles guards our Aisne-Marne Cemetery at Belleau Wood. With my 2013 group I was pleased to meet with him one quiet Sunday afternoon. Here he is. I'm sorry, however, to say I've forgotten his name over the years. Nevertheless, he was most impressive, and I did pick up some interesting facts about his duties.

Mr. Eagle was not pleased with the loudness of my voices and let me know about it.  I assure you it was a most bracing and memorable encounter.

His area of responsibility covers both the mile-squire wood on the plateau above the cemetery and the cemetery itself.  He flies patrols here about one per month.

The objective of Mr. Eagle's sorties is to protect the beautiful crosses on each grave.  Bird droppings have a terrible effect on the Carrara marble. (I'll leave those details to your imagination.) The assistant superintendent who accompanied us that day proudly reported that when Mr. Eagle flew one of his missions all the other birds fled the forest, the cemetery, and the entire neighborhood for weeks, apparently spreading the word wide within the avian community of northern France.

The Golden Eagle of Belleau Wood and His Handler