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

Friday, January 19, 2018

The American Home Front: Images from the National Archives

1. Manufacturing airplanes for the government by Dayton-Wright Airplane Company. Completed plane on exhibition. 
Plant-1. Operation Number 4. Dayton Wright Airplane Company.

2.  American Red Cross Parade, Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham View Company.

3. Manufacturing helmets. Large power press for shaping helmets in the plant of Hale & Kilburn Corporation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hale & Kilburn Company.

4. James Montgomery Flagg has given the public an opportunity to see him in action. He produced a life size picture of poster "Tell it to the Marines" in the New York Public Library, to stimulate recruiting. Underwood and Underwood.

5.  Observation Balloons in Hangar. Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1 May 1918

6.  Lecture at the Student Army Training Corps, Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama

7. Second Liberty Loan, October 1917. Fatty Arbuckle, the movie star, putting up a Liberty Loan poster at Times Square, New York.

8. Mighty battalion of Mack war trucks, all for the Engineers Corps. 
Manufactured by the International Motor Company, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

9. Dorothy Gish in The Greatest Thing in Life, a D. W. Griffith Artcraft picture released by Famous Players-Lasky Corp.

10. Mother escorting her son to train bound for camp. Newark, New Jersey

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Great Fire of Salonika

In 1917, the port city of Salonika was bursting with Allied troops heading for the Macedonian Front just to its north.  Then in August, a fire broke out one Saturday afternoon, and a conflagration ensued.

Salonika from a British Seaplane Before the Fire

Starting with a kitchen fire at one house at the beginning of Ayiou Dimitriou Street, the fire destroyed, with the help of the Vardaris (a strong north wind), 250 acres of building area, 9,500 houses, and most of the city's churches, banks, schools, printing presses, hotels, and shops. It left 72,000 people homeless, two-thirds of whom were Jews. The fire wiped out the traditional, cosmopolitan appearance of the city.

I recently stumbled across this account of the fire by  Dr. Isabel Emslie Hutton. In 1915 she joined the Scottish Women's Hospitals Organisation and served in France (Domaine de Chanteloup, Sainte-Savine, near Troyes) and then with the Armee d'Orient in Salonika, distinguishing herself by leading the unit which accompanied the Serbian Army during the First World War.

About five o’clock in the afternoon we noticed a thin lick of yellow flame just beyond the bazaar. Half an hour later it seemed to have grown bigger, and we all drew one another’s attention to it, but none of us considered it was anything serious, and thought no more about it. The inhabitants must surely have realised the danger, but as they had no fire engines or methods of coping with it, nothing was done. The evening breeze arose and the flames licked along eastwards towards the principal parts of the town.

Dr. Hutton
About 7pm Dr McIlroy and I went into the town and walked up to the city walls; there below us was a belt of leaping, roaring fire that stretched almost from one end of the town to the other, and right across the middle part of it above the Rue Egnatia. This great ferocious monster ate up house after house with lightning speed, for the little evening breeze had developed into a mild Vardar wind, and now all the authorities saw that the situation was as bad as it could be, and that nothing could stop the progress of that roaring furnace.

It was unforgettable; all the pictures of hell that were ever painted fall short of it in fearfulness, and its hungry roar, mingled with snarls and hisses and the crash of the falling ruins, was most awe-inspiring. The inhabitants ran about trying to save their possessions and not knowing where to take refuge.

The progress of the flames was now so fast that the streets were thronged with the people carrying what they could, and the hamals were making a fortune carrying great loads of household goods for the highest bidder. A huge wardrobe, an enormous and hideous mirror or a piano would come blundering down one of the narrow streets, a hamal peeping out from under it, and it would sometimes meet a sewing-machine or a feather-bed going in the other direction and get jammed. Mothers and children scurried along with as much as they could carry, and bedridden grandmothers or invalids were half-dragged, half-carried along. All was confusion, grief and hopelessness.

We hurried back as soon as possible, for there seemed no reason why the fire should not spread along the line of houses to our hospital, GHQ, and the other offices of the Allies.

By nine o’clock huge fire-balls were being blown right into our hospital and even beyond it, for the wind was still in the same direction, and there was great danger that our tents would catch fire, even if the fire itself did not reach us. Members of the staff, armed with brooms to beat out the flames, perched themselves on the ridge-poles of the high tents and stayed there till the wind changed and there was no more danger. “Comme ces dames sont pratiques; les seestaires ont merveilleuses,” said our patients. “Sont des garçons manqués,” grunted Danjou, the taciturn old Medecin Chef from next door.

The Fire from the Waterfront

Before midnight the entire town was a semicircle of fire, and it seemed as if nothing could escape; mercifully, after midnight the wind suddenly changed and the flames, instead of licking further eastward, blazed straight southwards to the bay, setting fire to the barques that lay alongside the quay. These barques had been doing excellent work during the progress of the fire, and since the quay was till now untouched they had been able to save the inhabitants and some stores. Now moving out for safety, they spread the fire to other ships, and there was much confusion in the bay for a time. Nevertheless, the change of wind certainly saved the remainder of Salonika, and when daylight broke, though the fire had not stopped, and, indeed, continued to smoulder for days, the danger was over.

On all sides we heard praises of the British lorry-drivers, who worked most strenuously and considerately for all, especially the women and children. Of other Allies it was said that the drivers were not above taking tips and that much stealing went on (this is possible, for all the well-stocked shops were completely looted). It was said, too, that it was revolting to see the Russians lying in the gutters drinking the wine which flowed down from the burst barrels in the store-houses on the quay. Olive Kelso King did splendid work in this fire, and was awarded the Gold Medal for bravery by the Serbian Headquarters for which she was now working.

A few days later we went down to see the town, which was still smouldering and hardly recognisable. All the quayside buildings were completely gutted, and nothing remained of Venizelos Street or the Bazaar but masses of masonry; every shop and hotel had been wiped out, the roads were blocked with smouldering debris, and the whole place was desolation. The Turkish quarter, however, nestled on the hillside as cheerfully as ever, and the old walls and the mosques rose dignified among the desolation, save the beautiful Church of St Demetrius, which was almost completely destroyed. Many Salonicians were heavily insured with British Insurance Companies, who paid up the full amounts at once, much to the amazement of the inhabitants, who thought it a wonderful and noble act of generosity.

Salonika was soon in working order again, though no attempt was made to rebuild it. The inhabitants went back into the skeletons of their shops, raised tarpaulins and corrugated iron, and carried on as brisk a trade as before. Great fires must have occurred many times there during the previous centuries, and the inhabitants seemed to take it all as a matter of course, and hardly ever alluded to it.
Looking West at the Fire

There was great discussion as to whether it was caused by enemy incendiarism, and since Salonika was full of spies this would not have been a difficult matter; on the previous day Monastir had been evacuated because of a fire caused by incendiary bombs, and Florina had likewise suffered. Be that as it may, the official opinion seemed to be that it was accidental, and was caused by a careless housewife upsetting some boiling fat on the fire.

First published in With a Woman’s Unit in Salonika, Serbia and Sebastopol, by  Dr Isabel Emslie Hutton (Williams & Norgate, 1928)

The city was left in complete chaos after the fire but the government had to reconstruct itself. But there was a new plan for Thessaloniki, a want for a more urban city feel. The minister of transports, Alexandros Papanastasiou, was chosen to lead this task and created the "International Committee for the New Plan of Thessaloniki." Ernet Hebrard was chosen to be the head architect, and the goal was to redevelop the city according to European lines. After the reconstruction, the city had better squares, transportation, and less cluttered streets.

Sources:  Wikicommons, The Great Fire of 1917, The Independent, and Mental Floss

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Waste No Food!

The U.S. Food Administration distributed, through its various state organizations, this broadside and others like it to stem the waste of food. Volunteers, most often club women, posted the broadsides "in every place where numbers of people will see them," including schools, libraries, groceries, and public transit. The 1917 Official U.S. Bulletin reported, "Waste in any individual household may seem insignificant, but if only a single ounce of edible food, on the average, is allowed to spoil or be thrown away in each of our 20,000,000 homes, over 1,300,000 pounds of material would be wasted each day. The housewife must learn to plan economical and properly balanced meals, which, while nourishing each member of the family, do not encourage overeating."

A Conscientious Grocer Displays the Poster Shown Above

Source: The Library of Congress

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Was a Spy!
Reviewed by James Patton

I Was a Spy! The Classic Account of Behind-the-Lines Espionage 
in the First World War

by Marthe McKenna (Author), Winston Churchill (Introduction)
Pool of London Press, 2015 (reprint)

I was a Spy! was published in 1932 by Marthe M. McKenna neé Cnockaert (1892–1966). Some have said that her husband, ex-major John McKenna, was her ghost-writer. The Rt. Hon. Winston S. Churchill P.C., C.H., M.P. (he didn't become Sir Winston until 1953) wrote the foreword to the original edition. The book was a bestseller in the UK and was made into a movie, also in the UK, which was later voted the Best British Picture of 1933. Twelve more works of fiction and four of non-fiction followed until the McKennas divorced in 1951. All of these were likely written by her husband.

Marthe After the War

The book is in re-print in the UK (2015) and the movie can be gotten on DVD. Google has a digitized version of the original, too (but not free). Marthe was a young Belgian medical student on break when the German juggernaut overran her hometown of Westrozebeke in 1914. She volunteered at an improvised hospital and quickly became important there due to her medical training and her fluency in both German and English, and in short order she became the head of the hospital. Later she even volunteered for temporary service at a casualty clearing station that was shorthanded due to indiscriminate shelling.

Meanwhile, Marthe's family had fled to the safety of Roeselare (Roulers), which was beyond artillery range, where they were operating a café. Eventually her hospital was closed and she was transferred to the large German hospital at Roeselare. Not long after her arrival she was recruited by a former neighbor to provide intelligence information to the British.

Marthe was given no training, other than to keep her eyes and ears open and to transport any secret messages in her hair rather than her stocking tops. Her network identified themselves to each other by wearing a safety pin pinned to the inside of their collar. Eventually she was taught a simple cipher. All of this seems naïve and amateurish, but they get away with it.

She gathered bits of information about troop deployments and munitions dumps which she turned over to unseen handlers. In the early days the Germans were totally unprepared to deal with this. The army types assigned to rear-area administration were mostly overage Landwehr apparently akin to Schultz and Klink from the 1960s TV show Hogan's Heroes. Indeed, most of the Germans were incredibly chatty with Marthe, some of them churlishly attempting to bed her. Once an elderly General Staff colonel invited her to come with him to Brussels for the weekend to, ahem, go to the opera. This also offered her a golden opportunity to get useful details about the Kaiser's planned visit to Belgium. That done, when the time came to do her bit for Belgium, she bashed her suitor over the head with a water jug and scuttled back to the hospital. How she managed this without papers or the protection of her colonel isn't explained, let alone avoid any investigations or reprisals.

Marthe Portrayed by Madeleine Carroll in the 1932 Film Version

Apparently, the motto "Loose Lips Sink Ships" was not going around in Germany in 1915. She befriended a lonely squadron leader at a nearby aerodrome and gets a lot of information about the performance and capabilities of the brand-new Albatros fighters, and to avoid his advances she literally drank him under the table. After a while, however, the Germans began training and deploying counter-intelligence operatives. One of them took such an interest in Marthe that she eventually had to ask her handlers to have him killed.

She warmed to the cloak-and-dagger life and soon began increasingly risky escapades. On two occasions she helped wounded British POWs escape to the Netherlands by holding them in the hospital until they were well enough to make the walk. No explanation is given for how they planned to get through the high voltage fence. Another time she learned of a radio outpost hidden in a forest that was vexing the British. She dressed as a soldier, begged a lift in a cart, immobilized the radio operator with chloroform she filched from her hospital, and disabled the equipment. Later she hid a saboteur who was then tracked down by the Germans and killed, leaving her in possession of a backpack full of TNT. The temptation to use this led to her downfall, as she and a friend, neither of whom knew anything about explosives, decided to try to blow up an ammunition dump. They got access to the dump through the ancient sewers, where she lost her nurse's watch, which was then found by the investigators, and she was caught when she naively tried to claim it at a "lost and found."

Some of her stories describe incidents of believable cock-ups. For example, she described a night air raid on a German ammunition train that she had spotted for the British. The airmen tossed out their bombs one by one, missing the train, until a pilot dove on the target to get close, which resulted in the plane losing both wings. The crew were killed when they crashed into the train, which then exploded. This might qualify as the first kamikaze attack in history, and the crew should have been awarded the VC. Also when she learned information about the accumulation of chlorine tanks and their deployment she passed this on but was snippily told by her handlers to stop bothering them about this. Lastly, when she told them about the Kaiser's plan to visit the front, which she had got by risking her virtue and her life with the colonel in Brussels, her handlers ignored the information, the nightly bombing raids continued, and the Kaiser's visit to Roeselare was cancelled.

Certain salient facts of this saga seem indisputable because they could be easily verified. In 1916 Marthe was condemned to death for espionage, but Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm II, King of Württemberg, had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment (in Belgium, not Germany). In 1914, he had awarded Marthe the Wilhelm Cross for Merit for her medical service to his army (the 26th and 27th German Divisions). Many accounts confuse this award with the Iron Cross. She was mentioned in despatches by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig on 8 November 1918 (there is a photograph in the 1932 book) and she states that she also received the Ordre National de la Légion d'honneur from France and the Order of Leopold from Belgium.

However, modern sources have raised the question, how much of her story is true? In an article in the British newspaper The Independent in November 2015 it is reported that the Imperial War Museum said that they had no other information about Marthe's activities. In the 1932 foreword Churchill admitted: "I cannot vouch for the veracity of every incident."

Her story is sometimes incredible, at other times period melodrama, but there are also places that have a solid ring of truth. The account is fast-paced, even breathless, and her fondness for exclamation marks is matched only by frequent cliché. She even dutifully recounts the story of the bayoneted baby, one of the widest-spread tales attributed to British propagandists, and her story is riddled with stereotypical Germans such as officers with wasp waists, dueling scars, and monocles. Her narrative is flat and simple, quite like popular children's books of the time, but she moves it briskly and it becomes engaging, entertaining, a page-turner. Plus it's a quick read.
Churchill said that he finished it in one night.

James Patton

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Great Hindoo Spy Conspiracy: 1913–1918

201 Sansome Street, San Francisco
The elegant-looking building on the right located at 201 Sansome Street in San Francisco's Financial District is filled today with high-end condominiums. During the war it was the location of the German Consulate, and that made it a hotbed of espionage that predated America's entry into the war.

As part of the overall German strategy to undermine British interests around the world and deny war materials to the Allies, Consul General Franz von Bopp and his vice-consul and military attaché recruited both Indian Nationalists and Irish Sinn Fein sympathizers. Their activities with the Indian group became much more prominent, so the whole affair was known as the "Great Hindoo Spy Conspiracy."  Various federal court documents described what the principals were conspiring:

German Consul General
Franz von Bopp
To blow up and destroy with their cargoes and crews any and all vessels belonging to Great Britain, France, Japan or Russia found within the limits of Canada, which were laden with horses, munitions of war, or articles of commerce in course of transportation to the above countries. . .

[They] also provided support for the Ghadar movement (Urdu for "mutiny"), composed principally of Punjabi Indians seeking independence from British rule. The effort in America was focused  in California, to which Punjabi agricultural workers had migrated. There was also a cadre of disaffected Indian students at the University of California, Berkeley. Hence, San Francisco became the American base for what was a worldwide espionage ring.

Describing the adventures of the various spies, saboteurs, and agents provocateurs, the investigative efforts of the U.S. government as assisted by British intelligence, counter-agents and code breakers to apprehend them, and the peculiar initial 1916–1917 trial held while America was still neutral are beyond our limited space here.

All these preliminaries, however, were dwarfed by the sheer spectacle of the second trial in San Francisco, which gathered von Bopp and his German Consulate staff with all their "Hindoo" agents into a 31-man defendant pool. It was described by author Henry Landau, who wrote of German mischief in the United States during the war in his work The Enemy Within:

Ram Chandra, Ghandra Leader
Murdered in the Courtroom

The trial of these men was one of the most picturesque ever conducted in an American court. [Convened in November 1917 in the same San Francisco courthouse where Tokyo Rose would be tried decades later.]  The turbaned Hindus lent an Oriental atmosphere. Among the evidence were publications in six Indian dialects, also coded messages, all of which called for constant translation by interpreters and cryptographers. 

Witness after witness recited his amazing story of adventure. The action shifted quickly between the three focal points, Berlin, the United States, and India, with intermediate scenes laid in Japan, China, Afghanistan, and the South Seas. The climax occurred on the afternoon of April 23, 1918, the last day of the trial, when, in the crowded court room, Ram Singh shot and killed Ram Chandra, whom he suspected of betraying the organization. A moment later. United States Marshal James Holohan shot the murderer dead in his tracks.

A verdict of guilty was returned against 29 of the defendants. The officials of the San Francisco German Consulate were sentenced to additional terms of imprisonment plus fines. The Hindus, chiefly students, received lighter sentences, running from two months up to 18 months in the penitentiary. Von Bopp and his assistants served time until 1920, when they were paroled from Leavenworth prison.

Source:  Over the Top, December 2011

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Capt. Harold Macmillan, Grenadier Guards

Former British Prime Minister Harold "Super Mac" Macmillan was shabbily treated in this past season's episodes of The Crown, which I have otherwise found enjoyable.  I thought his war service deserved a remembrance here.

Eton graduate and future prime minister Maurice Harold Macmillan was commissioned a 2nd Lt. with the King Royal Rifle Corps in November 1914.  Four months later he transferred to the more prestigious Grenadier Guards.

He first saw action at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, being wounded lightly in the head and seriously in the right hand. After convalescence, he returned in April 1916 to Ypres, and was lightly wounded on 19 July when on a reconnaissance mission to approach the German lines and listen.

At the Somme in mid-September 1916 he was seriously wounded in the pelvis and left thigh, though without any bone being fractured, for the bullet was slowed by his water bottle. He lay for a day in a shell hole in No Man's Land: "I had in my pocket Aeschylus's Prometheus in Greek. It was a play I knew very well, and seemed not inappropriate to my position...I read it intermittently."

He was rescued at darkness by Company Sergeant-Major Norton, but had to make his own way to the dressing station, where his wounds were dressed but not drained, allowing abscesses to form. Surgeons decided it would be too risky to attempt to remove the bullet fragments.

He spent the rest of the war in and out of hospital and unable to return to France. The war left Macmillan with "a limp handshake, a dragging gait, and sporadic pain. His war service and war wounds were of great advantage to him in Tory politics, for until the 1960s to have had ‘a good war,' and especially to have been wounded, counterbalanced many an intellectual and political eccentricity. Macmillan did not play the patriotic card; his body played it for him." His political career led him to become prime minister in 1957, and he served in the office until 1963.  He died in 1986.

This is a from a letter he wrote his mother before the Somme:

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about a modern battlefield is the desolation and emptiness of it cannot emphasize too much. Nothing is to be seen of war or soldiers—only the split and shattered trees and the burst of an occasional shell reveal anything of the truth. One can look for miles and see no human being. But in those miles of country lurk (like moles or rats, it seems) thousands, even hundreds of thousands of men, planning against each other perpetually some new device of death. Never showing themselves, they launch at each other bullet, bomb, aerial torpedo and shell. And somewhere too (on the German side we know of their existence opposite us) are the little cylinders of gas, waiting only for the moment to spit forth their nauseous and destroying fumes. And yet the landscape shows nothing of all this—nothing but a few shattered trees and three or four lines of earth and sandbags, these and the ruins of towns and villages are the only signs of war anywhere visible. The glamour of red coats—the martial tunes of flag and drum—aide-de-camps scurrying hither and thither on splendid chargers—lances glittering and swords flashing—how different the old wars must have been!
Letter to his mother, 13 May 1916

Sources:  Imperial War Museum Website

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Friday, January 12, 2018

Coming Soon in OVER THE TOP

A big part of what we produce at is presented in our monthly full-color subscription magazine OVER THE TOP.  Here is what we are presenting in our next four issues.  Information on subscribing is included at the bottom of the page.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Renaming Peter the Great's City

Petrograd, 1 May 1917

Peter the Great named  his new city after his patron saint and he gave it a Dutch pronunciation: Sankt Peterburg. (His admiration for Amsterdam was considerable.) Gradually the name evolved into St. Petersburg, as another aspect of the city's commitment to Europeanization, but by September 1914 that seemed too German-sounding, and on the outbreak of the First World War a gust of chauvinism caused the tsar to rename it Petrograd. Thus, during the hot days of the Bolshevik Revolution, it was the Petrograd Soviet who gradually painted Russia's capital red. Lenin, who didn't trust the cosmopolitan city and who felt it was too vulnerable to foreign attack, moved the capital to Moscow in 1918. When he died, in 1924, the Communist Party renamed Petrograd as Leningrad and thus baptized it after someone who despised it. On 6 September 1991 it was named back to Sankt-Peterburg, of which the English-language equivalent St. Petersburg is commonly used. 

Source:  A column of the late Christopher Hitchens and Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Draft Board Wants to See You

From: The Oregon Secretary of State

Poster informing that all males between the ages
of 21 and 30 years must register for the draft

Settling on a Draft

With the declaration of war in April 1917, American leaders had to make decisions about how to mobilize millions of men for military service. Many people, such as former president Theodore Roosevelt, held a romantic attachment to voluntary military service. And, certainly, America's experience with a system of conscription or compulsory military service during the Union draft during the Civil War was seen as an example of how not to raise an army. That draft resulted in gross unfairness through the hiring of substitutes and other dubious actions, spawning protests and riots.

In the end, President Wilson and his advisers settled on the draft as the only efficient and democratic way to raise a large army. In contrast to the Civil War draft, Wilson sought to spread the obligation for duty among all qualified men, regardless of their social or economic standing. The Selective Service Act required all males from 21 to 30 go to their election precinct polling place to register in early June 1917. Men who failed to register for the draft risked spending a year in jail. Nine million American men registered in early June.

No Excuse for Failure to Register

Subsequently, men were expected to appear when they turned 21 years old. In 1918 draft ages were expanded to include those aged 18 to 45. By the end of the war, more than 24 million men registered for the draft with almost three million being inducted into the Army.

The Selective Service Department set up district boards in Portland, Eugene, and La Grande. Each of these had jurisdiction over a number of local draft boards. Because of Portland's size, it included the local board divisions. Marion County had two. Otherwise, the boards were located in each of Oregon's county seats.

Draft Registration Card

Registering for the draft was a long and bureaucratic exercise. Numerous forms and cards waited for completion. A 16-page questionnaire walked through nearly every aspect of a registrant's life. Failure to fill it out within seven days could result in a "fine or imprisonment for one year and may result in the loss of valuable rights and immediate induction into military service."

The first, and probably most important, question confronting the registrant was that of making a claim for exemption or deferred classification from the draft. The law held that "the names of all men liable to selection for military service shall be arranged in five classes in the order in which they can best be spared from the civic, family, industrial, and agricultural institutions of the Nation." In simplified form, the system included:

Class I: Every man in this class was "presently liable for military service." These included most single men, unskilled laborers, and certain married men.

Class II: These men were "temporarily deferred" from service until Class I was exhausted. They generally included certain married men with dependents and "necessary" skilled labor.

Class III: These men were "temporarily deferred" from service until Class II was exhausted. They generally included certain men with dependent infirm or "helpless" relatives as well as certain types of government workers and other "necessary" workers.

Class IV: These men were "temporarily deferred" from service until Class III was exhausted. They generally included men with families that were "mainly dependent on his labor for support" as well as merchant mariners and managers of "necessary enterprises."

Class V: These men were "exempted or discharged" from service. They generally included legislative, executive, or judicial officers of government, ministers, aliens, the "totally and permanently physically or mentally unfit" as well as the "morally unfit."

A separate line allowed for a claim of exemption based on religious convictions against participating in war—the conscientious objector.

The rest of the 16-page questionnaire asked detailed questions, 32 on dependents alone, related to supporting claims made for exemption or deferred classification and required affidavits in support. Legal advisory boards, consisting of "disinterested lawyers and laymen" were available at draft board offices throughout Oregon to advise registrants on the "true meaning and intent" of the law. View the  draft registration questionnaire here: PDF Questionnaire

Your Local Draft Board

Once the forms and questionnaires were completed, the local draft board would begin processing the registration and a folder would fill with the resulting paperwork, noting each step of the process. If the registration progressed to the point at which the registrant were ordered to report for a physical examination, the report of the examining physician would be included, as would the report of the medical advisory board. Twenty-five of these boards scattered throughout Oregon examined records and determined the physical qualifications of the registrants. They had four choices: qualified; qualified but deferred; qualified for limited service; and disqualified. The medical board's decision was forwarded to the local draft board, which ruled on the same criteria. If the individual appealed the action, the district draft board would rule.

Local Board Classification Card
Registrants who passed the physical examination would be ordered to report for service. If they failed to report, they first would be listed as delinquent and later as deserters who were to be "apprehended." Those who reported as ordered eventually would find themselves at mobilization camp where they would be either accepted, rejected, or discharged.

Of course, for those not immediately inducted into the military, there were continuing responsibilities related to the draft. If any change occurred that could affect their deferred or exempt status, they were to report it to the local draft board within five days. They were also required to examine "from time to time" notices posted by the local draft board in case changes to the system affected their status.

Results May Vary

The public voiced little opposition to the draft over the course of the war. Some of this could be attributed to fear of criticizing a government that was beginning to crack down on "disloyal" rhetoric. But most Americans saw the need for the draft and believed that, while not perfect, the classification system generally was fair. Certainly, as with any system of its size and complexity, favoritism, bribery, intimidation, and other forms of corruption occurred at local draft boards. But the system held up even as it lowered the draft age from 21 to 18, thereby edging closer to the sight of "taking boys from their mothers' arms."

Opinions differed on the quality of the soldier produced by the draft. Overall, consensus holds the drafted soldiers fought just as heroically as the two million men who enlisted in the various armed services. But at least one Oregon man, Martin Luther Kimmel, who had enlisted in the Army held a different attitude:

"These conscripts are generally of an inferior class, largely Greeks, Italians & men of low mentality and little schooling. I should judge from the 60 or more who have been assigned to Bat [Battery] A that the selective Draft had been carried out so as to take the poorest stuff they could find. I would very much like to know the truth about the draft. I know that some good men were selected under it but I am afraid that it was not carried out impartially & uniformly in a truly fair manner. The selection of men & the exemptions gave a large field for preferment & partiality on the part of the Boards and all the evidence I have seen points to the fact that they exercised both."

How the News Came

The President of the United States, 

To: Joseph W. Doakes,

Greetings: Having submitted yourself to a local board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining the place and time in which you can best serve the United States in the present emergency, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for immediate military service.

You will, therefore, report to the local board named below at: 48 South Grand Avenue at 4pm, February 16, 1918 for military duty.

From and after the day and hour just named you will be a soldier in the military service of the United States.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Back Over There: One American Time-Traveler
Reviewed by Clark Shilling

Back Over There: One American Time-Traveler, 100 Years Since the Great War, 500 Miles of Battle-Scarred French Countryside, and Too Many Trenches, Shells, Legends and Ghosts to Count

by Richard Rubin
St Martin's Press, 2017

American Soldiers "Just Off the Boat" Break from Their Marching, 1917

If you are a student of America's part in World War I, you may already have heard of Richard Rubin. In the early part of this century, he interviewed the last few surviving American veterans of World War I, compiling these interviews into a book published in 2013 entitled The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War. (This book was reviewed on this website in 2013. If you would like to read that review, type Rubin in the search box, and it will be displayed.)

Rubin had insisted that all of his interviews for The Last of the Doughboys be on a face-to-face basis with his subjects. He felt a phone interview would not enable him to get all the nuances of the stories that these elderly veterans had to tell about their war. After writing The Last of the Doughboys, Rubin still felt a sense of incompleteness. He had listened to these stories, but to completely understand them he decided that he needed to see where they took place. He would go to France and explore the Western Front to see the areas where his Doughboys fought; this became the basis for his latest book, Back Over There.

Doughboy Raiders in No-Man's-Land Carrying Sacks of Grenades

In the first quarter of his book Rubin visits the major battle sites that were fought before the U.S. entered the war—Verdun, the Somme and Ypres—and he includes his impressions of each. He was moved by the ossuary at Verdun and the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, but for the most part, these battlefields left him cold. Except for Verdun, they had been changed too much. He viewed Flanders as a "posh suburb" and the Somme as a "pastoral countryside." He writes that these places were no longer battle sites but rather "sites where battles once took place."

The balance of this book is then spent with the author looking for the "trail of the A.E.F." Rubin calls his method of exploration "bushwhacking"—traveling down tractor roads, logging roads and cow paths, and when necessary, hiking through trees and undergrowth to discover the remains of the Western Front and the places where the A.E.F. fought. He was able to do this by networking with a number of locals who were experts on various sections of the Western Front. With names like Giles, Jean-Paul, Denis, and Christophe, these hobbyists, enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs guided Rubin to some amazing places. Rubin stood on the hill where Americans fired their first shot at a German position. He then provides the trivia that the French 75 cannon that fired that shot is now located at West Point. He visited the site where the first three Doughboys were killed in action. Bookmarking the American experience in the war, he found the monument marking the site where the last American Doughboy, Private Henry Gunther, was killed in the war a minute before the Armistice took effect at 11 a.m. As American troops began to train in the trenches,some were quartered in chalk mines that lay under the famous Chemin des Dames. While there, they covered the walls with graffiti, leaving behind their names and units. Rubin went into the mine and recorded many of these names and then researched their fate, telling us whether they were later killed in battle or whether they survived and were able to return home to live out their lives.

The French province of Lorraine is home to the site of the two largest battles fought by the AEF: St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Rubin describes Lorraine as a backwater, largely agricultural, undeveloped and as a result relatively unchanged since the end of the war. The Germans held this area from 1914 to 1918, and German engineers, the masters of reinforced concrete, built many structures that have survived the forces of time and the efforts of the French to remove them. With the help of his network of locals, Rubin explored many of the numerous German block houses and trenches that remain there. His conclusion was that the Germans thought of everything. Not only that, they also were smart enough to occupy the best positions.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are his explorations of several German rest areas called Lagers, camps where thousands of German soldiers were allowed to rest and relax after serving in the front lines. These facilities included swimming pools, bakeries, bath houses, libraries, theaters, hospitals, brothels, and more, everything to help a German soldier unwind after combat. Rubin was able to tour the once sumptuous bunkers built for Crown Prince Wilhelm, as well as for the Crown Prince of Bavaria, structures that still stand in the undergrowth in Lorraine.

There are many more adventures in the book. The author visited virtually every major battle site that involved the A.E.F. I often find myself reading very long books. Usually by the time I get close to the end, I have had more than enough and look forward to completion and moving on to another. That is not the case with this all too brief book. When I got to the end, I wanted more. Rubin writes about his adventures with ironic humor and self-deprecation. His writing often reminds me of Bill Bryson in his books such as The Mother Tongue and Letters from a Small Island. He has a great eye for details and shows a reverential respect for the soldiers of the Great War. I found his research and conclusions to be spot on and could find no fault with his knowledge on any aspect of the war.

German Prisoners Carrying a Wounded American Soldier

Next year will be the last year of the Centennial and will mark the 100th anniversary of the key American battles in World War I. If you plan to focus your reading on the A.E.F. in 2018 as I plan to, I recommend you add this book to your reading list. In addition, I would point out that the author made an hour-and-a-half presentation about this book at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in May of this year, where he expands some on the book. The book contains numerous black-and-white photos, but in his presentation at the National World War I Museum, you can see the pictures in color. It can be found on

Clark Shilling

Monday, January 8, 2018

100 Years Ago Today: President Wilson Enunciates the Fourteen Points

8 January 1918

President Wilson
The Fourteen Points was a major policy position taken by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and announced in a speech to Congress on 8 January 1918. The speech defined Wilsonian idealism in foreign policy, in a doctrine that came to be known as "Wilsonianism." The goal was to identify the main underlying causes of war in the entire world and to eliminate or minimize them. The first five points were broad in scope: open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, the beating down of economic barriers, the reduction of armament, and the adjustment of colonial claims on a fair basis. These followed Wilson's formulas for applying justice to specific countries or areas. The 14th point was a declaration in favor of an Association of Nations (or League of Nations) to resolve unexpected conflicts and thus guarantee world peace. In three follow-up addresses, Wilson set forth elaborations, clarifications and new points, bringing the total number of proposals to 23. 

Wilson sought a just and lasting peace—no bartering of ethnic groups; the satisfaction of legitimate national aspirations; honorable international dealing; the destruction of arbitrary militarism; and territorial adjustments in the interests of the peoples concerned, or "self determination." He was vague on the rights of minority groups in areas where self determination would be controlled by ethnic majorities. 

Wilson was most of all committed to a League of Nations, a peace agency that would be able to use force to preserve territorial integrity and political independence among large and small nations alike. The speech was highly idealistic, translating Wilson's progressive ideals of democracy, self-determination, open agreements, and free trade into the international realm. Much of the speech was drafted by aide Walter Lippmann. It made several suggestions for specific disputes in Europe on the recommendation of Wilson's foreign policy advisor, Colonel House, and his team of 150 advisors known as “The Inquiry.” Politically, he made a serious blunder by not seeking advice from Republican leaders in his policy formulation; some of them, such as William Howard Taft, had very similar goals in mind and could have forestalled the partisanship that caused Wilson trouble in 1919. Senate Republicans led by Henry Cabot Lodge wanted a reservation that only Congress could take the U.S. into war. Wilson refused to compromise on this issue and the required 2/3 majority for ratifying the treaty was not achieved. As a result the United States never joined the League of Nations. 

Wilson did not invent new terms; he pulled together the best of existing war aims, including many that had been expressed by the British and a few that originated with the Germans and the Bolsheviks, and then added a few of his own. His timing was brilliant; it was the combination that was so powerful—here was an authoritative voice, unburdened by any treaty, who proclaimed what many saw as the best possible outcome of the war, and one that would justify the horrible events by cleansing the earth and opening up a peaceful utopia. Europe went wild when he arrived in Paris, for Wilson had made himself the most trusted man in the world. 

The promise of national self-determination aroused audiences in Ireland, Eastern and Central Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and remains a powerful idea in the 21st century. 

The Fourteen Points: 

I. Abolition of secret treaties 
II. Freedom of the seas
III. Free trade
IV. Disarmament
V. Adjustment of colonial claims (decolonization and national self-determination)
VI. Russia to be assured independent development and international withdrawal from occupied Russian territory
VII. Restoration of Belgium to antebellum national status
VIII. Alsace-Lorraine returned to France from Germany
IX. Italian borders redrawn on lines of nationality
X. Autonomous development of Austria-Hungary as a nation, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved
XI. Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and other Balkan states to be granted integrity, have their territories de-occupied, and Serbia to be given access to the Adriatic Sea
XII. Sovereignty for the Turkish people of the Ottoman Empire as the empire dissolved, autonomous development for other nationalities within the former Empire
XIII. Establishment of an independent Poland with access to the sea
XIV. General association of the nations–a multilateral international association of nations to enforce the peace (League of Nations)

Accommodating Competing Interests in Light of the Fourteen Points Would Prove Challenging for Wilson

The speech was widely hailed by public opinion in the U.S. and Europe, and drove a wedge between the German leaders and the German people, who welcomed Wilson's formula. The French government, however, wanted high reparations from Germany to pay for its past and future war costs. Britain, as the great naval power, did not want freedom of the seas. Wilson compromised with Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and many other European leaders during the Paris peace talks to ensure that most of the points, and especially the fourteenth point, the League of Nations, would be established.

Source: The Citizen's Compendium, (

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Reflections on All Quiet on the Western Front

by Bryan Alexander

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow.” (263)

“My subject is War, and the pity of War.” - Wilfred Owen

All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues,1928) is probably the best known work of prose fiction written in any language to emerge from the First World War. From its first appearance, the novel kicked off Remarque’s lifelong literary career. It was influential enough in its antiwar message to earn special and deadly ire from the Nazis, who took care to lethally prosecute the author’s sister, Elfriede Scholz.It has been filmed (1932,1979) and referenced repeatedly by war writers ever since. It serves for many as the 20th-century great war novel. I believe the novel has remained in print since 1928.

What does the novel tell us now, in 2018, during this centenary of World War I?

For those who haven’t read it, All Quiet on the Western Front follows our narrator, Paul Baumer, and his group of fellow soldiers (Kat, Tjaden, Muller, and more) as they fight, survive, suffer, and (most of them) die in the trenches against British and French enemies.  The text’s focus is very small, zeroing in on this handful of people. We see little of campaigns and strategies. There isn’t much contextual detail. Instead, Remarque gives us a microcosm of the war through an account of daily life within it. 

There isn’t much of an overarching plot as such, although there are many small stories, and Paul’s experience offers something of a frame. The novel doesn’t offer much of a sense of forward motion or progress but instead consists mostly of a series of episodes or short-short stories that might remind us of subsequent works like Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam book The Things They Carried. Baumer endures a bombardment, is sequestered in a hospital, hunts rats, travels home on leave, falls in love with a French woman, complains about food, enjoys free time on latrines, and so on. The most famous episodes, like the confrontation with a French soldier in a shell hole, can stand on their own.

Remarque’s style is clear and simple, accessible to any reader, at times lyrical and passionate. He can offer elegant, heartbreaking passages like this:

One morning two butterflies play in front of our trench.  They are brimstone-butterflies, with red spots on their yellow wings.  What can they be looking for here?  There is not a plant nor a flower for miles.  They settle on the teeth of a skull. (126)

Or this:

How long has it been?  Weeks - months - years?  Only days.  We see time pass in the colorless faces of the dying, we cram food into us, we run, we throw, we shout, we kill, we lie about, we are feeble and spent, and nothing supports us but the knowledge that there are still feebler, still more spent, still more helpless [new recruits] who, with staring eyes, look upon us as gods that escape death many times.(133)

Remarque After He Was Drafted
Readers interested in World War One can extract a good amount of historical detail from the novel.  Trench life appears throughout in good detail. Artillery bombardment episodes are terrifying. Other historical characteristics appear, as when the novel touches on Germans’ starvation thanks to the Entente’s blockade, as, for example, we learn of new recruits who previously lived mostly on turnips (36), or we follow the narrator and his sister in a long line “to get a pound or two of bones.  That is a great favor” (179).  Baumer’s unit spends time near a Russian prison camp, giving us a hint of the terrible Eastern Front and of defeated Russians (189ff).  Later there is a glimpse of the shock of first encountering tanks:

From a mockery the tanks have become a terrible weapon.  Armored they come rolling on in long lines, more than anything else embody for us the horror of war… these tanks are machines, their caterpillars run on as endless as the war, they are annihilation, they roll without feeling into the craters, and climb up again without stopping, a fleet of roaring, smoke-belching armor-clads, invulnerable steel beasts squashing the dead and the wounded - we shrivel up in our thin skin before them, against their colossal weight our arms are sticks of straw, and our hand-grenades matches. (262)

In the final chapters we see 1918 and the beginning of German defeat:

Out lines are falling back.  There are too many fresh English and American regiments over there.  There’s too much corned beef and white wheaten bread.  Too many new guns.  Too many aeroplanes. (290)

One theme familiar to readers of WWI poetry and fiction is the gap between soldier and civilian, between those who experience war and those who promote it. Remarque doesn’t neglect this, as one can see in an early passage: “We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than [their elders’]… While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying.  While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already know that death throes are stronger.  But for all that we were no mutineers…” (12–13; yet see below). Spending time in a field hospital and overwhelmed by horror at woundings and deaths, Paul muses:

How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible.  It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. (263).

Here we also get a sense of the civilizational shock of the Great War, how radically it ruptured Europe’s sense of itself as the acme of progress. 

All Quiet on the Western Front offers a powerful and clear picture of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, but which the Allies then referred to as “shell shock”. Remarque emphasizes the psychological transformation Baumer and his peers experienced, which would shatter the rest of their lives. Paul describes the break between his civilian and postwar lives in terms of different wants: "…memories of former times do not awaken desire so much as sorrow - a vast, in apprehensible melancholy.  Once we had such desires - but they return not.  They are past, they belong to another world that is gone from us…" (121)

The novel’s treatment of PTSD as not just a psychological symptom but as human destruction might be its strongest theme. It’s announced right from the start with an opening note: “This book…will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.” Toward the novel’s end Baumer reflects on himself: “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow.” (263). On the penultimate page: “if we go back [home] we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope.  We will not be able to find our way anymore.  And men will not understand us…” (294)

All Quiet on the Western Front is famous for not only depicting one war but also encouraging the reader to oppose war in general. Time and again passages argue for war’s futility and uselessness. In a famous scene the soldiers around Paul dissect the reasons for war and show them to be groundless, even surreal or silly:

‘A mountain in Germany cannot offend a mountain in France.  Or a river, or a wood, or a field of wheat.’

‘Are you really as stupid as that, or are you just pulling my leg?’ growls Kropp.  ‘I don’t mean that at all.  One people offends the other -‘

‘Then I haven’t any business here at all,’ replies Tjaden.  ‘I don’t feel myself offended…’” (204)
Elsewhere the Russians in detention aren’t terrible foes but desperate, kind, and nearly holy fellow people.’

‘A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends.  At some table a document is signed by some persons whom none of us knows, and then for years together that every crime on which formerly the world’s condemnation and severs penalty fall, becomes our highest aim.  But who can draw such a distinction when he looks at these quiet men with their childlike faces and apostles’ beards.’ 

Immediately after those sentences Remarque shifts register to sound a strongly anti-authoritarian note: “Any noncommissioned officer is more of an enemy to a recruit, any schoolmaster to a pupil, than they are to us.” (194–5). Here we see how far Europe has come from the regimented social order of 1914, and gives us a hint of postwar unrest to come. Here is a true “lost generation”. This theme of near-rebellion builds through the novel.  Toward the end, Baumer rails:

I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.  I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it more refined and enduring.  And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world are experiencing these things with me. (263)
Recall his earlier pledge to not be a mutineer when he continues:

What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our account?  What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over?  Through the years our business has been killing… Our knowledge of life is limited to death.  What will happen afterwards?  And what shall come out of us? (263-4)

More openly, later: “If there is not peace, then there will be revolution.” (293). That extreme claim, is defused in the next chapter, but its inclusion among an account of the discipline-intensive German army is as astonishing glimpse of how far things had fallen by 1918. 

All these themes are heightened by the novel’s famous conclusion, its last four sentences, where the title appears for the first time, and which I won’t spoil here.

Seen among its contemporaries, All Quiet on the Western Front has much in common with British antiwar writing. The tonal and thematic connections are clear. Episodes echo in verse, like Baumer’s shell crater encounter with a Poilu and Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting”. There are connections as well to the great British memoirs, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933) and Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That (1929). Like Brittain, Remarque concludes with a pacifist message.  

American readers would find a similar theme and intensity of expression in Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun (1939). The German novel has a great deal in common with Gabriel Chevallier’s Fear (1930), which presents a similar approach: a narrator and a small group of fellow soldiers, brutal and intense frontline fighting. More precisely, Fear may owe a great deal to All Quiet.

It differs greatly from more adventure-themed contemporary novels. Remarque and Ernst Jünger both served on the Western Front, and Storm of Steel (1920) is a very different novel, often emphasizing the heroism of overcoming challenges and a sense of personal satisfaction. John Buchan’s Greenmantle (1916) is almost diametrically opposed to All Quiet, as it features an exciting espionage plot conducted from the highest reaches of the British command. There is suffering, but clearly in a good cause.

Considering literature and the past generation of historiography, we can see All Quiet as a fine novel that passionately takes one side in the great arguments over the first World War.  There is no ultimate good to be achieved by the horrors Paul Baumer and his fellows endure. They don’t experience a learning curve of adapting to modern war. Instead, they represent the breakdown of Europe’s prewar order and the insurrectionist spirit it released. Remarque throws down a gauntlet to war and its leaders. Many subsequent creators and analysts have picked it up, but not all. It remains World War One’s great novel.